How To Write A Research Paper

                    -- APA Style In 9 Easy Steps


A research paper is designed to teach you and your reader something valuable about your chosen topic. You will learn to create this paper using the APA documentation style — a style adopted by most colleges because it is logical and easy to understand. 

Step 1: Your Topic 

You are to choose any subject that truly interests you.  Do not choose a broad subject like “Alcoholism”. You must narrow it down to something a little more specific like “The Psychological Effect of Alcohol” or “Alcoholism In High Schools.”  An excellent resource for your paper is A+ Research and Writing. 

Step 2: Write A Thesis Statement 

A thesis statement is a sentence that states what you plan to research. It is your focus and will make your research more productive!! In the early stages it is in the form of a question. Later, that question will be formed into a sentence that states exactly what you learned about the subject. 

Step 3: Search For Information 

Because you want to learn all you can about your topic, you will want to use different kinds of sources. You are not limited to the following: Books, Magazines, Internet, Electronic Sources, Encyclopedias, Interviews, Films, Television, Surveys, Questionnaires and First Hand Observation. If you can’t find what you want in our library try the Sutter County Library -  Sac Library found at

 Keeping Track Of Your Information 

As you search for information, you will need to take notes on ideas, write down quotations and list your sources. How you keep track of all this will be one of 3 ways, depending on whatever fits your personality.

1.      Bibliography cards,

2.      Photocopies of all your information, or

3.      Scraps of paper with your info.  Just keep it ORGANIZED and it will be easy “writing” your paper!


         * To summarize, reduce what you have read to a few important points using your own words.

          * To paraphrase, restate what you have read using your own words. Put quotations marks only around

             key word or phrases you borrow directly from the sources.

         * To quote someone directly, record the statement or idea word for word and put quotations marks around

             this information” (Sebranek, Meyer & Kemper, 1996,   170)

 Note: If your quote is over 40 words, do not use quotation marks. Instead start the quote on a new line indented five spaces with each subsequent line also indented. 

Step 4: Write Your Working Outline 

Organize your found fragments of information into their most logical order and use them to create an outline. This will allow you to see what subcategories are in need of more information.  

Step 5: Write Your Paper


According to Sebranek, Meyer, & Kemper (1997) your introduction should do two things. Grab your readers attention by first saying something personal or interesting about your subject. Then, you should identify the specific focus, or thesis, of your research. 

The Body Of Your Paper 

You will write your paper using your own personality style, either systematically or freely and openly. No matter how you approach it, remember to use your own words as much as possible! 

If you are working systematically you will work off of your outline. Begin by writing a general statement that covers your first main point, then add supporting facts and details. Repeat this process until you have covered all the main points of your outline. 

Some of you will just jump right in, writing as much as you can from memory. Then, don’t forget to go back and add needed quotes and facts. Use your outline to add missing points and to reorganize your thoughts. 


It is useful to use headings and subheadings to help communicate the outline and organization of the paper.

Note: In most research papers only levels 1, 3 and 4 are used.


Level 1:        Centered Uppercase and Lowercase Heading

Level 2:      Centered, Italicized, Uppercase & Lowercase Heading

Level 3:

Flush Left, Italicized, Uppercase & Lowercase Side Headings

Level 4:

      Indented, italicized, lowercase with a period.



Alcoholism In High School

Why Students Drink

Side Effects of Alchohol

     Sutter high senior survey results.



In the conclusion you can take a more personal approach in summarizing the points you have made. Leave your reader with a clear understanding of your research.  

Step 6: Document Your Sources


If you were to present another writer’s words or ideas as your own without formally acknowledging them, you would be plagiarizing. Your source material must be documented in the body of the paper and then listed in detail in the 'References' section. 

Text Citation 

There are many ways to formally cite a reference in the text. The general rule is to include the author’s last name and the date of the publication. It you are including a quotation or paraphrasing, you must also include a page number. If your quote is over 40 words, you must display it as a freestanding block of text indented 5 spaces from the left margin and double spaced as usual. Omit the quotation marks and include the page number in parentheses after the last period.  

When constructing parenthetical documentation the rule: is the shorter the better! Try to incorporate most information in the text. The following examples all are from the same source as listed in the reference. Note: Examples are single spaced to save space. Refer to the following sites for APA Style Resources

Author & Date Cited In Text (no Parenthetical Citation necessary)

     Feinberg, in his 1992 book, found that, according to many researchers in the field of genetic engineering, behavior control would be a reality by the turn of the century. 

Author Not Cited In Text

     According to many researchers in the field of genetic engineering, behavior control would be a reality by the turn of the century (Feinberg, 1992).

Author Cited In Text

     Feinberg (1992) states that, according to many researchers in the field of genetic engineering, behavior control would be a reality by the turn of the century. 

Direct Quotation with Name of Author

     Feinberg (1992) states, “According to many researchers in the field of genetic engineering, behavior control would be a reality by the turn of the century” (p. 94). 

Direct Quotation without Name of Author

     “According to many researchers in the field of genetic engineering, behavior control would be a reality by the turn of the century” (Feinberg, 1992, p. 94). 


Feinberg, J (1992). Freedom and behavior control. New York: Smithcon Press


             *********** General Rules *************

         With two authors always cite both names in your text. You may use '&' in your parenthetical.

         With 3—5 authors cite all the authors the first time the reference occurs. In subsequent citations use the first author’s name followed by “et al.”

         When the source has no author, cite in the text the first few world of the reference list entry (usually the title) and the year.

         When the source has no date of publication, cite the author’s last name, followed by a comma and n. d. for “no date”.

         Rule of thumb: Should have one cited source per number of paper pages (i.e., 7 pages = 7 sources)

     Secondary or indirect source. When it is necessary to cite a source you have not read but found referred to in another source, mention the original source in your text. Then, in your parenthetical citation, cite the secondary source, using the words “as cited in”.  In your references you would list the primary source.

    … study by Case (as cited in Davis, 2002).


Reference Citations 

The reference page, found at the end of your research paper, includes only those sources that were used in your paper. In the old “bibliography” style you also listed background sources. Make sure that what is listed on this page is also cited in your paper!! The following are general examples of reference citations as found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed., 2001).

         Each must be listed in alphabetical order by author or title (disregard A, An, or The).

         Note that the titles are not capitalized in the usual way, only the first letter of the title and proper nouns are capitalized.

          For more details refer to our web site links or the APA manual.


     Nonperiodicals (books, reports, etc) 

General Form

Author, A. A. (2001). Title of work. Location: Publisher.


One Author

Pepsin, R. E. (1988) Literature of satire in the twelfth century. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.


Two or More Authors

Metha, J., & Smith, W. H. (1998) Spring is in the air. Philadelphia: Lippencott.


An Anonymous Author

Tours of Virginia. (1999). New York: Somerset


Book with Group As Author

American Psychiatric Association. (2001). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.) Washington, DC: Author


Encyclopedia or Dictionary

Morris, W. (Ed.). (1976). The American heritage dictionary of the English language (New college edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin



Alcoholics Anonymous. (1998) Identifying addictions [Brochure]. Sacramento, CA: Author


Article Reprinted in a Loose-Leaf Collection

O’Connel, L. (January 7, 1993). Busy teens feel the beep. Orlando Sentinel. E1+. Youth Volume 4. SIRS. Art.41. Boca Raton: Florida


 ** In the SIRS (Social Issues Resources Series) binders, located in the library, you will find magazine and newspaper articles from all over the United States. Treat the article like any other magazine or newspaper article, but sure to then include all the SIRS information such as volume and article number.


     Nonprint Sources


Note: Include a description of form in brackets. 

Television Broadcast

Townds, H. R. (Executive Producer). (1997, September 30) The hour is now. [Television broadcast]. New York: Public Broadcasting Service.



CBS Association (Producer). (1999) Nature vs. nurture.  [Videotape]. Seattle, WA: CBS News


Music Recording

Linkin Park. (2000). In the end. On Hybrid theory [CD] Burbank, CA: Warner Bros.


Electronic Database

Depression. (1997). Multimedia encyclopedia (Version 5.5) [Electronic Database] New York: The Software Toolworks



Koppel, T. (November 14, 1996). Bill Clinton [Interview with Bill Clinton]. Nightline. New Haven: ABC - WTNH


Note: Personal interviews, e-mail, seminars, lectures etc. do not provide recoverable data and are NOT included in the reference list. Cite these personal communications in the TEXT only. Give the initials as well as the last name of the communicator, and provide an exact date.


      Periodicals (articles published in journals, magazines, newspapers) 

General Form

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (2001).  Title of article. Title of Periodical, xx, xxx-xxx .


One Author

Campbell, S. (1998) Are we so different? APA Journal,  147, 29-31.


Unsigned Magazine

What’s in a name? (2000, July) Psychology Today,  45-53.


     On-line Documents (refer to our web site for up-to- date changes) 

General Form

Author, A. A. (1999). Title of work. Retrieved month day, year, from source.


Stand-alone Web Document

Nielson, M. E. (2000). Notable people in psychology of  religion. Retrieved August 3, 2001, from


Article: On-Line Computer Service

Zaleski, R. (January 27,1996). Zoos: Right or wrong? Capital Times. 1D.  Madison. WI. (From Electric Library) Retrieved August 15, 2000, from 


Step 7: Basic Paper Format


Margins: One inch on all sides (except the page header)

Font: 12– point font, (Times Roman or Courier);

Spacing: Double-spaced throughout the paper including title page, abstract and references.  Paragraph indentation is 5—7 spaces.

Page Header:  The first two or three words of the paper title appear five spaces to the left of the page number on the top right of every page.


Title Page

Page Header:  See above

Running Head: Typed flush left & all uppercase; 5 spaces below the page header

Title:  Type & center the Full title, your name & school



The abstract page should be page 2 & follow the title page. Center the word 'Abstract' on the first line of the page



Title: Center the title of your paper on the 3rd page.

Heading: See Step 5



Center the word References on a new page. Entries are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name and should begin flush left with the second and subsequent lines indented 5 spaces. 

Check-out the following sites for sample research papers ...

Step 8: Abstract

An abstract is a one-paragraph summary of your research paper. It is usually written after your paper is completed. 

Writing Your Abstract 

Sebranek et al. (1997) suggest the following:

1)      Highlight the key elements on a copy of your paper.

2)      Begin the abstract with your thesis statement.

3)      Include a summary of your key point in the same order as found in your paper.

4)      The abstract should reflect the purpose and content of your paper.


General Format

         Is placed on a new page after the title page

         Type the word Abstract centered in the first line of the page

         Should be a maximum of 120 words

         Typed in block form — do not indent paragraph


Step 9: Check Your Work

 By far the most important step in writing a Research Paper is checking your work. Use the following check-list. 

____ Read your paper! Does it make sense?

____ Have you checked your spelling, punctuation and grammar?

____ Did you include the necessary elements?

____ Make a photocopy of your paper. Teachers are only human and have been known to misplace the original!

____ Check yourself by completing the following grading criteria.






The APA style guide. (n. d.). The Royal Windsor Society for Nursing Research. Retrieved June 17, 2002, from


Case, B. (2001). APA format-5th edition. Retrieved June 17, 2002, from


Sebranek, P., Meyer V., & Kemper D. (1996) Writer’s INC. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company


Sebranek, P., Meyer V., & Kemper D. (1997) Write for college. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company


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