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How to Write a Research Paper: Background Research Tips

Step by step description of how to write a research paper

Suggested Guidelines

Length of Research Paper or Project  Approximate Number (Types of Sources Needed)
1-2 pages 2-3 sources (articles or websites)
3-5 pages 4-8 sources (books, articles, and websites)
Annotated Bibliography  6-15 sources (books, articles, and websites) 
10-15 pages 12-20 sources (books, articles, and websites) 

*Your instructor will often provide you with an approximate number of source you will need.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created at the time under study. 

Types of primary sources include: 

  • Original Documents: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, and official records 
  • Creative Works: Poetry, drama, novels music, and art 
  • Relics of Artifacts: pottery, furniture, clothing, and buildings

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary source. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes, or graphics of primary sources in them. 

Types of secondary sources include: 

  • Journal Articles 
  • Textbooks
  • Magazine Articles
  • Histories 
  • Criticisms 
  • Commentaries 
  • Encyclopedias

Tertiary sources index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. They are not usually not credited to a particular author. 

Types of tertiary sources include: 

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Almanacs
  • Fact books
  • Directories 
  • Guidebooks
  • Manuals

Keep Track of Resources

-Create the reference or Works Cited page as you gather your resources. This will save you time and effort because you will not have to search for the material again and you will have this part done as you work on the paper. 

-Annotate the reference list so you know why you printed out or saved the article.