Writing A Graduate Student Research Paper

One skill that can be critical to the success of a graduate student is the ability to publish. We collected the following tips from experienced faculty who have guided students successfully into the publishing world. If getting published is one of your goals, these bits of advice will give you some insight on how to reach it.

Start early. It takes time to get a paper published. If you want to have an article accepted for publication by the time you complete your graduate program and begin interviewing for a job, plan to submit your work at least one year in advance. In some cases, it can take up to three years to get a paper accepted. The review process and the timing of the review process are things you can’t control.

Keep up with current literature and write down good ideas. Staying up to date with research and findings in your field is extremely important. While searching out your literature, skim abstracts (most are available for free), and, if they are truly relevant, think about paying to retrieve the entire article. You might find questions still unanswered in your subject matter worth investigating. When good ideas for papers come along for whatever reason, keep them in a lab book or computer file so you can return to your ideas when you have a chance.

Reserve time for research. Research and writing take a lot of time, and you may need to rearrange your calendar to get something done, If you schedule time for research, you’re more likely to get serious work completed. 

Get advice. Someone with knowledge and experience willing to critique your paper is invaluable. Your academic adviser is a great resource, but not the only one. Other faculty in your department or in your field of study at other institutions who are familiar with the current research can help you distinguish between good and bad ideas.

Think in terms of potential publications. Your master’s thesis or dissertation can be reworked and turned into one or more journal articles. Seminar papers can make good articles if you suggest new data based on original field research. Papers presented at conferences might lead directly to publication because people attending the same conference or in the audience listening to you may be funders, future employers, publishers or editors. Other benefits of presenting at a conference include learning about current research, trading ideas, and introductions to senior researchers and other students in your field –who also may become future collaborators.

Collaborate. Co-author an article with a professor who is working on an interesting project. Offer your services in return for a junior authorship. Co-author with another student who also needs to become an author; sharing the workload of the project benefits you both. You might even find co-authors who could become lifelong colleagues and collaborators.

Know your statistics and methodology. Sometimes research articles will hold up or fail on the basis of the methodology and statistical analyses. Get to know your institution’s statistical consultant or statistical department. At UNL, the Nebraska Evaluation and Research (NEAR) Center consults with faculty and graduate students to promote sound statistical, measurement and research methodology. See their web site at cehs.unl.edu/near/

Invest in writing skills. Read and keep these resources on hand for consultation: The Elements of Style by W. Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Get the paper ready for review. Read for punctuation, spelling and grammar. If your first language is not English, have an English speaking person proofread for you to catch and correct errors. Grammar problems or typos may lead the reader to think that if you are careless or sloppy with the structure of the paper, your research and analysis are also careless and sloppy.

Get your work reviewed before submission. Get good criticism about your writing and the organization of the paper, and revise it repeatedly until you have addressed all comments.

Find a journal to publish in. New journals are good publishing prospects because they attract fewer submissions than established ones and accept a higher percentage of those they receive. Rank the journals in your area of study. Look for special opportunities to publish, such as calls for papers and special issues of journals that invite submissions. And be sure your topic is relevant to the journal’s focus.


Preacher, K.J. 2003. Publishing in graduate school, tips for new graduate students, Association for Psychological Science Observer, www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1243.

Stearns, S.C. 2003. Some modest advice for graduate students, Yale University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,

Tips on publishing in graduate school. August 2008. Brains. philosophyofbrains.com/2008/08/08/tips-on-publishing-ingraduate-school.aspx


This overview of research paper strategies will focus on the type of research paper that uses library resources.

The research paper is a popular academic assignment. Forms of it are also used in various professional fields. The research paper gives you the opportunity to think seriously about some issue. Building on the research of others, you have the opportunity to contribute your own research and insights to a particular question of interest to you. It also gives you practice in important academic skills such as:

  • formulating research questions
  • conducting research
  • managing time
  • organizing information into coherent ideas
  • substantiating arguments with research in the field
  • and presenting insights about the research

Disciplines vary in their ways of conducting research, in writing research papers, and in the form of the final copy. View sample papers and guides for documenting sources in the four major styles (humanities, social sciences, history, and sciences).

Individual instructors may also vary in their expectations of a research paper. It is important that you read the assignment carefully. Writing a research paper can be a very messy and fluid process, and the following is only a representation of commonly used steps.

Two major types of research papers

Argumentative research paper:

The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial.

The student would support the thesis throughout the paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade the audience that the interpretation of the situation is viable.

Analytical research paper:

The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation.

It is not the student's intent to persuade the audience that his ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, his goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress his particular analysis of the topic.

It is typically not until the student has begun the writing process that his thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance1.

Revised: 07/11

1 Adapted from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/658/02/


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