How to Write a Research Paper

Here are the things you’ll need to know when writing our science fair research paper so that you and your student won’t be tearing your hair out.

The research paper needs to be 500 words or more.  The easiest part is the introduction.  You don’t even have to go to the library to write it!  The introduction is 1-2 paragraphs and includes your problem, hypothesis, an explanation of why you chose this project, and what you hoped to achieve.

The next part is the research portion.  It’s very helpful for students to come up with a spider map before doing any writing.  Start with this basic format:

Add information relevant to your project.  Common subtopics for science fair papers are history of _____, types of _______, and how _____ works.

Once you know what your subtopics are, you can start your research!  Personally, I like to have note cards handy when I’m gathering information.  I like to sit down with my laptop or encyclopedia and jot down facts I think I might use on note cards.  On each card, I write the author, page number, and book title on the top.  If it’s an internet source, I use the Internet Citation Organizer at the bottom of the page (you can copy/paste into this webpage and then print it.  Make sure you print though because it won’t save) and write at the top of my index card Source 1 or 2, etc.  This is really important because it is going to help me come back later and write the bibliography.  I have seen a lot of students write their entire research and then forget what sites and books they looked at!  There are two major problems with that: you have to do a lot of backtracking to find the sources you used and it could lead to plagiarism.   Write one fact in the middle, and make sure you note on the bottom whether that fact is a paraphrase, summary, or quote.  You can fill out a ton of cards right now that are direct quotes and change it into your own words later, but you don’t want to forget the fact you jotted down is a quote and then stick that into your research paper without proper citation.  After compiling 3-4 cards per subtopic, I almost have the paper written for me!

Once I have my note cards, I can organize those facts into paragraphs.  One way to make this very clear is to use colored note cards.  At school, the students have the option of starting their research on colored note cards, which I highly recommend.  That way each subtopic is its own color, and you can tell at a cursory glance which subtopic needs a few more facts, etc.

You now have the details of each paragraph written on the note cards, and all you need is the topic sentence.  My topic sentence tells the reader what I am going to prove, going to explain, going to describe, or going to share.  The rest of my paragraph supports my topic with good reasons, interesting facts, and well-described details.

Sometimes the most difficult part of writing a cohesive paper is making the paragraphs flow.  Here are some transition words that might help seam together two thoughts.


All of my students struggle with the basic question of “what is plagiarism?”  I’ve never gone through science fair without someone asking how much they need to change for it to be in their own words.  A common rule of thumb is not to use more than 4-5 words in a row that have been directly taken from the source (without adding quotation marks that is).  Another tip is to read the information from your source, close your eyes for a few seconds, and then try to write down what you remember.  Finally, use a thesaurus when you can’t think of how to change a word.  Especially think of ways a kid would say that fact you just read in an encyclopedia.  If there’s one thing I know, 5th and 6th graders will have a different writing style than a Webster dictionary!

The very last thing to add is the bibliography.  Here are a few links to get you going.  We are going off of the ACSI official rules on how to format the bibliography.  Their guidelines cover everything and are very helpful.

ACSI Science Fair Handbook

Internet Citation Checklist

Internet Citation Organizer

I hope everyone has a stress-free time doing science fair!