The Research Writing Process

Updated February 13, 2023

Why do students with LD struggle with the research and writing process? In their review of recent research into writing interventions for students with learning disabilities, Amy Gillespie Rouse and Ashley Sandoval (2018) make the following observation: “Compared to their peers without learning disabilities, these students spend less time planning for writing, have difficulty producing and organizing text, and struggle to create meaningful revisions to their drafts. Thus, students with learning disabilities typically produce texts that are shorter, less developed, and contain more errors than those of their nondisabled peers” (pg. 1-2). 

For most teachers who have worked with students with LD, this is a familiar story: students produce and submit writing assignments that do not reflect what they know or understand about a topic, or what they submit doesn’t match the topic for writing. These assignments are often poorly planned and lack substantive revisions or edits. 

Rouse and Sandoval (2018) offer an explanation for why students with LD struggle with the writing process, stating that “students with learning disabilities often have difficulty monitoring their own writing behaviors and use of cognitive strategies during the writing process (Mason, Kubina, & Taft, 2011). Perhaps as a result of their writing difficulties, students with learning disabilities often lack motivation for engaging in and completing writing tasks (Graham et al., 2017; Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2003)” (pg. 2). In other words, skilled writing contains many hidden cognitive and literacy demands, such as comprehension, study skills, critical thinking, text structure, and voice. These are often areas of need for students with LD. 

If students with LD are provided with explicit instruction, repeated opportunities to practice, and clear, consistent feedback throughout the phases of the writing process, they will learn how to write effective writing assignments, including research papers. 

To write a successful research paper, teachers can frame the research writing process as a series of phases. In phase one, students select a topic that is neither too broad or too narrow and learn enough about the topic to formulate a strong argument or thesis. For phase two, students locate sources and materials, then read them carefully and critically for pertinent supporting information or data. In phase three, students write: taking notes, outlining information in a way that makes sense to help them create a structured plan which then leads to cohesive paragraphs. The final fourth phase is where students edit their papers for grammar, spelling, and clarity. 

Breaking a research paper assignment into these phases helps students visualize how a paper is written and can highlight how important each phase is to the creation of an effective paper. Focusing on the process rather than the end goal shows students the advantages of completing each step and helps educators understand where each student may experience difficulties. Teachers can use the phases to help structure and scaffold their research assignments. Explore ways to help students work through phase 1 and 2 with strategies and samples in the sidebar. 


Rouse, A. G., & Sandoval, A. (2018). Writing Interventions for Students With Learning Disabilities: Characteristics of Recent Research. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 23(2), 1–17.

Strategies to Download

Explore this strategy to help students identify a topic and write a thesis statement


Strategies to Download

Learn more about research notes including sample pages and a blank template, along with the steps needed to begin a research project.


Let us know what you think! Email to share your thoughts and strategies.

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