The Student’s Guide to Writing a Research Paper about Shakespeare

Writing guide
Posted on January 31, 2019

A research paper is a common assignment for college students; it is rarer for high school students, but it can still be assigned. Since Shakespeare is a common topic in many English classes, including most high school and college English classes, poetry classes, playwriting classes, and British Literature classes, we’ve decided to write a reference guide for students to use, specifically for writing Shakespeare papers.

Over the course of this guide on how to write a Shakespeare research paper, we will discuss various features and steps of the process. These features will include the basics of what a research paper is, how to choose a topic for your paper, sample topics to choose from, and how to compose the paper itself. If you follow this guide, you are sure to write your Shakespeare research paper with ease.

What is a Research Paper?

As the name implies, a research paper is primarily research-based. The basis of your paper will be based on primary sources (the original text) and scholarly secondary sources (sources in which other people write about primary sources). Even though this research will make up the bulk of your paper, a research paper is not simply a summary. Instead, you will use the facts to come to a conclusion. Support your conclusion with evidence from your sources.

Instead of writing a simple summary like, ‘Twelfth Night is a play about a woman who cross-dresses and lives among people as a man.’ you would write something like, ‘The main protagonist in Twelfth Night, is a woman who pretends to be her twin brother. Because of her actions, the other characters in the play perceive her differently than if we were to portray herself as a woman the whole time.’ You would then use supporting evidence from the play the secondary sources to prove your statement.

While the sentence provided is more of a thesis statement, which could be used to begin your paper, you will need to fill your body paragraphs with evidence based on the sources you used. Make sure to both cite your sources internally in your paper, as well as on a reference page. To learn about all of the different types of citation guides and how to format your paper with them, you can use this link.

How to Pick a Topic: Our Academic Writers Know

When it comes to research papers, you should always pick a topic that you are genuinely interested in. If you pick a topic that you dislike, then you are likely to have a harder time writing your paper than if you were to pick a topic that you enjoy. While working on a research project, you are going to put in a lot of time and effort looking into a specific play, group of sonnets, or area of Shakespeare’s life. To put it in the most basic terms, it’s best to pick something you are interested in so that you don’t get sick of the topic halfway through your paper.

Before choosing a topic, you will need to check your assignment rubric. Sometimes, your teacher or professor will provide you with a list of topics you can pick from. It is best to use something from that list, rather than pick a different topic and need to restart your entire paper later. If your rubric doesn’t have an assigned topic, then you are likely free to pick whatever topic you like. Of course, if you are unsure, make sure to ask your teacher or professor, just to make sure.

Below are 5 potential Shakespeare research paper topics, each regarding either Shakespeare’s life or work. Feel free to use any of these research paper topics for your own research paper. Below each topic (which can also be used as a basis for your thesis statement) is a prompt that can help you use the topic in your own research paper.

    1. Some People Believe that Shakespeare was not actually a Real Person. What Evidence is there to Prove or Disprove This Theory?Some theories suggest that Shakespeare was a pen name for another author, while others believe “he” was many different people all using the same name. Still, others are sure Shakespeare was real. What evidence is there to back up any of these theories? Pick one or write about all of them.
    2. There Were Many Playwrights Writing During Shakespeare’s Time. How Did He Compare to His Peers?One of Shakespeare’s contemporaries was the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Discuss how their works and level of fame compared to each other.
    3. Shakespeare Was Influenced By Other Authors, and Now He Continues to Influence Authors. Discuss Some of the Ways in Which Shakespeare’s Influence Shows Through in Today’s Literature and MediaMany films, like the Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo Dicaprio, are based on Shakespeare’s plays. Many Shakespearean quotes and words are used in daily life and in popular media. Discussing either of these topics in depth is sure to give you a lot of material for your research paper.
    4. Discuss Feminism in Shakespeare’s PlaysHow are the women in Shakespeare’s plays treated? Discussing the characters of Hamlet’s mother and Ophelia in Hamlet, Desdemona in Othello, or any other women, main characters or side characters, in Shakespeare’s plays may provide a suggestion of how Shakespeare thought of women.
    5. Some People Find Shakespeare’s Plays Hard to Understand Now. Were They Easy to Understand for the Average Person in Shakespeare’s Time? Discuss
      Could the average person understand one of Shakespeare’s plays? What was the average vocabulary like? Who were the plays written for? Discussing all of these questions in your paper is sure to add length to your research paper.

How to Write a Research Paper on Shakespeare Step by Step

There are several steps that go into writing a polished research paper. In this section of the article, we will look over each of these features in detail so you can be sure that you fully comprehend what goes into making a research paper great.

Research and Notes

Before you even begin writing your paper, but after you have picked out your topic, you will want to do your research and take notes on your findings. Since you will likely want to return to your sources later, make sure to write down where you found them. If you are using a website, write down the link. If you are using a book or another print resource, then write down the title of the piece and the page number so you can easily find your place again. Even better, write down the complete citation and add it to your works cited page. This will save you a step later on. While writing down your citations may take a little more time at first, it will save you time later.

Once you have your sources, make sure to take detailed notes. Once again, while this is something that will take a little while longer when you first begin, it will save you time once you begin writing your paper. This is because you will be less likely to have to look back at your direct source. Many students like to take notes on notecards. Studies have shown that students are more likely to remember their notes if they write it down, rather than typing it, so you may want to give that a try.

Thesis Statement and Introduction

Once you have all of your notes, it’s time to begin writing your paper. One of the first things that go into the paper will be the thesis statement. A thesis statement is usually one sentence long and it states the main point of your paper. It can either be the first or last sentence of your introductory paragraph, but it needs to be a part of the introduction– no exceptions. Some simple examples of thesis statements are below.

  1. Shakespeare was one of the most famous writers of his time; this paper will discuss his influence in his own time and in today’s time.
  2. This research paper will discuss Shakespeare’s influence on the film industry.
  3. For hundreds of years, Shakespeare has been a household name; this paper will discuss how his work has been appreciated and discussed in both the United States and in Europe since Shakespeare’s death.

As you can see from the examples above, a thesis statement can be long or short. All that matters is that it plainly states the main point of your paper. It doesn’t need to be exciting, so long as it catches the reader’s attention and lets them know what your paper is about.

The rest of your paper’s introduction should continue to introduce your paper, as the name implies. The average introductory paragraph is about three to six sentences long. There are usually no citations in the opening paragraph. These are saved for the body paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs

The length of your research paper will determine how many body paragraphs you will need in your research paper. At a minimum, your paper is likely to require at least three body paragraphs. Body paragraphs make up the bulk of your paper. You will put the main points of your paper, as well as the evidence that backs up your findings (citations or links). On average, each body paragraph will have at least one citation in it. It is best to put the citation in the middle of the paragraph. It is best to end a paragraph with your own words, not by summarizing or quoting someone else’s.

Each body paragraph is composed of three parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction of the body paragraph should introduce what the paragraph will be about. The middle sentences should be your supporting evidence and citation. The final sentence should be a conclusion of what you have written in the paragraph.


Understanding a conclusion is simple enough – it is simply a summary of the entire paper. Imagine your audience doesn’t have the patience or time to read your whole research paper; sum it up in one paragraph.

References and Works Cited Page

Either while you are writing your paper, while you are taking notes, or after you have finished writing your paper, you are going to want to write a works cited page. This page will contain a list of all of the citations you used in your paper, usually sorted in alphabetical order.

Another thing you need to remember to do is put internal sources into your paper. If you do not do this (unless it is not required by your teacher or professor for some reason) you are likely to get in trouble for plagiarism. You can use the same link in the last paragraph to learn how to do this.


Once you are completely done writing your paper, you will want to take the time to edit your paper for both clarity, safety from plagiarism, and general grammar and spelling checks. This will add additional time to your paper, but you are almost guaranteed to find something in your paper that needs to be edited. Doing this will take up more of your time, but it will also help you to improve your grade.

One of the first things you might want to do to edit your paper is to simply reread your paper or have someone look over the paper. Ideally, try to do both if you can. This way, you are likely to catch double the mistakes. The more mistakes you catch and fix, the better your grade is likely to be!

Another thing you will want to do, either while you are writing your paper or after you have finished writing your paper, is to use a grammar/spelling checker. Not all writing programs and websites can catch every single mistake. For a highly relevant example, this very article was originally written on Google Docs, which does catch a few grammar and spelling mistakes. However, because it does not catch everything, this article was also run through Grammarly to catch the additional mistakes. Grammarly has a free mode, which anyone can use; you may want to try it out.

Lastly, before you turn in your paper, make sure to run it through a plagiarism checker! This is one of the most important parts of editing your paper. If you get caught for plagiarism, you are likely to not only fail your assignment but possibly your whole class! Luckily, there are several great plagiarism checker websites out there. Some of the plagiarism websites (which have free trials) that we have discussed in our other articles include Grammarly’s plagiarism checker and Turnitin. Finding and correcting your plagiarism yourself, instead of your teacher or professor doing it for you, can save your grade.

If you carefully take note of all of the Shakespeare research paper writing tips in this article, then you are sure to have all of the tips you need to write a well-crafted research paper. We wish you all of the luck in the world on your Shakespeare research paper!

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