How to Write a Research Paper

A research paper is a type of essay where the writer explains what they have learned after investigating a topic in detail. It is an academic writing piece that provides an argument, interpretation, and analysis based on detailed research. The research paper is similar to other types of academic essays, the difference is that it is longer and a more comprehensive assignment. They are designed to assess the student’s writing skills and their skills in scholarly research. When writing a research paper, you are required to show a strong knowledge of your topic by tackling the research question adequately, consult various information sources, and originally contribute to the debate. You can obtain information from internet sites, interviews, articles, journals, and books.

Elements of a Research Paper

  1. Title page

This is the first page containing the name of the paper, author’s name, running head, and author’s institutional affiliation. Usually, the institutional affiliation is written just before the bottom of the title page. In other instances, the author note may contain an acknowledgement for funding support and anyone who helped with the research project.

  1. Abstract

This is a one-paragraph summary of the whole study and it should not exceed 250 words in length. An abstract gives an overview of the entire study.

  1. Introduction

Introduce your topic and state its significance. This is the first key section of text in your research paper. The research paper introduction describes the topic under assessment, discusses or summarizes relevant previous research, identified unanswered questions to be addressed by the current research, and gives an overview of the research to be explained in greater detail in the other paper sections.

  1. Literature Review

This is a detailed summary of previous research on your topic. The literature review examines books, scholarly articles, and other sources that are relevant to a certain research area. It should enumerate, explain, summarize, objectively examine and elucidate this prior research. A literature review should provide a theoretical for the research and help the student (author) define the nature of research. In the literature review, the writer also acknowledges the contribution of previous researchers, which helps in assuring readers that the paper has been well comprehended. The assumption is that is an author mentions previous work in the same field, he/she has read, assessed, and integrated the work into the current work.

  1. Methods

What steps did you take? This is a section that details how you performed the research. It usually presents a description of the subjects/participants that were involved, study design, materials used, and study procedure. If you carry out multiple experiments, you will be required to have a methods section for each experiment. As a standard rule, you should sufficiently detail your methods section such that another researcher can duplicate your research without difficulty.

  1. Results

What did you discover? This is a section describing the data collected and the outcome of any statistical tests performed. You can also preface this through an explanation of the analysis procedure used. As with the research methodology section, where multiple experiments were carried out, each should have a results section.

  1. Discussion

What is the importance of your results? This is the last major section of text in a research paper. The discussion section contains a summary of the results derived from the study, explains how the results relate to the topic under research, the issues that initiated the research, and may extend to the implications of the findings. Also, state research limitations and suggestions for future research in this section.

  1. References

This is a list of information sources, such as articles and books cited. The list should be on alphabetical order with each source starting with the last name of the first author. You should follow specific citation guidelines concerning author names, publication date, article or journal title, volume numbers, page numbers, publishers, locations, websites, etc.

  1. Tables and Figures

Data and graphs (optional in some instances) depending on your type of research. You may include tables, figure, or both. When writing in APA style, every table and figure should be in a separate page after the references page. Tables come first and figures follow.

Steps in the Research Process

The steps below will help in writing a successful research paper, starting with just the research question and ending up with a well-developed essay.

  1. Understand the Assignment

Although it may sound like an obvious thing, it is essential to understand the research question before you begin to write your research paper. A good number of students forego this step and end up receiving a low grade and wonder how or why this happened. Often, it’s because they failed to read and understand the instructions from their teacher or professor.

Take time reading through the assignment. Carefully read the assignment, prompts, grading rubrics, or any other resources you receive. Take your time and understand what you are required to write and how it will be graded. If you are not sure, ask your professor for clarification before choosing a topic for the paper.

  1. Choose a Topic

After understanding what you’re asked to write in the research paper, you can now decide about the topic of the paper. This can be a daunting task, but you should not stress about it. The first thing is to think about something you are interested in or passionate about. If you can’t find any, a controversial topic will do as it will give you an opportunity to exercise your capability to objectively describe differing positions. You may even be required to defend a controversial stand in the assignment.

The guidelines provided by your professor are a valuable resources when choosing your research paper topic. You may have an interesting topic that does not fit into the guidelines provided: do not use it but choose another one. It will be easier to write about something that suits the assignment. It is equally important to be involved in the topic, even if you don’t love it. Use the research writing process as an opportunity to learn something new. By the end of this research paper writing process, you will be an expert in the matter.

  1. Research

This is a flexible step where different people use different approaches to carry out research. But, you should maintain focus and start the process as soon as possible.

The first step is to skim. You do not have to read all the information available about the topic; it is in fact impossible. Read through what you have gathered quickly and learn how to recognize major points and arguments without getting over involved and reading everything.

The second stem is to locate reliable resources. Although it is against academic guidelines, you can use Wikipedia as a source of information to craft your research paper. However, you cannot use it as a final source.  Use general information sources to familiarize yourself with the topic, locate keywords to further advance your research, and understand large volumes of information faster. But, the information you will use in the paper should be obtained from reliable resources.

Use the information you obtain from Wikipedia or a Google search and dig deeper. Look at sources in the article and use the keywords therein to search an academic database. So, for clarification purposes, Wikipedia can be used as a research starting point, but it should not be cited as a primary source of information in a research paper.

Thirdly, do not ignore information. You can locate articles making three different claims and stating them to be true, but when you dig deeper, you will realize that they are untrue. An article may state that something is true, this does not mean that you should use it in your paper. What is considered to be true has to be proven with facts and evidence for it to be used as a reliable and credible source of information. Work towards understanding the different points of view and ideas on your research topic. You can achieve this by reading various articles, reading an article or a book that provides an outline of the topic and integrate different viewpoints, or talk to an expert to explain the topic in detail.

  1. Organize the Research

What do you do with all the information you have collected? This step is all about organization. Like research, people have varied preferences on the organization of their paper. Some form of bibliography will be helpful in organizing your research.

If you are required to include a bibliography in the research paper, ensure that you prepare one that adheres to the requirements provided. If you make one just for you, think about your research organization. It would be better to bookmark information resources on your browser or create a digital bibliography that enables you to connect the resources you found. You can write down what you’ve learned on sticky notes or notecards, or have a printed list of resources.

  1. Develop a Thesis

After understanding the research question, choosing a topic, researching, and organizing the research, you can now express your assertion, argument, or opinion. Even when you are not for or against something, your research paper requires a thesis statement.  This is a short statement put forward by the researcher and author telling the readers what you want to prove or explain. A good starting point for a thesis statement is briefly explaining what the paper is about using just one sentence. Your thesis should be definitive and not focusing on the author or researcher. Do not be too vague and do not fear making a strong statement.

Another trick in developing a strong thesis statement is ensuring that it is arguable. This is not to mean that it should be opinionated or controversial, it means that some people can disagree with it. After creating definitive, arguable, and specific thesis statement, you can present it to your professor or a trusted educator. Show them the thesis statement so that they can tell you if it suits your research paper before you continue to the other sections of the paper.

  1. Create an Outline

Just like a bibliography, your assignment will determine how you create a research paper outline. If you are required to provide an outline, make one following the requirements, guidelines, or examples provided. Even if you have not been asked to write an outline, create one as it is helpful when building your research paper.

A research paper outline is basically about structuring the paper. While in high school or when writing other types of essays, the standard essay structure has five paragraphs, which you can still use for a research paper. If your thesis statement has two major points, you cannot have three or five paragraphs in your research paper. If you are required to introduce a topic, state varied opinions on it and then explain your stand. This would require three main parts, one for each point.

While creating a research paper outline, critically think about what you want to communicate or explain in the paper, and the structure that allows you to do that clearly and in an organized manner. It is sensible to have the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, but the content in between the two varies. When at the outline stage, think about what you should avoid in terms of argumentation.

  1. Write your Paper

All the work you have done before is important. It helps create a powerful, clear, and interesting research paper. When you start writing the actual paper, do not be a perfectionist. Do not worry about using perfect words, perfect grammar, or developing the perfect title. You will have time to refine your research paper during the editing and proofreading stage. All you need to do at this point is, write.

Go through your research before you begin to write, but do not copy directly from it. Do not go back and forth between your paper and your resources when you start to write, you will end up copying ideas instead of creating your own work. Rely on what you’ve done and your memory to write your research paper. You can only refer to the research when looking up a statistic or a quote. When you present your own thoughts, you will avoid plagiarism, which is the unacknowledged use of another person’s ideas or words.

When you quote a text word-for-word, you should cite the source. Mention the source and use quotation marks. Remember to include the source on the references or works cited page. If you paraphrase an idea, it is still essential to give credit to your source. Although quotation marks are not applicable here, it is good to mention where you obtained the idea from.

Types of Research Methodology

  1. Experiments

When your research involves experiments, you may be required to complete several tests to gauge your cognitive abilities, usually by computer, verbally, or on paper. Then, there is a comparison of results from different groups. The objective of experiments is to establish a link between performance and other factors.

  1. Surveys

This involves collecting information from large groups of people through questionnaires; telephoning or interviews may also be used. A survey may be administered to a sample of participants as a particular time or people may complete the survey before and after a major experience or event.

  1. Questionnaires

This is an ideal way to acquire information from a large number of people or people without time to take part in experiments or attend an interview. Questionnaires allow participants to take their time, think about the questions, and fill the questionnaire later. Participants can present their feelings or views privately without having to worry about the researcher’s reaction. If you chose this type of research methodology, encourage your participants to be brutally honest when answering the questions to avoid drawing false conclusions from the study.

  1. Interviews

Interviews are done in person, that is, face-to-face. However, you can conduct an interview through the telephone or advanced computer technology like Skype. They can be conducted in the interviewee’s home or another neutral place. You can allow the interviewee to speak freely or ask certain pre-determined questions. The interviewer does not have to be the researcher.

  1. Case Studies

Case studies involve a comprehensive study of a specific case (a small group or a person). You can use different data collection and analysis methods, such as, interviews, observation, consultation, public or personal records. The researcher might be interested in a certain phenomenon and choose one or several people in the particular situation as case studies. Case studies are useful in clinical settings where they sometimes challenge existing practices and theories in other domains.

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