How To Write A Research Paper
For academics, scholars, and students, writing a research paper is understood to be synonymous with hard work and many long hours spent at their desks. The arduous tasks of formulating, planning, researching, analyzing, and constructing are consuming, and demand time and energy out of a writer of any caliber and experience.
Being able to piece a robust research paper together requires you to give thought to things such as planning and writing an outline, stating your citations and weaving evidence into your paper clearly, being able to provide a clear and concise abstract, summarizing your findings effectively and accurately, and so on.
There is no one way to go about working on and writing a research paper. It can take some trial and error to figure out a process that is best suited to your working style and goals. Although this guide covers the major components that make up a research paper and suggests a simple and linear process to writing it, it is more than often messy and recursive.
What is a Research Paper?
A research paper is a form of academic and technical writing that takes readers through a focused and detailed presentation, analysis, and evaluation or interpretation of a chosen subject matter in an academic field of study.
Research papers are one of the most effective ways of disseminating knowledge and information to a large pool of people. Academia and scholarship produce many research papers for scholars to read and reference, and for students to utilize in their study course assignments.
Other forms of academic writing, such as analytical, descriptive, critical, or persuasive essays differ from research essays in such that the former has a greater emphasis on the use of quantitative or qualitative statistics and pre-existing research material. Research essays also have to adhere to strict guidelines with regards to citations and references.
How to Write a Research Paper
1. Research on your area of interest
Diving into writing a research paper without grasping as much as possible about the subject matter would be complicate the later stages of your writing. Take as much time as you need to gather material and pre-existing research on the topic you are going to explore in your paper. Review studies and papers that cover the same or similar topics that you foresee yourself covering as well. Expand your sources to cover a wide variety of material and information types; primary and secondary sources, interviews, newspaper articles, other research papers, and so on.
To be able to narrow down and bring clarity to your research topic and prepare an apt and encompassing thesis statement, start this process as early as possible and spend as much time as you can on it. Gathering as much research as possible and as early as possible can help iron out any uncertainties you may have about your topic of interest, help you understand the current status of research that has already been done in relation to what you want to explore, and hopefully elucidate the best path or approach to your paper.
Set some time aside to review the technical requirements for the essay as well, such as length, body formatting requirements, and citation style.
2. Organize your research materials
Spend some time organizing the research material you have gathered for your paper. Your research should ideally span across multiple types, and organizing them would expedite and ease the processes of referring and writing later on.
For a start, you can build a list of books, articles, and any other sources you have collected. **You can choose to bookmark resources you have put together on a browser, and thereafter create a digital bibliography that allows you to access the links in a faster and more efficient manner. You could even print your list of resources for easy reference, or write down whatever you have found to be relevant to your topic of interest by hand on post-its or cue cards, and arrange the material you have from there.
3. Narrow in on a topic
Figuring out and choosing a topic is arguable a make or break decision you have to take for your paper. It sets the path for everything that follows. Make sure your topic of choice has enough scope for you to work through substantial content and substance for a research paper
The difficulty in choosing a topic lies in having to pick one that would allow you data and complexity to present a technical and rich discussion, but also not too niche that existing research is sparse. Avoid making your thesis statement too broad or general, this can cause your paper to be unfocused. In some cases, a more contentious or debatable topic might give you more space more ample discussion and allow you to exhibit the ability to write about different position and perspectives in an impartial manner.
Overall, pick a topic that you are personally invested and interested in. If your topic satisfies the above mentioned suggestions and can provide a substantial amount of scope and engagement, and in which you have an interest in, it could be a possible green light.
4. Formulate a thesis statement
A thesis statement is a short, all-encompassing statement that puts forward what you as a writer or researcher are trying to explore and explain with your chosen subject matte. Your thesis statement should follow through with your topic of interest, and reflect your own opinion or assertion about it clearly and succinctly. This would typically be the first sentence of your paper; a first introduction to your readers on the insight you are about to provide.
A efficient thesis statement would cover the main crux of your discussion without giving away key details. If you are unsure how to go about this, re-think your topic and phrase it into a starting question.
For example, if you have chosen to explore the differences between left-handed and right-handed individuals, you would first ask yourself "Do left-handed and right-handed individuals function differently and exhibit different traits?” The answer to this starting question, depending on the preliminary research that you have done, would form a foundation for your thesis statement.
5. Gather supporting evidence
Once you have your thesis statement down, track back to the research you have done. Sieve out the relevant information that you would like to weave into your paper.
From the sources you have read and the notes you have made, isolate the information that is directly relevant to your topic and thesis statement. You may be compelled to pull out and set aside contextual or background information. But keep conscious of the difference between credible, supporting evidence for your thesis and background information on your topic. While you put together your supporting evidence, constantly take note of the source from which you are extracting this from; other research papers, books, websites, and their page numbers. You will thank yourself later while writing your citations.
If you have been making your own notes along the way, you can try your hand at making bibliography cards. Bibliography cards are efficient and effective. On index cards or post-its, record key information (facts or direct quotes from your research) on one side, and the bibliographical information of this information (citation, page numbers, etc.) This method of sieving out germane information will help you stay organized and focused.
6. Write an outline
Writing a outline would help you set foot on the right path when it comes to the structure and organization of your research paper. While there is a general formula for structuring an essay; the basic introduction, 3 to 5 body paragraphs, conclusion, there is no absolute need to stick to this. Most research essays start with a robust introductory paragraph and is wrapped up with a distinct concluding section, but the body or in-between of your essay depends on the subject and contents of your essay. Coming up with a structure that makes sense for your paper should be your priority.
While building your outline, think about the information that you are attempting to present and explain in your research paper. The structure that you decide upon should serve this information in the best way possible, and allow you to explore your topic in a organized way.
You can begin the process of coming up with an outline by listing all the vital categories and subtopics you would need to cover in your paper. Keep in mind the resources and information you have gathered through your preliminary research processes, while organizing them, and while sieving out relevant supporting evidence. Brainstorm the best ways to categorize your information, and what would fall under these categories.
Once you've decided the general content of the categories, think about the best manner or order in which you can present your information. If the information you have gathered is straightforward and can be arranged chronologically, you can choose to present it as such. But if not, find the similarities and differences between your categories and categories, and strong them accordingly into a flow. This way, you can make sure to iron out any structural issues in your outline itself, rather than having to re-arrange or re-categorize information after writing it out fully.
7. Work on your first draft
Once you are satisfied with your outline and you have a clear picture of the flow of your essay, dive into writing your first draft. This is indeed a daunting step, but remind yourself that you have prepared and organized your resources, have an outline to guide you, and that you can always come back in for edits and more drafts hereafter.
If you are having starting jitters, begin by stating your thesis statement and fill out the rest of your introduction from there. Your introductory paragraph would be the secondary information that you have gathered.
The body paragraphs of your paper will encompass the bulk of your information. Unlike other essays or academic writing, research papers would typically further divide their body into separate categories or sections with distinct headers. This adds to the clarity and organization of the heavy information that would be discussed. The longer the paper or work is, the higher the probability that things get a little convoluted along the way or a little messy in terms of organization or language. Make use of transition words, phrases, and sentences to manage the flow of your paper.
After fleshing out the main body of your paper, direct your attention to constructing a conclusion that effectively restates your thesis, emphasis your supporting evidence, and summarizes your results or findings. Avoid adding any new data or information as your wrap your paper up. However, you could choose to add a some personal insight or perspective at the end, varying a little from the academic tone of your essay thus far.
You will be able to revise and fine-tune your writing after you complete the first draft. During this stage, direct your focus into writing according to the outline you've made and penning down the information you have organized into a general flow.
8. Go back into your citations
Once you have drafted the first version of your essay, step away from the writing work for a bit and turn your attention the citations; a crucial aspect of research essays. Research essays are required to adhere to strict formatting guidelines and citation rules. This sets these papers apart from other forms of writing or essay types. Citing your resources properly and professionally validates your work and data, and also presents your research paper in a more promising light.
There are a few citation styles you can follow for the bibliography section of your paper. These formatting and citation styles have their specific uses and application methods. Amongst all, some of the major formatting styles that are commonly used in academia and research papers include the following :
- APA - American Psychological Association, a format mostly adhered to for papers on Education, Psychology, and Social Science fields
- MLA - Modern Language Association, for the fields of Literature, Arts, and Humanities
- AMA - American Medical Association, a formatting guideline that research papers in the field of Biological sciences, and Medicine and Health
9. Edit your content for a second draft
After working on your citations, work on drafting the second version of your paper. This time round, you can pay a little more attention to the nuances of your paper outside of the information and resources used, such as the overall structure, organization, language.
While writing your second draft, think about the relevance of your information, the strength of your arguments, and possible ways in which you could shift sections around to improve the flow and readability of your paper. Also pay attention to your language and the manner in which you have worded your content. Think about how you could re-phrase and substitute your language here and there to communicate your points and arguments better.
During this iteration of editing, you can shift your attention to the more minute details of your paper, such as the grammar, punctuation, and word-count of your work.
If you find your paper to be too long for your liking, carefully cut it down to an acceptable word-count. If you decide to delete something, reflect on whether it affects the flow or logic of your paper, or if it is truly relevant to your argument and the main crux of the paper. If there is a need to lengthen your paper, think about the sections that you could elaborate and expand your writing and potentially further develop the ideas you are exploring.
It is recommended to proofread your paper more than once, to make sure you have not missed anything out. If you are experiencing lethargy from looking at your work for an extended period of time, feel free to hand your paper to a a friend or mentor to take a look and for feedback. During this proofreading stage, spend time to check the technical formatting of your paper and make sure that it adheres to the formatting guidelines that have been set for research papers as well. These includes things such as your font size, line-spacing, page numbering, titles, subtitles, section headings, contents pages headers, foot notes, endnotes, cover page, contents page, appendix, citations and resources, and so on.