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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide
A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.
Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.
This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.
Table of contents
Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.
Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:
- Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
- Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
- Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.
Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.
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There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.
You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.
You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.
Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:
- A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
- A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.
Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.
Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.
- Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
- Are there any heated debates you can address?
- Do you have a unique take on your topic?
- Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?
In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”
A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.
The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.
You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.
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A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.
A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.
Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:
- Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
- Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
- Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.
You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.
Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.
Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.
George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.
It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.
You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.
APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator
The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.
What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.
Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?
How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.
The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.
One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:
- topic sentences against the thesis statement;
- topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
- and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.
Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.
The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.
Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.
You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.
You should not :
- Offer new arguments or essential information
- Take up any more space than necessary
- Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)
There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.
- Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
- Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
- Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
- If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.
The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible.
- Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
- Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
- Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.
Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:
- each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
- no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
- all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.
Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .
Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading or create an APA title page .
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Checklist: Research paper
I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.
My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.
My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .
My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .
Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .
Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.
I have used appropriate transitions to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.
My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.
My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.
My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.
I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.
I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .
I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.
I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).
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The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Research Paper
Few things strike more fear in academics than the accursed research paper , a term synonymous with long hours and hard work. Luckily there’s a secret to help you get through them. As long as you know how to write a research paper properly, you’ll find they’re not so bad . . . or at least less painful.
In this guide we concisely explain how to write an academic research paper step by step. We’ll cover areas like how to start a research paper, how to write a research paper outline, how to use citations and evidence, and how to write a conclusion for a research paper.
But before we get into the details, let’s take a look at what a research paper is and how it’s different from other writing .
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What is a research paper?
A research paper is a type of academic writing that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a single topic, based on empirical evidence. Research papers are similar to analytical essays, except that research papers emphasize the use of statistical data and preexisting research, along with a strict code for citations.
Research papers are a bedrock of modern science and the most effective way to share information across a wide network. However, most people are familiar with research papers from school; college courses often use them to test a student’s knowledge of a particular area or their research skills in general.
Considering their gravity, research papers favor formal, even bland language that strips the writing of any bias. Researchers state their findings plainly and with corresponding evidence so that other researchers can consequently use the paper in their own research.
Keep in mind that writing a research paper is different from writing a research proposal . Essentially, research proposals are to acquire the funding needed to get the data to write a research paper.
How long should a research paper be?
The length of a research paper depends on the topic or assignment. Typically, research papers run around 4,000–6,000 words, but it’s common to see short papers around 2,000 words or long papers over 10,000 words.
If you’re writing a paper for school, the recommended length should be provided in the assignment. Otherwise, let your topic dictate the length: Complicated topics or extensive research will require more explanation.
How to write a research paper in 9 steps
Below is a step-by-step guide to writing a research paper, catered specifically for students rather than professional researchers. While some steps may not apply to your particular assignment, think of this as more of a general guideline to keep you on track.
1 Understand the assignment
For some of you this goes without saying, but you might be surprised at how many students start a research paper without even reading the assignment guidelines.
So your first step should be to review the assignment and carefully read the writing prompt. Specifically, look for technical requirements such as length , formatting requirements (single- vs. double-spacing, indentations, etc.) and citation style . Also pay attention to the particulars, such as whether or not you need to write an abstract or include a cover page.
Once you understand the assignment, the next steps in how to write a research paper follow the usual writing process , more or less. There are some extra steps involved because research papers have extra rules, but the gist of the writing process is the same.
2 Choose your topic
In open-ended assignments, the student must choose their own topic. While it may seem simple enough, choosing a topic is actually the most important decision you’ll make in writing a research paper, since it determines everything that follows.
Your top priority in how to choose a research paper topic is whether it will provide enough content and substance for an entire research paper. You’ll want to choose a topic with enough data and complexity to enable a rich discussion. However, you also want to avoid general topics and instead stick with topics specific enough that you can cover all the relevant information without cutting too much.
3 Gather preliminary research
The sooner you start researching, the better—after all, it’s called a research paper for a reason.
To refine your topic and prepare your thesis statement, find out what research is available for your topic as soon as possible. Early research can help dispel any misconceptions you have about the topic and reveal the best paths and approaches to find more material.
Typically, you can find sources either online or in a library. If you’re searching online, make sure you use credible sources like science journals or academic papers. Some search engines—mentioned below in the Tools and resources section—allow you to browse only accredited sources and academic databases.
Keep in mind the difference between primary and secondary sources as you search. Primary sources are firsthand accounts, like published articles or autobiographies; secondary sources are more removed, like critical reviews or secondhand biographies.
When gathering your research, it’s better to skim sources instead of reading each potential source fully. If a source seems useful, set it aside to give it a full read later. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck poring over sources that you ultimately won’t use, and that time could be better spent finding a worthwhile source.
Sometimes you’re required to submit a literature review , which explains your sources and presents them to an authority for confirmation. Even if no literature review is required, it’s still helpful to compile an early list of potential sources—you’ll be glad you did later.
4 Write a thesis statement
Using what you found in your preliminary research, write a thesis statement that succinctly summarizes what your research paper will be about. This is usually the first sentence in your paper, making it your reader’s introduction to the topic.
A thesis statement is the best answer for how to start a research paper. Aside from preparing your reader, the thesis statement also makes it easier for other researchers to assess whether or not your paper is useful to them for their own research. Likewise, you should read the thesis statements of other research papers to decide how useful they are to you.
A good thesis statement mentions all the important parts of the discussion without disclosing too many of the details. If you’re having trouble putting it into words, try to phrase your topic as a question and then answer it .
For example, if your research paper topic is about separating students with ADHD from other students, you’d first ask yourself, “Does separating students with ADHD improve their learning?” The answer—based on your preliminary research—is a good basis for your thesis statement.
5 Determine supporting evidence
At this stage of how to write an academic research paper, it’s time to knuckle down and do the actual research. Here’s when you go through all the sources you collected earlier and find the specific information you’d like to use in your paper.
Normally, you find your supporting evidence by reading each source and taking notes. Isolate only the information that’s directly relevant to your topic; don’t bog down your paper with tangents or unnecessary context, however interesting they may be. And always write down page numbers , not only for you to find the information later, but also because you’ll need them for your citations.
Aside from highlighting text and writing notes, another common tactic is to use bibliography cards . These are simple index cards with a fact or direct quotation on one side and the bibliographical information (source citation, page numbers, subtopic category) on the other. While bibliography cards are not necessary, some students find them useful for staying organized, especially when it’s time to write an outline.
6 Write a research paper outline
A lot of students want to know how to write a research paper outline. More than informal essays, research papers require a methodical and systematic structure to make sure all issues are addressed, and that makes outlines especially important.
First make a list of all the important categories and subtopics you need to cover—an outline for your outline! Consider all the information you gathered when compiling your supporting evidence and ask yourself what the best way to separate and categorize everything is.
Once you have a list of what you want to talk about, consider the best order to present the information. Which subtopics are related and should go next to each other? Are there any subtopics that don’t make sense if they’re presented out of sequence? If your information is fairly straightforward, feel free to take a chronological approach and present the information in the order it happened.
Because research papers can get complicated, consider breaking your outline into paragraphs. For starters, this helps you stay organized if you have a lot of information to cover. Moreover, it gives you greater control over the flow and direction of the research paper. It’s always better to fix structural problems in the outline phase than later after everything’s already been written.
Don’t forget to include your supporting evidence in the outline as well. Chances are you’ll have a lot you want to include, so putting it in your outline helps prevent some things from falling through the cracks.
7 Write the first draft
Once your outline is finished, it’s time to start actually writing your research paper. This is by far the longest and most involved step, but if you’ve properly prepared your sources and written a thorough outline, everything should run smoothly.
If you don’t know how to write an introduction for a research paper, the beginning can be difficult. That’s why writing your thesis statement beforehand is crucial. Open with your thesis statement and then fill out the rest of your introduction with the secondary information—save the details for the body of your research paper, which comes next.
The body contains the bulk of your research paper. Unlike essays , research papers usually divide the body into sections with separate headers to facilitate browsing and scanning. Use the divisions in your outline as a guide.
Follow along your outline and go paragraph by paragraph. Because this is just the first draft, don’t worry about getting each word perfect . Later you’ll be able to revise and fine-tune your writing, but for now focus simply on saying everything that needs to be said. In other words, it’s OK to make mistakes since you’ll go back later to correct them.
One of the most common problems with writing long works like research papers is connecting paragraphs to each other. The longer your writing is, the harder it is to tie everything together smoothly. Use transition sentences to improve the flow of your paper, especially for the first and last sentences in a paragraph.
Even after the body is written, you still need to know how to write a conclusion for a research paper. Just like an essay conclusion , your research paper conclusion should restate your thesis , reiterate your main evidence , and summarize your findings in a way that’s easy to understand.
Don’t add any new information in your conclusion, but feel free to say your own personal perspective or interpretation if it helps the reader understand the big picture.
8 Cite your sources correctly
Citations are part of what sets research papers apart from more casual nonfiction like personal essays . Citing your sources both validates your data and also links your research paper to the greater scientific community. Because of their importance, citations must follow precise formatting rules . . . problem is, there’s more than one set of rules!
You need to check with the assignment to see which formatting style is required. Typically, academic research papers follow one of two formatting styles for citing sources:
- MLA (Modern Language Association)
- APA (American Psychological Association)
The links above explain the specific formatting guidelines for each style, along with an automatic citation generator to help you get started.
In addition to MLA and APA styles, you occasionally see requirements for CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style), AMA (American Medical Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
Citations may seem confusing at first with all their rules and specific information. However, once you get the hang of them, you’ll be able to properly cite your sources without even thinking about it. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
9 Edit and proofread
Last but not least, you want to go through your research paper to correct all the mistakes by proofreading . We recommend going over it twice: once for structural issues such as adding/deleting parts or rearranging paragraphs and once for word choice, grammatical, and spelling mistakes. Doing two different editing sessions helps you focus on one area at a time instead of doing them both at once.
To help you catch everything, here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind while you edit:
- Is your thesis statement clear and concise?
- Is your paper well-organized, and does it flow from beginning to end with logical transitions?
- Do your ideas follow a logical sequence in each paragraph?
- Have you used concrete details and facts and avoided generalizations?
- Do your arguments support and prove your thesis?
- Have you avoided repetition?
- Are your sources properly cited?
- Have you checked for accidental plagiarism?
Word choice, grammar, and spelling edit:
- Is your language clear and specific?
- Do your sentences flow smoothly and clearly?
- Have you avoided filler words and phrases ?
- Have you checked for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
Some people find it useful to read their paper out loud to catch problems they might miss when reading in their head. Another solution is to have someone else read your paper and point out areas for improvement and/or technical mistakes.
Revising is a separate skill from writing, and being good at one doesn’t necessarily make you good at the other. If you want to improve your revision skills, read our guide on self-editing , which includes a more complete checklist and advanced tips on improving your revisions.
Technical issues like grammatical mistakes and misspelled words can be handled effortlessly if you use a spellchecker with your word processor, or even better, a digital writing assistant that also suggests improvements for word choice and tone, like Grammarly (we explain more in the Tools and resources section below).
Tools and resources
If you want to know more about how to write a research paper, or if you want some help with each step, take a look at the tools and resources below.
This is Google’s own search engine, which is dedicated exclusively to academic papers. It’s a great way to find new research and sources. Plus, it’s free to use.
Zotero is a freemium, open-source research manager, a cross between an organizational CMS and a search engine for academic research. With it, you can browse the internet for research sources relevant to your topic and share them easily with colleagues. Also, it automatically generates citations.
Writing long research papers is always a strain on your attention span. If you have trouble avoiding distractions during those long stretches, FocusWriter might be able to help. FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor that removes all the distracting icons and sticks only to what you type. You’re also free to choose your own customized backgrounds, with other special features like timed alarms, daily goals, and optional typewriter sound effects.
This useful and free tool from Google lets you create simple charts and graphs based on whatever data you input. Charts and graphs are excellent visual aids for expressing numeric data, a perfect complement if you need to explain complicated evidential research.
Grammarly goes way beyond grammar, helping you hone word choice, checking your text for plagiarism, detecting your tone, and more. For foreign-language learners, it can make your English sound more fluent, and even those who speak English as their primary language benefit from Grammarly’s suggestions.
Research paper FAQs
A research paper is a piece of academic writing that analyzes, evaluates, or interprets a single topic with empirical evidence and statistical data.
When will I need to write a research paper in college?
Many college courses use research papers to test a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or their research skills in general. While research papers depend on the course or professor, you can expect to write at least a few before graduation.
How do I determine a topic for my research paper?
If the topic is not assigned, try to find a topic that’s general enough to provide ample evidence but specific enough that you’re able to cover all the basics. If possible, choose a topic you’re personally interested in—it makes the work easier.
Where can I conduct research for my paper?
Today most research is conducted either online or in libraries. Some topics might benefit from old periodicals like newspapers or magazines, as well as visual media like documentaries. Museums, parks, and historical monuments can also be useful.
How do I cite sources for a research paper?
The correct formatting for citations depends on which style you’re using, so check the assignment guidelines. Most school research reports use either MLA or APA styles, although there are others.
This article was originally written by Karen Hertzberg in 2017. It’s been updated to include new information.
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TIP Sheet HOW TO START (AND COMPLETE) A RESEARCH PAPER
You are a re-entry student and it's been fourteen years since you've written a paper. You coasted through high school on your charm and good looks and never actually wrote a research paper. You have written research papers, but every time is like the first time, and the first time was like a root canal. How do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach to starting and completing a research paper.
- Choose a topic.
- Read and keep records.
- Form a thesis.
- Create a mind map or outline.
- Read again.
- Rethink your thesis.
- Draft the body.
- Add the beginning and end.
- Proofread and edit.
You may read this TIP Sheet from start to finish before you begin your paper, or skip to the steps that are causing you the most grief.
1. Choosing a topic: Interest, information, and focus Your job will be more pleasant, and you will be more apt to retain information if you choose a topic that holds your interest. Even if a general topic is assigned ("Write about impacts of GMO crops on world food supply"), as much as possible find an approach that suits your interests. Your topic should be one on which you can find adequate information; you might need to do some preliminary research to determine this. Go to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in the reference section of the library, or to an electronic database such as Proquest or Wilson Web, and search for your topic. The Butte College Library Reference Librarians are more than happy to assist you at this (or any) stage of your research. Scan the results to see how much information has been published. Then, narrow your topic to manageable size:
Once you have decided on a topic and determined that enough information is available, you are ready to proceed. At this point, however, if you are having difficulty finding adequate quality information, stop wasting your time; find another topic.
2. Preliminary reading & recordkeeping Gather some index cards or a small notebook and keep them with you as you read. First read a general article on your topic, for example from an encyclopedia. On an index card or in the notebook, record the author, article and/or book title, and all publication information in the correct format (MLA or APA, for example) specified by your instructor. (If you need to know what publication information is needed for the various types of sources, see a writing guide such as S F Writer .) On the index cards or in your notebook, write down information you want to use from each identified source, including page numbers. Use quotation marks on anything you copy exactly, so you can distinguish later between exact quotes and paraphrasing. (You will still attribute information you have quoted or paraphrased.)
Some students use a particular index card method throughout the process of researching and writing that allows them great flexibility in organizing and re-organizing as well as in keeping track of sources; others color-code or otherwise identify groups of facts. Use any method that works for you in later drafting your paper, but always start with good recordkeeping.
3. Organizing: Mind map or outline Based on your preliminary reading, draw up a working mind map or outline. Include any important, interesting, or provocative points, including your own ideas about the topic. A mind map is less linear and may even include questions you want to find answers to. Use the method that works best for you. The object is simply to group ideas in logically related groups. You may revise this mind map or outline at any time; it is much easier to reorganize a paper by crossing out or adding sections to a mind map or outline than it is to laboriously start over with the writing itself.
4. Formulating a thesis: Focus and craftsmanship Write a well defined, focused, three- to five-point thesis statement, but be prepared to revise it later if necessary. Take your time crafting this statement into one or two sentences, for it will control the direction and development of your entire paper.
For more on developing thesis statements, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
5. Researching: Facts and examples Now begin your heavy-duty research. Try the internet, electronic databases, reference books, newspaper articles, and books for a balance of sources. For each source, write down on an index card (or on a separate page of your notebook) the publication information you will need for your works cited (MLA) or bibliography (APA) page. Write important points, details, and examples, always distinguishing between direct quotes and paraphrasing. As you read, remember that an expert opinion is more valid than a general opinion, and for some topics (in science and history, for example), more recent research may be more valuable than older research. Avoid relying too heavily on internet sources, which vary widely in quality and authority and sometimes even disappear before you can complete your paper.
Never copy-and-paste from internet sources directly into any actual draft of your paper. For more information on plagiarism, obtain from the Butte College Student Services office a copy of the college's policy on plagiarism, or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
6. Rethinking: Matching mind map and thesis After you have read deeply and gathered plenty of information, expand or revise your working mind map or outline by adding information, explanations, and examples. Aim for balance in developing each of your main points (they should be spelled out in your thesis statement). Return to the library for additional information if it is needed to evenly develop these points, or revise your thesis statement to better reflect what you have learned or the direction your paper seems to have taken.
7. Drafting: Beginning in the middle Write the body of the paper, starting with the thesis statement and omitting for now the introduction (unless you already know exactly how to begin, but few writers do). Use supporting detail to logically and systematically validate your thesis statement. For now, omit the conclusion also.
For more on systematically developing a thesis statement, see TIP sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
8. Revising: Organization and attribution Read, revise, and make sure that your ideas are clearly organized and that they support your thesis statement. Every single paragraph should have a single topic that is derived from the thesis statement. If any paragraph does not, take it out, or revise your thesis if you think it is warranted. Check that you have quoted and paraphrased accurately, and that you have acknowledged your sources even for your paraphrasing. Every single idea that did not come to you as a personal epiphany or as a result of your own methodical reasoning should be attributed to its owner.
For more on writing papers that stay on-topic, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay." For more on avoiding plagiarism, see the Butte College Student Services brochure, "Academic Honesty at Butte College," or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
9. Writing: Intro, conclusion, and citations Write the final draft. Add a one-paragraph introduction and a one-paragraph conclusion. Usually the thesis statement appears as the last sentence or two of the first, introductory paragraph. Make sure all citations appear in the correct format for the style (MLA, APA) you are using. The conclusion should not simply restate your thesis, but should refer to it. (For more on writing conclusions, see the TIP Sheet "How to Structure an Essay.") Add a Works Cited (for MLA) or Bibliography (for APA) page.
10. Proofreading: Time and objectivity Time permitting, allow a few days to elapse between the time you finish writing your last draft and the time you begin to make final corrections. This "time out" will make you more perceptive, more objective, and more critical. On your final read, check for grammar, punctuation, correct word choice, adequate and smooth transitions, sentence structure, and sentence variety. For further proofreading strategies, see the TIP Sheet "Revising, Editing, and Proofreading."
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- Step 1: Sections in a Research Paper
- Step 2: Order for Preparation
- Step 3: Conceptualizing an Attractive Title
- Step 4: Effectively Reviewing Literature
- Step 5: Drafting the Abstract
- Step 6: Drafting Introduction
- Step 7: Drafting Materials and Methods
- Step 8: Drafting Results
- Step 9: Drafting Discussion
- Step 10: Drafting the Conclusion
- Step 11: Citing and Referencing
- Step 12: Preparing Figures
- Step 13: Preparing Tables
- Step 14: Assigning Authorship
- Step 15: Acknowledgements Section
- Step 16: Checking the Author Guidelines
- Step 17: Proofreading and Editing
- Step 18: Pre-submission Peer-Review
- Step 1: How to Structure a Research Paper?
- Step 3: How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?
- Step 4: How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review
- Step 5: How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract
- Step 6: How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper
- Step 7: How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper
- Step 8: How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper
- Step 9: How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
- Step 10: How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper
- Step 15: How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper
How to Write a Research Paper – A to Z of Academic Writing
Part of a scientist’s job is to publish research. In fact, some would argue that your experiment is only complete once you have published the results. This makes it available to the scientific community for authentication and the advancement of science. In addition, publishing is essential for a researcher’s career as it validates the research and opens doors for funding and employment. In this section, we give you a step-by-step guide to help you write an effective research paper. So, remember to set aside half an hour each day to write. This habit will make your writing manageable and keep you focused.
There are different types of research papers. The most common ones include:
Original research paper, rapid communication or letter, review article, meeting abstract, paper, and proceedings.
This is a full report written by researchers covering the analysis of their experimental study from start to finish. It is the most common type research manuscript that is published in academic journals. Original articles are expected to follow the IMRAD format.
These are usually written to publish results urgently in rapidly changing or highly competitive fields. They will be brief and may not be separated by headings.It consists of original preliminary results that are likely to have a significant impact in the respective field.
This is a comprehensive summary of a certain topic. It is usually requested by a journal editor and written by a leader in the field. It includes current assessment, latest findings, and future directions of the field. It is a massive undertaking in which approximately 100 research articles are cited. Uninvited reviews are published too, but it is best to send a pre-submission enquiry letter to the journal editor first.
This is mostly used in the medical field to report interesting occurrences such as previously unknown or emerging pathologies. It could be a report of a single case or multiple cases and will include a short introduction, methods, results, and discussion.
This is a brief report of research presented at an organized meeting such as a conference. These range from an abstract to a full report of the research. It needs to be focused and clear in explaining your topic and the main points of the study that will be shared with the audience.
- STEP 1: How to Structure a Research Paper?
- STEP 2: Order for Preparation of the Manuscript
- STEP 3: How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?
- STEP 4: How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review
- STEP 5: How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract
- STEP 6: How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper
- STEP 7: How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper
- STEP 8: How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper
- STEP 9: How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
- STEP 10: How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper
- STEP 11: Effectively Citing and Referencing Your Sources
- STEP 12: Preparing Figures
- STEP 13: Preparing Tables
- STEP 14: Assigning Authorship
- STEP 15: How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper
- STEP 16: Checking the Author Guidelines Before Preparing the Manuscript
- STEP 17: Proofreading and Editing Your Manuscript
- STEP 18: Pre-submission Peer-Review
How to Structure a Research Paper?
Your research paper should tell a story of how you began your research, what you found, and how it advances your research field. It is important to structure your research paper so that editors and readers can easily find information. The widely adopted structure that research papers mostly follow is the IMRaD format . IMRaD stands for Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Additional requirements from journals include an abstract, keywords, acknowledgements, and references. This format helps scientists to tell their story in an organized manner. Authors often find it easier to write the IMRaD sections in a different order. However, the final paper should be collated in the IMRaD format as follows:
Case studies follow a slightly different format to the traditional IMRAD format. They include the following extra sections:
- History and physical examination: Details of the patient’s history. It provides the story of when a patient first sought medical care.
- Diagnostic focus and assessment : Describe the steps taken that lead to a diagnosis and any test results.
- Therapeutic focus and assessment: Explain therapies tried and any other recommendations from consultants. Assess the efficacy of the treatments given.
- Follow-up and outcome: Provide results and state the patient adhered to treatment. Include any side effects.
- Patient perspective: Describe the patient’s experience.
- Patient consent: State that informed consent was obtained from the patient.
Order for Preparation of the Manuscript
As mentioned above, most research publications follow the IMRAD format. However, it is often easier to write each section in a different order than that of the final paper.
Authors recommend you organize the data first and then write the sections as follows:
- Figures and tables: Decide how your data should be presented. You can use graphics, tables or describe it in the text.
- Methods: It is important that anyone can use your methods to reproduce your experiments.
- Results: Here you write only what the results of your experiments were. You do not discuss them here.
- Discussion: This section requires analysis, thought, and a thorough understanding of the literature. You need to discuss your results without repeating the results section.
- Conclusion: This section can either be under a sub-heading or the last paragraph of the discussion. It should inform the reader how your results advance the field.
- Introduction: Now that you have thought about your results in the context of the literature, you can write your introduction.
- Abstract: This is an overview of your paper. Give a concise background of the problem and how you tried to solve it. Next state your main findings.
- Title: As discussed above, this needs to be concise as well as informative. Ensure that it makes sense.
- Keywords: These are used for indexing. Keywords need to be specific. Often you are not allowed to use words that appear in the journal name. Use abbreviations with care and only well-established ones.
- Acknowledgements: This section is to thank anyone involved in the research that does not qualify as an author.
- References: Check the “Guide for authors” for the formatting style. Be accurate and do not include unnecessary references.
How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?
Your research title is the first impression of your paper. A good research paper title is a brief description of the topic, method, sample, and results of your study. A useful formula you could use is:
There are different ways to write a research paper title :
State the main conclusions. Example: Mixed strains of probiotics improve antibiotic associated diarrhea.
Describe the subject. Example: Effects of mixed strains of probiotics on antibiotic associated diarrhea.
Use a question for the subject. Example: Do mixed strains of probiotics improve antibiotic associated diarrhea?
We recommend the following five top tips to conceptualize an attractive research title:
- Be descriptive
- Use a low word count (5-15 words)
- Check journal guidelines
- Avoid jargon and symbols
How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review
The process of conducting a literature review can be overwhelming. However, if you start with a clear research question, you can stay focused.
- Literature search: Search for articles related to your research question. Keep notes of the search terms and keywords you use. A list of databases to search and notes of the ones you have searched will prevent duplicate searches.
- What is their research question?
- Are there potential conflicts of interest such as funders who may want a particular result?
- Are their methods sufficient to test the objectives?
- Can you identify any flaws in the research?
- Do their results make sense, or could there be other reasons for their conclusion?
- Are the authors respected in the field?
- Has the research been cited?
- Introduction: Here you introduce the topic. The introduction describes the problem and identifies gaps in knowledge. It also rationalizes your research.
- Discussion: Here you support and compare your results. Use the literature to put your research in context with the current state of knowledge. Furthermore, show how your research has advanced the field.
How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract
The importance of research paper abstracts cannot be emphasized enough.
- They are used by online databases to index large research works. Therefore, critical keywords must be used.
- Editors and reviewers read an abstract to decide whether an article is worth considering for publication.
- Readers use an abstract to decide whether the research is relevant to them.
A good research paper abstract is a concise and appealing synopsis of your research. There are two ways to write an abstract: structured and unstructured research abstracts . The author guidelines of the journal you are submitting your research to will tell you the format they require.
- The structured abstract has distinct sections with headings. This style enables a reader to easily find the relevant information under clear headings (objective, methods, results, and conclusion). Think of each section as a question and provide a concise but detailed answer under each heading.
- The unstructured abstract is a narrative paragraph of your research. It is similar to the structured abstract but does not contain headings. It gives the context, findings, conclusion, and implications of your paper.
How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper
The Introduction section of your research paper introduces your research in the context of the knowledge in the field. First introduce the topic including the problem you are addressing, the importance of solving this problem, and known research and gaps in the knowledge. Then narrow it down to your research questions and hypothesis.
Tips to write an effective introduction for your research paper :
- Give broad background information about the problem.
- Write it in a logical manner so that the reader can follow your thought process.
- Focus on the problem you intend to solve with your research
- Note any solutions in the literature thus far.
- Propose your solution to the problem with reasons.
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How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper
When writing the Materials and Methods section of a research paper, you need to give enough detail in your methods so that others can reproduce your experiments. However, there is no need to detail established experiments. Readers can find these details in the previously published references you refer to in the methods. Follow these tips to write the Materials and Methods section of your research paper: :
- Write in the past tense because you are reporting on procedures you carried out.
- Avoid unnecessary details that disrupts the flow.
- Materials and equipments should be mentioned throughout the procedure, rather than listed at the beginning of a section.
- Detail any ethics or consent requirements if your study included humans or animal subjects.
- Use standard nomenclature and numbers.
- Ensure you have the correct control experiments.
- Methods should be listed logically.
- Detail statistical methods used to analyze your data.
Here is a checklist of things that should be in your Materials and Methods:
- References of previously published methods.
- Study settings : If the research involves studying a population, give location and context of the site.
- Cell lines : Give their source and detail any contamination tests performed.
- Antibodies : Give details such as catalogue numbers, citations, dilutions used, and batch numbers.
- Animal models : Species, age, and sex of animals as well as ethical compliance information.
- Human subjects : Ethics committee requirements and a statement confirming you received informed consent. If relevant, clinical trial registration numbers and selection criteria.
- Data accession codes for data you deposited in a repository.
- Software : Where you obtained the programs and their version numbers.
- Statistics : Criteria for including or excluding samples or subjects, randomisation methods, details of investigator blinding to avoid bias, appropriateness of statistical tests used for your study.
- Timeframes if relevant.
How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper
Some journals combine the results and discussion section, whereas others have separate headings for each section. If the two sections are combined, you state the results of your research and discuss them immediately afterwards, before presenting your next set of results. The challenge is to present your data in a way that is logical and accurate. Set out your results in the same order as you set out your methods.
When writing the Results section of your research paper remember to include:
- Control group data.
- Relevant statistical values such as p-values.
- Visual illustrations of your results such as figures and tables.
Things that do not belong in the results section:
- Speculation or commentary about the results.
- References – you are reporting your own data.
- Do not repeat data in text if it has been presented in a table or graph.
Keep the discussion section separate . Keep explanations, interpretations, limitations, and comparisons to the literature for the discussion.
How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
The discussion section of your research paper answers several questions such as: did you achieve your objectives? How do your results compare to other studies? Were there any limitations to your research? Start discussing your data specifically and then broaden out to how it furthers your field of interest.
Questions to get you started:
- How do your results answer your objectives?
- Why do you think your results are different to published data?
- Do you think further research would help clarify any issues with your data?
The aim is to tell the reader what your results mean. Structure the discussion section of your research paper in a logical manner. Start with an introductory paragraph where you set out the context and main aims of the study. Do this without repeating the introduction. Some authors prefer starting with the major findings first to keep the readers interested.
The next paragraph should discuss what you found, how it compares to other studies, any limitations, your opinion, and what they mean for the field.
The concluding paragraph should talk about the major outcomes of the study. Be careful not to write your conclusion here. Merely highlight the main themes emerging from your data.
Tips to write an effective discussion:
- It is not a literature review. Keep your comments relevant to your results.
- Interpret your results.
- Be concise and remove unnecessary words.
- Do not include results not presented in the result section.
- Ensure your conclusions are supported by your data.
How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper
While writing the conclusion for your research paper, give a summary of your research with emphasis on your findings. Again, structuring the conclusion section of your research paper will make it easier to draft this section. Here are some tips when writing the conclusion of your paper:
- State what you set out to achieve.
- Tell the reader what your major findings were.
- How has your study contributed to the field?
- Mention any limitations.
- End with recommendations for future research.
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Effectively Citing and Referencing Your Sources
You need to acknowledge the original work that you talk about in your write-up. There are two reasons for this. First, cite someone’s idea to avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you use words or ideas of others without acknowledging them and this is a serious offence. Second, readers will be able to source the literature you cited easily.
This is done by citing works in your text and providing the full reference for this citation in a reference list at the end of your document.
Tips for effective refencing/citations:
- Keep a detailed list of your references including author(s), publication, year of publication, title, and page numbers.
- Insert a citation (either a number or author name) in-text as you write.
- List the full reference in a reference list according to the style required by the publication.
- Pay attention to details as mistakes will misdirect readers.
Try referencing software tools “cite while you write”. Examples of such referencing software programs include: Mendeley , Endnote , Refworks and Zotero .
Some quick tips about figures:
- Legends of graphs and tables must be self-explanatory.
- Use easily distinguishable symbols.
- Place long tables of data in the supplementary material.
- Include a scale bar in photographs.
Important pointers for tables:
- Check the author guidelines for table formatting requirements.
- Tables do not have vertical lines in publications.
- Legends must be self-explanatory.
To qualify as an author on a paper, an individual must:
- Make substantial contributions to all stages of the research.
- Draft or revise the manuscript.
- Approve the final version of the article.
- Be accountable for the accuracy and integrity of the research.
Unethical and unprofessional authorships have emerged over the years. These include:
- Gift authorship : An individual is listed as a co-author in lieu of funding or supervision.
- Ghost authorship : An author is paid to write an article but does not contribute to the article in any other way.
- Guest authorship : An individual who is given authorship because they are well known and respected in the field, or they are senior members of staff.
These authors pose a threat to research. Readers may override their concerns with an article if it includes a well-respected co-author. This is especially problematic when decisions about medical interventions are concerned.
How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper
Those who do not qualify as authors but have contributed to the research should be given credit in the acknowledgements section of your research paper . These include funders, supervisors, administrative supporters, writing, editing, and proofreading assistance .
The contributions made by these individuals should be stated and sometimes their written permission to be acknowledged is required by editors.
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Points to Note from the Author Instructions Before Preparing the Manuscript
Check the author guidelines for your chosen publication before submission. Publishers mostly have a “House Style” that ensures all their manuscripts are consistent with regards to language, formatting, and style. For example, these guidelines will tell you whether to use UK or US English, which abbreviations are allowed, and how to format figures and tables. They are also especially important for the references section as each journal has their own style.
Proofreading/Editing your Manuscript
Ensure that your manuscript is structured correctly, clearly written, contains the correct technical language, and supports your claims with proper evidence. To ensure the structure is correct, it is essential to edit your paper .
Once you are happy with the manuscript, proofread for small errors. These could be spelling, consistency, spacing, and so forth. Importantly, check that figures and tables include all the necessary data and statistical values. Seek assistance from colleagues or professional editing companies to edit and proofread your manuscript too.
Pre-submission Peer-Review of Your Manuscript
A pre-submission peer-review could improve the quality of articles submitted to journals in general. The benefits include:
- A fresh eye to spot gaps or errors.
- Receiving constructive feedback on your work and writing.
- Improves the clarity of your paper.
You could ask experienced colleagues, supervisors or even professional editing services to review your article.
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Writing Research Papers
- Research Paper Structure
Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.
Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style
A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1 Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices. These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2
What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors. The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page. In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.
One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.
What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.
What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed. It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section. A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.
What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed. It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.
What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper. The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings. Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.
List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source). Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).
Tables and Figures
Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither). In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References. Tables are included first, followed by Figures. However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).
Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided. This is often placed in an Appendix.
Variations of Research Papers in APA Style
Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern. These variations include:
- Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section.
- Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered. Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References. Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.
Departures from APA Style
In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). Such deviations may include:
- Placement of Tables and Figures – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first).
- Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun). In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research. Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
- Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely. You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.
Workshops and Downloadable Resources
- For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).
- How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
- Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]
- Writing Research Paper Videos
APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines
- Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
- Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.
- Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
- How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
- WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
- Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
- Sample APA Formatted Paper
- Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style
1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
2 geller, e. (2018). how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.
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- Formatting Research Papers
- Using Databases and Finding References
- What Types of References Are Appropriate?
- Evaluating References and Taking Notes
- Citing References
- Writing a Literature Review
- Writing Process and Revising
- Improving Scientific Writing
- Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
- Writing Research Papers Videos
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- Academic Writing
What is a Research Paper?
- Steps in Writing a Research Paper
- Critical Reading and Writing
- Writing Exercises
- ELL/ESL Resources
"Research paper." What image comes into mind as you hear those words: working with stacks of articles and books, hunting the "treasure" of others' thoughts? Whatever image you create, it's a sure bet that you're envisioning sources of information--articles, books, people, artworks. Yet a research paper is more than the sum of your sources, more than a collection of different pieces of information about a topic, and more than a review of the literature in a field. A research paper analyzes a perspective argues a point . Regardless of the type of research paper you are writing, your finished research paper should present your own thinking backed up by others' ideas and information.
To draw a parallel, a lawyer researches and reads about many cases and uses them to support his or her own case. A scientist reads many case studies to support an idea about a scientific principle. In the same way, a history student writing about the Vietnam War might read newspaper articles and books and interview veterans to develop and/or confirm a viewpoint and support it with evidence.
A research paper is an expanded essay that presents your own interpretation or evaluation or argument. When you write an essay, you use everything that you personally know and have thought about a subject. When you write a research paper you build upon what you know about the subject and make a deliberate attempt to find out what experts know. A research paper involves surveying a field of knowledge in order to find the best possible information in that field. And that survey can be orderly and focused, if you know how to approach it. Don't worry--you won't get lost in a sea of sources.
In fact, this guide is designed to help you navigate the research voyage, through developing a research question and thesis, doing the research, writing the paper, and correctly documenting your sources.
If you would like assistance with any type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing [email protected].
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Types of research papers
There are multiple different types of research papers. It is important to know which type of research paper is required for your assignment, as each type of research paper requires different preparation. Below is a list of the most common types of research papers.
➡️ Read more: What is a research paper?
- Analytical research paper
In an analytical research paper you:
- pose a question
- collect relevant data from other researchers
- analyze their different viewpoints
You focus on the findings and conclusions of other researchers and then make a personal conclusion about the topic. It is important to stay neutral and not show your own negative or positive position on the matter.
- Argumentative or persuasive paper
The argumentative paper presents two sides of a controversial issue in one paper. It is aimed at getting the reader on the side of your point of view.
You should include and cite findings and arguments of different researchers on both sides of the issue, but then favor one side over the other and try to persuade the reader of your side. Your arguments should not be too emotional though, they still need to be supported with logical facts and statistical data.
Tip: Avoid expressing too much emotion in a persuasive paper.
- Definition paper
The definition paper solely describes facts or objective arguments without using any personal emotion or opinion of the author. Its only purpose is to provide information. You should include facts from a variety of sources, but leave those facts unanalyzed.
- Compare and contrast paper
Compare and contrast papers are used to analyze the difference between two:
Make sure to sufficiently describe both sides in the paper, and then move on to comparing and contrasting both thesis and supporting one.
- Cause and effect paper
Cause and effect papers are usually the first types of research papers that high school and college students write. They trace probable or expected results from a specific action and answer the main questions "Why?" and "What?", which reflect effects and causes.
In business and education fields, cause and effect papers will help trace a range of results that could arise from a particular action or situation.
- Interpretative paper
An interpretative paper requires you to use knowledge that you have gained from a particular case study, for example a legal situation in law studies. You need to write the paper based on an established theoretical framework and use valid supporting data to back up your statement and conclusion.
- Experimental research paper
This type of research paper basically describes a particular experiment in detail. It is common in fields like:
Experiments are aimed to explain a certain outcome or phenomenon with certain actions. You need to describe your experiment with supporting data and then analyze it sufficiently.
- Survey research paper
This research paper demands the conduction of a survey that includes asking questions to respondents. The conductor of the survey then collects all the information from the survey and analyzes it to present it in the research paper.
➡️ Ready to start your research paper? Take a look at our guide on how to start a research paper .
- Frequently Asked Questions about the different types of research papers
In an analytical research paper, you pose a question and then collect relevant data from other researchers to analyze their different viewpoints. You focus on the findings and conclusions of other researchers and then make a personal conclusion about the topic.
The definition paper solely describes facts or objective arguments without using any personal emotion or opinion of the author. Its only purpose is to provide information.
Cause and effect papers are usually the first types of research papers that high school and college students are confronted with. The answer questions like "Why?" and "What?", which reflect effects and causes. In business and education fields, cause and effect papers will help trace a range of results that could arise from a particular action or situation.
This type of research paper describes a particular experiment in detail. It is common in fields like biology, chemistry or physics. Experiments are aimed to explain a certain outcome or phenomenon with certain actions.
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