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A Guide to Writing a Scientific Paper: A Focus on High School Through Graduate Level Student Research

Renee a. hesselbach.

1 NIEHS Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

David H. Petering

2 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Craig A. Berg

3 Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Henry Tomasiewicz

Daniel weber.

This article presents a detailed guide for high school through graduate level instructors that leads students to write effective and well-organized scientific papers. Interesting research emerges from the ability to ask questions, define problems, design experiments, analyze and interpret data, and make critical connections. This process is incomplete, unless new results are communicated to others because science fundamentally requires peer review and criticism to validate or discard proposed new knowledge. Thus, a concise and clearly written research paper is a critical step in the scientific process and is important for young researchers as they are mastering how to express scientific concepts and understanding. Moreover, learning to write a research paper provides a tool to improve science literacy as indicated in the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards (1996), and A Framework for K–12 Science Education (2011), the underlying foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards currently being developed. Background information explains the importance of peer review and communicating results, along with details of each critical component, the Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results , and Discussion . Specific steps essential to helping students write clear and coherent research papers that follow a logical format, use effective communication, and develop scientific inquiry are described.

Introduction

A key part of the scientific process is communication of original results to others so that one's discoveries are passed along to the scientific community and the public for awareness and scrutiny. 1 – 3 Communication to other scientists ensures that new findings become part of a growing body of publicly available knowledge that informs how we understand the world around us. 2 It is also what fuels further research as other scientists incorporate novel findings into their thinking and experiments.

Depending upon the researcher's position, intent, and needs, communication can take different forms. The gold standard is writing scientific papers that describe original research in such a way that other scientists will be able to repeat it or to use it as a basis for their studies. 1 For some, it is expected that such articles will be published in scientific journals after they have been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. Scientists must submit their articles for examination by other scientists familiar with the area of research, who decide whether the work was conducted properly and whether the results add to the knowledge base and are conveyed well enough to merit publication. 2 If a manuscript passes the scrutiny of peer-review, it has the potential to be published. 1 For others, such as for high school or undergraduate students, publishing a research paper may not be the ultimate goal. However, regardless of whether an article is to be submitted for publication, peer review is an important step in this process. For student researchers, writing a well-organized research paper is a key step in learning how to express understanding, make critical connections, summarize data, and effectively communicate results, which are important goals for improving science literacy of the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards, 4 and A Framework for K–12 Science Education, 5 and the Next Generation Science Standards 6 currently being developed and described in The NSTA Reader's Guide to A Framework for K–12 Science Education. 7 Table 1 depicts the key skills students should develop as part of the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Table 2 illustrates the central goals of A Framework for K–12 Science Education Scientific and Engineering Practices Dimension.

Key Skills of the Science as Inquiry National Science Education Content Standard

National Research Council (1996).

Important Practices of A Framework for K–12 Science Education Scientific and Engineering Practices Dimension

National Research Council (2011).

Scientific papers based on experimentation typically include five predominant sections: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion . This structure is a widely accepted approach to writing a research paper, and has specific sections that parallel the scientific method. Following this structure allows the scientist to tell a clear, coherent story in a logical format, essential to effective communication. 1 , 2 In addition, using a standardized format allows the reader to find specific information quickly and easily. While readers may not have time to read the entire research paper, the predictable format allows them to focus on specific sections such as the Abstract , Introduction , and Discussion sections. Therefore, it is critical that information be placed in the appropriate and logical section of the report. 3

Guidelines for Writing a Primary Research Article

The Title sends an important message to the reader about the purpose of the paper. For example, Ethanol Effects on the Developing Zebrafish: Neurobehavior and Skeletal Morphogenesis 8 tells the reader key information about the content of the research paper. Also, an appropriate and descriptive title captures the attention of the reader. When composing the Title , students should include either the aim or conclusion of the research, the subject, and possibly the independent or dependent variables. Often, the title is created after the body of the article has been written, so that it accurately reflects the purpose and content of the article. 1 , 3

The Abstract provides a short, concise summary of the research described in the body of the article and should be able to stand alone. It provides readers with a quick overview that helps them decide whether the article may be interesting to read. Included in the Abstract are the purpose or primary objectives of the experiment and why they are important, a brief description of the methods and approach used, key findings and the significance of the results, and how this work is different from the work of others. It is important to note that the Abstract briefly explains the implications of the findings, but does not evaluate the conclusions. 1 , 3 Just as with the Title , this section needs to be written carefully and succinctly. Often this section is written last to ensure it accurately reflects the content of the paper. Generally, the optimal length of the Abstract is one paragraph between 200 and 300 words, and does not contain references or abbreviations.

All new research can be categorized by field (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, geology) and by area within the field (e.g., biology: evolution, ecology, cell biology, anatomy, environmental health). Many areas already contain a large volume of published research. The role of the Introduction is to place the new research within the context of previous studies in the particular field and area, thereby introducing the audience to the research and motivating the audience to continue reading. 1

Usually, the writer begins by describing what is known in the area that directly relates to the subject of the article's research. Clearly, this must be done judiciously; usually there is not room to describe every bit of information that is known. Each statement needs one or more references from the scientific literature that supports its validity. Students must be reminded to cite all references to eliminate the risk of plagiarism. 2 Out of this context, the author then explains what is not known and, therefore, what the article's research seeks to find out. In doing so, the scientist provides the rationale for the research and further develops why this research is important. The final statement in the Introduction should be a clearly worded hypothesis or thesis statement, as well as a brief summary of the findings as they relate to the stated hypothesis. Keep in mind that the details of the experimental findings are presented in the Results section and are aimed at filling the void in our knowledge base that has been pointed out in the Introduction .

Materials and Methods

Research utilizes various accepted methods to obtain the results that are to be shared with others in the scientific community. The quality of the results, therefore, depends completely upon the quality of the methods that are employed and the care with which they are applied. The reader will refer to the Methods section: (a) to become confident that the experiments have been properly done, (b) as the guide for repeating the experiments, and (c) to learn how to do new methods.

It is particularly important to keep in mind item (b). Since science deals with the objective properties of the physical and biological world, it is a basic axiom that these properties are independent of the scientist who reported them. Everyone should be able to measure or observe the same properties within error, if they do the same experiment using the same materials and procedures. In science, one does the same experiment by exactly repeating the experiment that has been described in the Methods section. Therefore, someone can only repeat an experiment accurately if all the relevant details of the experimental methods are clearly described. 1 , 3

The following information is important to include under illustrative headings, and is generally presented in narrative form. A detailed list of all the materials used in the experiments and, if important, their source should be described. These include biological agents (e.g., zebrafish, brine shrimp), chemicals and their concentrations (e.g., 0.20 mg/mL nicotine), and physical equipment (e.g., four 10-gallon aquariums, one light timer, one 10-well falcon dish). The reader needs to know as much as necessary about each of the materials; however, it is important not to include extraneous information. For example, consider an experiment involving zebrafish. The type and characteristics of the zebrafish used must be clearly described so another scientist could accurately replicate the experiment, such as 4–6-month-old male and female zebrafish, the type of zebrafish used (e.g., Golden), and where they were obtained (e.g., the NIEHS Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center in the WATER Institute of the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee). In addition to describing the physical set-up of the experiment, it may be helpful to include photographs or diagrams in the report to further illustrate the experimental design.

A thorough description of each procedure done in the reported experiment, and justification as to why a particular method was chosen to most effectively answer the research question should also be included. For example, if the scientist was using zebrafish to study developmental effects of nicotine, the reader needs to know details about how and when the zebrafish were exposed to the nicotine (e.g., maternal exposure, embryo injection of nicotine, exposure of developing embryo to nicotine in the water for a particular length of time during development), duration of the exposure (e.g., a certain concentration for 10 minutes at the two-cell stage, then the embryos were washed), how many were exposed, and why that method was chosen. The reader would also need to know the concentrations to which the zebrafish were exposed, how the scientist observed the effects of the chemical exposure (e.g., microscopic changes in structure, changes in swimming behavior), relevant safety and toxicity concerns, how outcomes were measured, and how the scientist determined whether the data/results were significantly different in experimental and unexposed control animals (statistical methods).

Students must take great care and effort to write a good Methods section because it is an essential component of the effective communication of scientific findings.

The Results section describes in detail the actual experiments that were undertaken in a clear and well-organized narrative. The information found in the Methods section serves as background for understanding these descriptions and does not need to be repeated. For each different experiment, the author may wish to provide a subtitle and, in addition, one or more introductory sentences that explains the reason for doing the experiment. In a sense, this information is an extension of the Introduction in that it makes the argument to the reader why it is important to do the experiment. The Introduction is more general; this text is more specific.

Once the reader understands the focus of the experiment, the writer should restate the hypothesis to be tested or the information sought in the experiment. For example, “Atrazine is routinely used as a crop pesticide. It is important to understand whether it affects organisms that are normally found in soil. We decided to use worms as a test organism because they are important members of the soil community. Because atrazine damages nerve cells, we hypothesized that exposure to atrazine will inhibit the ability of worms to do locomotor activities. In the first experiment, we tested the effect of the chemical on burrowing action.”

Then, the experiments to be done are described and the results entered. In reporting on experimental design, it is important to identify the dependent and independent variables clearly, as well as the controls. The results must be shown in a way that can be reproduced by the reader, but do not include more details than needed for an effective analysis. Generally, meaningful and significant data are gathered together into tables and figures that summarize relevant information, and appropriate statistical analyses are completed based on the data gathered. Besides presenting each of these data sources, the author also provides a written narrative of the contents of the figures and tables, as well as an analysis of the statistical significance. In the narrative, the writer also connects the results to the aims of the experiment as described above. Did the results support the initial hypothesis? Do they provide the information that was sought? Were there problems in the experiment that compromised the results? Be careful not to include an interpretation of the results; that is reserved for the Discussion section.

The writer then moves on to the next experiment. Again, the first paragraph is developed as above, except this experiment is seen in the context of the first experiment. In other words, a story is being developed. So, one commonly refers to the results of the first experiment as part of the basis for undertaking the second experiment. “In the first experiment we observed that atrazine altered burrowing activity. In order to understand how that might occur, we decided to study its impact on the basic biology of locomotion. Our hypothesis was that atrazine affected neuromuscular junctions. So, we did the following experiment..”

The Results section includes a focused critical analysis of each experiment undertaken. A hallmark of the scientist is a deep skepticism about results and conclusions. “Convince me! And then convince me again with even better experiments.” That is the constant challenge. Without this basic attitude of doubt and willingness to criticize one's own work, scientists do not get to the level of concern about experimental methods and results that is needed to ensure that the best experiments are being done and the most reproducible results are being acquired. Thus, it is important for students to state any limitations or weaknesses in their research approach and explain assumptions made upfront in this section so the validity of the research can be assessed.

The Discussion section is the where the author takes an overall view of the work presented in the article. First, the main results from the various experiments are gathered in one place to highlight the significant results so the reader can see how they fit together and successfully test the original hypotheses of the experiment. Logical connections and trends in the data are presented, as are discussions of error and other possible explanations for the findings, including an analysis of whether the experimental design was adequate. Remember, results should not be restated in the Discussion section, except insofar as it is absolutely necessary to make a point.

Second, the task is to help the reader link the present work with the larger body of knowledge that was portrayed in the Introduction . How do the results advance the field, and what are the implications? What does the research results mean? What is the relevance? 1 , 3

Lastly, the author may suggest further work that needs to be done based on the new knowledge gained from the research.

Supporting Documentation and Writing Skills

Tables and figures are included to support the content of the research paper. These provide the reader with a graphic display of information presented. Tables and figures must have illustrative and descriptive titles, legends, interval markers, and axis labels, as appropriate; should be numbered in the order that they appear in the report; and include explanations of any unusual abbreviations.

The final section of the scientific article is the Reference section. When citing sources, it is important to follow an accepted standardized format, such as CSE (Council of Science Editors), APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), or CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). References should be listed in alphabetical order and original authors cited. All sources cited in the text must be included in the Reference section. 1

When writing a scientific paper, the importance of writing concisely and accurately to clearly communicate the message should be emphasized to students. 1 – 3 Students should avoid slang and repetition, as well as abbreviations that may not be well known. 1 If an abbreviation must be used, identify the word with the abbreviation in parentheses the first time the term is used. Using appropriate and correct grammar and spelling throughout are essential elements of a well-written report. 1 , 3 Finally, when the article has been organized and formatted properly, students are encouraged to peer review to obtain constructive criticism and then to revise the manuscript appropriately. Good scientific writing, like any kind of writing, is a process that requires careful editing and revision. 1

A key dimension of NRC's A Framework for K–12 Science Education , Scientific and Engineering Practices, and the developing Next Generation Science Standards emphasizes the importance of students being able to ask questions, define problems, design experiments, analyze and interpret data, draw conclusions, and communicate results. 5 , 6 In the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, we found the guidelines presented in this article useful for high school science students because this group of students (and probably most undergraduates) often lack in understanding of, and skills to develop and write, the various components of an effective scientific paper. Students routinely need to focus more on the data collected and analyze what the results indicated in relation to the research question/hypothesis, as well as develop a detailed discussion of what they learned. Consequently, teaching students how to effectively organize and write a research report is a critical component when engaging students in scientific inquiry.

Acknowledgments

This article was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant (Award Number R25RR026299) from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The SEPA program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee is part of the Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, Community Outreach and Education Core, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Award Number P30ES004184). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Scientific Reports

What this handout is about.

This handout provides a general guide to writing reports about scientific research you’ve performed. In addition to describing the conventional rules about the format and content of a lab report, we’ll also attempt to convey why these rules exist, so you’ll get a clearer, more dependable idea of how to approach this writing situation. Readers of this handout may also find our handout on writing in the sciences useful.

Background and pre-writing

Why do we write research reports.

You did an experiment or study for your science class, and now you have to write it up for your teacher to review. You feel that you understood the background sufficiently, designed and completed the study effectively, obtained useful data, and can use those data to draw conclusions about a scientific process or principle. But how exactly do you write all that? What is your teacher expecting to see?

To take some of the guesswork out of answering these questions, try to think beyond the classroom setting. In fact, you and your teacher are both part of a scientific community, and the people who participate in this community tend to share the same values. As long as you understand and respect these values, your writing will likely meet the expectations of your audience—including your teacher.

So why are you writing this research report? The practical answer is “Because the teacher assigned it,” but that’s classroom thinking. Generally speaking, people investigating some scientific hypothesis have a responsibility to the rest of the scientific world to report their findings, particularly if these findings add to or contradict previous ideas. The people reading such reports have two primary goals:

  • They want to gather the information presented.
  • They want to know that the findings are legitimate.

Your job as a writer, then, is to fulfill these two goals.

How do I do that?

Good question. Here is the basic format scientists have designed for research reports:

  • Introduction

Methods and Materials

This format, sometimes called “IMRAD,” may take slightly different shapes depending on the discipline or audience; some ask you to include an abstract or separate section for the hypothesis, or call the Discussion section “Conclusions,” or change the order of the sections (some professional and academic journals require the Methods section to appear last). Overall, however, the IMRAD format was devised to represent a textual version of the scientific method.

The scientific method, you’ll probably recall, involves developing a hypothesis, testing it, and deciding whether your findings support the hypothesis. In essence, the format for a research report in the sciences mirrors the scientific method but fleshes out the process a little. Below, you’ll find a table that shows how each written section fits into the scientific method and what additional information it offers the reader.

Thinking of your research report as based on the scientific method, but elaborated in the ways described above, may help you to meet your audience’s expectations successfully. We’re going to proceed by explicitly connecting each section of the lab report to the scientific method, then explaining why and how you need to elaborate that section.

Although this handout takes each section in the order in which it should be presented in the final report, you may for practical reasons decide to compose sections in another order. For example, many writers find that composing their Methods and Results before the other sections helps to clarify their idea of the experiment or study as a whole. You might consider using each assignment to practice different approaches to drafting the report, to find the order that works best for you.

What should I do before drafting the lab report?

The best way to prepare to write the lab report is to make sure that you fully understand everything you need to about the experiment. Obviously, if you don’t quite know what went on during the lab, you’re going to find it difficult to explain the lab satisfactorily to someone else. To make sure you know enough to write the report, complete the following steps:

  • What are we going to do in this lab? (That is, what’s the procedure?)
  • Why are we going to do it that way?
  • What are we hoping to learn from this experiment?
  • Why would we benefit from this knowledge?
  • Consult your lab supervisor as you perform the lab. If you don’t know how to answer one of the questions above, for example, your lab supervisor will probably be able to explain it to you (or, at least, help you figure it out).
  • Plan the steps of the experiment carefully with your lab partners. The less you rush, the more likely it is that you’ll perform the experiment correctly and record your findings accurately. Also, take some time to think about the best way to organize the data before you have to start putting numbers down. If you can design a table to account for the data, that will tend to work much better than jotting results down hurriedly on a scrap piece of paper.
  • Record the data carefully so you get them right. You won’t be able to trust your conclusions if you have the wrong data, and your readers will know you messed up if the other three people in your group have “97 degrees” and you have “87.”
  • Consult with your lab partners about everything you do. Lab groups often make one of two mistakes: two people do all the work while two have a nice chat, or everybody works together until the group finishes gathering the raw data, then scrams outta there. Collaborate with your partners, even when the experiment is “over.” What trends did you observe? Was the hypothesis supported? Did you all get the same results? What kind of figure should you use to represent your findings? The whole group can work together to answer these questions.
  • Consider your audience. You may believe that audience is a non-issue: it’s your lab TA, right? Well, yes—but again, think beyond the classroom. If you write with only your lab instructor in mind, you may omit material that is crucial to a complete understanding of your experiment, because you assume the instructor knows all that stuff already. As a result, you may receive a lower grade, since your TA won’t be sure that you understand all the principles at work. Try to write towards a student in the same course but a different lab section. That student will have a fair degree of scientific expertise but won’t know much about your experiment particularly. Alternatively, you could envision yourself five years from now, after the reading and lectures for this course have faded a bit. What would you remember, and what would you need explained more clearly (as a refresher)?

Once you’ve completed these steps as you perform the experiment, you’ll be in a good position to draft an effective lab report.

Introductions

How do i write a strong introduction.

For the purposes of this handout, we’ll consider the Introduction to contain four basic elements: the purpose, the scientific literature relevant to the subject, the hypothesis, and the reasons you believed your hypothesis viable. Let’s start by going through each element of the Introduction to clarify what it covers and why it’s important. Then we can formulate a logical organizational strategy for the section.

The inclusion of the purpose (sometimes called the objective) of the experiment often confuses writers. The biggest misconception is that the purpose is the same as the hypothesis. Not quite. We’ll get to hypotheses in a minute, but basically they provide some indication of what you expect the experiment to show. The purpose is broader, and deals more with what you expect to gain through the experiment. In a professional setting, the hypothesis might have something to do with how cells react to a certain kind of genetic manipulation, but the purpose of the experiment is to learn more about potential cancer treatments. Undergraduate reports don’t often have this wide-ranging a goal, but you should still try to maintain the distinction between your hypothesis and your purpose. In a solubility experiment, for example, your hypothesis might talk about the relationship between temperature and the rate of solubility, but the purpose is probably to learn more about some specific scientific principle underlying the process of solubility.

For starters, most people say that you should write out your working hypothesis before you perform the experiment or study. Many beginning science students neglect to do so and find themselves struggling to remember precisely which variables were involved in the process or in what way the researchers felt that they were related. Write your hypothesis down as you develop it—you’ll be glad you did.

As for the form a hypothesis should take, it’s best not to be too fancy or complicated; an inventive style isn’t nearly so important as clarity here. There’s nothing wrong with beginning your hypothesis with the phrase, “It was hypothesized that . . .” Be as specific as you can about the relationship between the different objects of your study. In other words, explain that when term A changes, term B changes in this particular way. Readers of scientific writing are rarely content with the idea that a relationship between two terms exists—they want to know what that relationship entails.

Not a hypothesis:

“It was hypothesized that there is a significant relationship between the temperature of a solvent and the rate at which a solute dissolves.”

Hypothesis:

“It was hypothesized that as the temperature of a solvent increases, the rate at which a solute will dissolve in that solvent increases.”

Put more technically, most hypotheses contain both an independent and a dependent variable. The independent variable is what you manipulate to test the reaction; the dependent variable is what changes as a result of your manipulation. In the example above, the independent variable is the temperature of the solvent, and the dependent variable is the rate of solubility. Be sure that your hypothesis includes both variables.

Justify your hypothesis

You need to do more than tell your readers what your hypothesis is; you also need to assure them that this hypothesis was reasonable, given the circumstances. In other words, use the Introduction to explain that you didn’t just pluck your hypothesis out of thin air. (If you did pluck it out of thin air, your problems with your report will probably extend beyond using the appropriate format.) If you posit that a particular relationship exists between the independent and the dependent variable, what led you to believe your “guess” might be supported by evidence?

Scientists often refer to this type of justification as “motivating” the hypothesis, in the sense that something propelled them to make that prediction. Often, motivation includes what we already know—or rather, what scientists generally accept as true (see “Background/previous research” below). But you can also motivate your hypothesis by relying on logic or on your own observations. If you’re trying to decide which solutes will dissolve more rapidly in a solvent at increased temperatures, you might remember that some solids are meant to dissolve in hot water (e.g., bouillon cubes) and some are used for a function precisely because they withstand higher temperatures (they make saucepans out of something). Or you can think about whether you’ve noticed sugar dissolving more rapidly in your glass of iced tea or in your cup of coffee. Even such basic, outside-the-lab observations can help you justify your hypothesis as reasonable.

Background/previous research

This part of the Introduction demonstrates to the reader your awareness of how you’re building on other scientists’ work. If you think of the scientific community as engaging in a series of conversations about various topics, then you’ll recognize that the relevant background material will alert the reader to which conversation you want to enter.

Generally speaking, authors writing journal articles use the background for slightly different purposes than do students completing assignments. Because readers of academic journals tend to be professionals in the field, authors explain the background in order to permit readers to evaluate the study’s pertinence for their own work. You, on the other hand, write toward a much narrower audience—your peers in the course or your lab instructor—and so you must demonstrate that you understand the context for the (presumably assigned) experiment or study you’ve completed. For example, if your professor has been talking about polarity during lectures, and you’re doing a solubility experiment, you might try to connect the polarity of a solid to its relative solubility in certain solvents. In any event, both professional researchers and undergraduates need to connect the background material overtly to their own work.

Organization of this section

Most of the time, writers begin by stating the purpose or objectives of their own work, which establishes for the reader’s benefit the “nature and scope of the problem investigated” (Day 1994). Once you have expressed your purpose, you should then find it easier to move from the general purpose, to relevant material on the subject, to your hypothesis. In abbreviated form, an Introduction section might look like this:

“The purpose of the experiment was to test conventional ideas about solubility in the laboratory [purpose] . . . According to Whitecoat and Labrat (1999), at higher temperatures the molecules of solvents move more quickly . . . We know from the class lecture that molecules moving at higher rates of speed collide with one another more often and thus break down more easily [background material/motivation] . . . Thus, it was hypothesized that as the temperature of a solvent increases, the rate at which a solute will dissolve in that solvent increases [hypothesis].”

Again—these are guidelines, not commandments. Some writers and readers prefer different structures for the Introduction. The one above merely illustrates a common approach to organizing material.

How do I write a strong Materials and Methods section?

As with any piece of writing, your Methods section will succeed only if it fulfills its readers’ expectations, so you need to be clear in your own mind about the purpose of this section. Let’s review the purpose as we described it above: in this section, you want to describe in detail how you tested the hypothesis you developed and also to clarify the rationale for your procedure. In science, it’s not sufficient merely to design and carry out an experiment. Ultimately, others must be able to verify your findings, so your experiment must be reproducible, to the extent that other researchers can follow the same procedure and obtain the same (or similar) results.

Here’s a real-world example of the importance of reproducibility. In 1989, physicists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman announced that they had discovered “cold fusion,” a way of producing excess heat and power without the nuclear radiation that accompanies “hot fusion.” Such a discovery could have great ramifications for the industrial production of energy, so these findings created a great deal of interest. When other scientists tried to duplicate the experiment, however, they didn’t achieve the same results, and as a result many wrote off the conclusions as unjustified (or worse, a hoax). To this day, the viability of cold fusion is debated within the scientific community, even though an increasing number of researchers believe it possible. So when you write your Methods section, keep in mind that you need to describe your experiment well enough to allow others to replicate it exactly.

With these goals in mind, let’s consider how to write an effective Methods section in terms of content, structure, and style.

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing this section isn’t what you should talk about, but what you shouldn’t talk about. Writers often want to include the results of their experiment, because they measured and recorded the results during the course of the experiment. But such data should be reserved for the Results section. In the Methods section, you can write that you recorded the results, or how you recorded the results (e.g., in a table), but you shouldn’t write what the results were—not yet. Here, you’re merely stating exactly how you went about testing your hypothesis. As you draft your Methods section, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much detail? Be precise in providing details, but stay relevant. Ask yourself, “Would it make any difference if this piece were a different size or made from a different material?” If not, you probably don’t need to get too specific. If so, you should give as many details as necessary to prevent this experiment from going awry if someone else tries to carry it out. Probably the most crucial detail is measurement; you should always quantify anything you can, such as time elapsed, temperature, mass, volume, etc.
  • Rationale: Be sure that as you’re relating your actions during the experiment, you explain your rationale for the protocol you developed. If you capped a test tube immediately after adding a solute to a solvent, why did you do that? (That’s really two questions: why did you cap it, and why did you cap it immediately?) In a professional setting, writers provide their rationale as a way to explain their thinking to potential critics. On one hand, of course, that’s your motivation for talking about protocol, too. On the other hand, since in practical terms you’re also writing to your teacher (who’s seeking to evaluate how well you comprehend the principles of the experiment), explaining the rationale indicates that you understand the reasons for conducting the experiment in that way, and that you’re not just following orders. Critical thinking is crucial—robots don’t make good scientists.
  • Control: Most experiments will include a control, which is a means of comparing experimental results. (Sometimes you’ll need to have more than one control, depending on the number of hypotheses you want to test.) The control is exactly the same as the other items you’re testing, except that you don’t manipulate the independent variable-the condition you’re altering to check the effect on the dependent variable. For example, if you’re testing solubility rates at increased temperatures, your control would be a solution that you didn’t heat at all; that way, you’ll see how quickly the solute dissolves “naturally” (i.e., without manipulation), and you’ll have a point of reference against which to compare the solutions you did heat.

Describe the control in the Methods section. Two things are especially important in writing about the control: identify the control as a control, and explain what you’re controlling for. Here is an example:

“As a control for the temperature change, we placed the same amount of solute in the same amount of solvent, and let the solution stand for five minutes without heating it.”

Structure and style

Organization is especially important in the Methods section of a lab report because readers must understand your experimental procedure completely. Many writers are surprised by the difficulty of conveying what they did during the experiment, since after all they’re only reporting an event, but it’s often tricky to present this information in a coherent way. There’s a fairly standard structure you can use to guide you, and following the conventions for style can help clarify your points.

  • Subsections: Occasionally, researchers use subsections to report their procedure when the following circumstances apply: 1) if they’ve used a great many materials; 2) if the procedure is unusually complicated; 3) if they’ve developed a procedure that won’t be familiar to many of their readers. Because these conditions rarely apply to the experiments you’ll perform in class, most undergraduate lab reports won’t require you to use subsections. In fact, many guides to writing lab reports suggest that you try to limit your Methods section to a single paragraph.
  • Narrative structure: Think of this section as telling a story about a group of people and the experiment they performed. Describe what you did in the order in which you did it. You may have heard the old joke centered on the line, “Disconnect the red wire, but only after disconnecting the green wire,” where the person reading the directions blows everything to kingdom come because the directions weren’t in order. We’re used to reading about events chronologically, and so your readers will generally understand what you did if you present that information in the same way. Also, since the Methods section does generally appear as a narrative (story), you want to avoid the “recipe” approach: “First, take a clean, dry 100 ml test tube from the rack. Next, add 50 ml of distilled water.” You should be reporting what did happen, not telling the reader how to perform the experiment: “50 ml of distilled water was poured into a clean, dry 100 ml test tube.” Hint: most of the time, the recipe approach comes from copying down the steps of the procedure from your lab manual, so you may want to draft the Methods section initially without consulting your manual. Later, of course, you can go back and fill in any part of the procedure you inadvertently overlooked.
  • Past tense: Remember that you’re describing what happened, so you should use past tense to refer to everything you did during the experiment. Writers are often tempted to use the imperative (“Add 5 g of the solid to the solution”) because that’s how their lab manuals are worded; less frequently, they use present tense (“5 g of the solid are added to the solution”). Instead, remember that you’re talking about an event which happened at a particular time in the past, and which has already ended by the time you start writing, so simple past tense will be appropriate in this section (“5 g of the solid were added to the solution” or “We added 5 g of the solid to the solution”).
  • Active: We heated the solution to 80°C. (The subject, “we,” performs the action, heating.)
  • Passive: The solution was heated to 80°C. (The subject, “solution,” doesn’t do the heating–it is acted upon, not acting.)

Increasingly, especially in the social sciences, using first person and active voice is acceptable in scientific reports. Most readers find that this style of writing conveys information more clearly and concisely. This rhetorical choice thus brings two scientific values into conflict: objectivity versus clarity. Since the scientific community hasn’t reached a consensus about which style it prefers, you may want to ask your lab instructor.

How do I write a strong Results section?

Here’s a paradox for you. The Results section is often both the shortest (yay!) and most important (uh-oh!) part of your report. Your Materials and Methods section shows how you obtained the results, and your Discussion section explores the significance of the results, so clearly the Results section forms the backbone of the lab report. This section provides the most critical information about your experiment: the data that allow you to discuss how your hypothesis was or wasn’t supported. But it doesn’t provide anything else, which explains why this section is generally shorter than the others.

Before you write this section, look at all the data you collected to figure out what relates significantly to your hypothesis. You’ll want to highlight this material in your Results section. Resist the urge to include every bit of data you collected, since perhaps not all are relevant. Also, don’t try to draw conclusions about the results—save them for the Discussion section. In this section, you’re reporting facts. Nothing your readers can dispute should appear in the Results section.

Most Results sections feature three distinct parts: text, tables, and figures. Let’s consider each part one at a time.

This should be a short paragraph, generally just a few lines, that describes the results you obtained from your experiment. In a relatively simple experiment, one that doesn’t produce a lot of data for you to repeat, the text can represent the entire Results section. Don’t feel that you need to include lots of extraneous detail to compensate for a short (but effective) text; your readers appreciate discrimination more than your ability to recite facts. In a more complex experiment, you may want to use tables and/or figures to help guide your readers toward the most important information you gathered. In that event, you’ll need to refer to each table or figure directly, where appropriate:

“Table 1 lists the rates of solubility for each substance”

“Solubility increased as the temperature of the solution increased (see Figure 1).”

If you do use tables or figures, make sure that you don’t present the same material in both the text and the tables/figures, since in essence you’ll just repeat yourself, probably annoying your readers with the redundancy of your statements.

Feel free to describe trends that emerge as you examine the data. Although identifying trends requires some judgment on your part and so may not feel like factual reporting, no one can deny that these trends do exist, and so they properly belong in the Results section. Example:

“Heating the solution increased the rate of solubility of polar solids by 45% but had no effect on the rate of solubility in solutions containing non-polar solids.”

This point isn’t debatable—you’re just pointing out what the data show.

As in the Materials and Methods section, you want to refer to your data in the past tense, because the events you recorded have already occurred and have finished occurring. In the example above, note the use of “increased” and “had,” rather than “increases” and “has.” (You don’t know from your experiment that heating always increases the solubility of polar solids, but it did that time.)

You shouldn’t put information in the table that also appears in the text. You also shouldn’t use a table to present irrelevant data, just to show you did collect these data during the experiment. Tables are good for some purposes and situations, but not others, so whether and how you’ll use tables depends upon what you need them to accomplish.

Tables are useful ways to show variation in data, but not to present a great deal of unchanging measurements. If you’re dealing with a scientific phenomenon that occurs only within a certain range of temperatures, for example, you don’t need to use a table to show that the phenomenon didn’t occur at any of the other temperatures. How useful is this table?

A table labeled Effect of Temperature on Rate of Solubility with temperature of solvent values in 10-degree increments from -20 degrees Celsius to 80 degrees Celsius that does not show a corresponding rate of solubility value until 50 degrees Celsius.

As you can probably see, no solubility was observed until the trial temperature reached 50°C, a fact that the text part of the Results section could easily convey. The table could then be limited to what happened at 50°C and higher, thus better illustrating the differences in solubility rates when solubility did occur.

As a rule, try not to use a table to describe any experimental event you can cover in one sentence of text. Here’s an example of an unnecessary table from How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper , by Robert A. Day:

A table labeled Oxygen requirements of various species of Streptomyces showing the names of organisms and two columns that indicate growth under aerobic conditions and growth under anaerobic conditions with a plus or minus symbol for each organism in the growth columns to indicate value.

As Day notes, all the information in this table can be summarized in one sentence: “S. griseus, S. coelicolor, S. everycolor, and S. rainbowenski grew under aerobic conditions, whereas S. nocolor and S. greenicus required anaerobic conditions.” Most readers won’t find the table clearer than that one sentence.

When you do have reason to tabulate material, pay attention to the clarity and readability of the format you use. Here are a few tips:

  • Number your table. Then, when you refer to the table in the text, use that number to tell your readers which table they can review to clarify the material.
  • Give your table a title. This title should be descriptive enough to communicate the contents of the table, but not so long that it becomes difficult to follow. The titles in the sample tables above are acceptable.
  • Arrange your table so that readers read vertically, not horizontally. For the most part, this rule means that you should construct your table so that like elements read down, not across. Think about what you want your readers to compare, and put that information in the column (up and down) rather than in the row (across). Usually, the point of comparison will be the numerical data you collect, so especially make sure you have columns of numbers, not rows.Here’s an example of how drastically this decision affects the readability of your table (from A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry , by Herbert Beall and John Trimbur). Look at this table, which presents the relevant data in horizontal rows:

A table labeled Boyle's Law Experiment: Measuring Volume as a Function of Pressure that presents the trial number, length of air sample in millimeters, and height difference in inches of mercury, each of which is presented in rows horizontally.

It’s a little tough to see the trends that the author presumably wants to present in this table. Compare this table, in which the data appear vertically:

A table labeled Boyle's Law Experiment: Measuring Volume as a Function of Pressure that presents the trial number, length of air sample in millimeters, and height difference in inches of mercury, each of which is presented in columns vertically.

The second table shows how putting like elements in a vertical column makes for easier reading. In this case, the like elements are the measurements of length and height, over five trials–not, as in the first table, the length and height measurements for each trial.

  • Make sure to include units of measurement in the tables. Readers might be able to guess that you measured something in millimeters, but don’t make them try.
  • Don’t use vertical lines as part of the format for your table. This convention exists because journals prefer not to have to reproduce these lines because the tables then become more expensive to print. Even though it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be sending your Biology 11 lab report to Science for publication, your readers still have this expectation. Consequently, if you use the table-drawing option in your word-processing software, choose the option that doesn’t rely on a “grid” format (which includes vertical lines).

How do I include figures in my report?

Although tables can be useful ways of showing trends in the results you obtained, figures (i.e., illustrations) can do an even better job of emphasizing such trends. Lab report writers often use graphic representations of the data they collected to provide their readers with a literal picture of how the experiment went.

When should you use a figure?

Remember the circumstances under which you don’t need a table: when you don’t have a great deal of data or when the data you have don’t vary a lot. Under the same conditions, you would probably forgo the figure as well, since the figure would be unlikely to provide your readers with an additional perspective. Scientists really don’t like their time wasted, so they tend not to respond favorably to redundancy.

If you’re trying to decide between using a table and creating a figure to present your material, consider the following a rule of thumb. The strength of a table lies in its ability to supply large amounts of exact data, whereas the strength of a figure is its dramatic illustration of important trends within the experiment. If you feel that your readers won’t get the full impact of the results you obtained just by looking at the numbers, then a figure might be appropriate.

Of course, an undergraduate class may expect you to create a figure for your lab experiment, if only to make sure that you can do so effectively. If this is the case, then don’t worry about whether to use figures or not—concentrate instead on how best to accomplish your task.

Figures can include maps, photographs, pen-and-ink drawings, flow charts, bar graphs, and section graphs (“pie charts”). But the most common figure by far, especially for undergraduates, is the line graph, so we’ll focus on that type in this handout.

At the undergraduate level, you can often draw and label your graphs by hand, provided that the result is clear, legible, and drawn to scale. Computer technology has, however, made creating line graphs a lot easier. Most word-processing software has a number of functions for transferring data into graph form; many scientists have found Microsoft Excel, for example, a helpful tool in graphing results. If you plan on pursuing a career in the sciences, it may be well worth your while to learn to use a similar program.

Computers can’t, however, decide for you how your graph really works; you have to know how to design your graph to meet your readers’ expectations. Here are some of these expectations:

  • Keep it as simple as possible. You may be tempted to signal the complexity of the information you gathered by trying to design a graph that accounts for that complexity. But remember the purpose of your graph: to dramatize your results in a manner that’s easy to see and grasp. Try not to make the reader stare at the graph for a half hour to find the important line among the mass of other lines. For maximum effectiveness, limit yourself to three to five lines per graph; if you have more data to demonstrate, use a set of graphs to account for it, rather than trying to cram it all into a single figure.
  • Plot the independent variable on the horizontal (x) axis and the dependent variable on the vertical (y) axis. Remember that the independent variable is the condition that you manipulated during the experiment and the dependent variable is the condition that you measured to see if it changed along with the independent variable. Placing the variables along their respective axes is mostly just a convention, but since your readers are accustomed to viewing graphs in this way, you’re better off not challenging the convention in your report.
  • Label each axis carefully, and be especially careful to include units of measure. You need to make sure that your readers understand perfectly well what your graph indicates.
  • Number and title your graphs. As with tables, the title of the graph should be informative but concise, and you should refer to your graph by number in the text (e.g., “Figure 1 shows the increase in the solubility rate as a function of temperature”).
  • Many editors of professional scientific journals prefer that writers distinguish the lines in their graphs by attaching a symbol to them, usually a geometric shape (triangle, square, etc.), and using that symbol throughout the curve of the line. Generally, readers have a hard time distinguishing dotted lines from dot-dash lines from straight lines, so you should consider staying away from this system. Editors don’t usually like different-colored lines within a graph because colors are difficult and expensive to reproduce; colors may, however, be great for your purposes, as long as you’re not planning to submit your paper to Nature. Use your discretion—try to employ whichever technique dramatizes the results most effectively.
  • Try to gather data at regular intervals, so the plot points on your graph aren’t too far apart. You can’t be sure of the arc you should draw between the plot points if the points are located at the far corners of the graph; over a fifteen-minute interval, perhaps the change occurred in the first or last thirty seconds of that period (in which case your straight-line connection between the points is misleading).
  • If you’re worried that you didn’t collect data at sufficiently regular intervals during your experiment, go ahead and connect the points with a straight line, but you may want to examine this problem as part of your Discussion section.
  • Make your graph large enough so that everything is legible and clearly demarcated, but not so large that it either overwhelms the rest of the Results section or provides a far greater range than you need to illustrate your point. If, for example, the seedlings of your plant grew only 15 mm during the trial, you don’t need to construct a graph that accounts for 100 mm of growth. The lines in your graph should more or less fill the space created by the axes; if you see that your data is confined to the lower left portion of the graph, you should probably re-adjust your scale.
  • If you create a set of graphs, make them the same size and format, including all the verbal and visual codes (captions, symbols, scale, etc.). You want to be as consistent as possible in your illustrations, so that your readers can easily make the comparisons you’re trying to get them to see.

How do I write a strong Discussion section?

The discussion section is probably the least formalized part of the report, in that you can’t really apply the same structure to every type of experiment. In simple terms, here you tell your readers what to make of the Results you obtained. If you have done the Results part well, your readers should already recognize the trends in the data and have a fairly clear idea of whether your hypothesis was supported. Because the Results can seem so self-explanatory, many students find it difficult to know what material to add in this last section.

Basically, the Discussion contains several parts, in no particular order, but roughly moving from specific (i.e., related to your experiment only) to general (how your findings fit in the larger scientific community). In this section, you will, as a rule, need to:

Explain whether the data support your hypothesis

  • Acknowledge any anomalous data or deviations from what you expected

Derive conclusions, based on your findings, about the process you’re studying

  • Relate your findings to earlier work in the same area (if you can)

Explore the theoretical and/or practical implications of your findings

Let’s look at some dos and don’ts for each of these objectives.

This statement is usually a good way to begin the Discussion, since you can’t effectively speak about the larger scientific value of your study until you’ve figured out the particulars of this experiment. You might begin this part of the Discussion by explicitly stating the relationships or correlations your data indicate between the independent and dependent variables. Then you can show more clearly why you believe your hypothesis was or was not supported. For example, if you tested solubility at various temperatures, you could start this section by noting that the rates of solubility increased as the temperature increased. If your initial hypothesis surmised that temperature change would not affect solubility, you would then say something like,

“The hypothesis that temperature change would not affect solubility was not supported by the data.”

Note: Students tend to view labs as practical tests of undeniable scientific truths. As a result, you may want to say that the hypothesis was “proved” or “disproved” or that it was “correct” or “incorrect.” These terms, however, reflect a degree of certainty that you as a scientist aren’t supposed to have. Remember, you’re testing a theory with a procedure that lasts only a few hours and relies on only a few trials, which severely compromises your ability to be sure about the “truth” you see. Words like “supported,” “indicated,” and “suggested” are more acceptable ways to evaluate your hypothesis.

Also, recognize that saying whether the data supported your hypothesis or not involves making a claim to be defended. As such, you need to show the readers that this claim is warranted by the evidence. Make sure that you’re very explicit about the relationship between the evidence and the conclusions you draw from it. This process is difficult for many writers because we don’t often justify conclusions in our regular lives. For example, you might nudge your friend at a party and whisper, “That guy’s drunk,” and once your friend lays eyes on the person in question, she might readily agree. In a scientific paper, by contrast, you would need to defend your claim more thoroughly by pointing to data such as slurred words, unsteady gait, and the lampshade-as-hat. In addition to pointing out these details, you would also need to show how (according to previous studies) these signs are consistent with inebriation, especially if they occur in conjunction with one another. To put it another way, tell your readers exactly how you got from point A (was the hypothesis supported?) to point B (yes/no).

Acknowledge any anomalous data, or deviations from what you expected

You need to take these exceptions and divergences into account, so that you qualify your conclusions sufficiently. For obvious reasons, your readers will doubt your authority if you (deliberately or inadvertently) overlook a key piece of data that doesn’t square with your perspective on what occurred. In a more philosophical sense, once you’ve ignored evidence that contradicts your claims, you’ve departed from the scientific method. The urge to “tidy up” the experiment is often strong, but if you give in to it you’re no longer performing good science.

Sometimes after you’ve performed a study or experiment, you realize that some part of the methods you used to test your hypothesis was flawed. In that case, it’s OK to suggest that if you had the chance to conduct your test again, you might change the design in this or that specific way in order to avoid such and such a problem. The key to making this approach work, though, is to be very precise about the weakness in your experiment, why and how you think that weakness might have affected your data, and how you would alter your protocol to eliminate—or limit the effects of—that weakness. Often, inexperienced researchers and writers feel the need to account for “wrong” data (remember, there’s no such animal), and so they speculate wildly about what might have screwed things up. These speculations include such factors as the unusually hot temperature in the room, or the possibility that their lab partners read the meters wrong, or the potentially defective equipment. These explanations are what scientists call “cop-outs,” or “lame”; don’t indicate that the experiment had a weakness unless you’re fairly certain that a) it really occurred and b) you can explain reasonably well how that weakness affected your results.

If, for example, your hypothesis dealt with the changes in solubility at different temperatures, then try to figure out what you can rationally say about the process of solubility more generally. If you’re doing an undergraduate lab, chances are that the lab will connect in some way to the material you’ve been covering either in lecture or in your reading, so you might choose to return to these resources as a way to help you think clearly about the process as a whole.

This part of the Discussion section is another place where you need to make sure that you’re not overreaching. Again, nothing you’ve found in one study would remotely allow you to claim that you now “know” something, or that something isn’t “true,” or that your experiment “confirmed” some principle or other. Hesitate before you go out on a limb—it’s dangerous! Use less absolutely conclusive language, including such words as “suggest,” “indicate,” “correspond,” “possibly,” “challenge,” etc.

Relate your findings to previous work in the field (if possible)

We’ve been talking about how to show that you belong in a particular community (such as biologists or anthropologists) by writing within conventions that they recognize and accept. Another is to try to identify a conversation going on among members of that community, and use your work to contribute to that conversation. In a larger philosophical sense, scientists can’t fully understand the value of their research unless they have some sense of the context that provoked and nourished it. That is, you have to recognize what’s new about your project (potentially, anyway) and how it benefits the wider body of scientific knowledge. On a more pragmatic level, especially for undergraduates, connecting your lab work to previous research will demonstrate to the TA that you see the big picture. You have an opportunity, in the Discussion section, to distinguish yourself from the students in your class who aren’t thinking beyond the barest facts of the study. Capitalize on this opportunity by putting your own work in context.

If you’re just beginning to work in the natural sciences (as a first-year biology or chemistry student, say), most likely the work you’ll be doing has already been performed and re-performed to a satisfactory degree. Hence, you could probably point to a similar experiment or study and compare/contrast your results and conclusions. More advanced work may deal with an issue that is somewhat less “resolved,” and so previous research may take the form of an ongoing debate, and you can use your own work to weigh in on that debate. If, for example, researchers are hotly disputing the value of herbal remedies for the common cold, and the results of your study suggest that Echinacea diminishes the symptoms but not the actual presence of the cold, then you might want to take some time in the Discussion section to recapitulate the specifics of the dispute as it relates to Echinacea as an herbal remedy. (Consider that you have probably already written in the Introduction about this debate as background research.)

This information is often the best way to end your Discussion (and, for all intents and purposes, the report). In argumentative writing generally, you want to use your closing words to convey the main point of your writing. This main point can be primarily theoretical (“Now that you understand this information, you’re in a better position to understand this larger issue”) or primarily practical (“You can use this information to take such and such an action”). In either case, the concluding statements help the reader to comprehend the significance of your project and your decision to write about it.

Since a lab report is argumentative—after all, you’re investigating a claim, and judging the legitimacy of that claim by generating and collecting evidence—it’s often a good idea to end your report with the same technique for establishing your main point. If you want to go the theoretical route, you might talk about the consequences your study has for the field or phenomenon you’re investigating. To return to the examples regarding solubility, you could end by reflecting on what your work on solubility as a function of temperature tells us (potentially) about solubility in general. (Some folks consider this type of exploration “pure” as opposed to “applied” science, although these labels can be problematic.) If you want to go the practical route, you could end by speculating about the medical, institutional, or commercial implications of your findings—in other words, answer the question, “What can this study help people to do?” In either case, you’re going to make your readers’ experience more satisfying, by helping them see why they spent their time learning what you had to teach them.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

American Psychological Association. 2010. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association . 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Beall, Herbert, and John Trimbur. 2001. A Short Guide to Writing About Chemistry , 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Blum, Deborah, and Mary Knudson. 1997. A Field Guide for Science Writers: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers . New York: Oxford University Press.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research , 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Briscoe, Mary Helen. 1996. Preparing Scientific Illustrations: A Guide to Better Posters, Presentations, and Publications , 2nd ed. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Council of Science Editors. 2014. Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers , 8th ed. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Davis, Martha. 2012. Scientific Papers and Presentations , 3rd ed. London: Academic Press.

Day, Robert A. 1994. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper , 4th ed. Phoenix: Oryx Press.

Porush, David. 1995. A Short Guide to Writing About Science . New York: Longman.

Williams, Joseph, and Joseph Bizup. 2017. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace , 12th ed. Boston: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Sample Research Paper

An introduction to the origin of life.

by Matti Horne

The beginning of life as we know it has always been shrouded in mystery — and will likely remain shrouded in mystery for the foreseeable future, as far as scientists can tell. There are so many theories regarding our origin story that it’s impossible to discuss them all, but the ones we’ll explore today run the gamut from “we’re all aliens,” or an extraterrestrial origin, to “under the sea,” or at boiling hydrothermal vents on the deep ocean floor. Before we get into the theories, however, we need to understand what our beloved blue marble looked like in its red-hot volcanic infancy, and why the specific conditions on the surface of the early Earth were so perfect for the origin of life as we know it.

Writing takes practice and revision.  Take a look at Matti’s drafts of her research paper to see how her work changed through her editing process.

Review Matti’s first draft .

Review Matti’s second draft .

Setting the Stage: The Formation of an Early Earth

Around 4.6 billion years ago, approximately 6.5 sextillion tons’ worth of rocks, gas, and dust that had been moving through space got pulled together by gravity. Thermal energy, generated by collisions between the rocks as well as radioactive decay, created a molten, extremely volcanically active proto-Earth. Due to differences in buoyancy, the densest “stuff” in this gooey proto-planet sank, while the lower-density “stuff” rose to the top. This is why Earth has a core made out of iron and nickel, a mantle mostly made up of olivine, and two different types of more silicate-rich crust. The oceanic crust has much more magnesium and iron and is a darker color, while continental crust is lighter in color and primarily consists of a silicate mineral called feldspar. There are different terms for these materials: ultramafic (mantle), mafic (oceanic crust), and felsic (continental crust).

Key Question: Which is denser, oceanic crust or continental crust? How can we tell?

Oceanic crust is much denser than continental crust since it contains a higher percentage of the heavier elements. This is demonstrated by plate tectonics — oceanic crust goes through a process called “subduction,” which means that when two plates collide, the denser one slides underneath, back into the mantle. Since continental crust is the least dense type of crust, it never subducts — like how a pool float is too difficult to pull underwater, but a waterlogged pool noodle will slide under without much resistance.

As the surface of the early Earth slowly began to cool, the ancient atmospheres and oceans were able to collect and condense. Their compositions were drastically different from what we know today, with compounds provided entirely through a process called “degassing.” Molecules such as water and carbon dioxide that were “locked” in minerals and bubbles in the early mantle and crustal rocks managed to escape and exist as gases or liquids through volcanic eruptions. 

Key Question: Is there any more water or air “locked” in the mantle? How can we tell?

There is still a huge amount of water “locked” in the mantle — anywhere from 3 to 90 times that stored in our present-day oceans! Although this sounds impossible, this “water” actually occurs as “point defects” — singular hydrogen atoms trapped in various minerals’ crystal structures (also called “lattices”), like many millions of tiny mutations in the minerals’ DNA. We know this by studying the chemical compositions of the lava and gas expelled in modern-day volcanic eruptions.

Atmospheric Composition

As you can see, the early atmosphere primarily consisted of carbon dioxide instead of nitrogen, and this likely played a large role in the ancient ocean’s composition, which we know to be much more acidic than it is today. Its low pH was likely due to large amounts of dissolved CO 2 in the early water, which essentially ‘hangs out’ (fun term!) as carbonic acid. Some scientists have even speculated that the ocean was “carbonated” by our modern standards and had a fizzy quality. Its acidity likely made it more efficient at weathering and eroding rocks that it came into contact with, whether those were on the early seafloor or at the edges of the early continents.

Key Question: What’s different about the ancient atmospheric composition, compared to our current-day atmosphere?

There was no free oxygen in Earth’s ancient atmosphere! Any oxygen molecules that escaped from volcanic eruptions, degassing, or early photosynthesis likely became dissolved in the oceans, where it reacted with iron atoms. The newly “rusted” molecules were then precipitated onto the seafloor, creating bright red, striped deposits called Banded Iron Formations, or BIFs. All of the free oxygen in the atmosphere that makes life as we know it possible came from photosynthetic reactions. The first life-forms to integrate photosynthesis into their DNA were called cyanobacteria!

Key Question: Would the ancient atmosphere have different properties?

An atmosphere mostly consisting of CO2 would have been much denser and “heavier” than what we’re used to now. This drastic difference in density could have increased the pressure at the Earth’s surface to as high as 100 atm (our standard sea-level pressure today is 1 atm), which could allow the oceans to reach temperatures up to 100° C without boiling. This high CO2 content in the ancient atmosphere likely also translated to the high CO2 content in the ancient oceans.

The following table shows a comparison between the ancient atmospheric composition, which was formed from the gas emitted through volcanic eruptions, and the present-day atmospheric composition, which has been altered drastically by the presence of life.

The Next Step: The Basic Chemistry of Early Life

Scientists have pretty much ruled out the possibility that fully-formed life either a) spontaneously popped into existence or b) traveled here on a meteorite, crash-landed on early Earth, and promptly set up camp. So how did life as we know it come to be? 

The commonly accepted ‘precursors to life’ are called enantiomers : molecules made up of different arrangements of organic compounds — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, colloquially known as CHNOPS. Enantiomers come in pairs, and the two paired molecules are mirror images of one another. One group faces left, and thus is referred to as “left-handed” or “L-enantiomers,” while the other group faces right, and is called “right-handed” or “ R= D -enantiomers.” It turns out that the sunlight we receive on Earth’s surface is polarized in such a way that D-enantiomers break down much more quickly than L-enantiomers. On top of that, cells can only consume one group of enantiomers (either L- or D-). Since L-enantiomers are more stable on Earth, it made sense for the first cells — and, consequently, every organism after that first cyanobacteria — to use L-enantiomers for their building blocks, and (mostly) L-enantiomers for their food. This means that all of the forms of life that we have studied so far are made up almost entirely of L-enantiomers — and so scientists have concluded that a  preexisting overabundance of L-enantiomers would have be en more conducive to the formation of life.  

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How To Write A Research Paper

Research Paper Example

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Research Paper Example - Examples for Different Formats

Published on: Jun 12, 2021

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Writing a research paper is the most challenging task in a student's academic life. researchers face similar writing process hardships, whether the research paper is to be written for graduate or masters.

A research paper is a writing type in which a detailed analysis, interpretation, and evaluation are made on the topic. It requires not only time but also effort and skills to be drafted correctly.

If you are working on your research paper for the first time, here is a collection of examples that you will need to understand the paper’s format and how its different parts are drafted. Continue reading the article to get free research paper examples.

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Research Paper Example for Different Formats

A research paper typically consists of several key parts, including an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and annotated bibliography .

When writing a research paper (whether quantitative research or qualitative research ), it is essential to know which format to use to structure your content. Depending on the requirements of the institution, there are mainly four format styles in which a writer drafts a research paper:

Let’s look into each format in detail to understand the fundamental differences and similarities.

Research Paper Example APA

If your instructor asks you to provide a research paper in an APA format, go through the example given below and understand the basic structure. Make sure to follow the format throughout the paper.

APA Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Example MLA

Another widespread research paper format is MLA. A few institutes require this format style as well for your research paper. Look at the example provided of this format style to learn the basics.

MLA Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Example Chicago

Unlike MLA and APA styles, Chicago is not very common. Very few institutions require this formatting style research paper, but it is essential to learn it. Look at the example given below to understand the formatting of the content and citations in the research paper.

Chicago Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Example Harvard

Learn how a research paper through Harvard formatting style is written through this example. Carefully examine how the cover page and other pages are structured.

Harvard Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Examples for Different Research Paper Parts

A research paper is based on different parts. Each part plays a significant role in the overall success of the paper. So each chapter of the paper must be drafted correctly according to a format and structure.

Below are examples of how different sections of the research paper are drafted.

Research Proposal Example

A research proposal is a plan that describes what you will investigate, its significance, and how you will conduct the study.

Research Proposal Sample (PDF)

Abstract Research Paper Example

An abstract is an executive summary of the research paper that includes the purpose of the research, the design of the study, and significant research findings.

It is a small section that is based on a few paragraphs. Following is an example of the abstract to help you draft yours professionally.

Abstract Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Literature Review Research Paper Example

A literature review in a research paper is a comprehensive summary of the previous research on your topic. It studies sources like books, articles, journals, and papers on the relevant research problem to form the basis of the new research.

Writing this section of the research paper perfectly is as important as any part of it.

Literature Review in Research Sample (PDF)

Methods Section of Research Paper Example

The method section comes after the introduction of the research paper that presents the process of collecting data. Basically, in this section, a researcher presents the details of how your research was conducted.

Methods Section in Research Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Conclusion Example

The conclusion is the last part of your research paper that sums up the writer’s discussion for the audience and leaves an impression. This is how it should be drafted:

Research Paper Conclusion Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Examples for Different Fields

The research papers are not limited to a particular field. They can be written for any discipline or subject that needs a detailed study.

In the following section, various research paper examples are given to show how they are drafted for different subjects.

Science Research Paper Example

Are you a science student that has to conduct research? Here is an example for you to draft a compelling research paper for the field of science.

Science Research Paper Sample (PDF)

History Research Paper Example

Conducting research and drafting a paper is not only bound to science subjects. Other subjects like history and arts require a research paper to be written as well. Observe how research papers related to history are drafted.

History Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Psychology Research Paper Example

If you are a psychology student, look into the example provided in the research paper to help you draft yours professionally.

Psychology Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Example for Different Levels

Writing a research paper is based on a list of elements. If the writer is not aware of the basic elements, the process of writing the paper will become daunting. Start writing your research paper taking the following steps:

  • Choose a topic
  • Form a strong thesis statement
  • Conduct research
  • Develop a research paper outline

Once you have a plan in your hand, the actual writing procedure will become a piece of cake for you.

No matter which level you are writing a research paper for, it has to be well structured and written to guarantee you better grades.

If you are a college or a high school student, the examples in the following section will be of great help.

Research Paper Outline (PDF)

Research Paper Example for College

Pay attention to the research paper example provided below. If you are a college student, this sample will help you understand how a winning paper is written.

College Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Example for High School

Expert writers of CollegeEssay.org have provided an excellent example of a research paper for high school students. If you are struggling to draft an exceptional paper, go through the example provided.

High School Research Paper Sample (PDF)

Examples are essential when it comes to academic assignments. If you are a student and aim to achieve good grades in your assignments, it is suggested to get help from  CollegeEssay.org .

We are the best writing company that delivers essay help for students by providing free samples and writing assistance.

Professional writers have your back, whether you are looking for guidance in writing a lab report, college essay, or research paper.

Simply hire a writer by placing your order at the most reasonable price. You can also take advantage of our essay writer to enhance your writing skills.

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How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline | Example

Published on August 7, 2022 by Courtney Gahan . Revised on August 15, 2023.

How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline

A research paper outline is a useful tool to aid in the writing process , providing a structure to follow with all information to be included in the paper clearly organized.

A quality outline can make writing your research paper more efficient by helping to:

  • Organize your thoughts
  • Understand the flow of information and how ideas are related
  • Ensure nothing is forgotten

A research paper outline can also give your teacher an early idea of the final product.

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Table of contents

Research paper outline example, how to write a research paper outline, formatting your research paper outline, language in research paper outlines.

  • Definition of measles
  • Rise in cases in recent years in places the disease was previously eliminated or had very low rates of infection
  • Figures: Number of cases per year on average, number in recent years. Relate to immunization
  • Symptoms and timeframes of disease
  • Risk of fatality, including statistics
  • How measles is spread
  • Immunization procedures in different regions
  • Different regions, focusing on the arguments from those against immunization
  • Immunization figures in affected regions
  • High number of cases in non-immunizing regions
  • Illnesses that can result from measles virus
  • Fatal cases of other illnesses after patient contracted measles
  • Summary of arguments of different groups
  • Summary of figures and relationship with recent immunization debate
  • Which side of the argument appears to be correct?

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The AI-powered Citation Checker helps you avoid common mistakes such as:

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sample research paper in science

Follow these steps to start your research paper outline:

  • Decide on the subject of the paper
  • Write down all the ideas you want to include or discuss
  • Organize related ideas into sub-groups
  • Arrange your ideas into a hierarchy: What should the reader learn first? What is most important? Which idea will help end your paper most effectively?
  • Create headings and subheadings that are effective
  • Format the outline in either alphanumeric, full-sentence or decimal format

There are three different kinds of research paper outline: alphanumeric, full-sentence and decimal outlines. The differences relate to formatting and style of writing.

  • Alphanumeric
  • Full-sentence

An alphanumeric outline is most commonly used. It uses Roman numerals, capitalized letters, arabic numerals, lowercase letters to organize the flow of information. Text is written with short notes rather than full sentences.

  • Sub-point of sub-point 1

Essentially the same as the alphanumeric outline, but with the text written in full sentences rather than short points.

  • Additional sub-point to conclude discussion of point of evidence introduced in point A

A decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline, but with a different numbering system: 1, 1.1, 1.2, etc. Text is written as short notes rather than full sentences.

  • 1.1.1 Sub-point of first point
  • 1.1.2 Sub-point of first point
  • 1.2 Second point

To write an effective research paper outline, it is important to pay attention to language. This is especially important if it is one you will show to your teacher or be assessed on.

There are four main considerations: parallelism, coordination, subordination and division.

Parallelism: Be consistent with grammatical form

Parallel structure or parallelism is the repetition of a particular grammatical form within a sentence, or in this case, between points and sub-points. This simply means that if the first point is a verb , the sub-point should also be a verb.

Example of parallelism:

  • Include different regions, focusing on the different arguments from those against immunization

Coordination: Be aware of each point’s weight

Your chosen subheadings should hold the same significance as each other, as should all first sub-points, secondary sub-points, and so on.

Example of coordination:

  • Include immunization figures in affected regions
  • Illnesses that can result from the measles virus

Subordination: Work from general to specific

Subordination refers to the separation of general points from specific. Your main headings should be quite general, and each level of sub-point should become more specific.

Example of subordination:

Division: break information into sub-points.

Your headings should be divided into two or more subsections. There is no limit to how many subsections you can include under each heading, but keep in mind that the information will be structured into a paragraph during the writing stage, so you should not go overboard with the number of sub-points.

Ready to start writing or looking for guidance on a different step in the process? Read our step-by-step guide on how to write a research paper .

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Research Paper Guide

Research Paper Example

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Research Paper Example

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How to Write a Research Methodology for a Research Paper

Crafting a comprehensive research paper can be daunting. Understanding diverse citation styles and various subject areas presents a challenge for many.

Without clear examples, students often feel lost and overwhelmed, unsure of how to start or which style fits their subject.

Explore our collection of expertly written research paper examples. We’ve covered various citation styles and a diverse range of subjects.

So, read on!

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  • 1. Research Paper Example for Different Formats
  • 2. Examples for Different Research Paper Parts
  • 3. Research Paper Examples for Different Fields
  • 4. Research Paper Example Outline

Research Paper Example for Different Formats

Following a specific formatting style is essential while writing a research paper . Knowing the conventions and guidelines for each format can help you in creating a perfect paper. Here we have gathered examples of research paper for most commonly applied citation styles :

Social Media and Social Media Marketing: A Literature Review

APA Research Paper Example

APA (American Psychological Association) style is commonly used in social sciences, psychology, and education. This format is recognized for its clear and concise writing, emphasis on proper citations, and orderly presentation of ideas.

Here are some research paper examples in APA style:

Research Paper Example APA 7th Edition

Research Paper Example MLA

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is frequently employed in humanities disciplines, including literature, languages, and cultural studies. An MLA research paper might explore literature analysis, linguistic studies, or historical research within the humanities. 

Here is an example:

Found Voices: Carl Sagan

Research Paper Example Chicago

Chicago style is utilized in various fields like history, arts, and social sciences. Research papers in Chicago style could delve into historical events, artistic analyses, or social science inquiries. 

Here is a research paper formatted in Chicago style:

Chicago Research Paper Sample

Research Paper Example Harvard

Harvard style is widely used in business, management, and some social sciences. Research papers in Harvard style might address business strategies, case studies, or social policies.

View this sample Harvard style paper here:

Harvard Research Paper Sample

Examples for Different Research Paper Parts

A research paper has different parts. Each part is important for the overall success of the paper. Chapters in a research paper must be written correctly, using a certain format and structure.

The following are examples of how different sections of the research paper can be written.

Research Proposal

The research proposal acts as a detailed plan or roadmap for your study, outlining the focus of your research and its significance. It's essential as it not only guides your research but also persuades others about the value of your study.

Example of Research Proposal

An abstract serves as a concise overview of your entire research paper. It provides a quick insight into the main elements of your study. It summarizes your research's purpose, methods, findings, and conclusions in a brief format.

Research Paper Example Abstract

Literature Review 

A literature review summarizes the existing research on your study's topic, showcasing what has already been explored. This section adds credibility to your own research by analyzing and summarizing prior studies related to your topic.

Literature Review Research Paper Example

Methodology

The methodology section functions as a detailed explanation of how you conducted your research. This part covers the tools, techniques, and steps used to collect and analyze data for your study.

Methods Section of Research Paper Example

How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper

The conclusion summarizes your findings, their significance and the impact of your research. This section outlines the key takeaways and the broader implications of your study's results.

Research Paper Conclusion Example

Research Paper Examples for Different Fields

Research papers can be about any subject that needs a detailed study. The following examples show research papers for different subjects.

History Research Paper Sample

Preparing a history research paper involves investigating and presenting information about past events. This may include exploring perspectives, analyzing sources, and constructing a narrative that explains the significance of historical events.

View this history research paper sample:

Many Faces of Generalissimo Fransisco Franco

Sociology Research Paper Sample

In sociology research, statistics and data are harnessed to explore societal issues within a particular region or group. These findings are thoroughly analyzed to gain an understanding of the structure and dynamics present within these communities. 

Here is a sample:

A Descriptive Statistical Analysis within the State of Virginia

Science Fair Research Paper Sample

A science research paper involves explaining a scientific experiment or project. It includes outlining the purpose, procedures, observations, and results of the experiment in a clear, logical manner.

Here are some examples:

Science Fair Paper Format

What Do I Need To Do For The Science Fair?

Psychology Research Paper Sample

Writing a psychology research paper involves studying human behavior and mental processes. This process includes conducting experiments, gathering data, and analyzing results to understand the human mind, emotions, and behavior.

Here is an example psychology paper:

The Effects of Food Deprivation on Concentration and Perseverance

Art History Research Paper Sample

Studying art history includes examining artworks, understanding their historical context, and learning about the artists. This helps analyze and interpret how art has evolved over various periods and regions.

Check out this sample paper analyzing European art and impacts:

European Art History: A Primer

Research Paper Example Outline

Before you plan on writing a well-researched paper, make a rough draft. An outline can be a great help when it comes to organizing vast amounts of research material for your paper.

Here is an outline of a research paper example:

Here is a downloadable sample of a standard research paper outline:

Research Paper Outline

Want to create the perfect outline for your paper? Check out this in-depth guide on creating a research paper outline for a structured paper!

Good Research Paper Examples for Students

Here are some more samples of research paper for students to learn from:

Fiscal Research Center - Action Plan

Qualitative Research Paper Example

Research Paper Example Introduction

How to Write a Research Paper Example

Research Paper Example for High School

Now that you have explored the research paper examples, you can start working on your research project. Hopefully, these examples will help you understand the writing process for a research paper.

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Our team is experienced in delivering perfectly formatted, 100% original research papers. So, whether you need help with a part of research or an entire paper, our experts are here to deliver.

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Political Science Research Paper

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This sample political science research paper features: 6600 words (approx. 22 pages), an outline, and a bibliography with 30 sources. Browse other research paper examples for more inspiration. If you need a thorough research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

Introduction

Definition and overview.

  • Case Studies of Traditionalism
  • A Case Study of Behavioralism
  • A Case Study of Postbehavioralism
  • Bibliography

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Within the discipline of political science in the United States, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are three distinct political science research approaches. That is, each offers a perspective on how best to carry out investigation, analysis, and explanation relating to politics and political life (Dryzek & Leonard, 1988). These three approaches represent different points of emphasis regarding the ways in which research about politics should proceed. For example, it will be seen that traditionalism—in comparison with behavioralism—tends to emphasize the usefulness of analyzing governmental institutions when studying political phenomena, whereas behavioralism tends to assert the importance of research into the intricacies of the behavior of individual political actors (e.g., citizens, lobbyists, candidates, elected officials). However, all three research perspectives share the belief that political science research should produce explanations that improve and deepen our understanding of complex political processes.

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As one begins to analyze the meaning and complexity of traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism, it is important to keep in mind three points. First, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are broad categories, and within each category one finds a variety of political scientists who are not necessarily in agreement on all matters relating to the study of politics. For example, during the years in which traditionalism was the prevailing research approach within political science, Woodrow Wilson (1911) delivered an address to the American Political Science Association (APSA) that called into dispute various claims made by previous APSA president James Bryce. In 1908, Bryce had stated that political science, that is, a scientific understanding of politics, was possible insofar as human actions tended to be similar, or repeatable, over time; thus, Bryce (1909) reasoned, one could generalize about patterns of human activity and draw conclusions about political life. Wilson (1911), however, while not altogether denying the existence of some degree of patterned activity over time, stressed the uniqueness characterizing human beings and human actions. Despite these differences, both Bryce and Wilson were representative of traditionalist political science.

Second, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are often linked with certain decades in the development of political science in the United States. Traditionalism is usually associated with the political science practiced during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Behavioralism is generally associated with the post-World War II period, although its origins are sometimes traced back to the 1920s. Postbehavioralism’s appearance in the discipline had been noted and commented on by the end of the 1960s (Dahl, 1992; Dryzek, 2006; Ricci, 1984).

It is important to realize, however, that these historical markers are best used as general designations, because the development of these three research approaches was too multifaceted and complex to fit neatly into rigid time categories. The emergence of a new approach did not necessarily completely or entirely displace an older one; for example, while traditionalism was challenged by behavioralism in the 1950s and 1960s, a number of political scientists continued to hold to traditionalism. Indeed, many contemporary introductory textbooks in U.S. politics continue to reflect the perspective of traditionalist political science. Moreover, not all subfields of political science were affected equally or simultaneously by the emergence of a new approach. For instance, the subfield of U.S. politics incorporated the behavioralist approach earlier than did the subfields of international relations and comparative politics (Sigelman, 2006).

Third, two of the three research approaches have tended to define themselves in opposition to their predecessors and, in so doing, have helped shape the manner in which those prior approaches have been remembered. Specifically, behavioralism defined itself in opposition to what it understood as constituting traditionalism, and post-behavioralism carved out its own identity, in part, as a critique of what it saw as the defining elements of behavioralism. As a result, one sees that the emergence of the newer approaches was coupled with a rejection of perceived deficiencies in the earlier approaches. In identifying what they saw as inadequacies in the older approaches, the newer approaches tended to highlight differences between the new and the old and, in some cases, tended to understate any similarities. For example, behavioralism emphasized its adherence to scientific method and, in so doing, sometimes gave the impression that that which it was attempting to replace—traditionalism—had not regarded itself as scientific. As becomes clear when one analyzes the actual writings of traditionalists, however, traditionalists generally saw themselves as political scientists and often made much of the fact that, as political scientists, they were not to be confused with historians (Farr, 1990; Gunnell, 2006). As early as 1910, an APSA president was calling on the discipline to employ statistical analyses to identify political patterns and test conclusions relating thereto (Lowell, 1910). Similarly, postbehavioralists, it will be seen in the discussion below, emphasized the importance of producing research that was relevant in addressing contemporary questions, but, in stressing their own newness relative to behavioralists, postbehavioralists often tended to understate the extent to which early-20th-century political scientists had also sought to use political science research to address urgent, relevant problems in U.S. life (Gunnell, 2006).

Traditionalism

Traditionalism is an approach defined by its focus on the study of political institutions, law, or a combination of these. In addition, traditionalism locates its scientific reliability in its grounding in careful historical or legal investigations that are designed to produce thorough descriptions of the subject in question (Easton, 1971; Fried, 2006; Isaak, 1985; Macridis, 1992). That is, traditionalism is an approach in political science that seeks to study political phenomena by investigating law, history, and/or institutions such as the government as a whole or narrower institutions such as legislative, executive, or judicial bodies. A traditionalist seeking to understand how the U.S. Congress works would, thus, investigate such questions as what the law (e.g., the U.S. Constitution) provides for in terms of congressional powers and limits, how Congress as an institution has evolved historically, and how Congress as an institution fits into the larger institutional network of the U.S. government in its entirety. A traditionalist seeking to understand courts could follow a similar strategy of pursuing historical questions (e.g., how courts have evolved), legal questions (e.g., what laws govern courts and how courts have participated historically in shaping laws), or institutional questions (e.g., how courts are organized and administered as institutions). A traditionalist in the field of international relations might study international law or national laws and treaties relating to interstate interactions (i.e., foreign policy).

Traditionalist political science has not been an approach that has demanded narrow or exclusive disciplinary specialization. On the contrary, early traditionalist political scientists needed to be comfortable with such fields as history or law in order to pursue their work. Francis Lieber, who, in 1857, became the first person to hold an official political science professorship in the United States, was, in actuality, a professor of both history and political science at New York’s Columbia College (Farr, 1990). Traditionalism’s breadth is also revealed in APSA president Albert Shaw’s (1907) comments that it was possible to find numerous political scientists participating in the American Historical Association as well as in “Economic and Sociological groups” (p. 178).

Traditionalist political scientists tended to be explicit in drawing connections between political science research and service to the public interest, in whatever manner the latter might be defined by the political scientist in question. Shaw’s 1907 APSA presidential address is an illustration of traditionalism’s linkage of empirical-scientific and normative-ethical objectives. “I believe that there will be a very general agreement,” Shaw asserted, “that this Association can render an extremely useful service to the country, without departing in the smallest degree from its scientific methods” (p. 181). Shaw went on to suggest that APSA might undertake investigative projects on problems or concerns relative to “the public benefit” (p. 181). In fact, a perusal of the early records published in Proceedings of the American Political Science Association and in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science reveals traditionalists’ interests in addressing child labor, political party reform, and other public welfare questions (Addams, 1906; Richberg, 1913).

Case Studies of Traditionalism: Frank Goodnow and Woodrow Wilson

For a fuller, more detailed understanding of traditionalism, one can look in greater depth at two examples of traditionalist political science. The first is Frank Goodnow’s 1904 address to the first meeting of APSA. Goodnow’s address included (a) a definition of what he called political science’s “scope” but not a technical definition of political science itself, (b) an examination of what political science was to have as its research focus, and (c) a closing statement about political science’s relevance. An examination of these three components of his address illustrates traditionalism’s salient elements of institutionalism (in the emphasis on studying the institution of the state), legalism (in the emphasis on studying law and jurisprudence), a historical perspective, and attention to the public benefits of scientific inquiry.

First, in his address, Goodnow (1904) announced that he preferred to define political science’s scope (i.e., that which political science was to study) rather than attempt a definition of political science itself. Setting out to construct a technically detailed definition of the discipline per se, Goodnow contended, was not as productive an enterprise as determining what the discipline should have as its focus of research. He pointed to what he termed the “dangerous” possibility of defining the discipline in too limited or too expansive a manner (p. 35). He proceeded to characterize political science’s scope as the investigation of states. Political scientists were neither the first nor the exclusive researchers of states, Goodnow explained, but were, rather, unique in targeting the state as a primary subject for analysis. For example, historians might study historical states and might indirectly study contemporary states, Goodnow reasoned, and economists might investigate monetary matters relating to states. However, only political scientists would have as their “main interests” the direct, detailed, “scientific” analysis of states in all their complexity. Goodnow’s comments suggest that the previously noted absence of disciplinary narrowness or specialization in traditionalist political science did not have to translate into the absence of disciplinary identity. Goodnow was, in this address, identifying himself as a political scientist as opposed to a historian, even while his approach to political science would employ historical perspectives. Moreover, in identifying the institution of the state (as opposed to the behavior of individuals, for example) as the central and defining subject matter of political science, Goodnow was conveying what is generally termed the traditionalist orientation toward institutionalism.

Second, Goodnow (1904) framed the study of states— and thus political science as a discipline—broadly. Political science’s range of investigation was to include, he argued, the study of how the “State’s will” was communicated, what comprised the “State’s will,” and how the “State’s will” was carried out. In explaining what he meant by the communication of the “State’s will,” Goodnow made reference to such matters as the values conveyed through a country’s political ideas or political theory, constitution, and political party platforms. Political values influenced state policies or will. The second element—the “content of the State will”—Goodnow identified as law (p. 40). Law revealed a state’s meaning. Indeed, one sees how closely Goodnow’s traditionalist political science was attached to the study of law when one encounters his remark that “it is very doubtful” that anyone could become a political scientist—that is, that anyone could understand states “as an object of scientific study”—without a thorough understanding of law (pp. 42-43). To understand how states carried out their “wills,” Goodnow continued, one needed to study administrative law, a subject that, in the absence of political science, had been frightfully neglected, he believed. He pointed to the benefits of studying the history of English poor laws as a guide for improving public administration generally.

Finally, Goodnow (1904) closed his address by expressing hope that political science could contribute to the public good. He identified teachers and political practitioners as two groups that could benefit directly from the knowledge produced by the disciple. Moreover, in disseminating a more descriptively accurate and comprehensive understanding of states, teachers and practitioners, in their respective professional roles, could contribute to an enhanced public well-being.

An examination of Woodrow Wilson’s (1911) address to the seventh annual APSA meeting offers a second opportunity for scrutinizing more carefully traditionalism’s breadth, a breadth critiqued as “unscientific” by later advocates of behavioralism. Although better known as the 28th president of the United States, Wilson also served as president of APSA and, in this latter capacity, argued against a narrow, specialized conception of political science. In fact, at one point in his address, he went so far as to assert that he disliked the name political science, which, he claimed, implied that human interactions should be studied objectively and narrowly. He argued for the designation politics rather than political science as a more suitable name for the study of the state and “statesmanship” (pp. 10-11). Although Wilson supported a scientific approach, if by science one meant accuracy and thoroughness in one’s study of political life, he argued that such study should include an examination of literature, art, and poetry and should seek to inspire “vision” and “sympathy” (pp. 2, 10, 11). His understanding of political science, one finds, could hardly be broader, in that he concluded that “nothing” that has an impact on “human life” should be termed “foreign” to the discipline (p. 2). Wilson argued that the astute student of politics should demonstrate “a Shakespearian range” (p. 10). Although Wilson’s immediate influence on U.S. political science was limited (Ubertaccio & Cook, 2006), his explicit embrace of an expansive politics is illustrative of traditionalism’s lack of disciplinary specialization. In addition, a comparison of his approach with that of Goodnow is helpful in reminding students of traditionalism of the approach’s internal diversity.

Behavioralism

Behavioralism emerged as a criticism of traditionalism’s failure, in the view of behavioralists, to offer an approach to the scientific investigation of political questions that was sufficiently rigorous to produce predictive results based on quantitatively tested data. Specifically, behavioralism’s defining elements include a focus on political actors and their behavior (or attitudes and opinions), value-free science, and the study of operationalizable questions through hypothesis formulation and empirical, quantitative research (Ricci, 1984). The focus on studying political actors represented a shift away from traditionalism’s concentration on the historical and legalistic study of institutions.

In turning attention to the study of political actors, many behavioralists employed survey research to compare the attitudes of voters versus nonvoters, elites versus non-elites, partisan identifiers versus independents, or other subunits of populations. Students of congressional politics could enlist behavioral approaches to shift research away from the analysis of the institutional history of legislatures to an empirical investigation of the actual behaviors of congressional officeholders, staff, or congressional committee members. Behavioralists were interested, for example, in whether members of Congress spent greater time and devoted greater resources to the actual drafting of legislation or to responding to constituency demands, campaigning for the next election, or interacting with lobbyists. Empirical observation of such behaviors devoid of normative judgments (about how voters, nonvoters, elites, masses, partisans, independents, or congressional members “should” be behaving) would, in the words of David Easton (1971), correct the traditionalist “neglect of the most obvious element, the human being” (p. 203) in the conduct of research. Moreover, not only would a “value-free” science guard against the corruption of biases associated with normative preferences, but strict adherence to the study of questions translatable into operational variables and testable hypotheses would provide a more reliable knowledge than that producible by means of traditionalism.

In a 1967 essay titled “The Current Meaning of Behavioralism,” Easton (1992) summed up behavioralism as having eight interrelated “intellectual foundation stones” (p. 47):

  • “regularities”: A rigorous study of political behavior would allow political scientists to make predictions, just as natural scientists could make predictive statements.
  • “verification”: Predictions were to be testable in order to be falsified or verified.
  • “techniques”: Political science should become increasingly sophisticated in its use of scientific data collection and testing methods.
  • “quantification”: Political science should use precise, quantifiable measurements; questions for research had to be definable in testable, operationally narrow and precise terms.
  • “values”: Empirical, scientific study operates by a process different from the pursuit of normative objectives.
  • “systematization”: Political science research should produce a body of systematic information; theories and generalizations could be based on sound inferences from testable data.
  • “pure science”: Political science research should operate in a value free manner, that is, independently of any possible subsequent use of scientific knowledge to address perceived social problems.

Robert Dahl (1992) traced the origins of this approach to the 1920s and to the work of Charles Merriman and the so-called Chicago School of Harold Lasswell, Gabriel Almond, V. O. Key, and David Truman. By the mid-1960s, one member of this school—Almond (1966)—was proclaiming “a new paradigm” in political science (p. 875). Almond described this paradigm as having three components: (1) a “statistical approach” geared toward “test[ing] hypotheses” that would generate (2) “probability” statements and (3) a study of the interaction of actors and units within larger political “systems” (p. 876). As is clear in Almond’s language, this new behavioral approach was using highly specialized tools and methods drawn from such fields as math, statistics, economics, and psychology. Indeed, Almond pointed out that graduate study in political science was becoming increasingly focused on training students in the tools of “the scientific revolution”—tools that were turning political science in the direction of survey research, statistical sampling, and team-based and grant-funded quantitative research. During the post-World War II behavioralist period, publications in the American Political Science Review (APSR) became increasingly oriented toward statistical analyses of public opinion and behavior, especially in the subfields of U.S. politics and comparative politics (Sigelman, 2006). The new focus on studying that which could be precisely and narrowly operationalized seemed worlds removed from the one in which an APSA president could proclaim, as Woodrow Wilson had, his distaste for the term political science and his hope for a field of politics characterized by a “Shakespearean range.”

A Case Study of Behavioralism: Herbert McClosky’s “Consensus and Ideology in American Politics”

Herbert McClosky’s “Consensus and Ideology in American Politics,” published in the APSR in 1964, can serve as a case study for examining more closely the salient features of the behavioralist approach. As the title of his article suggested, McClosky was interested in the extent to which consensus, or broad agreement, on political values existed in the United States. Although he opened his article with a brief overview of Tocquevillean comments on democratic culture and customs, McClosky framed his analysis around the investigation of specific hypotheses relating to the attitudes of political actors, in this case, actors grouped into two subunits of the U.S. population. McClosky hypothesized that the U.S. public was not uniform in its political views, that it was more supportive of democracy in the abstract than in particular cases, and that political elites (those whom he called influentials) were more supportive of democracy than non-elites were.

McClosky (1964) divided the U.S. population into two groups: the influentials and the general electorate. The influentials were individuals who had been delegates or alternates at the major party conventions in 1956, and the general electorate was simply the population at large. McClosky used survey research to measure the attitudes of both groups. With respect to the influentials, a sample of more than 3,000 members of the delegates and alternates at the Democratic and Republican conventions was surveyed. With respect to the general population, McClosky used a national sample of 1,500 adults. Both groups were surveyed on a variety of questions or items, and responses to the items served as “indicators” of “opinions or attitudes” about democratic values (p. 364). If a subunit manifested 75% or higher levels of agreement on an item, consensus was said to be demonstrated.

McClosky (1964) found greater degrees of consensus for democratic procedures among influentials than among the public at large. For example, his surveys contained 12 items to measure support for the “rules of the game” (procedural democracy). These items included statements that respondents were asked to register agreement or disagreement with and consisted of statements about whether a citizen could be justified in acting outside the law, whether majorities had an obligation to respect minorities, whether the means were as important as the ends in the pursuit of political outcomes, whether the use of force was ever justified as a political strategy, and whether voting rights should be expansive or curtailed. Survey results demonstrated, McClosky reported, that influentials expressed consensus on most of the 12 items, whereas the general electorate expressed consensus on none of the 12 items.

McClosky (1964) proceeded to report that, while both influentials and the general population exhibited broader support for freedom of speech when asked about this freedom in the abstract than when asked about freedom of speech for specific unpopular groups, influentials were more supportive than the general population of free speech for unpopular groups. McClosky concluded that one might be led to believe that citizens of the United States had reached consensus on the importance of freedom of speech until one looked at the noninfluentials’ responses to items involving the application of the principle to particular cases, incidents, and people. For example, support for the rights of Communists, of persons accused of treason, and of convicted criminals was higher among the influentials than among the general population.

Furthermore, McClosky (1964) reported greater consensus among influentials on the importance of the democratic value of freedom than on the democratic value of equality. In fact, McClosky reported the absence of consensus among both influentials and the general electorate on the matter of whether all people were equal, as well as on questions relating to whether all people should be accorded equality. McClosky’s surveys included indicators to measure support for political, social, and economic equality, and his results suggested an absence of consensus among both influentials and the general electorate relating to all three types of equality. In other words, on statements relating to whether most people can make responsible decisions in governing themselves (political equality), whether different ethnic groups are equal (social equality), or whether all people have an equal claim to have a good job and a decent home (economic equality), consensus was absent.

McClosky (1964) also sought to measure what he understood as ideological clarity and the ability to identify oneself accurately along ideological lines. In evaluating survey participants in terms of their responses to particular statements relating to liberal versus conservative issues and their adoption of ideological markers (liberal vs. conservative), he found that influentials were more accurate than the general population in naming themselves as liberals or conservatives and in identifying a position as liberal or conservative.

McClosky (1964) closed his article with six summarizing generalizations. First, elites (influentials) were different from non-elites in terms of a greater elite support for democratic processes and a more complete understanding of political ideology. Second, a comparison of the education and economic circumstances of the two groups suggested possible (and testable) reasons for the differences in attitudes demarcating the two groups. Third, the level of support for democracy among U.S. elites was problematic on some issues (e.g., equality). Fourth, in spite of problematic levels of attitudinal support for democratic values, the U.S. system of Republican-Democratic politics appeared stable, a result, in part, of the nonparticipation of non-democracy-supporting non-elites. In short, democracy, McClosky stated, is sometimes “saved” by the nonparticipation of uninformed segments of the demos (p. 376). Fifth, classic accounts of democracy are inaccurate when claiming that the acceptance of democratic ideas is essential for the survival of democracy. Sixth, although McClosky advised political scientists against becoming sanguine about the lack of support for democratic processes among the population at large, he shared his hope for a wider disbursement of democratic values among segments of the U.S. population as the country continued to promote educational and scientific advancements.

Students of political science can observe key elements of behavioralism in McClosky’s work. First, behavior was understood by behavioralists like McClosky broadly enough to encompass opinions and attitudes. Second, it is evident that the turning of the discipline toward the study of the behavior of actors is regarded by behavioralists to be deeply revealing of that which was hidden as long as political science held to traditionalism’s tenacious insistence on studying institutions. Behavioralism in the hands of political scientists such as McClosky had accomplished something no less remarkable than to reveal—and prove empirically—the flaws in classic, long-standing accounts of why and how democracies work. Third, behavioralists such as McClosky believed that they had succeeded in demonstrating that big questions such as the ones Wilson wanted political science to address were most reliably answered when turned into narrow, specialized, operationalizable questions and variables. After all, what could be a bigger, more Shakespearean question than the one McClosky had addressed? Yet, only by defining consensus in a narrow, testable way, for example, could McClosky study the question of democratic consensus in such a precise and careful manner. Fourth, behavioralists such as McClosky were not opposed to theoretical generalizations, but they believed that such generalizations were most appropriately developed out of concrete, empirical results; moreover, such generalizations could be used to generate new empirically testable questions. In the process of empirically measuring and testing, however, one was not to allow biases or normative presumptions (e.g., about the goodness of citizens of the United States or of U.S. democracy) to distort one’s observations. Finally, the value-free political science of behavioralists such as McClosky tended to produce conclusions that left unchallenged the fundamental structures of the U.S. status quo. As Ricci (1984), Dryzek (2006), and Susser (1992) have noted, behavioralists saw their science as value free but, perhaps ironically, often tended to produce results that fit comfortably with normative assumptions regarding the fundamental soundness of the U.S. political system’s ability to address progressively any problems that political science might bring into the open. Indeed, it might even turn out to be the case that what looked like a defect (the apathy of the uninformed) was discovered by means of behavioralism to be an asset.

Postbehavioralism

Postbehavioralism is an approach that emphasizes (a) that political science research should be meaningful, that is, that it should address urgent political problems; (b) that science and values are inextricably connected; and (c) that political science should not seek to model itself on the strict application of scientific methods used in the natural sciences whereby research is driven exclusively by that which can be reduced to narrowly defined questions testable by the most rigorous, most specialized scientific procedures presently available. Postbehavioralists reacted against what they interpreted as behavioralism’s excessive reliance on the purity of scientific precision at the expense of “relevance.” While many postbehavioralists upheld the value of empirical and statistically oriented research, they tended to argue that behavioralism had overreached in emphasizing a strict adherence to narrow scientific procedures and that behavioralism’s proclaimed value-free approach in actuality veiled a normative endorsement of the status quo and was thus both normative and conservative.

A number of postbehavioralist critics of behavioralism, including Peter Bacharach, Christian Bay, Hans Morganthau, and Theodore Lowi, would join the Caucus for a New Political Science, organized in 1967 (Dryzek, 2006). The caucus continues to conceptualize political science as best carried out when political scientists integrate their identities as community members with their identities as scholars and thus craft research agendas in response to political needs. Political science should be steeped in everyday life and its concerns, not isolated from it as an esoteric, specialized, value-free science, according to Caucus statements (New Political Science: The Journal, n.d.).

In 1969, David Easton stated that postbehavioralism was proving to be a transformative force in the discipline. Easton discerned postbehavioralism’s presence on two levels: first, postbehavioralism was identifiable as a collection of individual political scientists who shared a growing dissatisfaction with behavioralism’s implications, and, second, postbehavioralism was manifested as a new intellectual outlook or approach that could guide research. In his presidential address to APSA, Easton delineated what he called a “distillation” of postbehavioralism’s defining elements (p. 1052). Easton described postbehavioralism as a demand for relevance, as forward-looking, as application oriented, and as premised on the belief that it was nothing short of unethical for political scientists to remove themselves from the arena of deliberation and action when confronted with and surrounded by political problems. Easton made multiple references to the Vietnam War, to the threat of nuclear escalation, and to the struggles of the civil rights movement, and he noted that postbehavioralism was an indictment of behavioralism’s irrelevance in finding solutions to such problems. Indeed, Easton pointed out that, from a postbehavioralist perspective, behavioralism could be charged with failing even to see such problems, a charge that must have sounded particularly strange to students of McClosky, schooled as they were in regarding influentials or elites as more adept at identifying and understanding political issues than were members of the general electorate. Easton used the metaphor of blinders to describe what had overtaken a discipline that could not see the obvious, pressing issues of society even while it could describe in copious detail the merits of operationalization, hypothesis formulation, statistical analysis, verification, and falsification. Why, Easton asked, in an era of behavioralism (i.e., 1958-1968), had the APSR had only four articles on racial disturbances, only two articles on the practice of civil disobedience, only one article on problems of poverty, and only three articles on urban disorder?

Easton (1969) went on to explain that postbehavioralism’s critique of behavioralism was deeply grounded in an understanding of science at odds with that embraced by behavioralism. For postbehavioralists, science was unavoidably based on normative assumptions; thus, according to postbehavioralists, a “value-free” political science (the kind of political science advanced by behavioralists) was not possible. Indeed, postbehavioralists asserted that to proclaim value neutrality was itself a normative stance (i.e., an assertion that a so-called value-free stance was better than its opposite). Postbehavioralism faulted behavioralism for not having acknowledged—and thus not having scrutinized—its own normative foundations and the ways in which those foundations shaped the direction of its research agenda. However, insofar as postbehavioralism was not a rejection of an empirically based science per se, Easton hoped that postbehavioralism could elucidate behavioralism’s logic and correct its lack of self-awareness regarding its own assumptions rather than become a repudiation of the gains made in political science’s shift away from the early and less scientifically oriented methods of traditionalism. In later years, some scholars would come to regard postbehavioralism’s legacy as opening up possibilities of a more “eclectic” application of research methods to the study of political phenomena (Lane, 1990, p. 927).

A Case Study of Postbehavioralism: The Perestroika Protest in Political Science

In December 2000, PS: Political Science and Politics published “Voices: An Open Letter to the APSA Leadership and Members.” The letter, signed by more than 200 political scientists, had been circulated by someone referring to himself or herself as “Mr. Perestroika.” Echoing postbehavioralist concerns from decades earlier, the Perestroika protest letter charged APSA and APSR with having a disciplinary obsession with quantitative methodology at the expense of meaningful subject matter. Its narrow methodological focus, the letter argued, had rendered APSA and its premier journal remote from the actual world of scholarly work undertaken by most political scientists. The letter called for increased openness in APSA (e.g., in elections to APSA governing bodies and to the APSA editorial board), the inclusion of a broader range of articles in APSR, public disclosure of survey results that could demonstrate widespread dissatisfaction with the discipline’s direction, and greater openness to critical voices in the discipline. Noting that they had not organized themselves into an actual caucus or subunit within APSA, the Perestroika letter signees, nonetheless, claimed to speak for a broad segment of political scientists (“Voices,” 2000).

Perestroika supporter Gregory Kasza expanded on the concerns expressed in the initial letter in “Perestroika: For an Ecumenical Science of Politics” (2001). One can see in Kasza’s elaboration of the Perestroika protest six major points illustrative of postbehavioralism. First, it was claimed that U.S. political science had been distorted by the dominance within the discipline of highly specialized quantitative research approaches; because of this dominance, Kasza asserted, political scientists seeking to produce scholarly works using qualitative approaches were being marginalized. Second, Kasza argued that the marginalization of nonquantitative approaches constituted a breach of academic freedom. Political scientists, he contended, were being pressured to mold their substantive interests to fit the contours of rigid methodologies and frameworks; he mentioned an anonymous graduate student who had been warned that she would fail as a political scientist if she did not make her dissertation conform to rational choice strictures. Third, in allowing a narrow understanding of science to become dominant within the discipline, political science was undercutting its ability to produce sound scholarship. Indeed, Kasza went so far as to assert that a Perestroika movement could save the discipline from producing subpar scholarship. Fourth, Kasza made the quintessentially postbehavioral call for a political science that was more “relevant” in addressing substantive political concerns. Fifth, Kasza suggested that, in seeking to become as sophisticated a science as possible, political science had actually become something of an adventure in fiction. Kasza charged that scientifically oriented political scientists were, in all too many cases, operationalzing human motives, desires, and choices in such narrow terms (in order to be rigorous) as to render their subjects caricatures.

Finally, Kasza (2001) offered an alternative, “ecumenical” approach. Ecumenism, he explained, would be defined by three elements. First, an ecumenical political science would select problems for analysis and then make decisions about which research approaches would best address the problem, rather than adopting a research approach and defining problems to fit the requirements of the research approach. Second, an ecumenical political science would be explicit in its acceptance of a plurality of methods or approaches. Specialized quantitative methodologies would coexist with qualitative methodologies in an open and expansive political science; for example, graduate programs would reintegrate political philosophy and policy studies into their core areas in a Perestroika-driven discipline. Third, an ecumenical political science would value interdisciplinary study. Kasza urged political scientists to rethink graduate training and, specifically, to institute dual-degree graduate programs. Political science graduate students should be encouraged to earn master’s degrees in alternative and diverse fields, fields encompassing the humanities as well as hard sciences.

In calling for interdisciplinary collaboration, Kasza (2001) was aware that he and other Perestroika supporters were challenging political science to regain something from its earlier orientation. Indeed, in the postbehavioral Perestroika protest, one can recognize remnants of traditionalism. One is reminded of the cross-disciplinary approach of Goodnow when reading recent demands for interdisciplinary breadth in graduate training. At the same time, one can observe in postbehavioralism a parallelism linking the demand to study real people (rather than excessively narrowly operationalized “actors” described by behavioralists) with behavioralism’s impatience with traditionalism’s earlier preference for studying institutions rather than people. Neither the Perestroika protesters nor other advocates of postbehavioralism purged political science of behavioralism. In fact, at present, one can find all three approaches in political science. One might conclude from a study of the history of traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism that political science, as a discipline, has been characterized not as much by complete breaks with preexisting research approaches as by periodic shifts and rearrangements of research emphases (Dryzek, 2006).

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    Definition. A finite set of linear equations in the variables x1, x2, . . . , xn is called. a system of linear equations. Not all systems of linear equations has solutions. A system of equations that has no solution is said to be inconsistent. If there is at least one solution, it is called consistent.

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  21. Top Ten Computer Science Education Research Papers of the Last 50 Years

    We also believe that highlighting excellent research will inspire others to enter the computing education field and make their own contributions.". The Top Ten Symposium Papers are: 1. " Identifying student misconceptions of programming " (2010) Lisa C. Kaczmarczyk, Elizabeth R. Petrick, University of California, San Diego; Philip East ...

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