The dreaded research paper might bring to mind images of late nights in the library hunched over a glowing laptop screen, but they don’t have to be such a monumental challenge! Writing a research paper is just like writing any other academic assignment. As long as you break it into pieces and follow certain guidelines, you’ll have it done in no time! Read on to learn everything you need to know about writing a high-scoring paper.
What Is a Research Paper?
A research paper is a detailed analysis of a specific topic based on careful and meticulous research. It tests your ability to do in-depth research as well as your writing and analysis skills. Research papers are most commonly assigned to university students but are sometimes assigned to high school students as well. The main purpose of this kind of paper isn’t just to show the research you’ve done, but to draw insights and conclusions based on discovered information.
How to Start a Research Paper
You can’t just jump into writing a long paper. In fact, unless it’s a personal journal, it’s always recommended to take a few steps before actually starting to write. Because this kind of paper is such a long and detailed academic assignment, taking these preliminary steps is even more important. These steps will help you organize your thoughts, give your paper a clear structure, select relevant and credible research, and overall cut down on the amount of time you will spend on the entire process.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you read the assignment carefully. Make sure you understand exactly what kind of topic you are supposed to research and pay attention to any requirements and specific types of questions you may have to answer. Read some research paper examples to get an idea of what these papers look like and see how they answer the assignment’s questions.
Choose a Research Paper Topic
Choosing the right research paper topic is vitally important. You will have to do extensive research and show an in-depth understanding of whatever topic you choose. Choose a topic that you genuinely find interesting. This will make the research process a lot more fun, and your enthusiasm and passion will come across in the writing.
Make sure that the topic you choose isn’t too broad. Your paper should answer new questions, which means that it has to be specific. For example, the impact of television on teenagers might be an acceptable essay topic, but it’s too broad for a research paper. The impact of violent TV shows on teenagers in developing countries is a much better topic. A narrower topic also allows you to do more targeted research and spend less time on background information.
Make sure you match the complexity of the topic you choose with your abilities. The same topic might not work equally as well for a high school student and a postgraduate student.
Finally, make sure that there is enough research about your topic available and that you can find that information. Even if you have a compelling and unique topic, if you can’t find any information about it, you will struggle to write the paper.
Brainstorm and go through several topics before you choose one. You can get inspiration from a sample research paper (the conclusions usually have opportunities for further research listed). Another way to come up with a topic is to choose a general topic and do research on it, asking narrower and narrower questions until you find a topic that you like, find manageable, and has enough accessible research.
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The Research Process
The research process is arguably the most important part of a research paper even if there is no actual writing involved. Your research will determine how successful your paper is, so spend time finding quality sources.
Get Familiar With Your Topic
Once you have a topic in mind, the first step is to get a general sense of the topic. You can do this through websites like Wikipedia. Even though you can’t cite Wikipedia as a source, it is a good way to start learning about your topic. As you familiarize yourself with the general information about the topic, start taking notes and asking questions about what you find interesting, this will help shape your paper later on.
Remember that you should not start your research from a biased perspective. Do not try to answer a specific question, rather get as much information about the topic as possible, and then come up with an interesting question or thesis statement. Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to look for results that confirm their preexisting notions and is especially dangerous when doing research.
Once you have a general idea of your topic and have notes and questions to drive your further research, it’s time to find credible sources that you can use as citations. There are two types of sources, primary and secondary.
Primary sources are usually more credible than secondary sources. Primary sources are first-hand accounts by people involved in the original research. These can be historical and legal documents, statistical data, interviews, surveys, government publications, etc.
Secondary sources are one step away from the first-hand account and are therefore considered less credible. This is because there is usually some sort of analysis done by whoever has written the secondary source, which introduces another layer of bias. Secondary sources include books, articles, analysis or interpretation of data, critical reviews, research papers examples, etc.
Try to use as many primary sources as possible, but secondary sources that come from credible authors or publications are completely acceptable as well. Make sure you research the credentials of any source that you use so that they are credible. If you write a research paper and provide evidence from flimsy sources, your grade will suffer.
Make a list of all the credible articles and sources you come across. You can find sources through your library, academic journals, government websites, google scholar, and academic databases.
Skim and narrow down your list of sources
As you conduct your research you’ll come across a massive amount of information. It’s virtually impossible to organize and synthesize all this information, so learn to identify specific keywords related to the topic you’re looking into and narrow down the list of your sources.
Sometimes the topic or abstract of the paper makes it clear that the source will be relevant, but for other sources, you should be able to quickly skim the text to identify whether it will be useful to you or not. As you go through your sources, formulate several different research questions that you aim to answer throughout the paper.
Organize your research
There’s no point in doing extensive research if you can’t find it later when you’re actually writing the paper. There are several methods you can use to organize your research, so find a way that works best for you. A common method is using Bibliography cards and note cards
Write every source you might want to use on a card in MLA format and write a number on the bac for reference. On the front of the note cards write down a piece of information that you might use in your paper and on the back write down the reference number for the bibliography card it comes from. This will let you use all the information you want to without losing track of where the information came from.
Organizing your research may seem like a tedious task, but it will cut down your writing time massively. You can organize your research from most important to least important, most relevant to least relevant, most credible to least credible, or whatever makes sense to you. Remember, no one is going to see, grade, or judge your research organization process. As long as you have a system that makes sense to you, it’s okay!
Create a Research Paper Outline
Now that you understand your topic, have done in-depth research, and organized the research in a way that makes sense to you, it’s time to start working on the paper itself!
An outline is crucial when writing this kind of paper because it helps you organize your thoughts and helps structure the overall paper. A research paper template also ensures that you include all the key points of information and allows you to get a big picture view of what the final paper will look like.
Remember that an outline is just a guide, as you come across new information and as you write the first draft, you may deviate from the outline. The goal of an outline is to help you organize your information and smoothen the writing process. Let’s take a look at a sample outline for research paper.
Topic: The rise of social media and its impact
- Definition of social media
- Thesis Statement: Social media has allowed people to exchange information in a completely new way, but along with the benefits of free information exchange, there are the downsides of fake news and group polarization.
II. HISTORY OF SOCIAL MEDIA
- First types of social media
- What were the pre-existing types of media
- The transition towards social media dominance
III. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA AND TRADITIONAL MEDIA
- The way information is collected
- The way information is disseminated
- Access to information
- Interaction with information sources
- Trust and credibility
- The human connection
IV. DOWNSIDES OF SOCIAL MEDIA
- Spreading of fake news
- Impact on self-esteem and self-image
- Studies on loneliness, depression, and FOMO
- Group polarization
V. GROUP PSYCHOLOGY
- What is group psychology
- Groupthink, group polarization, and identity
- How social media enhances group polarization
- Summary of the benefits of social media
- Summary of the downsides of social media
- Concluding statement reiterating the thesis and answering the main research question
- Avenues for further research
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Write a first draft of the research paper
Now that you have your research organized and a research paper format, you can move on to writing the first draft!
How to Write an Introduction for a Research Paper
A research paper introduction gives some background information about the topic. The first sentence should be intriguing and hook the reader to want to know more. The goal of the introduction section is to answer 3 main questions. What is the paper going to be about? Why should the reader care about the topic? And how you are going to present the information.
The research paper introduction example paragraph should give some interesting background information to capture the reader’s interest, clearly state what is the question you will answer through the thesis statement, explain why the topic is important to understand, and hint at how the paper will be structured.
A thesis statement is the most important part of the introductory paragraph. A thesis statement is the main purpose of your paper. It is the question you are answering and guides the information you will present. A thesis statement should be precise and compelling. Think of it as boiling down your main argument to just one or two sentences.
Your thesis statement might change as you do more research or as you write your paper and new information and thoughts present themselves. Don’t be worried about this, you can edit or modify your thesis statement, but don’t stray too far from your original thesis statement.
The Body Paragraphs
The body paragraphs are where you present your research and draw conclusions. Remember, this isn’t a simple essay, so use as many body paragraphs as you feel necessary. Each body paragraph should address one main point or research question. Use at least 3 pieces of research as evidence for each point you are making in a body paragraph.
A detailed outline will help you organize each of your paragraphs and make sure that you are using all the relevant bits of research. Remember that an outline isn’t set in stone though, feel free to deviate from the outline as you see fit.
A research paper is an academic form of writing, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have a good flow throughout. Each of your body paragraphs should be well structured, but should also fit into the overall flow of the paper. As you write your paper, try and think about it from the perspective of the reader. Since you’ve done the research, you know the topic well, but would someone who knows nothing about the topic understand the paper? This will make sure that the paragraphs are in the right order and that you are expressing your arguments clearly.
How to Write a Conclusion for a Research Paper
A research paper conclusion gives a brief summary of the main arguments and reiterates and answers the thesis statement. The conclusion should tie together all the points you’ve made, highlighting a few key pieces of research while giving the reader an answer to the original research question.
The general format of the conclusion paragraph is a summary of the main arguments, answering the main question, and then stating avenues for possible future research. Highlighting avenues for possible further research as a conclusion research paper example works because leaving the reader with more questions to think about while they process the conclusion you’ve drawn keeps them engaged.
Make sure you don’t include any new or important information in the conclusion. New information requires new supporting evidence and important information should be included in the body paragraphs. The conclusion paragraph should give the reader a sense of closure, so don’t drag it on for too long. A good research paper conclusion example would be something that is a short summary of the entire paper.
Proofreading and Editing
Now that you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to go over it again and work towards your final draft. Read over your paper quickly a few times and see if anything jumps out at you. Maybe some paragraphs need to be rearranged, or some pieces of information need more citations. Think of your first draft as getting all your ideas down in a written format and the editing process and refining and shaping the end product.
During the writing process you may come up with new ideas, or you may find that some original ideas don’t seem to fit the overall theme or flow of the paper. Remove, replace, condense, and expand sections as you see fit. The first draft is never good enough to submit, you will spend as much time editing and working on drafts of your paper as you did writing the first draft, if not more.
Once you have a final draft, you still need to go over it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that it is as good as it can be. Try to read the paper as if you knew nothing about the topic and figure out if it has a logical flow and is easy to understand while still presenting a strong argument. Check your thesis statement and original research question and confirm that the paper actually answers those questions. Check your instructions and make sure you’ve addressed all the things it asks for.
After you’ve done a macro level check of your paper move on to the specific paragraphs and sentences. Cut out any unnecessary information and sentences that don’t support the main point of every paragraph. A research paper has a lot of information and extra, irrelevant information might confuse the reader. Everything your paper contains should build your argument and have a purpose. Make sure any technical terms you use are well defined, and that everything is cited correctly.
The final step is to check for formatting issues, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes that snuck through, headings, footers, and other minor details. Go over each sentence and think about whether you can phrase it better or more clearly. Make sure to use transition words between connecting ideas and transition phrases between body paragraphs.
Remember this is the final check before you submit the paper, and after all this work, you don’t want small mistakes costing you the grade that you deserve. Proofreading and editing can be tedious and time-consuming though, after all, you have done the most important work, the research, and the writing. The experts at Studyfy have decades of experience in proofreading academic papers and will make sure that your final paper is perfect! So don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
Checklist for revising your research paper draft
Congratulations! If you’ve followed all the advice in this article you will have a high-scoring paper that was hopefully easy to write. Before you submit the paper though, go over all the items on this checklist to make sure you have your bases covered.
Does your paper include all the elements the assignment asked for?
Does the paper flow logically from beginning to end?
Is there any unnecessary or irrelevant information?
Do you have enough credible sources for every point that you make?
Is the introduction engaging, clear, and informative?
Does your thesis statement make sense and is it clear?
Does the paper answer your thesis statement or main research question?
Does each paragraph make sense and fit into the overall point you are making?
Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence and does it address only one main point?
Have you used appropriate transitions to connect ideas and paragraphs?
Does your conclusion clearly answer the research question or thesis statement?
Did you introduce new information in your conclusion?
Have you properly used in-text citations whenever you provide evidence?
Have you checked your works cited or bibliography page?
Are your in-text citation and your references page in the same required citation style? (Usually MLA or APA)
Have you thoroughly checked your paper?
Have you asked a friend or family member to go over it?
Have you checked for plagiarism?
Are you sure you’re ready to turn it in?