Elements of a Research Paper
Set the stage; state the problem (introduction)
generally describe the topic and how it fits into your field of study
- Set the scene
Describe the environment and its conditions
Get permission before using personal information
- Introduce and describe the problem
Describe what you intend to show/argue and why
What is its significance?
Illustrate the problem with an interesting example
(Remember you are writing for an audience and want to capture their interest)
- Begin to define terms, concepts, vocabulary
If possible, use one authoritative source or combine definitions and footnote your sources
Later in the development of your paper, be conscious of using new terms and their definitions
- Since tasks begun well, likely have good finishes (Sophocles)
review the topic, scene, and problem with your teacher or supervisor to verify if you are on the right path
Review the Literature
What research is relevant?
How is it organized? c.f.: Writing Center/University of Wisconsin's Review of literature
Develop your Hypotheses
Your hypothesis is your proposed explanation that you will test to determine whether it is true or false
It will contain measurable variables (those that change or can be manipulated)
with results that can be compared with each other.
Avoid over-generalizing, and reference the research findings of others to support why you think this will work
C.F. National Health Museum's Writing Hypotheses: a student lesson
Give enough information so that others can follow your procedure,
and can replicate it (and hopefully come up with the same findings and conclusions as you did!)
- Describe your procedure as completely as possible so that someone can duplicate it completely
- Define your sample and its characteristics
These should be consistent throughout the test
- List the variables used
These are what change, or that you manipulate, throughout the test
- Try to anticipate criticism that affects either your internal or external validity
These might be considered "flaws"
This is descriptive and numeric data
Develop your argument based upon your findings.
While the data may read for itself, you will need to interpret
- how it validates your hypothesis
- what falls outside of validity
- how it impacts the literature you cited
- where further research is needed
Restate and summarize your findings and discussion either in order to simply complexity or to provide a summary for those who skip to it!
Verify with your teacher the proper format
A research paper is not an essay, an editorial, or a story.
All assertions of fact must be documented.
Be careful of any generalizations that you make.
Strive to be value-free in your inquiry.
Review our Guide on the Scientific Method
Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |See also:
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments
1. Kearl, Michael, The Research Paper, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, (September 17, 2004)
2. Online Writing Lab, Writing a Research Paper, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (September 17, 2004)
Genre and the Research Paper
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez
Last Edited: 2011-03-30 09:06:38
Research: What it is.
A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking, source evaluation, organization, and composition. It is, perhaps, helpful to think of the research paper as a living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to a specific topic. Primary and secondary sources are the heart of a research paper, and provide its nourishment; without the support of and interaction with these sources, the research paper would morph into a different genre of writing (e.g., an encyclopedic article). The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field. It is also possible to identify a research paper by what it is not.
Research: What it is not.
A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one's interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers.
Two major types of research papers.
Argumentative research paper:
The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial. For example, it would be difficult for a student to successfully argue in favor of the following stance.
Cigarette smoking poses medical dangers and may lead to cancer for both the smoker and those who experience secondhand smoke.
Perhaps 25 years ago this topic would have been debatable; however, today, it is assumed that smoking cigarettes is, indeed, harmful to one's health. A better thesis would be the following.
Although it has been proven that cigarette smoking may lead to sundry health problems in the smoker, the social acceptance of smoking in public places demonstrates that many still do not consider secondhand smoke as dangerous to one's health as firsthand smoke.
In this sentence, the writer is not challenging the current accepted stance that both firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke is dangerous; rather, she is positing that the social acceptance of the latter over the former is indicative of a cultural double-standard of sorts. The student would support this thesis throughout her paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade her audience that her particular interpretation of the situation is viable.
Analytical research paper:
The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. For example, perhaps one is interested in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has read the poem intently and desires to offer a fresh reading of the poem to the academic community. His question may be as follows.
How should one interpret the poem Beowulf?
His research may lead him to the following conclusion.
Beowulf is a poem whose purpose it was to serve as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities.
Though his topic may be debatable and controversial, it is not the student's intent to persuade the audience that his ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, his goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress his particular analysis of the topic. The following is an example of what his thesis statement may look like once he has completed his research.
Though Beowulf is often read as a poem that recounts the heroism and supernatural exploits of the protagonist Beowulf, it may also be read as a poem that served as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities found in the Danelaw.
This statement does not negate the traditional readings of Beowulf; instead, it offers a fresh and detailed reading of the poem that will be supported by the student's research.
It is typically not until the student has begun the writing process that his thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance.