A research paper is a specific type of academic writing detailing the rationale and justification of scientific exploration, the methods used to answer the exploration’s research questions, and the significance and knowledge implications of the research process. At the bare minimum, an effective research paper articulates the step-by-step process a researcher implements to conduct the investigation. Then it presents the exploration’s conclusions as the answers to the study’s research questions and the broader implications for a particular study area. Broadly, the research aims to provide new knowledge, stimulate scientific discussion and create a foundation for future scientific investigations.
The primary aspect that distinguishes a research paper from general writing is its maintenance of a scholarly tone and structure that emphasizes the presentation of evidence instead of subjective perspectives and experiences. In turn, this implies that the typical research paper begins by identifying the existing knowledge on a topic of interest and then implementing a rigorous peer review of these relevant sources to ensure that the evidence utilized is of high quality and reliability and meets the requisite threshold of academic standards. Furthermore, research papers adhere to the conventions of academic writing, including a scholarly tone, an organized structure of the subject matter’s presentation, and acknowledgment and attribution of the academic sources from whence the author derives their evidence from the existing knowledge. Therefore, a reader of a research paper expects to see a standardized format with sections like the “introduction,” “literature review,” “methods,” “results,” “discussion,” and “conclusions.” They also expect to see the appropriate use of the relevant citation style and format, such as the APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago/Turabian citation and referencing styles. The purpose of utilizing the citation style is to identify the sources from whence the research paper derives its evidence and subject matter, thereby maintaining scholarly integrity, demonstrating respect for intellectual property, and preventing the academic offense of plagiarism.
Citation styles are important in research papers because they provide guidelines for identifying and citing sources throughout the research paper and specific guidelines regarding the appropriate structure and formatting. The American Psychological Association (APA) style is widely used in sociological research. In contrast, the Modern Language Association (MLA) style is more popular in literature, arts, and the humanities, as well as where to write essays and work citation sheets. The Harvard citation style, the author-date system, is more widely applicable to different disciplines and subjects.
Building on the background above, this article provides general guidelines for writing good research papers, providing students and researchers with the knowledge and skills needed to successfully present the process and findings of their scholarly research through effective writing. The article covers the basics of research writing and step-by-step instructions for its structure and development. It explores the appropriate application of the APA, MLA, and Harvard-style writing guidelines to ensure effective research writing practice. Also, it provides crucial ideas and techniques for improving scholarly writing overall. If you want to strengthen your scholarly writing skills, competency, and use of citation styles, then this article is all you need to improve your practice. By the end of the reading, you will understand the fundamentals of research papers, the scholarly writing process, the structure of the research article, scholarly conventions, and other tips for academic success; join us on this learning journey to master writing a good research.
Ah, the research paper – the foundation of academic discourse and the gateway to expanding knowledge. A research article is a report containing the findings, analysis, and results of a scientific study conducted in a particular field. It aims to contribute to existing knowledge, raise unresolved questions, and increase human understanding of a phenomenon of interest. When engaging in research writing, unlike other forms of writing like reviewing articles or illustrating creative projects, the author must rely on evidence-based methods, a rigorous literature review, and careful referencing of the materials relied upon. To illustrate this, imagine you are the author of a research paper examining the effects of physical exercise as a psychiatric health intervention. Your research study has shown positive results through careful testing, improving patient survival and reducing side effects. This compelling evidence is working for doctors and the researchers investigating your findings to create other potentially revolutionary mental health treatments. The combination of rigorous methodology, evidence base review, and the ability to inspire critical change would set your research paper apart from other forms of writing.
In particular, the structure of the research article is different convention from other writing types. A research paper usually has several important sections. For example, consider the previous example. The introduction of your mental health research paper would provide a brief overview of the topic and state the research question: “Does regular exercise positively impact mental well-being?” The literature review would examine existing studies on exercise and mental health, identifying gaps in knowledge. The methodology section would outline the research design, such as a randomized controlled trial detailing participant recruitment, exercise interventions, and outcome measures. Findings would present the results, showing statistically significant improvements in mental health indicators. The conclusion would summarize the findings, discuss their implications for healthcare interventions, and suggest potential future research avenues. References would provide a comprehensive list of cited sources, including previous studies on exercise and mental health.
Apart from the conventions on structure, adhering to specific citation styles is vital in research papers as it ensures proper attribution and source verification and upholds academic integrity. For instance, imagine another example of a research paper investigating the effects of climate change on biodiversity. Using the Harvard referencing style, the author acknowledges the work of esteemed ecologists like Dr. Anderson and their research published in reputable journals. This not only avoids plagiarism but also demonstrates respect for intellectual property. Properly citing sources helps build an ethical foundation, preventing integrity issues and the potential consequences that come with them, such as academic misconduct and damage to one’s reputation. Following citation styles ensures integrity, fosters academic honesty, and safeguards the credibility of the research paper within the scholarly community.
Proper preparation is essential for success in writing a research paper. The fundamental steps to prepare for a research paper include selecting a suitable topic, conducting thorough research, and organizing sources and research materials. Selecting a suitable topic lays the foundation for the paper, ensuring relevance and impact. For instance, imagine a psychology student passionate about mental health who chooses “The Effects of Exercise on Mental Well-being” as their topic. This topic aligns with their interests and provides access to relevant scholarly resources.
Thorough research also involves gathering information and evidence from credible sources such as peer-reviewed journals, books, and reputable websites. For example, our psychology student would analyze studies conducted by renowned researchers like Sigmund Freud and examine the latest findings in exercise psychology. By delving into these sources, they can develop a comprehensive understanding of the topic and identify gaps in existing knowledge.
Thirdly, organizing sources and research materials is crucial for efficient writing and referencing. Researchers developing research papers can rely on various organization tools and technologies available today. For example, psychology students can categorize and store their sources systematically and automatically using reference management tools like Mendeley or Zotero. They can create folders for different topics, tag relevant keywords, and easily retrieve necessary information during writing. Generally, researchers establish a strong foundation for their research papers by following the three steps described above. Thorough preparation ensures coherence, credibility, and impact in the final research paper. Regardless of the type of investigation or research area you engage with, implementing these steps will guide you toward success.
The structure of an effective research paper comprises several essential components. First, the title should be concise, informative, and captivating, providing a glimpse into your research. Next, in the introduction, provide background information, emphasize the topic’s importance, formulate research questions about research goals, objectives, and intentions to guide your research, and present a clear thesis statement that outlines the paper’s main argument. The methods section should describe your design, data collection, and analysis procedures. It should detail the scientific research methods and their implications and limitations compared to similar and alternative research investigations. In the conclusion section, summarize the main points, restate the thesis statement, and offer ideas for future research. By combining these approaches, your research paper will provide a coherent and comprehensive overview of your research, guide readers through your research, and contribute to discussion education.
So, at this point, what must we do to prepare effectively to meet these good standards at the beginning of the research writing journey? The first important step is to choose a topic and create a research question. This first stage lays the foundation for your thesis and determines its direction. It may seem daunting initially, but with proper care and practice, you can choose an interesting topic and pose an important question. Consider these key points to be successful. First, define your research topic and a practical scope for your envisaged investigation. To achieve an effective scope, understand the background knowledge and be open to expanding it during your research. Check for opportunities to support your research to ensure you have access to relevant information and reliable sources. Finally, strive for originality by bringing a unique perspective to your research question.
Next, a literature search involves searching for available studies on your topic and identifying key studies, theories, and concepts. An effective literature review situates your envisaged investigation in the context of the existing research on a particular topic. Define the literature criteria that effectively convey the context for your research process by specifying parameters like publication dates, the quality of evidence you intend to synthesize, and whether or not you intend only to include peer-reviewed sources in your paper’s literature review. Read and analyze data and note key findings, trends, and mysteries. Organize your resources using a process that works for you, such as managing a registry or document. For example, suppose your research question focuses on the implications of social psychology. In that case, your literature review might include a review of social science research here, summarizing the main points and identifying areas that require further research. A comprehensive literature review ensures that your research is based on available information and increases the credibility and validity of your article.
Next, establishing a good structure and creating a good outline and description informed by the findings of your literature review are the important next steps in writing research. A clear outline and roadmap provide a way for you and the eventual reader to relate to and share in your writing. Consider the key structural concepts of the Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Discussion, and Conclusion in your outline. Each section should have a subtitle that shows the main content. In the introduction, grab the reader’s attention, briefly describe your research topic, question, and importance, and provide an overview of the research goals and plans. For example, in our previous article on the effects of exercise on mental health, we describe the current research and statistics on improved mental health first and then the rationale to intervene with exercise as an intervention based on the existing literature. Follow up on this progress by stating the research question and its importance. Ultimately, close out the introduction section with a well-designed thesis statement that summarizes your main results and sparks interest in your findings.
Strong thesis statements are characterized by clarity and specificity. An effective thesis statement presents the research paper’s main idea to communicate why the research is relevant and important while effectively guiding the entire article’s structure. A good thesis statement also invites further discussion by presenting the research paper’s central claim in a way that can be refuted or supported through logical reasoning and evidence. Consider the example below of an effective thesis statement that includes the recommendations above:
“Regular physical activity is beneficial for improving mental health in people of all ages by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression stress, improving mood, and improving overall health.”
The thesis statement above closes out the introduction section of the research paper by summarizing the paper’s central idea more effectively than an ineffective thesis statement that would make an empty assertion like: “Exercise is good for mental health.” The first example provides a focused introduction with a strong argument that can be supported by evidence and analysis.
Once you have developed a good thesis statement and an overall introduction section, the next step in writing research is to elaborate on the methodology and present the results of your research. The Methods section describes the specific methods and techniques you use to conduct your research. It includes details about the design, data collection, and analysis methods. Next, edit your research findings as needed and provide an overview of your results. Include quantitative or qualitative data, statistical analysis, and evidence to support your findings. In the subsequent discussion section, interpret and discuss the results related to your research question, emphasizing its importance and significance and maintaining transparency and objectivity by addressing any limitations or biases in your methodological approach that may affect the findings. Detailing and presenting findings can add credibility and validity to your research paper, making it clear and evidence-based.
For instance, consider another example of a study examining the effects of a new teaching method on student achievement. An effective methods section will describe the research methodology selection and justification process, comprehensively detail the teaching methods used as part of the study’s intervention, and the approach implemented to evaluate the performance of the intervention. It will include specific information on research findings, student performance, statistical analysis, and discussion of observed results.
The additional steps in the research writing process include describing the research conclusion and editing and correcting the entire text. Creating an effective conclusion involves writing down the main points and findings of the study, emphasizing their importance and relevance. This is the time to provide a powerful ending about your research process, the emergent findings and implications, and suggestions for future research directions. After completing the first draft, editing, and proofreading is important to ensure clarity, consistency, and grammatical perfection. Focus on controlling the text for flow, integrating ideas, and the proper arrangement of sections, while also eliminating sentence structure issues, verbosity, spelling mistakes, and other grammatical errors. Read the text aloud and have a willing friend or colleague review your work. Online AI tools like Grammarly also offer useful grammar-checking resources. Lastly, ensure proper citation and referencing according to the chosen style (e.g., APA, MLA, and Harvard). Cite all sources used in your paper and create a comprehensive reference list or bibliography. As explained, this step is crucial for avoiding plagiarism and giving credit to the original authors.
Applying the correct citation style is paramount in academic writing as it ensures proper acknowledgment of sources and maintains scholarly integrity. Three commonly used citation styles are Harvard, MLA (Modern Language Association), and APA. The Harvard style follows an author-date format, where in-text citations include the author’s last name and the publication year. For instance, a sentence in Harvard style citing an article by Smith might look like this: “According to Smith (2018), climate change has significant environmental implications.” On the other hand, MLA style, commonly used in humanities and liberal arts disciplines, employs an author-page format. In-text citations include the author’s last name and the page number. For example, if a research paper cites an article by Miller using MLA, the citation could look like this: “This argument has been debated (Miller 45).”
Furthermore, the APA style, widely utilized in the social sciences, employs an author-date format similar to Harvard. However, it includes the publication year, author’s last name, and page number for direct quotations. For example, a citation of Johnson’s article using APA could look like this: “According to Johnson (2019), ‘the findings suggest a correlation between sleep deprivation and cognitive decline’ (p. 25).”
Different academic disciplines may prefer a particular citation style based on their conventions and scholarly practices. For instance, humanities and literature disciplines often favor MLA, while psychology and social sciences lean toward APA. Harvard style is more flexible and widely applicable across various disciplines. Mastering the appropriate citation style is essential for academic success as it showcases your understanding of scholarly conventions, allows readers to trace your sources, and avoids accusations of plagiarism. Adhering to the specific citation style required by your discipline demonstrates your professionalism and adherence to academic standards, enhancing the credibility and validity of your research.
Effectively using the APA style in academic papers requires adherence to specific formatting guidelines for the title page, abstract, headings, and in-text citations. The APA guidelines for the title page, the first paper section the reader interacts with, should contain the author’s details, course details, the author’s institution, the instructor’s details, and the date of publication or submission. Although the specific requirements vary from institution to institution, the standard format for the front matter in the APA 7th edition is that it should be centered and double-spaced in the organization, as in the illustration below.
A new page following the title page demarcates the abstract, with a centered bolded title, “Abstract,” after the title page and then ranges between 150-250 words, as illustrated in the example below. It should end with a list of the keywords used in the article, which should begin on a new final indented paragraph starting with the italicized term Keywords, a colon, and then the list of the keywords.
Headings in APA style help organize your paper. The APA style includes different levels of headings, commonly Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 headings, to signify sections and sub-sections. Each level has specific formatting requirements. Level 1 headings in APA are bold and centered, Level 2 are bold and left-aligned, and Level 3 are left-aligned and in italics. This promotes clarity and structure within your paper. In-text citations in APA style include the author’s last name, the publication year, and, for direct quotations, the page number. For example, “According to Johnson (2019), ‘technology has transformed the educational landscape’ (p. 15).” You need only to include the page number and the publication year in parentheses if you mention the author’s name in the applicable sentence. Following these formatting guidelines ensures consistency and readability in APA-style academic papers, enhancing the organization and professionalism of your research.
The APA paper follows the structure of the typical academic paper described earlier. However, apart from a distinctive title page, headings, and in-text citation, APA also has specific requirements for the final paper section, known as the reference list. The APA reference list outlines all the sources cited in the research paper, using different conventions for specific sources, whether books, journal articles, or electronic sources. The following list and examples illustrate how to document your sources in the final reference list according to the APA 7th edition guidelines:
Example: Smith, J. D. (2021). The Psychology of Human Behavior. ABC Publications.
Example: Johnson, L. M. (2022). The Effects of Exercise on Mental Health. Journal of Psychology, 15(2), 120-135. doi:10.1234/journal.1234
Example: World Health Organization. (2023). COVID-19 Vaccination Statistics. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/covid-vaccination
Similarly, the MLA style requires adherence to specific formatting guidelines. The MLA style does not typically require a separate title page. Depending on the specific requirements of your institution, you need not have a separate title page in an MLA paper. Instead, left, align your name, instructor’s name, course information, and the date in double spacing just above the point where you will start writing your paper’s introduction and body. For headings, use a consistent format that reflects the hierarchical structure of your paper. Use title case capitalization for Level 1 headings and sentence case for subsequent levels. Align headings to the left and use a bold font. The general format of the MLA in-text citation is the author’s surname and page number in parentheses, for example (Smith 23). Only include the page number in parentheses if you mention their surname in the appropriate sentence by using, for instance, Smith (23).
MLA has the works cited page as the final page of the research paper containing all the sources cited in the research paper using a referencing style that follows specific guidelines. The guidelines for citing various sources are unique depending on whether the source is a book, journal article, or online source. Here is a general detailed illustration of the MLA title page and an explanation with examples for each source type in the MLA works cited page:
Example: Smith, John. The Power of Imagination. ABC Publications, 2021.
Example: Johnson, Lisa. “Exploring Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Literature.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, 2022, pp. 45-60.
Example: World Health Organization. “COVID-19: Prevention and Control Measures.” WHO, 5 Mar. 2023, www.who.int/covid-19/prevention-control
The title should be fully capitalized on the Harvard paper’s title page and about halfway down the page. Include the author’s name in normal case capitalization a few lines below the title (about three lines down). Four spaces below the author’s name, include the course details immediately followed by the professor’s details. Then, include the school’s name, city, state, and the publication or submission date. Shorten the paper’s title in the header section with sequential page numbers. For example, if the paper’s title is “The Biden Administration,” the Harvard format for the partial title and page number would look like this: “Biden 1”. Right-justify the shortened title and have five spaces between the shortened title and the page number, as in the illustrated example below.
Additionally, apply centered headings to organize your work when tackling a lengthy research paper in Harvard style. These headings provide structure, make it easier for readers to navigate your content, and use italicized headings for subsections. This distinction helps to differentiate between major sections and subsections within your essay. If your essay encompasses various subtopics within a larger theme, it’s a good idea to introduce new italicized subheadings as you transition to these new areas. This approach ensures that your readers can follow along smoothly and understand the different aspects you’re addressing. Finally, the ‘bibliography’ or the ‘reference list’ is the final section of the Harvard-style research paper that requires a specific format to identify each type of source.
Below are generalized examples of the Harvard paper’s reference list or bibliography:
Example: Clark, C. (2006) Iron Kingdom: the rise and downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge: Belknap Press.
Example: Keller, M. and Horne, S. (1976) ‘Take back the knight: reinterpreting medieval poetry from a feminist perspective,’ Journal of Medieval Literature, 12(5), pp.66-89.
Example: Nevins, S. (2010) Most men don’t cry—why? [Online] (updated 4 Feb. 2010). Available at: <http://www.wowowow.com/relationships/most-men-dont-cry-why-sheila-nevins- 439529> [Accessed 5 Feb. 2010].
There are several crucial tips to consider to write an effective research paper that excels academically. First and foremost, clarity, coherence, and logical flow are paramount. Well-structured and well-discussed writing effectively engages the reader in a research paper. By arranging the text using the structure recommended in this article, the reader can easily follow the flow of thought and understand the researcher’s main argument. However, an effective structure and flow of the paper rely on effective grammatical accuracy, essential to clearly expressing ideas. Correct sentence structure, correct grammar, and the correct choice of words increase the readability and professionalism of your research. An article with grammatical errors can distract readers from the content and undermine the paper’s overall credibility.
Maintaining scholarly language and tone is also essential in supporting a well-written research paper. A research paper demonstrates a scholarly tone by using formal language and maintaining a logically objective diction that renders the research authoritative and conveys a sense of professionalism. For example, a scholarly tone is achievable by using scholarly language and technical vocabulary associated with a particular field that reflects the author’s depth of understanding of the subject matter they are engaged with. For instance, a reader expects to see scholarly words in a research paper on artificial intelligence, including technical terms like “algorithmic decision-making” and “machine learning algorithms.” Implement the same approach to strengthen your paper’s credibility and professionalism using scholarly language and tone.
Furthermore, peer review and feedback are essential for achieving a research paper that propels academic excellence. No man is an island; getting analysis and feedback throughout your writing process is essential for developing high-quality work. Colleagues and industry experts can provide valuable insight, advice, criticism, and other perspectives to enrich your writing process. Peer feedback improves reliability and overall quality and serves as a testing lab to ascertain your paper’s effectiveness among all potential readers. By combining ideas from colleagues, researchers can strengthen their arguments and ensure that the data and overall paper meet high academic standards. Finally, as part of the peer review process, an institution’s writing center or writing instructors can greatly improve the quality of your research project by guiding the overall academic writing process. Writing centers and teachers offer advice on many aspects of writing, such as structure, clarity and grammar, methodological rigor, citation and referencing, and all other conventions this article has discussed. Their expertise can help a researcher implement this article’s core guidance.
One main takeaway that you should gain from this article is that effective research writing and research papers are indispensable for academic excellence. By following this article’s citation style guidelines and the additional tips for academic excellence, you can ensure that you are positioned to produce effective research writing confidently. Now is the time to use the knowledge you have gained and start writing your research paper. Follow the article’s discussion points to unlock your academic potential as a competent researcher. Academic excellence awaits those who accept the challenge and reward of effective research writing, so let this guide be your path to success and your broader contribution to shaping knowledge advancements and the future of science. Researchers who draw on this article’s insights will gradually improve their writing to gain recognition in their fields and even eventually publish their work in esteemed peer-reviewed journals.