Fowler, Gene - Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank
sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
A research paper is a unique piece of academic writing, which is aimed at backing up a claim, explaining a concept or a phenomenon. Writing a research paper is not a one day task - research paper assignments are worked on during an extended period of time, e.g. a month, a term or a semester. Writing a research paper requires you to find, collect and analyze all the information you can get pertaining to this topic or field and put it in one piece of writing, focusing it on a specific problem or question.
Research papers are widely used as teaching tools because they facilitate students' understanding of the research process, foster their critical thinking, familiarize them with theoretical works and teach to argue. During a course of their studies students are inevitably challenged with writing quite a few research papers, which can have a significant impact on the overall grade.
Briefly, the process of writing a research paper can be described as containing the following steps:
Research paper: Topic selection
Topic selection is a number one point to consider. When you are assigned to write your first research paper and topics are given, it might seem that topic selection is not very important. Those who think so are making a serious mistake, here is why: before selecting a topic for your research paper, you would first need to ask yourself what questions/concepts or problems are of most interest to you. If the topic is interesting or is related to what you want to do in the future, it's your best bet. Again, if the topic is interesting (even if it's hard), your motivation will be much stronger than if you are working on it because you just have to. Once again: be very meticulous about the topic of your research paper.
Research paper: Preparation
Preparation is also a tremendously important stage of your research. In your research paper, you are required to use as many academic sources as it is necessary to back up your writing. This means a considerable amount of your efforts will be directed towards finding relevant information. Backing up your statements in a research paper is necessary for two major reasons: first, you will have to base your work on reliable sources that contain proven facts; second - by not acknowledging your ideas you will be committing plagiarism, which is severely punishable in all academic institutions. Plagiarizing means stealing ideas from other people and passing them down as your own.
Having collected information you will be required to analyze it in order to lay it out in a logical and understandable manner. Many students make the mistake of putting information in the same order in which this information was obtained. This leads to the research paper' poor organization, unclear expression of ideas, which will lead to your inability to prove the point, and is likely to result in a failure. Information should be "digested" and presented only after you have a clear view what path you want your research paper to take.
Research paper: Writing
Having selected a topic and organized the information, you are half-done with your paper. If the first two steps have been done properly, the actual writing process will not become a nightmare for you. The most important task to achieve is to give your research paper a proper format. While doing it, remember that any research paper should follow a fixed pattern. A typical research paper would comprise the following sections:
- Abstract: a brief summary of what your paper is. It acquaints the reader with your paper and tells what it is about.
- Introduction: in this part you are required to substantiate the need for your research, explain its topicality, give the rationale for the research, state the objective of your research, explain why a particular hypothesis was chosen, and introduce your hypothesis.
- Materials and methods: this part is mandatory for your paper. It explains the practical steps you have undertaken in your research.
- Results: this section presents the results and outcomes of your research, including experiments, surveys and such. A good results section contains data in several formats, including visual aids like graphs, tables, schemes, pictures etc.
- Discussion: this part explains your results and analyzes what has led to this specific outcome. It should address each hypothesis that you make.
- References: this part of the paper lists all works information from which was used in your research. References in the text should coincide with those at the end of your paper, i.e. in the reference list.
- Formatting: Research papers can be arranged according to a number of styles, e.g. MLA, APA, Harvard etc. Formatting guidelines differ from school to school, that's why it's always the best policy to check with your professor for formatting requirements.
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