Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

Research is the process
of going up alleys
to see if they are blind.
Marston Bates, 1906-74
American zoologist

Elements of a Research Paper

Set the stage; state the problem (introduction)

  • Topic:
    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

Methods

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"

Findings

This is descriptive and numeric data

Discussion

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

Conclusion

Restate and summarize your findings and discussion either in order to simply complexity or to provide a summary for those who skip to it!

References

Verify with your teacher the proper format

Recommendations:

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

...it's worth stressing that the evaluation of your paper will never be determined by whether or not your hypotheses are verified. It is important to remember that a hypothesis supported by the data does not mean that it is true as there conceivably is an infinite number of other theories that lead to the same prediction. Similarly, failure of support does not necessarily mean that your hypothesis is wrong: it may be hold true in some populations, you may have incorrectly measured your theory's concepts, your sampling may be flawed, etc. Philosopher Karl Popper, in fact, argues that science is not a method for verifying hypotheses. Instead, all that science can logically lead to is the falsification of hypotheses. In sum, negative results can be every bit as important as positive ones. 1
Marvin Harris (Cultural Materialism 1979:7)
"facts are always unreliable without theories that guide their collection and that distinguish between superficial and significant appearances." 1

Writing assignments

Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |
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

See also:
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)