How to write a research paper? (Part 1 of 2)

So you’ve been asked to write a research paper. What is a research paper anyway? A research paper is a paper that demonstrates your knowledge of a subject. While the format of a research paper can and does vary, in general, a research paper consists of a thesis or research question, how the study was conducted, a discussion of the different issues surrounding the topic, and a conclusion. Overall, a research paper takes a deep dive into a topic and explores it. In this first part of a two-part article, we will talk about how to get started, how to do your initial research, and best practices when it comes to writing a research paper.

What Belongs in a Research Paper?

While specific formats vary, all research papers consist of the same key elements. These elements are an abstract, an introduction, a hypothesis, methods, data, a discussion, a conclusion, and references. Many research papers also include tables and figures or other images to help visualize data.

The requirements of research papers will be different depending on what field you are writing in. For example, a political science paper will look quite different from a paper for the Journal of Oncology. Students or professionals who are writing a research paper for science or medicine will likely have more hard data, figures, tables, graphs, and even images included in their paper than the average humanities major. No matter which field you are conducting research in, you will need to explain what you think, why you think it, how you did research about it, and what did you conclude from that research.

How Do I Begin My Research?

The first thing you should do when asked to write a research paper is to carefully review the requirements for the paper. You should note the citation style, the length, and other such requirements. There are few worse things than putting lots of time and effort into writing a paper only to receive a failing grade (or fail to be published) because you didn’t meet the requirements of the assignment. If you’re a student, never be afraid to ask your professor or advisor for clarification before proceeding.

Once you have familiarized yourself with the requirements of the paper you are going to write, it is time to choose a topic. A good research topic will usually be controversial. A controversial topic will give you plenty of material to research and argue for different sides of an issue. Remember that a good research topic is not a statement of fact, but rather a theory or an opinion. “The cucumber plant is a type of vining gourd” is not a good research topic because there is not much more to research! “The influence of pesticides on plants” is a much better research topic because there are many aspects to talk about. Of course, not all research topics are matters of opinion. In science and medicine, many research papers are simply written about unknown facts or interactions. Still, the key word is “unknown” or “unsettled.” If there is still debate in the field about whether or not a drug helps a condition or how a mutation on a particular DNA strand impacts a cat, it is a good research topic.

Where Can I Find Sources?

The information age is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, more information is readily available at the fingertips of anyone with a little curiosity and an internet connection than ever before. On the other hand, it is also extremely important to be able to differentiate between reliable and poor sources. Critical reading and critical thinking are two skills that you will learn and practice every time you write a research paper.

If you have access to an academic database, that will be an excellent place to begin your research. You can search using keywords and look through editions of specific journals that relate to your topic. You can also go to the library to see what books they have. If you are a university student or university affiliated, you should definitely take advantage of the resources available to you there. One underutilized source is librarians themselves. Librarians are professionally trained to find information and can be excellent to talk to when you don’t know where to get started or how to find some specific facts you are looking for.

You may have heard that sources like Wikipedia should never be used for a research paper. Actually, sources like Wikipedia can be a great starting point for research since they contain many citations. You can follow these citations to news articles or journal articles and read from there. One thing to note is, if you can only find one source for an assertion, it may not be worth including that source in your paper. Always look for reliable sources that are published by accredited or recognized institutions and reputed academic publishers. The types of sources you should use sparingly, if at all, in most types of research papers include blogs, social media posts, or extremely biased media outlets.

Best Practices for Research

A key thing to avoid when you are doing research for a paper is tunnel vision. What is tunnel vision? Tunnel vision is when you are so focused on one thing, you cannot see what else is around you. It is very easy when you have a research hypothesis to limit your research to “relevant” articles, or articles that support your hypothesis. But it is very important that you do not ignore information! In fact, a great research paper will address the counter-arguments and explain why you think they are wrong, inconclusive, or different in perspective. At the very least, it is crucial to discuss them and acknowledge their existence.

Another thing to keep in mind when writing a research paper is the citation style. While you definitely do not need to worry about where to place the comma or if the date goes at the front or back when you are in the initial writing stages, it is critical to keep track of your sources. Any material that you take directly from another source should be properly indicated with quotes and attributed. Linking citations to pieces of material in your paper as you write will make your overall process faster, and you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re working on your final round of editing. Use of an AI writing assistant like Trinka in the early stages of your research paper can also help reduce the number of language or publication-related errors you might have to correct in the later stages of your writing.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s talk about the details of how to write each section of a research paper.

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