How to write general research papers

A research paper is a written piece that is usually longer than a standard essay and one that requires a certain amount of research. Developing a research paper, as well as actually writing one, includes documenting all sources used. This can involve adding footnotes so that readers can see where information was retrieved from.


The process or steps involved in writing research papers

  • Select a suitable topic. Tutors sometime assign a topic, but in the event they do not, do your best to select one that you find interesting.  
  • After deciding on a topic you like, look for some background information and other research materials on that topic, and you could consult your tutor. This is an important tip because tutors are likely to give you good advice about your chosen topic. It may even be that you have selected a subject that is too challenging for you or too difficult to research.
  • Develop a clear and concise question for your research paper. This “question” essentially means the “aim” or purpose of your work. Determine exactly what you hope your research will achieve i.e. what point does it serve. Usually, the aims can be defined by answering questions like “how” and “why.” You will also need to write a thesis sentence or statement.
  • Do whatever research is needed. Look for value-added sources from, for example, books, magazines, journals, newspapers, websites, and so on. Websites with .edu or .org in their addresses are usually a good bet.
  • Make notes while reading and work out a structure for your work. Use the materials you found while you were researching to build your argument(s). Remember to consider opposing viewpoints as a way of showing you know there are other opinions on this particular topic. 
  • Develop a rough or initial outline for your paper and you will undoubtedly need to create a number of drafts until you see how it shapes up. The final version will then need to be typed. 

General topics for a research paper

One of the most critical points about your choice of topic is, perhaps, that there are a sufficient number of sources to enable you to collect relevant information. While it is acceptable to choose a topic that is original, you should bear in mind that it is not possible to create something new out of nothing. So, try to ensure there are sufficient materials available to help you develop your work, and that these are easy to retrieve.

Important points for consideration

  1. A lot of libraries stock electronic books and catalogues in addition to traditional ones. Therefore, you should check in advance if your library stocks the particular source materials you are looking for, or list the sources you need and order them. Then you can visit the library to collect what you need. 
  2. Be mindful about what to expect when undertaking experiments by yourself or when observing information your topic. Your interest can cause you to be prejudiced about the results.
  3. Although it is likely your reference list will contain many cited sources, the number of sources you will actually use for research purposes should probably be much greater. You should try to locate as much information as you possibly can.
  4. When writing a research paper, it is crucial (indeed this is the most crucial aspect) you have an entirely clear view of the topic and a clear thesis statement. The more clarity there is to your ideas, the better and more finely tuned your research will be.

What you should and should not do 

What you should not do

  • Do not use irrelevant facts and/or ideas just to “lengthen” your paper.
  • Avoid generalizations; if your conclusions are founded on just one fact, or on several oddities, this will not benefit you.
  • Wikipedia should not be used as a cited source in a reference list. While this tool can provide valuable advice, it is a lot more desirable to use original source materials that are known to be credible.  
  • Information from your various sources should not just be blandly written. You should give your own unique interpretation of it.
  • Do not be tempted to “tailor” your observations or experiment results so that they match your expectations. If for no other reason, altered information may not agree with your thesis statement

What you should do

  • Your paper should be written in a serious and scientific style, one that is concise and academic-sounding.
  • List all ideas and methods used as justification for your research.
  • Use only those sources that are reliable and credible. Any source that seems doubtful or comes from the Internet should be avoided. The correctness and accuracy of all information should be properly verified.
  • Where appropriate, make sure the terminology you use is scientific but not overused.
  • Cite sources properly; do several rounds of proofreading before you submit your paper.

Read about: “Tips on writing different types of coursework”

Common errors in research papers

  • Incorrect and/or irrelevant citations.
  • Including information that is not related to the topic. Students are sometimes unable to differentiate between valid primary information and the less important secondary variety.
  • Not proofreading a paper properly.
  • Making too many generalizations and arriving at doubtful conclusions. The latter should be based on accurate and credible sources.

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