Writing a Research Paper
The goal of a research paper is to express and contribute knowledge to a particular field. A research paper can be used to share the results of studies and experiments that individuals have done themselves, or to make a new claim about existing research. Check out the tabs on this page to learn more about the possible ways of outlining, structuring, and writing a research paper of your own.
✓ Follow the specific guidelines from your instructor. The content and structure of research papers can vary a lot based on the assignment instructions. Be sure to always carefully read and understand the instructions you have been given before starting to plan and write your research paper.
✓ Create an outline to stay organized. If you know what type of sections you need in the paper, you can create an outline using headings for each section, then fill in that outline as you go. This is a great way to keep your writing organized and make sure you meet all the requirements for your research paper.
✓ Be sure to do your research first. Research papers are usually based around original research that you have done, as well as support from related sources. Be sure the “research” part of the research paper has been done thoroughly, and that the points in your paper are well supported by your sources and what you have learned during researching.
✓ There is no set number of paragraphs. While five-paragraph essays require only three body paragraphs, a research paper can be much longer, and have any number of body paragraphs based on what you need to explain. Unless your instructor is specifically asking for a five-paragraph essay, do not limit yourself to just five paragraphs.
Writing a Research Paper
Writing a research paper can seem overwhelming at first. What do I write about? How do I know what to say? Where do the sources come into it?
Even when you're a student, the goal of writing a research paper is to add to our knowledge and understanding of something, so the first step is always to learn what we know about it already: read, do research, and get familiar with the topic.
Then, you can figure out an idea of your own to add to the discussion. That is where the writing process starts.
Explore the tabs on this page to learn more about how to write a research paper!
Attribution is provided at the bottom of this page and on some individual tabs where needed.
Writing an Abstract
Check out some sample abstracts from the following resources:
Note: Abstracts are not always required for class assignments, so check with your instructor to see if you need to include one for a certain assignment.
Writing an Introduction
Unlike the abstract, which summarizes the paper, the purpose of the introduction is to tell the reader why your topic/main idea is important and provide enough background information for your readers to understand your thesis statement or hypothesis, which is usually included at the end of the introduction.
What Should the Background Info Include?
After the background, you will include your main idea, either in the form of a thesis statement or a hypothesis. See the next tab for more on this.
Writing Your Main Idea: Thesis Statement or Hypothesis
If you are writing a paper based on other people’s research/past studies and reviews, your main idea will take the form of a thesis statement: a claim that can be supported by information from those previous studies.
Example: It is clear that the current forms of diversity and inclusion training used in this sector exhibit significant gaps in their effectiveness with regard to bias reduction, employee safety and satisfaction, and increased diversity in the workforce.
If you are writing a paper based on your own original research (like a study or experiment you did), your main idea will take the form of a hypothesis: an educated guess about how the results of the study will turn out.
Tips for Writing Your Main Idea
Outline for a Paper Based on Original Research
Research papers can follow different structures. While you should follow whatever format and requirements you have been given by your instructor, a general example for papers based on original research (e.g., a study or experiment that you did yourself) is provided below.
Review of existing literature
Outline for a Paper Based on Other People's Research
Research papers can follow different structures. While you should follow whatever format and requirements you have been given by your instructor, a general example for papers based on previous research (e.g., an argumentative paper, or a paper based just on sources you read) is provided below.
Sub-topic 2 (same as above, but for a different idea)
Sub-topic 3 (same as above)
Sub-topic n (same as above)
A literature review is "an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available or a set of summaries."
Taylor, D. (n.d.). The literature review: A few tips on conducting it [LibGuide]. University of Toronto. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/types-of-writing/literature-review/
Goals of a Literature Review
What are the goals of a literature review?
To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
To identify a problem in a field of research
When do you need to write a literature review?
When writing a prospectus or a thesis/dissertation
When writing a research paper
When writing a grant proposal
In all these cases, you need to dedicate part of these works to explore what has already been written about your research topic and to point out how your own research will shed new light on the existing scholarship.
Baumeister, R.F. & Leary, M.R. (1997). Writing narrative literature review." Review of General Psychology, 1(3), 311-320.
Literature Review Tips
Synthesize your findings. Your findings are your evaluation of the literature reviewed: what you consider the strengths and weakness of the studies reviewed; the comparison you did between studies; research trends and gaps in the research that you found while researching your topic, and so on.
Across the articles that you read, pay attention to the:
Identifying these elements as you are reading and taking notes on your sources will help you later when you start writing.
Do not over-quote. If you only quote from every single author you found, then you are not showing any original thinking or analysis. Use quotes judiciously. Use quotes to highlight a particular passage or thought that exemplifies the research, theory, or topic you are researching.
Instead, use paraphrasing. Restate the main ideas of a paragraph or section to highlight, in your own words, the important points made by the author.
Summarize findings, important sections, a whole article or book: This is different from paraphrasing since you are not rephrasing a small part of the author's words, but summarizing the overall main point of what you are reading in a concise manner.
Note: In all cases, do not forget to give credit to these sources since they are not your original ideas, but came from someone else. Check the specific citation style you are using for the appropriate in-text citation format.
Literature Review Poster Template
Template by Kat Ormay, 2021
The majority of these sites focus on literature reviews in the social sciences unless otherwise noted.
An annotated bibliography is a "list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.”
Cornell University Library. (n.d.). How to prepare an annotated bibliography: The annotated bibliography [LibGuide]. Cornell University Library. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography
Writing a Good Annotated Bibliography
To write a good annotated bibliography you need to be:
Concise: Get to the point of what the book/article is about, summarize as briefly and clearly as you can.
Evaluative: Determine the author's identity, expertise/relationship to the topic, and how reliable the information presented is.
Critical: Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the work, what is missing, what could be explored further, etc.
Comparative: Describe how the source compares to other similar works.
Questions to Consider
Keep these in mind while you are writing your annotated bibliography:
Did the author refer to other scholars' research?
Does the source show any intended or accidental bias?
What was the thesis of the research, the opinion of the book, or the conclusion of the study?
Was there a hypothesis, method, and/or conclusion?
Does the source suggest areas for further research?
Finally, how will this source relate to your topic?
Meier, E.S., Lischke, H., Schmatz, D.R., & Zimmermann, N.E. (2012). Climate, competition and connectivity affect future migration and ranges of European trees. Global Ecology & Biogeography, 21(2), 164-178. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00669.x
Plant species have adapted to altering climate conditions, but it remains unclear if species will be able to keep pace with recent and future climate change. The goal of the study is to assess the influence of changing macroclimate, competition and habitat connectivity on the migration rates of 14 tree species. To predict future species ranges from the models, researchers applied three migration scenarios: no migration, unlimited migration and realistic migration. The study concludes that Migration rates depend on species traits, competition, spatial habitat configuration and climatic conditions. As a result, re-adjustments of species ranges to climate and land-use change are complex and very individualistic, yet still quite predictable.
Bergeron, Yves et al. "Response of Northeastern North American Forests to Climate Change: Will Soil Conditions Constrain Tree Species Migration?" Environmental Reviews 18.1 (2010): 279-289.
At the continental scale, climate plays a major role in determining plant distribution, while at the local and regional scales vegetation patterns are more strongly related to edaphic and topographic factors. Considering the broad tolerance of most tree species to variations in soil factors, soils should not represent a major constraint for the northward shift of tree species. Locally or regionally, soil properties may constrain species migration.
Check out these resources for more information on how to write an annotated bibliography:
Unless otherwise stated, the materials in the "Writing a Research Paper" guide were developed and compiled by Claire Pienaar for the GPRC Learning Commons in 2021.
All icons on these pages are from The Noun Project. See individual icons for creator attribution.