There’s one thing that nearly every college, graduate, or even Ph.D. student fears. The research paper. Whether you only have one a term, or like me you have around 9 this semester (with two topping thirty pages), they can be stressful, and it can often be hard to start. Here, we’ll take a look at how to write a research paper that follows the Scientific Method, and how to ensure you will get a great grade on said paper.
Step One: Picking A Paper Type
In most university and postgrad institutions, you’re expected to write research papers on a fairly regular basis, and you have a choice of several different paper types regarding research. By far the most popular type is a metanalysis of the topic (basically, research on the research or past research methodologies and their conclusions), but you can also construct your own experiments, whether they be in lab, survey, or in some cases even field proposals which can be expanded into your future professional life. As an aside, keep in mind that depending on paper type, you might need Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Ethics committee approval, especially if your research involves animals or humans to any extent.
Step Two: Research
For most people, this will be where about 60% of your work should come in, but this is very dependent on your previous choice. Someone formulating their own experiments or research are going to take considerable amounts of time, where those performing metanalysis will be limited by their ability to read quickly and critically. It should be noted that even if you plan on running your own experiment sets, researching the topic beforehand and having an understanding of what has previously been discovered can be absolutely critical. In terms of looking into the research itself, remember the basics: Other academic papers should be your bread and butter, with limited use of news articles for policy briefs or sociological studies, and Wikipedia is an excellent starting point to find initial research papers but is not a one-stop shop.
Tip: Get Friendly With Your Librarians.
If you do decide to do a metanalysis and are anywhere near your campus, go to the school’s library. There will be, almost without exception, a point where you are knee deep in research and cannot find information on one obscure subtopic that’s absolutely critical to your paper, and that’s when you need to go speak to a librarian. Unlike what many people think, these workers are not just people who really like the Dewey decimal system or organizing books. Most of them hold at least Masters degrees and are research machines, being able to help one student with the economic impact of Nordic coffee trade in Dublin, or how to find a paper on a very specific protein synthesis pathway for another. Get to know these people, you will essentially be getting research paper help from top-rated writers, and research in general will be much easier for you in the future.
Step Four: Word Choice and Paper Construction
For most cases, formatting and paper construction will be outlined in a course syllabus, but you may have a professor or class that assumes knowledge a bit more than it should. In this case, the formatting should go as follows:
A. Title Page
1. Title – Use a title that accurate describes your investigation. This can either state the investigation or the results (for example, Effect of a Weighted Blanket on Behavioral and Axis II Disorders, or Weighted Blankets Reduce Positive Symptoms of Axis II Disorders), but should give the reader a good idea of what is contained within.
2. Author – Obviously, your own name should be here, and below that the class (if needed), University you are in, and date (again, if needed) should be on their own separate lines below.
B. Abstract – This section should be a small preview of what the paper is, usually in less than 200 words. As such, see this as an extremely small summary, and don’t worry about citations or footnotes. Do avoid abbreviations outside of industry standard, though.
C. Introduction – This section should answer the question of “Why” you investigated this particular issue, and potentially historical data which give a foundation to your own research.
D. Materials and Methods and/or Primary Research Synthesis – This is where Research papers may deviate between topics. For in-lab research papers, a proper listing of materials used and the procedure in which they are used is critical for the requirement that scientific experiments be replicable. For Primary Research Synthesis, a full analysis of research (including by which method you analyzed the data) is absolutely required. While you can post preliminary results, be sure to not post full results, but instead keep that for the Results section. Depending on specific field or tools, also be sure to
E. Results – First things first, make sure your results are honest. As one might gather from the requirement for others to be able to reproduce your experiments, honesty is an absolute requirement of reporting. Now, this is the section the details “What” occurred, not “how”, which is instead covered in the Discussion section. The use of graphs or tables can be encouraged as a means of relaying a good deal of information in a short format (or to better explain results) but most of your results should be primarily in text. Graphs and tables can either be placed in the Results section or an accompanying appendix.
F. Discussion – This is the previously discussed “How” section, as well as the “How is this relevant or important”. What does this experiment have to say about the topic, and what conclusions can be drawn? Keep in mind, the statement “this experiment did not produce valid results” is still a valid answer, research isn’t always about finding a hard answer, sometimes it’s about pointing others towards experiments which may lead to more concrete answers as more evidence is uncovered. A final statement, usually one to two sentences long is customarily seen as a “conclusion”.
When actually writing these sections, there are a few general rules you should keep in mind. First, writing must be accurate and precise, and word choice in terms of variation comes in a far second. If at any point you find yourself repeating a key term, don’t worry about it too much. However, if you find yourself using a non-essential term time after time, it’s okay to switch things up. Other general rules for research (at least according to APA standards) includes using non-gendered language, using the proper time tense (dependent on specific requirements, but typically seen in past-tense), and using as exact measurements as possible.
Step Five : Make Sure Your Bibliography is on Point
The last, but certainly not least important step of constructing a research paper is making sure all your information is properly sourced. This means two things: Cite your facts, and cite them in the method that your professor or field require.
While not as heavily emphasized in the undergraduate world, many graduate school professors will tell you that if you state any fact that isn’t absolute common knowledge, then a citation is needed, even if it’s field knowledge you assume common. As a good general rule, think of it this way: Do you know the sky is blue? Does your grandmother know the sky is blue? Good, then you don’t need to cite information regarding it. Do you know the technical details of the toxicity report of o-Phthalaldehyde? Awesome, but can your grandmother even pronounce it? It’s best to cite it. Most people will find that nearly every sentence will have at least one citation within it, and that’s okay. While it may seem stifling to those used to writing essays, remember, you’re a curator of information in this case, not exactly a storyteller. But those facts do tell a story of sorts.
Regarding citation methods, a vast majority of those reading this will be using a standard APA format, which also has a full style guide to go along with it which was summed up above in the “Word Choice and Paper Construction” section. For the citation side of things, if you aren’t terribly interested in memorizing formatting, both Bibme.org and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (often shortened to OWL) have great tools to make formatting easy. For those using MLA or Chicago/Turbian, Bibme is going to be your best resource.
We hope that this guide to writing Scientific Research Methods makes things easier for you, and has given you the tools to set up your paper for success.