The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Research Paper

Matt Ellis

Few things strike more fear in academics than the accursed research paper , a term synonymous with long hours and hard work. Luckily there’s a secret to help you get through them. As long as you know how to write a research paper properly, you’ll find they’re not so bad . . . or at least less painful. 

In this guide we concisely explain how to write an academic research paper step by step. We’ll cover areas like how to start a research paper, how to write a research paper outline, how to use citations and evidence, and how to write a conclusion for a research paper. 

But before we get into the details, let’s take a look at what a research paper is and how it’s different from other  writing . 

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What is a research paper?

A research paper is a type of  academic writing that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a single topic, based on empirical evidence. Research papers are similar to analytical essays, except that research papers emphasize the use of statistical data and preexisting research, along with a strict code for citations. 

Research papers are a bedrock of modern science and the most effective way to share information across a wide network. However, most people are familiar with research papers from school; college courses often use them to test a student’s knowledge of a particular area or their research skills in general. 

Considering their gravity, research papers favor formal, even bland language that strips the writing of any bias. Researchers state their findings plainly and with corresponding evidence so that other researchers can consequently use the paper in their own research. 

Keep in mind that writing a research paper is different from  writing a research proposal . Essentially, research proposals are to acquire the funding needed to get the data to write a research paper. 

How long should a research paper be? 

The length of a research paper depends on the topic or assignment. Typically, research papers run around 4,000–6,000 words, but it’s common to see short papers around 2,000 words or long papers over 10,000 words. 

If you’re writing a paper for school, the recommended length should be provided in the assignment. Otherwise, let your topic dictate the length: Complicated topics or extensive research will require more explanation. 

How to write a research paper in 9 steps

Below is a step-by-step guide to writing a research paper, catered specifically for students rather than professional researchers. While some steps may not apply to your particular assignment, think of this as more of a general guideline to keep you on track. 

1 Understand the assignment

For some of you this goes without saying, but you might be surprised at how many students start a research paper without even reading the assignment guidelines. 

So your first step should be to review the assignment and carefully read the writing prompt. Specifically, look for technical requirements such as length , formatting requirements (single- vs. double-spacing, indentations, etc.) and citation style . Also pay attention to the particulars, such as whether or not you need to  write an abstract or include a cover page. 

Once you understand the assignment, the next steps in how to write a research paper follow the usual  writing process , more or less. There are some extra steps involved because research papers have extra rules, but the gist of the writing process is the same. 

2 Choose your topic

In open-ended assignments, the student must choose their own topic. While it may seem simple enough, choosing a topic is actually the most important decision you’ll make in writing a research paper, since it determines everything that follows. 

Your top priority in how to choose a research paper topic is whether it will provide enough content and substance for an entire research paper. You’ll want to choose a topic with enough data and complexity to enable a rich discussion. However, you also want to avoid general topics and instead stick with topics specific enough that you can cover all the relevant information without cutting too much.  

Try not to be robotic about choosing your topic, though; it’s still best to pick something that you’re personally interested in. Ideally, you’ll find a topic that satisfies both requirements, something that provides a suitable amount of content and also keeps you engaged. 

3 Gather preliminary research

The sooner you start researching, the better—after all, it’s called a research paper for a reason.

To refine your topic and prepare your thesis statement, find out what research is available for your topic as soon as possible. Early research can help dispel any misconceptions you have about the topic and reveal the best paths and approaches to find more material. 

Typically, you can find sources either online or in a library. If you’re searching online, make sure you use credible sources like science journals or academic papers. Some search engines—mentioned below in the Tools and resources section—allow you to browse only accredited sources and academic databases. 

Keep in mind the  difference between primary and secondary sources as you search. Primary sources are firsthand accounts, like published articles or autobiographies; secondary sources are more removed, like critical reviews or secondhand biographies. 

When gathering your research, it’s better to skim sources instead of reading each potential source fully. If a source seems useful, set it aside to give it a full read later. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck poring over sources that you ultimately won’t use, and that time could be better spent finding a worthwhile source. 

Sometimes you’re required to submit a  literature review , which explains your sources and presents them to an authority for confirmation. Even if no literature review is required, it’s still helpful to compile an early list of potential sources—you’ll be glad you did later.  

4 Write a thesis statement

Using what you found in your preliminary research, write a  thesis statement that succinctly summarizes what your research paper will be about. This is usually the first sentence in your paper, making it your reader’s introduction to the topic. 

A thesis statement is the best answer for how to start a research paper. Aside from preparing your reader, the thesis statement also makes it easier for other researchers to assess whether or not your paper is useful to them for their own research. Likewise, you should read the thesis statements of other research papers to decide how useful they are to you. 

A good thesis statement mentions all the important parts of the discussion without disclosing too many of the details. If you’re having trouble putting it into words, try to phrase your topic as a question and then answer it . 

For example, if your research paper topic is about separating students with ADHD from other students, you’d first ask yourself, “Does separating students with ADHD improve their learning?” The answer—based on your preliminary research—is a good basis for your thesis statement. 

5 Determine supporting evidence

At this stage of how to write an academic research paper, it’s time to knuckle down and do the actual research. Here’s when you go through all the sources you collected earlier and find the specific information you’d like to use in your paper. 

Normally, you find your supporting evidence by reading each source and taking notes. Isolate only the information that’s directly relevant to your topic; don’t bog down your paper with tangents or unnecessary context, however interesting they may be. And always write down page numbers , not only for you to find the information later, but also because you’ll need them for your citations. 

Aside from highlighting text and writing notes, another common tactic is to use bibliography cards . These are simple index cards with a fact or direct quotation on one side and the bibliographical information (source citation, page numbers, subtopic category) on the other. While bibliography cards are not necessary, some students find them useful for staying organized, especially when it’s time to write an outline. 

6 Write a research paper outline

A lot of students want to know how to write a research paper outline. More than informal essays, research papers require a methodical and systematic structure to make sure all issues are addressed, and that makes outlines especially important. 

First make a list of all the important categories and subtopics you need to cover—an outline for your outline! Consider all the information you gathered when compiling your supporting evidence and ask yourself what the best way to separate and categorize everything is. 

Once you have a list of what you want to talk about, consider the best order to present the information. Which subtopics are related and should go next to each other? Are there any subtopics that don’t make sense if they’re presented out of sequence? If your information is fairly straightforward, feel free to take a chronological approach and present the information in the order it happened. 

Because research papers can get complicated, consider breaking your outline into paragraphs. For starters, this helps you stay organized if you have a lot of information to cover. Moreover, it gives you greater control over the flow and direction of the research paper. It’s always better to fix structural problems in the outline phase than later after everything’s already been written. 

Don’t forget to include your supporting evidence in the outline as well. Chances are you’ll have a lot you want to include, so putting it in your outline helps prevent some things from falling through the cracks. 

7 Write the first draft

Once your outline is finished, it’s time to start actually writing your research paper. This is by far the longest and most involved step, but if you’ve properly prepared your sources and written a thorough outline, everything should run smoothly. 

If you don’t know how to write an introduction for a research paper, the beginning can be difficult. That’s why writing your  thesis statement beforehand is crucial. Open with your thesis statement and then fill out the rest of your introduction with the secondary information—save the details for the body of your research paper, which comes next. 

The body contains the bulk of your research paper. Unlike  essays , research papers usually divide the body into sections with separate headers to facilitate browsing and scanning. Use the divisions in your outline as a guide. 

Follow along your outline and go paragraph by paragraph. Because this is just the first draft, don’t worry about getting each word perfect . Later you’ll be able to revise and fine-tune your writing, but for now focus simply on saying everything that needs to be said. In other words, it’s OK to make mistakes since you’ll go back later to correct them. 

One of the most common problems with writing long works like research papers is connecting paragraphs to each other. The longer your writing is, the harder it is to tie everything together smoothly. Use  transition sentences to improve the flow of your paper, especially for the first and last sentences in a paragraph. 

Even after the body is written, you still need to know how to write a conclusion for a research paper. Just like  an essay conclusion , your research paper conclusion should restate your thesis , reiterate your main evidence , and summarize your findings in a way that’s easy to understand. 

Don’t add any new information in your conclusion, but feel free to say your own personal perspective or interpretation if it helps the reader understand the big picture. 

8 Cite your sources correctly

Citations are part of what sets research papers apart from more casual nonfiction like personal essays . Citing your sources both validates your data and also links your research paper to the greater scientific community. Because of their importance, citations must follow precise formatting rules . . . problem is, there’s more than one set of rules!

You need to check with the assignment to see which formatting style is required. Typically, academic research papers follow one of two formatting styles for citing sources:

The links above explain the specific formatting guidelines for each style, along with an automatic citation generator to help you get started. 

In addition to MLA and APA styles, you occasionally see requirements for  CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style),  AMA (American Medical Association) and  IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). 

Citations may seem confusing at first with all their rules and specific information. However, once you get the hang of them, you’ll be able to properly cite your sources without even thinking about it. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .

9 Edit and proofread

Last but not least, you want to go through your research paper to correct all the mistakes by  proofreading . We recommend going over it twice: once for structural issues such as adding/deleting parts or rearranging paragraphs and once for word choice, grammatical, and spelling mistakes. Doing two different editing sessions helps you focus on one area at a time instead of doing them both at once. 

To help you catch everything, here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind while you edit:

Structural edit:

Word choice, grammar, and spelling edit:

Some people find it useful to read their paper out loud to catch problems they might miss when reading in their head. Another solution is to have someone else read your paper and point out areas for improvement and/or technical mistakes. 

Revising is a separate skill from writing, and being good at one doesn’t necessarily make you good at the other. If you want to improve your revision skills, read our  guide on self-editing , which includes a more complete checklist and advanced tips on improving your revisions. 

Technical issues like grammatical mistakes and misspelled words can be handled effortlessly if you use a spellchecker with your word processor, or even better, a digital writing assistant that also suggests improvements for word choice and tone, like Grammarly (we explain more in the Tools and resources section below). 

Tools and resources

If you want to know more about how to write a research paper, or if you want some help with each step, take a look at the tools and resources below. 

Google Scholar

This is Google’s own search engine, which is dedicated exclusively to academic papers. It’s a great way to find new research and sources. Plus, it’s free to use. 

Zotero is a freemium, open-source research manager, a cross between an organizational CMS and a search engine for academic research. With it, you can browse the internet for research sources relevant to your topic and share them easily with colleagues. Also, it automatically generates citations. 

FocusWriter

Writing long research papers is always a strain on your attention span. If you have trouble avoiding distractions during those long stretches, FocusWriter might be able to help. FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor that removes all the distracting icons and sticks only to what you type. You’re also free to choose your own customized backgrounds, with other special features like timed alarms, daily goals, and optional typewriter sound effects. 

Google Charts

This useful and free tool from Google lets you create simple charts and graphs based on whatever data you input. Charts and graphs are excellent visual aids for expressing numeric data, a perfect complement if you need to explain complicated evidential research. 

Grammarly goes way beyond grammar, helping you hone word choice, checking your text for plagiarism, detecting your tone, and more. For foreign-language learners, it can make your English sound more fluent, and even those who speak English as their primary language benefit from Grammarly’s suggestions. 

Research paper FAQs

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that analyzes, evaluates, or interprets a single topic with empirical evidence and statistical data. 

When will I need to write a research paper in college?

Many college courses use research papers to test a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or their research skills in general. While research papers depend on the course or professor, you can expect to write at least a few before graduation. 

How do I determine a topic for my research paper?

If the topic is not assigned, try to find a topic that’s general enough to provide ample evidence but specific enough that you’re able to cover all the basics. If possible, choose a topic you’re personally interested in—it makes the work easier. 

Where can I conduct research for my paper?

Today most research is conducted either online or in libraries. Some topics might benefit from old periodicals like newspapers or magazines, as well as visual media like documentaries. Museums, parks, and historical monuments can also be useful. 

How do I cite sources for a research paper?

The correct formatting for citations depends on which style you’re using, so check the assignment guidelines. Most school research reports use either  MLA or  APA styles, although there are others. 

This article was originally written by Karen Hertzberg in 2017. It’s been updated to include new information.

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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.

Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.

This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

Table of contents

Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.

Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:

Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.

There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.

You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.

You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.

Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:

What can proofreading do for your paper?

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Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.

Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.

In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”

A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.

The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.

You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.

A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.

A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.

Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:

You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.

Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.

Example paragraph

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.

Citing sources

It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.

You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.

What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.

Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?

How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.

The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.

One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:

Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.

Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.

You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.

You should not :

There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.

The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible.

Global concerns

Fine-grained details

Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:

Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .

Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading  or create an APA title page .

Scribbr’s professional editors can help with the revision process with our award-winning proofreading services.

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Checklist: Research paper

I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.

My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.

My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .

My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .

Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.

I have used appropriate transitions  to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.

My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.

My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.

My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.

I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.

I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .

I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).

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Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

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Writing a Research Paper

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The pages in this section provide detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

The Research Paper

There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.

Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.

The pages in this section cover the following topic areas related to the process of writing a research paper:

Writing a Research Paper

This page lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.

Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.

Discovering, Narrowing, and Focusing a Researchable Topic

Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources

You will need to look at the following types of sources:

Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information

The following systems will help keep you organized:

Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself

Consider the following questions:

Writing the Introduction

In the introduction you will need to do the following things:

Writing the Body

Writing the Conclusion

Revising the Final Draft

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Academic and Professional Writing

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Analysis Papers

Reading Poetry

A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis

Using Literary Quotations

Play Reviews

Writing a Rhetorical Précis to Analyze Nonfiction Texts

Incorporating Interview Data

Grant Proposals

Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics

Additional Resources for Grants and Proposal Writing

Job Materials and Application Essays

Writing Personal Statements for Ph.D. Programs

Resume Writing Tips

CV Writing Tips

Cover Letters

Business Letters

Proposals and Dissertations

Resources for Proposal Writers

Resources for Dissertators

Research Papers

Planning and Writing Research Papers

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Writing Annotated Bibliographies

Creating Poster Presentations

Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper

Thank-You Notes

Advice for Students Writing Thank-You Notes to Donors

Reading for a Review

Critical Reviews

Writing a Review of Literature

Scientific Reports

Scientific Report Format

Sample Lab Assignment

Writing for the Web

Writing an Effective Blog Post

Writing for Social Media: A Guide for Academics

How to Start (and Complete) a Research Paper

TIP Sheet HOW TO START (AND COMPLETE) A RESEARCH PAPER

You are a re-entry student and it's been fourteen years since you've written a paper. You coasted through high school on your charm and good looks and never actually wrote a research paper. You have written research papers, but every time is like the first time, and the first time was like a root canal. How do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach to starting and completing a research paper.

You may read this TIP Sheet from start to finish before you begin your paper, or skip to the steps that are causing you the most grief.

1. Choosing a topic: Interest, information, and focus Your job will be more pleasant, and you will be more apt to retain information if you choose a topic that holds your interest. Even if a general topic is assigned ("Write about impacts of GMO crops on world food supply"), as much as possible find an approach that suits your interests. Your topic should be one on which you can find adequate information; you might need to do some preliminary research to determine this. Go to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in the reference section of the library, or to an electronic database such as Proquest or Wilson Web, and search for your topic. The Butte College Library Reference Librarians are more than happy to assist you at this (or any) stage of your research. Scan the results to see how much information has been published. Then, narrow your topic to manageable size:

Once you have decided on a topic and determined that enough information is available, you are ready to proceed. At this point, however, if you are having difficulty finding adequate quality information, stop wasting your time; find another topic.

2. Preliminary reading & recordkeeping Gather some index cards or a small notebook and keep them with you as you read. First read a general article on your topic, for example from an encyclopedia. On an index card or in the notebook, record the author, article and/or book title, and all publication information in the correct format (MLA or APA, for example) specified by your instructor. (If you need to know what publication information is needed for the various types of sources, see a writing guide such as S F Writer .) On the index cards or in your notebook, write down information you want to use from each identified source, including page numbers. Use quotation marks on anything you copy exactly, so you can distinguish later between exact quotes and paraphrasing. (You will still attribute information you have quoted or paraphrased.)

Some students use a particular index card method throughout the process of researching and writing that allows them great flexibility in organizing and re-organizing as well as in keeping track of sources; others color-code or otherwise identify groups of facts. Use any method that works for you in later drafting your paper, but always start with good recordkeeping.

3. Organizing: Mind map or outline Based on your preliminary reading, draw up a working mind map or outline. Include any important, interesting, or provocative points, including your own ideas about the topic. A mind map is less linear and may even include questions you want to find answers to. Use the method that works best for you. The object is simply to group ideas in logically related groups. You may revise this mind map or outline at any time; it is much easier to reorganize a paper by crossing out or adding sections to a mind map or outline than it is to laboriously start over with the writing itself.

4. Formulating a thesis: Focus and craftsmanship Write a well defined, focused, three- to five-point thesis statement, but be prepared to revise it later if necessary. Take your time crafting this statement into one or two sentences, for it will control the direction and development of your entire paper.

For more on developing thesis statements, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."

5. Researching: Facts and examples Now begin your heavy-duty research. Try the internet, electronic databases, reference books, newspaper articles, and books for a balance of sources. For each source, write down on an index card (or on a separate page of your notebook) the publication information you will need for your works cited (MLA) or bibliography (APA) page. Write important points, details, and examples, always distinguishing between direct quotes and paraphrasing. As you read, remember that an expert opinion is more valid than a general opinion, and for some topics (in science and history, for example), more recent research may be more valuable than older research. Avoid relying too heavily on internet sources, which vary widely in quality and authority and sometimes even disappear before you can complete your paper.

Never copy-and-paste from internet sources directly into any actual draft of your paper. For more information on plagiarism, obtain from the Butte College Student Services office a copy of the college's policy on plagiarism, or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.

6. Rethinking: Matching mind map and thesis After you have read deeply and gathered plenty of information, expand or revise your working mind map or outline by adding information, explanations, and examples. Aim for balance in developing each of your main points (they should be spelled out in your thesis statement). Return to the library for additional information if it is needed to evenly develop these points, or revise your thesis statement to better reflect what you have learned or the direction your paper seems to have taken.

7. Drafting: Beginning in the middle Write the body of the paper, starting with the thesis statement and omitting for now the introduction (unless you already know exactly how to begin, but few writers do). Use supporting detail to logically and systematically validate your thesis statement. For now, omit the conclusion also.

For more on systematically developing a thesis statement, see TIP sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."

8. Revising: Organization and attribution Read, revise, and make sure that your ideas are clearly organized and that they support your thesis statement. Every single paragraph should have a single topic that is derived from the thesis statement. If any paragraph does not, take it out, or revise your thesis if you think it is warranted. Check that you have quoted and paraphrased accurately, and that you have acknowledged your sources even for your paraphrasing. Every single idea that did not come to you as a personal epiphany or as a result of your own methodical reasoning should be attributed to its owner.

For more on writing papers that stay on-topic, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay." For more on avoiding plagiarism, see the Butte College Student Services brochure, "Academic Honesty at Butte College," or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.

9. Writing: Intro, conclusion, and citations Write the final draft. Add a one-paragraph introduction and a one-paragraph conclusion. Usually the thesis statement appears as the last sentence or two of the first, introductory paragraph. Make sure all citations appear in the correct format for the style (MLA, APA) you are using. The conclusion should not simply restate your thesis, but should refer to it. (For more on writing conclusions, see the TIP Sheet "How to Structure an Essay.") Add a Works Cited (for MLA) or Bibliography (for APA) page.

10. Proofreading: Time and objectivity Time permitting, allow a few days to elapse between the time you finish writing your last draft and the time you begin to make final corrections. This "time out" will make you more perceptive, more objective, and more critical. On your final read, check for grammar, punctuation, correct word choice, adequate and smooth transitions, sentence structure, and sentence variety. For further proofreading strategies, see the TIP Sheet "Revising, Editing, and Proofreading."

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Katherine Bosworth

20 Ways to Improve Your Research Paper

So, you want to improve your research paper? You’ve come to the right place. Many authors are looking for guidance when publishing their work and we understand that writing up research is hard. We want to help where we can. At MDPI, we are committed to delivering ground-breaking scientific insights to the global scientific community. Here, we provide 20 useful tips to improve your research paper before submission.

1. Choose a specific and accurate title (and subtitles)

This is a very important part of your manuscript and can affect readership. People often choose what to read based on first impressions. Make sure your title doesn’t put people off. The title should give an overview of what your paper is about. This should be accurate and specific and reflect the content of the paper. Avoid jargon where possible. Don’t forget about section titles and table and figure captions. They should be accurate and specific. Readers tend to skip to the content they want to read. You can find even more useful advice in our article on choosing the best research paper title .

2. Writing an interesting abstract can improve your research paper

The abstract is the first part of the paper that’ll be read. You need to persuade the reader to continue reading. A clear abstract should outline the workings of your research. This will help you to carve out a very specific space in your field. You should also consider other published work in the field. Mention some notable achievements and explain how your research builds on them. This will help you place your research. Those who know the area well will be able to understand which direction you’re going in. A great way to make your abstract more dynamic is to add a graphical abstract or video. It should describe the methodology within your paper. This additional media quickly summarises your paper. It makes it more visually appealing to readers at first glance.

Example of graphical abstract for article about improving your research paper

See the journal’s Instructions for Authors page for more information about graphical abstracts.

3. Be selective with keywords

On our journals’ webpages, we use keywords for indexing. This makes work more searchable. Many researchers search the MDPI site using keywords related to their field. This gives you a chance to get more eyes on your paper. Make sure your choices are precise and are not in the title already. You want to cover as much ground as possible.

Depending on the journal, keywords that are also in the journal’s name are sometimes not allowed. For example, authors cannot use the keyword “soil” when publishing in Soil Biology & Biochemistry . You can check the journal’s webpage for more details. Get in touch with the Editorial Office if you have any questions.

4. Make sure that your research is novel

Have you conducted a thorough search of the latest findings? Knowing about these will improve the originality of your work. Reviewers are asked to rate your manuscript on novelty. Your research should advance the current knowledge in your field. Avoid repeating what may already be out there.

You can cite other works and add them to the content of your paper. This shows that you’re aware of the current knowledge in your research area. You should add your own work and findings that bring something new to the field. Editors like studies that push the boundaries and have new and unexpected outcomes.

5. Ensure that your results are exciting

Your results should not only be novel, but also significant. Attracting readers and citations will be easier if the results are exciting. Interesting and exciting work will encourage others to build on what you have discovered.

6. To improve your research paper, keep it simple

When it comes to research, it’s easy to get lost in your own paper. But, there is value in keeping it simple. This will make your work more accessible to others. It may even improve its success. Keeping your paper simple (English included) also means making it consistent. We have a handy guide that can help with this! Avoid including information that is unnecessary. Review what you have written so far – if you can delete something, then you should.

7. Don’t self-plagiarise!

Perhaps you want to repeat something that you have already mentioned in a previous research paper. Be careful, reusing your own words is self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism is a problem because you are just producing a copy of your work from before. This creates the illusion of new ideas when there aren’t any. This can happen without you realising it, so be careful. To avoid this, use short quotes from your past paper. You should place these in quotation marks and cite the original. Be succinct but comprehensive.

MDPI takes plagiarism very seriously and we (and other publishers) do our best to ensure that it is not present in our authors’ research by using a plagiarism detector that reviews online content for similarities. This helps to ensure that our it is ready to be published. As part of MDPI’s anti-plagiarism regulations, image manipulation is also not permitted. The peer review process involves an assessment of images and figures.

8. Use the journal template, even in the early stages

Peer review can be a nerve-wracking process. You are waiting for opinions on whether your paper should be in a journal or not. We understand that this is a stressful time for our authors so we do our best to encourage reviewers to provide their reviews as soon as possible.

You can increase your chances of good reviews by making sure your work is clearly organised and easy to understand. Templates are great for this and can definitely help you to improve your research paper throughout the writing process. This can give your paper a more professional look from the outset. It’s also important to maintain good formatting throughout.

Using the template from the start will save you a lot of time later. You can avoid spending precious time transferring your manuscript into the MDPI format. You won’t be at risk of possible errors caused by a late move-over.

9. Keep the topic relevant to the research field or journal

Some journals or Special Issues have broad scopes, while others are narrower. Research papers need to fit well within the range of the topic. This can sometimes be as simple as adding a paragraph of context to cement your paper’s relevance.

You can find information about the scope on journal webpages. You can also reach out to the Editorial Office if you have any questions.

If your work doesn’t fit into the specific scope, an editor may encourage you to submit to a different journal or Special Issue.

10. Keep in touch with co-authors

To improve the direction of your paper, check in with the other authors often. Obviously, this is only if you have co-authors.

Reviewing other sections of the paper can help to ensure that you don’t repeat yourself. It’s a good opportunity to make sure that the English is standardised as well.

11. Swap and share ideas to improve your research paper

Research can be solitary. It is easy to forget that there are other people – co-authors, colleagues, peers, associates – in the same boat as you. Their feedback can help you spot mistakes that you may have missed. Meeting with a colleague can also give you a break from your paper and allow you to come back to it with a new mindset.

12. Write methods and results first, then abstract, introduction and conclusion later

This is commonly given advice, but is worth noting. The content and tone of your paper may change as you write it. You’ll have a better overview of your findings, and be able to include key points from the paper. The introduction and conclusion will be more refined when left until the end.

13. Check your plots and graphs

Nothing in your paper is as important as your data. Your discoveries are the foundation of your work. They need to be clear and easy to understand. To improve your research paper, make sure graphs and images are in high resolutions and show the information clearly.

14. Customise your graphs using external packages in Python

You can use external packages like MatPlotLib or MATLAB to make the creation and editing of high-quality graphs and plots easy and efficient.

15. Improving the language can improve your research paper

It is important to make sure your English is as good as possible. This may mean proof-reading the paper several times (or having someone else look at it).

We can help you edit your project

Type writer showing rewrites and edits.

Improving your research paper can be challenging and time consuming. Academic editing can also be tricky sometimes, and it always pays off to have a professional look at your work. If you’re still not sure, don’t have time, or want a pro to look at your references, let our skilled English Editors help. Visit MDPI Author Services now for a free estimate for fast, accurate, and professional editing.

16. Follow the instructions to format your paper

Review the house rules for the journal and follow these with care. Each journal has an ‘Instructions for Authors’ webpage. It provides extensive information on how to present your work and improve your research paper. Take these into consideration when coming up with the final product.

17. Be thorough with author contributions and acknowledgments

Make sure to add the names of colleagues and supervisors who helped with your paper. This may seem obvious, but there are often people you forget. This may include thanking your funder or grant provider.

18. Declare any conflicts of interest

All authors need to state whether they have any relationships or interests that could influence the paper or its outcomes. This may include (financial or non-financial) connections to organisations or governments.

19. Don’t forget about the importance of references

It may surprise you that many papers are submitted without evidence for their claims. Editors return these papers, and time is then lost in the publication process. The author then needs to locate the sources and resubmit the work. Make sure to provide citations where necessary. If you want to know more about how to cite your work, we have a handy guide to review on this very subject.

Tools like EndNote and Mendeley can help you with the formatting of references in your paper. These manage your references based on what you enter and then organise them in the References section. You can also use free reference generators. For example, the online tool ‘Cite This for Me’ allows you to format individual references.

20. Read through it again

This is where you need to take a step back from what you have written. Looking over your work with a fresh set of eyes is a great way to improve it. Sleep on it and come back in a few days to check your work. A final scan may help you find minor errors and put your mind at ease. Once that’s all done, you can submit your manuscript. You’ll generally receive a response in 1-5 working days. For more details on our speedy submission process, take a look at our article on MDPI submission statuses .

Going through these tips can help you improve your research paper during the writing process. This can increase your chances of having your work published, read, cited, and shared.

During this time, you may be feeling worried or nervous. And that’s perfectly normal! You’re about to release your findings into the world. If you feel tense about this process, you’re not alone. It takes a lot of courage to put ideas out there, even ideas that you’re happy with.

Once you’ve published your manuscript, make sure to share it wherever you can. Talk about it on social media and put a link on your website.

Is there anything else that you do to improve your manuscripts? Make sure to share it in the comments below!

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47 comments.

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Thank you, Katherine. Can I transfer it into Chinese and share with the students?

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Hi Chenghua, thank you for the comment.

Please feel free to share the article far and wide! Glad it can help your students.

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what happens when we discover a new concept during our research? whereas at the beginning we had not predict it? Defining it in the introductory part isn’t very fair, isn’t it? Thanks

Hi Messka, thank you for the comment.

Agreed. That’s why the advice in #12 is so powerful. Things change as you’re trying to get it right, so it’s always best to leave the introduction and conclusion to the end.

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This is really helpful article, keep it up

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Thanks for reading! We’re glad you found the article useful

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Thank you Ms. Katherine. It is very useful and enlight me..

Hi Teguh, you’re welcome. Thanks for reading the MDPI Blog.

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Thank you so much Mam.. Really it is very useful information mam..

Hi Sivaranjani, glad this helped! Good luck with your manuscript!

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Thank you very much, for this concise and informative piece.

Thanks for reading, Saliu!

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Very precise and very informative. It will be by personal giude moving forward

We’re glad you found this article useful, Yao!

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Very useful informations.

Thanks for reading, Chetan!

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Informative and good guide for Phd researchers.

Thanks Olaniyi!

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Thank you MDPI for valuable information

Thanks for reading, Sardar!

' src=

Thank you very mutch for your valuable information.

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Very outstanding and informative. This will go along way toward improving my manuscript

' src=

Thanks for sharing such an informational article which will a great help to the students.

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Good guidelines

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Nice quotes

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Thanks for this great and concise work.

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Nice… it’s very useful for new beginner’s

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Certainly very helpful tips indeed. Thank you MDPI for this kind exercise.

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Valuable and concise 100%

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This is helpful. I have leant a lot from the quality research tips you provided.

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Interesting write up for research

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These 25 ways of improving my research are very helpful because they touch every area of a research scheduling and arrangement. Most exciting is the suggestion to write the introduction and conclusion last. Hearing this for the first time; I will adopt it

Many thanks MDPI

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It’s really nice points

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Thank you 🙏

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very informative and substantive article

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Good pieces of advice

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Very informative guidance. Thank you for sharing.

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Hello very interesting tips.

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Its really useful for new researchers.

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Nice writing

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The information provided is very important to write a good research article

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Amazingly helpful article, from a PhD candidate!

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Hello, Very interesring

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Thank you for your valuable 25 ways to improve the research .would you include examples or case studies . Thank you

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Writing Research Papers

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.

Introduction

What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

Downloadable Resources

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

External Resources

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

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Scientific Papers

Scientific papers are for sharing your own original research work with other scientists or for reviewing the research conducted by others. As such, they are critical to the evolution of modern science, in which the work of one scientist builds upon that of others. To reach their goal, papers must aim to inform, not impress. They must be highly readable — that is, clear, accurate, and concise. They are more likely to be cited by other scientists if they are helpful rather than cryptic or self-centered.

Scientific papers typically have two audiences: first, the referees, who help the journal editor decide whether a paper is suitable for publication; and second, the journal readers themselves, who may be more or less knowledgeable about the topic addressed in the paper. To be accepted by referees and cited by readers, papers must do more than simply present a chronological account of the research work. Rather, they must convince their audience that the research presented is important, valid, and relevant to other scientists in the same field. To this end, they must emphasize both the motivation for the work and the outcome of it, and they must include just enough evidence to establish the validity of this outcome.

Papers that report experimental work are often structured chronologically in five sections: first, Introduction ; then Materials and Methods , Results , and Discussion (together, these three sections make up the paper's body); and finally, Conclusion .

(Papers reporting something other than experiments, such as a new method or technology, typically have different sections in their body, but they include the same Introduction and Conclusion sections as described above.)

Although the above structure reflects the progression of most research projects, effective papers typically break the chronology in at least three ways to present their content in the order in which the audience will most likely want to read it. First and foremost, they summarize the motivation for, and the outcome of, the work in an abstract, located before the Introduction . In a sense, they reveal the beginning and end of the story — briefly — before providing the full story. Second, they move the more detailed, less important parts of the body to the end of the paper in one or more appendices so that these parts do not stand in the readers' way. Finally, they structure the content in the body in theorem-proof fashion, stating first what readers must remember (for example, as the first sentence of a paragraph) and then presenting evidence to support this statement.

The introduction

Context and need

At the beginning of the Introduction section, the context and need work together as a funnel: They start broad and progressively narrow down to the issue addressed in the paper. To spark interest among your audience — referees and journal readers alike — provide a compelling motivation for the work presented in your paper: The fact that a phenomenon has never been studied before is not, in and of itself, a reason to study that phenomenon.

Write the context in a way that appeals to a broad range of readers and leads into the need. Do not include context for the sake of including context: Rather, provide only what will help readers better understand the need and, especially, its importance. Consider anchoring the context in time, using phrases such as recently , in the past 10 years , or since the early 1990s . You may also want to anchor your context in space (either geographically or within a given research field).

Convey the need for the work as an opposition between actual and desired situations. Start by stating the actual situation (what we have) as a direct continuation of the context. If you feel you must explain recent achievements in much detail — say, in more than one or two paragraphs — consider moving the details to a section titled State of the art (or something similar) after the Introduction , but do provide a brief idea of the actual situation in the Introduction . Next, state the desired situation (what we want). Emphasize the contrast between the actual and desired situations with such words as but , however, or unfortunately .

One elegant way to express the desired part of the need is to combine it with the task in a single sentence. This sentence expresses first the objective, then the action undertaken to reach this objective, thus creating a strong and elegant connection between need and task. Here are three examples of such a combination:

To confirm this assumption , we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin channels . . . on . . .
To assess whether such multiple-coil sensors perform better than single-signal ones , we tested two of them — the DuoPXK and the GEMM3 — in a field where . . . To form a better view of the global distribution and infectiousness of this pathogen , we examined 1645 postmetamorphic and adult amphibians collected from 27 countries between 1984 and 2006 for the presence of . . .

Task and object

An Introduction is usually clearer and more logical when it separates what the authors have done (the task) from what the paper itself attempts or covers (the object of the document). In other words, the task clarifies your contribution as a scientist, whereas the object of the document prepares readers for the structure of the paper, thus allowing focused or selective reading.

For the task,

The three examples below are well-formed tasks.

To confirm this assumption, we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin channels, such as the connexin mimetic peptides Gap26 and Gap27 and anti-peptide antibodies, on calcium signaling in cardiac cells and HeLa cells expressing connexins.
During controlled experiments, we investigated the influence of the HMP boundary conditions on liver flows.
To tackle this problem, we developed a new software verification technique called oblivious hashing, which calculates the hash values based on the actual execution of the program.

The list below provides examples of verbs that express research actions:

For the object of the document,

The three examples below are suitable objects of the document for the three tasks shown above, respectively.

This paper clarifies the role of CxHc on calcium oscillations in neonatal cardiac myocytes and calcium transients induced by ATP in HL-cells originated from cardiac atrium and in HeLa cells expressing connexin 43 or 26. This paper presents the flow effects induced by increasing the hepatic-artery pressure and by obstructing the vena cava inferior. This paper discusses the theory behind oblivious hashing and shows how this approach can be applied for local software tamper resistance and remote code authentication.

The list below provides examples of verbs that express communication actions:

Even the most logical structure is of little use if readers do not see and understand it as they progress through a paper. Thus, as you organize the body of your paper into sections and perhaps subsections, remember to prepare your readers for the structure ahead at all levels. You already do so for the overall structure of the body (the sections) in the object of the document at the end of the Introduction . You can similarly prepare your readers for an upcoming division into subsections by introducing a global paragraph between the heading of a section and the heading of its first subsection. This paragraph can contain any information relating to the section as a whole rather than particular subsections, but it should at least announce the subsections, whether explicitly or implicitly. An explicit preview would be phrased much like the object of the document: "This section first . . . , then . . . , and finally . . . "

Although papers can be organized into sections in many ways, those reporting experimental work typically include Materials and Methods , Results , and Discussion in their body. In any case, the paragraphs in these sections should begin with a topic sentence to prepare readers for their contents, allow selective reading, and — ideally — get a message across.

Materials and methods

Results and discussion.

When reporting and discussing your results, do not force your readers to go through everything you went through in chronological order. Instead, state the message of each paragraph upfront: Convey in the first sentence what you want readers to remember from the paragraph as a whole. Focus on what happened, not on the fact that you observed it. Then develop your message in the remainder of the paragraph, including only that information you think you need to convince your audience.

The conclusion

At the end of your Conclusion , consider including perspectives — that is, an idea of what could or should still be done in relation to the issue addressed in the paper. If you include perspectives, clarify whether you are referring to firm plans for yourself and your colleagues ("In the coming months, we will . . . ") or to an invitation to readers ("One remaining question is . . . ").

If your paper includes a well-structured Introduction and an effective abstract, you need not repeat any of the Introduction in the Conclusion . In particular, do not restate what you have done or what the paper does. Instead, focus on what you have found and, especially, on what your findings mean. Do not be afraid to write a short Conclusion section: If you can conclude in just a few sentences given the rich discussion in the body of the paper, then do so. (In other words, resist the temptation to repeat material from the Introduction just to make the Conclusio n longer under the false belief that a longer Conclusion will seem more impressive.)

The abstract

Typically, readers are primarily interested in the information presented in a paper's Introduction and Conclusion sections. Primarily, they want to know the motivation for the work presented and the outcome of this work. Then (and only then) the most specialized among them might want to know the details of the work. Thus, an effective abstract focuses on motivation and outcome; in doing so, it parallels the paper's Introduction and Conclusion .

Accordingly, you can think of an abstract as having two distinct parts — motivation and outcome — even if it is typeset as a single paragraph. For the first part, follow the same structure as the Introduction section of the paper: State the context, the need, the task, and the object of the document. For the second part, mention your findings (the what ) and, especially, your conclusion (the so what — that is, the interpretation of your findings); if appropriate, end with perspectives, as in the Conclusion section of your paper.

Although the structure of the abstract parallels the Introduction and Conclusion sections, it differs from these sections in the audience it addresses. The abstract is read by many different readers, from the most specialized to the least specialized among the target audience. In a sense, it should be the least specialized part of the paper. Any scientist reading it should be able to understand why the work was carried out and why it is important (context and need), what the authors did (task) and what the paper reports about this work (object of the document), what the authors found (findings), what these findings mean (the conclusion), and possibly what the next steps are (perspectives). In contrast, the full paper is typically read by specialists only; its Introduction and Conclusion are more detailed (that is, longer and more specialized) than the abstract.

An effective abstract stands on its own — it can be understood fully even when made available without the full paper. To this end, avoid referring to figures or the bibliography in the abstract. Also, introduce any acronyms the first time you use them in the abstract (if needed), and do so again in the full paper (see Mechanics: Using abbreviations ).

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How to Write a Research Paper

What is a research paper? A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on its author’s original research on a particular topic and analysis together with interpretation of research findings. Writing a research paper can be a little intimidating at times. Students, especially those new to the rigors of academia, often feel anxious about the process especially that the paper often gets assigned a big chunk of the final grade by a conscientious professor.

This article provides a detailed guide on how to navigate the challenge of writing a reliable research paper. It talks about recommended steps to be followed and elements to be covered in the paper. It offers tips on selecting a good topic and gathering the right information which can set research up for success. Finally, this article provides some guidelines on citation as well as on how to use free online tools, which can help deliver a sharp and clear final copy. Start writing an A+ research paper now!

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How to start a research paper?

Choose a research paper topic that interests and challenges you the most. Your attitude towards the topic may well determine amount of effort, enthusiasm you put into your research. Focus on a limited aspect, narrow it down from “Religion” to “World Religion” to “Buddhism.” Obtain teacher approval for your theme idea and thesis before making full-scale research. It will also help save time and effort.

Finding the right topic and making paper stand out

It is essential for students to examine and write about a topic they like and know better. Students who are invested and involved in the subject pay attention to details in making sure that paper is as strong as it could be. Achieving this goal means addressing requirements of each paper section such as research questions, methods, analysis, and discussion, among others. Surf the internet to get inspired by various research paper topics .

One of the initial steps you should perform in making a paper stand out is doing a bit of initial exploring to see what is out there already, think about future outline, thesis or hypothesis. Ask what has already been done about this particular issue in the past. Are there pathways that have not yet been explored, which student should shed light on? Indeed, one can make paper stand out by ensuring that some new or novel insights are explored, no matter how small. This will make research paper not only publishable or presentable at academic venues, but it’ll also receive high grades from professor assessing it.

Narrowing your topic

After going through the necessary amount of information, data and literature available on your desired topic, it is time to narrow the research down. It’s not appropriate if chosen issue is very broad as there may be several important aspects within this very theme. It won’t be a good solution to cover them all in one research paper as it’ll turn out vague or generic.

Pursue the unique pathway that caught your interest, and that’ll occupy a niche as well as advance the value of the conversation regarding the subject. At this stage, you should explain the reasons why your research study is essential and describe in detail the significance of your research.

Find information

For general or background information needed for an outline creation, check out useful URLs, general information online, using search engines , or encyclopedias online such as Britannica . Use search engines or other search tools as a starting point. Pay attention to domain name extensions , .edu (educational institution), .org (non-profit organization) or .gov (government). These sites represent institutions and are more reliable, however, be aware of possible political bias on some government sites.

Be selective of .com (commercial) sites. Many of these sites are excellent; although, a large number of them contain advertisements for products and links to outer irrelevant sources. Network Solutions provides link where you can find out what some of the other extensions stand for. Be wary of millions of personal home pages on the Net. Quality of these personal homepages varies greatly. Learning how to evaluate websites critically and search effectively on the Internet will help you eliminate irrelevant sites and waste less of your time.

The recent arrival of a variety of domain name extensions such as .biz (commercial businesses), .pro, .info (info on products / organizations), .name, .ws (WebSite), .cc (Cocos Island) or .sh (St. Helena) or .tv (Tuvalu) may create some confusion as you won’t tell whether .cc or .sh or .tv site is in reality .com, .edu, .gov, .net, or .org site. Many new extensions have no registration restrictions and are available to anyone who wishes to register a distinct domain name that has not already been taken. For instance, if Books.com is unavailable, you can register as Books.ws or Books.info via a service agent such as Register.com.

If you need books for your research in the Library, use the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).

CHECK OUT OTHER PRINT MATERIALS AVAILABLE IN THE LIBRARY:

CHECK OUT ONLINE RESOURCES, WEB-BASED INFORMATION SERVICES, OR SPECIAL RESOURCE MATERIALS IN AUDIO FORMAT:

Check out public and university libraries, businesses, government agencies, as well as contact knowledgeable people in your community. Read and evaluate, outline them. Bookmark your favorite Internet sites. Printout, photocopy or take notes of relevant information.

As you gather your resources, note down full bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) on your worksheet, printout, or enter the information on your laptop or desktop computer for later retrieval. If printing from the Internet, set up the browser to print the URL and date of access for every page. Remember that an article without bibliographical information is useless since you cannot cite it as a source.

Make your thesis statement

Most research papers normally require a thesis, even on the step of outline creation. If you are not sure, ask your teacher whether your paper requires it and what they expect to see in your research paper thesis statement. In short, a thesis is the main idea, a central point of your research paper. The arguments you provide in your paper should be based on this central idea, that is why it is so important. Do some critical thinking, write your thesis statement down in one sentence. Your research paper thesis statement is like a declaration of your belief. The main portion of your essay will consist of arguments for support and defend this belief.

A thesis statement should be provided early in your paper – in the introduction part, or in the second paragraph if your paper is longer. It is impossible to create a thesis statement immediately when you have just started fulfilling your assignment. Before you write a thesis statement together with outline, you should collect, organize and analyze materials and your ideas. You cannot make a finally formulated statement before you have completed your research paper. It’ll naturally change while you develop your ideas.

Stay away from generic, too fuzzy statements and arguments. Use a particular subject. The paper should present something new for audience, make it interesting and educative for your readers. Avoid citing other authors in this section. Present your own ideas in your own words instead of simply copying from other writers.

A THESIS STATEMENT SHOULD DO THE FOLLOWING:

Make sure your thesis is strong. If you have time and opportunity, show it to your instructor, receive some revision comments, work on improvement of weak points. Otherwise, you may estimate it yourself.

YOU MUST CHECK:

A well-prepared thesis means well-shaped ideas. It increases credibility of paper and makes a good impression of its author. More helpful hints about Writing a Research Paper .

Make a research paper outline

A research paper basically has the following structure:.

A research paper outline might be formal or informal. An informal outline (working outline) is a tool helping authors put down and organize their ideas. It is subject to revision, addition and canceling, without paying much attention to form. It helps authors make their key points clear and arrange them.

Sometimes students are asked to submit formal outlines with their research papers. In a formal outline, numbers and letters are used to arrange topics and subtopics. The letters and numbers of the same kind should be placed directly under one another. The topics denoted by their headings and subheadings should be grouped in a logical order.

All points of a research paper outline must relate to the same major topic that you first mentioned in your capital Roman numeral.

Paper Title: An un-presidential rhetoric? A content analysis of Ex-President Obama’s tweets

Researcher recommends that this study be expanded by using other method to measure perception of presidential tweets such as a random survey of undecided voters Purpose of an outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before you start writing. A good outline is the most important step in writing an excellent paper. Check your outline to ensure that points covered flow logically from one to the other. Include in your outline an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. You may create the first outline as a draft and edit it while writing a research paper.

Introduction — State your thesis and purpose of your research paper clearly. What is the chief reason you are writing the paper? State also how you plan to approach your issue. Is this a factual report, a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem? Explain briefly the major points you’ll cover in your paper and why readers should be interested in your theme.

Body — This is where you present your arguments to support your thesis statement. This section is divided into many parts, that may vary, depending on your discipline, teachers’ requirements, etc. Usually, the body comprises a literature review, methodology, analysis, results, and discussion.

Conclusion — Restate or reword your thesis / research question. Summarize your arguments. Explain why you have come to this particular conclusion. Why your research is valuable and how acquired results can be used for future researches.

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Organize your notes

Organize materials you have gathered according to your outline. Critically analyze your research data. Using the best available sources, check for accuracy and verify that information is factual, up-to-date, and correct. Opposing views should also be noted if they help support your thesis. This is the most important stage in writing a research paper. Here you’ll analyze, synthesize, sort, and digest info you have gathered and hopefully learn something about your topic which is real purpose of doing a research paper in the first place. You must also effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, insights, and research findings to others through written words as in a report, an essay, a research or term paper, or through spoken words as in an oral or multimedia presentation with audio-visual aids.

Do not include any information that is not relevant to your issue under discussion, and do not include information that you do not understand. Make sure information that you have noted is carefully recorded and in your own words, if possible. Plagiarism is definitely out of question. Document all ideas borrowed or quotes used very accurately. As you classify your notes, jot down detailed bibliographical information for each cited paragraph and have it ready to transfer to your Works Cited page. Devise your own method to organize your materials. One method may be to mark with a different color ink or use a marker to identify sections in your outline, IA3b – meaning that the item “Accessing WWW” belongs in the following location of your outline:

Group your notes following the outline codes you have assigned to your notes, like, IA2, IA3, IA4, etc. This method will enable you to quickly put all your resources in the right place as you systematize your notes according to your outline.

Knowing what is out there – the literature review

Research act in itself is a cumulative process. This means that one is expected to contribute something to the body of knowledge. And because of this expectation, this is where literature review process becomes so helpful in narrowing down and also providing background information about the topic. Engaging in a literature review helps determine what’s already known about problem that you are interested in exploring. No doubt doing a comprehensive literature review will save you time down the road by having clarity about the specific research questions that you want to explore.

After conducting a thorough lit review, you now have at least a comprehensive background information and understanding of various contours and nuances of your topic. Many of thesis questions that you may have already been answered, and you should have an idea as to where the gaps in knowledge are and what needs to be done to advance inquiry process and therefore contribute to the body on the topic that you have chosen.

The research question(s)

Research questions and research method that you will use to find answers are important because there are specific criteria that might be satisfied for them to be valid. First, your research questions should be specific in scope and timeframe. In scientific research, for example, research questions lend themselves to being measurable using a wide variety of methodology, be they quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.

If your research question, for example, pertains to how individual voters view women candidates for president, perhaps the best method is by doing field interviews or by conducting a phone survey of these voters using a random sampling method. There are many ways that may help you derive answers to your questions. It is crucial, however, to be aware that each method has an inherent set of strengths and weaknesses.

Research methodology

There exist various research paper methods that you may use while preparing information for your paper. Check the most popular methods and decide which suits you better:

While it is suitable for convenience sake, findings from a focus group method, however, might not necessarily be generalizable to overall population, because participants were selected somewhat arbitrarily. A researcher can only make a valid conclusion or inference about their findings to the general population if everyone or every voter was given an equal chance to be chosen for the study in the form of random sampling.

A note about replication: In writing the methods section of your research paper, it is crucial to be as precise and detailed about the methodology as possible. Other researchers should replicate the method that you employed to see if they can come up with the same findings that you arrived with. Replication is a critical component in the process of validating results and strengthening body that we have accumulated on specific research topics.

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Writing the results, analysis, discussion, and conclusion

After collecting data via research methods part, it is time to make sense of information you have. Results, analysis, discussion, and conclusion section help provide a space for you, as researcher, to interpret findings of your study and juxtapose it with previous findings and potential implications for future research work.

The process of writing a research paper

Flow and organization are two of the most important elements of writing. This means that your research paper must be structured well in such a way that every content element or sections that you write contribute to an overall message or an overarching theme. Often, it is helpful to write a simple one-sentence thesis statement stating what your research is all about. As you write, thesis statement helps serve as a reminder and as a compass to what are you trying to achieve with research paper.

It is smart to create a comprehensive outline with thesis statement to help with the clarity and article’s organization. For it to be helpful, your outline should indicate the sections that you want to cover in the research paper. For each section, use some bullet point statements to guide and remind you what you should say or what ideas you should express in that particular section. A good outline allows researcher to work in chunks (especially when you have flow in your thinking), and it helps prevent you as a writer from getting overwhelmed by the whole task. It is highly recommended that researchers write in bursts of time, typically two to three hours at a time, to maximize energy and focus.

Remember, as is true in any piece of writing, a good research paper is the one that is finished. Perfection and procrastination are enemy of good in writing process. Be sure to have enough discipline to dedicate time, a regular schedule, for doing the writing regardless of whether you have ‘writer’s block’ or not. This is the only way that you’ll meet deadline and complete project.

research paper

Write your first draft

Start with the first topic in your research paper outline. Read all relevant notes you have gathered that have been marked, example, with the Roman numeral I. Summarize, paraphrase or quote directly for each idea you plan to use in your essay. Use a technique that suits you, for example, write summaries, paraphrases or quotations on note cards, or separate sheets of lined paper. Before you know it, you have a well-organized term paper completed exactly as outlined.

After you have completed draft, it is worthy to remind everyone that a first draft is never perfect. You would go through at least three reviews and iterations making sure it follows thesis before it can be ready for submission. Consider asking somebody, a friend, or a professional to read your draft and help you identify some gaps or passages that reader has difficulty understanding. Also, be sure you put the draft aside, get some fresh air or do something else for a few hours before going back and reading it again.

After the draft – reviewing your work

Here are some useful tips that every student should follow while working on research paper draft. It is better to check all aspects twice and submit an excellent paper for grading.

Read your paper for any content errors. Double-check facts and figures. Arrange and rearrange ideas to follow your outline format. Reorganize your outline if necessary, but always keep your paper’s purpose and your readers in mind.

CHECKLIST ONE:

Re-read your paper for grammatical errors. Use a dictionary or a thesaurus as needed. Do a spell check. Correct all errors that you spot and improve overall paper’s quality to the best of your ability. Get someone else to read it over. Sometimes only a second pair of eyes is managed to see mistakes that you missed.

CHECKLIST TWO:

Use “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk

For an excellent source on English composition, check out this classic book by William Strunk, Jr. on the Elements of Style. Contents include Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders: Place yourself in the background, Revise and rewrite, Avoid fancy words, Be clear, Do not inject opinion, Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity, and much more. Details of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. partially available online.

Apply correct citation and formatting

There is also a particular formatting style you must follow. It depends on the field of your studies or requirements of your University supervisor. There are several formatting styles typically used. The most commonly used are APA style and MLA style. However, there are such style guides as, Harvard, Chicago Manual of Style, American Medical Association (AMA) Style, APSA (American Political Science Association), ASA (American Sociological Association), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and more. Check informative style guides before completing formatting.

APA (American Psychological Association) style is mostly used to cite sources within social sciences field. The detailed information is in Publication Manual of American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used for liberal arts and humanities. The most recent printed guide on it is MLA Handbook (8th ed.). Instead of providing individual recommendations for each publishing format (printed, online, e-books, etc.), this edition recommends a single universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any kind of source. Also, remember to use parenthetical citations for MLA research paper format correctly.

Tools for research paper help

After you’ve done your review and did a few rounds of iterations for your research report, it is time to subject your paper to copy editing. Thanks to artificial intelligence-driven (AI) sites, copy editing is no longer such an expensive and onerous task. And professional copy editing can be done free of charge with the set of tools that can be found online.

Grammar checkers offer a chance to scan paper and find spelling mistakes, lexical or grammar issues. Even if paper’s content is good, misspelled words and errors in tenses may result in a low grade that will be very disappointing.

Plagiarism checkers provide excellent service such as text scan to make sure that your paper did not miss any crucial citation or did not fail to give credit to specific quotations and passages. Plagiarism is a plague that must be avoided at all costs. Researchers must take great care in giving credit where credit is due. Doing otherwise may lead to not only failing grades but also ruined careers and reputations.

Citation generators. Writing the research report, researchers should follow certain conventions of citing other people’s work in final paper of the study. The most common citation styles include American Psychological Society (APA), Harvard Citation, Chicago Manual of Style, and a few others that can be easily generated with help of free tools. Use it to transform one citation style to another. This is especially helpful if you are trying to submit your research report for peer-review or publication consideration with various publication outlets prescribing different citation styles.

Title page generators. A title page is the first thing your professor sees upon grading research paper. So, it should be formatted perfectly. Many college students find it difficult to memorize all indents, title case letters, and spaces that are specific for each standard. Use a generator to create title pages and format your citations in APA, MLA, Chicago and other styles.

When you have a research report ready, it is time to submit it for publication consideration or for peer-review for a potential presentation at a conference. It is important for researcher to read and follow carefully prescribed editorial guidelines of publication that you are submitting it to. Not following guidelines could prove detrimental — rejection of otherwise solid research work.

Some words of encouragement

Writing a research paper need not be a daunting and frustrating task. There is a set formula that a student or researcher follows to succeed with this scholarly endeavor. The best place to start with this process is to think about the topics that you are passionate about. Being invested and motivated in subject goes a long way in producing a strong quality research paper.

Next is to conduct a thorough literature review to see what’s already been done in the area that you are interested in doing research. This process helps you narrow your scope and will help set you up for success in finding the niche contribution that you want to achieve in doing the research. Finally, it is important to create a guiding thesis statement and an outline where you may work in chunks without losing the big picture and with a clear understanding as to how each element of paper contributes to flow and a strong organization of your final document.

If you feel any difficulties in writing a Research Paper , our writers and editors are always ready to help!

Reviewed by Dr. Rey Rosales, Professor in the Communication department at MacEwan University, holder of Ph.D.​ in Journalism from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and MS in Radio-TV at Arkansas State University.

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COMMENTS

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Research Paper

    A research paper is a type of academic writing that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a single topic

  2. How to Write a Research Paper

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  3. Writing a Research Paper

    The Research Paper. There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal

  4. Writing a Research Paper

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  5. Six Simple Steps for Writing a Research Paper Paper

    Contained in this packet, you will find a list of six steps that will aid you in the research paper writing process. You may develop your own steps or.

  6. How to Start (and Complete) a Research Paper

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  7. 20 Ways to Improve Your Research Paper

    1. Choose a specific and accurate title (and subtitles) · 2. Writing an interesting abstract can improve your research paper · 3. Be selective

  8. Research Paper Structure

    A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results

  9. Scientific Papers

    Scientific papers are for sharing your own original research work with other scientists or for reviewing the research conducted by others.

  10. How to Write a Research Paper

    The ultimate guide to writing perfect research papers, essays, dissertations or even a thesis ✍ Structure your work effectively ✓ to impress your readers.