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Writing a Research Paper
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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:
- Genre - This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
- Choosing a Topic - This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses themselves.
- Identifying an Audience - This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
- Where Do I Begin - This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.
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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper
- Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
- Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.
In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:
- AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
- APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
- Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
- MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
- Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines
While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.
If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.
Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.
Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:
- Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
- Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
- Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.
General Formatting Guidelines
This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.
These are the major components of an APA-style paper:
Body, which includes the following:
- Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
- In-text citations of research sources
- References page
All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.
The title page of your paper includes the following information:
- Title of the paper
- Author’s name
- Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
- Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)
List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.
The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.
In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.
Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.
Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.
Margins, Pagination, and Headings
APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.
Use these general guidelines to format the paper:
- Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
- Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
- Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
- Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
- Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.
Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:
- Your title page
- The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
- Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract
APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.
The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:
- Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
- Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
- The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
- The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
- The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.
Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .
Table 13.1 Section Headings
A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.
Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.
Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:
Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.
In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.
This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.
Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).
Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.
Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).
Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.
As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”
Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.
David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).
Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.
Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.
Writing at Work
APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:
- MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
- Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
- Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.
The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.
The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:
- The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
- The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
- The full title of the source
- For books, the city of publication
- For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
- For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
- For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located
The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)
In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.
- Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
- Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
- APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
- APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
- In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
- In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.
Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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
- Try to find a topic that truly interests you
- Try writing your way to a topic
- Talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
- Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved
Finding, Selecting, and Reading Sources
You will need to look at the following types of sources:
- library catalog, periodical indexes, bibliographies, suggestions from your instructor
- primary vs. secondary sources
- journals, books, other documents
Grouping, Sequencing, and Documenting Information
The following systems will help keep you organized:
- a system for noting sources on bibliography cards
- a system for organizing material according to its relative importance
- a system for taking notes
Writing an Outline and a Prospectus for Yourself
Consider the following questions:
- What is the topic?
- Why is it significant?
- What background material is relevant?
- What is my thesis or purpose statement?
- What organizational plan will best support my purpose?
Writing the Introduction
In the introduction you will need to do the following things:
- present relevant background or contextual material
- define terms or concepts when necessary
- explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
- reveal your plan of organization
Writing the Body
- Use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
- Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don’t let your sources organize your paper)
- Integrate your sources into your discussion
- Summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
- Move up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization
Writing the Conclusion
- If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.
- Perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research.
Revising the Final Draft
- Check overall organization : logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
- Paragraph level concerns : topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
- Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.
- Documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited.
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Table of Contents
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Have you noticed that “overlook” and “oversee” have opposite meanings, but “look” and “see” mean the same thing?
English is often considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. One reason for this could be some of the tricky grammar rules (or, rather, exceptions to the rules).
When you’re writing an academic paper, it’s worth bearing some of these in mind so the first draft of your manuscript is clear and ready for editing or proofreading. Here we take a look at three aspects of English grammar you’ll need to tackle in your writing.
In a research paper, it’s important to get your tenses right, to be clear about when things happened – or are going to happen. Making sure you use the same tense throughout your article is one way to ensure clarity – if you talk through your research in the past tense, make sure you stick to that.
There are four types of past tense in English; switching between these in your writing can make it tricky for the reader to follow.
- Past simple: we incubated the culture
- Past continuous: we were incubating the culture
- Past perfect: we had incubated the culture
- Past perfect continuous: we had been incubating the culture
Past tense spelling can also be tricky; if “fought” is the past tense of “fight” why is “lit” the past tense of “light”? Be sure to use spell check!
Punctuation can be deadly: it makes the difference between “Let’s eat, Granny!” and “Let’s eat Granny!”
That’s a lighthearted example, but it shows how a simple comma can change the meaning of a sentence. Keeping your sentences short and simple is one way to make sure readers understand your meaning.
Apostrophes are particularly tricky for native and non-native speakers alike. The general rule is they are used for two purposes:
- To show possession – the plant’s leaf
- In abbreviations – that’s instead of that is; the ’ replaces the missing letter
For plurals – including numbers – you never use an apostrophe. Think apples, not apple’s and 1980s, not 1980’s.
An estimated 50% of the English language is made up of nouns – names for things, people and places. These words tend to be the simplest to get right, it’s the other words in the sentence that can be challenging. Here are some examples.
- Articles: “the” is for referring to something specific (“we ran the experiment”) and “a” or “an” are for general things (“aluminum is a metal”). “An” is used in front of a word that starts with a vowel sound (“an electric charge” or “an FWCI”) and “a” is used for words that start with a consonant sound (“a light pulse”).
- Verbs: make sure you’re using the right tense (see tenses above) and use spellcheck!
- Prepositions: is the beaker on the bench or at the bench? Is the ladder against the wall or beside it? Prepositions tell you where something is, and using the right one is vital for guiding the reader through your research. If you’re not sure, check it with your editor.
English might be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The important thing is to make sure your meaning is clear – that makes the research you present in your paper understandable and reproducible.
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- A step-by-step guide to the writing process
The Writing Process | 5 Steps with Examples & Tips
Published on April 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
Good academic writing requires effective planning, drafting, and revision.
The writing process looks different for everyone, but there are five basic steps that will help you structure your time when writing any kind of text.
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Table of contents
Step 1: prewriting, step 2: planning and outlining, step 3: writing a first draft, step 4: redrafting and revising, step 5: editing and proofreading, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about the writing process.
Before you start writing, you need to decide exactly what you’ll write about and do the necessary research.
Coming up with a topic
If you have to come up with your own topic for an assignment, think of what you’ve covered in class— is there a particular area that intrigued, interested, or even confused you? Topics that left you with additional questions are perfect, as these are questions you can explore in your writing.
The scope depends on what type of text you’re writing—for example, an essay or a research paper will be less in-depth than a dissertation topic . Don’t pick anything too ambitious to cover within the word count, or too limited for you to find much to say.
Narrow down your idea to a specific argument or question. For example, an appropriate topic for an essay might be narrowed down like this:
Doing the research
Once you know your topic, it’s time to search for relevant sources and gather the information you need. This process varies according to your field of study and the scope of the assignment. It might involve:
- Searching for primary and secondary sources .
- Reading the relevant texts closely (e.g. for literary analysis ).
- Collecting data using relevant research methods (e.g. experiments , interviews or surveys )
From a writing perspective, the important thing is to take plenty of notes while you do the research. Keep track of the titles, authors, publication dates, and relevant quotations from your sources; the data you gathered; and your initial analysis or interpretation of the questions you’re addressing.
Check for common mistakes
Use the best grammar checker available to check for common mistakes in your text.
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Especially in academic writing , it’s important to use a logical structure to convey information effectively. It’s far better to plan this out in advance than to try to work out your structure once you’ve already begun writing.
Creating an essay outline is a useful way to plan out your structure before you start writing. This should help you work out the main ideas you want to focus on and how you’ll organize them. The outline doesn’t have to be final—it’s okay if your structure changes throughout the writing process.
Use bullet points or numbering to make your structure clear at a glance. Even for a short text that won’t use headings, it’s useful to summarize what you’ll discuss in each paragraph.
An outline for a literary analysis essay might look something like this:
- Describe the theatricality of Austen’s works
- Outline the role theater plays in Mansfield Park
- Introduce the research question: How does Austen use theater to express the characters’ morality in Mansfield Park ?
- Discuss Austen’s depiction of the performance at the end of the first volume
- Discuss how Sir Bertram reacts to the acting scheme
- Introduce Austen’s use of stage direction–like details during dialogue
- Explore how these are deployed to show the characters’ self-absorption
- Discuss Austen’s description of Maria and Julia’s relationship as polite but affectionless
- Compare Mrs. Norris’s self-conceit as charitable despite her idleness
- Summarize the three themes: The acting scheme, stage directions, and the performance of morals
- Answer the research question
- Indicate areas for further study
Once you have a clear idea of your structure, it’s time to produce a full first draft.
This process can be quite non-linear. For example, it’s reasonable to begin writing with the main body of the text, saving the introduction for later once you have a clearer idea of the text you’re introducing.
To give structure to your writing, use your outline as a framework. Make sure that each paragraph has a clear central focus that relates to your overall argument.
Hover over the parts of the example, from a literary analysis essay on Mansfield Park , to see how a paragraph is constructed.
The character of Mrs. Norris provides another example of the performance of morals in Mansfield Park . Early in the novel, she is described in scathing terms as one who knows “how to dictate liberality to others: but her love of money was equal to her love of directing” (p. 7). This hypocrisy does not interfere with her self-conceit as “the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world” (p. 7). Mrs. Norris is strongly concerned with appearing charitable, but unwilling to make any personal sacrifices to accomplish this. Instead, she stage-manages the charitable actions of others, never acknowledging that her schemes do not put her own time or money on the line. In this way, Austen again shows us a character whose morally upright behavior is fundamentally a performance—for whom the goal of doing good is less important than the goal of seeming good.
When you move onto a different topic, start a new paragraph. Use appropriate transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas.
The goal at this stage is to get a draft completed, not to make everything perfect as you go along. Once you have a full draft in front of you, you’ll have a clearer idea of where improvement is needed.
Give yourself a first draft deadline that leaves you a reasonable length of time to revise, edit, and proofread before the final deadline. For a longer text like a dissertation, you and your supervisor might agree on deadlines for individual chapters.
Now it’s time to look critically at your first draft and find potential areas for improvement. Redrafting means substantially adding or removing content, while revising involves making changes to structure and reformulating arguments.
Evaluating the first draft
It can be difficult to look objectively at your own writing. Your perspective might be positively or negatively biased—especially if you try to assess your work shortly after finishing it.
It’s best to leave your work alone for at least a day or two after completing the first draft. Come back after a break to evaluate it with fresh eyes; you’ll spot things you wouldn’t have otherwise.
When evaluating your writing at this stage, you’re mainly looking for larger issues such as changes to your arguments or structure. Starting with bigger concerns saves you time—there’s no point perfecting the grammar of something you end up cutting out anyway.
Right now, you’re looking for:
- Arguments that are unclear or illogical.
- Areas where information would be better presented in a different order.
- Passages where additional information or explanation is needed.
- Passages that are irrelevant to your overall argument.
For example, in our paper on Mansfield Park , we might realize the argument would be stronger with more direct consideration of the protagonist Fanny Price, and decide to try to find space for this in paragraph IV.
For some assignments, you’ll receive feedback on your first draft from a supervisor or peer. Be sure to pay close attention to what they tell you, as their advice will usually give you a clearer sense of which aspects of your text need improvement.
Redrafting and revising
Once you’ve decided where changes are needed, make the big changes first, as these are likely to have knock-on effects on the rest. Depending on what your text needs, this step might involve:
- Making changes to your overall argument.
- Reordering the text.
- Cutting parts of the text.
- Adding new text.
You can go back and forth between writing, redrafting and revising several times until you have a final draft that you’re happy with.
Think about what changes you can realistically accomplish in the time you have. If you are running low on time, you don’t want to leave your text in a messy state halfway through redrafting, so make sure to prioritize the most important changes.
Editing focuses on local concerns like clarity and sentence structure. Proofreading involves reading the text closely to remove typos and ensure stylistic consistency.
Editing for grammar and clarity
When editing, you want to ensure your text is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. You’re looking out for:
- Grammatical errors.
- Ambiguous phrasings.
- Redundancy and repetition .
In your initial draft, it’s common to end up with a lot of sentences that are poorly formulated. Look critically at where your meaning could be conveyed in a more effective way or in fewer words, and watch out for common sentence structure mistakes like run-on sentences and sentence fragments:
- Austen’s style is frequently humorous, her characters are often described as “witty.” Although this is less true of Mansfield Park .
- Austen’s style is frequently humorous. Her characters are often described as “witty,” although this is less true of Mansfield Park .
To make your sentences run smoothly, you can always use a paraphrasing tool to rewrite them in a clearer way.
Proofreading for small mistakes and typos
When proofreading, first look out for typos in your text:
- Spelling errors.
- Missing words.
- Confused word choices .
- Punctuation errors .
- Missing or excess spaces.
Use a grammar checker , but be sure to do another manual check after. Read through your text line by line, watching out for problem areas highlighted by the software but also for any other issues it might have missed.
For example, in the following phrase we notice several errors:
- Mary Crawfords character is a complicate one and her relationships with Fanny and Edmund undergoes several transformations through out the novel.
- Mary Crawford’s character is a complicated one, and her relationships with both Fanny and Edmund undergo several transformations throughout the novel.
Proofreading for stylistic consistency
There are several issues in academic writing where you can choose between multiple different standards. For example:
- Whether you use the serial comma .
- Whether you use American or British spellings and punctuation (you can use a punctuation checker for this).
- Where you use numerals vs. words for numbers.
- How you capitalize your titles and headings.
Unless you’re given specific guidance on these issues, it’s your choice which standards you follow. The important thing is to consistently follow one standard for each issue. For example, don’t use a mixture of American and British spellings in your paper.
Additionally, you will probably be provided with specific guidelines for issues related to format (how your text is presented on the page) and citations (how you acknowledge your sources). Always follow these instructions carefully.
If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
- Ad hominem fallacy
- Post hoc fallacy
- Appeal to authority fallacy
- False cause fallacy
- Sunk cost fallacy
- Deep learning
- Generative AI
- Machine learning
- Reinforcement learning
- Supervised vs. unsupervised learning
- Grammar Checker
- Paraphrasing Tool
- Text Summarizer
- AI Detector
- Plagiarism Checker
- Citation Generator
Revising, proofreading, and editing are different stages of the writing process .
- Revising is making structural and logical changes to your text—reformulating arguments and reordering information.
- Editing refers to making more local changes to things like sentence structure and phrasing to make sure your meaning is conveyed clearly and concisely.
- Proofreading involves looking at the text closely, line by line, to spot any typos and issues with consistency and correct them.
Whether you’re publishing a blog, submitting a research paper , or even just writing an important email, there are a few techniques you can use to make sure it’s error-free:
- Take a break : Set your work aside for at least a few hours so that you can look at it with fresh eyes.
- Proofread a printout : Staring at a screen for too long can cause fatigue – sit down with a pen and paper to check the final version.
- Use digital shortcuts : Take note of any recurring mistakes (for example, misspelling a particular word, switching between US and UK English , or inconsistently capitalizing a term), and use Find and Replace to fix it throughout the document.
If you want to be confident that an important text is error-free, it might be worth choosing a professional proofreading service instead.
If you’ve gone over the word limit set for your assignment, shorten your sentences and cut repetition and redundancy during the editing process. If you use a lot of long quotes , consider shortening them to just the essentials.
If you need to remove a lot of words, you may have to cut certain passages. Remember that everything in the text should be there to support your argument; look for any information that’s not essential to your point and remove it.
To make this process easier and faster, you can use a paraphrasing tool . With this tool, you can rewrite your text to make it simpler and shorter. If that’s not enough, you can copy-paste your paraphrased text into the summarizer . This tool will distill your text to its core message.
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
Caulfield, J. (2023, July 23). The Writing Process | 5 Steps with Examples & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved August 28, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-writing/writing-process/
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Language and grammar rules for academic writing
Academic writing is a form of writing that is used by researchers and scholars to communicate their findings and ideas to the academic community. It is a formal and precise form of writing that requires a deep understanding of language and grammar rules. Researchers need to understand and follow these rules not only to effectively communicate their ideas to academic audiences but also to get published successfully. This article provides researchers, especially non-native English speakers, an overview of basic language and grammar rules that need to be followed in academic writing.
Careful use of punctuations
One of the most important grammar rules for writing is the use of proper punctuation. Punctuation marks such as commas, semicolons, and colons are used to indicate the structure of a sentence and to make it easier for readers to understand the meaning of the text. For example, a comma is used to separate phrases in a sentence, while a semicolon is used to separate independent clauses. Researchers should be careful to use punctuation marks correctly in order to avoid confusion or misinterpretation of their text.
Correct verb tense usage
Another basic grammar rule in academic writing is the use of proper verb tenses. Verbs are simply ‘ doing words’ and verb tenses are typically used to describe the time at which an action is taking place. In academic writing, for example, the past tense is typically used to describe research that has been conducted, while the present tense is used to describe the findings of that research. Researchers should be careful to use the appropriate verb tense in order to clearly convey their ideas and to avoid confusion.
Use simple, concise sentences
In addition to grammar rules, academic writing also requires a deep understanding of sentence structure. Sentences should be clear and concise, and should be structured in a logical and easy-to-understand way. Researchers should avoid using overly complex or convoluted sentence structures, and should instead strive to make their writing as clear and accessible as possible.
Avoid using ambiguous language
Researchers must use concrete language and avoid vague ambiguous language in academic writing. Ambiguity arises when a sentence can be interpreted in more than one way due to the lack of information provided. When writing a scientific paper, researchers must minimize the use of figurative or imaginative language and instead use language that helps convey accurate details of the work done.
Appropriate word choices
One of the basic rules for language and grammar in academic writing is using certain broader writing conventions like writing in third person, using passive voice and maintaining an objective tone. Experts suggest the use of simple, accurate, non-colloquial verbiage available to share research findings. Choosing the right words and internationally accepted terms is important in academic writing.
Ensure accuracy in citations
Academic writing requires the use of proper citations. Researchers are responsible for providing accurate citations for any sources they use in their research. This is important to avoid plagiarism and to give credit to the original authors. There are different citation styles, such as APA, MLA, and Chicago, and researchers should be familiar with the citation style required by their particular field.
Meet standard formatting specifications
Another important writing rule in academic writing is the use of proper formatting. Researchers must always check the specific journal’s style guide before starting the writing process to ensure that there are no additional style requirements or variations in preference. Academic papers should be well-organized and easy to read, with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Researchers should also use headings and sub-headings to help guide the reader through their text. Additionally, academic papers should be typed and printed in a legible font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, and should be double-spaced for easy reading.
In conclusion, proper punctuation, verb tense, sentence structure, citation, and formatting are all important aspects of academic writing that researchers should be familiar with. By understanding and following these rules, researchers can ensure that their writing is clear, concise, and easy to understand, and that their ideas are communicated effectively to the academic community.
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How to Write a Research Question: Types and Examples
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What Is a Research Paper?
- An Introduction to Punctuation
Olivia Valdes was the Associate Editorial Director for ThoughtCo. She worked with Dotdash Meredith from 2017 to 2021.
- B.A., American Studies, Yale University
A research paper is a common form of academic writing . Research papers require students and academics to locate information about a topic (that is, to conduct research ), take a stand on that topic, and provide support (or evidence) for that position in an organized report.
The term research paper may also refer to a scholarly article that contains the results of original research or an evaluation of research conducted by others. Most scholarly articles must undergo a process of peer review before they can be accepted for publication in an academic journal.
Define Your Research Question
The first step in writing a research paper is defining your research question . Has your instructor assigned a specific topic? If so, great—you've got this step covered. If not, review the guidelines of the assignment. Your instructor has likely provided several general subjects for your consideration. Your research paper should focus on a specific angle on one of these subjects. Spend some time mulling over your options before deciding which one you'd like to explore more deeply.
Try to choose a research question that interests you. The research process is time-consuming, and you'll be significantly more motivated if you have a genuine desire to learn more about the topic. You should also consider whether you have access to all of the resources necessary to conduct thorough research on your topic, such as primary and secondary sources .
Create a Research Strategy
Approach the research process systematically by creating a research strategy. First, review your library's website. What resources are available? Where will you find them? Do any resources require a special process to gain access? Start gathering those resources—especially those that may be difficult to access—as soon as possible.
Second, make an appointment with a reference librarian . A reference librarian is nothing short of a research superhero. He or she will listen to your research question, offer suggestions for how to focus your research, and direct you toward valuable sources that directly relate to your topic.
Now that you've gathered a wide array of sources, it's time to evaluate them. First, consider the reliability of the information. Where is the information coming from? What is the origin of the source? Second, assess the relevance of the information. How does this information relate to your research question? Does it support, refute, or add context to your position? How does it relate to the other sources you'll be using in your paper? Once you have determined that your sources are both reliable and relevant, you can proceed confidently to the writing phase.
Why Write Research Papers?
The research process is one of the most taxing academic tasks you'll be asked to complete. Luckily, the value of writing a research paper goes beyond that A+ you hope to receive. Here are just some of the benefits of research papers.
- Learning Scholarly Conventions: Writing a research paper is a crash course in the stylistic conventions of scholarly writing. During the research and writing process, you'll learn how to document your research, cite sources appropriately, format an academic paper, maintain an academic tone, and more.
- Organizing Information: In a way, research is nothing more than a massive organizational project. The information available to you is near-infinite, and it's your job to review that information, narrow it down, categorize it, and present it in a clear, relevant format. This process requires attention to detail and major brainpower.
- Managing Time: Research papers put your time management skills to the test. Every step of the research and writing process takes time, and it's up to you to set aside the time you'll need to complete each step of the task. Maximize your efficiency by creating a research schedule and inserting blocks of "research time" into your calendar as soon as you receive the assignment.
- Exploring Your Chosen Subject: We couldn't forget the best part of research papers—learning about something that truly excites you. No matter what topic you choose, you're bound to come away from the research process with new ideas and countless nuggets of fascinating information.
The best research papers are the result of genuine interest and a thorough research process. With these ideas in mind, go forth and research. Welcome to the scholarly conversation!
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- Finding Trustworthy Sources
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How to Write a Research Paper – A Complete Guide
You must have heard about Research Paper , right? But do you ever think about to write one? If yes, then you must come across various questions like, “What are the approaches for writing a Research Paper” or “What is the format of a Research Paper?” or many more. No worries!! In this article we will guide you about all the aspects of writing a Research Paper.
Firstly, let us understand what exactly a research paper is. A research paper is a piece of document written by students, professionals or others on a particular topic with a deep and genuine research study. However, writing a research paper is not a kind of task that has to be done in a few days. It takes a lot of research work and study. But you must note that the skills that you develop while writing a research paper will be very helpful to you in achieving your career goals. The approaches for Writing an Effective Research paper are listed below:
1. Choose the Topic
The first step while writing a research paper is to decide the topic. You can pen down various topics and can choose one of them as per your relevancy. While looking for a topic, you can ask several questions to yourself as – “Am I comfortable with this domain?” or “Will I be able to do deep research study of this topic?” or “What innovative stuff I can provide in this particular field?” , etc. And if you find a positive response from your side, go for that topic. Also, discuss the topic with your mentors and guides to know the worthiness of the topic.
2. Narrowing the Topic
After choosing the topic, you must check whether it is quite specific or general. If the topic is very broad, then you have to explore more to narrow down the topic as the research paper should be more topic-specific rather than being generic. You can consult with your mentor and guide regarding this.
3. Gather the Information
Here the most important part comes! You must have to dive into the world of research study. In today’s era, the Internet is the best source to get any information. Although, all the information provided on the Internet is not reliable so you have to explore more and more from various sources. It must be remembered that the research strategy should be in specific directions and meet the required objectives. There are various other sources from where you can get the relevant information as you can discuss it with your mentors, study the journals, etc.
4. Filtration and Drafting of Information
Once you have done with the information gathering process, now you have a lot of information about the topic. So what you have to do is deeply analyze the information and filter it down. You have to avoid all the unnecessary stuff for a genuine research paper. After filtration, there is a need to draft all the information in a structured way for final writing (it can be formal or informal) . In the drafting process, all the aspects are covered like information accuracy, no spelling error, no unnecessary information, etc. Also, proofread it once to check the relevancy of the content with the topic.
Now, you have to write all this gathered information in the Research Paper Outline which consists of:
Apart from the Research Paper, for any type of content, the title is the primary thing that grabs the attention of the readers. In numerous instances, the readers decide whether to read your article or not just by looking at the title. The title of the research paper should be very catchy and expressive. It must signify the main objective of the research paper in just a few words. A research paper generally has a title length of around 15-20 words. Also, try to avoid unnecessary phrases from the title such as ‘Research based on…’ or ‘Paper for…’ , etc.
The abstract is like a summary of your research paper. It helps the reader to understand what the research paper is all about by briefly explaining the key findings documented in the research paper. The word length of it should be around 200-250 words.
The ‘Introduction’ section must have adequate information about the topic which thoroughly depicts the purpose of your study. The topic should be clearly explained and the reason for the study of that particular topic can be described in this section. Also, try to explain the points that why your research paper is worth to study for your readers. Keep an eye on spelling and grammar mistakes and maintain the simplicity and accuracy of sentences and phrases.
4. Procedures and Methods
This section is the core of the Research Paper as your actual study work, research findings, methodologies, approaches and all are stated here. Be specific about your topic and try to avoid unnecessary information. You can use tables, flowcharts, pie charts, etc. for showing the statistics.
The ‘Result’ section consists of all the outcomes of your research. Here, all the outcomes of the research procedure are stated and noted down for further process. Analyze and filter the data obtained after performing research procedures and make it presentable in the form of tables, graphs or charts. The word length of this section can be varied as per the rest of the sections.
The ‘Conclusion’ section leads back to the introduction section as whatever you stated there, now you have to describe it evidently that how you achieved it. It will be based on the outcomes of the research study and methodologies (which you have already mentioned in the ‘Result’ section) . It is a summarization of the outcomes of your research work.
The ‘Recommendation’ section is not mandatory and it is created as per the requirement and relevancy with your research paper. But keep in mind that whatever you mention in this section, it must be logical and based on your research analysis. You just can’t throw random things, that you think might be useful, in this section.
In context of Research Paper , it will be beneficial to understand the scenario of ‘Scholarly Articles’ . Scholarly Articles refers to those journal articles which are written by scholars or someone who is an expert in a particular field. If you are looking for a research document for a specific topic, these articles prove to be very helpful and much more relevant. You can find these articles on Google Scholar .
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Research on Grammar
The late Robert J. Connors once called it "the various bodies of knowledge and prejudice called 'grammar.'" For more on the knowledge part, see below:
Connors, robert j. "grammar in american college composition: an historical overview." the territory of language: linguistics, stylistics, and the teaching of composition. ed. donald a.mcquade. carbondale: southern illinois up, 1986. 3-22..
Robert J. Connors, who co-authored Andrea Lunsford's early research on the frequency of error, also studied the history of English grammar instruction in the United States. When did American schools switch from teaching Latin grammar to teaching English grammar? Who invented and popularized sentence-diagramming? How did the rise of structural linguistics in the 1950s affect ideas about grammar? In his inimitable style, Connors treated these questions and more.
Connors, Robert J., and Andrea A. Lunsford. "Frequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing, or Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research." College Composition and Communication 39.4 (Dec. 1988): 395-409.
Hartwell, patrick. "grammar, grammars, and the teaching of grammar." college english 47.2 (1985): 105-127..
In this classic essay, Patrick Hartwell offers five definitions of grammar that elucidate the many ways the term gets used: from an internalized set of linguistic rules to a meta-awareness and stylistic choice. His varied definitions suggest the co-existence of multiple literacies that undermine an approach to teaching grammar focused exclusively on correctness.
Lunsford, Andrea A. and Karen J. Lunsford. "'Mistakes Are a Fact of Life': A National Comparative Study." College Composition and Communication 59.4 (Jun. 2008): 781-806.
Stanford's own Andrea Lunsford, Louise Hewett Nixon Professor of English, is a leader in the study of error in writing. Her long-term quantitative research has revealed shifting patterns of error as technologies and rhetorical situations change. Among Professor Lunsford's findings ( summarized in Top 20 form here ):
- Student papers today are longer and more complex than they were 20 years ago, yet there has been no significant increase in the overall rate of error.
- Although word-processing tools have advanced substantially, they are responsible for the most common error in student writing today: using the wrong word, spelled correctly.
Micciche, Laura. "Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar." College Composition and Communication 55.4 (Jun. 2004): 716-737.
What do you think of when you think of the word "grammar"? Laura Micciche argues most people think of formal grammar: "Usually, our minds go to those unending rules and exceptions, those repetitive drills and worksheets..." (720). This formal grammar is "the deadly kind of grammar," the one that makes us anxious. Drawing on Martha Kolln's idea of "rhetorical grammar," Micciche argues that grammar doesn't have to be deadly: it can give a writer more powerful choices, and thus make writing and communicating more satisfying and more pleasurable.
Williams, Joseph M. "The Phenomenology of Error." College Composition and Communication 32.2 (May 1981): 152-168.
Why do some grammatical errors seem to cause so much venom and rage? Why is a misuse of the word "hopefully" considered an "atrocity"? Joseph M. Williams examined this question in this still-relevant 1981 article. Williams is also the author of Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Longman).
Research Paper Guide
Research Paper Example
Research Paper Example - APA and MLA Format
12 min read
Published on: Nov 27, 2017
Last updated on: May 26, 2023
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Do you spend time staring at the screen and thinking about how to approach a monstrous research paper ?
If yes, you are not alone.
Research papers are no less than a curse for high school and college students.
It takes time, effort, and expertise to craft a striking research paper.
Every other person craves to master the magic of producing impressive research papers.
Continue with the guide to investigate the mysterious nature of different types of research through examples.
Research Paper Example for Different Formats
An academic paper doesn't have to be boring. You can use an anecdote, a provocative question, or a quote to begin the introduction.
Learning from introductions written in professional college papers is the best strategy.
Have a look at the expertise of the writer in the following example.
Social Media and Social Media Marketing: A Literature Review
APA Research Paper Example
While writing research papers, you must pay attention to the required format.
Follow the example when the instructor mentions the APA format .
Effects of Food Deprivation of Concentration and Preserverance
Research Paper Example APA 7th Edition
Research Paper Example MLA
Once you are done with APA format, let’s practice the art of writing quality MLA papers.
Found Voices: Carl Sagan
We have provided you with a top-notch research paper example in MLA format here.
Research Paper Example Chicago
Chicago style is not very common, but it is important to learn. Few institutions require this style for research papers, but it is essential to learn. The content and citations in the research paper are formatted like this example.
Chicago Research Paper Sample
Research Paper Example Harvard
To learn how a research paper is written using the Harvard citation style , carefully examine this example. Note the structure of the cover page and other pages.
Harvard Research Paper Sample
Examples for Different Research Paper Parts
A research paper has different parts. Each part is important for the overall success of the paper. Chapters in a research paper must be written correctly, using a certain format and structure.
The following are examples of how different sections of the research paper can be written.
Example of Research Proposal
What is the first step to starting a research paper?
Submitting the research proposal!
It involves several sections that take a toll on beginners.
Here is a detailed guide to help you write a research proposal .
Are you a beginner or do you lack experience? Don’t worry.
The following example of a research paper is the perfect place to get started.
View Research Proposal Example Here
Research Paper Example Abstract
After submitting the research proposal, prepare to write a seasoned abstract section.
The abstract delivers the bigger picture by revealing the purpose of the research.
A common mistake students make is writing it the same way a summary is written.
It is not merely a summary but an analysis of the whole research project. Still confused?
Read the abstract mentioned in the following research to get a better idea.
Affirmative Action: What Do We Know? - Abstract Example
Literature Review Research Paper Example
What if a novice person reads your research paper?
He will never understand the critical elements involved in the research paper.
To enlighten him, focus on the literature review section. This section offers an extensive analysis of the past research conducted on the paper topics.
It is relatively easier than other sections of the paper.
Take a closer look at the paper below to find out.
Methods Section of Research Paper Example
While writing research papers, excellent papers focus a great deal on the methodology.
Yes, the research sample and methodology define the fate of the papers.
Are you facing trouble going through the methodology section?
Relax and let comprehensive sample research papers clear your doubts.
View Methods Section of Research Paper Here
Research Paper Conclusion Example
The conclusion leaves the last impression on the reader.
“Who cares for the last impression? It’s always the first.”
Don’t be fooled!
The conclusion sets the tone of the whole research paper properly.
A key list of elements must be present in conclusion to make it crisp and remarkable.
The Conclusion: Your Paper's Final Impression
View the sample paper and identify the points you thought were never a part of the conclusion.
Get Quick AI Research Help!
Research Paper Examples for Different Fields
Research papers can be about any subject that needs a detailed study. The following examples show how research papers are written for different subjects.
History Research Paper Sample
Many Faces of Generalisimo Fransisco Franco
Sociology Research Paper Sample
A Descriptive Statistical Analysis within the State of Virginia
Science Fair Research Paper Sample
What Do I Need To Do For The Science Fair?
Psychology Research Paper Sample
The Effects of Food Deprivation on Concentration and Preserverance
Art History Research Paper Sample
European Art History: A Primer
Scientific Research Paper Example
We have discussed several elements of research papers through examples.
Introduction in Research Paper!
Read on to move towards advanced versions of information.
Scientific research paper
Let's have a look at the template and an example to elaborate on concepts.
- Related Work
- Research Methodology
- Results and Discussion
- Conclusion & Future Work
The name itself sounds terrifying to many students. Make no mistake; it sure is dangerous when touched without practice.
Students become afraid and hence aspire to locate an outstanding essay paper writer to get their papers done.
Detailed, high-quality, and credible sources and samples are a must to be shared here.
Science Fair Paper Format
Example of Methodology in Research Paper
The words methodology, procedure, and approach are the same. They indicate the approach pursued by the researcher while conducting research to accomplish the goal through research.
The methodology is the bloodline of the research paper.
A practical or assumed procedure is used to conduct the methodology.
The Effects of Immediate Feedback Devices in High School Chemistry Classes
See the way the researcher has shared participants and limits in the methodology section of the example.
Research Paper Example for Different Levels
The process of writing a research paper is based on a set of steps. The process will seem daunting if you are unaware of the basic steps. Start writing your research paper by taking the following steps:
- Choose a Topic
- Create a thesis statement
- Do in-depth research for the research study
- Create an outline
You will find writing a research paper much easier once you have a plan.
No matter which level you are writing at, your research paper needs to be well structured.
Research Paper Example Outline
Before you plan on writing a well-researched paper, make a rough draft.
Brainstorm again and again!
Pour all of your ideas into the basket of the outline.
What will it include?
A standard is not set but follow the research paper outline example below:
View Research Paper Outline Example Here
This example outlines the following elements:
- Thesis Statement
Utilize this standard of outline in your research papers to polish your paper. Here is a step-by-step guide that will help you write a research paper according to this format.
Good Research Paper Examples for Students
Theoretically, good research paper examples will meet the objectives of the research.
Always remember! The first goal of the research paper is to explain ideas, goals, and theory as clearly as water.
Yes, leave no room for confusion of any sort.
Fiscal Research Center - Action Plan
Qualitative Research Paper Example
Research Paper Example Introduction
How to Write a Research Paper Example?
Research Paper Example for High School
When the professor reads such a professional research paper, he will be delighted.
Grant of funds for the project!
Appreciation in Class!
You'll surely be highly rewarded.
Research Paper Conclusion
“Who cares for the last impression? It's always the first.”
Don't be fooled!
A key list of elements must be present in the conclusion to make it crisp and remarkable.
Critical Research Paper
To write a research paper remarkably, include the following ingredients in it:
- Justification of the Experimental Design
- Analysis of Results
- Validation of the Study
How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper
Theoretical Framework Examples
The theoretical framework is the key to establish credibility in research papers.
Read the purpose of the theoretical framework before following it in the research paper.
The researcher offers a guide through a theoretical framework.
- Philosophical view
- Conceptual Analysis
- Benefits of the Research
An in-depth analysis of theoretical framework examples research paper is underlined in the sample below.
View Theoretical Framework Example Here
Now that you have explored the research paper examples, you can start working on your research project.
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- Writing Tips
How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Research Paper
- 6-minute read
- 29th July 2023
After writing a research paper, you will want others to find your research online. But how? Through social media? By telling your friends? You could. The only thing is that scholars and researchers typically find research through academic databases and search engines. To get your research noticed, you need to include keywords in your paper. But why do keywords matter? How can you choose the right keywords?
We’ll answer these questions in this post. You’ll learn how to choose the best keywords for a research paper . Additionally, you’ll learn:
- The importance of keywords.
- Strategies for choosing quality keywords.
- Where to include keywords in a paper.
While keywords may seem insignificant, failing to include them is a mistake when writing research papers . Quality keywords accurately represent the content of your research, allowing scholars in your field to find it in an online search quickly.
Why Are Keywords Important?
Keywords make it easy for others to find your research in search engines and academic databases. Finding relevant research papers can be arduous, so readers circumvent this by using specific phrases and terms to find research that aligns with their interests. Therefore, you need to include keywords to match those phrases and terms. Without quality keywords, your research will end up in the academic abyss.
In short, keywords:
● Produce precise search results.
● Save researchers time and effort as they search for material.
● Enhance discoverability (i.e., help others find your research fast).
● Ensure that your paper is properly categorized in databases.
As a rule, you should choose five keywords maximum for research papers.
Strategies for Choosing Robust Keywords
1. avoid long phrases and ambiguity.
For keywords in research papers, most journals request phrases that are one to four words in length, meaning no complete sentences. Try using nouns whenever possible, and avoid using conjunctions such as and . It’s also worth mentioning that you should avoid using terms that are in your paper’s title.
Use distinct keywords that are directly related to your research. Generic terms don’t reflect specific terms that potential readers use during their search.
2. Consider Your Audience
Who is your targeted audience? Educators? Engineers? Consider potential terms or phrases your audience would use to search for your research, then modify chosen keywords to match your audience’s terminology. Understanding your audience is vital for creating quality keywords.
3. Identify Core Concepts
What are the core concepts, topics, and themes of your research? These are the main ideas that the paper addresses, which can be found in the abstract section. Make a list of these items.
Let’s say your paper is about cyberbullying in high schools. Examples of core concepts/terms related to the research include:
● Digital harassment
● Anonymity (the state of being nameless)
● Impact on student mental health
● Prevention and education
Core concepts, topics, and themes can be a few words or phrases. Once you’ve identified them, consider how to turn them into specific keywords.
4. Consult Similar Research
Consulting research papers on your topic is a great way to find keywords. As you research them, examine the keywords they use to describe their content. This can provide insight into commonly accepted terms and terminology within your field. We suggest researching at least three related papers.
5. Use Synonyms and Variations
Readers interested in your field will use different terminology in their online search. Therefore, you need to use synonyms and variations of your chosen keywords. Synonyms are words that have the same meaning as another word.
To illustrate this, let’s take the previous example of the paper about cyberbullying in high schools. You could use the following keywords for this research:
● Cyberbullying awareness
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● Online safety
● Cyberbullying education
● Student online behavior
What synonyms could you use for these keywords? Let’s try this:
● Cyberbullying perception
● Virtual security
● Online harassment education
● Student online conduct
You can play around with synonyms until you find ones that resonate with you. Using an online thesaurus, such as Word Hippo , can make finding synonyms a breeze.
6. Include Acronyms and Abbreviations
Does your paper contain commonly used acronyms and abbreviations , such as DNA and AI? If so, consider including them as keywords, as readers often use acronyms and abbreviations to find relevant research. This will significantly increase the chances of readers finding your work.
However, we don’t recommend using acronyms or abbreviations that are only known within your field. A general audience will likely be unfamiliar with them. We suggest spelling them out in full if you think they would be strong keywords. You should also spell the definition as a keyword if the abbreviation or acronym appears in the paper’s title.
7. Test Your Keywords for Optimal Results
Once you’ve compiled your best keywords, test them in search engines and academic databases to see if they produce the right results. Think of it as testing a tent in your backyard before going out into the woods for an overnight camping trip. If there are problems with the tent during the backyard test, you can at least retreat into your house. Likewise, if the chosen keywords don’t generate positive results in a test, you can refine them before submitting the paper.
Where Are Keywords Included in a Paper?
Some sources insist that you include keywords in the title, while others say subheadings are better. Most academic journals require paying a subscription to access full articles. However, one can easily access a paper’s abstract in academic search engines like Google Scholar.
Therefore, we recommend including keywords in the abstract section. Additionally, it provides an overall summary of your paper, making it the ideal spot for keywords.
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned:
● Keywords help readers find your research in search engines.
● Aim for five keywords.
● Keywords should be one to four words in length.
● Identify a potential audience before selecting keywords.
● Consult similar research for samples of appropriate keywords.
● Use word variations (synonyms).
● Include abbreviations and acronyms.
● Test keywords before submitting the paper.
Finally, for our visual readers, we recommend this video on choosing the best keywords for a paper.
As with any writing, we strongly recommend proofreading your research paper before submission. It needs to be checked for common errors such as typos and extra spacing. We understand the challenges of proofreading, which is why we recommend asking us to proofread and review your writing . We can check that the paper is clear and concise. Additionally, we will ensure perfect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Consider submitting a 500-word document for free!
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- Artificial Intelligence
- Wired Insider
Use of AI Is Seeping Into Academic Journals—and It’s Proving Difficult to Detect
In its August edition, Resources Policy , an academic journal under the Elsevier publishing umbrella, featured a peer-reviewed study about how ecommerce has affected fossil fuel efficiency in developing nations. But buried in the report was a curious sentence: “Please note that as an AI language model, I am unable to generate specific tables or conduct tests, so the actual results should be included in the table.”
The study’s three listed authors had names and university or institutional affiliations—they did not appear to be AI language models. But for anyone who has played around in ChatGPT, that phrase may sound familiar: The generative AI chatbot often prefaces its statements with this caveat, noting its weaknesses in delivering some information. After a screenshot of the sentence was posted to X, formerly Twitter, by another researcher, Elsevier began investigating . The publisher is looking into the use of AI in this article and “any other possible instances,” Andrew Davis, vice president of global communications at Elsevier, told WIRED in a statement.
Elsevier’s AI policies do not block the use of AI tools to help with writing, but they do require disclosure. The publishing company uses its own in-house AI tools to check for plagiarism and completeness, but it does not allow editors to use outside AI tools to review papers.
The authors of the study did not respond to emailed requests for comment from WIRED, but Davis says Elsevier has been in contact with them, and that the researchers are cooperating. “The author intended to use AI to improve the quality of the language (which is within our policy), and they accidentally left in those comments—which they intend to clarify,” Davis says. The publisher declined to provide more information on how it would remedy the Resources Policy situation, citing the ongoing nature of the inquiry.
The rapid rise of generative AI has stoked anxieties across disciplines. High school teachers and college professors are worried about the potential for cheating . News organizations have been caught with shoddy articles penned by AI. And now, peer-reviewed academic journals are grappling with submissions in which the authors may have used generative AI to write outlines, drafts, or even entire papers, but failed to make the AI use clear.
Journals are taking a patchwork approach to the problem. The JAMA Network, which includes titles published by the American Medical Association, prohibits listing artificial intelligence generators as authors and requires disclosure of their use. The family of journals produced by Science does not allow text, figures, images, or data generated by AI to be used without editors’ permission. PLOS ONE requires anyone who uses AI to detail what tool they used, how they used it, and ways they evaluated the validity of the generated information. Nature has banned images and videos that are generated by AI, and it requires the use of language models to be disclosed. Many journals’ policies make authors responsible for the validity of any information generated by AI.
Experts say there’s a balance to strike in the academic world when using generative AI—it could make the writing process more efficient and help researchers more clearly convey their findings. But the tech—when used in many kinds of writing—has also dropped fake references into its responses, made things up , and reiterated sexist and racist content from the internet, all of which would be problematic if included in published scientific writing.
If researchers use these generated responses in their work without strict vetting or disclosure, they raise major credibility issues. Not disclosing use of AI would mean authors are passing off generative AI content as their own, which could be considered plagiarism. They could also potentially be spreading AI’s hallucinations, or its uncanny ability to make things up and state them as fact.
It’s a big issue, David Resnik, a bioethicist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says of AI use in scientific and academic work. Still, he says, generative AI is not all bad—it could help researchers whose native language is not English write better papers. “AI could help these authors improve the quality of their writing and their chances of having their papers accepted,” Resnik says. But those who use AI should disclose it, he adds.
For now, it's impossible to know how extensively AI is being used in academic publishing, because there’s no foolproof way to check for AI use, as there is for plagiarism. The Resources Policy paper caught a researcher’s attention because the authors seem to have accidentally left behind a clue to a large language model’s possible involvement. “Those are really the tips of the iceberg sticking out,” says Elisabeth Bik, a science integrity consultant who runs the blog Science Integrity Digest . “I think this is a sign that it's happening on a very large scale.”
In 2021, Guillaume Cabanac, a professor of computer science at the University of Toulouse in France, found odd phrases in academic articles, like “counterfeit consciousness” instead of “artificial intelligence.” He and a team coined the idea of looking for “ tortured phrases ,” or word soup in place of straightforward terms, as indicators that a document likely comes from text generators. He’s also on the lookout for generative AI in journals, and is the one who flagged the Resources Policy study on X.
Cabanac investigates studies that may be problematic, and he has been flagging potentially undisclosed AI use. To protect scientific integrity as the tech develops, scientists must educate themselves, he says. “We, as scientists, must act by training ourselves, by knowing about the frauds,” Cabanac says. “It’s a whack-a-mole game. There are new ways to deceive."
Tech advances since have made these language models even more convincing—and more appealing as a writing partner. In July, two researchers used ChatGPT to write an entire research paper in an hour to test the chatbot’s abilities to compete in the scientific publishing world. It wasn’t perfect, but prompting the chatbot did pull together a paper with solid analysis.
That was a study to evaluate ChatGPT, but it shows how the tech could be used by paper mills—companies that churn out scientific papers on demand—to create more questionable content. Paper mills are used by researchers and institutions that may feel pressure to publish research but who don’t want to spend the time and resources to conduct their own original work. With AI, this process could become even easier. AI-written papers could also draw attention away from good work by diluting the pool of scientific literature.
And the issues could reach beyond text generators—Bik says she also worries about AI-generated images, which could be manipulated to create fraudulent research . It can be difficult to prove such images are not real.
Some researchers want to crack down on undisclosed AI writing, to screen for it just as journals might screen for plagiarism. In June, Heather Desaire, a professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, was an author on a study demonstrating a tool that can differentiate with 99 percent accuracy between science writing produced by a human and entries produced by ChatGPT. Desaire says the team sought to build a highly accurate tool, “and the best way to do that is to focus on a narrow type of writing.” Other AI writing detection tools billed as “one-size fits all” are usually less accurate .
The study found that ChatGPT typically produces less complex content than humans, is more general in its references (using terms like others , instead of specifically naming groups), and uses fewer types of punctuation. Human writers were more likely to use words like however , although, and but . But the study only looked at a small data set of Perspectives articles published in Science . Desaire says more work is needed to expand the tool’s capabilities in detecting AI-writing across different journals. The team is “thinking more about how scientists—if they wanted to use it—would actually use it,” Desaire says, “and verifying that we can still detect the difference in those cases.”
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