Show Me What A Research Paper Should Look Like

  • 1

    Annotate your research. Once you’ve gathered all your research, print it out (if it is an online source) and gather post-its or anything you need to mark notes in the books/magazines you are using. This step is very important: read through your research, take notes on what you think is important, and highlight key facts and phrases. Write directly on copies you’ve made, or use slips of paper tucked into pages to mark places of importance.[3]
    • Do a thorough job annotating to make your outlining and paper-writing easier in the end. Make marks on anything that you think might be remotely important or that could be put to use in your paper.
    • As you mark off important pieces in the research, add your own commentary and notes explaining to yourself where you might use it in your paper. Writing down your ideas as you have them will make writing your paper much easier and give you something to refer back to.
  • 2

    Organize your notes. Annotating your research can take quite a bit of time, but needs to be taken one step further in order to add a bit more clarity for the outlining process. Organize your notes by collecting all of your highlighted phrases and ideas into categories based on topic. For example, if you are writing a paper analyzing a famous work of literature, you could organize your research into a list of notes on the characters, a list of references to certain points in the plot, a list of symbols the author presents, et cetera.
    • Try writing each quote or item that you marked onto an individual note card. That way, you can rearrange and lay out your cards however you would like.
    • Color code your notes to make it easier. Write down a list of all the notes you are using from each individual resource, and then highlight each category of information in a different color. For example, write everything from a particular book or journal on a single sheet of paper in order to consolidate the notes, and then everything that is related to characters highlight in green, everything related to the plot mark in orange, et cetera.
  • 3

    Construct a preliminary bibliography/references page. As you go through your notes, mark down the author, page number, title, and publishing information for each resource. This will come in handy when you craft your bibliography or works cited page later in the game.

  • 4

    Identify the goal of the paper. Generally, speaking, there are two types of research paper: an argumentative research paper or an analytic research paper. Each requires a slightly different focus and writing style which should be identified prior to starting a rough draft.
    • An argumentative research paper takes a position on a contentious issue and argues for one point of view. The issue should be debatable with a logical counter argument.
    • An analytic research paper offers a fresh look at an important issue. The subject may not be controversial, but you must attempt to persuade your audience that your ideas have merit. This is not simply a regurgitation of ideas from your research, but an offering of your own unique ideas based on what you have learned through research.
  • 5

    Determine your audience. Who would be reading this paper, should it be published? Although you want to write for your professor or other superior, it is important that the tone and focus of your paper reflect the audience who will be reading it. If you’re writing for academic peers, then the information you include should reflect the information you already know; you don’t need to explain basic ideas or theories. On the other hand, if you are writing for an audience who doesn’t know much about your subject, it will be important to include explanations and examples of more fundamental ideas and theories related to your research.[4]

  • 6

    Develop your thesis. The thesis statement is a 1-2 sentence statement at the beginning of your paper that states the main goal or argument of your paper. Although you can alter the wording of your thesis statement for the final draft later, coming up with the main goal of your essay must be done in the beginning. All of your body paragraphs and information will revolve around your thesis, so make sure that you are clear on what your thesis is.[5]
    • An easy way to develop your thesis is to make it into a question that your essay will answer. What is the primary question or hypothesis that you are going to go about proving in your paper? For example, your thesis question might be “how does cultural acceptance change the success of treatment for mental illness?” This can then determine what your thesis is - whatever your answer to the question is, is your thesis statement.
    • Your thesis should express the main idea of your paper without listing all of your reasons or outline your entire paper. It should be a simple statement, rather than a list of support; that’s what the rest of your paper is for!
  • 7

    Determine your main points. The body of your essay will revolve around the ideas that you judge to be most important. Go through your research and annotations to determine what points are the most pivotal in your argument or presentation of information. What ideas can you write whole paragraphs about? Which ideas to you have plenty of firm facts and research to back with evidence? Write your main points down on paper, and then organize the related research under each.
    • When you outline your main ideas, putting them in a specific order is important. Place your strongest points at the beginning and end of your essay, with more mediocre points placed in the middle or near the end of your essay.
    • A single main point doesn’t have to be kept to a single paragraph, especially if you are writing a relatively long research paper. Main ideas can be spread out over as many paragraphs as you deem necessary.
  • 8

    Consider formatting guidelines. Depending on your paper rubric, class guidelines, or formatting guidelines, you may have to organize your paper in a specific way. For example, when writing in APA format you must organize your paper by headings including the introduction, methods, results, and discussion. These guidelines will alter the way you craft your outline and final paper.[6]

  • 9

    Finalize your outline. With the aforementioned tips taken into consideration, organize your entire outline. Justify main points to the left, and indent subsections and notes from your research below each. The outline should be an overview of your entire paper in bullet points. Make sure to include in-text citations at the end of each point, so that you don’t have to constantly refer back to your research when writing your final paper.

  • Key Info

    • As you do your research, follow your background research plan and take notes from your sources of information. These notes will help you write a better summary.

    • The purpose of your research paper is to give you the information to understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. The research paper should include:

      • The history of similar experiments or inventions
      • Definitions of all important words and concepts that describe your experiment
      • Answers to all your background research plan questions
      • Mathematical formulas, if any, that you will need to describe the results of your experiment

    • For every fact or picture in your research paper you should follow it with a citation telling the reader where you found the information. A citation is just the name of the author and the date of the publication placed in parentheses like this: (Author, date). This is called a reference citation when using APA format and parenthetical reference when using the MLA format. Its purpose is to document a source briefly, clearly, and accurately.

    • If you copy text from one of your sources, then place it in quotation marks in addition to following it with a citation. Be sure you understand and avoid plagiarism! Do not copy another person's work and call it your own. Always give credit where credit is due!

    • Most teachers want a research paper to have these sections, in order:

      • Title page (with the title of your project, your name, and the date)
      • Your report
      • Bibliography
      • Check with your teacher for additional requirements such as page numbers and a table of contents

    Overview

    Year after year, students find that the report called the research paper is the part of the science fair project where they learn the most. So, take it from those who preceded you, the research paper you are preparing to write is super valuable.

    What Is a Research Paper?

    The short answer is that the research paper is a report summarizing the answers to the research questions you generated in your background research plan. It's a review of the relevant publications (books, magazines, websites) discussing the topic you want to investigate.

    The long answer is that the research paper summarizes the theory behind your experiment. Science fair judges like to see that you understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. You do library and Internet research so that you can make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment, and then whether that prediction is right or wrong, you will have the knowledge to understand what caused the behavior you observed.

    From a practical perspective, the research paper also discusses the techniques and equipment that are appropriate for investigating your topic. Some methods and techniques are more reliable because they have been used many times. Can you use a procedure for your science fair project that is similar to an experiment that has been done before? If you can obtain this information, your project will be more successful. As they say, you don't want to reinvent the wheel!

    If these reasons sound to you like the reasons we gave for doing background research, you're right! The research paper is simply the "write-up" of that research.

    Special Information to Include in Your Research Paper

    Many science experiments can be explained using mathematics. As you write your research paper, you'll want to make sure that you include as much relevant math as you understand. If a simple equation describes aspects of your science fair project, include it.

    Writing the Research Paper

    Note Taking

    As you read the information in your bibliography, you'll want to take notes. Some teachers recommend taking notes on note cards. Each card contains the source at the top, with key points listed or quoted underneath. Others prefer typing notes directly into a word processor. No matter how you take notes, be sure to keep track of the sources for all your key facts.

    How to Organize Your Research Paper

    The best way to speed your writing is to do a little planning. Before starting to write, think about the best order to discuss the major sections of your report. Generally, you will want to begin with your science fair project question so that the reader will know the purpose of your paper. What should come next? Ask yourself what information the reader needs to learn first in order to understand the rest of the paper. A typical organization might look like this:

    • Your science fair project question or topic
    • Definitions of all important words, concepts, and equations that describe your experiment
    • The history of similar experiments
    • Answers to your background research questions

    When and How to Footnote or Reference Sources

    When you write your research paper you might want to copy words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas from one of your sources. It is OK to copy such information as long as you reference it with a citation. If the information is a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, then you should also put it in quotation marks. A citation and quotation marks tell the reader who actually wrote the information.

    For a science fair project, a reference citation (also known as author-date citation) is an accepted way to reference information you copy. Citation referencing is easy. Simply put the author's last name, the year of publication, and page number (if needed) in parentheses after the information you copy. Place the reference citation at the end of the sentence but before the final period.

    Make sure that the source for every citation item copied appears in your bibliography.

    Reference Citation Format

    Type of Citation Parenthetical Reference
    MLA Format (Author - page)
    Reference Citation
    APA Format (Author - date)*
    Work by a single author(Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002)
    Direct quote of work by single author (Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37)
    Work by two authors (Bloggs and Smith 37) (Bloggs & Smith, 2002)
    Work by three to five authors
    (first time)
    (Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, and Harlow 183-185) (Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, & Harlow, 1993)
    Work by three to five authors
    (subsequent times)
    (Kernis et al., 1993)
    Work by six or more author (Harris et al. 99) (Harris et al., 2001)
    Two or more works by the same author in the same year (use lower-case letters to order the entries in bibliography) (Berndt, 1981a)
    (Berndt, 1981b)
    Two or more works by the same author (Berndt, Shortened First Book Title 221) then
    (Berndt, Shortened 2nd Book Title 68)
    Two or more works in the same parentheses (Berndt 221; Harlow 99) (Berndt, 2002; Harlow, 1983)
    Authors with same last name (E. Johnson 99) (E. Johnson, 2001; L. Johnson, 1998)
    Work does not have an author, cite the source by its title (Book Title 44) or
    (Shortened Book Title 44)
    (Book Title, 2005) or
    ("Article Title", 2004)
    Work has unknown author and date ("Article Title", n.d.)
    * APA Note: If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and the page number for the reference (preceded by "p.").

    Examples of Reference Citations using APA Format

    Below are examples of how reference citations would look in your paper using the APA format.

    "If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by a single author, the reference will look like this. A comma separates the page number (or numbers) from the year" (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37).

    "If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by more than one author, the reference will look like this" (Bloggs & Smith, 2002, p. 37).

    "Sometimes the author will have two publications in your bibliography for just one year. In that case, the first publication would have an 'a' after the publication year, the second a 'b', and so on. The reference will look like this" (Nguyen, 2000b).

    "When the author is unknown, the text reference for such an entry may substitute the title, or a shortened version of the title for the author" (The Chicago Manual, 1993).

    "For reference citations, only direct quotes need page numbers" (Han, 1995).

    "Some sources will not have dates" (Blecker, n.d.).

    Credit Where Credit Is Due!

    When you work hard to write something, you don't want your friends to loaf and just copy it. Every author feels the same way.

    Plagiarism is when someone copies the words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas of someone else and presents them as his or her own. When you find information in a book, on the Internet, or from some other source, you MUST give the author of that information credit in a citation. If you copy a sentence or paragraph exactly, you should also use quotation marks around the text.

    The surprising thing to many students is how easy it is for parents, teachers, and science fair judges to detect and prove plagiarism. So, don't go there, and don't make us try to hunt you down!

    Research Paper Checklist

    What Makes a Good Research Paper?For a Good Research Paper, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
    Have you defined all important terms?Yes / No
    Have you clearly answered all your research questions?Yes / No
    Does your background research enable you to make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment? Will you have the knowledge to understand what causes the behavior you observe?Yes / No
    Have you included all the relevant math that you understand?Yes / No
    Have you referenced all information copied from another source and put any phrases, sentences, or paragraphs you copied in quotation marks?Yes / No
    If you are doing an engineering or programming project, have you defined your target user and answered questions about user needs, products that meet similar needs, design criteria, and important design tradeoffs?Yes / No

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