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How to format a research paper
7 February 2023
Writing a research paper can be daunting if you’re not experienced with the process. Getting the proper format is one of the most challenging aspects of the task. Reviewers will immediately dismiss a paper that doesn't comply with standard formatting, regardless of the valuable content it contains.
In this article, we'll delve into the essential characteristics of a research paper, including the proper formatting.
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- What is a research paper?
A research paper is a document that provides a thorough analysis of a topic , usually for an academic institution or professional organization. A research paper may be of any length, but they are typically 2,000–10,000 words.
Unlike less formal papers, such as articles or essays, empirical evidence and data are key to research papers. In addition to students handing in papers, scientists, attorneys, medical researchers, and independent scholars may need to produce research papers.
People typically write research papers to prove a particular point or make an argument. This could support or disprove a theoretical point, legal case, scientific theory, or an existing piece of research on any topic.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of research papers is that they contain citations to prior research. Citing sources using the correct format is essential for creating a legitimate research paper.
- Top considerations for writing a research paper
To write a research paper, you must consider several factors. Fields such as the sciences, humanities, and technical professions have certain criteria for writing research papers.
You’ll write a research paper using one of several types of formatting. These include APA, MLA, and CMOS styles, which we’ll cover in detail to guide you on citations and other formatting rules.
Specific requirements of the assignment
If the paper is for a college, university, or any specific organization, they’ll give you certain requirements, such as the range of topics, length, and formatting requirements.
You should study the specifics of the assignment carefully, as these will override more general guidelines you may find elsewhere. If you're writing for a particular professor, they may ask for single or double spacing or a certain citation style.
- Components of a research paper
Here are the basic steps to writing a quality research paper, assuming you've chosen your topic and considered the requirements of the paper. Depending on the specific conditions of the paper you're writing, you may need the following elements:
The thesis statement provides a blueprint for the paper. It conveys the theme and purpose of the paper. It also informs you and readers what your paper will argue and the type of research it will contain. As you write the paper, you can refer to the thesis statement to help you decide whether or not to include certain items.
Most research papers require an abstract as well as a thesis. While the thesis is a short (usually a single sentence) summary of the work, an abstract contains more detail. Many papers use the IMRaD structure for the abstract, especially in scientific fields. This consists of four elements:
Introduction : Summarize the purpose of the paper
Methods : Describe the research methods (e.g., collecting data , interviews , field research)
Results: Summarize your conclusions.
Discussion: Discuss the implications of your research. Mention any significant limitations to your approach and suggest areas for further research.
The thesis and abstract come at the beginning of a paper, but you should write them after completing the paper. This approach ensures a clear idea of your main topic and argument, which can evolve as you write the paper.
Table of contents
Like most nonfiction books, a research paper usually includes a table of contents.
Tables, charts, and illustrations
If your paper contains multiple tables, charts, illustrations, or other graphics, you can create a list of these.
Works cited or reference page
This page lists all the works you cited in your paper. For MLA and APA styles, you will use in-text citations in the body of the paper. For Chicago (CMOS) style, you'll use footnotes.
While you use a reference page to note all cited papers, a bibliography lists all the works you consulted in your research, even if you don't specifically cite them.
While references are essential, a bibliography is optional but usually advisable to demonstrate the breadth of your research.
Dedication and acknowledgments
You may include a dedication or acknowledgments at the beginning of the paper directly after the title page and before the abstract.
- Steps for writing a research paper
These are the most critical steps for researching, writing, and formatting a research paper:
Create an outline
The outline is not part of the published paper; it’s for your use. An outline makes it easier to structure the paper, ensuring you include all necessary points and research.
Here you can list all topics and subtopics that will support your argument. When doing your research, you can refer to the outline to ensure you include everything.
Solid research is the hallmark of a research paper. In addition to accumulating research, you need to present it clearly. However, gathering research is one of the first tasks. If you compile each piece of research correctly, it will be easier to format the paper correctly. You want to avoid having to go back and look up information constantly.
Start by skimming potentially useful sources and putting them aside for later use. Reading each source thoroughly at this stage will be time-consuming and slow your progress. You can thoroughly review the sources to decide what to include and discard later. At this stage, note essential information such as names, dates, page numbers, and website links. Citing sources will be easier when you’ve written all the information down.
Be aware of the quality of your sources. A research paper should reference scholarly, academic, or scientific journals. It’s vital to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources.
A primary source is an original, firsthand account of a topic. A secondary source is someone else covering the topic, as in a popular article or interview. While you may include secondary sources, your paper should also include primary research . Online research can be convenient, but you need to be extra careful when assessing the quality of your sources.
Write the first draft
Create a first draft where you put together all your research and address the topic described in your thesis and abstract.
Edit and format the paper
Proofread, edit, and make any necessary adjustments and improvements to the first draft. List your citations as described below. Ensure your thesis and abstract describe your research accurately.
- Formatting a research paper: MLA, APA, and CMOS styles
There are several popular formats for research papers: MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). Certain academic papers use CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style). Other formats may apply to particular fields.
For example, medical research may use AMA (American Medical Association) formatting and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) for particular technical papers. The following are the guidelines and examples of the most popular formats:
The humanities typically use MLA format, including literature, history, and culture. Look over examples of papers created in MLA format . Here are the main rules to keep in mind:
Indent new paragraphs 1/2 inch.
Title case for headings, where all major words are capitalized, as in "How to Write a Research Paper."
Use a popular font such as Times New Roman. This applies to all formatting styles.
Use one-inch margins on all sides.
Number sections of the paper using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.).
Use a running head for each page on the upper right-hand corner, which consists of your last name and the page number.
Use an in-text citation within the text, using the author's last name followed by the page number: "Anything worth dying for is certainly worth living for" (Heller 155).
On the citations page, list the full name, book or periodical, and other information. For MLA, you will not need footnotes, only in-text citations.
List citations in alphabetical order on a separate page at the end of the paper entitled “Works Cited.”
Continuing with the above example from Heller, the listing would be: Heller, Joseph. Catch-22, Simon & Schuster, 1961.
For a periodical, the format is "Thompson, Hunter S. "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" Scanlon's, June 1970."
Use title case for source titles, as in "On the Origin of Species."
The sciences typically use APA format, including physical sciences such as physics and social sciences such as psychology. Simply Psychology provides examples of APA formatting . The following are the most important rules of the APA format.
Begin the paper with a title page, which is not required for MLA.
Use double-line spacing.
Use a running head for each page in the upper right-hand corner, which consists of the paper's title in capital letters followed by the page number.
The citations page at the end should be titled "References."
In-text citations should include the publication date: (Smith, 1999, p. 50). Note also that there's a "p" for "page," whereas in MLA, you write the page number without a "p."
As with MLA, use title case for headings, as in "Most Popular Treatments for Cognitive Disorders."
Use sentence case for titles of sources, as in "History of the decline and fall of the Roman empire." Note "Roman" starts with a capital because it's a proper noun.
When citing in-text references, use the author's last name and the first and middle initials.
Always use the Oxford comma. This comma goes before the words "or" and "and" in a list. For example, "At the store, I bought oranges, paper towels, and pasta."
Book publishers and many academic papers use CMOS formatting based on the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS is also called Turabian, named after Kate L. Turabian, who wrote the first manual for this style. Here are examples of CMOS style formatting and citations.
Include an unnumbered title page.
Place page numbers on the upper right-hand corner of the page. Do not list your name or the paper's title as you would for MLA or APA styles.
Use title case for both headings and sources (same as MLA).
Unlike MLA and APA, the Chicago style uses footnotes for citations. Use a superscript for footnotes: "Smith argues against Jones' theory¹.” Footnotes may appear at the bottom of the page or the end of the document.
CMOS supports both short notes and full notes. In most cases, you'll use the full note: "Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006), 76." For further references to the same source, use a short note: " Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma, 45." The requirements of some papers may specify using only short notes for all footnotes.
- General guidelines for writing and formatting research papers
Keep these guidelines in mind for all types of research papers:
As you create your first draft, don't worry about formatting. If you try to format it perfectly as you write the paper, it will be difficult to progress and develop a flow of thought. With the first draft, you don't have to be concerned about ordering the sections. You can rearrange headings and sections later.
Use automation tools for citations . Some useful tools make citations easier by automatically generating a citation list and bibliography. Many work with APA, MLA, and CMOS styles.
Check for plagiarism
Use a plagiarism detector to make sure your paper isn't unintentionally plagiarizing. There are many free and paid plagiarism checkers online, such as Grammarly.
Proofread your work
Do several rounds of editing and proofreading. Editing is necessary for any type of writing, but you’ll need to revisit several distinct areas with a research paper:
Check for spelling and grammatical errors.
Read the paper to make sure it's well-argued and that you’ve organized it properly.
Check that you’ve correctly formatted citations. It's easy to make errors, such as incorrect numbering of footnotes (e.g., Chicago style) or forgetting to include a source on your citations page.
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Types of research papers
There are multiple different types of research papers. It is important to know which type of research paper is required for your assignment, as each type of research paper requires different preparation. Below is a list of the most common types of research papers.
➡️ Read more: What is a research paper?
- Analytical research paper
In an analytical research paper you:
- pose a question
- collect relevant data from other researchers
- analyze their different viewpoints
You focus on the findings and conclusions of other researchers and then make a personal conclusion about the topic. It is important to stay neutral and not show your own negative or positive position on the matter.
- Argumentative or persuasive paper
The argumentative paper presents two sides of a controversial issue in one paper. It is aimed at getting the reader on the side of your point of view.
You should include and cite findings and arguments of different researchers on both sides of the issue, but then favor one side over the other and try to persuade the reader of your side. Your arguments should not be too emotional though, they still need to be supported with logical facts and statistical data.
Tip: Avoid expressing too much emotion in a persuasive paper.
- Definition paper
The definition paper solely describes facts or objective arguments without using any personal emotion or opinion of the author. Its only purpose is to provide information. You should include facts from a variety of sources, but leave those facts unanalyzed.
- Compare and contrast paper
Compare and contrast papers are used to analyze the difference between two:
Make sure to sufficiently describe both sides in the paper, and then move on to comparing and contrasting both thesis and supporting one.
- Cause and effect paper
Cause and effect papers are usually the first types of research papers that high school and college students write. They trace probable or expected results from a specific action and answer the main questions "Why?" and "What?", which reflect effects and causes.
In business and education fields, cause and effect papers will help trace a range of results that could arise from a particular action or situation.
- Interpretative paper
An interpretative paper requires you to use knowledge that you have gained from a particular case study, for example a legal situation in law studies. You need to write the paper based on an established theoretical framework and use valid supporting data to back up your statement and conclusion.
- Experimental research paper
This type of research paper basically describes a particular experiment in detail. It is common in fields like:
Experiments are aimed to explain a certain outcome or phenomenon with certain actions. You need to describe your experiment with supporting data and then analyze it sufficiently.
- Survey research paper
This research paper demands the conduction of a survey that includes asking questions to respondents. The conductor of the survey then collects all the information from the survey and analyzes it to present it in the research paper.
➡️ Ready to start your research paper? Take a look at our guide on how to start a research paper .
- Frequently Asked Questions about the different types of research papers
In an analytical research paper, you pose a question and then collect relevant data from other researchers to analyze their different viewpoints. You focus on the findings and conclusions of other researchers and then make a personal conclusion about the topic.
The definition paper solely describes facts or objective arguments without using any personal emotion or opinion of the author. Its only purpose is to provide information.
Cause and effect papers are usually the first types of research papers that high school and college students are confronted with. The answer questions like "Why?" and "What?", which reflect effects and causes. In business and education fields, cause and effect papers will help trace a range of results that could arise from a particular action or situation.
This type of research paper describes a particular experiment in detail. It is common in fields like biology, chemistry or physics. Experiments are aimed to explain a certain outcome or phenomenon with certain actions.
- Related Articles
Types of Research Papers
In this blog, we will discuss types of research papers. So, let’s get started.
When you study in university or college, you will have to write a research paper because it is an important part of the curriculum. In general, when you will produce this academic paper, you will have to do research on numerous technical, scientific, or social components of a phenomenon, and then organize the results. It is not simple. If you have never done academic writing before, the task may be difficult or even impossible. What makes it challenging?
There are numerous problems that make the process more difficult, and the majority of people get stopped at the initial stage – selecting appropriate research paper topics. Others are unable to complete the assignment on their own. Fortunately, there is an easy answer for the second problem, as there are numerous professional essay writer services that can assist you with your paper. All you have to do is ask them to “ write my research paper .” For some of you, it might be a good option.
What is Research Paper?
- Table of Contents
A Research paper is a piece of academic writing or a long essay that presents the original and independent research of the author on any topic and the analysis and interpretation of the research findings. The research paper must be clear, concise, focussed, structured and backed up by evidence. It has a formal tone and style, but it is not complex and does not require the use of long sentences and complicated vocabulary because its purpose is to aid the reader’s understanding. Here we will be knowing about the “Types of Research papers”.
Research papers are of different types and identifying what type of research paper to use is a way critical task. The most suitable research paper type is always chosen to keep in mind your research paper topics, your research methodologies and the manner by which you analyze your data.
Top 10 Different types of Research Papers
Analytical Research Paper
Argumentative research paper.
- Cause and Effect Research Paper
Experimental Research Paper
Problem-solution research paper, report paper, survey research paper.
- Definition Research papers
- Compare and contrast Research papers
Describe multiple points of view → Analyze all points → Conclude.
Analytical Research Papers imply an analysis of facts, events, issues, and ideas. In this, the researcher first describes multiple points of view pertaining to the research problem, then analyze all the described points by collecting relevant information from various other researchers, and finally concludes. During Analytical Research, the researcher must remain neutral i.e. paper should not favor one point and oppose another.
In Analytic Research Paper, the researcher does not face difficulty in describing multiple points of view but in analyzing them. There are many Homework Help websites available to ease your work. It is the first type of research paper.
Describe the problem from two different viewpoints → Propose pros and cons → Give preference to one.
An argumentative Research Paper, as the name suggests, involves arguments about the research topic from two viewpoints. In this type, the researcher must describe the problem with two opposing viewpoints, analyze them to propose their pros and cons, and finally supports one viewpoint. This research paper mainly focuses on getting the readers to favor your point of view. It is the second type of research paper.
Cause and effect research papers
Describe situation → Present causes/effects → Draw a conclusion
This paper is usually assigned to the freshers. The main aim of this paper is to teach the researcher on how to write a research paper. This paper includes
- A detailed study of various research topics
- Organization of the writing process
- Application of certain styles to text
- Citations and references
In this research paper, the researcher first describes the problem, then explain its causes and effects and finally gives the conclusion. It is the third types of research papers.
Experiment → Share useful experience → Provide data and sum up.
While writing an Experimental research paper, the researcher must describe the whole experimental process in detail. In this, the researcher conducts the experiment, then shares his useful experiences, and then finally provides the relevant data and sums up his research. These research papers are usually written for biology , chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. In this research paper, the researcher must describe his experiment with supporting data and experimental analysis.
Describe the problem → Propose a solution → Defend it
As the name suggests, the Problem-Solution Research Paper aims at finding solutions to certain problems. In this research paper, the researcher describes the problem, analyze the available information, find some possible solutions and prove their effectiveness by giving examples, details, statistical data etc.
Outline the work done on a particular topic –> Sum up findings
In the Report Paper, the researcher needs to gather all the information about the research topic, describes the most valuable characteristics of data and finally sum up his findings. This paper aims at providing all the facts and necessary information about the research topic.
- An Absolute Guide On How To Write A Research Paper Outline
- Best Tips On How To Write An Introduction In A Research Paper
Conduct a survey → Analyze findings → Draw conclusions
In this paper, the researcher has to do the research, interpret data, analyze findings and then finally draw conclusions. In this, the survey is conducted by asking questions to respondents. This analyzes behavior in different conditions.
8. Definition Research papers
It is known as self–an explanatory research paper because, in this kind of research paper, you aren’t required to stay neutral or support one side. The foremost objective is to deliver details about the topic offered without researching and reviewing the studies of further researchers at all. You can contain additional data from additional sources even without analyzing them entirely.
9. Compare and contrast Research papers
It is another type of research paper. These are used to compare two distinct researchers or writers with different perspectives. For example, two businessmen are compared to where their position is researched. The most crucial thing is that you have to represent both sides’ opinions in your research paper, but don’t forget to compare and contrast both sides and, in the end, support one side.
Students mostly write these research papers to share their ideas and knowledge from researching a certain field or case. For example, a literature student is invited to report a research paper on the poetry they have read, and then they have to compose this research paper. Or a company case in any analysis course. The most significant thing in this kind of research paper is that the points the student has written based on it and has supported the data should be reasonable.
What are the 3 types of research reports?
The research report is the report which records all collected data. Statisticians or researchers organize it. They analyze the data and then collect it to make a company report. All data collected by analyzers is reliable and original because it is organized with proper research and analysis. Moreover, the data is contained in two forms: it may be in the form of qualitative or whether it is in the form of survey.
1. Original Research Report
It is a primary source research report. Original research is based on the researchers because they have written it themselves. They did the proper study to write an original research report data. These are the following points that researchers describe in their report.
- Research question.
- Purpose of the study.
- Describe their hypothesis.
- Also, they give the details of their research methods.
- Follow the IMRAD structure.
2. Methodologies Research Report Method
It provides the following data;
- how to conduct the research.
- Various research methods.
- Reasons for choosing those methods.
3. Short Reports or Letters
These consist of vital details about a topic to report to a reader. A short report may either be written or oral in the report structure of a letter or memo. It typically consists of an overview of the report, a defined goal, a brief background, and a determination.
What Are The 4 Types Of Report?
A good report is a report that fully avoids unclear words, is written in simple language, and also avoids vagueness. Its main message should be self-explanatory. The following are the types of external reports.
What Is The Format Of Common Research Paper?
10 Parts Of A Common Research Paper Format
- The Cover page/Title page
- Body paragraphs (research description and methods)
- Bibliography/reference list
- Appendix (if any add-ons were available)
Conclusion (Types Of Research Papers)
These all are different types of research paper. If you have any queries or want any other information regarding research papers, please do tell us in the comment section. If you are having any difficulty in determining the type of research paper or in making a research paper feel free to take Research Paper help from our experts
Types Of Research Papers FAQ
What is a good research title.
A good research title should give an idea of the content of the research and should be interesting.
Where can I find reliable sources for research Papers?
Trusted and well-known Journals and books that are written by researchers are the most reliable sources for writing research papers.
What are the 4 goals of research?
Description, prediction, explanation, and application are four goals of the research.
What are the most common errors made in research papers?
Usage of irrelevant tables and figures, lack of strong thesis statements, lack of planning, weak supporting statements are the most common errors in research papers.
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Writing Research Papers
- Research Paper Structure
Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.
Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style
A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1 Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices. These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2
What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors. The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page. In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.
One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.
What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.
What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed. It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section. A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.
What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed. It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.
What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper. The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings. Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.
List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source). Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).
Tables and Figures
Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither). In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References. Tables are included first, followed by Figures. However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).
Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided. This is often placed in an Appendix.
Variations of Research Papers in APA Style
Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern. These variations include:
- Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section.
- Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered. Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References. Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.
Departures from APA Style
In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). Such deviations may include:
- Placement of Tables and Figures – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first).
- Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun). In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research. Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
- Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely. You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.
Workshops and Downloadable Resources
- For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).
- How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
- Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]
- Writing Research Paper Videos
APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines
- Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
- Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.
- Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
- How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
- WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
- Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
- Sample APA Formatted Paper
- Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style
1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
2 geller, e. (2018). how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.
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- Formatting Research Papers
- Using Databases and Finding References
- What Types of References Are Appropriate?
- Evaluating References and Taking Notes
- Citing References
- Writing a Literature Review
- Writing Process and Revising
- Improving Scientific Writing
- Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
- Writing Research Papers Videos
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Writing a Research Paper
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Although research paper assignments may vary widely, there are essentially two basic types of research papers. These are argumentative and analytical .
In an argumentative research paper, a student both states the topic they will be exploring and immediately establishes the position they will argue regarding that topic in a thesis statement . This type of paper hopes to persuade its reader to adopt the view presented.
Example : a paper that argues the merits of early exposure to reading for children would be an argumentative essay.
An analytical research paper states the topic that the writer will be exploring, usually in the form of a question, initially taking a neutral stance. The body of the paper will present multifaceted information and, ultimately, the writer will state their conclusion, based on the information that has unfolded throughout the course of the essay. This type of paper hopes to offer a well-supported critical analysis without necessarily persuading the reader to any particular way of thinking.
Example : a paper that explores the use of metaphor in one of Shakespeare's sonnets would be an example of an analytical essay.
*Please note that this LibGuide will primarily be concerning itself with argumentative or rhetorical research papers.
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A research paper is a product of seeking information, analysis, human thinking, and time. Basically, when scholars want to get answers to questions, they start to search for information to expand, use, approve, or deny findings. In simple words, research papers are results of processes by considering writing works and following specific requirements. Besides, scientists research and expand many theories, developing social or technological aspects of human science. However, in order to write relevant papers, they need to know a definition of the research, structure, characteristics, and types.
Definition of What Is a Research Paper and Its Meaning
A research paper is a common assignment. It comes to a situation when students, scholars, and scientists need to answer specific questions by using sources. Basically, a research paper is one of the types of papers where scholars analyze questions or topics , look for secondary sources , and write papers on defined themes. For example, if an assignment is to write a research paper on some causes of global warming or any other topic, a person must write a research proposal on it, analyzing important points and credible sources . Although essays focus on personal knowledge, writing a research paper means analyzing sources by following academic standards. Moreover, scientists must meet the structure of research papers. Therefore, writers need to analyze their research paper topics , start to research, cover key aspects, process credible articles, and organize final studies properly.
The Structure of a Research Work
The structure of research papers depends on assignment requirements. In fact, when students get their assignments and instructions, they need to analyze specific research questions or topics, find reliable sources , and write final works. Basically, the structure of research papers consists of the abstract , outline , introduction , literature review , methodology, results , discussion, recommendations, limitations, conclusion , acknowledgments , and references. However, students may not include some of these sections because of assigned instructions that they have and specific types of research papers. For instance, if instructions of papers do not suppose to conduct real experiments, the methodology section can be skipped because of the data’s absence. In turn, the structure of the final work consists of:
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🔸 The First Part of a Research Study
Abstract or an executive summary means the first section of a research paper that provides the study’s purpose, research questions or suggestions, main findings with conclusions. Moreover, this paragraph of about 150 words should be written when the whole work is finished already. Hence, abstract sections should describe key aspects of studies, including discussions about the relevance of findings.
Outline serves as a clear map of the structure of a research study.
Introduction provides the main information on problem statements, the indication of methodology, important findings, and principal conclusion. Basically, this section of a research paper covers rationales behind the work or background research, explanation of the importance, defending its relevance, a brief description of experimental designs, defined research questions, hypotheses, or key aspects.
🔸 Literature Review and Research or Experiment
Literature Review is needed for the analysis of past studies or scholarly articles to be familiar with research questions or topics. Hence, this section summarizes and synthesizes arguments and ideas from scholarly sources without adding new contributions. In turn, this part is organized around arguments or ideas, not sources.
Methodology or Materials and Methods covers explanations of research designs. Basically, techniques for gathering information and other aspects related to experiments must be described in a research paper. For instance, students and scholars document all specialized materials and general procedures. In this case, individuals may use some or all of the methods in further studies or judge the scientific merit of the work. Moreover, scientists should explain how they are going to conduct their experiments.
Results mean the gained information or data after the research or experiment. Basically, scholars should present and illustrate their findings. Moreover, this section may include tables or figures.
🔸 Analysis of Findings
Discussion is a section of a research paper where scientists review the information in the introduction part, evaluate gained results, or compare it with past studies. In particular, students and scholars interpret gained data or findings in appropriate depth. For example, if results differ from expectations at the beginning, scientists should explain why that may have happened. However, if results agree with rationales, scientists should describe theories that the evidence is supported.
Recommendations take its roots from a discussion section where scholars propose potential solutions or new ideas based on obtained results in a research paper. In this case, if scientists have any recommendations on how to improve this research so that other scholars can use evidence in further studies, they must write what they think in this section.
Limitations mean a consideration of research weaknesses and results to get new directions. For instance, if researchers found any limitations of studies that could affect experiments, scholars must not use such knowledge because of the same mistakes. Moreover, scientists should avoid contradicting results, and, even more, they must write it in this section.
🔸 The Final Part of a Conducted Research
Conclusion includes final claims of a research paper based on findings. Basically, this section covers final thoughts and the summary of the whole work. Moreover, this section may be used instead of limitations and recommendations that would be too small by themselves. In this case, scientists do not need to use headings for recommendations and limitations. Also, check out conclusion examples .
Acknowledgments or Appendix may take different forms, from paragraphs to charts. In this section, scholars include additional information on a research paper.
References mean a section where students, scholars, or scientists provide all used sources by following the format and academic rules.
Any type of work must meet some standards. By considering a research paper, this work must be written accordingly. In this case, the main characteristics of research papers are the length, style, format, and sources. Firstly, the length of research work defines the number of needed sources to analyze. Then, the style must be formal and covers impersonal and inclusive language. In turn, the format means academic standards of how to organize final works, including its structure and norms. Finally, sources and their number define works as research papers because of the volume of analyzed information. Hence, these characteristics must be considered while writing research papers.
Types of Research Papers
In general, the length of assignments can be different because of instructions. For example, there are two main types of research papers, such as typical and serious works. Firstly, a typical research paper may include definitive, argumentative, interpretive, and other works. In this case, typical papers are from 2 to 10 pages, where students analyze research questions or specific topics. Then, a serious research study is the expanded version of typical works. In turn, the length of such a paper is more than 10 pages. Basically, such works cover a serious analysis with many sources. Therefore, typical and serious works are two types of research papers.
Typical Research Papers
Basically, typical research works depend on assignments, the number of sources, and the paper’s length. So, a typical research paper is usually a long essay with the analyzed evidence. For example, students in high school and colleges get such assignments to learn how to research and analyze topics. In this case, they do not need to conduct serious experiments with the analysis and calculation of data. Moreover, students must use the Internet or libraries in searching for credible secondary sources to find potential answers to specific questions. As a result, students gather information on topics and learn how to take defined sides, present unique positions, or explain new directions. Hence, typical research papers require an analysis of primary and secondary sources without serious experiments or data.
Serious Research Studies
Although long papers require a lot of time for finding and analyzing credible sources, real experiments are an integral part of research work. Firstly, scholars at universities need to analyze the information from past studies to expand or disapprove of researched topics. Then, if scholars want to prove specific positions or ideas, they must get real evidence. In this case, experiments can be surveys, calculations, or other types of data that scholars do personally. Moreover, a dissertation is a typical serious research paper that young scientists write based on the research analysis of topics, data from conducted experiments, and conclusions at the end of work. Thus, serious research papers are studies that take a lot of time, analysis of sources with gained data, and interpretation of results.
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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.
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