Developing a solid research paper

What makes a high quality research paper?

A research paper should be at least fifteen to twenty pages, in most instances, and should have a fully developed introduction, methods, materials, results, and conclusion section. It should present a unique and timely hypothesis regarding a topic that is currently a popular subject of study. Your research should build upon existing academic literature, and contribute something new to an existing theory (or challenge an existing theory).

In addition, a solid research paper exhibits professional academic writing, proper formatting, and fantastic organization. Your paper should be highly organized and objective; it should not take an ideological slant or argue for a belief system. Instead, it should be grounded in academic, scientific rigor. You should never overstep the boundaries of your own study and make broad generalizations in your results. Your work should be described fairly and informatively, with no subjective components.

What should you avoid when writing a research paper?

There are many rookie mistakes that undergraduates commit when writing their first research papers. The first, most common mistake is writing an overly simplistic introduction lacking in adequate background research. You should cite a minimum of twenty papers in your introductory section, and should read at least double that amount in preparation for your study. By the time you conduct your research and write about it, you should be an informal expert in the topic you are studying. A thinly drawn, vague introduction will reveal that you did not put enough effort into your study. Your study may be poorly designed or derivative as a result.

Avoid jumping to conclusions.

In addition, many undergraduates make the mistake of overstating their results or making theoretical jumps that are not supported by the evidence. Do not make a claim that one variable causes another simply because they are associated. Do not describe your results as having “proven” a theory or “disproven” an existing understanding. A single study is not enough to make such a theoretical leap.

Further, you should not assert anything as fact unless there is a preponderance of evidence in support of it. Just because something is popularly accepted as common knowledge, or seems obvious, does not mean you can state it to be true in a scientific paper. This is particularly the case when discussing social research; do not make a claim about gender differences, parenting effects, racial differences, or basic principles about human nature unless you have multiple studies that you can cite to support it.