Basic Elements For A Term Paper

Structure of a Research Paper

While academic disciplines vary on the exact format and style of journal articles in their field, most articles contain similar content and are divided in parts that typically follow the same logical flow.  Following is a list of the parts commonly found in research articles.  

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusion
  • References/Bibliography

Research papers are organized so that the information flow resembles an hourglass in that it goes from general  to specific and then back to general again.  The introduction and literature review sections will introduce the problem and provide general information. The methods and results will provide specific, detailed information about this research project and the discussion/conclusion will discuss the findings in a larger context. The following section will describe each of these parts in more detail.  Additional information can be found in the Resources section of this module and in the Suggested Readings.

Title

The title should be specific and indicate the problem the research project addresses using keywords that will be helpful in literature reviews in the future.

Abstract

The abstract is used by readers to quickly review the overall content of the paper.  Journals typically place strict word limits on abstracts, such as 200 words, making them a challenge to write.  The abstract should provide a complete synopsis of the research paper and should introduce the topic and the specific research question, provide a statement regarding methodology and should provide a general statement about the results and the findings.  Because it is really a summary of the entire research paper, it is often written last.

Introduction

The introduction begins by introducing the broad overall topic and providing basic background information.  It then narrows down to the specific research question relating to this topic.  It provides the purpose and focus for the rest of the paper and sets up the justification for the research.

Literature Review

The purpose of the literature review is to describe past important research and it relate it specifically to the research problem.  It should be a synthesis of the previous literature and the new idea being researched.  The review should examine the major theories related to the topic to date and their contributors.  It should include all relevant findings from credible sources, such as academic books and peer-reviewed journal articles.

Methods

The methods section will describe the research design and methodology used to complete to the study.  The general rule of thumb is that readers should be provided with enough detail to replicate the study.

Results

In this section, the results of the analysis are presented.  How the results are presented will depend upon whether the research study was quantitative or qualitative in nature.  This section should focus only on results that are directly related to the research or the problem. Graphs and tables should only be used when there is too much data to efficiently include it within the text.  This section should present the results, but not discuss their significance.

Discussion/Conclusion

This section should be a discussion of the results and the implications on the field, as well as other fields. The hypothesis should be answered and validated by the interpretation of the results.  This section should also discuss how the results relate to previous research mentioned in the literature review, any cautions about the findings, and potential for future research.

References/Bibliography

The research paper is not complete without the list of references. This section should be an alphabetized list of all the academic sources of information utilized in the paper.  The format of the references will match the format and style used in the paper.  Common formats include APA, MLA, Harvard and so forth.

The introduction to a research paper is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an introduction to what your audience is about to read about. Every sentence should transition fluidly in succession from the general to the specific, guiding the reader to a specific argument you will be making on a topic.

This being said, it’s still one of the most difficult parts of a research paper to write. We’ve scoured resources and found both great and terrible introductions. And we found that the best research paper introductions each have the following three elements in common:

  • Contain a general introduction to the topic.
  • Start your research paper with a few sentences that introduce the topic to your reader. You don’t have to get too detailed at this point; you should save details for the body of your paper. You do, however, want to work your way towards a more precise thesis statement as you go.

    For instance, let’s say your research paper is on passenger airplane safety standards in the 21st century. Your first couple of sentence may talk about introduce the subject with a generalization of airplane safety standards. Your next few sentences could bring up some questions or concerns that are of interest to the public and your audience. Finally, you should take a clear position in your thesis at the end of the paragraph.

  • Is interesting to read and hooks the reader.
  • Make the introduction interesting enough to hook the reader and compel him or her to continue. Don’t start the paper with the obvious, “In this essay, I will” or “This essay is about” – both are weak introductions that should never lead a research paper. Start strong. If you’ve come across an interesting quote or a fact about the topic you are introducing, start with that.

    Don’t underestimate the potential of a great anecdote that can be tied to the topic you will be presenting. If you’re going to lead your research paper with an anecdote, you should look for moments in your personal experience that is short and is an example of the larger point of your essay. While anecdotes are effective leads, they can also confuse your audience if the connection isn’t clear.

  • Includes a well-written and clear thesis.
  • We list this first because a thesis will guide the rest of your research paper and is, therefore, the most important piece. Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. You should write the thesis so that it guides your arguments through your first draft, but also be open to refine your thesis as your arguments develop more precisely.

    Your thesis is no exception to the rest of your writing: it should be as clear as possible. You want to ensure your reader understands exactly what you mean. Your thesis statement should be limited to you can accomplish in the assignment’s word limit.

    A well-crafted research paper introduction will reflect well-crafted ideas. For the reader, it will signal a writer who has intelligence and commitment to the topic. Keeping these elements in mind as you craft your introduction should help your research paper stay focused and on topic.

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