Your Step-by-Step Guide to the Research Paper Writing Process
Research is the process of systematically collecting information and data for the purpose of identifying and investigating phenomena framed as problems as questions in order to arrive at conclusions and develop new theories. The collection of data happens through various methods like surveys, experiments, interviews, etc. The data collection is followed by a statistical analysis of the data to derive conclusions. Research is integral to almost all fields such as science, technology, social sciences, healthcare, education, finance, etc. The main purpose of conducting research is to enhance existing knowledge and to develop new knowledge which would help understand complex phenomena and enable the development of new theories and models to make sense of those phenomena.
Below is a detailed structure of the research writing paper:
1. Select a research topic:
While starting off the process of research, it is crucial to choose a topic which is interesting to the researcher as well as manageable according to the scope of the assignment. However, the criteria for a good research topic go beyond the researcher’s individual interests. It also depends on the relevance of the chosen topic. Reading up on the chosen area of interest will help identify the relevance of the same as well as enable the researcher to form a specific research question. Careful consideration and analysis through preliminary research about the topic of interest can provide an understanding of the general trends in research and the gaps found in the same making it easier to develop a good well-informed research question. This well-informed research question will lead to clarity about the direction of the research process and provide guidelines for conducting the review of the literature which is the next step.
2. Conduct a literature review:
Review of literature as the name suggests includes conducting a thorough review of the existing research about the chosen topic. Typically, the process goes about like so; searching for research related to the chosen topic, selecting the relevant research for a review, evaluating all the pre-existing research and synthesizing the information together such that it is coherent. A thorough review of the literature makes the researcher aware of the common trends coming out through research as well as identifies gaps in the existing research. This helps in formulating the current study with a goal to answer some of those gaps and inconsistencies found in order to address any unanswered questions. This information which is obtained from an in-depth review of the literature can be used to refine the research question formed earlier on the basis of just the preliminary analysis. Further, it can also be used to develop specific hypotheses in line with the research question and by taking into consideration the common trends in the results acquired earlier. The current study need not strive to find or verify what has already been found multiple times earlier, oftentimes it is more helpful to address some of the gaps present in the pre-existing research.
A literature review is often the initial step in conducting an independent research study. However, there are review articles as mentioned above which essentially just report the literature found in the area in a systematic manner. When the literature review is being done for the purpose of writing a review paper, it includes not only synthesizing the information clearly and coherently as one would otherwise, but also summarizing findings through tables and graphs to make it a complete and valuable read for anyone who might come across it. The most important part of writing a literature review is to avoid plagiarism and develop something original. Because the previous findings are being reported it is advisable to paraphrase and synthesize effectively rather than copy-paste (Ebrahim, 2011).
3. Develop a research methodology:
The next step includes creating an accurate methodology for the research study which best answers the research questions and best explains the hypotheses formulated. Usually, the initial stage of this step is justifying the epistemological position taken and determining research objectives. Next, it involves deciding the target population, deciding on the sample size and other features of the sample. Based on the features of an ideal sample the method of sampling can be decided. Selecting or developing an ideal research design which would be appropriate for the research question is important. This is followed by listing down the variables based on whether the study is quantitative or qualitative. Next, deciding on appropriate measures which will be ideal for data collection. This is usually done first, by looking at what kind of data is required to be collected based on the hypotheses and also what measures have been used in pre-existing research in the area. A careful analysis of all measures used, their psychometric properties and justification of the chosen measure is often given to show a comprehensive understanding of the method. A step-by-step procedure is included in this section to give the readers an idea about how the study will be conducted. Finally, ethical considerations that will be taken into account throughout the conduction of the study as stated (Igwenagu, 2016).
4. Collect data:
Once appropriate measures with good psychometric properties are chosen to measure all the variables required for the study it is time to use them. The collection of data needs to be ethical. Ethical considerations include informed consent from participants (in case of adults) and from parents (in case of minors), confidentiality and anonymity during data collection, voluntary participation and permission to withdraw from the study at any point, safe keeping of the collected data in case any identifiable information is being asked for, a comprehensive debriefing in case there is any deception (this often includes helpline numbers when distress is anticipated as a result of participation in the study) and respect for privacy, confidentiality and boundaries of the participants. The required information about the study, the contact details of the researcher and all the above ethical considerations must be included in the informed consent form, especially information about any anticipated risks or benefits as a result of participation in the study need to be made clear. This is so that the participants can take all the information into consideration before choosing to be a part of the study (Igwenagu, 2016; APA, 2017).
5. Analyze data:
Based on the kind of data collected i.e. continuous or discontinuous, the methods of analysis will look different. Appropriate data analysis methods should be used for the treatment of the data collected. This paves the way for the researcher to interpret the data in terms of the hypotheses and the research question. Therefore, the researcher can conclude whether the hypotheses are supported or not (Ibrahim, 2015).
6. Write the paper:
This is usually an ongoing process and the paper is written alongside working on the various sections mentioned above. The important point to remember while writing a paper is that all the content should be paraphrased to make it original. Copy-pasting anything from other sources without giving due credit (as in the case of definitions or something that needs to be quoted) is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism is strictly prohibited as it diminishes the integrity of the work being produced and is equivalent to stealing someone else’s work (APA, 2017).
7. Cite the sources:
Towards the end of the research paper, all the references need to be cited in the APA format. This entails a specific format with set alignments and citations in alphabetical order. It is imperative to cite all sources that have been used in the format given by the APA and follow all the rules for listing the references (APA, 2017).
8. Revise and proofread:
When everything about the paper is complete, it is time to go through it one last time. This is so that any grammatical errors, spelling errors, or any other minor errors can be corrected through proofreading and the research paper can be refined to become its best version. Revision is often important in order to eliminate redundancy or make other necessary changes. Proofreading and revision are important because when the research paper is complete the perspective of the researcher towards it changes a lot and therefore can bring to light various areas where change is required to make it a valuable addition to the research in the field.
9. Submit the paper:
The last step is obviously submitting the paper. Depending on the nature of the assignment, whether it is an academic research paper, a journal article that needs to be published, a non-academic paper, or a dissertation/thesis, the procedure for submission changes. Therefore, all that needs to be done now is to follow the protocols for submission and submit the research paper on time.
American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct (2002, amended effective June 1, 2010, and January 1, 2017). https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
Ebrahim, N. A. (2011). How to Conduct a Literature Review. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307639458_How_to_Conduct_a_Literature_Review
Ibrahim, M. (2015). The art of Data Analysis. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283269432_The_art_of_Data_Analysis
Igwenagu, C. (2016). Fundamentals of research methodology and data collection. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303381524_Fundamentals_of_research_methodology_and_data_collection
Mehta, V., Chug, C., & Perwez, A. (2017). Why should you do Research? Journal of Medical Research and Innovation, 1, 17. https://doi.org/10.15419/jmri.17
This article is written by Minoti Karnik who has been a part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP) since 2023. Minoti is currently pursuing her Postgraduation in Lifespan Counseling from St. Xaviers College, Autonomous, Mumbai.