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How to Write a Successful University Research Paper

May 23, 2022

 

Thank you to Dr. Joshua Sinai, Professor of Practice, Intelligence and Security Studies, for providing this helpful guide for students on how to write a university research paper. It is Dr. Sinai's hope that this piece can be used as a template and resource for students to easily accomplish well-researched, thoroughly-written papers on any academic subject.


Over the years, I’ve written numerous research papers, ranging from graded course assignments to published articles and chapters in academic journals and edited books and handbooks. While these categories of research papers differ, their writing structure is similar, with an introduction, a middle section (or sections), and a concluding section. This article presents a template for organizing a research paper. Note that a research paper differs from an article because it is based on conducting research on a topic that is sourced with citations from the literature, as opposed to writing an article without attributing the information on cited sources in a formal way, such as in footnotes, endnotes, or other citation formats, such as the APA 7th Edition’s guidelines. 

Once you begin to formulate a topic for the research paper, it is helpful to put together a preliminary and rough draft outline. This will guide your research to help you see where the material might fit into the paper.  

Since it is virtually impossible to produce a final research paper on the first draft, as you start researching your paper topic you’ll invariably come up with additional ideas for your outline and the paper’s sections and sub-sections. This will lead you to continuously revise your initial draft outline. This is part of the creative process one goes through in writing a research paper.   

 

Research Paper Outline 

Every research paper is generally organized into nine components, as follows: 

I.Title, Author [and for university courses, course title, and date of submission] 

II.Introduction 

III.Main Issue(s), Question(s)/Hypotheses To Be Examned 

IV.Paper Sections 

                             1.Subsections 

V.Findings 

VI.Conclusions 

VII.Appendix 

VIII.Citations 

IX.Bibliography 

 

I.Title, Author 

For university courses, a separate page is generally devoted to the paper’s title, student name, course title and number, professor’s name, and date of the paper’s submission. 

The title should be descriptive of the paper’s topic. If relevant, the paper’s primary research question can serve as a title. 

II.Introduction 

A paper’s introduction presents a brief overview of the topic. It is a good idea for the first sentence to serve as a “hook” to draw the reader in to be interested in reading the paper. The introduction should briefly discuss the topic in one paragraph (if possible), and why it is significant.  

III.Main Issue(s)/Questions/Hypotheses to be Examined 

Following the introductory overview, this section presents the research paper’s primary issue (or issues) to be examined. If possible, try to itemize the number of issues in a logical order, such as “the first issue to be examined is ______________,” “the second issue to be examined is _____________,” etc. 

IV. Paper Sections 

This is the research paper’s main body. It presents the paper’s supporting evidence, based on the research conducted. The supporting evidence should follow from one another in a logical order. Back up each element of your argument with evidence and discussion. The sections can be further divided into major sections and/or sub-sections within them. The sub-sections will discuss each separate issue/topic, and titled with a sub-heading. 

Note that in university courses, the sections and their sub-sections can correspond to a course’s rubric, so ensure that each is fully covered as required by the rubric. 

V. Findings/Assessments 

The findings/assessments section provide the researcher’s answers to the main issues/questions/hypotheses examined in the paper. To make it easier to organize one’s findings, each one can be itemized and presented in a separate paragraph, as in “The evidence accumulated in this study has generated the following findings: “First finding,” “Second finding,” “Third finding,” etc. 

VI. Conclusions 

The paper’s conclusion should begin with an overall concluding sentence. This should be followed with a few sentences that relate back to how the paper attempted to examine the paper’s introductory question and main issue(s)/question(s)/hypotheses. As in the previous sections, it is a good idea to itemize the conclusions. This section can be 1-3 (or longer) paragraphs in length.  

VII. Appendix (if needed) 

An Appendix provides supporting materials that do not appear in the paper, but are referenced in it. Generally, they are numbered as “Appendix A,” “Appendix B,” etc.  

VIII. Citations 

There are several ways to write citations for the information sources used in a paper. These range from numbered footnotes at the bottom of a page to endnotes that appear at the end of a paper. Nowadays, universities prefer to use the APA 7th edition Style Manual in which citations are included in the body of a paper. Although it is not specified in the APA manual, try to include page numbers for the information cited from books, monographs, and articles. This will demonstrate authoritativeness in properly citing the sourced information and enable the reader to track the information. In case of citing newspaper articles, listing a page number may not be possible, so provide the hyperlink for the article’s publication. 

IX. Bibliography 

The bibliography is listed at the end of a paper. It is crucial to provide a complete bibliographical information for every source cited, including, if feasible, related works that are read as part of the research process but not directly cited in the paper. This will provide a quick overview for the reader of the extent of the author’s research on the topic. 

 

Final Thoughts 

Hopefully, this article will provide a useful template for writing a basic university research paper. Note that the template can be adapted for your own use, so some sections may be more applicable than others. Wishing you the best in writing a successful research paper! 


About the author:  Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Professor of Practice, Intelligence and Security Studies, at Capitol Technology University. Over the years, he has published dozens of research papers for academic journals and edited books and handbooks.