Paper Basic Guidelines
to Write a Good Research Paperî
W. Schmidt, Ph.D.
State University/Nova Oceanographic Center
difference between an undergraduate and graduate research
paper is often the size of the final product (graduate
papers are longer) and the fact that we often expect
graduate students to reach new and original conclusions or
is the problem or topic you wish to investigate? How will you
approach this research? Why is this of interest to you and why
should we be interested in this topic? This is you
ìcontractî with the reader (and professor). Here you say
what you will be doing in the remainder of the project so define
carefully your interests and the parameters (scope) of your projected
work. Also remember to keep the project focused don't wander off! As
you collect material and structure an outline keep referring to this
If you need ideas for a paper look at the topics
in assigned reading material. Is any specific and narrow sub-topic of
interest to you? Or, if you are interetsed in public opinion you
might look for polls of opinion on the environment and related this
to our coastal policy interests. A web search is also useful as a
source of ideas. The Coastal
Policy Network is a good source. Australia
has a very developed Coastal Management program and you might
want to look at that to get some ideas.
sketch out a rough outline. Below are some of the main categories you
will want to have as sub-headings.
- First, contain
the major studies that have been done on this subject. When you do
a search, say on the web, you need to sort out from the reference
you find who is cited or quoted. This may be in a newspaper story
where they refer to General So-and-So or Professor Such-and Such.
Or it may be in a footnote where the leading book and author on
the topic are listed.
- Second, you
need to identify and cite other sources that you found
particularly interesting and useful for this paper. (Make sure you
try to verify the reliability and quality of your sources. The web
is full of deceit and phony stuff. I had a student cite an article
from The Onion for one paper!)
Body of your original research or case studies
actual research project will vary widely depending on the topic and
on your methodological preferences. You should think about how you
will do this research since there are a number of different
most common type of research done for a project of this scope would
be a literature review which basically lays out a narrative of
what has been written about this topic. This narrative should be
comparative (you compare what different researchers and
writers have to say) and analytical (you should make your own
comments and assessments of what the existing material reveals and
also what is missing from the material you have identified in
you could do a statistical (quantitative) study from either
existing data (such as time series data collected over a period of
years). Or alternatively you might want to do original
research using interviews of a selected sample of people ñ
for example experts on the subject. You can do this on the telephone
with a set of questions you want answered by all respondents. Or it
might be original case studies maybe from information you have
gathered or plan to collect.
your major findings. Make certain that you directly connect this
section to the introduction you wrote and to what you said you
were going to do in this research. Look at the introduction and make
sure that you have clearly stated in that section what you intend to
do in this work.
using the preferred citation method suggested by the
your program of study, the major sources you consulted
for this project. Footnotes can be put at the bottom of each
[1) or you can cite by putting the source after the reference
(Schmidt, 2003, p. 345) and then list the sources alphabetically at
the end of the paper.
Put a clean and informative cover on your project with a
title, your name, a date of submission, and for what class this
project was submitted. You can put a useful graphic on the cover
but be careful to keep it ìtastefulî!
- Number Pages:
You must number all pages since thatís how others will cite
use standard size and style font. Use conventional margins left
right and at top and bottom. Use one and a half spaces unless
otherwise told. It makes it easier to read and write
corrections/comments by the instructor.
It is always helpful to have appropriate graphics such as maps,
tables, charts or other graphic representations in the paper.
These should be used sparingly but they can make a paper richer
and more professional.
I strongly believe that nothing is quite as effective as a few
really significant quotations from authorities on whatever you are
researching. (Remember that hard though it may be to accept this
fact, you are probably not an authority yet!). A few well-chosen
quotes that reinforce the major thesis or conclusions of your
project are very useful.