Research Paper Basic Guidelines

How to Write a Good Research Paperî

Steffen W. Schmidt, Ph.D.

Iowa State University/Nova Oceanographic Center

Note: The 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 findings.


1. Introduction


What 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 section.


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.


Now sketch out a rough outline. Below are some of the main categories you will want to have as sub-headings.


2. Literature Review


This section should:

  • 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!)


3. Body of your original research or case studies


Your 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 approaches.


The 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 your view).


Alternatively 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.


4. Conclusions


Summarize 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.


5. Sources used


List, 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 page [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.


Other Tips:


  • Cover: 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 your work.


  • Font: 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.


  • Tables/Charts: 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.


  • Quotations: 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.


This is an example of a citation - Steffen Schmidt, How to Write a Good Research Paper,Iowa State University/Nova Oceanographic Center, Research Monographs, 2003, p. 345.