What Constitutes a Well-Written Research Paper?

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Writing an outstanding research paper requires preparation and critical thinking skills.
Writing an outstanding research paper requires preparation and critical thinking skills.

Research and writing are closely related activities, and each is an essential component of a well-written research paper. When writing a research paper, a writer must not only take care to consult reliable resources, but she must also take care with the way she uses language. Through a careful selection of words, a writer able to successfully convey the central premise of her paper.

  1. Sourcing

    • Credible sources of information that are uncovered through dilligent research are vital elements that contribute to the value of a research paper. Writers of top notch papers learn to distinguish between primary sources (defined as original sources of information) from secondary sources (defined as material that comments upon primary sources). Common examples of primary sources are archival newspaper articles, original books, or period diary entries, whereas common secondary sources include Internet blogs or Wikipedia entries. Use of both types of sources may be permissible in a research paper, so long as a student verifies the credibility of each source refered to in his paper, and one type of source does not preclude the other.

    Structure

    • An artfully constructed research paper is the result of careful preparation. Such a paper presents a logical argument, which is centered upon explaining the importance of a central premise. Typically, a completed research paper emerges from a simple outline, consisting of a premise and numerous supporting points. However, great care must be taken to avoid selecting a premise that fails to merit comprehensive research. Thus, the topic of a research paper must be charged with specificity. For example, while the premise "Circles are round shapes" does not warrant hours of research, the premise "Circles are integral components of astrophysics" is not a matter of common knowledge and justifies further investigation.

    Formatting

    • When writing a research paper, a writer must always obey the instructions provided with the related research assignment. Each assignment may vary in specifics regarding formatting styles or even mechanics. Common formatting styles that are used when writing papers include MLA Style, Chicago (or Turabian) Style, CBE Style, and APA Style. Each of these styles is quite unlike the other, and a wise writer is observant to minor differences that exist between them. Additionally, writers who are conscientious avoid excessive reliance on computerized spell-checking software. Rather, they proofread their material, and correct their mistakes manually.

    Clarity

    • Despite the fact that they frequently contain complex ideas, well-written research papers share such ideas with readers through meaningful, purposeful language. Clarity of expression is a fundamental feature of such papers, and is evident in a writer's choice of words as well as through her arrangement of supports for her paper's central premise. According to Will Barratt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Student Affairs and Higher Education at Indiana State University, a paper of outstanding quality rests upon a network of clearly-defined supports, because without such structural components, a writer may easily "get lost, crash and burn in such a paper." Essentially, muddled arguments confuse readers, whereas clear reasoning informs them.

    Insight

    • Well-written research papers require the application of critical thinking skills, which include the power of a writer to analyize, evaluate, and draw inferences from various sources. Thus, well-written papers require a writer to think. Steffen W. Schmidt, Ph.D., of Iowa State University emphasizes that when writing a research paper, "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." High-quality papers do not merely present information, but they also convey a writer's own insights regarding the material under discussion.

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