The act of writing a research paper is something that every researcher has to do, but not everyone knows how to do it effectively.
Some pretty simple approaches can make the process much simpler and more structured. Once you go through this guide, you'll finally understand what a great research paper is supposed to look like.
1. Choose your idea
When researchers see the ideas everyone else has, they assume they don't have enough uniqueness and quality to offer. A good researcher will still start writing, even if he's not 100% confident that the particular idea would guide him in a good direction. A great researcher can write a paper on any idea, no matter how trivial it sounds at the start. Needless to say, it's not wise to write a research paper on a problem that already has a solution. The point of conducting the research is to find and suggest your own solutions to an unsolved problem.
When you start writing the paper, the idea will have a chance to develop into something great. That won't always happen. Some ideas will turn out to be really insignificant, but you should still give them a chance and work on them at least for few days.
Before you pick the idea you're going to use as foundation for your research, you need to make sure it's useful. This concept is supposed to impress the reader, who will then talk to other people about the idea, and your research will get to as many people as possible.
When the reader goes through the paper, he should clearly say what idea it conveyed. In other words - you need to make it as clear as possible, and you need to relate every single argument to it.
2. Don't wait to start writing!
The typical way of conducting a research is consisted of three steps: pick an idea, spend weeks or months in in-depth research, and write the paper in the last week before the deadline. That's probably the worst plan you could have. Here is a different, more effective approach:
Have an idea
Start writing the paper
When you use the actual paper as a foundation for the research, you're able to develop a more focused project. If you start writing very early and you do the research as you write, you'll avoid the common pitfall of wasting time on research that leads nowhere. With this approach, writing becomes a mechanism for doing research instead of being a simple report of your research effort.
3. Rely on storytelling
Imagine that you're presenting your idea in front of an audience. You want to engage them by explaining what the particular problem is, and you need to convey why it's interesting and important. You should also explain why that problem is unsolved.
Once you present the problem, you need to introduce your idea. You can compare it to ideas that have already been presented as solutions to similar problems, and you have to get into detail when explaining how and why your idea works.
When you connect all these points, the research paper turns into a story that engages the reader. This story is usually presented in the following format:
This is the part that everyone will read. Give a brief explanation of the problem and your idea. Then, hint why this research is important.
It should describe the problem and expose your contributions towards a solution. It's wise to use bullet points when presenting the contributions; they grab the attention of your reader. Instead of presenting your contributions just as arguments, you should provide some evidence that will make the reader believe you're right.
The claims in the introduction should be refutable. When an academic reads your research paper, the introduction shouldn't give them the impression that you're writing about obvious things. Then, in the body of the research paper, you'll prove them that your contributions are valuable.
Keep the intro within one page!
Explaining what the problem is
You've already done the research and you have all ideas you need in your head. The trick is: you have to think about your readers first. Some of them won't know anything about the issue you present, so you need to bring it closer to them.
Make the problem very specific; you don't want people to perceive it as a general observation of an issue. Use real-life examples that illustrate the issue.
Presenting your idea
When you're developing an idea and presenting it during a conversation, you often use examples. When researchers write their papers, however, they tend to stick to overly intellectual language that non-expert readers don't understand. It may sound impressive, but impressing people with things they don't understand is not what research paper writing is about.
You want to write like you're explaining the idea to a friend. You explain the intuition first. That means that before presenting the general case, you give real-world examples.
Providing the details
Don't guide your reader through all blind alleys you encountered during the research process. You don't want to waste their time with details that don't lead them straight to the point.
You made claims in the introduction. In this section, you should provide evidence to support each claim. The evidence may come in the form of analysis and comparison, measurements, theorems, case studies, or another form that's suitable for the idea you're presenting.
Comparing the idea to related work
When you position the related work section at the end, you have presented your idea and you're building up on it. In this section, you're comparing your work to other people's contributions, but that doesn't mean you should make them look bad. Write as if you were inspired by that research, even if your arguments are completely opposite to it.
Conclusion and suggesting further research
It's pretty clear what you need to do in this section: you sum up the problem and your idea for an effective solution, and you suggest researchers to take that idea further. Keep this section under one page.
4. Get feedback
You should listen to your readers! Before the final submission, ask few of your friends to read your research paper and tell you what they think. They don't have to be experts. Just give them the paper and ask them if they got lost somewhere, so you can feel the gaps. Ask them where they got unmotivated to continue reading the paper, and what their general impressions were.
You can also get help from true experts. You can send them a draft and say you find their work very inspiring, so you wonder if they are interested in reading the paper and giving you feedback. Do this in moderation; you don't want to sound aggressive with these emails.
The feedback may hurt you. Instead of thinking the readers were unintelligent for failing to understand what you had to say, think of a way to rewrite the problematic parts in a way that even an uneducated reader would understand.
Once you get the feedback, perform one last edit and you'll be ready to submit your research paper!