Essential Guide To Writing Research Papers

This is an ultimate beginner’s guide on how to write a research to paper in grad school. If you need help writing a research paper, you will likely get a lot out of this handy guide to writing a research paper. The guide should provide most of the steps in writing a research paper – a sort of “research papers for dummies.”

This guide for writing a research paper is very much geared towards those that are interested in research, particularly  in business or the social sciences, but you are likely to find this guide useful if you are an undergraduate student as well. I suspect that even some high school students might find it ok if they are exploring what it might be like to do research as a social scientist. Basically, the guide provides the basic about how to write academic papers at any stage.

All of these lessons are really just the lessons that I learnt over the years in writing my own papers. I am sure that some of these lessons are imperfect, but they are better than starting at square one, which is where most of us start with writing a research paper. The purpose of the guide is to be as helpful for PhDs in writing their research paper as possible. However, I do know that few resources on the interwebs provide such a step-by-step guide.

Please know that not knowing what to do is a central to research and everyone will probably say that you will have to get comfortable with uncertainty. DO NOT worry about writing a good research paper. how to Writing a good research paper is all about writing a ‘bad’ research paper first. You need to get your thoughts down on paper, before you can worry about whether the research paper is good or not.

How to start a research paper? Just start – just write things down. When you think of something, write it up. When you read something, write about it up. When you listen to something, write it up. My point is that most of us think we need to start writing a research paper by being profound, but that is not how most of us actually do research. We just write without ‘thinking.’

It is often the case that when are writing a research paper that you do not know what the right answers are. However, it is important that you continue writing the research paper and write out what you don’t know in the paper. This is called writing your assumptions.

Where do you begin with writing a research paper? There is so much to know. Much of this cannot be learnt unless you are in a graduate program, and you are actually learning from experience. As the saying goes, if there was a simple way to do research, lots of people would be doing research.  The ‘act’ of doing research is a grind, however, coming up with new ideas is super fun. (By the way, it is truly a rewarding career, and there is always room for more people interested in doing research).

Why write research papers? The goal is to ultimately contribute to a body of knowledge about something that is interesting in the natural and social world. It is important to get these thoughts down, and to provide a systematic study of the world around us so that others can build on this knowledge. Writing research papers provides a basis for understanding and documenting the world around us.

This guide will walk you through in a step-by-step basis in how to write a research paper. If you are reading this as part of a class, remember to always listen to your instructor. If you are reading this as part of crafting a paper to send to a journal, always remember to listen to your reviewers. This is always the most important rule. Remember that all of the advice in this blog is worth exactly what you paid for it.

By the way, if you are wondering why I am writing this guide to help you write a research paper, it is to truly help out others go through and become excellent scholars. We all need help with research papers – nobody is perfect. Please do not put the pressure on yourself that you are going to get this perfect. 

The r3ciprocity project is really about helping others and trying to become a better researcher myself. Most of the day I write academically, and this project, especially this blog, is sometimes very rewarding to write in less of an ‘intense way.’

My project is where I am trying to create a proofreading site to help others and organizational science. I really wanted to create a way to advance science and help out future graduate students that are interested in the organizational sciences. Since I am an Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, I thought that I could create a proofreading software platform that can make my efforts more scaleable and also provide a neat tool that others might find useful.

By the way, the reason why I created the proofreading platform was to address my own limitations and inabilities, so if you see proofreading / grammar issues with this blog post, know that you are probably much more equipped with writing analytical skills than I. I am well aware of my limitations in writing. Put more bluntly, I kinda stink at writing.

What are the steps of writing a research paper? These steps are not meant to be definitive, but the steps are meant to give you a guideline for writing research papers.

1. Idea Generation Of The Research Paper.

How do you come up with ideas for your research paper? You cannot imagine how many graduate students have no idea in what they want to write about in their research papers. This is very normal part of learning how to write a research paper – it happened to me for years. I think the key difference between graduate school and undergraduate programs is that in graduate school you are asked to think of the new idea, not just read about the idea. This dreaming up new ideas is a struggle for every academic and it does not change when you get more experience. Theorizing is much more difficult than you think. Where you get better is by knowing the literature a bit more and being more responsive to the advice of others.

Deductive, Recombinative Search For Ideas

I think there are two ways to generate ideas for your research paper. The first is a rather deductive science-push way of doing research. What do I mean by this? In this approach you read what other people have researched in the past and you try to find your research gap relative to this research. What you are going to have to do is first search the literature for articles in your area of interest. How do you choose your area of interest? It is usually something that you find massively interesting. When I first started out, I really did know how to search that effectively, so I thought I would help you out this this video that explains one way in which you can search the literature.

Searching And Using Google Scholar To Find Academic Articles And For Research

Once you read the literature and you find several articles of interest, you would start to carve out your research gap. Finding a research gap is probably easier than you think it is, once you sit down and systematically think about your papers. I was taught, and I very much like this method, to create tables to carve out a research niche. If you want to watch a video on how to find your research gap, you can check out:

A Simple Trick To Find Your Gap Or Niche In Writing Papers And Beyond

Inductive, Generative Search For Ideas

Another way is to create ideas to come up with ideas for a research paper, however it is more difficult, is to focus on generating original ideas. This is very much a generative approach that is focused on immersing yourself in the idea. There are several ways of doing this inductive, generative approach. One way is to do qualitative research where you actually go into the field and watch what people are doing. You can also ask people ‘in the wild’ questions and find out what matters to them. Another way is for you to be creative with new ideas. Some of you might be thinking, how do you be creative? There is actually a lot of ways for you to do create new ideas. Here are two videos that might be useful for you to find new ideas.

How To Identify A Thesis Topic – Thesis Help

Using Metaphors And Analogies For Inspiration For New Ideas And Creativity

Truthfully, coming up with research paper ideas is a combination of both the deductive and inductive search for research ideas. How you write a research paper is very iterative and marked with both delight and uncertainty every week. One week you will read a bunch of papers and think “Wow, I know what to do” and the next week you will think that you miles away from knowing anything. You will also think your ideas are really not that good throughout the entire time. This feeling never goes away.

2. Getting The Idea Down In The Research Paper.

Now that you have the basic idea of what you are going to research, what is the next step in how to write a research paper? Before I get to this step, I want to once again point out that writing a research paper is very iterate and that all of these steps sort of mix together as you are building the argument and the paper.

Check out this in-depth post on thinking of research topics. This guide will help you understand and think about what to write a research paper on – I know that this can be a very tricky thing for most people. Not knowing what to do research on is fundamental to the research process. It goes into great detail about how to think about research topics during your PhD.

Now, what I would do is start thinking of two basic sub-steps.

You need a clear research question.

Your research question will constantly be updating as you work through your research paper, but it is a very good idea to start with the most accurate and robust research question you can think of before you start writing too much down. You might want to ask others what they think of your research question. Does the research question make sense? Is it an important research question? Does anybody care if you answer the research question?

How To Write A Research Question – Nerd-Out Wednesdays

You need to start building the outline of the research paper.

Once you have a ‘pretty’ clear research question, you have to think about formatting the research question and the research idea into a workable research paper. This step in how to write a research paper is rather mundane as it just takes a lot of writing and getting feedback. Writing the outline of the paper takes a few iterations, but you will get there. Just keep mucking around with the idea. If you need to get help on how to write the research paper outline, you can watch a video right here:

You may also need to work on your literature review. We created a large resource on crafting a literature review, which will be very helpful for you.

3. Iterating With The Thesis Of The Research Paper.

Now that you have a basic outline of a research paper, what is next step in how to write a research paper? What do you do to the rest of the manuscript? This is the part of research that drives a lot of people crazy as it requires a lot of work – seriously, it is quite slow. In this stage, you should aim to read and write a lot. What I would do is start systematically thinking about arguments that you can do to build the theory. If you want to know about the different steps to building this part of the paper, I have a whole series of videos about the basic format at each step in the research paper process. Start with this video and follow through the videos.

I am going to skip through this part as the videos describe each section quite well, however, what you need to do build theory and start thinking about the contributions of your paper.

How To Write An Amazing Scientific Research Paper – Nerd-Out Wednesday

4. The ‘Big’ Analysis Is An Important Step In How To Write A Research Paper.

Then comes the analysis. The analysis section is quite difficult, and probably requires that you take several graduate courses on statistics or the method of your choice. Note that the method you choose is largely up to your personal style and taste. You should have a pretty good idea of the method that you are going to choose before you start the paper. In fact, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy if you plan as much of the analysis as you can beforehand.

Indeed, before you write do any data analysis, especially with experiments, I would encourage you to do a pre-registration. While I have not yet preregistered my analyses to date as this was a fairly uncommon practice in the social sciences until late, I think any future experiments that I will run, pre-registering  analyses appears to be a good idea. Why is pre-registering your experimental studies might be useful? For me, it is just for documentation and transparency. Social science, and science in general, is moving towards greater transparency and better record keeping. However, some different techniques might not work as well with preregistering results, such as qualitative analysis. If you don’t pursue the pre-registration route, it is just good practice to be as open with what you are doing as much as you can.

Actually, I found transparency in research papers to be quite useful to explaining your case to reviewers or others interested in your research paper. If someone finds an issue with the paper, you can simply respond with a transparent answer. If you don’t know the answer, or if the answer is impossible to solve given the way that you ran you analysis in the research paper, you can add it as a limitation in the paper.

Before you do the analysis, you should really think about what you are going to expect to find. These are your ‘priors’ in your analysis. These priors are generally based on the existing theory, so they are important to know what these are before you start analyzing the data. Further, these expected results help you think about what you are going to do if you get unexpected results. Again, if you get unexpected results, should be pretty candid about the unexpected results. By the way, do not be alarmed that your results are unexpected – this is where the learning happens. Often, the unexpected results might be signal what you should explore next, either within the current study or for future research directions.

I also wanted to point out that research at the moment is moving towards greater emphasis on causality or an understanding of the identification of the mechanism. You should also think about correlation and causality before you do the analysis, either by thinking about why your research study cannot demonstrate causation or why your correlational results are important for others to know about.

Causation Vs Correlation: What Is Causation And Correlation? – Words In Science – Nerd-Out Wednesday

Introduction To Threats To Internal Validity: Series On Internal Validity

6. Getting Peer Feedback At Research Conferences And From Your Academic Friends.

If you did not know, there is a lot of iteration that happens with a research manuscript. I can’t tell you how many hours that I spend on a paper, and I am not alone. Most of my papers in the organizational sciences take several years to complete. I think my fastest paper so far was about 4-5 years to complete. (Gosh – that is crazy). The best way to refine the paper is to get feedback on what people like about the paper, and what they would improved with it.

If you have never gone to an academic conference before, check out this blog post that goes into more detail about what to expect during an academic conference.

Peer review from colleagues.

The peer review part of the research paper writing process is the most important, as far as I am concerned. You will find that peer review will be your secret weapon to best know how to write a research paper. There are two sources of great information for peer review. Often, this is your immediate colleagues. They quite helpful, and you should try to aim to find people that will give you good feedback. Also, don’t underestimate the power of good feedback. It is hard to find, and when you find someone that is willing to give you good feedback, please take them out for lunch and a beer. They have saved you a lot of effort.

If you want to learn about the project, and why I am building an online community to help academics and PhDs, you have to read this blog post on my journey to build this writing and reviewing accountability software. I detail the birth of this idea and why it is so important to me.

Peer review from conferences.

I find that the major conferences in the field are very helpful to understanding how to better write the research paper. I am sure that most of you know that conferences are important. However, there are costs and benefits of attending academic conferences (See video), and you should think about these costs and benefits before you go. Some conferences offer good feedback for your paper, and others less so, so you should really think about what benefit you are going to get from attending, and whether the conference is going to benefit from your presentation.

7. Journal Submission

Once you have got countless feedback on your work, it is time to submit it to a journal. What I wish I knew when I started grad school is that this is not the terminal stage of your paper. In fact, it often just means that you have to restart the process over again in the next revision. The reviewers are going ask you to revise your paper in ways that you did not anticipate. However, that is all positive as they almost give you very good feedback.

So, that is it. That is how to write a research paper. I hope that this helps with research paper. I would love for you to do well with your research, no matter if you are elementary school, university, or doing your doctorate. If this guide was helpful, make sure you tell people about the R3ciprocity project. We all can use help writing our research papers.

I know that I probably missed some things, but I hope to add more to this post over time, or perhaps, get some help on this project. I glossed over some of the important things, but lots of this information is available in the videos.

Got to go, and take care!


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