13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing Information, and Keeping a Research Log

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Employ the methods and technologies commonly used for research and communication within various fields.
  • Practice and apply strategies such as interpretation, synthesis, response, and critique to compose texts that integrate the writer’s ideas with those from appropriate sources.
  • Analyze and make informed decisions about intellectual property based on the concepts that motivate them.
  • Apply citation conventions systematically.

As you conduct research, you will work with a range of “texts” in various forms, including sources and documents from online databases as well as images, audio, and video files from the Internet. You may also work with archival materials and with transcribed and analyzed primary data. Additionally, you will be taking notes and recording quotations from secondary sources as you find materials that shape your understanding of your topic and, at the same time, provide you with facts and perspectives. You also may download articles as PDFs that you then annotate. Like many other students, you may find it challenging to keep so much material organized, accessible, and easy to work with while you write a major research paper. As it does for many of those students, a research log for your ideas and sources will help you keep track of the scope, purpose, and possibilities of any research project.

A research log is essentially a journal in which you collect information, ask questions, and monitor the results. Even if you are completing the annotated bibliography for Writing Process: Informing and Analyzing , keeping a research log is an effective organizational tool. Like Lily Tran’s research log entry, most entries have three parts: a part for notes on secondary sources, a part for connections to the thesis or main points, and a part for your own notes or questions. Record source notes by date, and allow room to add cross-references to other entries.

Summary of Assignment: Research Log

Your assignment is to create a research log similar to the student model. You will use it for the argumentative research project assigned in Writing Process: Integrating Research to record all secondary source information: your notes, complete publication data, relation to thesis, and other information as indicated in the right-hand column of the sample entry.

Another Lens. A somewhat different approach to maintaining a research log is to customize it to your needs or preferences. You can apply shading or color coding to headers, rows, and/or columns in the three-column format (for colors and shading). Or you can add columns to accommodate more information, analysis, synthesis, or commentary, formatting them as you wish. Consider adding a column for questions only or one for connections to other sources. Finally, consider a different visual format , such as one without columns. Another possibility is to record some of your comments and questions so that you have an aural rather than a written record of these.

Writing Center

At this point, or at any other point during the research and writing process, you may find that your school’s writing center can provide extensive assistance. If you are unfamiliar with the writing center, now is a good time to pay your first visit. Writing centers provide free peer tutoring for all types and phases of writing. Discussing your research with a trained writing center tutor can help you clarify, analyze, and connect ideas as well as provide feedback on works in progress.

Quick Launch: Beginning Questions

You may begin your research log with some open pages in which you freewrite, exploring answers to the following questions. Although you generally would do this at the beginning, it is a process to which you likely will return as you find more information about your topic and as your focus changes, as it may during the course of your research.

  • What information have I found so far?
  • What do I still need to find?
  • Where am I most likely to find it?

These are beginning questions. Like Lily Tran, however, you will come across general questions or issues that a quick note or freewrite may help you resolve. The key to this section is to revisit it regularly. Written answers to these and other self-generated questions in your log clarify your tasks as you go along, helping you articulate ideas and examine supporting evidence critically. As you move further into the process, consider answering the following questions in your freewrite:

  • What evidence looks as though it best supports my thesis?
  • What evidence challenges my working thesis?
  • How is my thesis changing from where it started?

Creating the Research Log

As you gather source material for your argumentative research paper, keep in mind that the research is intended to support original thinking. That is, you are not writing an informational report in which you simply supply facts to readers. Instead, you are writing to support a thesis that shows original thinking, and you are collecting and incorporating research into your paper to support that thinking. Therefore, a research log, whether digital or handwritten, is a great way to keep track of your thinking as well as your notes and bibliographic information.

In the model below, Lily Tran records the correct MLA bibliographic citation for the source. Then, she records a note and includes the in-text citation here to avoid having to retrieve this information later. Perhaps most important, Tran records why she noted this information—how it supports her thesis: The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now . Finally, she makes a note to herself about an additional visual to include in the final paper to reinforce the point regarding the current pressure on food systems. And she connects the information to other information she finds, thus cross-referencing and establishing a possible synthesis. Use a format similar to that in Table 13.4 to begin your own research log.

Types of Research Notes

Taking good notes will make the research process easier by enabling you to locate and remember sources and use them effectively. While some research projects requiring only a few sources may seem easily tracked, research projects requiring more than a few sources are more effectively managed when you take good bibliographic and informational notes. As you gather evidence for your argumentative research paper, follow the descriptions and the electronic model to record your notes. You can combine these with your research log, or you can use the research log for secondary sources and your own note-taking system for primary sources if a division of this kind is helpful. Either way, be sure to include all necessary information.

Bibliographic Notes

These identify the source you are using. When you locate a useful source, record the information necessary to find that source again. It is important to do this as you find each source, even before taking notes from it. If you create bibliographic notes as you go along, then you can easily arrange them in alphabetical order later to prepare the reference list required at the end of formal academic papers. If your instructor requires you to use MLA formatting for your essay, be sure to record the following information:

  • Title of source
  • Title of container (larger work in which source is included)
  • Other contributors
  • Publication date

When using MLA style with online sources, also record the following information:

  • Date of original publication
  • Date of access
  • DOI (A DOI, or digital object identifier, is a series of digits and letters that leads to the location of an online source. Articles in journals are often assigned DOIs to ensure that the source can be located, even if the URL changes. If your source is listed with a DOI, use that instead of a URL.)

It is important to understand which documentation style your instructor will require you to use. Check the Handbook for MLA Documentation and Format and APA Documentation and Format styles . In addition, you can check the style guide information provided by the Purdue Online Writing Lab .

Informational Notes

These notes record the relevant information found in your sources. When writing your essay, you will work from these notes, so be sure they contain all the information you need from every source you intend to use. Also try to focus your notes on your research question so that their relevance is clear when you read them later. To avoid confusion, work with separate entries for each piece of information recorded. At the top of each entry, identify the source through brief bibliographic identification (author and title), and note the page numbers on which the information appears. Also helpful is to add personal notes, including ideas for possible use of the information or cross-references to other information. As noted in Writing Process: Integrating Research , you will be using a variety of formats when borrowing from sources. Below is a quick review of these formats in terms of note-taking processes. By clarifying whether you are quoting directly, paraphrasing, or summarizing during these stages, you can record information accurately and thus take steps to avoid plagiarism.

Direct Quotations, Paraphrases, and Summaries

A direct quotation is an exact duplication of the author’s words as they appear in the original source. In your notes, put quotation marks around direct quotations so that you remember these words are the author’s, not yours. One advantage of copying exact quotations is that it allows you to decide later whether to include a quotation, paraphrase, or summary. ln general, though, use direct quotations only when the author’s words are particularly lively or persuasive.

A paraphrase is a restatement of the author’s words in your own words. Paraphrase to simplify or clarify the original author’s point. In your notes, use paraphrases when you need to record details but not exact words.

A summary is a brief condensation or distillation of the main point and most important details of the original source. Write a summary in your own words, with facts and ideas accurately represented. A summary is useful when specific details in the source are unimportant or irrelevant to your research question. You may find you can summarize several paragraphs or even an entire article or chapter in just a few sentences without losing useful information. It is a good idea to note when your entry contains a summary to remind you later that it omits detailed information. See Writing Process Integrating Research for more detailed information and examples of quotations, paraphrases, and summaries and when to use them.

Other Systems for Organizing Research Logs and Digital Note-Taking

Students often become frustrated and at times overwhelmed by the quantity of materials to be managed in the research process. If this is your first time working with both primary and secondary sources, finding ways to keep all of the information in one place and well organized is essential.

Because gathering primary evidence may be a relatively new practice, this section is designed to help you navigate the process. As mentioned earlier, information gathered in fieldwork is not cataloged, organized, indexed, or shelved for your convenience. Obtaining it requires diligence, energy, and planning. Online resources can assist you with keeping a research log. Your college library may have subscriptions to tools such as Todoist or EndNote. Consult with a librarian to find out whether you have access to any of these. If not, use something like the template shown in Figure 13.8 , or another like it, as a template for creating your own research notes and organizational tool. You will need to have a record of all field research data as well as the research log for all secondary sources.

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How to take Research Notes

How to take research notes.

Your research notebook is an important piece of information useful for future projects and presentations. Maintaining organized and legible notes allows your research notebook to be a valuable resource to you and your research group. It allows others and yourself to replicate experiments, and it also serves as a useful troubleshooting tool. Besides it being an important part of the research process, taking detailed notes of your research will help you stay organized and allow you to easily review your work.

Here are some common reasons to maintain organized notes:

  • Keeps a record of your goals and thoughts during your research experiments.
  • Keeps a record of what worked and what didn't in your research experiments.
  • Enables others to use your notes as a guide for similar procedures and techniques.
  • A helpful tool to reference when writing a paper, submitting a proposal, or giving a presentation.
  • Assists you in answering experimental questions.
  • Useful to efficiently share experimental approaches, data, and results with others.

Before taking notes:

  • Ask your research professor what note-taking method they recommend or prefer.
  • Consider what type of media you'll be using to take notes.
  • Once you have decided on how you'll be taking notes, be sure to keep all of your notes in one place to remain organized.
  • Plan on taking notes regularly (meetings, important dates, procedures, journal/manuscript revisions, etc.).
  • This is useful when applying to programs or internships that ask about your research experience.

Note Taking Tips:

Taking notes by hand:.

  • Research notebooks don’t belong to you so make sure your notes are legible for others.
  • Use post-it notes or tabs to flag important sections.
  • Start sorting your notes early so that you don't become backed up and disorganized.
  • Only write with a pen as pencils aren’t permanent & sharpies can bleed through.
  • Make it a habit to write in your notebook and not directly on sticky notes or paper towels. Rewriting notes can waste time and sometimes lead to inaccurate data or results.

Taking Notes Electronically

  • Make sure your device is charged and backed up to store data.
  • Invest in note-taking apps or E-Ink tablets
  • Create shortcuts to your folders so you have easier access
  • Create outlines.
  • Keep your notes short and legible.

Note Taking Tips Continued:

Things to avoid.

  • Avoid using pencils or markers that may bleed through.
  • Avoid erasing entries. Instead, draw a straight line through any mistakes and write the date next to the crossed-out information.
  • Avoid writing in cursive.
  • Avoid delaying your entries so you don’t fall behind and forget information.

Formatting Tips

  • Use bullet points to condense your notes to make them simpler to access or color-code them.
  • Tracking your failures and mistakes can improve your work in the future.
  • If possible, take notes as you’re experimenting or make time at the end of each workday to get it done.
  • Record the date at the start of every day, including all dates spent on research.

Types of media to use when taking notes:

Traditional paper notebook.

  • Pros: Able to take quick notes, convenient access to notes, cheaper option
  • Cons: Requires a table of contents or tabs as it is not easily searchable, can get damaged easily, needs to be scanned if making a digital copy

Electronic notebook  

  • Apple Notes  
  • Pros: Easily searchable, note-taking apps available, easy to edit & customize
  • Cons: Can be difficult to find notes if they are unorganized, not as easy to take quick notes, can be a more expensive option

Combination of both

Contact info.

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541-737-5105

How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 4a. Take Notes

  • Get Started
  • 1a. Select a Topic
  • 1b. Develop Research Questions
  • 1c. Identify Keywords
  • 1d. Find Background Information
  • 1e. Refine a Topic
  • 2a. Search Strategies
  • 2d. Articles
  • 2e. Videos & Images
  • 2f. Databases
  • 2g. Websites
  • 2h. Grey Literature
  • 2i. Open Access Materials
  • 3a. Evaluate Sources
  • 3b. Primary vs. Secondary
  • 3c. Types of Periodicals
  • 4a. Take Notes
  • 4b. Outline the Paper
  • 4c. Incorporate Source Material
  • 5a. Avoid Plagiarism
  • 5b. Zotero & MyBib
  • 5c. MLA Formatting
  • 5d. MLA Citation Examples
  • 5e. APA Formatting
  • 5f. APA Citation Examples
  • 5g. Annotated Bibliographies

Note Taking in Bibliographic Management Tools

We encourage students to use bibliographic citation management tools (such as Zotero, EasyBib and RefWorks) to keep track of their research citations. Each service includes a note-taking function. Find more information about citation management tools here . Whether or not you're using one of these, the tips below will help you.

Tips for Taking Notes Electronically

  • Try using a bibliographic citation management tool to keep track of your sources and to take notes.
  • As you add sources, put them in the format you're using (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.).
  • Group sources by publication type (i.e., book, article, website).
  • Number each source within the publication type group.
  • For websites, include the URL information and the date you accessed each site.
  • Next to each idea, include the source number from the Works Cited file and the page number from the source. See the examples below. Note that #A5 and #B2 refer to article source 5 and book source 2 from the Works Cited file.

#A5 p.35: 76.69% of the hyperlinks selected from homepage are for articles and the catalog #B2 p.76: online library guides evolved from the paper pathfinders of the 1960s

  • When done taking notes, assign keywords or sub-topic headings to each idea, quote or summary.
  • Use the copy and paste feature to group keywords or sub-topic ideas together.
  • Back up your master list and note files frequently!

Tips for Taking Notes by Hand

  • Use index cards to keep notes and track sources used in your paper.
  • Include the citation (i.e., author, title, publisher, date, page numbers, etc.) in the format you're using. It will be easier to organize the sources alphabetically when creating the Works Cited page.
  • Number the source cards.
  • Use only one side to record a single idea, fact or quote from one source. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper.
  • Include a heading or key words at the top of the card. 
  • Include the Work Cited source card number.
  • Include the page number where you found the information.
  • Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information to speed up the notetaking process.
  • Write down only the information that answers your research questions.
  • Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.

Forms of Notetaking

Use one of these notetaking forms to capture information:

  • Summarize : Capture the main ideas of the source succinctly by restating them in your own words.
  • Paraphrase : Restate the author's ideas in your own words.
  • Quote : Copy the quotation exactly as it appears in the original source. Put quotation marks around the text and note the name of the person you are quoting.

Example of a Work Cited Card

Example notecard.

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Writing a Research Paper: 5. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources

  • Getting Started
  • 1. Topic Ideas
  • 2. Thesis Statement & Outline
  • 3. Appropriate Sources
  • 4. Search Techniques
  • 5. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources
  • 6. Evaluating Sources
  • 7. Citations & Plagiarism
  • 8. Writing Your Research Paper

Taking Notes & Documenting Sources

How to take notes and document sources.

Note taking is a very important part of the research process.  It will help you:

  • keep your ideas and sources organized
  • effectively use the information you find
  • avoid plagiarism

When you find good information to be used in your paper:

  • Read the text critically, think how it is related to your argument, and decide how you are going to use it in your paper.
  • Select the material that is relevant to your argument.
  • Copy the original text for direct quotations or briefly summarize the content in your own words, and make note of how you will use it.
  • Copy the citation or publication information of the source.
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  • Next: 6. Evaluating Sources >>
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  • URL: https://kenrick.libguides.com/writing-a-research-paper
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Taking Notes from Research Reading

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If you take notes efficiently, you can read with more understanding and also save time and frustration when you come to write your paper. These are three main principles

1. Know what kind of ideas you need to record

Focus your approach to the topic before you start detailed research. Then you will read with a purpose in mind, and you will be able to sort out relevant ideas.

  • First, review the commonly known facts about your topic, and also become aware of the range of thinking and opinions on it. Review your class notes and textbook and browse in an encyclopaedia or other reference work.
  • Try making a preliminary list of the subtopics you would expect to find in your reading. These will guide your attention and may come in handy as labels for notes.
  • Choose a component or angle that interests you, perhaps one on which there is already some controversy. Now formulate your research question. It should allow for reasoning as well as gathering of information—not just what the proto-Iroquoians ate, for instance, but how valid the evidence is for early introduction of corn. You may even want to jot down a tentative thesis statement as a preliminary answer to your question. (See Using Thesis Statements .)
  • Then you will know what to look for in your research reading: facts and theories that help answer your question, and other people’s opinions about whether specific answers are good ones.

2. Don’t write down too much

Your essay must be an expression of your own thinking, not a patchwork of borrowed ideas. Plan therefore to invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own thinking. Your note cards or note sheets will record only ideas that are relevant to your focus on the topic; and they will mostly summarize rather than quote.

  • Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased or surprisingly expressed—when you might use them as actual quotations in your essay.
  • Otherwise, compress ideas in your own words . Paraphrasing word by word is a waste of time. Choose the most important ideas and write them down as labels or headings. Then fill in with a few subpoints that explain or exemplify.
  • Don’t depend on underlining and highlighting. Find your own words for notes in the margin (or on “sticky” notes).

3. Label your notes intelligently

Whether you use cards or pages for note-taking, take notes in a way that allows for later use.

  • Save bother later by developing the habit of recording bibliographic information in a master list when you begin looking at each source (don’t forget to note book and journal information on photocopies). Then you can quickly identify each note by the author’s name and page number; when you refer to sources in the essay you can fill in details of publication easily from your master list. Keep a format guide handy (see Documentation Formats ).
  • Try as far as possible to put notes on separate cards or sheets. This will let you label the topic of each note. Not only will that keep your notetaking focussed, but it will also allow for grouping and synthesizing of ideas later. It is especially satisfying to shuffle notes and see how the conjunctions create new ideas—yours.
  • Leave lots of space in your notes for comments of your own—questions and reactions as you read, second thoughts and cross-references when you look back at what you’ve written. These comments can become a virtual first draft of your paper.

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

Refers to notes created by the researcher during the act of conducting a field study to remember and record the behaviors, activities, events, and other features of an observation. Field notes are intended to be read by the researcher as evidence to produce meaning and an understanding of the culture, social situation, or phenomenon being studied. The notes may constitute the whole data collected for a research study [e.g., an observational project] or contribute to it, such as when field notes supplement conventional interview data or other techniques of data gathering.

Schwandt, Thomas A. The SAGE Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2015.

How to Approach Writing Field Notes

The ways in which you take notes during an observational study is very much a personal decision developed over time as you become more experienced in fieldwork. However, all field notes generally consist of two parts:

  • Descriptive information , in which you attempt to accurately document factual data [e.g., date and time] along with the settings, actions, behaviors, and conversations that you observe; and,
  • Reflective information , in which you record your thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns during the observation.

Note that field notes should be fleshed out as soon as possible after an observation is completed. Your initial notes may be recorded in cryptic form and, unless additional detail is added as soon as possible after the observation, important facts and opportunities for fully interpreting the data may be lost.

Characteristics of Field Notes

  • Be accurate . You only get one chance to observe a particular moment in time so, before you conduct your observations, practice taking notes in a setting that is similar to your observation site in regards to number of people, the environment, and social dynamics. This will help you develop your own style of transcribing observations quickly and accurately.
  • Be organized . Taking accurate notes while you are actively observing can be difficult. Therefore, it is important that you plan ahead how you will document your observation study [e.g., strictly chronologically or according to specific prompts]. Notes that are disorganized will make it more difficult for you to interpret the data.
  • Be descriptive . Use descriptive words to document what you observe. For example, instead of noting that a classroom appears "comfortable," state that the classroom includes soft lighting and cushioned chairs that can be moved around by the students. Being descriptive means supplying yourself with enough factual evidence that you don't end up making assumptions about what you meant when you write the final report.
  • Focus on the research problem . Since it's impossible to document everything you observe, focus on collecting the greatest detail that relates to the research problem and the theoretical constructs underpinning your research; avoid cluttering your notes with irrelevant information. For example, if the purpose of your study is to observe the discursive interactions between nursing home staff and the family members of residents, then it would only be necessary to document the setting in detail if it in some way directly influenced those interactions [e.g., there is a private room available for discussions between staff and family members].
  • Record insights and thoughts . As you take notes, be thinking about the underlying meaning of what you observe and record your thoughts and ideas accordingly. If needed, this will help you to ask questions or seek clarification from participants after the observation. To avoid any confusion, subsequent comments from participants should be included in a separate, reflective part of your field notes and not merged with the descriptive notes.

General Guidelines for the Descriptive Content

The descriptive content of your notes can vary in detail depending upon what needs to be emphasized in order to address the research problem. However, in most observations, your notes should include at least some of the following elements:

  • Describe the physical setting.
  • Describe the social environment and the way in which participants interacted within the setting. This may include patterns of interactions, frequency of interactions, direction of communication patterns [including non-verbal communication], and patterns of specific behavioral events, such as, conflicts, decision-making, or collaboration.
  • Describe the participants and their roles in the setting.
  • Describe, as best you can, the meaning of what was observed from the perspectives of the participants.
  • Record exact quotes or close approximations of comments that relate directly to the purpose of the study.
  • Describe any impact you might have had on the situation you observed [important!].

General Guidelines for the Reflective Content

You are the instrument of data gathering and interpretation. Therefore, reflective content can include any of the following elements intended to contextualize what you have observed based on your perspective and your own personal, cultural, and situational experiences .

  • Note ideas, impressions, thoughts, and/or any criticisms you have about what you observed.
  • Include any unanswered questions or concerns that have arisen from analyzing the observation data.
  • Clarify points and/or correct mistakes and misunderstandings in other parts of field notes.
  • Include insights about what you have observed and speculate as to why you believe specific phenomenon occurred.
  • Record any thoughts that you may have regarding any future observations.

NOTE:   Analysis of your field notes should occur as they are being written and while you are conducting your observations. This is important for at least two reasons. First, preliminary analysis fosters self-reflection and self-reflection is crucial for facilitating deep understanding and meaning-making in any research study. Second, preliminary analysis reveals emergent themes. Identifying emergent themes while observing allows you to shift your attention in ways that can foster a more developed investigation.

Emerson, Robert M. et al. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes . 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011; Ethnography, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gambold, Liesl L. “Field Notes.” In Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Edited by Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos, and Elden Wiebe. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2010; Pace, Tonio. Writing Field Reports. Scribd Online Library; Pyrczak, Fred and Randall R. Bruce. Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences . 5th ed. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing, 2005; Report Writing. UniLearning. University of Wollongong, Australia; Ravitch,  Sharon M. “Field Notes.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation . Edited by Bruce B. Frey. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2018; Tenzek, Kelly E. “Field Notes.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods . Edited by Mike Allen. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2017; Wolfinger, Nicholas H. "On Writing Fieldnotes: Collection Strategies and Background Expectancies.” Qualitative Research 2 (April 2002): 85-95; Writing Reports. Anonymous. The Higher Education Academy.

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How To Write A Research Paper

Step-By-Step Tutorial With Examples + FREE Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | March 2024

For many students, crafting a strong research paper from scratch can feel like a daunting task – and rightly so! In this post, we’ll unpack what a research paper is, what it needs to do , and how to write one – in three easy steps. 🙂 

Overview: Writing A Research Paper

What (exactly) is a research paper.

  • How to write a research paper
  • Stage 1 : Topic & literature search
  • Stage 2 : Structure & outline
  • Stage 3 : Iterative writing
  • Key takeaways

Let’s start by asking the most important question, “ What is a research paper? ”.

Simply put, a research paper is a scholarly written work where the writer (that’s you!) answers a specific question (this is called a research question ) through evidence-based arguments . Evidence-based is the keyword here. In other words, a research paper is different from an essay or other writing assignments that draw from the writer’s personal opinions or experiences. With a research paper, it’s all about building your arguments based on evidence (we’ll talk more about that evidence a little later).

Now, it’s worth noting that there are many different types of research papers , including analytical papers (the type I just described), argumentative papers, and interpretative papers. Here, we’ll focus on analytical papers , as these are some of the most common – but if you’re keen to learn about other types of research papers, be sure to check out the rest of the blog .

With that basic foundation laid, let’s get down to business and look at how to write a research paper .

Research Paper Template

Overview: The 3-Stage Process

While there are, of course, many potential approaches you can take to write a research paper, there are typically three stages to the writing process. So, in this tutorial, we’ll present a straightforward three-step process that we use when working with students at Grad Coach.

These three steps are:

  • Finding a research topic and reviewing the existing literature
  • Developing a provisional structure and outline for your paper, and
  • Writing up your initial draft and then refining it iteratively

Let’s dig into each of these.

Need a helping hand?

how to write notes in a research paper

Step 1: Find a topic and review the literature

As we mentioned earlier, in a research paper, you, as the researcher, will try to answer a question . More specifically, that’s called a research question , and it sets the direction of your entire paper. What’s important to understand though is that you’ll need to answer that research question with the help of high-quality sources – for example, journal articles, government reports, case studies, and so on. We’ll circle back to this in a minute.

The first stage of the research process is deciding on what your research question will be and then reviewing the existing literature (in other words, past studies and papers) to see what they say about that specific research question. In some cases, your professor may provide you with a predetermined research question (or set of questions). However, in many cases, you’ll need to find your own research question within a certain topic area.

Finding a strong research question hinges on identifying a meaningful research gap – in other words, an area that’s lacking in existing research. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if you wanna learn more, check out the plain-language explainer video below.

Once you’ve figured out which question (or questions) you’ll attempt to answer in your research paper, you’ll need to do a deep dive into the existing literature – this is called a “ literature search ”. Again, there are many ways to go about this, but your most likely starting point will be Google Scholar .

If you’re new to Google Scholar, think of it as Google for the academic world. You can start by simply entering a few different keywords that are relevant to your research question and it will then present a host of articles for you to review. What you want to pay close attention to here is the number of citations for each paper – the more citations a paper has, the more credible it is (generally speaking – there are some exceptions, of course).

how to use google scholar

Ideally, what you’re looking for are well-cited papers that are highly relevant to your topic. That said, keep in mind that citations are a cumulative metric , so older papers will often have more citations than newer papers – just because they’ve been around for longer. So, don’t fixate on this metric in isolation – relevance and recency are also very important.

Beyond Google Scholar, you’ll also definitely want to check out academic databases and aggregators such as Science Direct, PubMed, JStor and so on. These will often overlap with the results that you find in Google Scholar, but they can also reveal some hidden gems – so, be sure to check them out.

Once you’ve worked your way through all the literature, you’ll want to catalogue all this information in some sort of spreadsheet so that you can easily recall who said what, when and within what context. If you’d like, we’ve got a free literature spreadsheet that helps you do exactly that.

Don’t fixate on an article’s citation count in isolation - relevance (to your research question) and recency are also very important.

Step 2: Develop a structure and outline

With your research question pinned down and your literature digested and catalogued, it’s time to move on to planning your actual research paper .

It might sound obvious, but it’s really important to have some sort of rough outline in place before you start writing your paper. So often, we see students eagerly rushing into the writing phase, only to land up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on in multiple

Now, the secret here is to not get caught up in the fine details . Realistically, all you need at this stage is a bullet-point list that describes (in broad strokes) what you’ll discuss and in what order. It’s also useful to remember that you’re not glued to this outline – in all likelihood, you’ll chop and change some sections once you start writing, and that’s perfectly okay. What’s important is that you have some sort of roadmap in place from the start.

You need to have a rough outline in place before you start writing your paper - or you’ll end up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on.

At this stage you might be wondering, “ But how should I structure my research paper? ”. Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, but in general, a research paper will consist of a few relatively standardised components:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology

Let’s take a look at each of these.

First up is the introduction section . As the name suggests, the purpose of the introduction is to set the scene for your research paper. There are usually (at least) four ingredients that go into this section – these are the background to the topic, the research problem and resultant research question , and the justification or rationale. If you’re interested, the video below unpacks the introduction section in more detail. 

The next section of your research paper will typically be your literature review . Remember all that literature you worked through earlier? Well, this is where you’ll present your interpretation of all that content . You’ll do this by writing about recent trends, developments, and arguments within the literature – but more specifically, those that are relevant to your research question . The literature review can oftentimes seem a little daunting, even to seasoned researchers, so be sure to check out our extensive collection of literature review content here .

With the introduction and lit review out of the way, the next section of your paper is the research methodology . In a nutshell, the methodology section should describe to your reader what you did (beyond just reviewing the existing literature) to answer your research question. For example, what data did you collect, how did you collect that data, how did you analyse that data and so on? For each choice, you’ll also need to justify why you chose to do it that way, and what the strengths and weaknesses of your approach were.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that for some research papers, this aspect of the project may be a lot simpler . For example, you may only need to draw on secondary sources (in other words, existing data sets). In some cases, you may just be asked to draw your conclusions from the literature search itself (in other words, there may be no data analysis at all). But, if you are required to collect and analyse data, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to the methodology section. The video below provides an example of what the methodology section might look like.

By this stage of your paper, you will have explained what your research question is, what the existing literature has to say about that question, and how you analysed additional data to try to answer your question. So, the natural next step is to present your analysis of that data . This section is usually called the “results” or “analysis” section and this is where you’ll showcase your findings.

Depending on your school’s requirements, you may need to present and interpret the data in one section – or you might split the presentation and the interpretation into two sections. In the latter case, your “results” section will just describe the data, and the “discussion” is where you’ll interpret that data and explicitly link your analysis back to your research question. If you’re not sure which approach to take, check in with your professor or take a look at past papers to see what the norms are for your programme.

Alright – once you’ve presented and discussed your results, it’s time to wrap it up . This usually takes the form of the “ conclusion ” section. In the conclusion, you’ll need to highlight the key takeaways from your study and close the loop by explicitly answering your research question. Again, the exact requirements here will vary depending on your programme (and you may not even need a conclusion section at all) – so be sure to check with your professor if you’re unsure.

Step 3: Write and refine

Finally, it’s time to get writing. All too often though, students hit a brick wall right about here… So, how do you avoid this happening to you?

Well, there’s a lot to be said when it comes to writing a research paper (or any sort of academic piece), but we’ll share three practical tips to help you get started.

First and foremost , it’s essential to approach your writing as an iterative process. In other words, you need to start with a really messy first draft and then polish it over multiple rounds of editing. Don’t waste your time trying to write a perfect research paper in one go. Instead, take the pressure off yourself by adopting an iterative approach.

Secondly , it’s important to always lean towards critical writing , rather than descriptive writing. What does this mean? Well, at the simplest level, descriptive writing focuses on the “ what ”, while critical writing digs into the “ so what ” – in other words, the implications. If you’re not familiar with these two types of writing, don’t worry! You can find a plain-language explanation here.

Last but not least, you’ll need to get your referencing right. Specifically, you’ll need to provide credible, correctly formatted citations for the statements you make. We see students making referencing mistakes all the time and it costs them dearly. The good news is that you can easily avoid this by using a simple reference manager . If you don’t have one, check out our video about Mendeley, an easy (and free) reference management tool that you can start using today.

Recap: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. To recap, the three steps to writing a high-quality research paper are:

  • To choose a research question and review the literature
  • To plan your paper structure and draft an outline
  • To take an iterative approach to writing, focusing on critical writing and strong referencing

Remember, this is just a b ig-picture overview of the research paper development process and there’s a lot more nuance to unpack. So, be sure to grab a copy of our free research paper template to learn more about how to write a research paper.

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  • Cambridge Libraries

Study Skills

Research skills.

  • Searching the literature
  • Note making for dissertations
  • Research Data Management
  • Copyright and licenses
  • Publishing in journals
  • Publishing academic books
  • Depositing your thesis
  • Research metrics
  • Build your online profile
  • Finding support

Note making for dissertations: First steps into writing

how to write notes in a research paper

Note making (as opposed to note taking) is an active practice of recording relevant parts of reading for your research as well as your reflections and critiques of those studies. Note making, therefore, is a pre-writing exercise that helps you to organise your thoughts prior to writing. In this module, we will cover:

  • The difference between note taking and note making
  • Seven tips for good note making
  • Strategies for structuring your notes and asking critical questions
  • Different styles of note making

To complete this section, you will need:

how to write notes in a research paper

  • Approximately 20-30 minutes.
  • Access to the internet. All the resources used here are available freely.
  • Some equipment for jotting down your thoughts, a pen and paper will do, or your phone or another electronic device.

Note taking v note making

When you think about note taking, what comes to mind? Perhaps trying to record everything said in a lecture? Perhaps trying to write down everything included in readings required for a course?

  • Note taking is a passive process. When you take notes, you are often trying to record everything that you are reading or listening to. However, you may have noticed that this takes a lot of effort and often results in too many notes to be useful.  
  • Note making , on the other hand, is an active practice, based on the needs and priorities of your project. Note making is an opportunity for you to ask critical questions of your readings and to synthesise ideas as they pertain to your research questions. Making notes is a pre-writing exercise that develops your academic voice and makes writing significantly easier.

Seven tips for effective note making

Note making is an active process based on the needs of your research. This video contains seven tips to help you make brilliant notes from articles and books to make the most of the time you spend reading and writing.

  • Transcript of Seven Tips for Effective Notemaking

Question prompts for strategic note making

You might consider structuring your notes to answer the following questions. Remember that note making is based on your needs, so not all of these questions will apply in all cases. You might try answering these questions using the note making styles discussed in the next section.

  • Question prompts for strategic note making
  • Background question prompts
  • Critical question prompts
  • Synthesis question prompts

Answer these six questions to frame your reading and provide context.

  • What is the context in which the text was written? What came before it? Are there competing ideas?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the author’s purpose?
  • How is the writing organised?
  • What are the author’s methods?
  • What is the author’s key argument and conclusions?

Answer these six questions to determine your critical perspectivess and develop your academic voice.

  • What are the most interesting/compelling ideas (to you) in this study?
  • Why do you find them interesting? How do they relate to your study?
  • What questions do you have about the study?
  • What could it cover better? How could it have defended its research better?
  • What are the implications of the study? (Look not just to the conclusions but also to definitions and models)
  • Are there any gaps in the study? (Look not just at conclusions but definitions, literature review, methodology)

Answer these five questions to compare aspects of various studies (such as for a literature review. 

  • What are the similarities and differences in the literature?
  • Critically analyse the strengths, limitations, debates and themes that emerg from the literature.
  • What would you suggest for future research or practice?
  • Where are the gaps in the literature? What is missing? Why?
  • What new questions should be asked in this area of study?

Styles of note making

photo of a mind map on a wall

  • Linear notes . Great for recording thoughts about your readings. [video]
  • Mind mapping : Great for thinking through complex topics. [video]

Further sites that discuss techniques for note making:

  • Note-taking techniques
  • Common note-taking methods
  • Strategies for effective note making  

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9 Organizing Research: Taking and Keeping Effective Notes

Once you’ve located the right primary and secondary sources, it’s time to glean all the information you can from them. In this chapter, you’ll first get some tips on taking and organizing notes. The second part addresses how to approach the sort of intermediary assignments (such as book reviews) that are often part of a history course.

Honing your own strategy for organizing your primary and secondary research is a pathway to less stress and better paper success. Moreover, if you can find the method that helps you best organize your notes, these methods can be applied to research you do for any of your classes.

Before the personal computing revolution, most historians labored through archives and primary documents and wrote down their notes on index cards, and then found innovative ways to organize them for their purposes. When doing secondary research, historians often utilized (and many still do) pen and paper for taking notes on secondary sources. With the advent of digital photography and useful note-taking tools like OneNote, some of these older methods have been phased out – though some persist. And, most importantly, once you start using some of the newer techniques below, you may find that you are a little “old school,” and might opt to integrate some of the older techniques with newer technology.

Whether you choose to use a low-tech method of taking and organizing your notes or an app that will help you organize your research, here are a few pointers for good note-taking.

Principles of note-taking

  • If you are going low-tech, choose a method that prevents a loss of any notes. Perhaps use one spiral notebook, or an accordion folder, that will keep everything for your project in one space. If you end up taking notes away from your notebook or folder, replace them—or tape them onto blank pages if you are using a notebook—as soon as possible.
  • If you are going high-tech, pick one application and stick with it. Using a cloud-based app, including one that you can download to your smart phone, will allow you to keep adding to your notes even if you find yourself with time to take notes unexpectedly.
  • When taking notes, whether you’re using 3X5 note cards or using an app described below, write down the author and a shortened title for the publication, along with the page number on EVERY card. We can’t emphasize this point enough; writing down the bibliographic information the first time and repeatedly will save you loads of time later when you are writing your paper and must cite all key information.
  • Include keywords or “tags” that capture why you thought to take down this information in a consistent place on each note card (and when using the apps described below). If you are writing a paper about why Martin Luther King, Jr., became a successful Civil Rights movement leader, for example, you may have a few theories as you read his speeches or how those around him described his leadership. Those theories—religious beliefs, choice of lieutenants, understanding of Gandhi—might become the tags you put on each note card.
  • Note-taking applications can help organize tags for you, but if you are going low tech, a good idea is to put tags on the left side of a note card, and bibliographic info on the right side.

how to write notes in a research paper

Organizing research- applications that can help

Using images in research.

  • If you are in an archive: make your first picture one that includes the formal collection name, the box number, the folder name and call numbe r and anything else that would help you relocate this information if you or someone else needed to. Do this BEFORE you start taking photos of what is in the folder.
  • If you are photographing a book or something you may need to return to the library: take a picture of all the front matter (the title page, the page behind the title with all the publication information, maybe even the table of contents).

Once you have recorded where you find it, resist the urge to rename these photographs. By renaming them, they may be re-ordered and you might forget where you found them. Instead, use tags for your own purposes, and carefully name and date the folder into which the photographs were automatically sorted. There is one free, open-source program, Tropy , which is designed to help organize photos taken in archives, as well as tag, annotate, and organize them. It was developed and is supported by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It is free to download, and you can find it here: https://tropy.org/ ; it is not, however, cloud-based, so you should back up your photos. In other cases, if an archive doesn’t allow photography (this is highly unlikely if you’ve made the trip to the archive), you might have a laptop on hand so that you can transcribe crucial documents.

Using note or project-organizing apps

When you have the time to sit down and begin taking notes on your primary sources, you can annotate your photos in Tropy. Alternatively, OneNote, which is cloud-based, can serve as a way to organize your research. OneNote allows you to create separate “Notebooks” for various projects, but this doesn’t preclude you from searching for terms or tags across projects if the need ever arises. Within each project you can start new tabs, say, for each different collection that you have documents from, or you can start new tabs for different themes that you are investigating. Just as in Tropy, as you go through taking notes on your documents you can create your own “tags” and place them wherever you want in the notes.

Another powerful, free tool to help organize research, especially secondary research though not exclusively, is Zotero found @ https://www.zotero.org/ . Once downloaded, you can begin to save sources (and their URL) that you find on the internet to Zotero. You can create main folders for each major project that you have and then subfolders for various themes if you would like. Just like the other software mentioned, you can create notes and tags about each source, and Zotero can also be used to create bibliographies in the precise format that you will be using. Obviously, this function is super useful when doing a long-term, expansive project like a thesis or dissertation.

How History is Made: A Student’s Guide to Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Discipline Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Cole; Kimberly Breuer; Scott W. Palmer; and Brandon Blakeslee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Take Notes

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How to Use Sources Effectively

Most articles in periodicals and some of the book sources you use, especially those from the children’s room at the library, are probably short enough that you can read them from beginning to end in a reasonable amount of time. Others, however, may be too long for you to do that, and some are likely to cover much more than just your topic. Use the table of contents and the index in a longer book to find the parts of the book that contain information on your topic. When you turn to those parts, skim them to make sure they contain information you can use. Feel free to skip parts that don’t relate to your questions, so you can get the information you need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Don’t—start reading a book and writing down information on a sheet of notebook paper. If you make this mistake, you’ll end up with a lot of disorganized scribbling that may be practically useless when you’re ready to outline your research paper and write a first draft. Some students who tried this had to cut up their notes into tiny strips, spread them out on the floor, and then tape the strips back together in order to put their information in an order that made sense. Other students couldn’t even do that—without going to a photocopier first—because they had written on both sides of the paper. To avoid that kind of trouble, use the tried-and-true method students have been using for years—take notes on index cards.

Taking Notes on Index Cards

As you begin reading your sources, use either 3″ x 5″ or 4″ x 6″ index cards to write down information you might use in your paper. The first thing to remember is: Write only one idea on each card. Even if you write only a few words on one card, don’t write anything about a new idea on that card. Begin a new card instead. Also, keep all your notes for one card only on that card. It’s fine to write on both the front and back of a card, but don’t carry the same note over to a second card. If you have that much to write, you probably have more than one idea.

After you complete a note card, write the source number of the book you used in the upper left corner of the card. Below the source number, write the exact number or numbers of the pages on which you found the information. In the upper right corner, write one or two words that describe the specific subject of the card. These words are like a headline that describes the main information on the card. Be as clear as possible because you will need these headlines later.

After you finish taking notes from a source, write a check mark on your source card as a reminder that you’ve gone through that source thoroughly and written down all the important information you found there. That way, you won’t wonder later whether you should go back and read that source again.

Taking Notes on Your Computer

Another way to take notes is on your computer. In order to use this method, you have to rely completely on sources that you can take home, unless you have a laptop computer that you can take with you to the library.

If you do choose to take notes on your computer, think of each entry on your screen as one in a pack of electronic note cards. Write your notes exactly as if you were using index cards. Be sure to leave space between each note so that they don’t run together and look confusing when you’re ready to use them. You might want to insert a page break between each “note card.”

When deciding whether to use note cards or a computer, remember one thing—high-tech is not always better. Many students find low-tech index cards easier to organize and use than computer notes that have to be moved around by cutting and pasting. In the end, you’re the one who knows best how you work, so the choice is up to you.

How to Take Effective Notes

Knowing the best format for notes is important, but knowing what to write on your cards or on your computer is essential. Strong notes are the backbone of a good research paper.

Not Too Much or Too Little

When researching, you’re likely to find a lot of interesting information that you never knew before. That’s great! You can never learn too much. But for now your goal is to find information you can use in your research paper. Giving in to the temptation to take notes on every detail you find in your research can lead to a huge volume of notes—many of which you won’t use at all. This can become difficult to manage at later stages, so limit yourself to information that really belongs in your paper. If you think a piece of information might be useful but you aren’t sure, ask yourself whether it helps answer one of your research questions.

Writing too much is one pitfall; writing too little is another. Consider this scenario: You’ve been working in the library for a couple of hours, and your hand grows tired from writing. You come to a fairly complicated passage about how to tell if a dog is angry, so you say to yourself, “I don’t have to write all this down. I’ll remember.” But you won’t remember—especially after all the reading and note taking you have been doing. If you find information you know you want to use later on, get it down. If you’re too tired, take a break or take off the rest of the day and return tomorrow when you’re fresh.

To Note or Not to Note: That is the Question

What if you come across an idea or piece of information that you’ve already found in another source? Should you write it down again? You don’t want to end up with a whole stack of cards with the same information on each one. On the other hand, knowing that more than one source agrees on a particular point is helpful. Here’s the solution: Simply add the number of the new source to the note card that already has the same piece of information written on it. Take notes on both sources. In your paper, you may want to come right out and say that sources disagree on this point. You may even want to support one opinion or the other—if you think you have a strong enough argument based on facts from your research.

Paraphrasing—Not Copying

Have you ever heard the word plagiarism? It means copying someone else’s words and claiming them as your own. It’s really a kind of stealing, and there are strict rules against it.

The trouble is many students plagiarize without meaning to do so. The problem starts at the note-taking stage. As a student takes notes, he or she may simply copy the exact words from a source. The student doesn’t put quotation marks around the words to show that they are someone else’s. When it comes time to draft the paper, the student doesn’t even remember that those words were copied from a source, and the words find their way into the draft and then into the final paper. Without intending to do so, that student has plagiarized, or stolen, another person’s words.

The way to avoid plagiarism is to paraphrase, or write down ideas in your own words rather than copy them exactly. Look again at the model note cards in this chapter, and notice that the words in the notes are not the same as the words from the sources. Some of the notes are not even written in complete sentences. Writing in incomplete sentences is one way to make sure you don’t copy—and it saves you time, energy, and space. When you write a draft of your research paper, of course, you will use complete sentences.

How to Organize Your Notes

Once you’ve used all your sources and taken all your notes, what do you have? You have a stack of cards (or if you’ve taken notes on a computer, screen after screen of entries) about a lot of stuff in no particular order. Now you need to organize your notes in order to turn them into the powerful tool that helps you outline and draft your research paper. Following are some ideas on how to do this, so get your thinking skills in gear to start doing the job for your own paper.

Organizing Note Cards

The beauty of using index cards to take notes is that you can move them around until they are in the order you want. You don’t have to go through complicated cutting-and-pasting procedures, as you would on your computer, and you can lay your cards out where you can see them all at once. One word of caution—work on a surface where your cards won’t fall on the floor while you’re organizing them.

Start by sorting all your cards with the same headlines into the same piles, since all of these note cards are about the same basic idea. You don’t have to worry about keeping notes from the same sources together because each card is marked with a number identifying its source.

Next, arrange the piles of cards so that the order the ideas appear in makes sense. Experts have named six basic types of order. One—or a combination of these—may work for you:

  • Chronological , or Time, Order covers events in the order in which they happened. This kind of order works best for papers that discuss historical events or tell about a person’s life.
  • Spatial  Order organizes your information by its place or position. This kind of order can work for papers about geography or about how to design something—a garden, for example.
  • Cause and Effect  discusses how one event or action leads to another. This kind of organization works well if your paper explains a scientific process or events in history.
  • Problem/Solution explains a problem and one or more ways in which it can be solved. You might use this type of organization for a paper about an environmental issue, such as global warming.
  • Compare and Contrast  discusses similarities and differences between people, things, events, or ideas.
  • Order of  Importance  explains an idea, starting with its most important aspects first and ending with the least important aspects—or the other way around.

After you determine your basic organization, arrange your piles accordingly. You’ll end up with three main piles—one for sounds, one for facial expressions, and one for body language. Go through each pile and put the individual cards in an order that makes sense. Don’t forget that you can move your cards around, trying out different organizations, until you are satisfied that one idea flows logically into another. Use a paper clip or rubber band to hold the piles together, and then stack them in the order you choose. Put a big rubber band around the whole stack so the cards stay in order.

Organizing Notes on Your Computer

If you’ve taken notes on a computer, organize them in much the same way you would organize index cards. The difference is that you use the cut-and-paste functions on your computer rather than moving cards around. The advantage is that you end up with something that’s already typed—something you can eventually turn into an outline without having to copy anything over. The disadvantage is that you may have more trouble moving computer notes around than note cards: You can’t lay your notes out and look at them all at once, and you may get confused when trying to find where information has moved within a long file on your computer screen.

However, be sure to back up your note cards on an external storage system of your choice. In addition, print hard copies as you work. This way, you won’t lose your material if your hard drive crashes or the file develops a glitch.

Developing a Working Bibliography

When you start your research, your instructor may ask you to prepare a working bibliography listing the sources you plan to use. Your working bibliography differs from your Works Cited page in its scope: your working bibliography is much larger. Your Works Cited page will include only those sources you have actually cited in your research paper.

To prepare a working bibliography, arrange your note cards in the order required by your documentation system (such as MLA and APA) and keyboard the entries following the correct form. If you have created your bibliography cards on the computer, you just have to sort them, usually into alphabetical order.

Developing an Annotated Bibliography

Some instructors may ask you to create an annotated bibliography as a middle step between your working bibliography and your Works Cited page. An annotated bibliography is the same as a working bibliography except that it includes comments about the sources. These notes enable your instructor to assess your progress. They also help you evaluate your information more easily. For example, you might note that some sources are difficult to find, hard to read, or especially useful.

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How to organize research notes using the Zettelkasten Method when writing academic papers

Smart Note-Taking for Research Paper Writing

With plenty of note-taking tips and apps available, online and in paper form, it’s become extremely easy to take note of information, ideas, or thoughts. As simple as it is to write down an idea or jot down a quote, the skill of academic research and writing for a thesis paper is on another level entirely. And keeping a record or an archive of all of the information you need can quickly require a very organized system.

female studying taking notes checking calendar

The use of index cards seems old-fashioned considering that note-taking apps (psst! Hypernotes ) offer better functionality and are arguably more user-friendly. However, software is only there to help aid our individual workflow and thinking process. That’s why understanding and learning how to properly research, take notes and write academic papers is still a highly valuable skill.

Let’s Start Writing! But Where to Start…

Writing academic papers is a vital skill most students need to learn and practice. Academic papers are usually time-intensive pieces of written content that are a requirement throughout school or at University. Whether a topic is assigned or you have to choose your own, there’s little room for variation in how to begin.

Popular and purposeful in analyzing and evaluating the knowledge of the author as well as assessing if the learning objectives were met, research papers serve as information-packed content. Most of us may not end up working jobs in academic professions or be researchers at institutions, where writing research papers is also part of the job, but we often read such papers. 

Despite the fact that most research papers or dissertations aren’t often read in full, journalists, academics, and other professionals regularly use academic papers as a basis for further literary publications or blog articles. The standard of academic papers ensures the validity of the information and gives the content authority. 

There’s no-nonsense in research papers. To make sure to write convincing and correct content, the research stage is extremely important. And, naturally, when doing any kind of research, we take notes.

Why Take Notes?

There are particular standards defined for writing academic papers . In order to meet these standards, a specific amount of background information and researched literature is required. Taking notes helps keep track of read/consumed literary material as well as keeps a file of any information that may be of importance to the topic. 

The aim of writing isn’t merely to advertise fully formed opinions, but also serves the purpose of developing opinions worth sharing in the first place. 

What is Note-Taking?

home office work desk

Note-taking (sometimes written as notetaking or note-taking ) is the practice of recording information from different sources and platforms. For academic writing, note-taking is the process of obtaining and compiling information that answers and supports the research paper’s questions and topic. Notes can be in one of three forms: summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation.

Note-taking is an excellent process useful for anyone to turn individual thoughts and information into organized ideas ready to be communicated through writing. Notes are, however, only as valuable as the context. Since notes are also a byproduct of the information we consume daily, it’s important to categorize information, develop connections, and establish relationships between pieces of information. 

What Type of Notes Can I Take?

  • Explanation of complex theories
  • Background information on events or persons of interest
  • Definitions of terms
  • Quotations of significant value
  • Illustrations or graphics

Note-Taking 101

taking notes in notebook

Taking notes or doing research for academic papers shouldn’t be that difficult, considering we take notes all the time. Wrong. Note-taking for research papers isn’t the same as quickly noting down an interesting slogan or cool quote from a video, putting it on a sticky note, and slapping it onto your bedroom or office wall.

Note-taking for research papers requires focus and careful deliberation of which information is important to note down, keep on file, or use and reference in your own writing. Depending on the topic and requirements of your research paper from your University or institution, your notes might include explanations of complex theories, definitions, quotations, and graphics. 

Stages of Research Paper Writing

5 Stages of Writing

1. Preparation Stage

Before you start, it’s recommended to draft a plan or an outline of how you wish to begin preparing to write your research paper. Make note of the topic you will be writing on, as well as the stylistic and literary requirements for your paper.

2. Research Stage

In the research stage, finding good and useful literary material for background knowledge is vital. To find particular publications on a topic, you can use Google Scholar or access literary databases and institutions made available to you through your school, university, or institution. 

Make sure to write down the source location of the literary material you find. Always include the reference title, author, page number, and source destination. This saves you time when formatting your paper in the later stages and helps keep the information you collect organized and referenceable.

Hypernotes Zettelkasten Note-taking Reference

In the worst-case scenario, you’ll have to do a backward search to find the source of a quote you wrote down without reference to the original literary material. 

3. Writing Stage

When writing, an outline or paper structure is helpful to visually break up the piece into sections. Once you have defined the sections, you can begin writing and referencing the information you have collected in the research stage.

Clearly mark which text pieces and information where you relied on background knowledge, which texts are directly sourced, and which information you summarized or have written in your own words. This is where your paper starts to take shape.  

4. Draft Stage

After organizing all of your collected notes and starting to write your paper, you are already in the draft stage. In the draft stage, the background information collected and the text written in your own words come together. Every piece of information is structured by the subtopics and sections you defined in the previous stages. 

5. Final Stage

Success! Well… almost! In the final stage, you look over your whole paper and check for consistency and any irrelevancies. Read through the entire paper for clarity, grammatical errors , and peace of mind that you have included everything important. 

Make sure you use the correct formatting and referencing method requested by your University or institution for research papers. Don’t forget to save it and then send the paper on its way.

Best Practice Note-Taking Tips

  • Find relevant and authoritative literary material through the search bar of literary databases and institutions.
  • Practice citation repeatedly! Always keep a record of the reference book title, author, page number, and source location. At best, format the citation in the necessary format from the beginning. 
  • Organize your notes according to topic or reference to easily find the information again when in the writing stage. Work invested in the early stages eases the writing and editing process of the later stages.
  • Summarize research notes and write in your own words as much as possible. Cite direct quotes and clearly mark copied text in your notes to avoid plagiarism.  

Take Smart Notes

Hypernotes Zettelkasten reference

Taking smart notes isn’t as difficult as it seems. It’s simply a matter of principle, defined structure, and consistency. Whether you opt for a paper-based system or use a digital tool to write and organize your notes depends solely on your individual personality, needs, and workflow.

With various productivity apps promoting diverse techniques, a good note-taking system to take smart notes is the Zettelkasten Method . Invented by Niklas Luhmann, a german sociologist and researcher, the Zettelkasten Method is known as the smart note-taking method that popularized personalized knowledge management. 

As a strategic process for thinking and writing, the Zettelkasten Method helps you organize your knowledge while working, studying, or researching. Directly translated as a ‘note box’, Zettelkasten is simply a framework to help organize your ideas, thoughts, and information by relating pieces of knowledge and connecting pieces of information to each other.

Hypernotes is a note-taking app that can be used as a software-based Zettelkasten, with integrated features to make smart note-taking so much easier, such as auto-connecting related notes, and syncing to multiple devices. In each notebook, you can create an archive of your thoughts, ideas, and information. 

Hypernotes Zettelkasten Knowledge Graph Reference

Using the tag system to connect like-minded ideas and information to one another and letting Hypernotes do its thing with bi-directional linking, you’ll soon create a web of knowledge about anything you’ve ever taken note of. This feature is extremely helpful to navigate through the enormous amounts of information you’ve written down. Another benefit is that it assists you in categorizing and making connections between your ideas, thoughts, and saved information in a single notebook. Navigate through your notes, ideas, and knowledge easily.

Ready, Set, Go!

Writing academic papers is no simple task. Depending on the requirements, resources available, and your personal research and writing style, techniques, apps, or practice help keep you organized and increase your productivity. 

Whether you use a particular note-taking app like Hypernotes for your research paper writing or opt for a paper-based system, make sure you follow a particular structure. Repeat the steps that help you find the information you need quicker and allow you to reproduce or create knowledge naturally.

Images from NeONBRAND , hana_k and Surface via Unsplash 

A well-written piece is made up of authoritative sources and uses the art of connecting ideas, thoughts, and information together. Good luck to all students and professionals working on research paper writing! We hope these tips help you in organizing the information and aid your workflow in your writing process.

Cheers, Jessica and the Zenkit Team

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  • How to write a research paper

Last updated

11 January 2024

Reviewed by

With proper planning, knowledge, and framework, completing a research paper can be a fulfilling and exciting experience. 

Though it might initially sound slightly intimidating, this guide will help you embrace the challenge. 

By documenting your findings, you can inspire others and make a difference in your field. Here's how you can make your research paper unique and comprehensive.

  • What is a research paper?

Research papers allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. These papers are usually lengthier and more detailed than typical essays, requiring deeper insight into the chosen topic.

To write a research paper, you must first choose a topic that interests you and is relevant to the field of study. Once you’ve selected your topic, gathering as many relevant resources as possible, including books, scholarly articles, credible websites, and other academic materials, is essential. You must then read and analyze these sources, summarizing their key points and identifying gaps in the current research.

You can formulate your ideas and opinions once you thoroughly understand the existing research. To get there might involve conducting original research, gathering data, or analyzing existing data sets. It could also involve presenting an original argument or interpretation of the existing research.

Writing a successful research paper involves presenting your findings clearly and engagingly, which might involve using charts, graphs, or other visual aids to present your data and using concise language to explain your findings. You must also ensure your paper adheres to relevant academic formatting guidelines, including proper citations and references.

Overall, writing a research paper requires a significant amount of time, effort, and attention to detail. However, it is also an enriching experience that allows you to delve deeply into a subject that interests you and contribute to the existing body of knowledge in your chosen field.

  • How long should a research paper be?

Research papers are deep dives into a topic. Therefore, they tend to be longer pieces of work than essays or opinion pieces. 

However, a suitable length depends on the complexity of the topic and your level of expertise. For instance, are you a first-year college student or an experienced professional? 

Also, remember that the best research papers provide valuable information for the benefit of others. Therefore, the quality of information matters most, not necessarily the length. Being concise is valuable.

Following these best practice steps will help keep your process simple and productive:

1. Gaining a deep understanding of any expectations

Before diving into your intended topic or beginning the research phase, take some time to orient yourself. Suppose there’s a specific topic assigned to you. In that case, it’s essential to deeply understand the question and organize your planning and approach in response. Pay attention to the key requirements and ensure you align your writing accordingly. 

This preparation step entails

Deeply understanding the task or assignment

Being clear about the expected format and length

Familiarizing yourself with the citation and referencing requirements 

Understanding any defined limits for your research contribution

Where applicable, speaking to your professor or research supervisor for further clarification

2. Choose your research topic

Select a research topic that aligns with both your interests and available resources. Ideally, focus on a field where you possess significant experience and analytical skills. In crafting your research paper, it's crucial to go beyond summarizing existing data and contribute fresh insights to the chosen area.

Consider narrowing your focus to a specific aspect of the topic. For example, if exploring the link between technology and mental health, delve into how social media use during the pandemic impacts the well-being of college students. Conducting interviews and surveys with students could provide firsthand data and unique perspectives, adding substantial value to the existing knowledge.

When finalizing your topic, adhere to legal and ethical norms in the relevant area (this ensures the integrity of your research, protects participants' rights, upholds intellectual property standards, and ensures transparency and accountability). Following these principles not only maintains the credibility of your work but also builds trust within your academic or professional community.

For instance, in writing about medical research, consider legal and ethical norms , including patient confidentiality laws and informed consent requirements. Similarly, if analyzing user data on social media platforms, be mindful of data privacy regulations, ensuring compliance with laws governing personal information collection and use. Aligning with legal and ethical standards not only avoids potential issues but also underscores the responsible conduct of your research.

3. Gather preliminary research

Once you’ve landed on your topic, it’s time to explore it further. You’ll want to discover more about available resources and existing research relevant to your assignment at this stage. 

This exploratory phase is vital as you may discover issues with your original idea or realize you have insufficient resources to explore the topic effectively. This key bit of groundwork allows you to redirect your research topic in a different, more feasible, or more relevant direction if necessary. 

Spending ample time at this stage ensures you gather everything you need, learn as much as you can about the topic, and discover gaps where the topic has yet to be sufficiently covered, offering an opportunity to research it further. 

4. Define your research question

To produce a well-structured and focused paper, it is imperative to formulate a clear and precise research question that will guide your work. Your research question must be informed by the existing literature and tailored to the scope and objectives of your project. By refining your focus, you can produce a thoughtful and engaging paper that effectively communicates your ideas to your readers.

5. Write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is a one-to-two-sentence summary of your research paper's main argument or direction. It serves as an overall guide to summarize the overall intent of the research paper for you and anyone wanting to know more about the research.

A strong thesis statement is:

Concise and clear: Explain your case in simple sentences (avoid covering multiple ideas). It might help to think of this section as an elevator pitch.

Specific: Ensure that there is no ambiguity in your statement and that your summary covers the points argued in the paper.

Debatable: A thesis statement puts forward a specific argument––it is not merely a statement but a debatable point that can be analyzed and discussed.

Here are three thesis statement examples from different disciplines:

Psychology thesis example: "We're studying adults aged 25-40 to see if taking short breaks for mindfulness can help with stress. Our goal is to find practical ways to manage anxiety better."

Environmental science thesis example: "This research paper looks into how having more city parks might make the air cleaner and keep people healthier. I want to find out if more green spaces means breathing fewer carcinogens in big cities."

UX research thesis example: "This study focuses on improving mobile banking for older adults using ethnographic research, eye-tracking analysis, and interactive prototyping. We investigate the usefulness of eye-tracking analysis with older individuals, aiming to spark debate and offer fresh perspectives on UX design and digital inclusivity for the aging population."

6. Conduct in-depth research

A research paper doesn’t just include research that you’ve uncovered from other papers and studies but your fresh insights, too. You will seek to become an expert on your topic––understanding the nuances in the current leading theories. You will analyze existing research and add your thinking and discoveries.  It's crucial to conduct well-designed research that is rigorous, robust, and based on reliable sources. Suppose a research paper lacks evidence or is biased. In that case, it won't benefit the academic community or the general public. Therefore, examining the topic thoroughly and furthering its understanding through high-quality research is essential. That usually means conducting new research. Depending on the area under investigation, you may conduct surveys, interviews, diary studies , or observational research to uncover new insights or bolster current claims.

7. Determine supporting evidence

Not every piece of research you’ve discovered will be relevant to your research paper. It’s important to categorize the most meaningful evidence to include alongside your discoveries. It's important to include evidence that doesn't support your claims to avoid exclusion bias and ensure a fair research paper.

8. Write a research paper outline

Before diving in and writing the whole paper, start with an outline. It will help you to see if more research is needed, and it will provide a framework by which to write a more compelling paper. Your supervisor may even request an outline to approve before beginning to write the first draft of the full paper. An outline will include your topic, thesis statement, key headings, short summaries of the research, and your arguments.

9. Write your first draft

Once you feel confident about your outline and sources, it’s time to write your first draft. While penning a long piece of content can be intimidating, if you’ve laid the groundwork, you will have a structure to help you move steadily through each section. To keep up motivation and inspiration, it’s often best to keep the pace quick. Stopping for long periods can interrupt your flow and make jumping back in harder than writing when things are fresh in your mind.

10. Cite your sources correctly

It's always a good practice to give credit where it's due, and the same goes for citing any works that have influenced your paper. Building your arguments on credible references adds value and authenticity to your research. In the formatting guidelines section, you’ll find an overview of different citation styles (MLA, CMOS, or APA), which will help you meet any publishing or academic requirements and strengthen your paper's credibility. It is essential to follow the guidelines provided by your school or the publication you are submitting to ensure the accuracy and relevance of your citations.

11. Ensure your work is original

It is crucial to ensure the originality of your paper, as plagiarism can lead to serious consequences. To avoid plagiarism, you should use proper paraphrasing and quoting techniques. Paraphrasing is rewriting a text in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. Quoting involves directly citing the source. Giving credit to the original author or source is essential whenever you borrow their ideas or words. You can also use plagiarism detection tools such as Scribbr or Grammarly to check the originality of your paper. These tools compare your draft writing to a vast database of online sources. If you find any accidental plagiarism, you should correct it immediately by rephrasing or citing the source.

12. Revise, edit, and proofread

One of the essential qualities of excellent writers is their ability to understand the importance of editing and proofreading. Even though it's tempting to call it a day once you've finished your writing, editing your work can significantly improve its quality. It's natural to overlook the weaker areas when you've just finished writing a paper. Therefore, it's best to take a break of a day or two, or even up to a week, to refresh your mind. This way, you can return to your work with a new perspective. After some breathing room, you can spot any inconsistencies, spelling and grammar errors, typos, or missing citations and correct them. 

  • The best research paper format 

The format of your research paper should align with the requirements set forth by your college, school, or target publication. 

There is no one “best” format, per se. Depending on the stated requirements, you may need to include the following elements:

Title page: The title page of a research paper typically includes the title, author's name, and institutional affiliation and may include additional information such as a course name or instructor's name. 

Table of contents: Include a table of contents to make it easy for readers to find specific sections of your paper.

Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the purpose of the paper.

Methods : In this section, describe the research methods used. This may include collecting data , conducting interviews, or doing field research .

Results: Summarize the conclusions you drew from your research in this section.

Discussion: In this section, discuss the implications of your research . Be sure to mention any significant limitations to your approach and suggest areas for further research.

Tables, charts, and illustrations: Use tables, charts, and illustrations to help convey your research findings and make them easier to understand.

Works cited or reference page: Include a works cited or reference page to give credit to the sources that you used to conduct your research.

Bibliography: Provide a list of all the sources you consulted while conducting your research.

Dedication and acknowledgments : Optionally, you may include a dedication and acknowledgments section to thank individuals who helped you with your research.

  • General style and formatting guidelines

Formatting your research paper means you can submit it to your college, journal, or other publications in compliance with their criteria.

Research papers tend to follow the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) guidelines.

Here’s how each style guide is typically used:

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS):

CMOS is a versatile style guide used for various types of writing. It's known for its flexibility and use in the humanities. CMOS provides guidelines for citations, formatting, and overall writing style. It allows for both footnotes and in-text citations, giving writers options based on their preferences or publication requirements.

American Psychological Association (APA):

APA is common in the social sciences. It’s hailed for its clarity and emphasis on precision. It has specific rules for citing sources, creating references, and formatting papers. APA style uses in-text citations with an accompanying reference list. It's designed to convey information efficiently and is widely used in academic and scientific writing.

Modern Language Association (MLA):

MLA is widely used in the humanities, especially literature and language studies. It emphasizes the author-page format for in-text citations and provides guidelines for creating a "Works Cited" page. MLA is known for its focus on the author's name and the literary works cited. It’s frequently used in disciplines that prioritize literary analysis and critical thinking.

To confirm you're using the latest style guide, check the official website or publisher's site for updates, consult academic resources, and verify the guide's publication date. Online platforms and educational resources may also provide summaries and alerts about any revisions or additions to the style guide.

Citing sources

When working on your research paper, it's important to cite the sources you used properly. Your citation style will guide you through this process. Generally, there are three parts to citing sources in your research paper: 

First, provide a brief citation in the body of your essay. This is also known as a parenthetical or in-text citation. 

Second, include a full citation in the Reference list at the end of your paper. Different types of citations include in-text citations, footnotes, and reference lists. 

In-text citations include the author's surname and the date of the citation. 

Footnotes appear at the bottom of each page of your research paper. They may also be summarized within a reference list at the end of the paper. 

A reference list includes all of the research used within the paper at the end of the document. It should include the author, date, paper title, and publisher listed in the order that aligns with your citation style.

10 research paper writing tips:

Following some best practices is essential to writing a research paper that contributes to your field of study and creates a positive impact.

These tactics will help you structure your argument effectively and ensure your work benefits others:

Clear and precise language:  Ensure your language is unambiguous. Use academic language appropriately, but keep it simple. Also, provide clear takeaways for your audience.

Effective idea separation:  Organize the vast amount of information and sources in your paper with paragraphs and titles. Create easily digestible sections for your readers to navigate through.

Compelling intro:  Craft an engaging introduction that captures your reader's interest. Hook your audience and motivate them to continue reading.

Thorough revision and editing:  Take the time to review and edit your paper comprehensively. Use tools like Grammarly to detect and correct small, overlooked errors.

Thesis precision:  Develop a clear and concise thesis statement that guides your paper. Ensure that your thesis aligns with your research's overall purpose and contribution.

Logical flow of ideas:  Maintain a logical progression throughout the paper. Use transitions effectively to connect different sections and maintain coherence.

Critical evaluation of sources:  Evaluate and critically assess the relevance and reliability of your sources. Ensure that your research is based on credible and up-to-date information.

Thematic consistency:  Maintain a consistent theme throughout the paper. Ensure that all sections contribute cohesively to the overall argument.

Relevant supporting evidence:  Provide concise and relevant evidence to support your arguments. Avoid unnecessary details that may distract from the main points.

Embrace counterarguments:  Acknowledge and address opposing views to strengthen your position. Show that you have considered alternative arguments in your field.

7 research tips 

If you want your paper to not only be well-written but also contribute to the progress of human knowledge, consider these tips to take your paper to the next level:

Selecting the appropriate topic: The topic you select should align with your area of expertise, comply with the requirements of your project, and have sufficient resources for a comprehensive investigation.

Use academic databases: Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and JSTOR offer a wealth of research papers that can help you discover everything you need to know about your chosen topic.

Critically evaluate sources: It is important not to accept research findings at face value. Instead, it is crucial to critically analyze the information to avoid jumping to conclusions or overlooking important details. A well-written research paper requires a critical analysis with thorough reasoning to support claims.

Diversify your sources: Expand your research horizons by exploring a variety of sources beyond the standard databases. Utilize books, conference proceedings, and interviews to gather diverse perspectives and enrich your understanding of the topic.

Take detailed notes: Detailed note-taking is crucial during research and can help you form the outline and body of your paper.

Stay up on trends: Keep abreast of the latest developments in your field by regularly checking for recent publications. Subscribe to newsletters, follow relevant journals, and attend conferences to stay informed about emerging trends and advancements. 

Engage in peer review: Seek feedback from peers or mentors to ensure the rigor and validity of your research . Peer review helps identify potential weaknesses in your methodology and strengthens the overall credibility of your findings.

  • The real-world impact of research papers

Writing a research paper is more than an academic or business exercise. The experience provides an opportunity to explore a subject in-depth, broaden one's understanding, and arrive at meaningful conclusions. With careful planning, dedication, and hard work, writing a research paper can be a fulfilling and enriching experience contributing to advancing knowledge.

How do I publish my research paper? 

Many academics wish to publish their research papers. While challenging, your paper might get traction if it covers new and well-written information. To publish your research paper, find a target publication, thoroughly read their guidelines, format your paper accordingly, and send it to them per their instructions. You may need to include a cover letter, too. After submission, your paper may be peer-reviewed by experts to assess its legitimacy, quality, originality, and methodology. Following review, you will be informed by the publication whether they have accepted or rejected your paper. 

What is a good opening sentence for a research paper? 

Beginning your research paper with a compelling introduction can ensure readers are interested in going further. A relevant quote, a compelling statistic, or a bold argument can start the paper and hook your reader. Remember, though, that the most important aspect of a research paper is the quality of the information––not necessarily your ability to storytell, so ensure anything you write aligns with your goals.

Research paper vs. a research proposal—what’s the difference?

While some may confuse research papers and proposals, they are different documents. 

A research proposal comes before a research paper. It is a detailed document that outlines an intended area of exploration. It includes the research topic, methodology, timeline, sources, and potential conclusions. Research proposals are often required when seeking approval to conduct research. 

A research paper is a summary of research findings. A research paper follows a structured format to present those findings and construct an argument or conclusion.

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  • Note-taking

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Think about how you take notes during class. Do you use a specific system? Do you feel that system is working for you? What could be improved? How might taking notes during a lecture, section, or seminar be different online versus in the classroom? 

Adjust how you take notes during synchronous vs. asynchronous learning (slightly) . 

First, let’s distinguish between  synchronous  and  asynchronous  instruction. Synchronous classes are live with the instructor and students together, and asynchronous instruction is material recorded by the professor for viewing by students at another time. Sometimes asynchronous instruction may include a recording of a live Zoom session with the instructor and students. 

With this distinction in mind,  here are some tips on how to take notes during both types of instruction:

Taking notes during live classes (synchronous instruction).

Taking notes when watching recorded classes (asynchronous instruction)., check in with yourself., if available, annotate lecture slides during lecture., consider writing notes by hand., review your notes., write down questions..

Below are some common and effective note-taking techniques: 

Cornell Notes

If you are looking for help with using some of the tips and techniques described above, come to the ARC’s note-taking workshop, offered several times every semester.

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how to write notes in a research paper

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How to Write a Research Paper: Note Cards

how to write notes in a research paper

Back from the library and ready to go

Read your sources and take notes.

After you've gathered your sources, begin reading and taking notes.

  • Use 3 x 5 index cards, one fact or idea per card. This way related ideas from different sources can be easily grouped together or rearranged.
  • On each index card, be sure to note the source, including the volume number (if there is one) and the page number. If you wind up using that idea in your paper, you will have the information about the source ready to put in your footnote or endnote.
  • If you copy something directly from a book without putting it in your own words, put quotation marks around it so that you know it is an exact quotation. This will help you to avoid plagiarism . (For more, see What is Plagiarism? ).
  • Before you sit down to write your rough draft, organize your note cards by subtopic (you can write headings on the cards) and make an outline.

Check out the differences between these two note cards for a research paper on baseball:

Good note card:

Bad note card:

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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  • Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page

The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  • Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  • Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  • Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  • Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  • Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract

APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  • Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  • Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  • The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  • The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  • The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .

Table 13.1 Section Headings

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Citation Guidelines

In-text citations.

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

References Section

In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.

Key Takeaways

  • Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
  • Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
  • APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
  • APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
  • In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.

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Research Method

Home » Research Methodology – Types, Examples and writing Guide

Research Methodology – Types, Examples and writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Methodology

Research Methodology

Definition:

Research Methodology refers to the systematic and scientific approach used to conduct research, investigate problems, and gather data and information for a specific purpose. It involves the techniques and procedures used to identify, collect , analyze , and interpret data to answer research questions or solve research problems . Moreover, They are philosophical and theoretical frameworks that guide the research process.

Structure of Research Methodology

Research methodology formats can vary depending on the specific requirements of the research project, but the following is a basic example of a structure for a research methodology section:

I. Introduction

  • Provide an overview of the research problem and the need for a research methodology section
  • Outline the main research questions and objectives

II. Research Design

  • Explain the research design chosen and why it is appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Discuss any alternative research designs considered and why they were not chosen
  • Describe the research setting and participants (if applicable)

III. Data Collection Methods

  • Describe the methods used to collect data (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations)
  • Explain how the data collection methods were chosen and why they are appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Detail any procedures or instruments used for data collection

IV. Data Analysis Methods

  • Describe the methods used to analyze the data (e.g., statistical analysis, content analysis )
  • Explain how the data analysis methods were chosen and why they are appropriate for the research question(s) and objectives
  • Detail any procedures or software used for data analysis

V. Ethical Considerations

  • Discuss any ethical issues that may arise from the research and how they were addressed
  • Explain how informed consent was obtained (if applicable)
  • Detail any measures taken to ensure confidentiality and anonymity

VI. Limitations

  • Identify any potential limitations of the research methodology and how they may impact the results and conclusions

VII. Conclusion

  • Summarize the key aspects of the research methodology section
  • Explain how the research methodology addresses the research question(s) and objectives

Research Methodology Types

Types of Research Methodology are as follows:

Quantitative Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection and analysis of numerical data using statistical methods. This type of research is often used to study cause-and-effect relationships and to make predictions.

Qualitative Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection and analysis of non-numerical data such as words, images, and observations. This type of research is often used to explore complex phenomena, to gain an in-depth understanding of a particular topic, and to generate hypotheses.

Mixed-Methods Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that combines elements of both quantitative and qualitative research. This approach can be particularly useful for studies that aim to explore complex phenomena and to provide a more comprehensive understanding of a particular topic.

Case Study Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves in-depth examination of a single case or a small number of cases. Case studies are often used in psychology, sociology, and anthropology to gain a detailed understanding of a particular individual or group.

Action Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves a collaborative process between researchers and practitioners to identify and solve real-world problems. Action research is often used in education, healthcare, and social work.

Experimental Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the manipulation of one or more independent variables to observe their effects on a dependent variable. Experimental research is often used to study cause-and-effect relationships and to make predictions.

Survey Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the collection of data from a sample of individuals using questionnaires or interviews. Survey research is often used to study attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

Grounded Theory Research Methodology

This is a research methodology that involves the development of theories based on the data collected during the research process. Grounded theory is often used in sociology and anthropology to generate theories about social phenomena.

Research Methodology Example

An Example of Research Methodology could be the following:

Research Methodology for Investigating the Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Reducing Symptoms of Depression in Adults

Introduction:

The aim of this research is to investigate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in reducing symptoms of depression in adults. To achieve this objective, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) will be conducted using a mixed-methods approach.

Research Design:

The study will follow a pre-test and post-test design with two groups: an experimental group receiving CBT and a control group receiving no intervention. The study will also include a qualitative component, in which semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a subset of participants to explore their experiences of receiving CBT.

Participants:

Participants will be recruited from community mental health clinics in the local area. The sample will consist of 100 adults aged 18-65 years old who meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. Participants will be randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the control group.

Intervention :

The experimental group will receive 12 weekly sessions of CBT, each lasting 60 minutes. The intervention will be delivered by licensed mental health professionals who have been trained in CBT. The control group will receive no intervention during the study period.

Data Collection:

Quantitative data will be collected through the use of standardized measures such as the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7). Data will be collected at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and at a 3-month follow-up. Qualitative data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with a subset of participants from the experimental group. The interviews will be conducted at the end of the intervention period, and will explore participants’ experiences of receiving CBT.

Data Analysis:

Quantitative data will be analyzed using descriptive statistics, t-tests, and mixed-model analyses of variance (ANOVA) to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. Qualitative data will be analyzed using thematic analysis to identify common themes and patterns in participants’ experiences of receiving CBT.

Ethical Considerations:

This study will comply with ethical guidelines for research involving human subjects. Participants will provide informed consent before participating in the study, and their privacy and confidentiality will be protected throughout the study. Any adverse events or reactions will be reported and managed appropriately.

Data Management:

All data collected will be kept confidential and stored securely using password-protected databases. Identifying information will be removed from qualitative data transcripts to ensure participants’ anonymity.

Limitations:

One potential limitation of this study is that it only focuses on one type of psychotherapy, CBT, and may not generalize to other types of therapy or interventions. Another limitation is that the study will only include participants from community mental health clinics, which may not be representative of the general population.

Conclusion:

This research aims to investigate the effectiveness of CBT in reducing symptoms of depression in adults. By using a randomized controlled trial and a mixed-methods approach, the study will provide valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying the relationship between CBT and depression. The results of this study will have important implications for the development of effective treatments for depression in clinical settings.

How to Write Research Methodology

Writing a research methodology involves explaining the methods and techniques you used to conduct research, collect data, and analyze results. It’s an essential section of any research paper or thesis, as it helps readers understand the validity and reliability of your findings. Here are the steps to write a research methodology:

  • Start by explaining your research question: Begin the methodology section by restating your research question and explaining why it’s important. This helps readers understand the purpose of your research and the rationale behind your methods.
  • Describe your research design: Explain the overall approach you used to conduct research. This could be a qualitative or quantitative research design, experimental or non-experimental, case study or survey, etc. Discuss the advantages and limitations of the chosen design.
  • Discuss your sample: Describe the participants or subjects you included in your study. Include details such as their demographics, sampling method, sample size, and any exclusion criteria used.
  • Describe your data collection methods : Explain how you collected data from your participants. This could include surveys, interviews, observations, questionnaires, or experiments. Include details on how you obtained informed consent, how you administered the tools, and how you minimized the risk of bias.
  • Explain your data analysis techniques: Describe the methods you used to analyze the data you collected. This could include statistical analysis, content analysis, thematic analysis, or discourse analysis. Explain how you dealt with missing data, outliers, and any other issues that arose during the analysis.
  • Discuss the validity and reliability of your research : Explain how you ensured the validity and reliability of your study. This could include measures such as triangulation, member checking, peer review, or inter-coder reliability.
  • Acknowledge any limitations of your research: Discuss any limitations of your study, including any potential threats to validity or generalizability. This helps readers understand the scope of your findings and how they might apply to other contexts.
  • Provide a summary: End the methodology section by summarizing the methods and techniques you used to conduct your research. This provides a clear overview of your research methodology and helps readers understand the process you followed to arrive at your findings.

When to Write Research Methodology

Research methodology is typically written after the research proposal has been approved and before the actual research is conducted. It should be written prior to data collection and analysis, as it provides a clear roadmap for the research project.

The research methodology is an important section of any research paper or thesis, as it describes the methods and procedures that will be used to conduct the research. It should include details about the research design, data collection methods, data analysis techniques, and any ethical considerations.

The methodology should be written in a clear and concise manner, and it should be based on established research practices and standards. It is important to provide enough detail so that the reader can understand how the research was conducted and evaluate the validity of the results.

Applications of Research Methodology

Here are some of the applications of research methodology:

  • To identify the research problem: Research methodology is used to identify the research problem, which is the first step in conducting any research.
  • To design the research: Research methodology helps in designing the research by selecting the appropriate research method, research design, and sampling technique.
  • To collect data: Research methodology provides a systematic approach to collect data from primary and secondary sources.
  • To analyze data: Research methodology helps in analyzing the collected data using various statistical and non-statistical techniques.
  • To test hypotheses: Research methodology provides a framework for testing hypotheses and drawing conclusions based on the analysis of data.
  • To generalize findings: Research methodology helps in generalizing the findings of the research to the target population.
  • To develop theories : Research methodology is used to develop new theories and modify existing theories based on the findings of the research.
  • To evaluate programs and policies : Research methodology is used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies by collecting data and analyzing it.
  • To improve decision-making: Research methodology helps in making informed decisions by providing reliable and valid data.

Purpose of Research Methodology

Research methodology serves several important purposes, including:

  • To guide the research process: Research methodology provides a systematic framework for conducting research. It helps researchers to plan their research, define their research questions, and select appropriate methods and techniques for collecting and analyzing data.
  • To ensure research quality: Research methodology helps researchers to ensure that their research is rigorous, reliable, and valid. It provides guidelines for minimizing bias and error in data collection and analysis, and for ensuring that research findings are accurate and trustworthy.
  • To replicate research: Research methodology provides a clear and detailed account of the research process, making it possible for other researchers to replicate the study and verify its findings.
  • To advance knowledge: Research methodology enables researchers to generate new knowledge and to contribute to the body of knowledge in their field. It provides a means for testing hypotheses, exploring new ideas, and discovering new insights.
  • To inform decision-making: Research methodology provides evidence-based information that can inform policy and decision-making in a variety of fields, including medicine, public health, education, and business.

Advantages of Research Methodology

Research methodology has several advantages that make it a valuable tool for conducting research in various fields. Here are some of the key advantages of research methodology:

  • Systematic and structured approach : Research methodology provides a systematic and structured approach to conducting research, which ensures that the research is conducted in a rigorous and comprehensive manner.
  • Objectivity : Research methodology aims to ensure objectivity in the research process, which means that the research findings are based on evidence and not influenced by personal bias or subjective opinions.
  • Replicability : Research methodology ensures that research can be replicated by other researchers, which is essential for validating research findings and ensuring their accuracy.
  • Reliability : Research methodology aims to ensure that the research findings are reliable, which means that they are consistent and can be depended upon.
  • Validity : Research methodology ensures that the research findings are valid, which means that they accurately reflect the research question or hypothesis being tested.
  • Efficiency : Research methodology provides a structured and efficient way of conducting research, which helps to save time and resources.
  • Flexibility : Research methodology allows researchers to choose the most appropriate research methods and techniques based on the research question, data availability, and other relevant factors.
  • Scope for innovation: Research methodology provides scope for innovation and creativity in designing research studies and developing new research techniques.

Research Methodology Vs Research Methods

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How to Write a Research Methodology for a Research Paper

Ever find yourself stuck when trying to write the discussion part of your research paper? Don't worry, it happens to a lot of people. 

The discussion section is super important in your research paper . It's where you explain what your results mean. But turning all that data into a clear and meaningful story? That's not easy.

Guess what? MyPerfectWords.com has come up with a solution. 

This blog is your guide to writing an outstanding discussion section. We'll guide you step by step with useful tips to make sure your research stands out.

So, let’s get started!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What Exactly is a Discussion Section in the Research Paper?
  • 2. How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper?
  • 3. Examples of Good Discussion for a Research Paper
  • 4. Mistakes to Avoid in Your Research Paper's Discussion 

What Exactly is a Discussion Section in the Research Paper?

In a research paper, the discussion section is where you explain what your results really mean. It's like answering the questions, "So what?" and "What's the big picture?" 

The discussion section is your chance to help your readers understand why your findings are important and how they fit into the larger context. It's more than just summarizing; it's about making your research understandable and meaningful to others.

Importance of the Discussion Section

The discussion section isn't just a formality; it's the heart of your research paper. This is where your findings transform from data into knowledge. 

Let's break down why it's so crucial:

  • Interpretation of Results : The discussion is where you get to tell readers what your results really mean. You go into the details, helping them understand the story behind the numbers or findings.
  • Connecting the Dots : You connect different parts of your research, showing how they relate. This helps your readers see the bigger picture.
  • Relevance to the Big Picture : You get to highlight why your research matters. How does it contribute to the broader understanding of the topic? This is your time to make your research significant.
  • Addressing Limitations : In the discussion, you can acknowledge any limitations in your study and discuss how they might impact your results.
  • Suggestions for Further Research : The discussion is where you suggest areas for future exploration. It's like passing the baton to the next researcher, indicating where more work could be done.

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How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper?

The Discussion section in a research paper plays a vital role in interpreting findings and formulating a conclusion . Given below are the main components of the discussion section:

  • Quick Summary: A brief recap of your main findings.
  • Interpretation: Significance and meaning of your results in relation to your research question.
  • Literature Review : Connecting your findings with previous research or similar studies.
  • Limitations: Discussing any study limitations, addressing potential concerns.
  • Implications: Broader implications of your findings, considering practical and theoretical aspects.
  • Alternative Explanations: Evaluating alternative interpretations, demonstrating a comprehensive analysis.
  • Connecting to Hypotheses : Summarizing how your result section aligns or diverges from your initial hypotheses.

Now let’s explore the steps to write an effective discussion section that will effectively communicate the significance of your research:

Step 1: Get Started with a Quick Summary

Start by quickly telling your readers the main things you found in your research. Don't explain them in detail just yet; just give a simple overview. 

This helps your readers get the big picture before diving into the details.

Step 2: Interpret Your Results

In the next step, talk about what your findings really mean. Share why the information you gathered is important. Connect each result to the questions you were trying to answer and the goals you set for your research.

Step 3: Relate to Existing Literature

In this step, link up your discoveries with what other researchers have already figured out. 

Share if your results are similar to or different from what's been found before. This helps give more background to your study and shows you know what other scientists have been up to.

Step 4: Address Limitations Honestly

Every study has its limitations. Acknowledge them openly in your discussion. This not only shows transparency but also helps readers interpret your results more accurately.

Step 5: Discuss the Implications

Explore the implications of your findings. How do they contribute to the field? What real-world applications or changes might they suggest?

Dig into why your discoveries are important. How do they help the subject you studied? 

This step is like looking at the bigger picture and asking, "So, what can we do with this information?"

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Step 6: Consider Alternative Explanations

After discussing the implications, challenge yourself by exploring alternative explanations for your results. 

Discuss different perspectives and show that you've considered multiple angles.

Step 7: Connect to Your Hypotheses or Research Questions

For the last step, revisit your initial hypotheses or research questions. Explain whether your results support what you thought might happen or if they surprised you. 

Examples of Good Discussion for a Research Paper

Learning from well-crafted discussions can significantly enhance your own writing. Given below are some examples to help you understand how to write your own.

Discussion for a Research Paper Example Pdf

Discussion for a Medical Research Paper

Discussion Section for a Qualitative Research Paper

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Research Paper's Discussion 

Writing the discussion section of your research paper can be tricky. To make sure you're on the right track, be mindful of these common mistakes:

  • Overstating or Overinterpreting Results

Avoid making your findings sound more groundbreaking than they are. Stick to what your data actually shows, and don't exaggerate.

  • Neglecting Alternative Explanations 

Failing to consider other possible explanations for your results can weaken your discussion. Always explore alternative perspectives to present a well-rounded view.

  • Ignoring Limitations 

Don't sweep limitations under the rug. Acknowledge them openly and discuss how they might affect the validity or generalizability of your results.

  • Being Overly Technical or Jargon-laden

Remember that your audience may not be experts in your specific field. Avoid using overly technical language or excessive jargon that could alienate your readers.

  • Disregarding the 'So What' Factor

Always explain the significance of your findings. Don't leave your readers wondering why your research matters or how it contributes to the broader understanding of the subject.

  • Rushing the Conclusion

The conclusion section of your discussion is critical. Don't rush it. Summarize the key points and leave your readers with a strong understanding of the significance of your research.

So, there you have it —writing a discussion and conclusion section isn't easy, but avoiding some common mistakes can make it much smoother. 

Remember to keep it real with your results, think about what else could explain things, and don't forget about any limits in your study.

But if you're feeling stuck, MyPerfectWords.com is here for you. 

Our team of experts knows their way around discussions. Whether you need some guidance or want someone to handle the writing for you, we've got your back.

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How to Write a Good Introduction Section

A strong narrative is as integral a part of science writing as it is for any other form of communication..

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First impressions are important. Scientists need to make their work stand out among a sea of others. However, many mistakenly believe that first impressions are formed based only on titles and abstracts. In actuality, the introduction section is critical to making a real impression on the audience. The introduction is where authors outline their research topic and describe their study. It is where they provide background information and showcase their writing and argumentation styles. For these reasons, the introduction engages the audience in a deeper way than the formalities and rigidities of the title and abstract can afford. To use a fishing analogy: if the title and the abstract serve as the hook and the bait, then the introduction is the process of actually reeling the fish into the boat.

Good Introductions Are Important Guides

In contrast to the constraints placed on the title and abstract, the introduction is the first real opportunity for the scientist to engage with their audience and showcase and convey their passions and motivations for the study in question. This opportunity is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Study authors inevitably have a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise when it comes to their projects and their fields. However, they must remember that the audience does not necessarily have this background information—and that they are only engaging with their audience for a finite amount of time. Despite the urge to excitedly write about all of the different aspects and intricacies of the project, it is very important that authors keep their introductions simple and well organized. 

Therefore, the introduction should move from broad scopes to narrow focuses as the audience reads further. The author should direct the reader along this journey, focusing on topics with direct relevance to what was investigated in the study. A broad fact introduced early on should be linked or paired with a more specific fact along the same lines of thought, eventually culminating in how this information led to the motivation behind the study itself. It is vital to not go off on tangents or talk about things that are too esoteric. A confused audience is an audience that tends not to read further.

Applying Common Principles Across Well-Known and Niche Subjects

Writers can apply these principles in more specialized manuscripts focusing on a single entity rather than a well-known pathology. Consider the following example from a manuscript by cell biologist Luis R. Cruz-Vera’s research team from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 1

Here, they divide the opening paragraph of their introduction into four distinct sections. First, they explain what ribosome arresting peptides (RAPs) are and what they do.

Ribosome arresting peptides (RAPs) are nascent polypeptides that act in cis on the translating ribosome to control the expression of genes by inducing ribosome arrest during translation elongation or termination. RAPs commonly sense external forces or low molecular weight compounds in the environment that spatially and temporally contribute to the expression of genes. 

Then they introduce the two different types of RAPs.

RAPs such as SecM that sense external forces on the ribosome are typically large, because these nascent peptides have a domain that functions outside of the ribosome. In contrast, those that sense small molecules inside of the ribosome, such as TnaC are smaller. 

They describe how each type works via a different mechanism.

Typically, larger RAPs interact with cellular factors that can control their capacity for arresting ribosomes. Because of their size and proximity to ribosomal components, large RAPs clearly show two structural domains, a sensor domain and an arresting domain. At the moment of the arrest for the large RAPs, the sensor domain is located outside the ribosome exit tunnel, whereas the arresting domain remains inside the tunnel. The short RAPs currently characterized interact with the compounds that they sense by using the ribosome exit tunnel as a binding surface. For these short RAPs, it has been determined that conserved amino acid residues are necessary to induce arrest by either directly binding the effector molecule or by acting at the peptidyl-transferase center (PTC) during ribosome arrest. 

And finally, they conclude by highlighting a knowledge gap in how small RAPs operate versus what is already known about large RAPs.

However, because the size of short RAPs ranges from only a few to a couple of dozen amino acids, as in the case of TnaC, it has remained unclear whether short RAPs are constituted by the two independent sensor and stalling domains, as it has been observed with larger RAPs.

In this way, the authors make a natural progression from “why this topic is important” to “what is known about this topic,” setting the stage for “what is unknown about this topic and why it should be studied.” 

Gradually Moving from Broad to Narrow

A three-step funnel explaining how the introduction guides the reader from summary to specific. The first phase should lay out the question that needs to be answered. The second phase should delve deeper into that question, and the final phase should tie what is already known with what is explored in this study.

These principles can be further transferred towards the introductory section as a whole. The first paragraph should serve as an introduction to the field and the topic. The middle paragraph(s) provide exposition and detail regarding what is known and unknown, and what has already been done and still remains to do, and the final paragraph outlines the study and its principle findings, providing a transition into either the materials and methods or the results section. 

For example, this work by radiation oncologist Eric Deutsch’s group at Université Paris-Saclay, published in PLoS One , 2 opens by succinctly explaining a scientific problem: “ the threat of extensive dispersion of radioactive isotopes within populated areas that would have an unfortunate effect on human health has increased drastically .” It then offers the call to action necessitated by this problem: “ the development of a decorporating agent capable of effectively mitigating the effects of a wide range of isotopes is critical .”

In the next two paragraphs, the study authors provide information on how and why dispersion of radioactive isotopes are a problem—“ the FDA has approved only three compounds (only one of which is used as a preventative therapy) for the treatment of exposure to specific radioactive elements ”—and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of what is currently available. They then introduce the focal point of their own work, chitosan@DOTAGA, within this context, explaining its potential as a solution to the problem they previously introduced: “ After oral administration to rodents over several days, no signs of acute or chronic toxicity were observed, and DOTAGA did not enter the blood stream and was fully eliminated from the gastrointestinal tract within 24 hours of administration. ”

Finally, the introduction concludes by listing the study objective—“ explore the potential of this polymer for use in the decorporation of a wide range of radioactive isotopes ”—and the motivations and rationale behind the study objective—“ there are no suitable countermeasures available for uranium poisoning. […] This innovative approach aims to directly chelate the radioactive cations, specifically uranium, within the gastrointestinal tract prior to their systemic absorption, which ensures their prompt elimination and mitigation of the associated toxicities. ”

The Introduction Engages with the Reader

The introduction section is often overlooked in favor of the title and the abstract, but it serves two important functions. First, it gives the audience all of the information that it needs to contextualize the yet-to-be-presented data within the context of the problem that needs to be solved or the scientific question that needs to be addressed. Second, and more importantly, it justifies the importance of the study, of its initiative, rationale, and purpose. The introduction is the author’s best—and arguably only real—opportunity to convince the audience that their study is worth reading.  

Looking for more information on scientific writing? Check out  The Scientist’s   TS SciComm  section. Looking for some help putting together a manuscript, a figure, a poster, or anything else?    The Scientist’s   Scientific Services  may have the professional help that you need.

  • Judd HNG, et al. Functional domains of a ribosome arresting peptide are affected by surrounding nonconserved residues . J Biol Chem . 2024;300(3):105780.
  • Durand A, et al. Enhancing radioprotection: A chitosan-based chelating polymer is a versatile radioprotective agent for prophylactic and therapeutic interventions against radionuclide contamination . PLoS One . 2024;19(4):e0292414.

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The Fundamentals of Academic Science Writing

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COMMENTS

  1. PDF Taking and Organizing Notes for Research Papers

    memory source. Students take notes to record information and to aid in comprehension and reflection. Note taking is an essential part of writing any research paper because they give you a better understanding of course material. While writing a research paper, you will need to gather and synthesize information from various sources. Knowing what ...

  2. 13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing ...

    Instead, you are writing to support a thesis that shows original thinking, and you are collecting and incorporating research into your paper to support that thinking. Therefore, a research log, whether digital or handwritten, is a great way to keep track of your thinking as well as your notes and bibliographic information.

  3. How to take Research Notes

    Taking Notes Electronically. Make sure your device is charged and backed up to store data. Invest in note-taking apps or E-Ink tablets. If using your laptop, create folders to organize your notes and data. Create shortcuts to your folders so you have easier access. Create outlines. Keep your notes short and legible.

  4. How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 4a. Take Notes

    On each note card: Use only one side to record a single idea, fact or quote from one source. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper. Include a heading or key words at the top of the card. Include the Work Cited source card number. Include the page number where you found the information. Taking notes:

  5. Writing a Research Paper: 5. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources

    Read the text critically, think how it is related to your argument, and decide how you are going to use it in your paper. Select the material that is relevant to your argument. Copy the original text for direct quotations or briefly summarize the content in your own words, and make note of how you will use it.

  6. Taking Notes from Research Reading

    Taking Notes from Research Reading. If you take notes efficiently, you can read with more understanding and also save time and frustration when you come to write your paper. These are three main principles. 1. Know what kind of ideas you need to record. Focus your approach to the topic before you start detailed research.

  7. Note-taking for Research

    Note-taking for Research. As you determine which sources you will rely on most, it is important to establish a system for keeping track of your sources and taking notes. There are several ways to go about it, and no one system is necessarily superior. What matters is that you keep materials in order; record bibliographical information you will ...

  8. How to Write a Research Paper

    Understand the assignment. Choose a research paper topic. Conduct preliminary research. Develop a thesis statement. Create a research paper outline. Write a first draft of the research paper. Write the introduction. Write a compelling body of text. Write the conclusion.

  9. Writing Field Notes

    Writing Field Notes ; Writing a Policy Memo; Writing a Reflective Paper; Writing a Research Proposal; Generative AI and Writing; Acknowledgments; Definition. Refers to notes created by the researcher during the act of conducting a field study to remember and record the behaviors, activities, events, and other features of an observation. Field ...

  10. How To Write A Research Paper (FREE Template

    We've covered a lot of ground here. To recap, the three steps to writing a high-quality research paper are: To choose a research question and review the literature. To plan your paper structure and draft an outline. To take an iterative approach to writing, focusing on critical writing and strong referencing.

  11. Note making for dissertations

    Note making (as opposed to note taking) is an active practice of recording relevant parts of reading for your research as well as your reflections and critiques of those studies. Note making, therefore, is a pre-writing exercise that helps you to organise your thoughts prior to writing. In this module, we will cover:

  12. 9 Organizing Research: Taking and Keeping Effective Notes

    When taking notes, whether you're using 3X5 note cards or using an app described below, write down the author and a shortened title for the publication, along with the page number on EVERY card. We can't emphasize this point enough; writing down the bibliographic information the first time and repeatedly will save you loads of time later ...

  13. How to Take Notes while Doing Research

    After you complete a note card, write the source number of the book you used in the upper left corner of the card. Below the source number, write the exact number or numbers of the pages on which you found the information. In the upper right corner, write one or two words that describe the specific subject of the card.

  14. Smart Note-Taking for Research Paper Writing

    For academic writing, note-taking is the process of obtaining and compiling information that answers and supports the research paper's questions and topic. Notes can be in one of three forms: summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation. Note-taking is an excellent process useful for anyone to turn individual thoughts and information into ...

  15. PDF Reading and Taking Notes on Scholarly Journal Articles

    Develop and write out questions about each section of the reading. You'll want to find the answers as you engage in the reading. Use these questions to guide your reading and your note-taking process. •Readthe assignment as thoroughly as possible. Read one section at a time, reflect on what you read, and don't get too bogged down with ...

  16. How to Write a Research Paper

    By refining your focus, you can produce a thoughtful and engaging paper that effectively communicates your ideas to your readers. 5. Write a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a one-to-two-sentence summary of your research paper's main argument or direction.

  17. Note-taking

    Cornell Notes. The Cornell Method for note-taking is designed to help you keep an eye on the broader concepts being explored in your course while also taking specific notes on what your lecturer or section leader is saying. Typically done by hand, the Cornell Method involves drawing a line down the edge of your paper and devoting one side to ...

  18. Writing a Research Paper Introduction

    Step 1: Introduce your topic. Step 2: Describe the background. Step 3: Establish your research problem. Step 4: Specify your objective (s) Step 5: Map out your paper. Research paper introduction examples. Frequently asked questions about the research paper introduction.

  19. How to Write a Research Paper: Note Cards

    After you've gathered your sources, begin reading and taking notes. Use 3 x 5 index cards, one fact or idea per card. This way related ideas from different sources can be easily grouped together or rearranged. On each index card, be sure to note the source, including the volume number (if there is one) and the page number. If you wind up using ...

  20. 13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

    Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch. Use double-spaced text throughout your paper. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point). Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section.

  21. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  22. Research Methodology

    Writing a research methodology involves explaining the methods and techniques you used to conduct research, collect data, and analyze results. It's an essential section of any research paper or thesis, as it helps readers understand the validity and reliability of your findings. Here are the steps to write a research methodology:

  23. How To Write A Discussion For A Research Paper

    Mistakes to Avoid in Your Research Paper's Discussion . Writing the discussion section of your research paper can be tricky. To make sure you're on the right track, be mindful of these common mistakes: Overstating or Overinterpreting Results; Avoid making your findings sound more groundbreaking than they are. Stick to what your data actually ...

  24. How to Write a Good Introduction Section

    Writers can apply these principles in more specialized manuscripts focusing on a single entity rather than a well-known pathology. Consider the following example from a manuscript by cell biologist Luis R. Cruz-Vera's research team from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 1. Here, they divide the opening paragraph of their introduction ...