Early Career Researcher Series: Tips for writing an effective research paper

You don’t just want to write a research paper – you want to write one that’s effective, interesting and noteworthy. This means you can’t just do some research and write about it; you must create a compelling argument about a relevant question.

Here are three tips to help you accomplish just that.

  1. Choose the right question.
    Your research question will make or break your paper, and choosing a research question is an art and science of its own. If a question is too broad, the paper will lack focus. If it’s too narrow, you’ll face a whole different set of problems with finding sources and ensuring your paper is relevant. Your research question should be inspired by previous research on the topic – either answering a question raised by other research or possibly countering a point made in another paper.

    The world of research is a puzzle, and yours should be a piece that fits with everything that’s already been put together. Whether your research accomplishes that or not will be determined before you ever begin your study. In fact, a whole section of your final paper – the literature review – is dedicated to explaining how your research question fits with prior research.
  1. Never (ever) underestimate the importance of structure.
    A well-structured paper will draw readers in and make a compelling argument while helping them understand the topic. A poorly structured paper will confuse readers, and even fascinating, innovative points and findings may be completely lost. Understanding paper structure can also help you focus your work and minimize wasted time and energy.

    Include all required sections for your paper – things like an abstract, literature review, introduction, methodology section, results section and conclusion – but remember it goes beyond that. Every point you make, virtually every paragraph, should serve a purpose and advance your thesis in some way. Don’t go on tangents, no matter how interesting they are. Save them for another paper!
  1. Be honest.
    When you’re hoping to make an important discovery, it can be extremely tempting to draw conclusions that are unsupported by your data, or to overstate the importance of your findings or underestimate any questions left open or problems that may be inherent in your research.  Even if you don’t engage in fraud or dishonesty, approaching your research in a manner that is less than forthright can damage the impact of your paper.

    Be thorough, open and honest about every aspect of your research and subject. Never force a conclusion and never claim to have “proven” anything. Don’t jam the puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit – find the place it does.

    Your research question determines your research’s relevance. Your paper helps people understand it. All research will leave questions open, and all research can be questioned. If you have followed the first two tips and conducted thorough, unbiased research, none of this matters. You will have advanced your field, and any questions left open by your research can be pursued in another paper.


Did you miss the other posts in our Early Career Researcher Series? Catch up now:
Early Career Researcher Series: Tips for writing an effective research paper
An Interview with an Early Career Researcher Using EndNote
A Look at an Early Career Researcher Using Web of Science
Early Career Researcher Series: Bibliographies
How to optimize your CV with some help from EndNote
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