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Guidelines on writing a research paper

Muizz Anibire
Muizz Anibire
Muizz AnibireCivil Engineer/Loss Prevention and Risk Engineering Consultant at Daptoy Engineering Services

Brief notes on best practices for research paper writing. Suitable for undergraduate and post graduate students as well as early career researchers.

Guidelines on writing a research paper

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Guidelines on writing a research paper
Muizz O. Sanni-Anibire
Lecturer, Dammam Community College
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals,
Dhahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
muizz@dcc.kfupm.edu.sa
https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=hNT8hKsAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra
1.0 Title:
It should be concise and descriptive.
For example:
 Post-Occupancy Evaluation of Housing Facilities: Overview and Summary of
Methods.
 A ranking system for fire safety performance of student housing facilities
 Safety Management in Construction: Best Practices in Hong Kong
It is advised to choose an informative but catchy title. An effective title not only pricks
the reader's interest, but also predisposes him/her favorably towards the write-up.
2.0 Abstract:
It is a brief summary of approximately 150-300 words. It should include the research
question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main
findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and
any instruments that will be used.
3.0 Introduction:
 The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or
context for your research problem.
 How to frame the research problem is perhaps the biggest problem in research
writing. If the research problem is framed in the context of a general, rambling
literature review, then the research question may appear trivial and uninteresting.
However, if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current
research area, its significance will become evident.
 Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how to frame your research
question just as there is no prescription on how to write an interesting and
informative opening paragraph. A lot depends on your creativity, your ability to
think clearly and the depth of your understanding of problem areas.
 However, try to place your research question in the context of either a current "hot"
area, or an older area that remains viable.
 Secondly, you need to provide a brief but appropriate historical backdrop.
 Thirdly, provide the contemporary context in which your proposed research
question occupies the central stage.
 Finally, identify "key players" and refer to the most relevant and representative
publications.
 The introduction typically begins with a general statement of the problem area, with
a focus on a specific research problem, to be followed by the rational or justification
for the proposed study.
The introduction generally covers the following elements:
1. State the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the study.
2. Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to
show its necessity and importance.
3. Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth
doing.
4. Briefly describe the major issues and sub--‐problems to be addressed by your
research.
5. Identify the key independent and dependent variables of your experiment.
Alternatively, specify the phenomenon you want to study.
6. State your hypothesis or theory, if any. For exploratory or phenomenological
research, you may not have any hypotheses. (Please do not confuse the hypothesis
with the statistical null hypothesis.)
7. Set the delimitation or boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a
clear focus.
8. Provide definitions of key concepts. (This is optional.)
4.0 Literature Review:
 Sometimes the literature review is incorporated into the introduction section.
However, a separate section is preferred; this allows a more thorough review of the
literature.
 The literature review serves several important functions:
1. Ensures that you are not "reinventing the wheel".
2. Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research.
3. Demonstrates your knowledge of the research problem.
4. Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues
related to your research question.
5. Shows your ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information.
6. Indicates your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature.
7. Provides new theoretical insights or develop a new model as the conceptual
framework for your research.
8. Convinces your reader that your proposed research will make a significant
and substantial contribution to the literature (i.e., resolving an important
theoretical issue or filling a major gap in the literature).
Most students' literature reviews suffer from the following problems:
 Lacking organization and structure
 Lacking focus, unity and coherence
 Being repetitive and verbose
 Failing to cite influential papers
 Failing to keep up with recent
developments
 Failing to critically evaluate cited
papers
 Citing irrelevant or trivial references
 Depending too much on secondary
sources
 There are different ways to organize your literature review. Make use of
subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review.
 For example, having established the importance of your research area and its current
state of development, you may devote several subsections on related issues as:
theoretical models, measuring instruments, cross--cultural and gender differences,
etc.
 It is also helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story to an audience. Try to
tell it in a stimulating and engaging manner. Do not bore them, because it may lead
to rejection of your research project.
5.0 Methods:
 The Method section is very important because it tells your Research Committee how
you solved your research problem. It provides your work plan and describes the
activities used in the completion of your project.
 The guiding principle for writing the Method section is that it should contain
sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound.
Some even argue that it should contain sufficient details for another qualified
researcher to implement the study.
 You need to demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case
that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your
research question.
 The data collection process in qualitative research has a far greater impact on the
results as compared to quantitative research. That is another reason for greater care
in describing how you will collect and analyze your data.
6.0 Results:
 In this section you will present a detailed analysis of all the data you have gathered
in your research based on the methodology (or methodologies you have applied).
 These results may include: tables, charts (pie charts, bar charts, histograms), photos,
drawings, etc.
 The results section should simply state the findings of the research arranged in a
logical sequence without bias or interpretation. The results section should always
be written in the past tense.
 Though, the results should be concise, its length will depend on the type and quantity
of data collected.
 Avoid providing data that is not critical to answering the research question. A
good strategy is to always re-read the background section of your paper after you
have written up your results to ensure that the reader has enough context to
understand the results.
In general, the content of your results section should include the following elements:
1. An introductory context for understanding the results by restating the research
problem underpinning your study.
2. A summary of your key findings arranged in a logical sequence that generally
follows your methodology section.
3. Inclusion of non-textual elements, such as, figures, charts, photos, maps, tables, etc.
to further illustrate key findings, if appropriate.
4. A systematic description of your results, highlighting for the reader observations
that are most relevant to the topic under investigation [remember that not all results
that emerge from the methodology used to gather the data may be relevant].
5. Use of the past tense when referring to your results.
6. The page length of your results section is guided by the amount and types of data to
be reported. However, focus only on findings that are important and related to
addressing the research problem.
7.0 Discussion:
 The purpose of the discussion is to interpret and describe the significance of your
findings in light of what was already known about the research problem being
investigated, and to explain any new understanding or fresh insights about the
problem after you've taken the findings into consideration.
This section is often considered the most important part of your research paper
because this is where you:
1. Most effectively demonstrates your ability as a researcher to think critically about
an issue, to develop creative solutions to problems based upon a logical synthesis
of the findings, and to formulate a deeper, more profound understanding of the
research problem under investigation.
2. Present the underlying meaning of your research, note possible implications in other
areas of study, and explore possible improvements that can be made in order to
further develop the concerns of your research.
3. Highlight the importance of your study and how it may be able to contribute to
and/or fill existing gaps in the field. If appropriate, the discussion section is also
where you state how the findings from your study revealed new gaps in the literature
that had not been previously exposed or adequately described.
4. Engage the reader in thinking critically about issues based upon an evidence-based
interpretation of findings.
Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion
section of your paper:
1. Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the
general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to
practice.
2. Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense that you used when
describing the research problem in your introduction.
3. Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer
all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the
introduction.
4. Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major finding and
place them in proper perspective. Refer the readers to a figure or table to help
enhance the interpretation of the data. The order of interpreting each major finding
should be in the same order as they were described in your results section.
5. Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses.
Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of
the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings.
6. The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal
implications of the findings regardless of statistical significance.
7. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your
study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of
the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further
research.
8.0 Conclusion:
 The conclusion is intended to help the reader understand why your research should
matter to them after they have finished reading the paper.

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Guidelines on writing a research paper

  • 1. Guidelines on writing a research paper Muizz O. Sanni-Anibire Lecturer, Dammam Community College King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia muizz@dcc.kfupm.edu.sa https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=hNT8hKsAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra 1.0 Title: It should be concise and descriptive. For example:  Post-Occupancy Evaluation of Housing Facilities: Overview and Summary of Methods.  A ranking system for fire safety performance of student housing facilities  Safety Management in Construction: Best Practices in Hong Kong It is advised to choose an informative but catchy title. An effective title not only pricks the reader's interest, but also predisposes him/her favorably towards the write-up. 2.0 Abstract: It is a brief summary of approximately 150-300 words. It should include the research question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used. 3.0 Introduction:  The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem.  How to frame the research problem is perhaps the biggest problem in research writing. If the research problem is framed in the context of a general, rambling literature review, then the research question may appear trivial and uninteresting. However, if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current research area, its significance will become evident.
  • 2.  Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how to frame your research question just as there is no prescription on how to write an interesting and informative opening paragraph. A lot depends on your creativity, your ability to think clearly and the depth of your understanding of problem areas.  However, try to place your research question in the context of either a current "hot" area, or an older area that remains viable.  Secondly, you need to provide a brief but appropriate historical backdrop.  Thirdly, provide the contemporary context in which your proposed research question occupies the central stage.  Finally, identify "key players" and refer to the most relevant and representative publications.  The introduction typically begins with a general statement of the problem area, with a focus on a specific research problem, to be followed by the rational or justification for the proposed study. The introduction generally covers the following elements: 1. State the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the study. 2. Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance. 3. Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing. 4. Briefly describe the major issues and sub--‐problems to be addressed by your research. 5. Identify the key independent and dependent variables of your experiment. Alternatively, specify the phenomenon you want to study. 6. State your hypothesis or theory, if any. For exploratory or phenomenological research, you may not have any hypotheses. (Please do not confuse the hypothesis with the statistical null hypothesis.) 7. Set the delimitation or boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. 8. Provide definitions of key concepts. (This is optional.) 4.0 Literature Review:
  • 3.  Sometimes the literature review is incorporated into the introduction section. However, a separate section is preferred; this allows a more thorough review of the literature.  The literature review serves several important functions: 1. Ensures that you are not "reinventing the wheel". 2. Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research. 3. Demonstrates your knowledge of the research problem. 4. Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research question. 5. Shows your ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information. 6. Indicates your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature. 7. Provides new theoretical insights or develop a new model as the conceptual framework for your research. 8. Convinces your reader that your proposed research will make a significant and substantial contribution to the literature (i.e., resolving an important theoretical issue or filling a major gap in the literature). Most students' literature reviews suffer from the following problems:  Lacking organization and structure  Lacking focus, unity and coherence  Being repetitive and verbose  Failing to cite influential papers  Failing to keep up with recent developments  Failing to critically evaluate cited papers  Citing irrelevant or trivial references  Depending too much on secondary sources  There are different ways to organize your literature review. Make use of subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review.  For example, having established the importance of your research area and its current state of development, you may devote several subsections on related issues as: theoretical models, measuring instruments, cross--cultural and gender differences, etc.
  • 4.  It is also helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story to an audience. Try to tell it in a stimulating and engaging manner. Do not bore them, because it may lead to rejection of your research project. 5.0 Methods:  The Method section is very important because it tells your Research Committee how you solved your research problem. It provides your work plan and describes the activities used in the completion of your project.  The guiding principle for writing the Method section is that it should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound. Some even argue that it should contain sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the study.  You need to demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your research question.  The data collection process in qualitative research has a far greater impact on the results as compared to quantitative research. That is another reason for greater care in describing how you will collect and analyze your data. 6.0 Results:  In this section you will present a detailed analysis of all the data you have gathered in your research based on the methodology (or methodologies you have applied).  These results may include: tables, charts (pie charts, bar charts, histograms), photos, drawings, etc.  The results section should simply state the findings of the research arranged in a logical sequence without bias or interpretation. The results section should always be written in the past tense.  Though, the results should be concise, its length will depend on the type and quantity of data collected.  Avoid providing data that is not critical to answering the research question. A good strategy is to always re-read the background section of your paper after you have written up your results to ensure that the reader has enough context to understand the results.
  • 5. In general, the content of your results section should include the following elements: 1. An introductory context for understanding the results by restating the research problem underpinning your study. 2. A summary of your key findings arranged in a logical sequence that generally follows your methodology section. 3. Inclusion of non-textual elements, such as, figures, charts, photos, maps, tables, etc. to further illustrate key findings, if appropriate. 4. A systematic description of your results, highlighting for the reader observations that are most relevant to the topic under investigation [remember that not all results that emerge from the methodology used to gather the data may be relevant]. 5. Use of the past tense when referring to your results. 6. The page length of your results section is guided by the amount and types of data to be reported. However, focus only on findings that are important and related to addressing the research problem. 7.0 Discussion:  The purpose of the discussion is to interpret and describe the significance of your findings in light of what was already known about the research problem being investigated, and to explain any new understanding or fresh insights about the problem after you've taken the findings into consideration. This section is often considered the most important part of your research paper because this is where you: 1. Most effectively demonstrates your ability as a researcher to think critically about an issue, to develop creative solutions to problems based upon a logical synthesis of the findings, and to formulate a deeper, more profound understanding of the research problem under investigation. 2. Present the underlying meaning of your research, note possible implications in other areas of study, and explore possible improvements that can be made in order to further develop the concerns of your research. 3. Highlight the importance of your study and how it may be able to contribute to and/or fill existing gaps in the field. If appropriate, the discussion section is also
  • 6. where you state how the findings from your study revealed new gaps in the literature that had not been previously exposed or adequately described. 4. Engage the reader in thinking critically about issues based upon an evidence-based interpretation of findings. Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper: 1. Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice. 2. Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense that you used when describing the research problem in your introduction. 3. Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction. 4. Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major finding and place them in proper perspective. Refer the readers to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data. The order of interpreting each major finding should be in the same order as they were described in your results section. 5. Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings. 6. The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of statistical significance. 7. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. 8.0 Conclusion:  The conclusion is intended to help the reader understand why your research should matter to them after they have finished reading the paper.
  • 7.  A conclusion is not merely a summary of the main topics covered or a re-statement of your research problem but a synthesis of key points and, if applicable, where you recommend new areas for future research.  For most essays, one well-developed paragraph is sufficient for a conclusion, although in some cases, a two or three paragraph conclusion may be required. Strategies to help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your research paper may include any of the following 1. If your essay deals with a contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem. 2. Recommend a specific course or courses of action that, if adopted, could address a specific problem in practice or in the development of new knowledge. 3. Cite a relevant quotation or expert opinion to lend authority to the conclusion you have reached [a good place to look is research from your literature review]. 4. Restate a key statistic, fact, or visual image to drive home the ultimate point of your paper. 5. If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point with a relevant narrative drawn from your own life experiences. 6. Return to an anecdote, an example, or a quotation that you presented in your introduction, but add further insight derived from the findings of your study; use your interpretation of results to reframe it in new ways. 7. Provide a "take-home" message in the form of a strong, succinct statement that you want the reader to remember about your study. Other points to note 1. The conclusion section should be concise and to the point. 2. In the introduction, your task was to move from general [the field of study] to specific [your research problem]. However, in the conclusion, your task is to move from a specific discussion [your research problem] back to a general discussion [i.e., how your research contributes new understanding or fills an important gap in the literature]. In short, the conclusion is where you should place your research within a larger context.
  • 8. 3. Negative aspects of the research process should never be ignored. Problems, drawbacks, and challenges encountered during your study should be summarized as a way of qualifying your overall conclusions. 4. In order to be able to discuss how your research fits back into your field of study [and possibly the world at large], you need to summarize briefly and directly how it contributes to new knowledge or a new understanding about the research problem. 5. It is crucial that you match your conclusion to you research objectives. 9.0 References (bibliography):  A list of citations related to a particular topic or theme that includes a brief descriptive and/or evaluative summary.  The bibliography can be arranged chronologically by date of publication or alphabetically by author, with citations to print and/or digital materials, such as, books, newspaper articles, journal articles, dissertations, government documents, pamphlets, web sites, etc., and multimedia sources like films and audio recordings. Bibliography/Further reading Fisher, J. P., Jansen, J. A., Johnson, P. C., & Mikos, A. G. (2016). Guidelines for writing a research paper for publication. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.. Labaree R.V. (2017) Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Purpose of Guide, URL: http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide. Accessed 1 June, 2017.