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How to start a research paper

A research paper is documentation of academic research or study done by a person on a particular topic. During a course of study, students are expected to submit research papers on topics related to their area of study. Academicians and industry professionals present research papers at conferences. Research papers can also be prepared for publishing in an acclaimed journal. The research paper outlines research carried out in a particular area. The research should be original and can explore a concept or a theory.

The research paper explains how the research was carried out and what the findings of the research were. Research can be carried out in various disciplines including science, medicine, literature, management, and humanities. Whatever may be the subject, research should be done in an area with which you are familiar.

The following are the pre-requisites to start writing a research paper.

  • The research topic

Research is done on a particular topic related to a subject area. Finalizing the topic is the first step of research. The first thing you include in your research paper is the topic. Research in academics can be carried out under the supervision of a teacher or professor. The advice of the professor or other experts can be taken before finalizing the research topic.

You should select the topic based on your interest. There is no use doing research on a topic just because someone has suggested it to you. It is important to have a thorough knowledge of the subject and you must be interested to carry out the research. Sometimes, the research area or prompt is given by the professor, as is a part of an assignment. In such a case, you have to use that as a basis for finalizing the topic.

  • Complete the basics of your research

Every research needs to have objectives that explain what you want to achieve. In a research paper, you can present research questions that you aim to answer in your paper. You then need to present the hypotheses. These are the possible answers to your research questions. Once you form the hypotheses, you set out to prove the hypotheses. The result of the research would be proving one or more of the hypotheses as true or disproving them.

  • Collect data

To carry out research, you need data. The data can be of two types:

  1. Primary: This is original data that you collect yourself. For example, you meet people and take their opinion on a topic. This is primary data collected through a survey. There are various ways of collecting primary data like surveys, interviews, experiments, and focus groups.
  2. Secondary: This is data already available that you use for your research. This data would be found in books, journals, newspapers, magazines, technical reports, statistical reports, and can also be found online. It is very important to use authentic sources for secondary data. The source you rely on must be reliable. Even though a website like Wikipedia provides lot of information, it is not considered a reliable source in academic research.

For instance, the Govt. census report is a reliable source of information. Similarly, books published, articles in newspapers, studies carried out by magazines, and research papers published by reputed journals are the best sources for secondary data. In a research paper, you need to quote the source that you are referring. This is mandatory. If you do not do this, it is considered plagiarism, which is a serious offense in the world of research.

  • Compile the data and analyze it

Once you collect data, you need to compile it and put it together. You then need to analyze the data you have collected to understand what it is telling you. To prove your hypotheses, you may need to make use of statistical tools. There are many well-known statistical software like SPSS, R, Matlab, Minitab and SAS that can be used to carry out analysis. Your analysis must be done keeping in mind the hypotheses you have framed.

  • Come to a conclusion

Based on your analysis of data, you can arrive at the findings of the study. This is the conclusion of your study. You will decide if the hypotheses have been proved or not. Based on this, you can conclude whether your research objectives have been met. The findings mark the culmination of your research.

When you complete all the steps described above, you now have the complete information to start your research paper. This is how you can do it.

  1. Decide the structure of the paper

The academic institution or the conference organizer usually states their requirements on how the paper must be organized. There are popular research formats like APA, MLA, and Chicago. These formats explain how the research paper should be written, the different sections, font style, font size, how references should be quoted, etc. You need to refer to these guidelines to prepare your research paper. In general, the structure of a research paper would be as follows:

  • Abstract (a summary of the research)
  • Research title, topic and background
  • Research objectives, questions, and hypotheses
  • Literature review (where you sum up your review of secondary data collected by you and previous research)
  • Data analysis (where you present the data collected with analyses)
  • Findings and conclusion
  • Annexures (including copies of questionnaires and surveys)
  1. Prepare a draft

You can first make an outline of your research. You can keep updating this as and when the research progresses. Review the draft using software that checks grammar. Use a plagiarism checker software to find out if you have included any copied content by mistake.

  1. Get the draft checked

You can get the draft checked by a professor or an expert, who goes through the paper and suggest changes that you can incorporate.

  1. Submit the paper

Once your paper is ready, you can submit it to the institution/organization for whom you have prepared the paper. They review the paper and accept it if it meets their requirements.