Writing a research paper for publication can be a very tedious but rewarding task for researchers in academia. It is important to note that the format however varies from subject to subject and from journal to journal. However, there is a basic format that underlies all academic research papers for all subject areas. In this article, I share some hints for starting masters and PhD students on how to write academic research papers.
The basic format of an academic paper
The title of your paper should be catchy, straightforward instantly conveying to your readers why your article stands out from all previous ones. It is always best to conclude on the appropriate title when you finish writing your paper as the focus of the title you start with may shift during the writing process.
The abstract of a research paper provides a summary of the paper for readers indicating the purpose of the study, the methodology used, results, findings and recommendations. An abstract should be concise at the same time conveying the ideas and results behind the study. The length of an abstract is normally provided in the author’s guidelines for many journals, but if it is not provided try and keep it between 150 to 300 words.
You need to indicate the keywords that underlie your study. This can be three to four words your study focuses on.
Your introduction should not repeat your abstract. It should indicate the background of the study. Briefly discuss previous studies on your topic with appropriate references to justify the motivation for the study. Don’t be too proud to admit and reference previous works that inspired your paper. Then indicate the key ideas from previous studies you hope to explore. The argument of your research paper should be clearly made know to your readers. State the aims and objectives of your study. Remember, however, that you are not writing a thesis here: your goal is not to redo the previous studies carried out, your objectives should focus on aspects of your topic that are yet to be researched. Discuss any frameworks or theories you hope to base your research on. It would interest you to know that many readers hardly read research papers past the introduction. Hence, you need to carefully write a good introduction that whets the reader’s appetite.
Discuss the research approaches used for the study. You need to indicate the methods used for data collection. If it’s a quantitative study provide information on sampling, population and data collection. In the case of a qualitative study using interviews or focus group discussions indicate the number of people involved and reasons for choosing a particular population. Using a mixed-methods approach provide details of both qualitative and quantitative methods used. Please note that your methodology section should not present your results but help the reader understand how you obtained your results.
- Results, Discussion and recommendations
Present the results/findings obtained from the data collected. Tables and charts should be presented and with appropriate captions to enable easier understanding. Discuss the results/findings of the study. At this stage, it should be clear to the reader what you make out of results, don’t beat around the bush, be straightforward. Link your discussion to the objectives of the study stated in your introduction. It is also appropriate to reference previous findings from other studies and link them with your results. Based on your discussion provide recommendations for future studies.
In your conclusion, once again do not repeat your abstract. Broadly summarize your argument and tell your reader what conclusions one could draw from your paper. Try as much as possible not to introduce new ideas you have not mentioned earlier in your write-up.
State all the references cited. You would need to conform to the recommended style of referencing for the journal you intend to publish your work in. Do a computer search to make sure you have picked up correct references from previous work you have cited.
Some Dos and Don’ts of writing a research paper.
- Be straightforward, avoid long sentences. Sentences should logically lead on from one to the next.
- Don’t assume, provide references to support all your assumptions.
- A shift from the general topic should be signaled by a new paragraph.
- Do spellcheck and check punctuation marks. You may use any grammar checking tool such as Grammarly.
- Don’t be in a hurry to finish a paper and start another one. Carefully process all your thoughts. If you feel tired take a break and come back refreshed. Remember in academia, it not just about the number of papers you write but the quality of the papers that may earn you a promotion.
To some extent, the best rule of good writing is to write and write. Anytime you read a good paper be encouraged you can also write a good paper. Note that there is no perfect academic paper, do not be too hard on yourself. As you write more articles your writing eventually gets better. Good Luck.
This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author – Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor. He is an Associate Professor of New Testament and Mother Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics in the Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.