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How to Write a Research Paper

Writing an effective research paper starts with knowing what type of paper you are writing.

The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers.

The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial.

The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation.

From OWL - Genre and the Research Paper.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Evaluating Information


Regardless of where you are getting your information, you need to be aware of a few simple attributes about whatever information you are using.

When evaluating information, here are five helpful considerations:

Currency: timeliness of the information.

Relevance: importance of the information for your need.

Authority: source of the information.

Accuracy: reliability, truthfulness, correctness.

Purpose: reason that the information exists.

Academic / Scholarly / Peer Reviewed

The terms Academic, Scholarly or Peer Reviewed are frequently used interchangably.  In nearly all cases they mean the same thing.  They are used to indicated a scholarly (adheres to a common 4-6 part format to report research findings) article that has been peer reviewed (by others with knowledge of research in the field) that appears in an academic or research publication (few or no advertisements).

Characteristics of a Scholarly Resource:

  1. Peer Reviewed (ususally blind review)
    1. Peer review means a group of experts in the field review the article that an author has submitted to a scholarly journal for publication BEFORE it is actually published. These are typically peers of the submitting author (thus "peer reviewed") working in the same field. There are typically 2-4 reviewers who will make suggestions to improve the article, identify particular strong or weak points in the sections of the article, and generally provide feedback to the author (through the journal editor, thus "blind peer reviewed") about the value of the findings and if the article should be accepted for publication.

  2. Writing can be complex and difficult for readers without knowledge of the field.
    1. Making sense of research findings in a particular field requires some knowledge of that field. Articles published to share research findings really are intended for an academic or research audience where knowledge of the field at a certain level is assumed. The narrorwer the intended reading audience, the more knowledge the reader is assumed to have.

  3. The article follows a typical formula.
    1. Abstract 
    2. Methods
    3. Results
    4. Discussion
    5. Conclusion
    6. References

  4. In-text citations or footnotes or endnotes are frequently utilized.
    1. Depending on the field, some scholarly publications will use "in line" citations (Author Name, Year), some will use an elevated citation number that references a citation or note that appears at the bottom of the page called a footnote (at the "foot" or bottom of the page), while others will use an elevated citation number to an article or note that appears at the end of the article itself called an endnote.

  5. Reference list typically appears at the end of the article (or book).
    1. Not only is there a reference list / bibliography, but that list will be formatted in a particular style (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) that is common to a particular field of research.

  6. The publication in which the article appears has no (or very little) advertising.

Trade Publications

Trade Publications ( or sometimes referred to as Trade Magazines ) are publications intended for people working in a specific industry.

There are trade publications for nearly every business type, industry segment or not-for-profit that you could imagine.

Trade publications typically have many of the following characteristics:

  1. The publication title is good indicator of the intended audience.
  2. Articles tend to be shorter (rarely more than 4 pages) and written by someone with extensive industry knowledge.
  3. Advertising is abundant and frequently from suppliers, vendors or professional firms (law, finance, etc.) serving the industry.
  4. The use of color in articles (graphs, charts, industry stats, etc.) and advertising is nearly standard.
  5. Most have a magazine like glossy look and feel to them (or conversely some may have a "specialty newspaper" feel to them).
  6. Receipt of the publication can be limited to businesses, employees, or people doing business in the industry such as contractors or professional consultants to the industry.  Receiving the publication as the result of an invitation is not uncommon.
  7. Issues are published rather frquently (monthly or weekly).

Examples of Trade Publications:

Caterer & Hotelkeeper

   A weekly publication intended for the catering and hotel & restaurant industry in the United Kingdom. 

Fuel Oil News

   Covering all aspects of the fuel-oil industry, including technical articles, news, and directory of suppliers to the industry and relevant associations.

Game Developer

   Monthly publication for programmers, software developers and marketers covering critical aspects of game development.

Railway Age

   A monthly publication intended for managers, executives and engineers on large, regional and short line railroads in North America.  Also covers some light rail and transit news.

WWD : Women's Wear Daily

  Covering the business, fashion trends, retailing developments and ready-to-wear news for retailers and manufacturers of women's apparel, accessories, fibers and textiles (inclusive of shoes).  


Business Magazines & Newspapers

General business publications that aren't focused on a specific industry are typically either a magazine or a newspaper that report on business generally.  These are publications that you can typically find at a newstand, sometimes in a drugstore or a large supermarket.

Magazine examples:




Newspaper examples:

Financial Times

Wall Street Journal

Finding Research, Trade and Popular Business Articles

Finding Research in Related Disciplines

APA Citation Style and Grammar Guidelines

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