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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 1. Choosing a Research Problem
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Applying Critical Thinking
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

In the social and behavioral sciences, the subject of analysis is most often framed as a problem that must be researched in order to obtain a greater understanding, formulate a set of solutions or recommended courses of action, and/or develop a better approach to practice. The research problem, therefore, is the main organizing principle guiding the analysis of your research. The problem under investigation establishes an occasion for writing and a focus that governs what you want to say. It represents the core subject matter of scholarly communication and the means by which scholars arrive at other topics of conversation and the discovery of new knowledge and understanding.

Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research . London: Sage, 2013; Jacobs, Ronald L. “Developing a Dissertation Research Problem: A Guide for Doctoral Students in Human Resource Development and Adult Education.” New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development 25 (Summer 2013): 103-117; Chapter 1: Research and the Research Problem. Nicholas Walliman . Your Research Project: Designing and Planning Your Work . 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011.

Choosing a Research Problem / How to Begin

Do not assume that identifying a research problem to investigate will be a quick and easy task! You should be thinking about it during the beginning of the course. There are generally three ways you are asked to write about a research problem : 1) your professor provides you with a general topic from which you study a particular aspect; 2) your professor provides you with a list of possible topics to study and you choose a topic from that list; or, 3) your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic and you only have to obtain permission to write about it before beginning your investigation. Here are some strategies for getting started for each scenario.

I.  How To Begin:  You are given the topic to write about

Step 1 : Identify concepts and terms that make up the topic statement . For example, your professor wants the class to focus on the following research problem: “Is the European Union a credible security actor with the capacity to contribute to confronting global terrorism?" The main concepts in this problem are: European Union, security, global terrorism, credibility [ hint : focus on identifying proper nouns, nouns or noun phrases, and action verbs in the assignment description]. Step 2 : Review related literature to help refine how you will approach examining the topic and finding a way to analyze it . You can begin by doing any or all of the following: reading through background information from materials listed in your course syllabus; searching the USC Libraries Catalog to find a recent book on the topic and, if appropriate, more specialized works about the topic; conducting a preliminary review of the research literature using multidisciplinary databases such as ProQuest or subject-specific databases from the " By Subject Area " drop down menu located above the list of databases.

Choose the advanced search option in the database and enter into each search box the main concept terms you developed in Step 1. Also consider using their synonyms to retrieve additional relevant records. This will help you refine and frame the scope of the research problem. You will likely need to do this several times before you can finalize how to approach writing about the topic. NOTE : Always review the references from your most relevant research results cited by the authors in footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography to locate related research on your topic. This is a good strategy for identifying important prior research about the topic because titles that are repeatedly cited indicate their significance in laying a foundation for understanding the problem. However, if you’re having trouble at this point locating relevant research literature, ask a librarian for help!

ANOTHER NOTE :  If you find an article from a database that's particularly helpful, paste it into Google Scholar , placing the title of the article in quotes. If the article record appears, look for a "cited by" reference followed by a number [e.g., C ited by 37] just below the record. This link indicates how many times other scholars have subsequently cited that article in their own research since it was first published. This is an effective strategy for identifying more current, related research on your topic. Finding additional cited by references from your original list of cited by references helps you navigate through the literature and, by so doing, understand the evolution of thought around a particular research problem. Step 3 : Since social science research papers are generally designed to encourage you to develop your own ideas and arguments, look for sources that can help broaden, modify, or strengthen your initial thoughts and arguments. For example, if you decide to argue that the European Union is inadequately prepared to take on responsibilities for broader global security because of the debt crisis in many EU countries, then focus on identifying sources that support as well as refute this position. From the advanced search option in ProQuest , a sample search would use "European Union" in one search box, "global security" in the second search box, and adding a third search box to include "debt crisis."

There are least four appropriate roles your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis :

  • Sources of criticism -- frequently, you'll find yourself reading materials that are relevant to your chosen topic, but you disagree with the author's position. Therefore, one way that you can use a source is to describe the counter-argument, provide evidence from your own review of the literature as to why the prevailing argument is unsatisfactory, and to discuss how your approach is more appropriate based upon your interpretation of the evidence.
  • Sources of new ideas -- while a general goal in writing college research papers in the social sciences is to examine a research problem with some basic idea of what position you'd like to take and on what basis you'd like to defend your position, it is certainly acceptable [and often encouraged] to read the literature and extend, modify, and refine your own position in light of the ideas proposed by others. Just make sure that you cite the sources !
  • Sources for historical context -- another role your related literature plays in formulating how to begin your analysis is to place issues and events in proper historical context. This can help to demonstrate familiarity with developments in relevant scholarship about your topic, provide a means of comparing historical versus contemporary issues and events, and identifying key people, places, and events that had an important role related to the research problem. Given its archival journal coverage, a good multidisciplnary database to use in this case is JSTOR .
  • Sources of interdisciplinary insight -- an advantage of using databases like ProQuest to begin exploring your topic is that it covers publications from a variety of different disciplines. Another way to formulate how to study the topic is to look at it from different disciplinary perspectives. If the topic concerns immigration reform, for example, ask yourself, how do studies from sociological journals found by searching ProQuest vary in their analysis from those in political science journals. A goal in reviewing related literature is to provide a means of approaching a topic from multiple perspectives rather than the perspective offered from just one discipline.

NOTE : Remember to keep careful notes at every stage or utilize a citation management system like EndNotes or RefWorks . You may think you'll remember what you have searched and where you found things, but it’s easy to forget or get confused. Most databases have a search history feature that allows you to go back and see what searches you conducted previously as long as you haven't closed your session. If you start over, that history could be deleted.

Step 4 : Assuming you have done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of your initial search for related literature, you're ready to prepare a detailed outline for your paper that lays the foundation for a more in-depth and focused review of relevant research literature [after consulting with a librarian, if needed!]. How will you know you haven't done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature? A good indication is that you start composing the outline and gaps appear in how you want to approach the study. This indicates the need to gather further background information and analysis about the research problem.

II.  How To Begin:  You are provided a list of possible topics to choose from Step 1 : I know what you’re thinking--which topic on this list will be the easiest to find the most information on? An effective instructor would never include a topic that is so obscure or complex that no research is available to examine and from which to design an effective study. Therefore, don't approach a list of possible topics to study from the perspective of trying to identify the path of least resistance; choose a topic that you find interesting in some way, that is controversial and that you have a strong opinion about, that has some personal meaning for you, or relates to your major or a minor. You're going to be working on the topic for quite some time, so choose one that you find interesting and engaging or that motivates you to take a position. Embrace the opportunity to learn something new! Once you’ve settled on a topic of interest from the list provided by your professor, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed above to further develop it into a research paper.

NOTE : It’s ok to review related literature to help refine how you will approach analyzing a topic, and then discover that the topic isn’t all that interesting to you. In that case, choose a different topic from the list. Just don’t wait too long to make a switch and, of course, be sure to inform your professor that you are changing your topic.

III.  How To Begin:  Your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic

Step 1 : Under this scenario, the key process is turning an idea or general thought into a topic that can be configured into a research problem. When given an assignment where you choose the topic, don't begin by thinking about what to write about, but rather, ask yourself the question, "What do I want to understand or learn about?" Treat an open-ended research assignment as an opportunity to gain new knowledge about something that's important or exciting to you in the context of the overall subject of the course.

Step 2 : If you lack ideas, or wish to gain focus, try any or all of the following strategies:

  • Review your course readings, particularly the suggested readings, for topic ideas. Don't just review what you've already read, but jump ahead in the syllabus to readings that have not been covered yet.
  • Search the USC Libraries Catalog for a recently published book and, if appropriate, more specialized works related to the discipline area of the course [e.g., for the course SOCI 335: Society and Population, search for books on "population and society" or "population and social impact"]. Reviewing the contents of a book about your area of interest can give you insight into what conversations scholars are having about the topic and, thus, how you might want to contribute your own ideas to these conversations through the research paper you write for the class.
  • Browse through some current scholarly [a.k.a., academic, peer reviewed] journals in your subject discipline. Even if most of the articles are not relevant, you can skim through the contents quickly. You only need one to be the spark that begins the process of wanting to learn more about a topic. Consult with a librarian and/or your professor about what constitutes the core journals within the subject area of the writing assignment.
  • Think about essays you have written for other courses you have taken or academic lectures and programs you have attended outside of class. Thinking back, ask yourself why did you want to take this class or attend this event? What interested you the most? What would you like to know more about? Place this question in the context of the current course assignment. Note that this strategy also applies to anything you've watched on TV or has been shared on social media.
  • Search online news media sources, such as CNN , the Los Angeles Times , Huffington Post , MSNBC , Fox News , or Newsweek , to see if your idea has been covered by the media. Use this coverage to refine your idea into something that you'd like to investigate further, but in a more deliberate, scholarly way in relation to a particular problem that needs to be researched.

Step 3 : To build upon your initial idea, use the suggestions under this tab to help narrow , broaden , or increase the timeliness of your idea so you can write it out as a research problem.

Once you are comfortable with having turned your idea into a research problem, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed in Part I above to further develop it into an outline for a research paper.

Alderman, Jim. "Choosing a Research Topic." Beginning Library and Information Systems Strategies. Paper 17. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Digital Commons, 2014; Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research . London: Sage, 2013; Chapter 2: Choosing a Research Topic. Adrian R. Eley. Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher . New York: Routledge, 2012; Answering the Question. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Brainstorming. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Brainstorming. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Chapter 1: Research and the Research Problem. Nicholas Walliman . Your Research Project: Designing and Planning Your Work . 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011; Choosing a Topic. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University;  Mullaney, Thomas S. and Christopher Rea. Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World) . Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022; Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; How To Write a Thesis Statement. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Identify Your Question. Start Your Research. University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Resources for Identifying a Topic

Resources for Identifying a Research Problem

If you are having difficulty identifying a topic to study or need basic background information, the following web resources and databases can be useful:

  • CQ Researcher -- a collection of single-themed public policy reports that provide an overview of an issue. Each report includes background information, an assessment of the current policy situation, statistical tables and maps, pro/con statements from representatives of opposing positions, and a bibliography of key sources.
  • New York Times Topics -- each topic page collects news articles, reference and archival information, photos, graphics, audio and video files. Content is available without charge on articles going back to 1981.
  • Opposing Viewpoints In Context -- an online resource covering a wide range of social issues from a variety of perspectives. The database contains a media-rich collection of materials, including pro/con viewpoint essays, topic overviews, primary source materials, biographies of social activists and reformers, journal articles, statistical tables, charts and graphs, images, videos, and podcasts.
  • Policy Commons -- platform for objective, fact-based research from the world’s leading policy experts, nonpartisan think tanks, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. The database provides advanced searching across millions of pages of books, articles, working papers, reports, policy briefs, data sets, tables, charts, media, case studies, and statistical publications, including archived reports from more than 200 defunct think tanks. Coverage is international in scope.

Descriptions of resources are adapted or quoted from vendor websites.

Writing Tip

Not Finding Anything on Your Topic? Ask a Librarian!

Don't assume or jump to the conclusion that your topic is too narrowly defined or obscure just because your initial search has failed to identify relevant research. Librarians are experts in locating and critically assessing information and how it is organized. This knowledge will help you develop strategies for analyzing existing knowledge in new ways. Therefore, always consult with a librarian before you consider giving up on finding information about the topic you want to investigate. If there isn't a lot of information about your topic, a librarian can help you identify a closely related topic that you can study. Use the Ask-A-Librarian link above to identify a librarian in your subject area.

Another Writing Tip

Don't be a Martyr!

In thinking about what to study, don't adopt the mindset of pursuing an esoteric or overly complicated topic just to impress your professor but that, in reality, does not have any real interest to you. Choose a topic that is challenging but that has at least some interest to you or that you care about. Obviously, this is easier for courses within your major, but even for those nasty prerequisite classes that you must take in order to graduate [and that provide an additional tuition revenue for the university], try to apply issues associated with your major to the general topic given to you. For example, if you are an international relations major taking a GE philosophy class where the assignment asks you to apply the question of "what is truth" to some aspect of life, you could choose to study how government leaders attempt to shape truth through the use of nationalistic propaganda.

Still Another Writing Tip

A Research Problem is Not a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement and a research problem are two different parts of the introduction section of your paper. The thesis statement succinctly describes in one or two sentences, usually in the last paragraph of the introduction, what position you have reached about a topic. It includes an assertion that requires evidence and support along with your opinion or argument about what you are researching. There are three general types of thesis statements: analytical statements that break down and evaluate the topic; argumentative statements that make a claim about the topic and defend that claim; and, expository statements that present facts and research about the topic. Each are intended to set forth a claim that you will seek to validate through the research you describe in your paper.

Before the thesis statement, your introduction must include a description of a problem that describes either a key area of concern, a condition to be improved upon, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling issue that exists . The research problem describes something that can be empirically verified and measured; it is often followed by a set of questions that underpin how you plan to approach investigating that problem. In short, the thesis statement states your opinion or argument about the research problem and summarizes how you plan to address it.

Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Write a Strong Thesis Statement! The Writing Center, University of Evansville; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tutorial #26: Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences. Writing Center, College of San Mateo; Creswell,  John W. and J. David Creswell. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches . 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2017.

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Enago Academy

Concept Papers in Research: Deciphering the blueprint of brilliance

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Concept papers hold significant importance as a precursor to a full-fledged research proposal in academia and research. Understanding the nuances and significance of a concept paper is essential for any researcher aiming to lay a strong foundation for their investigation.

Table of Contents

What Is Concept Paper

A concept paper can be defined as a concise document which outlines the fundamental aspects of a grant proposal. It outlines the initial ideas, objectives, and theoretical framework of a proposed research project. It is usually two to three-page long overview of the proposal. However, they differ from both research proposal and original research paper in lacking a detailed plan and methodology for a specific study as in research proposal provides and exclusion of the findings and analysis of a completed research project as in an original research paper. A concept paper primarily focuses on introducing the basic idea, intended research question, and the framework that will guide the research.

Purpose of a Concept Paper

A concept paper serves as an initial document, commonly required by private organizations before a formal proposal submission. It offers a preliminary overview of a project or research’s purpose, method, and implementation. It acts as a roadmap, providing clarity and coherence in research direction. Additionally, it also acts as a tool for receiving informal input. The paper is used for internal decision-making, seeking approval from the board, and securing commitment from partners. It promotes cohesive communication and serves as a professional and respectful tool in collaboration.

These papers aid in focusing on the core objectives, theoretical underpinnings, and potential methodology of the research, enabling researchers to gain initial feedback and refine their ideas before delving into detailed research.

Key Elements of a Concept Paper

Key elements of a concept paper include the title page , background , literature review , problem statement , methodology, timeline, and references. It’s crucial for researchers seeking grants as it helps evaluators assess the relevance and feasibility of the proposed research.

Writing an effective concept paper in academic research involves understanding and incorporating essential elements:

Elements of Concept Papers

How to Write a Concept Paper?

To ensure an effective concept paper, it’s recommended to select a compelling research topic, pose numerous research questions and incorporate data and numbers to support the project’s rationale. The document must be concise (around five pages) after tailoring the content and following the formatting requirements. Additionally, infographics and scientific illustrations can enhance the document’s impact and engagement with the audience. The steps to write a concept paper are as follows:

1. Write a Crisp Title:

Choose a clear, descriptive title that encapsulates the main idea. The title should express the paper’s content. It should serve as a preview for the reader.

2. Provide a Background Information:

Give a background information about the issue or topic. Define the key terminologies or concepts. Review existing literature to identify the gaps your concept paper aims to fill.

3. Outline Contents in the Introduction:

Introduce the concept paper with a brief overview of the problem or idea you’re addressing. Explain its significance. Identify the specific knowledge gaps your research aims to address and mention any contradictory theories related to your research question.

4. Define a Mission Statement:

The mission statement follows a clear problem statement that defines the problem or concept that need to be addressed. Write a concise mission statement that engages your research purpose and explains why gaining the reader’s approval will benefit your field.

5. Explain the Research Aim and Objectives:

Explain why your research is important and the specific questions you aim to answer through your research. State the specific goals and objectives your concept intends to achieve. Provide a detailed explanation of your concept. What is it, how does it work, and what makes it unique?

6. Detail the Methodology:

Discuss the research methods you plan to use, such as surveys, experiments, case studies, interviews, and observations. Mention any ethical concerns related to your research.

7. Outline Proposed Methods and Potential Impact:

Provide detailed information on how you will conduct your research, including any specialized equipment or collaborations. Discuss the expected results or impacts of implementing the concept. Highlight the potential benefits, whether social, economic, or otherwise.

8. Mention the Feasibility

Discuss the resources necessary for the concept’s execution. Mention the expected duration of the research and specific milestones. Outline a proposed timeline for implementing the concept.

9. Include a Support Section:

Include a section that breaks down the project’s budget, explaining the overall cost and individual expenses to demonstrate how the allocated funds will be used.

10. Provide a Conclusion:

Summarize the key points and restate the importance of the concept. If necessary, include a call to action or next steps.

Although the structure and elements of a concept paper may vary depending on the specific requirements, you can tailor your document based on the guidelines or instructions you’ve been given.

Here are some tips to write a concept paper:

Tips to Write Concept Paper

Example of a Concept Paper

Here is an example of a concept paper. Please note, this is a generalized example. Your concept paper should align with the specific requirements, guidelines, and objectives you aim to achieve in your proposal. Tailor it accordingly to the needs and context of the initiative you are proposing.

 Download Now!

Importance of a Concept Paper

Concept papers serve various fields, influencing the direction and potential of research in science, social sciences, technology, and more. They contribute to the formulation of groundbreaking studies and novel ideas that can impact societal, economic, and academic spheres.

A concept paper serves several crucial purposes in various fields:

Purpose of a Concept Paper

In summary, a well-crafted concept paper is essential in outlining a clear, concise, and structured framework for new ideas or proposals. It helps in assessing the feasibility, viability, and potential impact of the concept before investing significant resources into its implementation.

How well do you understand concept papers? Test your understanding now! 

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Role of AI in Writing Concept Papers

The increasing use of AI, particularly generative models, has facilitated the writing process for concept papers. Responsible use involves leveraging AI to assist in ideation, organization, and language refinement while ensuring that the originality and ethical standards of research are maintained.

AI plays a significant role in aiding the creation and development of concept papers in several ways:

1. Idea Generation and Organization

AI tools can assist in brainstorming initial ideas for concept papers based on key concepts. They can help in organizing information, creating outlines, and structuring the content effectively.

2. Summarizing Research and Data Analysis

AI-powered tools can assist in conducting comprehensive literature reviews, helping writers to gather and synthesize relevant information. AI algorithms can process and analyze vast amounts of data, providing insights and statistics to support the concept presented in the paper.

3. Language and Style Enhancement

AI grammar checker tools can help writers by offering grammar, style, and tone suggestions, ensuring professionalism. It can also facilitate translation, in case a global collaboration.

4. Collaboration and Feedback

AI platforms offer collaborative features that enable multiple authors to work simultaneously on a concept paper, allowing for real-time contributions and edits.

5. Customization and Personalization

AI algorithms can provide personalized recommendations based on the specific requirements or context of the concept paper. They can assist in tailoring the concept paper according to the target audience or specific guidelines.

6. Automation and Efficiency

AI can automate certain tasks, such as citation formatting, bibliography creation, or reference checking, saving time for the writer.

7. Analytics and Prediction

AI models can predict potential outcomes or impacts based on the information provided, helping writers anticipate the possible consequences of the proposed concept.

8. Real-Time Assistance

AI-driven chat-bots can provide real-time support and answers to specific questions related to the concept paper writing process.

AI’s role in writing concept papers significantly streamlines the writing process, enhances the quality of the content, and provides valuable assistance in various stages of development, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the final document.

Concept papers serve as the stepping stone in the research journey, aiding in the crystallization of ideas and the formulation of robust research proposals. It the cornerstone for translating ideas into impactful realities. Their significance spans diverse domains, from academia to business, enabling stakeholders to evaluate, invest, and realize the potential of groundbreaking concepts.

Frequently Asked Questions

A concept paper can be defined as a concise document outlining the fundamental aspects of a grant proposal such as the initial ideas, objectives, and theoretical framework of a proposed research project.

A good concept paper should offer a clear and comprehensive overview of the proposed research. It should demonstrate a strong understanding of the subject matter and outline a structured plan for its execution.

Concept paper is important to develop and clarify ideas, develop and evaluate proposal, inviting collaboration and collecting feedback, presenting proposals for academic and research initiatives and allocating resources.

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12.1: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

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Learning Objectives

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

writing at work

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13 .

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see Chapter 13 .

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

Key Concepts in Qualitative Research Design

  • First Online: 14 November 2019

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This chapter provides an outline of key concepts in qualitative research design for healthcare simulation. It explores three landmarks that provide orientation to researchers: (1) a defined purpose for the research; (2) an articulation of the researcher’s worldview; and (3) an overarching approach to research design. In practical terms, these translate to: writing the qualitative research question; articulating the relationship between the researcher and the research (reflexivity); and selecting an appropriate methodology. Three methodologies – grounded theory, phenomenology and qualitative description – are outlined and contrasted with a particular emphasis on different analysis traditions. The de facto use of methods as methodology is briefly explored and the importance of coherence across the three landmarks (as opposed to simple adherence to a particular tradition) will be emphasized. Finally, research credibility is introduced as a holistic, dynamic and tacit concept that is highly dependent on researchers and research context.

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Bearman, M. (2019). Key Concepts in Qualitative Research Design. In: Nestel, D., Hui, J., Kunkler, K., Scerbo, M., Calhoun, A. (eds) Healthcare Simulation Research. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26837-4_10

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7 Writing the Research Paper

Writing in a formal, academic, and technical manner can prove a difficult transition for clinicians turned researchers; however, there are several ways to improve your professional writing skills.  This chapter should be considered a collection of tools to consider as you work to articulate and disseminate your research.

Chapter 7: Learning Objectives

This is it! You’re ready to tell the world of the work you’ve done. As you prepare to write your research paper, you’ll be able to

  • Discuss the most general components of a research paper
  • Articulate the importance of framing your work for the reader using a template based on the research approach
  • Identify the major components of a manuscript describing original research
  • Identify the major components of a manuscript describing quality improvement projects
  • Contrast the specifications of guidelines and protocols
  • Identify the major components of a narrative review

Guiding Principles

Although it is wise to identify a potential journal or like avenue as you begin to write up you research, this is not always feasible. For this reason, it is a good idea to have an adequate understanding of the general expectations of what is required of written research articles and manuscripts. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Consider the articles you read

As you begin to research potential research interests, pay close attention to the style of writing found in peer-reviewed and academic journals.  You will notice that the ‘tone’ of ‘voice’ is often formal and rarely uses the first-person narrative.  You will be expected to develop writing of this caliber in order to be published in a reputable peer-reviewed forum.  One of the most difficult concepts for novice researchers to understand is that professional or technical writing is very different from casual or conversational writing.  There is little room for anecdotes, opinions, or overly descriptive narratives.  Keep your writing succinct and focused.

Keep it simple, silly! (KISS)

Recall when you were first introduced to writing a paper in an early English Composition course.  It is likely that you were told that the key components of a paper are the introduction, body, and conclusion.  This is truly the foundational structure of any good paper.  Consider the following outline for your writing assignments:


  • Brief overview of the topic which identifies the gap of understanding about a particular topic that you hope to address (why is it important?)
  • Statement of problem (what issue are you going to address?)
  • Purpose statement/thesis statement (what is the objective of this paper?)

Typically the body of the paper will be broken down into themes or elements outlined in the introduction.  Occasionally rather than themes or topics to be addressed, the ‘body’ of the paper will have specific components such as a literature review, methodology, data analysis, discussion, and/or recommendation section.  Each of these sections may have specific requirements within that section. Later in this chapter, you will be introduced to specific requirements of different types of research papers.

The body of any paper is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the work.  That is, this is the section wherein you both present and explain your ideas in support of the purpose of the paper (described in the introduction).  The body of your paper, regardless of specific structure, is where the majority of your evidentiary base should be included.  That is, many of the statements you make in these sections will require substantiation from outside resources.  It is vital to include appropriate citations of all references used. To save yourself time, cite and reference correctly as you write. Doing so will help ensure that you stay organized as your work evolves.

Sections such as methods or data analyses, will not require as much substantiation and should be considered very ‘cut and dry’. That is, there will be little to no discussion or interpretation of the evidence here. Results sections, similarly, should be focused on the presentation of results specific to your investigation, including statistical analyses. When reporting results of your work consider the format and whether it makes sense to summarize results in a table, figure, or appendix. The appropriate method will depend on both the type and amount of information that you are trying to convey.

The discussion section is the point at which you should frame your results in the context of your interpretation of the existing literature and how your work addresses the gap in knowledge. You’ll work to substantiate your interpretation by utilizing references to present evidence to support your rational. Pay close attention to your approach as you discuss your results and the impact of your work. Be careful not to make declarative statements if your data does not support a cause-and-effect relationship. Additionally, be careful not to draw inference as a result of bias. That is, use caution in skewing the evidence to support your hypothesis.

The conclusion is exactly that.  This is your opportunity to wrap your thoughts up succinctly.  A good conclusion will remind the reader of the point or focus of the paper, reiterate the arguments outlined in the body as well as summarize any discussion or recommendations posed in those respective sections, and articulate what the content of the paper added to the knowledge base of the subject.  This is not a time to introduce new arguments, concepts, or evidence.  The reader should be able to finish the paper understanding the purpose of the paper, the main arguments, and the impact of the work on the subject.

References should be cited correctly in text as well as appropriately formatted at the end of each body of work. The format of your references will depend on the guidelines required of the intended journal or forum you’re submitting to. For example, papers written utilizing the American Psychological Association (APA) formatting standards will include reference pages which are organized on a separate page, titled ‘References’, and organized alphabetically by author surname. If you’re not quite sure of where you’ll be submitting your paper for publication, it may be best to write using APA format; because the references are listed in ascending alphabetical order, adding or removing references during the revision process will be minimally impactful on the designation of subsequent references. Altering your references can then be done once you identify a method of dissemination and review specific guidelines.

Understanding how to present your work can be difficult. It’s one thing to plan and do the research; it’s quite another to put it down on paper in a logical and articulate way. As we discussed in chapters 1 and 2, planning is essential to the success of your research. Similarly, planning the layout of your manuscript will help ensure that you stay both organized and focused. Although most articles can be generalized as having an introduction, body, and conclusion; the specific components within each of those sections varies depending on the approach to research.

Original Research

Although many journals may outline specific requirements for how your manuscript or research paper is to be formatted, there are some generally acceptable formats. One of the most generalizable formats is referred to as IMRaD. IMRaD is an acronym and includes the following elements:

  • Introduction- 25%
  • Methods- 25%
  • Results- 35%
  • Discussion/conclusion- 15%
  • Clearly state the focus for the work. Provide a brief overview of the issue and the gap in knowledge identified; including both a problem and purpose statement in the context of what is currently understood about the topic. This is where you ‘reel’ the reader in and also highlight the important themes which are consistently addressed in the existing literature.
  • General and specific approaches
  • Participant selection/randomization
  • Instrumentation/measurements utilized
  • Here is where you report specific findings and outcomes of your work. There should be very little discussion in this section. Rather, you should present your results and comment, briefly, on how this may relate to the existing literature and state the bottom line. That is, what do these findings suggest. These succinct comments should frame the lens of the discussion section.
  • In the discussion section you can further elaborate on your interpretation, based in the evidence, of how your findings relate to what other researchers have found. You can discuss flaws in your work as well as suggestions for direction of future research. You should address each of the main points you presented in your introduction section(s).

QI Projects

When presenting your QI project; a systematic reporting tool, such as the SQUIRE method , is helpful to ensure that you appropriately present the information in a way that both adds to the understanding of the problem as well as a descriptive approach to solving the issue.


Titling your QI project

  • Your title should indicate that the project addresses a specific initiative to improve healthcare.

Example of QI Project title

Quality Improvement Initiative to Standardize High Flow Nasal Cannula for Bronchiolitis: Decreases Hospital and Intensive Care Stay

  • Addresses specific initiative to improve healthcare
  • Directly identifies the bounds and focus of the project
  • Provide enough information to help with searching and indexing of your work
  • Summarize all key findings in the format required by the publication. Typical sections include background (including statement of the problem), methods, intervention, results, and conclusion
  • Include a description on the nature and significance of the problem
  • Summary of what is currently understood about the problem
  • Overview of framework, model, concepts and/or theory used to explain the problem. Include an assumptions, delimitations, or definitions used to both describe the problem as well as develop the intervention and why the intervention was intended to work.
  • Describe the purpose of the project
  • Describe the contextual elements relevant to both the problem and intervention (e.g. environmental factors contributing to the problem)
  • Include team-based approach, if applicable
  • Describe the approach used to assess the impact of the intervention as well as what approach was used to evaluate/assess the intervention
  • What tools did you use to study both the process and intervention and why?
  • What tools are in place for ongoing assessment of efficacy of the project?
  • How is completeness and accuracy of the data measured?
  • Describe the quantitative/qualitative methods used to draw inference from the data collected
  • Describe how ethical considerations were addressed and whether the project was overseen by an Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  • Initial steps of intervention and evolution over time; including modifications to the intervention or project
  • Details of the process measures and outcome
  • Key findings including relevance to the rational and specific aims
  • Strengths of the projects
  • Nature of the association between intervention and outcome
  • Comparison of the findings with those of other publications
  • Impact of the project
  • Reasons for differences between observed and anticipated outcomes; include contextual rationale
  • Costs and strategic implications
  • Limits to the generalizability of the work
  • Factors that may have limited internal validity (e.g. confounding variables, bias, design)
  • Efforts made to minimize or adjust for limitations
  • Usefulness of the work
  • Sustainability
  • Potential for application to other contexts
  • Implications for practice and further study
  • Suggested next steps
  • This section would be included if you received funding for the projects.

Narrative Reviews

As mentioned in chapter 2, development of either guidelines or protocols is an intensive process which often requires a systematic team approach to ensure that the scope and purpose of the work is as generalizable as possible. The best approach for the development of guidelines can be found by reviewing the World Health Organization handbook for guideline development .

Presenting a narrative review of a topic is an excellent way to contribute to the knowledge base on a particular subject as well as to provide framework for development of a protocol or guideline. The elements included in presentation of a narrative review are not all that different from those of traditional research studies; however, there are some notable differences. Here is a brief outline of what should be included in a quality narrative review, adapted from Green, Johnson, and Adams (2006) and Ferarri (2015):

  • Objective: State the purpose of the paper
  • Background: Describe why the paper is being written; include problem statement and/or research question
  • Methods: Include methods used to conduct the review; including those used to evaluate articles for inclusion into your work
  • Discussion: Frame the findings of the review in the context of the problem
  • Conclusion: State what new information your work contributes as a result of your review and synthesis
  • Key words: List MeSH terms and words that may help organize and/or locate your work
  • Clearly state the focus for the work. Provide a brief overview of the issue and the gap in knowledge identified; including both a problem and purpose statement
  • Provide an overview of how information related to the review was located. This includes what terms were searched and where as well as why studies were included in your review. Delimiting your search is important to describe the scope of the review
  • Themes or constructs should be identified throughout the review of the literature and arranged in a way such that the discussion of the theme and the link to the evidence should directly address the purpose of your inquiry
  • What sets a review apart from an annotated bibliography is synthesis of the evidence around major points identified consistently throughout the research (i.e. themes). Both consensus and diverging approaches should be included in the discussion of the evidence. This should not be considered simply a comparison of the existing evidence, but should be framed through the lens of the author’s interpretation of that evidence.
  • Tie back to the purpose as well as the major conclusions identified in the review. No new information should be discussed here, apart from suggestions for future research opportunities

An extremely important part of disseminating your work is ensuring that you have correctly attributed thoughts and content that you did not create. Depending on the nature of your research, discipline, or intended publication, the format by which you list your references or outline resources utilized may differ. Regardless of referencing formatting guidelines, it is imperative to keep your references organized as you draft different iterations of your work. For example, it may be easier to draft your work utilizing American Psychological Association (APA) formatting guidelines, which arrange references by author’s last name, in ascending alphabetical order, than in other formats which require that references be numbered in order of appearance in the text. As you add, delete, or rearrange references within the text of your manuscript, it may be both difficult and time consuming to constantly re-number each of your references. Note : Depending on the reference guidelines for your intended journal, you may be required to list the abbreviated names of journals. Finding this information can be difficult. Consider this resource for locating and identifying how best to list journal titles within a reference.

Key Takeaways

  • Identifying an appropriate outline for the research approach you selected is essential to developing a publishable manuscript
  • Academic writing is formal in both voice and tone
  • Academic writing is technical
  • Refrain from the use of the first person narratives, including anecdotes, or interjecting your unsubstantiated opinion
  • All research papers have an introduction, body, and conclusion
  • Specific components of the introduction and body will vary depending on the approach
  • Proper citation, referencing, or attributing must be included in all work

Green, B.N., Johnson, C.D., & Adams, A. (2006). Writing narrative literature reviews for peer-reviewed journals: Secrets of the trade. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 3 (5), 101-117.

Ferrari, R. (2015). Writing narrative style literature reviews. The European Medical Writers Association, 2 4(4), 230-235. doi: 10.1179/2047480615Z.000000000329

SQUIRE. (2017). Explanation and elaboration of SQUIRE 2.0 guidelines . SQUIRE. http://www.squire-statement.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&pageId=504

World Health Organization. (2020). WHO handbook for guideline development, 2nd Ed . World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/145714

Practical Research: A Basic Guide to Planning, Doing, and Writing Copyright © by megankoster. All Rights Reserved.

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Research Process Guide

  • Step 1 - Identifying and Developing a Topic
  • Step 2 - Narrowing Your Topic
  • Step 3 - Developing Research Questions
  • Step 4 - Conducting a Literature Review
  • Step 5 - Choosing a Conceptual or Theoretical Framework
  • Step 6 - Determining Research Methodology
  • Step 6a - Determining Research Methodology - Quantitative Research Methods
  • Step 6b - Determining Research Methodology - Qualitative Design
  • Step 7 - Considering Ethical Issues in Research with Human Subjects - Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  • Step 8 - Collecting Data
  • Step 9 - Analyzing Data
  • Step 10 - Interpreting Results
  • Step 11 - Writing Up Results

Step 1: Identifying and Developing a Topic

which part of the research concept paper you find most challenging

Whatever your field or discipline, the best advice to give on identifying a research topic is to choose something that you find really interesting. You will be spending an enormous amount of time with your topic, you need to be invested. Over the course of your research design, proposal and actually conducting your study, you may feel like you are really tired of your topic, however,  your interest and investment in the topic will help you persist through dissertation defense. Identifying a research topic can be challenging. Most of the research that has been completed on the process of conducting research fails to examine the preliminary stages of the interactive and self-reflective process of identifying a research topic (Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).  You may choose a topic at the beginning of the process, and through exploring the research that has already been done, one’s own interests that are narrowed or expanded in scope, the topic will change over time (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019). Where do I begin? According to the research, there are generally two paths to exploring your research topic, creative path and the rational path (Saunders et al., 2019).  The rational path takes a linear path and deals with questions we need to ask ourselves like: what are some timely topics in my field in the media right now?; what strengths do I bring to the research?; what are the gaps in the research about the area of research interest? (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).The creative path is less linear in that it may include keeping a notebook of ideas based on discussion in coursework or with your peers in the field. Whichever path you take, you will inevitably have to narrow your more generalized ideas down. A great way to do that is to continue reading the literature about and around your topic looking for gaps that could be explored. Also, try engaging in meaningful discussions with experts in your field to get their take on your research ideas (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020). It is important to remember that a research topic should be (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019; Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020):

  • Interesting to you.
  • Realistic in that it can be completed in an appropriate amount of time.
  • Relevant to your program or field of study.
  • Not widely researched.


Dwarkadas, S., & Lin, M. C. (2019, August 04). Finding a research topic. Computing Research Association for Women, Portland State University. https://cra.org/cra-wp/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/04/FindingResearchTopic/2019.pdf

Saunders, M. N. K., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2019). Research methods for business students (8th ed.). Pearson.

Wintersberger, D., & Saunders, M. (2020). Formulating and clarifying the research topic: Insights and a guide for the production management research community. Production, 30 . https://doi.org/10.1590/0103-6513.20200059

  • Last Updated: Jun 29, 2023 1:35 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.kean.edu/ResearchProcessGuide

How To Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research: An Ultimate Guide

How To Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research: An Ultimate Guide

A concept paper is one of the first steps in helping you fully realize your research project. Because of this, some schools opt to teach students how to write concept papers as early as high school. In college, professors sometimes require their students to submit concept papers before suggesting their research projects to serve as the foundations for their theses.

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably been assigned by your teacher or professor to write a concept paper. To help you get started, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide on how to write a proper concept paper.

Related: How to Write Significance of the Study (with Examples)

Table of Contents

What is the concept paper, 1. academic research concept papers, 2. advertising concept papers, 3. research grant concept papers, concept paper vs. research proposal, tips for finding your research topic, 2. think of research questions that you want to answer in your project, 3. formulate your research hypothesis, 4. plan out how you will achieve, analyze, and present your data, 2. introduction, 3. purpose of the study, 4. preliminary literature review, 5. objectives of the study, 6. research questions and hypotheses, 7. proposed methodology, 8. proposed research timeline, 9. references, sample concept paper for research proposal (pdf), tips for writing your concept paper.

Generally, a concept paper is a summary of everything related to your proposed project or topic. A concept paper indicates what the project is all about, why it’s important, and how and when you plan to conduct your project.

Different Types of the Concept Paper and Their Uses

writing a concept paper

This type of concept paper is the most common type and the one most people are familiar with. Concept papers for academic research are used by students to provide an outline for their prospective research topics.

These concept papers are used to help students flesh out all the information and ideas related to their topic so that they may arrive at a more specific research hypothesis.

Since this is the most common type of concept paper, it will be the main focus of this article.

Advertising concept papers are usually written by the creative and concept teams in advertising and marketing agencies.

Through a concept paper, the foundation or theme for an advertising campaign or strategy is formed. The concept paper can also serve as a bulletin board for ideas that the creative and concept teams can add to or develop. 

This type of concept paper usually discusses who the target audience of the campaign is, what approach of the campaign will be, how the campaign will be implemented, and the projected benefits and impact of the campaign to the company’s sales, consumer base, and other aspects of the company.

This type of concept paper is most common in the academe and business world. Alongside proving why your research project should be conducted, a research grant concept paper must also appeal to the company or funding agency on why they should be granted funds.

The paper should indicate a proposed timeline and budget for the entire project. It should also be able to persuade the company or funding agency on the benefits of your research project– whether it be an increase in sales or productivity or for the benefit of the general public.

It’s important to discuss the differences between the two because a lot of people often use these terms interchangeably.

A concept paper is one of the first steps in conducting a research project. It is during this process that ideas and relevant information to the research topic are gathered to produce the research hypothesis. Thus, a concept paper should always precede the research proposal. 

A research proposal is a more in-depth outline of a more fleshed-out research project. This is the final step before a researcher can conduct their research project. Although both have similar elements and structures, a research proposal is more specific when it comes to how the entire research project will be conducted.

Getting Started on Your Concept Paper

1. find a research topic you are interested in.

When choosing a research topic, make sure that it is something you are passionate about or want to learn more about. If you are writing one for school, make sure it is still relevant to the subject of your class. Choosing a topic you aren’t invested in may cause you to lose interest in your project later on, which may lower the quality of the research you’ll produce.

A research project may last for months and even years, so it’s important that you will never lose interest in your topic.

  • Look for inspiration everywhere. Take a walk outside, read books, or go on your computer. Look around you and try to brainstorm ideas about everything you see. Try to remember any questions you might have asked yourself before like why something is the way it is or why can’t this be done instead of that . 
  • Think big. If you’re having trouble thinking up a specific topic to base your research project on, choosing a broad topic and then working your way down should help.
  • Is it achievable? A lot of students make the mistake of choosing a topic that is hard to achieve in terms of materials, data, and/or funding available. Before you decide on a research topic, make sure you consider these aspects. Doing so will save you time, money, and effort later on.
  • Be as specific as can be. Another common mistake that students make is that they sometimes choose a research topic that is too broad. This results in extra effort and wasted time while conducting their research project. For example: Instead of “The Effects of Bananas on Hungry Monkeys” , you could specify it to “The Effects of Cavendish Bananas on Potassium-deficiency in Hungry Philippine Long-tailed Macaques in Palawan, Philippines”.

Now that you have a general idea of the topic of your research project, you now need to formulate research questions based on your project. These questions will serve as the basis for what your project aims to answer. Like your research topic, make sure these are specific and answerable.

Following the earlier example, possible research questions could be:

  • Do Cavendish bananas produce more visible effects on K-deficiency than other bananas?
  • How susceptible are Philippine long-tailed macaques to K-deficiency?
  • What are the effects of K-deficiency in Philippine long-tailed macaques?

After formulating the research questions, you should also provide your hypothesis for each question. A research hypothesis is a tentative answer to the research problem. You must provide educated answers to the questions based on your existing knowledge of the topic before you conduct your research project.

After conducting research and collecting all of the data into the final research paper, you will then have to approve or disprove these hypotheses based on the outcome of the project.

Prepare a plan on how to acquire the data you will need for your research project. Take note of the different types of analysis you will need to perform on your data to get the desired results. Determine the nature of the relationship between different variables in your research.

Also, make sure that you are able to present your data in a clear and readable manner for those who will read your concept paper. You can achieve this by using tables, charts, graphs, and other visual aids.

Related: How to Make Conceptual Framework (with Examples and Templates)

Generalized Structure of a Concept Paper

Since concept papers are just summaries of your research project, they are usually short and  no longer than 5 pages. However, for big research projects, concept papers can reach up to more than 20 pages.

Your teacher or professor may give you a certain format for your concept papers. Generally, most concept papers are double-spaced and are less than 500 words in length. 

Even though there are different types of concept papers, we’ve provided you with a generalized structure that contains elements that can be found in any type of concept paper.

parts of a concept paper

The title for your paper must be able to effectively summarize what your research is all about. Use simple words so that people who read the title of your research will know what it’s all about even without reading the entire paper. 

The introduction should give the reader a brief background of the research topic and state the main objective that your project aims to achieve. This section should also include a short overview of the benefits of the research project to persuade the reader to acknowledge the need for the project.

The Purpose of the Study should be written in a way that convinces the reader of the need to address the existing problem or gap in knowledge that the research project aims to resolve. In this section, you have to go into more detail about the benefits and value of your project for the target audience/s. 

This section features related studies and papers that will support your research topic. Use this section to analyze the results and methodologies of previous studies and address any gaps in knowledge or questions that your research project aims to answer. You may also use the data to assert the importance of conducting your research.

When choosing which papers and studies you should include in the Preliminary Literature Review, make sure to choose relevant and reliable sources. Reliable sources include academic journals, credible news outlets, government websites, and others. Also, take note of the authors for the papers as you will need to cite them in the References section.

Simply state the main objectives that your research is trying to achieve. The objectives should be able to indicate the direction of the study for both the reader and the researcher. As with other elements in the paper, the objectives should be specific and clearly defined.

Gather the research questions and equivalent research hypotheses you formulated in the earlier step and list them down in this section.

In this section, you should be able to guide the reader through the process of how you will conduct the research project. Make sure to state the purpose for each step of the process, as well as the type of data to be collected and the target population.

Depending on the nature of your research project, the length of the entire process can vary significantly. What’s important is that you are able to provide a reasonable and achievable timeline for your project.

Make sure the time you will allot for each component of your research won’t be too excessive or too insufficient so that the quality of your research won’t suffer.

Ensure that you will give credit to all the authors of the sources you used in your paper. Depending on your area of study or the instructions of your professor, you may need to use a certain style of citation.

There are three main citation styles: the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the Chicago style.

The APA style is mostly used for papers related to education, psychology, and the sciences. The APA citation style usually follows this format:

how to write concept papers 1

The MLA citation style is the format used by papers and manuscripts in disciplines related to the arts and humanities. The MLA citation style follows this format:

how to write concept papers 2

The Chicago citation style is usually used for papers related to business, history, and the fine arts. It follows this citation format:

how to write concept papers 3

This is a concept paper sample provided by Dr. Bernard Lango from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (modified for use in this article). Simply click the link above the download the PDF file.

  • Use simple, concise language. Minimize the use of flowery language and always try to use simple and easy-to-understand language. Too many technical or difficult words in your paper may alienate your readers and make your paper hard to read. 
  • Choose your sources wisely. When scouring the Internet for sources to use, you should always be wary and double-check the authenticity of your source. Doing this will increase the authenticity of your research project’s claims and ensure better data gathered during the process.
  • Follow the specified format, if any. Make sure to follow any specified format when writing your concept paper. This is very important, especially if you’re writing your concept paper for class. Failure to follow the format will usually result in point deductions and delays because of multiple revisions needed.
  • Proofread often. Make it a point to reread different sections of your concept paper after you write them. Another way you can do this is by taking a break for a few days and then coming back to proofread your writing. You may notice certain areas you’d like to revise or mistakes you’d like to fix. Make proofreading a habit to increase the quality of your paper.

Written by Ruth Raganit

in Career and Education , Juander How

which part of the research concept paper you find most challenging

Ruth Raganit

Ruth Raganit obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. Her love affair with Earth sciences began when she saw a pretty rock and wondered how it came to be. She also likes playing video games, doing digital art, and reading manga.

Browse all articles written by Ruth Raganit

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8 Challenges Faced by Researchers (and Tips to Help)

Matthieu Chartier, PhD.

Published on 18 Jan 2023

Being a researcher is a rewarding career for many reasons: You get to explore new ideas, work with cutting-edge technology, learn about the world, and have important discussions with like-minded individuals. 

But, research doesn’t come without its challenges. 

Luckily, challenges get easier to overcome when you don’t feel alone in facing them. So, we’ve put together a list of the top 8 challenges that researchers face and some tips to help.

Person working in a wet lab

1. Choosing your research topic

Starting a new research project and narrowing your focus to a single topic is one of the first challenges you’ll learn to face as an early-career researcher . And, it’s also one of the most important ones.

Your topic for each new research project is the foundation on which all your other work rests, so it’s vital that you take your time in tackling this challenge. A well-thought-out topic can also help you avoid some of the challenges that we’ll discuss later in this article.

TIP: Stay flexible and consider all the angles

Obviously, you’re going to want to research something that’s compelling enough to hold your interest. But, picking a good topic requires much more than just deciding what you’re most excited about. 

Start by identifying a few gaps in your research niche along with different angles you could take on each. You don’t have to change the world with your work, but you do want to pinpoint places where you can make a difference (i.e. adding something new to the body of knowledge that exists).

Evaluate each topic for how realistically you can achieve it. What resources do you have available? Are you short on money? Will it be hard to find people (participants or team members)? Are you on a time limit? Take all these factors into consideration to choose a topic that will be manageable for you.

Your final research topic will likely look a lot different from the one you had in your head when you first started out. Stay flexible as you discover potential barriers and develop new angles that you can take to overcome them.

2. Finding research funding

Another common challenge that researchers face is finding the money they need to get the research done. Sometimes this comes alongside the shock of how much the required materials, tools, and assistance will cost. Research is more expensive than most people imagine.

In addition, there are many researchers competing for the same grants and funding. So, the competition can be fierce, especially for early-career researchers and researchers in developing countries .

If you can’t pull together enough funding, you may have to make compromises that limit how effectively and efficiently you can complete your research. Depending on the project requirements, it’s possible you’ll have to postpone your research until enough money is secured.

TIP: Think outside your social and geographical boxes

It’s easy to get discouraged while on the hunt for funding. So, remind yourself that there will always be more opportunities. Start by reaching out to your network. Request letters of support to help you apply for the grants that you’ve identified.

Don’t be afraid to branch out. Search for sources online and apply for funding available from potential international research partners. Just because your own country doesn’t have the funding doesn’t mean there isn’t someone, somewhere else that will pay you to complete your research.

3. Convincing others of the value of your research 

Your research may be important. But, few people will take your word for it without a little convincing. For projects that take a long time to execute or require significant resources, you’ll have to do even more convincing. Unfortunately, the best methods for estimating and demonstrating the impact of research aren’t always clear.

Even after you’ve completed your project, you’ll likely be asked to demonstrate the impact of your research to your funders/stakeholders. This is an important step for solidifying your reputation and that of your research institution.

TIP: Reflect on your research purpose 

Set aside some reflection time throughout the development and execution of your research. Use this time to put your purpose under a microscope. Remind yourself why you began this project, what good has come from it already, and what more can be achieved. Reflection exercises help you maintain confidence in your goal. They also ensure that you always have something relevant to say when someone asks: “So, why should I care?” 

In addition, it never hurts to improve your scientific storytelling skills . Getting people to care about concepts that they don’t fully understand is a difficult task. Storytelling can help you convince varied audiences of the value of your research.

4. Overcoming imposter syndrome

Researchers have to expose themselves and their work to criticism. While others are criticizing the value of your work, it can be hard to maintain a high level of confidence in yourself. And when your work takes a turn you didn’t expect, feelings of self-doubt can easily creep in. 

If you start doubting your own skills and accomplishments, or feel that you’re not as capable as others, you might be experiencing imposter syndrome . It’s a problem that people in all professions face and, in severe cases, it can cause someone to feel like a fraud in spite of all they’ve accomplished.

TIP: Remind yourself of your research (and personal) success

If you’re experiencing feelings of self-doubt, boost your confidence by reviewing past research projects and reminding yourself of your achievements. Lining up the facts in front of you can help with overcoming feelings of inadequacy. If you don’t have a large research record, think about other personal or academic achievements that you’re proud of. 

Seek help from others, whether that’s constructive feedback on your work or advice from a mental health professional. And, consider trying something completely new as a hobby outside of your research. Trying new things can shake you out of your usual thought patterns and, most importantly, it gives you permission to be okay with being “bad” at something. 

5. Building a good research team (or finding collaborators)

Research is rarely done alone. Chances are you’re going to need a research team to support you (or collaborators in the same field of research to connect with).

If you’ve never built a research team before, you may struggle to know where to start. You may not even be sure what kind of people you work well with.

If you’re looking for research collaborators , you’ll quickly realize that your biggest competitors are often your best potential partners. The research community is a complicated environment and the “publish or perish” mentality doesn’t always foster natural cooperation.

TIP: Use all available resources and expand your network

Think about the resources closely available to you. If you’re early in your career, look for mentoring schemes at your institution or apply for funding to attend academic conferences . If you already have a significant network, think about potential collaborators you can reach out to within it.

When you’ve exhausted the closest available options, create more collaboration opportunities and be intentional in growing your network. In particular, consider looking for team members and connections who bring a perspective that challenges your usual way of thinking. 

6. Recruiting research participants (or collecting samples)

Managing participant recruitment and sample collection is a difficult part of many research projects. It’s often the biggest hurdle between the question you have and the data you need to answer it.

Low email open rates, lack of support from institutions, and restrictive regulations are all frustrating for researchers in search of willing (and relevant) research participants. These recruitment issues can become even more prominent when your research focuses on socially-sensitive or politically-charged topics.

TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask (but be sure to come prepared)

Using research tools that help you recruit and collect data from participants is a given. But, these tools won’t help if you’re afraid or unprepared to ask for help. 

Prepare a good argument for why people should participate in your research. Learn to sell your story and come up with potential incentives if needed. Finally, have all your forms and information ready if people ask for it.

Then, reach out to your network (or list of potential participants). The worst that can happen is that some will say “No.” And, when they do, don’t let that stop you. Get back up, dust yourself off, and try again. Perseverance is key.

7. Staying self-motivated and managing your time

When you’re managing a research project, it can seem like there’s never enough hours in the day. There’s an ongoing battle between considering all perspectives to keep your research balanced and taking a deep enough dive to make sure your research has an impact. It’s likely that you’ll have commitments outside of your research project as well. So, you’ll be fighting to maintain a good balance between other work, administrative, and personal tasks.

As your research project drags on, you may also start hitting a motivational wall. When you’re the person in charge of maintaining deadlines, the temptation to procrastinate on tasks you don’t enjoy can throw timelines off track.

TIP: Plan and put accountability systems in place

There’s plenty of advice out there to help you with motivation. In particular, if you take the proper care when planning your research project , you’ll be setting yourself up for success. Choosing a topic that is interesting and engaging is key in helping you fight motivational burnout later in the process.

If your topic is engaging but you’re still struggling with time management, try some of these tips:

  • Map your project in a visual calendar: If you haven’t already done this, sit down and input deadlines/tasks into a digital or physical calendar to help you break down your research project into more manageable chunks. It lifts some of the mental burden of remembering tasks and gives you a handy tool to see if you’re on track.
  • Set up a reward system: Whether it’s going out for a nice meal, binging your favorite TV show, or going on a fun day trip, think of rewards that are meaningful to you and tie them to specific project milestones. Follow through and give yourself those well-deserved breaks when you accomplish the associated milestones.
  • Find accountability buddies: Share your research goals with someone you trust and ask them to follow up with you. Knowing that someone other than yourself expects an update every few weeks can be extremely motivating.

8. Ensuring your research doesn’t sit and collect dust

Unfortunately, there are times when research that took a long time and a lot of effort is never used. Sometimes, this is because the expectations of the researcher and the funders didn’t line up. But more often, it’s because of a lack of effective effort to communicate the research results to stakeholders who can leverage it.

In the context of knowledge management, there is also a large body of partially completed research and data sets that are effectively “lost” to the larger community. When you’re incentivized to move on to your next research project quickly, you might deprioritize tasks like making your old research and unused data sets easily accessible to those who are looking for it (including your future self).

Even fully completed research is facing a knowledge management crisis. As mentioned in this study on researcher challenges by ExLibris: 

“Advances in technology have changed the demands for transparency in sharing research… Most scholars (almost 60%) are now obligated to make their raw research datasets openly available with their published work. However, over a quarter of them (26%) find it difficult to do so in the context of current research data management solutions.”

TIP: Wrap up your research with the future in mind

When the end is in sight and you’re excited to move onto a new research topic, think about the impact that you want your research to have. If you don’t take the time to communicate your findings effectively or make your insights easily available, all the hard work you did could end up having a minimal real-world effect. 

On a similar note, knowledge management benefits your future self. All of those notes and data that you didn’t publish? Where and how will you store them in case you want to access them later? Organize this information while it’s still fresh in your mind. Otherwise, you could find yourself staring at notes years later that seem like they were written in a foreign language. Even worse: bad organization could prevent you from even finding your old notes/data at all.

Research challenges: Expecting the unexpected

Being a researcher is full of unpredictable challenges. Careful preparation and planning can help with some of the common ones that come up. But, there will always be issues that catch you completely off guard. 

While it would be great to be able to “expect the unexpected,” the most effective strategy for managing challenges is to simply keep an open mind. Recognize early on that your research is never going to go exactly the way you anticipate (and embrace that as part of the fun of being a researcher).

Maintain a curious enthusiasm about your research question and your research process. It will help you think outside of the box when unexpected challenges inevitably arise.

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  6. How to Write a Concept Paper

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