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The Process of Writing a Research Paper

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Planning the Research Paper

The goal of a research paper is to bring together different views, evidence, and facts about a topic from books, articles, and interviews, then interpret the information into your writing. It’s about a relationship between you, other writers, and your teacher/audience.

A research paper will show two things: what you know or learned about a certain topic, and what other people know about the same topic. Often you make a judgment, or just explain complex ideas to the reader. The length of the research paper depends on your teacher’s guidelines. It’s always a good idea to keep your teacher in mind while writing your paper because the teacher is your audience.

The Process There are three stages for doing a research paper. These stages are:

While most people start with prewriting, the three stages of the writing process overlap. Writing is not the kind of process where you have to finish step one before moving on to step two, and so on. Your job is to make your ideas as clear as possible for the reader, and that means you might have to go back and forth between the prewriting, writing and revising stages several times before submitting the paper.

» Prewriting Thinking about a topic

The first thing you should do when starting your research paper is to think of a topic. Try to pick a topic that interests you and your teacher — interesting topics are easier to write about than boring topics! Make sure that your topic is not too hard to research, and that there is enough material on the topic. Talk to as many people as possible about your topic, especially your teacher. You’ll be surprised at the ideas you’ll get from talking about your topic. Be sure to always discuss potential topics with your teacher.

Places you can find a topic: newspapers, magazines, television news, the World Wide Web, and even in the index of a textbook!

Narrowing down your topic

As you think about your topic and start reading, you should begin thinking about a possible thesis statement (a sentence or two explaining your opinion about the topic). One technique is to ask yourself one important question about your topic, and as you find your answer, the thesis can develop from that. Some other techniques you may use to narrow your topic are: jot lists; preliminary outlines; listing possible thesis statements; listing questions; and/or making a concept map. It also may be helpful to have a friend ask you questions about your topic.

For help on developing your thesis statement, see the English Center Guide to Developing a Thesis Statement .

Discovery/Reading about your topic

You need to find information that helps you support your thesis. There are different places you can find this information: books, articles, people (interviews), and the internet.

As you gather the information or ideas you need, you need to make sure that you take notes and write down where and who you got the information from. This is called “citing your sources.” If you write your paper using information from other writers and do not cite the sources, you are committing plagiarism . If you plagiarize, you can get an “F” on your paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of school.

CITING SOURCES

There are three major different formats for citing sources. They are: the Modern Language Association (MLA) , the American Psychology Association (APA) , and the Chicago Turabian style . Always ask your teacher which format to use. For more information on these styles, see our other handouts!

ORGANIZING INFORMATION

After you’ve thought, read, and taken notes on your topic, you may want to revise your thesis because a good thesis will help you develop a plan for writing your paper. One way you can do this is to brainstorm — think about everything you know about your topic, and put it down on paper. Once you have it all written down, you can look it over and decide if you should change your thesis statement or not.

If you already developed a preliminary map or outline, now is the time to go back and revise it. If you haven’t developed a map or outline yet, now is the time to do it. The outline or concept map should help you organize how you want to present information to your readers. The clearer your outline or map, the easier it will be for you to write the paper. Be sure that each part of your outline supports your thesis. If it does not, you may want to change/revise your thesis statement again.

» Writing a research paper follows a standard compositional (essay) format. It has a title, introduction, body and conclusion. Some people like to start their research papers with a title and introduction, while others wait until they’ve already started the body of the paper before developing a title and introduction. See this link for more information about writing introductions and conclusions .

Some techniques that may help you with writing your paper are:

  • start by writing your thesis statement
  • use a free writing technique (What I mean is…)
  • follow your outline or map
  • pretend you are writing a letter to a friend, and tell them what you know about your topic
  • follow your topic notecards

If you’re having difficulties thinking of what to write about next, you can look back at your notes that you have from when you were brainstorming for your topic.

» Revising The last (but not least) step is revising. When you are revising, look over your paper and make changes in weak areas. The different areas to look for mistakes include: content– too much detail, or too little detail; organization/structure (which is the order in which you write information about your topic); grammar; punctuation; capitalization; word choice; and citations.

It probably is best if you focus on the “big picture” first. The “big picture” means the organization (paragraph order), and content (ideas and points) of the paper. It also might help to go through your paper paragraph by paragraph and see if the main idea of each paragraph relates to the thesis. Be sure to keep an eye out for any repeated information (one of the most common mistakes made by students is having two or more paragraphs with the same information). Often good writers combine several paragraphs into one so they do not repeat information.

Revision Guidelines

  • The audience understands your paper.
  • The sentences are clear and complete.
  • All paragraphs relate to the thesis.
  • Each paragraph explains its purpose clearly.
  • You do not repeat large blocks of information in two or more different paragraphs.
  • The information in your paper is accurate.
  • A friend or classmate has read through your paper and offered suggestions.

After you are satisfied with the content and structure of the paper, you then can focus on common errors like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, typos, and word choice.

Proofreading Guidelines

  • Subjects and verbs agree.
  • Verb tenses are consistent.
  • Pronouns agree with the subjects they substitute.
  • Word choices are clear.
  • Capitalization is correct.
  • Spelling is correct.
  • Punctuation is correct.
  • References are cited properly.

For more information on proofreading, see the English Center Punctuation and Grammar Review .

After writing the paper, it might help if you put it aside and do not look at it for a day or two. When you look at your paper again, you will see it with new eyes and notice mistakes you didn’t before. It’s a really good idea to ask someone else to read your paper before you submit it to your teacher. Good writers often get feedback and revise their paper several times before submitting it to the teacher.

Source: “Process of Writing a Research Paper,” by Ellen Beck and Rachel Mingo with contributions from Jules Nelson Hill and Vivion Smith, is based on the previous version by Dawn Taylor, Sharon Quintero, Robert Rich, Robert McDonald, and Katherine Eckhart.

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Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.

Introduction

What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section. 
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered.  Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References.  Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures  – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first). 
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun).  In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research.  Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely.  You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.  

External Resources

  • Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
  • How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
  • WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper
  • Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

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Research Method

Home » Research Paper Introduction – Writing Guide and Examples

Research Paper Introduction – Writing Guide and Examples

Table of Contents

Research Paper Introduction

Research Paper Introduction

Research paper introduction is the first section of a research paper that provides an overview of the study, its purpose, and the research question (s) or hypothesis (es) being investigated. It typically includes background information about the topic, a review of previous research in the field, and a statement of the research objectives. The introduction is intended to provide the reader with a clear understanding of the research problem, why it is important, and how the study will contribute to existing knowledge in the field. It also sets the tone for the rest of the paper and helps to establish the author’s credibility and expertise on the subject.

How to Write Research Paper Introduction

Writing an introduction for a research paper can be challenging because it sets the tone for the entire paper. Here are some steps to follow to help you write an effective research paper introduction:

  • Start with a hook : Begin your introduction with an attention-grabbing statement, a question, or a surprising fact that will make the reader interested in reading further.
  • Provide background information: After the hook, provide background information on the topic. This information should give the reader a general idea of what the topic is about and why it is important.
  • State the research problem: Clearly state the research problem or question that the paper addresses. This should be done in a concise and straightforward manner.
  • State the research objectives: After stating the research problem, clearly state the research objectives. This will give the reader an idea of what the paper aims to achieve.
  • Provide a brief overview of the paper: At the end of the introduction, provide a brief overview of the paper. This should include a summary of the main points that will be discussed in the paper.
  • Revise and refine: Finally, revise and refine your introduction to ensure that it is clear, concise, and engaging.

Structure of Research Paper Introduction

The following is a typical structure for a research paper introduction:

  • Background Information: This section provides an overview of the topic of the research paper, including relevant background information and any previous research that has been done on the topic. It helps to give the reader a sense of the context for the study.
  • Problem Statement: This section identifies the specific problem or issue that the research paper is addressing. It should be clear and concise, and it should articulate the gap in knowledge that the study aims to fill.
  • Research Question/Hypothesis : This section states the research question or hypothesis that the study aims to answer. It should be specific and focused, and it should clearly connect to the problem statement.
  • Significance of the Study: This section explains why the research is important and what the potential implications of the study are. It should highlight the contribution that the research makes to the field.
  • Methodology: This section describes the research methods that were used to conduct the study. It should be detailed enough to allow the reader to understand how the study was conducted and to evaluate the validity of the results.
  • Organization of the Paper : This section provides a brief overview of the structure of the research paper. It should give the reader a sense of what to expect in each section of the paper.

Research Paper Introduction Examples

Research Paper Introduction Examples could be:

Example 1: In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly prevalent in various industries, including healthcare. AI algorithms are being developed to assist with medical diagnoses, treatment recommendations, and patient monitoring. However, as the use of AI in healthcare grows, ethical concerns regarding privacy, bias, and accountability have emerged. This paper aims to explore the ethical implications of AI in healthcare and propose recommendations for addressing these concerns.

Example 2: Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our planet today. The increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has resulted in rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, and other environmental impacts. In this paper, we will review the scientific evidence on climate change, discuss the potential consequences of inaction, and propose solutions for mitigating its effects.

Example 3: The rise of social media has transformed the way we communicate and interact with each other. While social media platforms offer many benefits, including increased connectivity and access to information, they also present numerous challenges. In this paper, we will examine the impact of social media on mental health, privacy, and democracy, and propose solutions for addressing these issues.

Example 4: The use of renewable energy sources has become increasingly important in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. While renewable energy technologies offer many benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions and energy independence, they also present numerous challenges. In this paper, we will assess the current state of renewable energy technology, discuss the economic and political barriers to its adoption, and propose solutions for promoting the widespread use of renewable energy.

Purpose of Research Paper Introduction

The introduction section of a research paper serves several important purposes, including:

  • Providing context: The introduction should give readers a general understanding of the topic, including its background, significance, and relevance to the field.
  • Presenting the research question or problem: The introduction should clearly state the research question or problem that the paper aims to address. This helps readers understand the purpose of the study and what the author hopes to accomplish.
  • Reviewing the literature: The introduction should summarize the current state of knowledge on the topic, highlighting the gaps and limitations in existing research. This shows readers why the study is important and necessary.
  • Outlining the scope and objectives of the study: The introduction should describe the scope and objectives of the study, including what aspects of the topic will be covered, what data will be collected, and what methods will be used.
  • Previewing the main findings and conclusions : The introduction should provide a brief overview of the main findings and conclusions that the study will present. This helps readers anticipate what they can expect to learn from the paper.

When to Write Research Paper Introduction

The introduction of a research paper is typically written after the research has been conducted and the data has been analyzed. This is because the introduction should provide an overview of the research problem, the purpose of the study, and the research questions or hypotheses that will be investigated.

Once you have a clear understanding of the research problem and the questions that you want to explore, you can begin to write the introduction. It’s important to keep in mind that the introduction should be written in a way that engages the reader and provides a clear rationale for the study. It should also provide context for the research by reviewing relevant literature and explaining how the study fits into the larger field of research.

Advantages of Research Paper Introduction

The introduction of a research paper has several advantages, including:

  • Establishing the purpose of the research: The introduction provides an overview of the research problem, question, or hypothesis, and the objectives of the study. This helps to clarify the purpose of the research and provide a roadmap for the reader to follow.
  • Providing background information: The introduction also provides background information on the topic, including a review of relevant literature and research. This helps the reader understand the context of the study and how it fits into the broader field of research.
  • Demonstrating the significance of the research: The introduction also explains why the research is important and relevant. This helps the reader understand the value of the study and why it is worth reading.
  • Setting expectations: The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the paper and prepares the reader for what is to come. This helps the reader understand what to expect and how to approach the paper.
  • Grabbing the reader’s attention: A well-written introduction can grab the reader’s attention and make them interested in reading further. This is important because it can help to keep the reader engaged and motivated to read the rest of the paper.
  • Creating a strong first impression: The introduction is the first part of the research paper that the reader will see, and it can create a strong first impression. A well-written introduction can make the reader more likely to take the research seriously and view it as credible.
  • Establishing the author’s credibility: The introduction can also establish the author’s credibility as a researcher. By providing a clear and thorough overview of the research problem and relevant literature, the author can demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in the field.
  • Providing a structure for the paper: The introduction can also provide a structure for the rest of the paper. By outlining the main sections and sub-sections of the paper, the introduction can help the reader navigate the paper and find the information they are looking for.

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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Read our guide to learn why you should write a research paper and how to do so, from choosing the right topic to outlining and structuring your argument.

What is a research paper?

A research paper poses an answer to a specific question and defends that answer using academic sources, data, and critical reasoning. Writing a research paper is an excellent way to hone your focus during a research project , synthesize what you’re learning, and explain why your work matters to a broader audience of scholars in your field.

The types of sources and evidence you’ll see used in a research paper can vary widely based on its field of study. A history research paper might examine primary sources like journals and newspaper articles to draw conclusions about the culture of a specific time and place, whereas a biology research paper might analyze data from different published experiments and use textbook explanations of cellular pathways to identify a potential marker for breast cancer.

However, researchers across disciplines must identify and analyze credible sources, formulate a specific research question, generate a clear thesis statement, and organize their ideas in a cohesive manner to support their argument. Read on to learn how this process works and how to get started writing your own research paper.

Choosing your topic

Tap into your passions.

A research paper is your chance to explore what genuinely interests you and combine ideas in novel ways. So don’t choose a subject that simply sounds impressive or blindly follow what someone else wants you to do – choose something you’re really passionate about! You should be able to enjoy reading for hours and hours about your topic and feel enthusiastic about synthesizing and sharing what you learn.

We've created these helpful resources to inspire you to think about your own passion project . Polygence also offers a passion exploration experience where you can dive deep into three potential areas of study with expert mentors from those fields.

Ask a difficult question

In the traditional classroom, top students are expected to always know the answers to the questions the teacher asks. But a research paper is YOUR chance to pose a big question that no one has answered yet, and figure out how to make a contribution to answering that question. So don’t be afraid if you have no idea how to answer your question at the start of the research process — this will help you maintain a motivational sense of discovery as you dive deeper into your research. If you need inspiration, explore our database of research project ideas .

Be as specific as possible

It’s essential to be reasonable about what you can accomplish in one paper and narrow your focus down to an issue you can thoroughly address. For example, if you’re interested in the effects of invasive species on ecosystems, it’s best to focus on one invasive species and one ecosystem, such as iguanas in South Florida , or one survival mechanism, such as supercolonies in invasive ant species . If you can, get hands on with your project.

You should approach your paper with the mindset of becoming an expert in this topic. Narrowing your focus will help you achieve this goal without getting lost in the weeds and overwhelming yourself.

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Preparing to write

Conduct preliminary research.

Before you dive into writing your research paper, conduct a literature review to see what’s already known about your topic. This can help you find your niche within the existing body of research and formulate your question. For example, Polygence student Jasmita found that researchers had studied the effects of background music on student test performance, but they had not taken into account the effect of a student’s familiarity with the music being played, so she decided to pose this new question in her research paper.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to skim articles in order to decide whether they’re relevant enough to your research interest before committing to reading them in full. This can help you spend as much time as possible with the sources you’ll actually cite in your paper.

Skimming articles will help you gain a broad-strokes view of the different pockets of existing knowledge in your field and identify the most potentially useful sources. Reading articles in full will allow you to accumulate specific evidence related to your research question and begin to formulate an answer to it.

Draft a thesis statement

Your thesis statement is your succinctly-stated answer to the question you’re posing, which you’ll make your case for in the body of the paper. For example, if you’re studying the effect of K-pop on eating disorders and body image in teenagers of different races, your thesis may be that Asian teenagers who are exposed to K-pop videos experience more negative effects on their body image than Caucasian teenagers.

Pro Tip: It’s okay to refine your thesis as you continue to learn more throughout your research and writing process! A preliminary thesis will help you come up with a structure for presenting your argument, but you should absolutely change your thesis if new information you uncover changes your perspective or adds nuance to it.

Create an outline

An outline is a tool for sketching out the structure of your paper by organizing your points broadly into subheadings and more finely into individual paragraphs. Try putting your thesis at the top of your outline, then brainstorm all the points you need to convey in order to support your thesis.

Pro Tip : Your outline is just a jumping-off point – it will evolve as you gain greater clarity on your argument through your writing and continued research. Sometimes, it takes several iterations of outlining, then writing, then re-outlining, then rewriting in order to find the best structure for your paper.

Writing your paper

Introduction.

Your introduction should move the reader from your broad area of interest into your specific area of focus for the paper. It generally takes the form of one to two paragraphs that build to your thesis statement and give the reader an idea of the broad argumentative structure of your paper. After reading your introduction, your reader should know what claim you’re going to present and what kinds of evidence you’ll analyze to support it.

Topic sentences

Writing crystal clear topic sentences is a crucial aspect of a successful research paper. A topic sentence is like the thesis statement of a particular paragraph – it should clearly state the point that the paragraph will make. Writing focused topic sentences will help you remain focused while writing your paragraphs and will ensure that the reader can clearly grasp the function of each paragraph in the paper’s overall structure.

Transitions

Sophisticated research papers move beyond tacking on simple transitional phrases such as “Secondly” or “Moreover” to the start of each new paragraph. Instead, each paragraph flows naturally into the next one, with the connection between each idea made very clear. Try using specifically-crafted transitional phrases rather than stock phrases to move from one point to the next that will make your paper as cohesive as possible.

In her research paper on Pakistani youth in the U.S. , Polygence student Iba used the following specifically-crafted transition to move between two paragraphs: “Although the struggles of digital ethnography limited some data collection, there are also many advantages of digital data collection.” This sentence provides the logical link between the discussion of the limitations of digital ethnography from the prior paragraph and the upcoming discussion of this techniques’ advantages in this paragraph.

Your conclusion can have several functions:

To drive home your thesis and summarize your argument

To emphasize the broader significance of your findings and answer the “so what” question

To point out some questions raised by your thesis and/or opportunities for further research

Your conclusion can take on all three of these tasks or just one, depending on what you feel your paper is still lacking up to this point.

Citing sources

Last but not least, giving credit to your sources is extremely important. There are many different citation formats such as MLA, APA, and Chicago style. Make sure you know which one is standard in your field of interest by researching online or consulting an expert.

You have several options for keeping track of your bibliography:

Use a notebook to record the relevant information from each of your sources: title, author, date of publication, journal name, page numbers, etc.

Create a folder on your computer where you can store your electronic sources

Use an online bibliography creator such as Zotero, Easybib, or Noodletools to track sources and generate citations

You can read research papers by Polygence students under our Projects tab. You can also explore other opportunities for high school research .

If you’re interested in finding an expert mentor to guide you through the process of writing your own independent research paper, consider applying to be a Polygence scholar today!

Your research paper help even you to earn college credit , get published in an academic journal , contribute to your application for college , improve your college admissions chances !

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what goes into a research paper

What Is a Research Paper?

  • An Introduction to Punctuation

Olivia Valdes was the Associate Editorial Director for ThoughtCo. She worked with Dotdash Meredith from 2017 to 2021.

what goes into a research paper

  • B.A., American Studies, Yale University

A research paper is a common form of academic writing . Research papers require students and academics to locate information about a topic (that is, to conduct research ), take a stand on that topic, and provide support (or evidence) for that position in an organized report.

The term research paper may also refer to a scholarly article that contains the results of original research or an evaluation of research conducted by others. Most scholarly articles must undergo a process of peer review before they can be accepted for publication in an academic journal.

Define Your Research Question

The first step in writing a research paper is defining your research question . Has your instructor assigned a specific topic? If so, great—you've got this step covered. If not, review the guidelines of the assignment. Your instructor has likely provided several general subjects for your consideration. Your research paper should focus on a specific angle on one of these subjects. Spend some time mulling over your options before deciding which one you'd like to explore more deeply.

Try to choose a research question that interests you. The research process is time-consuming, and you'll be significantly more motivated if you have a genuine desire to learn more about the topic. You should also consider whether you have access to all of the resources necessary to conduct thorough research on your topic, such as primary and secondary sources .

Create a Research Strategy 

Approach the research process systematically by creating a research strategy. First, review your library's website. What resources are available? Where will you find them? Do any resources require a special process to gain access? Start gathering those resources—especially those that may be difficult to access—as soon as possible.

Second, make an appointment with a reference librarian . A reference librarian is nothing short of a research superhero. He or she will listen to your research question, offer suggestions for how to focus your research, and direct you toward valuable sources that directly relate to your topic.

Evaluate Sources

Now that you've gathered a wide array of sources, it's time to evaluate them. First, consider the reliability of the information. Where is the information coming from? What is the origin of the source? Second, assess the  relevance  of the information. How does this information relate to your research question? Does it support, refute, or add context to your position? How does it relate to the other sources you'll be using in your paper? Once you have determined that your sources are both reliable and relevant, you can proceed confidently to the writing phase. 

Why Write Research Papers? 

The research process is one of the most taxing academic tasks you'll be asked to complete. Luckily, the value of writing a research paper goes beyond that A+ you hope to receive. Here are just some of the benefits of research papers. 

  • Learning Scholarly Conventions:  Writing a research paper is a crash course in the stylistic conventions of scholarly writing. During the research and writing process, you'll learn how to document your research, cite sources appropriately, format an academic paper, maintain an academic tone, and more.
  • Organizing Information: In a way, research is nothing more than a massive organizational project. The information available to you is near-infinite, and it's your job to review that information, narrow it down, categorize it, and present it in a clear, relevant format. This process requires attention to detail and major brainpower.
  • Managing Time: Research papers put your time management  skills to the test. Every step of the research and writing process takes time, and it's up to you to set aside the time you'll need to complete each step of the task. Maximize your efficiency by creating a research schedule and inserting blocks of "research time" into your calendar as soon as you receive the assignment. 
  • Exploring Your Chosen Subject:  We couldn't forget the best part of research papers—learning about something that truly excites you. No matter what topic you choose, you're bound to come away from the research process with new ideas and countless nuggets of fascinating information. 

The best research papers are the result of genuine interest and a thorough research process. With these ideas in mind, go forth and research. Welcome to the scholarly conversation!

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 8. The Discussion
  • 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
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  • Limitations of the Study
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  • Writing Concisely
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The purpose of the discussion section is to interpret and describe the significance of your findings in relation to what was already known about the research problem being investigated and to explain any new understanding or insights that emerged as a result of your research. The discussion will always connect to the introduction by way of the research questions or hypotheses you posed and the literature you reviewed, but the discussion does not simply repeat or rearrange the first parts of your paper; the discussion clearly explains how your study advanced the reader's understanding of the research problem from where you left them at the end of your review of prior research.

Annesley, Thomas M. “The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument.” Clinical Chemistry 56 (November 2010): 1671-1674.

Importance of a Good Discussion

The discussion section is often considered the most important part of your research paper because it:

  • Most effectively demonstrates your ability as a researcher to think critically about an issue, to develop creative solutions to problems based upon a logical synthesis of the findings, and to formulate a deeper, more profound understanding of the research problem under investigation;
  • Presents the underlying meaning of your research, notes possible implications in other areas of study, and explores possible improvements that can be made in order to further develop the concerns of your research;
  • Highlights the importance of your study and how it can contribute to understanding the research problem within the field of study;
  • Presents how the findings from your study revealed and helped fill gaps in the literature that had not been previously exposed or adequately described; and,
  • Engages the reader in thinking critically about issues based on an evidence-based interpretation of findings; it is not governed strictly by objective reporting of information.

Annesley Thomas M. “The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument.” Clinical Chemistry 56 (November 2010): 1671-1674; Bitchener, John and Helen Basturkmen. “Perceptions of the Difficulties of Postgraduate L2 Thesis Students Writing the Discussion Section.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 5 (January 2006): 4-18; Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  General Rules

These are the general rules you should adopt when composing your discussion of the results :

  • Do not be verbose or repetitive; be concise and make your points clearly
  • Avoid the use of jargon or undefined technical language
  • Follow a logical stream of thought; in general, interpret and discuss the significance of your findings in the same sequence you described them in your results section [a notable exception is to begin by highlighting an unexpected result or a finding that can grab the reader's attention]
  • Use the present verb tense, especially for established facts; however, refer to specific works or prior studies in the past tense
  • If needed, use subheadings to help organize your discussion or to categorize your interpretations into themes

II.  The Content

The content of the discussion section of your paper most often includes :

  • Explanation of results : Comment on whether or not the results were expected for each set of findings; go into greater depth to explain findings that were unexpected or especially profound. If appropriate, note any unusual or unanticipated patterns or trends that emerged from your results and explain their meaning in relation to the research problem.
  • References to previous research : Either compare your results with the findings from other studies or use the studies to support a claim. This can include re-visiting key sources already cited in your literature review section, or, save them to cite later in the discussion section if they are more important to compare with your results instead of being a part of the general literature review of prior research used to provide context and background information. Note that you can make this decision to highlight specific studies after you have begun writing the discussion section.
  • Deduction : A claim for how the results can be applied more generally. For example, describing lessons learned, proposing recommendations that can help improve a situation, or highlighting best practices.
  • Hypothesis : A more general claim or possible conclusion arising from the results [which may be proved or disproved in subsequent research]. This can be framed as new research questions that emerged as a consequence of your analysis.

III.  Organization and Structure

Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper:

  • Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice [if appropriate].
  • Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense [present] that you used when describing the research problem in your introduction.
  • Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction.
  • Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major findings and place them in proper perspective. The sequence of this information is important; first state the answer, then the relevant results, then cite the work of others. If appropriate, refer the reader to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data [either within the text or as an appendix].
  • Regardless of where it's mentioned, a good discussion section includes analysis of any unexpected findings. This part of the discussion should begin with a description of the unanticipated finding, followed by a brief interpretation as to why you believe it appeared and, if necessary, its possible significance in relation to the overall study. If more than one unexpected finding emerged during the study, describe each of them in the order they appeared as you gathered or analyzed the data. As noted, the exception to discussing findings in the same order you described them in the results section would be to begin by highlighting the implications of a particularly unexpected or significant finding that emerged from the study, followed by a discussion of the remaining findings.
  • Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses if you do not plan to do so in the conclusion of the paper. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings. Avoid using an apologetic tone; however, be honest and self-critical [e.g., in retrospect, had you included a particular question in a survey instrument, additional data could have been revealed].
  • The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of their significance. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. However, do not offer recommendations which could have been easily addressed within the study. This would demonstrate to the reader that you have inadequately examined and interpreted the data.

IV.  Overall Objectives

The objectives of your discussion section should include the following: I.  Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings

Briefly reiterate the research problem or problems you are investigating and the methods you used to investigate them, then move quickly to describe the major findings of the study. You should write a direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results, usually in one paragraph.

II.  Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important

No one has thought as long and hard about your study as you have. Systematically explain the underlying meaning of your findings and state why you believe they are significant. After reading the discussion section, you want the reader to think critically about the results and why they are important. You don’t want to force the reader to go through the paper multiple times to figure out what it all means. If applicable, begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most significant or unanticipated finding first, then systematically review each finding. Otherwise, follow the general order you reported the findings presented in the results section.

III.  Relate the Findings to Similar Studies

No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for your research. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps to support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your study differs from other research about the topic. Note that any significant or unanticipated finding is often because there was no prior research to indicate the finding could occur. If there is prior research to indicate this, you need to explain why it was significant or unanticipated. IV.  Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings

It is important to remember that the purpose of research in the social sciences is to discover and not to prove . When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. This is especially important when describing the discovery of significant or unanticipated findings.

V.  Acknowledge the Study’s Limitations

It is far better for you to identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor! Note any unanswered questions or issues your study could not address and describe the generalizability of your results to other situations. If a limitation is applicable to the method chosen to gather information, then describe in detail the problems you encountered and why. VI.  Make Suggestions for Further Research

You may choose to conclude the discussion section by making suggestions for further research [as opposed to offering suggestions in the conclusion of your paper]. Although your study can offer important insights about the research problem, this is where you can address other questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or highlight hidden issues that were revealed as a result of conducting your research. You should frame your suggestions by linking the need for further research to the limitations of your study [e.g., in future studies, the survey instrument should include more questions that ask..."] or linking to critical issues revealed from the data that were not considered initially in your research.

NOTE: Besides the literature review section, the preponderance of references to sources is usually found in the discussion section . A few historical references may be helpful for perspective, but most of the references should be relatively recent and included to aid in the interpretation of your results, to support the significance of a finding, and/or to place a finding within a particular context. If a study that you cited does not support your findings, don't ignore it--clearly explain why your research findings differ from theirs.

V.  Problems to Avoid

  • Do not waste time restating your results . Should you need to remind the reader of a finding to be discussed, use "bridge sentences" that relate the result to the interpretation. An example would be: “In the case of determining available housing to single women with children in rural areas of Texas, the findings suggest that access to good schools is important...," then move on to further explaining this finding and its implications.
  • As noted, recommendations for further research can be included in either the discussion or conclusion of your paper, but do not repeat your recommendations in the both sections. Think about the overall narrative flow of your paper to determine where best to locate this information. However, if your findings raise a lot of new questions or issues, consider including suggestions for further research in the discussion section.
  • Do not introduce new results in the discussion section. Be wary of mistaking the reiteration of a specific finding for an interpretation because it may confuse the reader. The description of findings [results section] and the interpretation of their significance [discussion section] should be distinct parts of your paper. If you choose to combine the results section and the discussion section into a single narrative, you must be clear in how you report the information discovered and your own interpretation of each finding. This approach is not recommended if you lack experience writing college-level research papers.
  • Use of the first person pronoun is generally acceptable. Using first person singular pronouns can help emphasize a point or illustrate a contrasting finding. However, keep in mind that too much use of the first person can actually distract the reader from the main points [i.e., I know you're telling me this--just tell me!].

Analyzing vs. Summarizing. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Discussion. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Hess, Dean R. "How to Write an Effective Discussion." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004); Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sauaia, A. et al. "The Anatomy of an Article: The Discussion Section: "How Does the Article I Read Today Change What I Will Recommend to my Patients Tomorrow?” The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 74 (June 2013): 1599-1602; Research Limitations & Future Research . Lund Research Ltd., 2012; Summary: Using it Wisely. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Discussion. Writing in Psychology course syllabus. University of Florida; Yellin, Linda L. A Sociology Writer's Guide . Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009.

Writing Tip

Don’t Over-Interpret the Results!

Interpretation is a subjective exercise. As such, you should always approach the selection and interpretation of your findings introspectively and to think critically about the possibility of judgmental biases unintentionally entering into discussions about the significance of your work. With this in mind, be careful that you do not read more into the findings than can be supported by the evidence you have gathered. Remember that the data are the data: nothing more, nothing less.

MacCoun, Robert J. "Biases in the Interpretation and Use of Research Results." Annual Review of Psychology 49 (February 1998): 259-287.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Write Two Results Sections!

One of the most common mistakes that you can make when discussing the results of your study is to present a superficial interpretation of the findings that more or less re-states the results section of your paper. Obviously, you must refer to your results when discussing them, but focus on the interpretation of those results and their significance in relation to the research problem, not the data itself.

Azar, Beth. "Discussing Your Findings."  American Psychological Association gradPSYCH Magazine (January 2006).

Yet Another Writing Tip

Avoid Unwarranted Speculation!

The discussion section should remain focused on the findings of your study. For example, if the purpose of your research was to measure the impact of foreign aid on increasing access to education among disadvantaged children in Bangladesh, it would not be appropriate to speculate about how your findings might apply to populations in other countries without drawing from existing studies to support your claim or if analysis of other countries was not a part of your original research design. If you feel compelled to speculate, do so in the form of describing possible implications or explaining possible impacts. Be certain that you clearly identify your comments as speculation or as a suggestion for where further research is needed. Sometimes your professor will encourage you to expand your discussion of the results in this way, while others don’t care what your opinion is beyond your effort to interpret the data in relation to the research problem.

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  • How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

The discussion section contains the results and outcomes of a study. An effective discussion informs readers what can be learned from your experiment and provides context for the results.

What makes an effective discussion?

When you’re ready to write your discussion, you’ve already introduced the purpose of your study and provided an in-depth description of the methodology. The discussion informs readers about the larger implications of your study based on the results. Highlighting these implications while not overstating the findings can be challenging, especially when you’re submitting to a journal that selects articles based on novelty or potential impact. Regardless of what journal you are submitting to, the discussion section always serves the same purpose: concluding what your study results actually mean.

A successful discussion section puts your findings in context. It should include:

  • the results of your research,
  • a discussion of related research, and
  • a comparison between your results and initial hypothesis.

Tip: Not all journals share the same naming conventions.

You can apply the advice in this article to the conclusion, results or discussion sections of your manuscript.

Our Early Career Researcher community tells us that the conclusion is often considered the most difficult aspect of a manuscript to write. To help, this guide provides questions to ask yourself, a basic structure to model your discussion off of and examples from published manuscripts. 

what goes into a research paper

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Was my hypothesis correct?
  • If my hypothesis is partially correct or entirely different, what can be learned from the results? 
  • How do the conclusions reshape or add onto the existing knowledge in the field? What does previous research say about the topic? 
  • Why are the results important or relevant to your audience? Do they add further evidence to a scientific consensus or disprove prior studies? 
  • How can future research build on these observations? What are the key experiments that must be done? 
  • What is the “take-home” message you want your reader to leave with?

How to structure a discussion

Trying to fit a complete discussion into a single paragraph can add unnecessary stress to the writing process. If possible, you’ll want to give yourself two or three paragraphs to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of your study as a whole. Here’s one way to structure an effective discussion:

what goes into a research paper

Writing Tips

While the above sections can help you brainstorm and structure your discussion, there are many common mistakes that writers revert to when having difficulties with their paper. Writing a discussion can be a delicate balance between summarizing your results, providing proper context for your research and avoiding introducing new information. Remember that your paper should be both confident and honest about the results! 

What to do

  • Read the journal’s guidelines on the discussion and conclusion sections. If possible, learn about the guidelines before writing the discussion to ensure you’re writing to meet their expectations. 
  • Begin with a clear statement of the principal findings. This will reinforce the main take-away for the reader and set up the rest of the discussion. 
  • Explain why the outcomes of your study are important to the reader. Discuss the implications of your findings realistically based on previous literature, highlighting both the strengths and limitations of the research. 
  • State whether the results prove or disprove your hypothesis. If your hypothesis was disproved, what might be the reasons? 
  • Introduce new or expanded ways to think about the research question. Indicate what next steps can be taken to further pursue any unresolved questions. 
  • If dealing with a contemporary or ongoing problem, such as climate change, discuss possible consequences if the problem is avoided. 
  • Be concise. Adding unnecessary detail can distract from the main findings. 

What not to do

Don’t

  • Rewrite your abstract. Statements with “we investigated” or “we studied” generally do not belong in the discussion. 
  • Include new arguments or evidence not previously discussed. Necessary information and evidence should be introduced in the main body of the paper. 
  • Apologize. Even if your research contains significant limitations, don’t undermine your authority by including statements that doubt your methodology or execution. 
  • Shy away from speaking on limitations or negative results. Including limitations and negative results will give readers a complete understanding of the presented research. Potential limitations include sources of potential bias, threats to internal or external validity, barriers to implementing an intervention and other issues inherent to the study design. 
  • Overstate the importance of your findings. Making grand statements about how a study will fully resolve large questions can lead readers to doubt the success of the research. 

Snippets of Effective Discussions:

Consumer-based actions to reduce plastic pollution in rivers: A multi-criteria decision analysis approach

Identifying reliable indicators of fitness in polar bears

  • How to Write a Great Title
  • How to Write an Abstract
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  • How to Report Statistics
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Parts of a Research Paper

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Inhaltsverzeichnis

  • 1 Parts of a Research Paper: Definition
  • 3 Research Paper Structure
  • 4 Research Paper Examples
  • 5 Research Paper APA Formatting
  • 6 In a Nutshell

Parts of a Research Paper: Definition

The point of having specifically defined parts of a research paper is not to make your life as a student harder. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. The different parts of a research paper have been established to provide a structure that can be consistently used to make your research projects easier, as well as helping you follow the proper scientific methodology.

This will help guide your writing process so you can focus on key elements one at a time. It will also provide a valuable outline that you can rely on to effectively structure your assignment. Having a solid structure will make your research paper easier to understand, and it will also prepare you for a possible future as a researcher, since all modern science is created around similar precepts.

Have you been struggling with your academic homework lately, especially where it concerns all the different parts of a research paper? This is actually a very common situation, so we have prepared this article to outline all the key parts of a research paper and explain what you must focus as you go through each one of the various parts of a research paper; read the following sections and you should have a clearer idea of how to tackle your next research paper effectively.

What are the main parts of a research paper?

There are eight main parts in a research paper :

  • Title (cover page)

Introduction

  • Literature review
  • Research methodology
  • Data analysis
  • Reference page

If you stick to this structure, your end product will be a concise, well-organized research paper.

Do you have to follow the exact research paper structure?

Yes, and failing to do so will likely impact your grade very negatively. It’s very important to write your research paper according to the structure given on this article. Follow your research paper outline   to avoid a messy structure. Different types of academic papers have very particular structures. For example, the structure required for a literature review is very different to the structure required for a scientific research paper.

What if I'm having trouble with certain parts of a research paper?

If you’re having problems with some parts of a research paper, it will be useful to look at some examples of finished research papers in a similar field of study, so you will have a better idea of the elements you need to include. Read a step-by-step guide for writing a research paper, or take a look at the section towards the end of this article for some research paper examples. Perhaps you’re just lacking inspiration!

Is there a special formatting you need to use when citing sources?

Making adequate citations to back up your research is a key consideration in almost every part of a research paper. There are various formatting conventions and referencing styles that should be followed as specified in your assignment. The most common is APA formatting, but you could also be required to use MLA formatting. Your professor or supervisor should tell you which one you need to use.

What should I do once I have my research paper outlined?

If you have created your research paper outline, then you’re ready to start writing. Remember, the first copy will be a draft, so don’t leave it until the last minute to begin writing. Check out some tips for overcoming writer’s block if you’re having trouble getting started.

Research Paper Structure

There are 8 parts of a research paper that you should go through in this order:

The very first page in your research paper should be used to identify its title, along with your name, the date of your assignment, and your learning institution. Additional elements may be required according to the specifications of your instructors, so it’s a good idea to check with them to make sure you feature all the required information in the right order. You will usually be provided with a template or checklist of some kind that you can refer to when writing your cover page .

This is the very beginning of your research paper, where you are expected to provide your thesis statement ; this is simply a summary of what you’re setting out to accomplish with your research project, including the problems you’re looking to scrutinize and any solutions or recommendations that you anticipate beforehand.

Literature Review

This part of a research paper is supposed to provide the theoretical framework that you elaborated during your research. You will be expected to present the sources you have studied while preparing for the work ahead, and these sources should be credible from an academic standpoint (including educational books, peer-reviewed journals, and other relevant publications). You must make sure to include the name of the relevant authors you’ve studied and add a properly formatted citation that explicitly points to their works you have analyzed, including the publication year (see the section below on APA style citations ).

Research Methodology

Different parts of a research paper have different aims, and here you need to point out the exact methods you have used in the course of your research work. Typical methods can range from direct observation to laboratory experiments, or statistical evaluations. Whatever your chosen methods are, you will need to explicitly point them out in this section.

Data Analysis

While all the parts of a research paper are important, this section is probably the most crucial from a practical standpoint. Out of all the parts of a research paper, here you will be expected to analyze the data you have obtained in the course of your research. This is where you get your chance to really shine, by introducing new data that may contribute to building up on the collective understanding of the topics you have researched. At this point, you’re not expected to analyze your data yet (that will be done in the subsequent parts of a research paper), but simply to present it objectively.

From all the parts of a research paper, this is the one where you’re expected to actually analyze the data you have gathered while researching. This analysis should align with your previously stated methodology, and it should both point out any implications suggested by your data that might be relevant to different fields of study, as well as any shortcomings in your approach that would allow you to improve you results if you were to repeat the same type of research.

As you conclude your research paper, you should succinctly reiterate your thesis statement along with your methodology and analyzed data – by drawing all these elements together you will reach the purpose of your research, so all that is left is to point out your conclusions in a clear manner.

Reference Page

The very last section of your research paper is a reference page where you should collect the academic sources along with all the publications you consulted, while fleshing out your research project. You should make sure to list all these references according to the citation format specified by your instructor; there are various formats now in use, such as MLA, Harvard and APA, which although similar rely on different citation styles that must be consistently and carefully observed.

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Research Paper Examples

When you’re still learning about the various parts that make up a research paper, it can be useful to go through some examples of actual research papers from your exact field of study. This is probably the best way to fully grasp what is the purpose of all the different parts.

We can’t provide you universal examples of all the parts of a research paper, since some of these parts can be very different depending on your field of study.

To get a clear sense of what you should cover in each part of your paper, we recommend you to find some successful research papers in a similar field of study. Often, you may be able to refer to studies you have gathered during the initial literature review.

There are also some templates online that may be useful to look at when you’re just getting started, and trying to grasp the exact requirements for each part in your research paper:

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Research Paper APA Formatting

When you write a research paper for college, you will have to make sure to add relevant citation to back up your major claims. Only by building up on the work of established authors will you be able to reach valuable conclusions that can be taken seriously on a academic context. This process may seem burdensome at first, but it’s one of the essential parts of a research paper.

The essence of a citation is simply to point out where you learned about the concepts and ideas that make up all the parts of a research paper. This is absolutely essential, both to substantiate your points and to allow other researchers to look into those sources in cause they want to learn more about some aspects of your assignment, or dig deeper into specific parts of a research paper.

There are several citation styles in modern use, and APA citation is probably the most common and widespread; you must follow this convention precisely when adding citations to the relevant part of a research paper. Here is how you should format a citation according to the APA style.

In a Nutshell

  • There are eight different parts of a research paper that you will have to go through in this specific order.
  • Make sure to focus on the different parts of a research paper one at a time, and you’ll find it can actually make the writing process much easier.
  • Producing a research paper can be a very daunting task unless you have a solid plan of action; that is exactly why most modern learning institutions now demand students to observe all these parts of a research paper.
  • These guidelines are not meant to make student’s lives harder, but actually to help them stay focused and produce articulate and thoughtful research that could make an impact in their fields of study.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper

Definition and Purpose of Abstracts

An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:

  • an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
  • an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
  • and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.

It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.

If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.

The Contents of an Abstract

Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.

Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:

  • the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
  • the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
  • what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
  • the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
  • your research and/or analytical methods
  • your main findings , results , or arguments
  • the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.

Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.

When to Write Your Abstract

Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.

What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.

Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract

The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.

The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.

The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).

Sample Abstract 1

From the social sciences.

Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses

Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.

“The growing economic resemblance of spouses has contributed to rising inequality by increasing the number of couples in which there are two high- or two low-earning partners. [Annotation for the previous sentence: The first sentence introduces the topic under study (the “economic resemblance of spouses”). This sentence also implies the question underlying this research study: what are the various causes—and the interrelationships among them—for this trend?] The dominant explanation for this trend is increased assortative mating. Previous research has primarily relied on cross-sectional data and thus has been unable to disentangle changes in assortative mating from changes in the division of spouses’ paid labor—a potentially key mechanism given the dramatic rise in wives’ labor supply. [Annotation for the previous two sentences: These next two sentences explain what previous research has demonstrated. By pointing out the limitations in the methods that were used in previous studies, they also provide a rationale for new research.] We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to decompose the increase in the correlation between spouses’ earnings and its contribution to inequality between 1970 and 2013 into parts due to (a) changes in assortative mating, and (b) changes in the division of paid labor. [Annotation for the previous sentence: The data, research and analytical methods used in this new study.] Contrary to what has often been assumed, the rise of economic homogamy and its contribution to inequality is largely attributable to changes in the division of paid labor rather than changes in sorting on earnings or earnings potential. Our findings indicate that the rise of economic homogamy cannot be explained by hypotheses centered on meeting and matching opportunities, and they show where in this process inequality is generated and where it is not.” (p. 985) [Annotation for the previous two sentences: The major findings from and implications and significance of this study.]

Sample Abstract 2

From the humanities.

Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications

Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.

“From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, a network of young urban migrant men created an underground pulp fiction publishing industry in the city of Dar es Salaam. [Annotation for the previous sentence: The first sentence introduces the context for this research and announces the topic under study.] As texts that were produced in the underground economy of a city whose trajectory was increasingly charted outside of formalized planning and investment, these novellas reveal more than their narrative content alone. These texts were active components in the urban social worlds of the young men who produced them. They reveal a mode of urbanism otherwise obscured by narratives of decolonization, in which urban belonging was constituted less by national citizenship than by the construction of social networks, economic connections, and the crafting of reputations. This article argues that pulp fiction novellas of socialist era Dar es Salaam are artifacts of emergent forms of male sociability and mobility. In printing fictional stories about urban life on pilfered paper and ink, and distributing their texts through informal channels, these writers not only described urban communities, reputations, and networks, but also actually created them.” (p. 210) [Annotation for the previous sentences: The remaining sentences in this abstract interweave other essential information for an abstract for this article. The implied research questions: What do these texts mean? What is their historical and cultural significance, produced at this time, in this location, by these authors? The argument and the significance of this analysis in microcosm: these texts “reveal a mode or urbanism otherwise obscured . . .”; and “This article argues that pulp fiction novellas. . . .” This section also implies what previous historical research has obscured. And through the details in its argumentative claims, this section of the abstract implies the kinds of methods the author has used to interpret the novellas and the concepts under study (e.g., male sociability and mobility, urban communities, reputations, network. . . ).]

Sample Abstract/Summary 3

From the sciences.

Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells

Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.

“Several studies have reported reprogramming of fibroblasts into induced cardiomyocytes; however, reprogramming into proliferative induced cardiac progenitor cells (iCPCs) remains to be accomplished. [Annotation for the previous sentence: The first sentence announces the topic under study, summarizes what’s already known or been accomplished in previous research, and signals the rationale and goals are for the new research and the problem that the new research solves: How can researchers reprogram fibroblasts into iCPCs?] Here we report that a combination of 11 or 5 cardiac factors along with canonical Wnt and JAK/STAT signaling reprogrammed adult mouse cardiac, lung, and tail tip fibroblasts into iCPCs. The iCPCs were cardiac mesoderm-restricted progenitors that could be expanded extensively while maintaining multipo-tency to differentiate into cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells in vitro. Moreover, iCPCs injected into the cardiac crescent of mouse embryos differentiated into cardiomyocytes. iCPCs transplanted into the post-myocardial infarction mouse heart improved survival and differentiated into cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells. [Annotation for the previous four sentences: The methods the researchers developed to achieve their goal and a description of the results.] Lineage reprogramming of adult somatic cells into iCPCs provides a scalable cell source for drug discovery, disease modeling, and cardiac regenerative therapy.” (p. 354) [Annotation for the previous sentence: The significance or implications—for drug discovery, disease modeling, and therapy—of this reprogramming of adult somatic cells into iCPCs.]

Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract

Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study

Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.

Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.

“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.

METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.

RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.

CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)

Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:

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Research the White Paper

Researching the White Paper:

The process of researching and composing a white paper shares some similarities with the kind of research and writing one does for a high school or college research paper. What’s important for writers of white papers to grasp, however, is how much this genre differs from a research paper.  First, the author of a white paper already recognizes that there is a problem to be solved, a decision to be made, and the job of the author is to provide readers with substantive information to help them make some kind of decision--which may include a decision to do more research because major gaps remain. 

Thus, a white paper author would not “brainstorm” a topic. Instead, the white paper author would get busy figuring out how the problem is defined by those who are experiencing it as a problem. Typically that research begins in popular culture--social media, surveys, interviews, newspapers. Once the author has a handle on how the problem is being defined and experienced, its history and its impact, what people in the trenches believe might be the best or worst ways of addressing it, the author then will turn to academic scholarship as well as “grey” literature (more about that later).  Unlike a school research paper, the author does not set out to argue for or against a particular position, and then devote the majority of effort to finding sources to support the selected position.  Instead, the author sets out in good faith to do as much fact-finding as possible, and thus research is likely to present multiple, conflicting, and overlapping perspectives. When people research out of a genuine desire to understand and solve a problem, they listen to every source that may offer helpful information. They will thus have to do much more analysis, synthesis, and sorting of that information, which will often not fall neatly into a “pro” or “con” camp:  Solution A may, for example, solve one part of the problem but exacerbate another part of the problem. Solution C may sound like what everyone wants, but what if it’s built on a set of data that have been criticized by another reliable source?  And so it goes. 

For example, if you are trying to write a white paper on the opioid crisis, you may focus on the value of  providing free, sterilized needles--which do indeed reduce disease, and also provide an opportunity for the health care provider distributing them to offer addiction treatment to the user. However, the free needles are sometimes discarded on the ground, posing a danger to others; or they may be shared; or they may encourage more drug usage. All of those things can be true at once; a reader will want to know about all of these considerations in order to make an informed decision. That is the challenging job of the white paper author.     
 The research you do for your white paper will require that you identify a specific problem, seek popular culture sources to help define the problem, its history, its significance and impact for people affected by it.  You will then delve into academic and grey literature to learn about the way scholars and others with professional expertise answer these same questions. In this way, you will create creating a layered, complex portrait that provides readers with a substantive exploration useful for deliberating and decision-making. You will also likely need to find or create images, including tables, figures, illustrations or photographs, and you will document all of your sources. 

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Do You Overlook These Key Elements When Writing a Research Manuscript?

How to write a research manuscript by avoiding errors

As with any other skill, academic writing can be improved through practice and experience. Writing publishable research manuscripts does not come naturally to most scientific researchers, even those with a great deal of experience. However, because publication is so important to the success of research studies, and thus researchers, writing is often a skill that needs to be strengthened. The good news is information on how to write a manuscript for publication is widely available for those who want to improve their writing skills. We’ll go a step further and shortlist some key elements that often get overlooked when writing research manuscripts.

Introduction issues

As implied by the section name, the Introduction provides the reader with information basic to understanding the study. The problem being addressed is described, a research gap in the existing literature is identified, and the aims of the study are stated. When writing a manuscript for publication, you should leave this section until last. Oftentimes the study you intended to write is not exactly the study you end up with, and it is important that this section is clearly aligned with your actual results.

Another common issue with the Introduction that may negatively affect a research manuscript’s publication is the lack of a clear statement of purpose 1 . The reader, or journal editor, does not want to search for the meaning of the study. Therefore, make sure that your aim is explicitly stated near the end of the Introduction.

Your Introduction may also be judged by what should not be in it. Do not include data or conclusions in your Introduction. In addition, opinions or value judgements do not belong in the Introduction, or in any part of your research manuscript. Consider asking a colleague or friend to read it, as it is sometimes difficult to see this in your own writing.

Effective use of tables and figures

Visual elements such as tables and figures can add a lot of value to a research study manuscript, but their usefulness is often overlooked. Tables and figures, if used effectively, clarify points you make in the text and increase its clarity and overall reader engagement.

What does the effective use of tables and figures mean? It means the visuals are simple and understandable on their own. The title, along with any footnotes, captions, and comments, are enough of an explanation for the reader 1 . Try taking the table or figure out of the manuscript and looking at it alone. Better yet, show it to a few colleagues. Can they understand what the figure or table shows without any explanation from you? If not, simplify and clarify. Ideally, tables and figures should complement your text and break it up to increase readability. You can make your manuscript more publishable by putting some thought and effort into the visuals that you use.

what goes into a research paper

Discussion errors

The Discussion section is also fraught with improvement opportunities for research writers. For research manuscript writers, a weak discussion section is a common cause of publication failure 2 . What makes a weak discussion? Sometimes it comes from not understanding the difference between speculation and evidence-based conclusions 2 . Everything you present must be based on evidence. If you’re going to speculate or assume, make that clear in your writing. Furthermore, your conclusions should be situated in the context of the existing literature and your results analyzed based on the results of previous studies. Do not overstate the meaning of your results 1 .

In addition, authors often miss a few elements in their Discussion section that should be included, such as study limitations and a global context or meaning for the results. How do the results of your study and what you learned affect the discipline? How can they be useful to practitioners or other researchers? In addition, to tie the study together, the aim that was stated in the Introduction needs to be explicitly addressed. Don’t hide anything from the reader.

Overall writing quality

Finally, the best thing you can do to improve your research manuscript is to make it easy for your reader to understand. Consider clarity to be your main goal when writing. If you can clearly convey to your readers what you did and what the research results were, you show that you understand the topic and this helps build trust. If someone can’t follow your thinking because the manuscript is poorly written or too wordy, your study will ultimately lack impact. Always keep the reader in mind and make your study simple to understand.

One good way to check the writing quality is to read the paper aloud to yourself and listen to the words. When you read the same sentences repeatedly, you may tend to read what you intended to write, not what you actually wrote. Another good suggestion is to get a colleague or friend to read the paper and provide feedback.

  • Liumbruno GM, Velati C, Pasqualetti P, Franchini M. How to write a scientific manuscript for publication. Blood Transfus . 2013, 11:217-26. doi: 10.2450/2012.0247-12
  • Gewin V. How to write a first class paper. Nature . 2018, 555:129-30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-02404-4

Related Reads:

  • Duplicate Publications: How to Avoid Overlapping Publications in Research
  • Confusing Elements of a Research Paper That Trip Up Most Academics
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5 Steps to Reduce the Length of the Research Paper Without Losing Content

How to write a cover letter for journal submission, you may also like, how to make translating academic papers less challenging, self-plagiarism in research: what it is and how..., 6 tips for post-doc researchers to take their..., presenting research data effectively through tables and figures, 8 most effective ways to increase motivation for..., publish or perish – understanding the importance of..., how to write a conclusion for research papers..., ethical research practices for research with human subjects, 5 reasons for rejection after peer review, how to write a research paper introduction (with....

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Title: how causal inference concepts can guide research into the effects of climate on infectious diseases.

Abstract: A pressing question resulting from global warming is how infectious diseases will be affected by climate change. Answering this question requires research into the effects of weather on the population dynamics of transmission and infection; elucidating these effects, however, has proven difficult due to the challenges of assessing causality from the predominantly observational data available in epidemiological research. Here, we show how concepts from causal inference -- the sub-field of statistics aiming at inferring causality from data -- can guide that research. Through a series of case studies, we illustrate how such concepts can help assess study design and strategically choose a study's location, evaluate and reduce the risk of bias, and interpret the multifaceted effects of meteorological variables on transmission. More broadly, we argue that interdisciplinary approaches based on explicit causal frameworks are crucial for reliably estimating the effect of weather and accurately predicting the consequences of climate change.

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China conducts first nationwide review of retractions and research misconduct

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The reputation of Chinese science has been "adversely affected" by the number of retractions in recent years, according to a government notice. Credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty

Chinese universities are days away from the deadline to complete a nationwide audit of retracted research papers and probe of research misconduct. By 15 February, universities must submit to the government a comprehensive list of all academic articles retracted from English- and Chinese-language journals in the past three years. They need to clarify why the papers were retracted and investigate cases involving misconduct, according to a 20 November notice from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Science, Technology and Informatization.

The government launched the nationwide self-review in response to Hindawi, a London-based subsidiary of the publisher Wiley, retracting a large number of papers by Chinese authors. These retractions, along with those from other publishers, “have adversely affected our country’s academic reputation and academic environment”, the notice states.

A Nature analysis shows that last year, Hindawi issued more than 9,600 retractions, of which the vast majority — about 8,200 — had a co-author in China. Nearly 14,000 retraction notices, of which some three-quarters involved a Chinese co-author, were issued by all publishers in 2023.

This is “the first time we’ve seen such a national operation on retraction investigations”, says Xiaotian Chen, a library and information scientist at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, who has studied retractions and research misconduct in China. Previous investigations have largely been carried out on a case-by-case basis — but this time, all institutions have to conduct their investigations simultaneously, says Chen.

Tight deadline

The ministry’s notice set off a chain of alerts, cascading to individual university departments. Bulletins posted on university websites required researchers to submit their retractions by a range of dates, mostly in January — leaving time for universities to collate and present the data.

Although the alerts included lists of retractions that the ministry or the universities were aware of, they also called for unlisted retractions to be added.

what goes into a research paper

More than 10,000 research papers were retracted in 2023 — a new record

According to Nature ’s analysis, which includes only English-language journals, more than 17,000 retraction notices for papers published by Chinese co-authors have been issued since 1 January 2021, which is the start of the period of review specified in the notice. The analysis, an update of one conducted in December , used the Retraction Watch database, augmented with retraction notices collated from the Dimensions database, and involved assistance from Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse in France. It is unclear whether the official lists contain the same number of retracted papers.

Regardless, the timing to submit the information will be tight, says Shu Fei, a bibliometrics scientist at Hangzhou Dianzi University in China. The ministry gave universities less than three months to complete their self-review — and this was cut shorter by the academic winter break, which typically starts in mid-January and concludes after the Chinese New Year, which fell this year on 10 February.

“The timing is not good,” he says. Shu expects that universities are most likely to submit only a preliminary report of their researchers’ retracted papers included on the official lists.

But Wang Fei, who studies research-integrity policy at Dalian University of Technology in China, says that because the ministry has set a deadline, universities will work hard to submit their findings on time.

Researchers with retracted papers will have to explain whether the retraction was owing to misconduct, such as image manipulation, or an honest mistake, such as authors identifying errors in their own work, says Chen: “In other words, they may have to defend themselves.” Universities then must investigate and penalize misconduct. If a researcher fails to declare their retracted paper and it is later uncovered, they will be punished, according to the ministry notice. The cost of not reporting is high, says Chen. “This is a very serious measure.”

It is not known what form punishment might take, but in 2021, China’s National Health Commission posted the results of its investigations into a batch of retracted papers. Punishments included salary cuts, withdrawal of bonuses, demotions and timed suspensions from applying for research grants and rewards.

The notice states explicitly that the first corresponding author of a paper is responsible for submitting the response. This requirement will largely address the problem of researchers shirking responsibility for collaborative work, says Li Tang, a science- and innovation-policy researcher at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. The notice also emphasizes due process, says Tang. Researchers alleged to have committed misconduct have a right to appeal during the investigation.

The notice is a good approach for addressing misconduct, says Wang. Previous efforts by the Chinese government have stopped at issuing new research-integrity guidelines that were poorly implemented, she says. And when government bodies did launch self-investigations of published literature, they were narrower in scope and lacked clear objectives. This time, the target is clear — retractions — and the scope is broad, involving the entire university research community, she says.

“Cultivating research integrity takes time, but China is on the right track,” says Tang.

It is not clear what the ministry will do with the flurry of submissions. Wang says that, because the retraction notices are already freely available, publicizing the collated lists and underlying reasons for retraction could be useful. She hopes that a similar review will be conducted every year “to put more pressure” on authors and universities to monitor research integrity.

What happens next will reveal how seriously the ministry regards research misconduct, says Shu. He suggests that, if the ministry does not take further action after the Chinese New Year, the notice could be an attempt to respond to the reputational damage caused by the mass retractions last year.

The ministry did not respond to Nature ’s questions about the misconduct investigation.

Chen says that, regardless of what the ministry does with the information, the reporting process itself will help to curb misconduct because it is “embarrassing to the people in the report”.

But it might primarily affect researchers publishing in English-language journals. Retraction notices in Chinese-language journals are rare.

Nature 626 , 700-701 (2024)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00397-x

Data analysis by Richard Van Noorden.

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Writing a Research Paper Conclusion | Step-by-Step Guide

Published on October 30, 2022 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on April 13, 2023.

  • Restate the problem statement addressed in the paper
  • Summarize your overall arguments or findings
  • Suggest the key takeaways from your paper

Research paper conclusion

The content of the conclusion varies depending on whether your paper presents the results of original empirical research or constructs an argument through engagement with sources .

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Table of contents

Step 1: restate the problem, step 2: sum up the paper, step 3: discuss the implications, research paper conclusion examples, frequently asked questions about research paper conclusions.

The first task of your conclusion is to remind the reader of your research problem . You will have discussed this problem in depth throughout the body, but now the point is to zoom back out from the details to the bigger picture.

While you are restating a problem you’ve already introduced, you should avoid phrasing it identically to how it appeared in the introduction . Ideally, you’ll find a novel way to circle back to the problem from the more detailed ideas discussed in the body.

For example, an argumentative paper advocating new measures to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture might restate its problem as follows:

Meanwhile, an empirical paper studying the relationship of Instagram use with body image issues might present its problem like this:

“In conclusion …”

Avoid starting your conclusion with phrases like “In conclusion” or “To conclude,” as this can come across as too obvious and make your writing seem unsophisticated. The content and placement of your conclusion should make its function clear without the need for additional signposting.

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what goes into a research paper

Having zoomed back in on the problem, it’s time to summarize how the body of the paper went about addressing it, and what conclusions this approach led to.

Depending on the nature of your research paper, this might mean restating your thesis and arguments, or summarizing your overall findings.

Argumentative paper: Restate your thesis and arguments

In an argumentative paper, you will have presented a thesis statement in your introduction, expressing the overall claim your paper argues for. In the conclusion, you should restate the thesis and show how it has been developed through the body of the paper.

Briefly summarize the key arguments made in the body, showing how each of them contributes to proving your thesis. You may also mention any counterarguments you addressed, emphasizing why your thesis holds up against them, particularly if your argument is a controversial one.

Don’t go into the details of your evidence or present new ideas; focus on outlining in broad strokes the argument you have made.

Empirical paper: Summarize your findings

In an empirical paper, this is the time to summarize your key findings. Don’t go into great detail here (you will have presented your in-depth results and discussion already), but do clearly express the answers to the research questions you investigated.

Describe your main findings, even if they weren’t necessarily the ones you expected or hoped for, and explain the overall conclusion they led you to.

Having summed up your key arguments or findings, the conclusion ends by considering the broader implications of your research. This means expressing the key takeaways, practical or theoretical, from your paper—often in the form of a call for action or suggestions for future research.

Argumentative paper: Strong closing statement

An argumentative paper generally ends with a strong closing statement. In the case of a practical argument, make a call for action: What actions do you think should be taken by the people or organizations concerned in response to your argument?

If your topic is more theoretical and unsuitable for a call for action, your closing statement should express the significance of your argument—for example, in proposing a new understanding of a topic or laying the groundwork for future research.

Empirical paper: Future research directions

In a more empirical paper, you can close by either making recommendations for practice (for example, in clinical or policy papers), or suggesting directions for future research.

Whatever the scope of your own research, there will always be room for further investigation of related topics, and you’ll often discover new questions and problems during the research process .

Finish your paper on a forward-looking note by suggesting how you or other researchers might build on this topic in the future and address any limitations of the current paper.

Full examples of research paper conclusions are shown in the tabs below: one for an argumentative paper, the other for an empirical paper.

  • Argumentative paper
  • Empirical paper

While the role of cattle in climate change is by now common knowledge, countries like the Netherlands continually fail to confront this issue with the urgency it deserves. The evidence is clear: To create a truly futureproof agricultural sector, Dutch farmers must be incentivized to transition from livestock farming to sustainable vegetable farming. As well as dramatically lowering emissions, plant-based agriculture, if approached in the right way, can produce more food with less land, providing opportunities for nature regeneration areas that will themselves contribute to climate targets. Although this approach would have economic ramifications, from a long-term perspective, it would represent a significant step towards a more sustainable and resilient national economy. Transitioning to sustainable vegetable farming will make the Netherlands greener and healthier, setting an example for other European governments. Farmers, policymakers, and consumers must focus on the future, not just on their own short-term interests, and work to implement this transition now.

As social media becomes increasingly central to young people’s everyday lives, it is important to understand how different platforms affect their developing self-conception. By testing the effect of daily Instagram use among teenage girls, this study established that highly visual social media does indeed have a significant effect on body image concerns, with a strong correlation between the amount of time spent on the platform and participants’ self-reported dissatisfaction with their appearance. However, the strength of this effect was moderated by pre-test self-esteem ratings: Participants with higher self-esteem were less likely to experience an increase in body image concerns after using Instagram. This suggests that, while Instagram does impact body image, it is also important to consider the wider social and psychological context in which this usage occurs: Teenagers who are already predisposed to self-esteem issues may be at greater risk of experiencing negative effects. Future research into Instagram and other highly visual social media should focus on establishing a clearer picture of how self-esteem and related constructs influence young people’s experiences of these platforms. Furthermore, while this experiment measured Instagram usage in terms of time spent on the platform, observational studies are required to gain more insight into different patterns of usage—to investigate, for instance, whether active posting is associated with different effects than passive consumption of social media content.

If you’re unsure about the conclusion, it can be helpful to ask a friend or fellow student to read your conclusion and summarize the main takeaways.

  • Do they understand from your conclusion what your research was about?
  • Are they able to summarize the implications of your findings?
  • Can they answer your research question based on your conclusion?

You can also get an expert to proofread and feedback your paper with a paper editing service .

The conclusion of a research paper has several key elements you should make sure to include:

  • A restatement of the research problem
  • A summary of your key arguments and/or findings
  • A short discussion of the implications of your research

No, it’s not appropriate to present new arguments or evidence in the conclusion . While you might be tempted to save a striking argument for last, research papers follow a more formal structure than this.

All your findings and arguments should be presented in the body of the text (more specifically in the results and discussion sections if you are following a scientific structure). The conclusion is meant to summarize and reflect on the evidence and arguments you have already presented, not introduce new ones.

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OpenAI has built a striking new generative video model called Sora that can take a short text description and turn it into a detailed, high-definition film clip up to a minute long.

Based on four sample videos that OpenAI shared with MIT Technology Review ahead of today’s announcement, the San Francisco–based firm has pushed the envelope of what’s possible with text-to-video generation (a hot new research direction that we flagged as a trend to watch in 2024 ).

“We think building models that can understand video, and understand all these very complex interactions of our world, is an important step for all future AI systems,” says Tim Brooks, a scientist at OpenAI.

But there’s a disclaimer. OpenAI gave us a preview of Sora (which means sky in Japanese) under conditions of strict secrecy. In an unusual move, the firm would only share information about Sora if we agreed to wait until after news of the model was made public to seek the opinions of outside experts. [Editor’s note: We’ve updated this story with outside comment below.] OpenAI has not yet released a technical report or demonstrated the model actually working. And it says it won’t be releasing Sora anytime soon. [ Update: OpenAI has now shared more technical details on its website.]

The first generative models that could produce video from snippets of text appeared in late 2022. But early examples from Meta , Google, and a startup called Runway were glitchy and grainy. Since then, the tech has been getting better fast. Runway’s gen-2 model, released last year, can produce short clips that come close to matching big-studio animation in their quality. But most of these examples are still only a few seconds long.  

The sample videos from OpenAI’s Sora are high-definition and full of detail. OpenAI also says it can generate videos up to a minute long. One video of a Tokyo street scene shows that Sora has learned how objects fit together in 3D: the camera swoops into the scene to follow a couple as they walk past a row of shops.

OpenAI also claims that Sora handles occlusion well. One problem with existing models is that they can fail to keep track of objects when they drop out of view. For example, if a truck passes in front of a street sign, the sign might not reappear afterward.  

In a video of a papercraft underwater scene, Sora has added what look like cuts between different pieces of footage, and the model has maintained a consistent style between them.

It’s not perfect. In the Tokyo video, cars to the left look smaller than the people walking beside them. They also pop in and out between the tree branches. “There’s definitely some work to be done in terms of long-term coherence,” says Brooks. “For example, if someone goes out of view for a long time, they won’t come back. The model kind of forgets that they were supposed to be there.”

Impressive as they are, the sample videos shown here were no doubt cherry-picked to show Sora at its best. Without more information, it is hard to know how representative they are of the model’s typical output.   

It may be some time before we find out. OpenAI’s announcement of Sora today is a tech tease, and the company says it has no current plans to release it to the public. Instead, OpenAI will today begin sharing the model with third-party safety testers for the first time.

In particular, the firm is worried about the potential misuses of fake but photorealistic video . “We’re being careful about deployment here and making sure we have all our bases covered before we put this in the hands of the general public,” says Aditya Ramesh, a scientist at OpenAI, who created the firm’s text-to-image model DALL-E .

But OpenAI is eyeing a product launch sometime in the future. As well as safety testers, the company is also sharing the model with a select group of video makers and artists to get feedback on how to make Sora as useful as possible to creative professionals. “The other goal is to show everyone what is on the horizon, to give a preview of what these models will be capable of,” says Ramesh.

To build Sora, the team adapted the tech behind DALL-E 3, the latest version of OpenAI’s flagship text-to-image model. Like most text-to-image models, DALL-E 3 uses what’s known as a diffusion model. These are trained to turn a fuzz of random pixels into a picture.

Sora takes this approach and applies it to videos rather than still images. But the researchers also added another technique to the mix. Unlike DALL-E or most other generative video models, Sora combines its diffusion model with a type of neural network called a transformer.

Transformers are great at processing long sequences of data, like words. That has made them the special sauce inside large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google DeepMind’s Gemini . But videos are not made of words. Instead, the researchers had to find a way to cut videos into chunks that could be treated as if they were. The approach they came up with was to dice videos up across both space and time. “It’s like if you were to have a stack of all the video frames and you cut little cubes from it,” says Brooks.

The transformer inside Sora can then process these chunks of video data in much the same way that the transformer inside a large language model processes words in a block of text. The researchers say that this let them train Sora on many more types of video than other text-to-video models, varied in terms of resolution, duration, aspect ratio, and orientation. “It really helps the model,” says Brooks. “That is something that we’re not aware of any existing work on.”

“From a technical perspective it seems like a very significant leap forward,” says Sam Gregory, executive director at Witness, a human rights organization that specializes in the use and misuse of video technology. “But there are two sides to the coin,” he says. “The expressive capabilities offer the potential for many more people to be storytellers using video. And there are also real potential avenues for misuse.” 

OpenAI is well aware of the risks that come with a generative video model. We are already seeing the large-scale misuse of deepfake images . Photorealistic video takes this to another level.

Gregory notes that you could use technology like this to misinform people about conflict zones or protests. The range of styles is also interesting, he says. If you could generate shaky footage that looked like something shot with a phone, it would come across as more authentic.

The tech is not there yet, but generative video has gone from zero to Sora in just 18 months. “We’re going to be entering a universe where there will be fully synthetic content, human-generated content and a mix of the two,” says Gregory.

The OpenAI team plans to draw on the safety testing it did last year for DALL-E 3. Sora already includes a filter that runs on all prompts sent to the model that will block requests for violent, sexual, or hateful images, as well as images of known people. Another filter will look at frames of generated videos and block material that violates OpenAI’s safety policies.

OpenAI says it is also adapting a fake-image detector developed for DALL-E 3 to use with Sora. And the company will embed industry-standard C2PA tags , metadata that states how an image was generated, into all of Sora’s output. But these steps are far from foolproof. Fake-image detectors are hit-or-miss. Metadata is easy to remove, and most social media sites strip it from uploaded images by default.  

“We’ll definitely need to get more feedback and learn more about the types of risks that need to be addressed with video before it would make sense for us to release this,” says Ramesh.

Brooks agrees. “Part of the reason that we’re talking about this research now is so that we can start getting the input that we need to do the work necessary to figure out how it could be safely deployed,” he says.

Update 2/15: Comments from Sam Gregory were added .

Artificial intelligence

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Google’s Gemini is now in everything. Here’s how you can try it out.

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EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

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