The bane of college students everywhere, and perhaps the root of all evil, research papers are when you go find stuff that someone else with a higher degree than you has already done, and then you paraphrase it. All but one of my research papers in my college career have been like this. I actually learned something from the one exception. You have to start research papers far in advance, because you will be spending a damned long time at the library looking for information that they inevitably will not have, because the universe is sadistic like that.

Incidentally, research papers are also papers in which students or academics explore new perspectives on pre-existing knowledge, or combine research to form a new thesis or explanation.

I had a lot of fun writing research papers, but that's primarily because I was able to choose the research topics I wanted (SLC is cool like that). I'm not saying that I discovered the cure for cancer or anything, but I do feel that I was able to bring a new perspective to the topics I wrote on.

While in general writing an undergraduate research paper can be a painful experience, once you get to the graduate student or academic level, research papers become very important to your work, as a method by which you can let the world know about what you are doing in your PhD or in your (hopefully groundbreaking) research. This is especially true in the science discipline, since people in other disciplines (arts doctoral students, for example) are much less likely to publish a paper and are much more likely to give an exhibition or present a portfolio.

Research papers generally come in two broad types:

Conference Papers
An academic somewhere, usually an experienced professor, decides that they want to get together all of their peers into one place, where they can all talk about their research and share ideas common to a single topic. So, they send out a call for papers, asking academics to submit relevent papers (or paper abstracts, in some cases) to their conference, before a predeterminded date (usually about 6 months prior to the conference).

Once the papers are in, the professor (now the conference general chair) sends them off to other academics (electronically, these days), who are the people that make up a technical committee for the conference. The technical committee reviews the papers (obstenantly for technical content, but also to a lesser extent for the readability and structure of the paper) and either accepts or rejects the paper. At times, the general chair will then reject more of the papers, depending on the number of people that can be catered for at the conference.

Finally, the result is forwared to the author, who is usually asked in the review to make some changes to the paper. The final paper is called the camera-ready version and is published in the conference proceedings.

All that then remains is for the group of accepted academics to turn up at the conference (usually in a posh hotel or resort somewhere) and give a presentation of their work. Networking with your peers at conference dinners and cocktail parties (read: getting drunk) is an optional but highly encouraged activity at these events. They they collect their conference proceedings and go home, to start thinking about their next paper.

Journal Papers
The other common type of research paper is the journal paper. In many respects, journal papers are very similar to conference papers, except they are generally considered to be more prestigious than a conference paper. Once an academic thinks they have made a significant contribution to their area of research, the begin to look for a journal to publish in. Nature and Science are examples of very famous journals, but there are also many other journals out there, specific to selected areas of research.

Once an academic has selected a journal, they put together a paper to the specifications outlined for the journal (no. of columns, no. of pages, formatting guidelines etc) and submit it to the editor. As with a conference paper, the editor forwards the paper to a reviewer who is an expert in the field the paper is in. The reviewer reads the paper and accepts or rejects it, and also usually suggests changes that should be made to the paper. This decision is then forwarded on to the author, who is asked to make the changes. The process can repeat two or three times before the paper is ready for publication. Finally, assuming the paper is accepted, it is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal. Once the journal is published, copies of the paper are usually sent to the author (for bragging rights, among other things). The author then continues with their work, waiting until they have enough material to publish again.

Despite the similarity between the two, there are two big advantages to journal papers over conference papers. The first is that, because a journal paper requires more groundbreaking research in it, a journal paper is much more respected than a conference paper. Secondly, journals are generally collected by libraries and put on their shelves, while conference proceedings (except those for exceptionally large conferences) are not. This means that your research is more accessible by other researchers, which means you will be cited (referenced in other work) and people will know you. This in turn improves your reputation, gets you promotions and makes your work more likely to be accepted in the future.

Of course, this w/u mentions nothing of the other major method of academic publication, book writing! But, that is probably best left for another node....

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is an entirely new work, one that can be found only on the pages you write. For this reason, it will have several qualities that reflect you and make it your own special creation. A research paper is the most common type of research project. It is usually a formal essay based on a gathering of facts and ideas gathered in the research process.

Your discoveries about a topic are synthesized in a research paper. Your judgment, interpretation, and evaluation of those discoveries are also synthesized here. Your findings will be generally cognition and theories, even the actual comments, of those who have put into words the actual subject you are researching. Pictures may also be included. Therefore your discoveries should come from both print and non-print sources. All of that collected material has a special value in the fact that you draw your own conclusions and values from them. This involvement is shown throughout the research project, other who would have done a report on the same subject will have their own conclusions which may differ from each other.

While writing a research paper remember that it should show your originality. The paper that results from your personal processes of evaluation, study, and synthesis will be a totally new creation. Although it is true that you use several and varied sources, your originality will be evident in your carefully crafted research paper.

All the sources used need to be acknowledged. To prevent a reader from believing that the intellectual property of somebody else is, instead, yours, the words, ideas, and visuals of others must be recognized and documented. It is only ethical to do so. Thus, even though your research paper is a new and original work, none of it would have been possible without the various sources you consulted to prepare it. The research paper demonstrates that you are part of a community of scholars.

What a research paper is not.

A summary of a source material, such as a book or an article, is not a research paper. There are two reasons that a summary doesn’t fit with the definition of a research paper. First, a single source does not allow you to chose materials or to exercise your own judgment. Second, the organization cannot be your own since a summary has to follow the structure of the original source.

Repeating the ideas of others uncritically does not make a research paper. The research paper, by definition, has to reflect something about yourself. This could be an interpretation, a synthesis, or some other personal involvement.

No matter how adeptly a series of quotations are put together they do not make a research paper. Quotations can and should be used in a research paper, they are an important part due to the fact that they are the words of experts in the subject you are researching or of people who are experts in using words. However, a paper made up completely or even mostly from other people’s words is short of the “you” of the synthesis that really makes a research paper. Such a work gives no evidence of your originality and patching together dozens of quotes from different people will not create a coherent whole due to the multiple styles of the individual authors used.

Unproven personal opinion does not make a research paper. Despite the expectation to inject some personal thinking into a research paper, you must have reasons for your beliefs and make them evident to readers. This means that even though individual thoughts and attitudes are important in some types of writing assignments, the research paper is not usually one of them. The exception to this is if you can support your ideas and attitudes.

It is plagiarism to copy or accept someone else’s work without acknowledging it. It does not matter whether the paper was published or unpublished or who wrote it, whether they are an amateur or a professional. This is not research. There are laws against plagiarism. Most schools do not have any tolerance for plagiarism; they automatically dismiss anyone involved in plagiarism, including the supplier of the paper.

Five steps to a research paper

The first of five steps to a research paper is choosing the subject. It is important to remember that specific topics make better papers than broad ones.

The second step is collecting information. For this step you need to get on the Internet or go to a library. Don’t stop at that though; query people and think of videotapes, films, the radio, and a television can all be valuable sources of information. To complete step two you need to find various sources of relevant information, read, look at, and listen to what the sources contain, and keep a written record of what you learn.

The third step is evaluating materials. A critical attitude toward the information collected reflects a good research paper. Judging and weighing its usefulness and finding out the relevance to your topic happens as you formulate your own ideas about the research you’ve been learning. Not every piece of information you collect is as important as others. While your paper takes shape in your mind it is likely that you find that some of your notes are no longer relevant for the track you intend to take.

Step four is organizing ideas. You will have a good research paper if what you collected and evaluated to lead logically to a conclusion and it makes a point that is well supported. An outline at this point is a good idea.

The final step is actually writing the paper. First part of this step is to write a draft based on the outline from step four. You should document your paper as you draft and be sure to keep the documentation as you revise. After this you revise what you have written. Examine both what you said and how you presented it. After revising your paper then edit for punctuation, spelling, capitalization and adherence to required research paper forms during the last stage of revision before preparing the final copy of you work.

Why is a research paper important?

All the skills discussed in this write-up are crucial to academic success. If you attain these skills while preparing your research for your paper, you will discover that you will put these skills to use again and again in differing ways in and out of school. These skills are used in decisions about job assignments and promotions. These same skills are also used by physicians, fashion designers, marine engineers, accountants, and attorneys.

Teachers don’t assign research papers on a whim. There are several reasons beyond the sharpening of the skills noted here for the popularity of the research paper assignment. Even if you never become a professional writer you will follow the same procedure for various future assignments. It is likely you will become a better reader of nonfiction once you understand the process by which they were developed. The key to effective studying and better reading is being familiar with how main ideas and their support are presented. You will have a sense of achievement if you work independently to chase the task and fulfill the goal of completing a research paper. You’ll learn how to use the resources you school and community have to offer. Even in large classes a good research paper will establish you as an individual. As you go through the process of preparing the research paper you will practice critical thinking.

The Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content 8th edition by Audrey J. Roth
The Research Process: Books and Beyond 3rd edition by Myrtle S. Bolner and Gayle A. Poirier

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