GUIDE TO WRITING YOUR RESEARCH PAPER
Here are some basic tips to help you in writing your research paper. The guide is divided into six sections covering distinct aspects of your paper. You need not organize your paper using these same sections, but you will need to accomplish all of these goals. Remember, the King, Keohane, and Verba book should help you understand a lot of these terms and procedures and remind you of things to avoid. I encourage you to refer to it when you have questions.
The introduction is an important part of your research paper. While your introduction should be relatively concise, accomplishing the goals below will take more than one paragraph. In your introduction, you should accomplish the following:
1. Capture the interest of the reader. Perhaps you can do this by pointing out a puzzle that we don’t yet understand or a controversy in current scholarship. Perhaps you can draw on the normative importance of your topic to draw the reader in. Make someone want to know what you have to say. 2. State your research question clearly and explain why we should care about the answer. 3. Preview your argument and conclusions and provide a roadmap through the paper– let the reader know where you are going and what to expect. Reference to specific sections may be helpful here. 4. Explain the value-added in your study. How does your work advance knowledge? For instance, are you developing a new argument? Are you extending an existing argument? Are you evaluating an argument in a new empirical domain? Where does your work fit in the established literature and what is new about it? The Literature Review:
Next you must situate your research project within the literature and show how your project moves existing scholarship forward. In order to do this, you must demonstrate your understanding of the current state of theory and evidence on your topic and the ways in which your proposed project improves upon existing work. In other words, you must review the relevant literature. The most common mistake that students make in writing a literature review for a research paper is to lose sight of its purpose. You include the literature review to explain both the basis for and contribution of your research project. The literature review should be focused on issues directly relevant to your study and should be organized in a way to call attention to the contributions of your research. The purpose of the literature review is NOT to show that you have read a lot of material. Summarizing as many books and articles as you can, whether or not they relate directly to your research question, is not a good strategy. Short, well focused literature reviews are more effective than long, meandering ones. At the same time, you must demonstrate your understanding for the current state of the field. A sure way to try a reader’s patience and to get off track in developing your argument is to produce a literature review that offers a list of summaries of individual books and articles without making clear how they fit together and why they represent a coherent body of work that serves as a starting point for your project. Literature reviews that start with “A number of scholars have studied the relationship between X and Y” and proceed to list who has studied the topic and what each scholar concluded may show your
professor that you have read a lot of articles, but this type of literature review is unlikely to be an asset to your paper. A literature review should not be merely a technical reporting of what has been done before, but a creative organization of past work that helps to frame and build your argument. Good literature reviews order individual articles and books into groups, producing typologies that help readers to see unresolved debates, inconsistencies, and new questions clearly and quickly. By organizing past research in this way, you can convince the reader that your...
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