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Overview: First Things First
What Is a Research Paper?

A research paper is, at its heart, a paper that expresses your opinions or thoughts, backed up by credible, high-quality sources. It is not merely a collection of other people’s works—although quoting them is certainly important—nor is it a summary of everything you can find on a topic.

It is important to note that although a research paper expresses your point of view, you should not begin the process with a preconceived idea of what you want to prove. Like a scientist performing experiments and reporting the results, you must keep an open mind when doing your research. Begin with a question to which you don’t know the answer, and see what conclusions your research naturally presents. Think critically about every source and formulate your ideas as you go along.
Bottom-Up Developmental Structure of a Research Paper

Organizing and developing a research paper is much like building a pyramid. It begins with a wide base, and each step moves toward a narrower focus. Each element is relatively simple and builds on the one before.
Description of Developmental Elements
Broad Topic
the overall subject you want to write about
Narrow Topic
the portion of the overall subject that you can cover in a paper of the appropriate length
Supporting Topics
the three or more subtopics that each cover a piece of the overall narrow topic
Thesis Statement
the single-sentence judgment, argument, or conclusion on which the entire paper is based
Supporting Details
the information selected to illustrate the judgment/argument/conclusion put forth in the thesis statement
Example of the Organizational Structure

Although this pyramid structure helps to visualize how a research paper is focused and develops, it is important to keep in mind that all of the levels are interconnected. The graph below illustrates how each stage brings the topic into tighter focus, culminating in details that support the paper’s final thesis.

As you can see, every piece works together to create a logical, cohesive whole. As you work through the steps of your research paper, never feel afraid to work back and forth between steps. Never consider a step entirely finished until the paper is submitted.
Written Structure of a Research Paper

All research papers, regardless of style, have the same basic parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. The body of the paper is written first, followed by the introduction and conclusion. It is important to note that the bottom levels of the research paper pyramid, the broad topic and the narrow topic, do not appear independently within the final paper. Instead, they are refined into the thesis statement, which guides the entire direction of the paper. The parts of the research paper are given more detail in later steps, but for now, here are the essentials:

The introduction includes the thesis statement and presents the argument that the paper makes. The introduction is normally one or two paragraphs long.

This is the meat of the research paper. It is divided into multiple sections, each of which thoroughly addresses one of the supporting topics. Supporting details are used to explain and defend each supporting topic.

The conclusion restates the thesis statement and provides a little something beyond the paper’s scope. The conclusion is normally one or two paragraphs long.
Go to the section
Research Paper Breakdown
to further explore a research paper.