Checklist: Writing a research paper

A research paper is an extended piece of writing based on in-depth independent research. It may involve conducting empirical research or analyzing primary and secondary sources.

Writing a good research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic and advance an original argument. To convincingly communicate your ideas, you need a logical structure and a clear style that follows the conventions of academic writing.

When you’ve finished writing your paper, use this checklist to evaluate your work.

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How to write a thesis conclusion

The conclusion is the very last part of your thesis or dissertation. Its main purposes are to:

  • Clearly state the answer to the main research question
  • Summarize and reflect on the research
  • Make recommendations for future work on the topic
  • Show what new knowledge you have contributed

The conclusion should be concise and engaging. Aim to leave the reader with a clear understanding of the main discovery or argument that your research has advanced.

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How to write a discussion section

The discussion chapter is where you delve into the meaning, importance and relevance of your results. It should focus on explaining and evaluating what you found, showing how it relates to your literature review and research questions, and making an argument in support of your overall conclusion. There are many different ways to write this section, but you can focus your discussion around four key elements:

  • Interpretations: what do the results mean?
  • Implications: why do the results matter?
  • Limitations: what can’t the results tell us?
  • Recommendations: what practical actions or scientific studies should follow?

There is often overlap between the discussion and conclusion, and in some dissertations these two sections are included in a single chapter. Occasionally, the results and discussion will be combined into one chapter. If you’re unsure of the best structure for your research, look at sample dissertations in your field or consult your supervisor.

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How to write an abstract

An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a dissertation or research paper). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research so that readers know exactly what the paper is about.

Write the abstract at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the text. There are four things you need to include:

  1. Your research problem and objectives
  2. Your methods
  3. Your key results or arguments
  4. Your conclusion

An abstract is usually around 150–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the requirements of the university or journal.

In a dissertation or thesis, include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents.

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How to write a dissertation introduction

The introduction is the first chapter of your thesis or dissertation and appears right after the table of contents. It’s essential to draw the reader in with a strong beginning. Set the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose and direction. The introduction should include:

  • Topic and context: what does the reader need to know to understand the dissertation?
  • Focus and scope: what specific aspect of the topic will you address?
  • Relevance and importance: how does the research fit into existing work on this topic?
  • Questions and objectives: what does the research aim to find out and how?
  • Overview of the structure: what does each chapter of the dissertation contribute to the overall aim?

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Statement of purpose for graduate school

When you apply for graduate programs or scholarships, the admissions committee is looking for more than just a list of grades. The statement of purpose (also known as a statement of intent or motivation letter) is your chance to stand out from the crowd and showcase your motivation, skills and potential. It should:

  • Outline your academic or professional interests and goals
  • Discuss relevant skills, experience and achievements
  • Demonstrate why you’d be a good fit for the program

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Writing up your results in a thesis or dissertation

Once you’ve finished collecting and analyzing your data, you can begin writing up the results. This is where you report the main findings of your research.

All relevant results should be reported concisely and objectively in a logical order. You may use tables and graphs to illustrate specific findings.

Don’t include subjective interpretations of why you found these results or what they mean – your evaluation should be saved for the discussion.

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