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How Do I Structure the Parts of a Research Paper?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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While the proper structure of a research paper can vary by discipline, in general, it consists of four main parts: an introduction, a body, a conclusion, and a list of references. Knowing how to structure the parts of a research paper can help simplify the writing process. An introduction should present the paper’s main argument, or thesis, and should move from general information to more specific information. The body should consist of self-contained paragraphs or sections that each defend the thesis in a new way, and the conclusion should summarize the paper and, in some cases, suggest where further research may be needed. Finally, references should generally be listed in alphabetical order, and should be formatted according to the conventions of the style used for the rest of the paper.

One of the most important parts of a research paper is the introduction, which prepares the reader for the information that follows it by stating the paper’s thesis. Depending on the length of the paper and the requirements given by one’s instructor, the introduction may consist of a single paragraph or a multi-paragraph section. To create an introduction that flows well, it can be useful to progress from the general to the specific. For example, a student writing a research paper arguing that solar power is the best form of renewable energy might begin her introduction with a few sentences that provide general background information about renewable energy, and then go on to state her own argument.

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Body paragraphs are the parts of a research paper that present evidence that backs up the writer’s thesis. Each body paragraph should be a self-contained unit that addresses a separate prong of the paper’s argument. For instance, a paper arguing for solar power might contain one body paragraph that explains that the sun provides a reliable source of energy, one that states that equipment for harnessing solar energy can be relatively inexpensive, and one that shows that solar power can be easily converted into household electricity. The main idea of each paragraph should be placed at the beginning of that paragraph. That idea should then be followed by a few sentences containing concrete evidence that the writer has gathered during her research phase.

The conclusion tends to be among the shortest parts of a research paper, typically requiring just a few sentences. Usually, a conclusion should restate the paper’s main argument and should summarize its body in a very brief fashion. Depending on the preferences of one’s instructor, it may also need to suggest how further research might pick up where the paper leaves off.

Finally, most research papers conclude with a list of references that were cited within the paper or consulted while the writer was researching her topic. Generally, this list must be presented in alphabetical order, with each entry detailing complete publication information for the source used. As the exact formatting rules for reference lists can vary widely from one discipline to another, it is important to consult one’s instructor to find out how each entry should be structured.

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