Before you begin to write your research paper rough draft, you have some decisions to make about format, or how your paper will look. As you write, you have to think about presenting your ideas in a way that makes sense and holds your readers’ interest. After you’ve completed your draft, make sure you’ve cited your sources completely and correctly. And the last thing you’ll need to do is decide on the very first thing readers see—the title.
Following a Research Paper Format Format
Many instructors tell their students exactly how their research papers should be formatted—for example, how wide the margins should be, where and how the sources should be listed, and so on. If your teacher has specified a format, be sure you have a list of the rules she or he has established—and follow them! If not, you need to decide on questions of format for yourself. Here are the main formatting issues to consider:
- Should your report be written by hand or typed in a word processing program?
- If you are handwriting, should you write on every line or every other line?
- If you are handwriting, should you use both sides or only one side of the paper?
- If you are typing, should you use single space or double space? For typing, double spacing is standard.
- If you are using a computer, what type style (font) and size should you use? (Twelve-point Times or Times New Roman is standard.)
- What size should the margins be? Margins of 1″ or 1.25″ on each side are standard.
- How long should your report be—how many pages or words?
- Should you include illustrations? Are illustrations optional?
- How should you position your heading (and should it include information other than name, class, and date)?
- Should you include a separate title page?
- Should your bibliography (a list of your sources) appear on a separate page at the end of your report? That is standard.
- Should your bibliography list your sources in alphabetical order by last name of author? That is standard.
- Where should your page numbers appear? The standard position for page numbering is the upper right corner of each page.
If you are using a computer, choose and set up your margin widths, type size and style, and spacing before writing.
Using a Proper Writing Style
Even if you haven’t finished all your research, when you have completed most of your note cards and your outline, it’s time to start writing. Drafting at this stage allows you to see what additional information you need so you can fill it in. As you begin to draft your paper, it’s time to consider your writing style.
A writer’s style is his or her distinctive way of writing. Style is a series of choices—words, sentence length and structure, figures of speech, punctuation, and so on. The style you select for your research paper depends on the following factors:
Before you begin, it is a good idea to again consider the members of your audience:Who are they? What do they know? What style of writing and language will they find most interesting or persuasive? Recognize that although members of your audience may all be of a similar background and educational level, they will not necessarily possess the same knowledge of the subject that you do. Ask yourself:
- How much of the information covered by your research is common knowledge? You want to provide sufficient explanation of unfamiliar concepts but, at the same time, not belabor the obvious.
- What questions will the reader have? Be sure you address all key questions that are essential to the reader’s understanding of your subject.
- How will your reader react to your thesis? This is especially important in a persuasive paper where your goal is to have your readers accept your thesis.
- What kind of information is needed to move your reader to a better understanding of the subject or to agree with your assessment of it? The answers to this question will provide the topics for the paragraphs in the body of your paper.
- What do you want the reader to remember most? This will be the focus of your conclusion.
The answers to these questions will give you a sense of how much background you will need to include about your subject as well as the language and tone of writing that you should use to present it.
Writers have four main purposes:
- to explain (exposition)
- to convince (persuasion)
- to describe (description)
- to tell a story (narration)
Your purpose in your research paper is to persuade or convince. As a result, you’ll select the supporting material (such as details, examples, and quotations) that will best accomplish this purpose. As you write, look for the most convincing examples, the most powerful statistics, the most compelling quotations to suit your purpose.
The tone of a piece of writing is the writer’s attitude toward his or her subject matter. For example, the tone can be angry, bitter, neutral, or formal. The tone depends on your audience and purpose. Since your research paper is being read by educated professionals and your purpose is to persuade, you will use a formal, unbiased tone. The writing won’t condescend to its audience, insult them, or lecture them.
The language used in most academic and professional writing is called “Standard Written English.” It’s the writing you find in magazines such as Newsweek, US News and World Report, and The New Yorker. Such language conforms to the widely established rules of grammar, sentence structure, usage, punctuation, and spelling. It has an objective, learned tone. It’s the language that you’ll use in your research paper.
The Basics of Research Paper Style
The following section covers the basics of research paper writing style: words, sentences, and punctuation.
Write simply and directly. Perhaps you were told to use as many multisyllabic words as possible since “big” words dazzle people. Most of the time, however, big words just set up barriers between you and your audience. Instead of using words for the sake of impressing your readers, write simply and directly.
Select your words carefully to convey your thoughts vividly and precisely. For example, blissful, blithe, cheerful, contented, ecstatic, joyful, and gladdened all mean “happy”—yet
each one conveys a different shade of meaning.
Use words that are accurate, suitable, and familiar:
- Accurate words say what you mean.
- Suitable words convey your tone and fit with the other words in the document.
- Familiar words are easy to read and understand.
As you write your research paper, you want words that express the importance of the subject but aren’t stuffy or overblown. Refer to yourself as I if you are involved with the subject, but always keep the focus on the subject rather than on yourself. Remember, this is academic writing, not memoir.
Avoid slang, regional words, and nonstandard diction. Below is a brief list of words that are never correct in academic writing:
- being that
- had ought
- could of
- this here
- try and do
- off of
- that there
Avoid redundant, wordy phrases. Here are some examples:
- honest truth
- past history
- fatally killed
- revert back
- true facts
- live and breathe
- null and void
- most unique
- cease and desist
- proceed ahead
Always use bias-free language. Use words and phrases that don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, physical condition, age, or race. For instance, avoid using he to refer to both men and women. Never use language that denigrates people or excludes one gender. Watch for phrases that suggest women and men behave in stereotypical ways, such as talkative women. In addition, always try to refer to a group by the term it prefers. Language changes, so stay on the cutting edge. For instance, today the term “Asian” is preferred to “Oriental.”
Effective writing uses sentences of different lengths and types to create variety and interest. Craft your sentences to express your ideas in the best possible way. Here are some guidelines:
- Mix simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences for a more effective style. When your topic is complicated or full of numbers, use simple sentences to aid understanding. Use longer, more complex sentences to show how ideas are linked together and to avoid repetition.
- Select the subject of each sentence based on what you want to emphasize.
- Add adjectives and adverbs to a sentence (when suitable) for emphasis and variety.
- Repeat keywords or ideas for emphasis.
- Use the active voice, not the passive voice.
- Use transitions to link ideas.
Similarly, successful research papers are free of technical errors. Here are some guidelines to review:
- Remember that a period shows a full separation between ideas. For example: The car was in the shop for repair on Friday. I had no transportation to work.
- A comma and a coordinating conjunction (for, and, but, or, yet, so, nor) show the relationships of addition, choice, consequence, contrast, or cause. For example: 1) The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, so I had no transportation to work. 2) The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, but I still made it to work. 3) The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, yet I still made it to work.
- A semicolon shows the second sentence completes the content of the first sentence. The semicolon suggests a link but leaves to the reader to make the connection. For example: The car was in the shop for repair on Friday; I didn’t make it to work.
- A semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (such as nevertheless and however) show the relationship between ideas: addition, consequence, contrast, cause and effect, time, emphasis, or addition. For example: The car was in the shop for repair on Friday; however, I made it to work anyway.
- Using a period between sentences forces a pause and then stresses the conjunctive adverb. For example: The car was in the shop for repair on Friday. But I still made it to work.
Even if you do run a grammar check, be sure to check and double-check your punctuation and grammar as you draft your research paper.
Starting to Write
Remember when we said that with a good outline you may feel as if your paper can practically write itself? If you follow your outline now, you can find out just how true that is. A paper has three main parts—the introduction (which contains your thesis statement), the body, and the conclusion. When you outlined your paper, you did
the body first. Then you planned your thesis statement and your conclusion. For writing the first draft, let’s begin at the beginning—with writing the introduction.
Read more on How to Write a Research Paper.