Are you planning to write a research paper for the ILHAM competition? Not sure where to start? What it means? How to write? Don’t panic! Two of our Girls in Science, Alma Nordenstam and Salma Alrowaie have got you covered.

What is it?

A research paper is a text that encapsulates why you choose the research you did, what you did, how you conducted the research, what you find, and its significance in contributing to the world’s scientific knowledge.

In the sciences, there are different styles of writing depending on which discipline you work within. If you are a social -, natural- or computer science analyst there are particular norms that tend to exist but there are also overarching similarities for all. In the ILHAM Competition, you will be writing a research paper that can be interdisciplinary –it can cover more than one field – and so don’t feel too intimidated by contradictory statements because it is not black and white. This article is designed to give you a baseline for those conducting research and seeking to present it in a paper.

What is the structure?

Abstract

An abstract is an overview of the paper with a summary as to why research was conducted, and what was completed; it will furthermore present results and the conclusions you drew from it. Keep it short but ensure to include important key words, concepts and your results. Given the Abstract is effectively a summary, it is useful to write this towards the end of your research and even towards the end of drafting your paper, when everything is complete. However,  please note: it should be placed first in your final presentation to provide a quick overview to those reading your paper.

Introduction

This is where the research topic is provided, and where you outline the overarching problem that you are tackling in your research. You let the reader understand what you have chosen to focus on. Here you are allowed to first talk broadly and then specify the precise theme your research paper will be discussing. For instance, a scientific research paper might go from introducing the reader to methane pollution to then zeroing in on the precise focus of your research, such as how feeding cattle a different grass might be a solution to lower the emissions. You then present your exact research question. Most often, this will be followed by a hypothesis, however it is not essential.

Background

Sometimes, it is necessary to conduct research on the topic before you go into the method. If your project has necessary information to explain before the method that goes beyond the scope of the introduction, this is a section for you.

Methods

Once the reader understands what you have been investigating and why, it is time to explain how you went about it. State what variables you used and make sure that they are defined if there is a potential for ambiguity. Explain what methods you used. Did you do DNA analysis? Field work in an area of a rainforest? Interviews with people? The key here is that the reader should be able to replicate your study.

Results

Have your results ready? Woohoo! Congratulations! Now it is time for you to write it up. This is the section to provide all the information you found. This can be presented in the form of tables, figures, diagrams, quotes, or in another appropriate way. The diversity is real. Choose a way that provides the key results that are connected to your hypothesis. If you have more data, then you can put it in the appendix (See below for more information). You should strive to state what your results were and what your interpretation of them is. For example, if you interviewed 10 people, then you can have a table with what they said and then explain the table in a paragraph below.

Conclusion

Now it is time to tie it all together. Explain how your results are connected to your hypothesis. Do they support or refute it? Are they conclusive, inconclusive? What did you find overall? This is the place to synthesise your research with the why of your research. Describe the importance of your research for the overarching problems. What further research is needed, given your findings?

References

In research papers, you need to state your sources. There are different reference systems for doing so. There are rules specific to each reference system; however, for stating your sources, the important thing is to choose one system and then adhere to it. Footnotes with sources, or in brackets, belong to different systems, but there are also further differences. Common systems used are APA, MLA, Harvard System, or MHRA, and it is worth familiarising yourself with these and choosing your system for citations.

Appendix

Have any figures, data, interview questions that don’t neatly fit in the main text of your research paper? Here is the place for it. If you have original research, for instance interview transcripts, unprocessed data from lab experiment etc., you should put it here. This is a section that the reader can refer to if they are curious, want to replicate the study or read the results in more detail. Sometimes, a table can be large and be inappropriate in the text as it distracts the flow of it, and in which case, the appendix is the place for it.

What about the language?

Research papers tend to avoid first person. The reader already knows the material is created by you and involves your thought processes because you use references when it is someone else’s opinion. Try to use vocabulary appropriate to the topic. However, don’t try to use words that you yourself cannot understand.

So this is it. A research paper can seem daunting. However, if you plan your write up carefully, and if you divide it into different sections that follow your research chronologically from idea to end, you will know the structure, and the reader will follow you too. Have fun and good luck with writing up your research!

References:

Royal Literary Fund (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.rlf.org.uk/resources/mla-apa-harvard-or-mhra/

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