Writing a Research Paper | a Step by Step Guide

How do I write my research paper?

One of the first things you will have to do is identify a research question for the focus of your paper.

The research question

Depending on your field of study, such as Sociology or media Studies, you could be looking at a very broad range of possible topics.

Step 1.
Come up with the research question for your paper. Your research question should be one that you are interested in.


Publication of violent images - Is the publication of violent images on TV and in other media appropriate?

This is the question that will guide your research. It’s the question which you aim to discover the answer for.

Crime in the United States

This topic is too general to effectively write a research paper on it, so you need to come up with a suitable research question as the focus of you paper, such as:

Is the use of three-strike laws an effective crime reduction measure?

This refers specifically to the legal system in the U.S. where if an individual is convicted of serious crimes (three times) then they usually receive a life sentence in prison. This particular topic has sufficient depth to explore and examine various aspects of it. However, it’s not as broad and general as the original topic – crime in the United States.

Starting your research

First, you’ll need to identify essential ‘search terms’ – these are the keywords you’ll enter in search engines to find relevant articles to use as sources. These keywords or search terms should be as specific as possible to get the most relevant search results, and save yourself a lot of time.

So, using the example topic of crime in the United States; simply entering ‘crime in the United States or crime in the U.S.’ would return far too many results to investigate. You don’t want to waste valuable time scanning thousands of articles unless they’re directly relevant to what you want to write about.

Try narrowing down the scope of your search. Get really specific with the search terms you use to obtain more relevant articles. For example, entering ‘3-strike laws’ ‘three-strike laws’ or ‘3-strikes and crime’, ‘crime reduction and 3-strikes laws’, etc. As you search, the combination of keywords should indicate the degree of relevance of the articles which appear in the search results page.

A quick analysis of the results returned should help you refine your search terms even further until the articles are highly relevant to your chosen topic. The more targeted your search becomes – the higher the relevancy of results will be in terms of high quality articles you could use.

In the next post, we'll look at how to choose reliable academic sources for your research paper or academic writing.

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