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What are the Different Parts of a Research Paper?

By Kasey James
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The four main parts of a research paper are the introduction, body, conclusion, and reference page. These parts can be broken down further into smaller parts depending upon the type of research paper that is being written. Some papers require an abstract, experiment methods, and results, for example. The best research paper is thorough and provides the reader with as much information as possible on a specific topic.

The introduction is the first paragraph and may be the most important part of the paper. It should state the main point or the question that is being researched. It should also include what the author or researcher expected to find during the research, which is called a hypothesis.

The body of a research paper contains the bulk of information. The body can be separated into three parts, including the experimental methods, the results, and a discussion. The experimental methods are the steps the researcher took to answer the proposed research question. The results are the actions and reactions that took place during the experiment or the answer to the question. The discussion section is where the researcher writes about the experimental findings and how those findings relate to the original hypothesis.

The conclusion is the final section and should tie all of the parts of a research paper together. It should explain why the research conducted was important and how it relates to other research that has already been published. The conclusion is usually only one or two paragraphs in a short research paper.

The reference page should list each of the books, journals, websites, and any other publications that were used to write the paper. The reference page can also be called a bibliography. Most follow specific guidelines depending on what kind of paper is being written.

Some research papers require an abstract. It is a brief paragraph that explains the overall research. An abstract is often used to give the reader an overview of the researched question and then a short summary of the experiment methods and results. Often, abstracts require a specific word count. Even though the abstract is placed in the beginning of a research paper, it can be easier to write once the entire paper is completed.

It is important for the writer to know the preferred style before beginning to write the paper. Some popular writing styles include the Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), or the Chicago writing style. Each has its own set of guidelines and formatting rules.

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Discussion Comments

By Monika — On Jun 01, 2012

When I was in college, I found it very frustrating trying to keep up with the different styles of how to write a research paper. Some classes wanted Modern Language Association format, others wanted American Psychological Association format.

Luckily though, there are a lot of good resources online that can tell you what you're supposed to do for those formats. A lot of colleges have webpages devoted to this, or you can just do a search.

In fact, awhile back I found a website that would generate references in a bunch of different styles. You could just input the information and it would spit out a perfectly formatted reference you could cut and paste to your paper!

By strawCake — On May 31, 2012

@ceilingcat - Good point. Papers in different disciplines with be structured differently using different source materials. That's why it's a good idea to get research paper help when you start college.

I was pretty well versed in writing research papers by the time I got to college, but that's because I took honors and advanced placement classes in high school.

I had one English teacher who really helped me learn how to write a research paper. She presented it almost like a formula and showed us how to make an outline with all our research before writing the paper. I pretty much used her method for all of my papers in college, and it worked very well.

After you make an outline, the paper practically writes itself!

By ceilingcat — On May 31, 2012

I just wanted to point out that not all research papers will have a discussion of experimental methods. The only research paper example that I've seen with this is a paper for a science class! You wouldn't need to conduct an experiment to write a paper for a class like English or Art History, for example.

For those classes, usually in the body of the paper you will present research from other sources (usually academic journals) to back up your thesis statement.

By cloudel — On May 30, 2012

No matter what term paper format my professors required, one thing was always certain. They wanted the students to have solid facts to back up their arguments or hypotheses.

Without these facts, most professors would give a paper a below average grade. They did not put much value in pure opinion. You were only allowed to have an opinion if you had statistics or data to validate it.

While I thought this was rather harsh at first, I started to see how much better my term papers became when I did have hard facts to base an argument around. Now, I would never write a paper without substance.

By orangey03 — On May 30, 2012

I loved writing research papers in college. Writing was where I shined, and I had no problem separating my thought processes into sections.

I loved tying in the introduction to the conclusion. That was perhaps the most gratifying part of the whole process. Coming up with a creative way to link the whole thing together made me feel like I had accomplished something wonderful.

I minored in English, so I wrote plenty of papers in my four year college career. I actually miss writing them today, because my line of work does not require any research.

By lighth0se33 — On May 29, 2012

@StarJo - Looking at sample research papers online helped me write my way through college. Without these to go by, I would have been grasping at straws.

You can find a sample paper in just about any style online. I would advise you to look at several and compare them, though, just to make sure you are getting the gist of the style and one site hasn’t messed up and posted the wrong kind of style.

Also, if you have a guidebook to look at, then you can see excerpts from papers in that. This might be even more helpful, since it is in a specific style with no room for error.

By StarJo — On May 29, 2012

I will be starting college in the fall, and I’m so nervous about writing research papers. Just about every teacher I had in high school required a slightly different format when it came to footnotes and references, so sometimes, I got only an average grade on a good paper because I was confused about the format.

I know that in college, professors at least tell you which style to use, and my friend who goes to the same college I plan to attend has told me that most of them tell students to use the MLA format. I’m glad I at least have that to go by, but I am still concerned about exactly how to break down a paper.

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