How to Structure a Research Paper

[See also: How to write a research project. How to write the background, theory, method, analysis and discussion sections. How to write the introduction and conclusion and how to review the literature. How to finish on time and how to reference properly. Part of the Craft of Research series. Full program here.]

TL;DR: “Towards an Outline”

A research paper will present a single, easily identifiable claim. It will provide an argument, not just for the truth of that claim, but for its relevance for a particular line of inquiry. It will also situate both the claim and the line of inquiry in a world of shared concern that goes beyond the narrow, scholarly interests of both the writer and the reader. Within those narrow limits, however, it will respect the field’s theoretical and methodological commitments. Before it is over, it will offer a simple one-paragraph statement of the argument for the central claim of the paper that assumes that the very knowledgeable and highly intelligent reader has understood the rest of it.

Here’s a lecture from 2019 on the same topic:

A standard empirical paper in the social sciences can be divided into seven sections. For example:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Theory
  4. Method
  5. Analysis
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion

These are of course rules of thumb, not to be followed slavishly. But they should give you some sense of the finitude of the problem of writing a research paper. The essence of planning is to appreciate your finitude.

While these different components are worth mastering in any case, not all academic writing consists of full, formal research papers. Sometimes you will be writing shorter papers and essays. In such cases you might find my posts on “Sentences, Paragraphs, and Essays”, “How to Write Five Paragraphs”, “How Papers Work”, and “How Essays Work” of interest.