What a Research Paper Is and Is Not

Many people have only a vague idea of what a research paper is. They know it involves research, so material about a specific topic needs to be gathered. They also know it is a paper, which is a written assignment involving a significant amount of homework.

If the thought of writing your research paper makes you cringe, it might help to clarify your understanding of what a research paper is (and isn't).

What It Is

A research paper is an in-depth study of a specific and distinct topic. It includes not only factual research from a wide variety of sources, but also the writer's interpretation of that research. This interpretation is a key element of the true research paper.

Writing a research paper gives you a chance to debunk popular myths or convince others to consider new and different ways of looking at an issue. However, you must be careful to back up your perspective with facts that show how you reached your conclusions.

Though a research paper covers the topic in question completely, it is centered on a specific and distinct topic as opposed to a general one. Suppose that you want to write a paper about dogs. “Dogs” by itself is a very general topic and much too broad to cover completely. A better topic for a research paper might be to explore how proper exercise and nutrition contribute to a dog's longevity.

What It Is Not

A research paper is not just a factual report, although facts are a part of the paper. Nor is it an editorial, or simply an expression of the writer's opinions, although that too is part of the paper. A simple collection of information does not constitute a research paper. It is the personal perspective that distinguishes a research paper from any other type of report.

Make sure you fully understand what is expected in your paper before you begin your research, because each instructor has certain expectations. On the one hand, you don't want to waste your time going into more detail than is needed. On the other hand, you don't want to complete your paper only to find that you neglected to include everything that is required.

  1. Home
  2. Writing Research Papers
  3. Research Paper Basics
  4. What a Research Paper Is and Is Not
Visit other About.com sites: