Writing a Research Paper
It doesn’t matter if you’re in your first year of undergrad, your last, or even in a post-graduate program – research papers are daunting. Where do I start? How do I start? These are questions that I’ve asked myself numerous times at the start of a new project and I’m sure you will have too. No worries, this post should hopefully ease your worries with a few steps in how to approach research.
My name is Raghav Krishnamoorthy – after completing my bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Toronto, I went on to attain my M.A. in Business Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University which is where I met Juan, the man behind these tutorials and this website. During this time, I’ve had to write multiple research papers, short and long, but the key points can be distilled down to five steps.
1. What is your topic?
This first step is perhaps the hardest. What do you want to discuss and analyze? And what are you trying to accomplish? Maybe you’re just attempting a replication, but even then, why is your topic interesting? Once you’ve selected an area and/or a topic to study, next, ask yourself this: Am I doing anything new here? This can be in terms of the topic or even the methodologies used. In other words, what can readers of this paper gain from your research that they can’t find anywhere else?
Do your research. Whether you are trying to expand on previously studied research or trying to break new ground, chances are your subject has been studied previously in some form. Use these papers to your advantage. They won’t match your topic, but this is a chance for you to gain knowledge about your area of study. Pick out methodologies that work or make sense for your paper, keep in mind recommended variables to control for, and understand the history and story of your topic.
From your background research, you should have a fair idea regarding the type of methodology that should work for your paper. Now you just need to adjust it. Maybe you have your own set of controls to add. Maybe you need a dummy variable to signify a change at a certain point. Maybe you want to have multiple regressions that include or exclude certain variables for comparison. Maybe you want to see an impulse response by variable. If you want to forecast a time series using a VAR, decide how many lags is appropriate for your model. These are all examples of questions and adjustments to consider.
Display and explain all your results, but focus on those important numbers that you want your reader to notice. These results can provide support for your arguments or they can even be outliers that you find interesting. Perhaps you have thought of a potential reason for inconsistencies you’ve noticed – include these as well!
5. Conclusions and Limitations
Summarize your findings. With a long paper, readers may get overwhelmed with information and one may not know what results or data to focus on. Describe the findings that support your argument, but bear in mind that your results may not always be in your favour. Mention these as well as they can be informative too. Most of all, your paper will not be without fault. No matter how perfect you assume your methodologies and paper to be, there is always an alternate way and limitations to your strategy. Mention these limitations and readers will be able to take these limitations into account when considering your results. This can range from inaccuracies in the data to a fault in your methodology, but it is always good to mention them. All other additional information that you deem relevant but are unnecessary for the main portion of the paper can be included in appendices.
I hope this helped and all the best in your academic journey!