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What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is a written document that is designed to provide proof, or evidence, to support a thesis. The thesis is a statement, based on a hypothesis (an unproven conclusion) about a matter. You can have a hypothesis about why a writer choose a certain subject or created a certain character, why something happened in history or even why a cell has a certain reaction to a specific type of light. The research paper is what is used to support the conclusion that was stated in the thesis. Its purpose is to document the logic of the evidence that led to the conclusion.

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What makes it different from an essay?

In many ways, a research paper is an expanded essay. What makes is different from an essay is its use of external proofs that meet a criteria of acceptance within an area of study. In an essay, the proofs may be personal opinion or anecdotal evidence. In a research paper, you can use anecdotal evidence but it must come in the guise of a controlled and qualified study. In a research paper, the outline of introduction, body of supporting evidence and then the conclusion drawn from the evidence is used as a structure. For an essay, you do not have to provide the middle body but can go from introducing the question to stating the conclusion. Essays often lead to research papers and are often used in classes as pre-assignments to help with developing the order and structure of the more detailed research paper.

What constitutes “good” research?

There is such a thing as “good” research and “bad” research. The difference is based upon two criteria – confirmation bias and methodology. Confirmation bias indicates that the researcher only looked toward evidence that supported their original thesis and ignored findings that challenged their hypothesis. Good research will include evidence that negates the hypothesis because it allows you to refute the findings with stronger evidence that is in support of the thesis. Methodology refers to the quality of the evidence used as support. In most areas of inquiry, such as the sciences, there are standards for setting up control and variant groups to conduct research. If the evidence you are citing does not follow an approved methodology it loses strength as a viable argument of proof.

Research papers are written to provide support of a thesis that draws a conclusion. They use evidence that is accepted within the field of inquiry as valid and place little emphasis on opinion or anecdote as proof.

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