Do you need to conduct academic research?
This guide will help you work through the many steps of conducting academic research, starting with figuring out what kind of information you’re looking for and ending with getting your paper submitted.
Conducting academic research can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, but this guide will show you how to get it done in no time at all!
Finding a Topic for your Academic Research
The first step in conducting academic research is finding a topic.
The best way to start is by brainstorming potential ideas, looking for gaps in current research, or consulting with professors or other experts in the field.
Once you have a general idea, you can begin narrowing it down to a specific focus.
For example, if you want to study gender roles in film consider the following subtopics:
What types of films are out there (foreign vs. domestic),
Who produced them (studio vs. independent),
How they were received critically and commercially.
After researching these sub-topics individually, make your decision about which one is most interesting and relevant to your own interests and academic career path.
Here are the other tips to consider when selecting a topic for your paper :
- Be careful not to pick something too broad or too narrow, as this could result in limited sources of information on either end.
- Try to find a topic that has enough material available while also providing room for growth and new discoveries. It’s important to choose a topic that you’re passionate about, even if it’s outside of your specialty area.
- If possible, ask professors and classmates for advice on topics or refer back to coursework from previous semesters.
- You might also try reading literature reviews from other researchers’ work in order to see what’s already been researched in the past and get an idea of what areas need further exploration.
- A good topic for conducting academic research should be sufficiently detailed yet open-ended enough to allow for new discoveries.
- There should also be plenty of sources related to the topic; without sufficient resources, your paper may suffer.
- Make sure that you’re knowledgeable about the subject before starting any kind of project, and don’t hesitate to ask professors or other students for help finding a great topic!
- Remember that a good topic should be reasonably comprehensive, provide opportunities for future work, and contain enough information to support its thesis statement.
When choosing a topic, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What do I know about my topic?
- What does my audience know about my topic?
- What would I like my audience to know?
- Where am I going to find information?
- How much time am I willing to invest in this project?
Some topics require lots of research, while others only require a quick Google search.
Consider your knowledge level and the amount of effort you want to put into this assignment before settling on a topic.
Finally, ask yourself, what do I hope to achieve with my research?
Identifying objectives will give structure to your search process and help guide you in choosing between options when faced with multiple possibilities.
Your objective might be to determine why people feel differently about Hollywood blockbuster movies than indie dramas, compare Japanese animation to American animation, or examine how different cultures portray different facets of mental illness.
With an understanding of what you want to accomplish with your research, narrowing down the topics becomes easier.
Now, start to take a look at the specifics of your topic and explore whether or not the genre, country of origin, or other factors are necessary for your topic.
Then decide what you want to include in your paper and what you want to leave out.
All of these considerations should help you create a plan for research that fits your objectives.
After selecting a topic, the next step is to identify and define the problem.
Here are some questions to get you started
- What is the problem you are trying to solve?
- What does your research question look like?
- Who will be impacted by the results of your research?
- How much time do you have to complete this project, and what type of information do you want at the end of it?
- What resources can you use to find data or answer questions? For example, databases such as SciVerse Scopus may provide access to articles that would otherwise not be available.
Your problem identification should take into account who will be impacted by the result of your research and how much time you have to conduct it.
You need to think about where you might find information in order to complete your research (databases, journals, interviews).
Craft a succinct problem statement to describe your area of inquiry.
An effective problem statement includes clear, concise language which states precisely what the problem is.
A problem statement also needs to state what type of solution the researcher is looking for–a new hypothesis, finding an alternative solution to a problem, or testing a theory.
To craft an effective problem statement, include:
- An in-depth description of the nature of the inquiry
- A specific description of what action you hope to accomplish with your research
- What types of answers or solutions you are looking for
- The people who will be impacted by your research should be considered when formulating your problem statement. If the group is small, you might try contacting them before conducting your research so they can help answer some of your questions or participate in the process.
Ask yourself if there are any limitations on time, space, human resources or cost that could affect the outcome of your research, and determine if these factors should be incorporated into your problem statement as well.
It’s important to consider these limitations because they often come up during the planning phase of a project and can greatly impact the validity of your research.
Once you’ve determined what type of work you’ll be doing, it’s helpful to brainstorm possible topics or variables related to your problem statement.
These ideas should relate back to one another in some way.
Have a plan for how you’re going to evaluate your findings at the end of your research.
Will you analyze quantitative or qualitative data?
Do you know what tools will be necessary for gathering and analyzing information, i.e., survey forms, observation sheets, and study guides?
Consider how your problem statement will support your research questions and vice versa.
This is important because they are closely related to one another, so you don’t want one to contradict or be out of line with another.
Your questions should be directly related to each other.
You might also want to consider how your problem statement will contribute to developing your thesis statement.
The two statements should complement one another and create a larger picture of the goals of your research.
While both need to tell the reader what you hope to achieve, the difference between them is that your problem statement focuses on identifying the specific issue being addressed while your research questions cover broader areas relating to why and how.
Together, they outline exactly what information you are seeking in relation to a specific issue.
Articulate Research Questions
The third step in the research process involves formulating research questions.
To help you develop your questions, start by doing some brainstorming.
Make a list of all of your ideas on a piece of paper and then organize them into categories.
You can separate your thoughts into broad topics (e.g., Why do people have children?) and narrow topics (e.g., What happens after someone has had a baby?).
Then add appropriate keywords to each category so that they are easier to find later.
After categorizing your thoughts, prioritize the ones you think would be most interesting or most difficult to find answers for.
Next, take a look at what you’ve written and see if there are any topics missing from your list.
Add anything else that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem like something that needs research or planning.
Your research questions should contain as much detail as possible without being too detailed.
An example of a good research question is “What are the effects of marketing material on female body image?”
Here is an example of a poorly formulated research question: “How does marketing affect female body image?”
The latter question lacks specificity.
Remember, if you have multiple research questions, create three sentences that summarize each one.
When writing these summaries, try to use plain language rather than technical terms and acronyms.
It’s a good idea to keep the summaries concise so that they’re easy to read and don’t intimidate potential readers.
Also, make sure that your summary highlights the main point of each research question.
This way, readers will know what they’re going to get out of reading about your proposed topic.
Your best bet is to come up with multiple research questions and refine them as needed during your search process.
For example, instead of asking simply “What are the causes of asthma?” You might want to also ask “What factors increase my risk for developing asthma?”
Formulating research questions is also important because it helps you to stay focused on finding only relevant and reliable resources.
In summary, ask yourself these questions when formulating your research question:
- Is the subject of my interest broad or narrow?
- Am I looking for quantitative data (e.g., number, percentages) or qualitative data (e.g., narratives)?
- Will there be many articles or only a few that meet my criteria?
Formulate a research design for your Academic Research
Research designs are methods of collecting and analyzing data used to explore the relationship between cause and effect, or to evaluate the efficacy of an intervention or policy.
They can be categorized into two types based on the type of data collected: quantitative and qualitative.
Quantitative research designs focus on numerical values, such as the number of victims in a car accident, while qualitative research focuses on subjective experiences, such as whether people feel safe in their homes at night.
Both types of research have their pros and cons, so it’s important to choose one based on the questions you are trying to answer and your available resources.
What is Quantitative Research?
Quantitative research is a type of scientific research that focuses on gathering numerical data.
This data can be analyzed to look for patterns and trends.
In order to do this effectively, quantitative research typically uses large data sets. This makes it a powerful tool for understanding complex phenomena.
For example, an economist may use a survey with 10 questions about spending habits to better understand the economic impacts of a recession.
Quantitative research often has a larger sample size than qualitative research, which has a smaller sample size.
When Should I use Quantitative Research Design?
If you are looking to draw a conclusion that can be generalized to a larger population, quantitative research is a good design to use.
This is because there is less of a chance that any one individual’s responses will sway your results.
Quantitative research is also suitable when you want to measure the correlation between two variables.
For example, if you wanted to know how many hours someone spends at work each week versus their happiness levels in general, then quantitative research would be more appropriate.
Another situation where quantitative research might be useful is if you are interested in examining change over time.
There are some types of changes that happen over time (e.g watching something grow) or measurements that need to be taken repeatedly (e.g, blood pressure).
In such cases, measuring only once would not give you an accurate representation of what was happening. Lastly, quantitative research is ideal when you are interested in making predictions based on past patterns.
A good example of this is investing money. It would be impossible to tell how stocks were going to perform just by taking one measurement.
To make predictions, you would need a lot of data points so that you could extrapolate the average future performance based on past performances.
What are the Benefits of Quantitative Research Design?
While quantitative research does have a few limitations, it has numerous benefits, including the following :
- You can use large data sets to analyze phenomena.
- You can make generalizations about larger populations with quantitative research.
- The correlations between two variables can be measured through quantitative research.
- Change over time and multiple measurements can be observed with quantitative research.
- Predictions are made possible with quantitative research due to the volume of information collected.
Here are the limitations of Quantitative Research
- The Quantitative approach does not always provide an in-depth understanding of a problem.
- Collecting all of that data can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Statistical analysis needs to be done correctly in order to avoid errors. If a researcher is using the wrong statistical methods, they could come up with misleading conclusions.
There are four main types of Quantitative research: descriptive, experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational studies.
What is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is a type of social science research that uses observational methods to gather data about people, their behaviors, and the social context in which they live.
This data is then analyzed to identify patterns and trends.
Qualitative research is often used to study topics that are difficult to quantify, such as human emotions or experiences.
A qualitative researcher may observe people’s interactions and talk with them in order to learn more about them.
The goal of qualitative research is to understand what is happening from the perspective of those involved, not just on an aggregate level as quantitative research does.
It provides a rich understanding of individual motivations, expectations, and beliefs.
When Should I use Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is useful when you want to:
- Understand why people do what they do. When you’re trying to understand why something happens, qualitative research is a good option. For example, if your sales are lower than expected, it helps to know why customers aren’t buying your product or service.
- Understand how people feel about a product or service. If you want to know what customers really think about your company, its products, or its service offerings, qualitative research can help you figure it out. Qualitative research can provide insight into what makes customers tick, including what drives them to buy from one brand over another.
- Understand social and cultural influences. You might conduct qualitative research to see how social norms and customs impact the way people behave, especially when they don’t fit in with others. In this case, you might conduct interviews or focus groups where participants share their thoughts and feelings openly.
Benefits of Qualitative Research
The following list highlights some benefits of qualitative research:
- Provides depth to understanding
- Provides a richer understanding of individual motivations, expectations, and beliefs.
- Gives you a detailed look at unique individuals’ perspectives.
- Give sense of what life is like for different types of people in different situations.
- Allows you to view things through different lenses; lets you explore different viewpoints.
- Reveals hidden biases or unintended consequences of decisions (qualitative research can be used to uncover these issues).
- Is not always measurable, but the information gleaned is often very valuable because it gives insights into what’s going on inside people’s heads.
Limitations of Qualitative Research
The following list highlights the limitations of qualitative research
- Time intensive.
- Subjectivity and researcher bias.
- Difficulties recruiting participants.
- Data collection process can be expensive.
- Results are difficult to generalize across large populations.
There are many different types of qualitative designs: naturalistic observation, case studies, structured interviews (unstructured interviews), open-ended questions (closed-ended questions), participant observation, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and others. The choice depends on your research goals.
Qualitative Vs. Quantitative: When do we use each?
- Is it peer pressure?
- Are they greedy?
- Do they feel anxious about low grades?
Next, rather than just relying on the answers to these pre-written questions, qualitative research typically relies on interviews and fieldwork.
And lastly, qualitative research is less reliable than quantitative methods because we cannot calculate accurate statistics.
Finding Relevant Articles
When you’re conducting academic research, it’s important to find articles that are relevant to your topic.
One way to do this is to search for keywords related to your topic in a database like JSTOR or Google Scholar.
You can also browse through journals in your field to find relevant articles.
Once you’ve found some articles, read through them and take note of any that seem particularly relevant to your topic.
Save these in a folder on your computer so they’ll be easy to access later. In the meantime, keep searching for more articles until you have enough data to write an introduction.
Write out a few sentences about what your essay will be about, what question you will answer, and why this question matters.
Now that you know what your essay will cover, go back to the relevant articles and use them as evidence to support the claim in your introduction sentence.
Choose three or four quotes from each paper that support your point and then add additional thoughts (in parentheses) to explain how those quotes relate to your overall argument.
Research papers often come with a set of citations at the end – these are helpful because they tell you where to find the original source material.
Pay attention to which parts of the quote come from other sources, and don’t forget to include citations at the end of your work.
Here are some other tips to remember when finding articles for your paper :
- Try using keywords or phrases related to your topic to find articles on databases like JSTOR and Google Scholar.
- Look for popular journals in your field, browse articles, and use search terms that are relevant to your paper.
- If you’re having trouble finding relevant material, consider expanding your search beyond scholarly sources.
- Instead of just searching for journal articles, try looking at other sources like newspapers, magazines, books, and interviews with experts.
- In order to cite your sources, you need to know what style manual your professor uses.
- If you don’t know which style manual is used, ask your professor or do some research online (for example, in MLA and APA).
Writing the Paper
If you are reading this right now, you most likely have an academic paper that needs to be written.
This section will guide you step by step through the process of writing your academic research paper.
Step 1: Preliminary Research
The first step in writing an academic research paper is to do preliminary research.
This means finding and reading sources that will give you an overview of your topic.
Once you have a good understanding of the existing literature on your topic, you can start formulating your own research question.
Your next step is to design a method for answering your research question; this includes developing a plan for data collection and analysis.
You should also make sure that your research has been approved by ethics review boards.
You then want to start with what type of study you want to conduct (quantitative or qualitative) as well as how many participants are needed for your study.
If quantitative, then determine what kind of statistical analysis (e.g., t-test) would be appropriate for your data; if qualitative, decide which methods or techniques will be used (e.g., case studies).
Next, draft a formal introduction to your work that briefly summarizes your argument and states the problem you’re trying to address. Include one sentence describing why the problem is important.
Step 2: Thesis Proposal
A thesis proposal is a document that outlines the thesis topic, defines the issues that the paper will address, and explains why the topic is important.
The proposal should also include a brief literature review, as well as a discussion of your research methodology.
It can be helpful to discuss the rationale for your choice of topics in the introduction to the proposal.
The introduction might also discuss who you intend to be your audience and what questions you hope to answer in your study.
Once you have outlined your work in the introduction, it is time to get down to business with some methods. Start by asking yourself ;
- What are the specific methods that you are going to use?
- How do they differ from others on this topic?
- What steps will go into completing this project? Will there be any experiments or surveys conducted?
Be sure to outline these details before concluding with a paragraph about how your work could contribute to our understanding of this issue.
After all, your reader wants to know what he/she can take away from reading your study.
Step 3: Writing the Draft
The draft will be a rough version of your final paper, and it will help you get your thoughts in order.
To write the draft, start with your introduction paragraph, then move on to each subsequent paragraph in the body of your paper.
Each paragraph should have one main idea that is supported by at least three or four sentences containing specific details and facts.
You should also consider including an outline for each paragraph, which can include subheadings for each point.
Once you’ve finished writing your draft, go back over all of the paragraphs and make sure that they are logically connected to the central argument of your paper.
Step 4: Proofreading and Editing Steps
Once you’ve written your rough draft, it’s time to begin editing.
Read through your work with a critical eye, and ask yourself some key questions:
- Is each paragraph logically connected to your central argument?
- Are my points clearly stated?
- Can I support my arguments with specific facts and examples? If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re in good shape. If not, keep working on revising until you get it right.
Before you submit your academic research paper, it is important to proofread your work one final time.
This will help to ensure that your paper is free of any errors and is ready for submission.
Here are four steps to take when proofreading and editing your academic research paper:
- Read your paper out loud. This will help you to catch any errors that you may have missed when reading silently.
- Have someone else read your paper. They can point out any grammar or spelling mistakes that you may not be able to see on your own.
- Compare your paper with a published research paper in the same field to see if there are any similarities or differences in writing style, language use, citation style, etc.,
- Use Grammarly to check for misspellings, grammatical errors, and other common issues. Grammarly will also provide suggestions for words that could improve your paper’s clarity and coherence.
The final version of your research paper should include an introduction, main body, and references.
It is important to note that there are many different formats for writing a research paper, so it is important to review your teacher’s instructions before starting this process.
Once you have followed all these steps to a tee, you will have successfully written an academic research paper!