Writing an Undergraduate Research Project
I remember being a fresher in the university, filled with hope and optimism, brimming with borderless possibilities and a desire for academic success. These plans were going smoothly, and I was living the academic dream_ well that was until I was given an assignment that was quite different.
My lecturer tasked everybody in the class to individually “Write a research paper on the effects of climate change in the bird ecosystem”
I remember laughing at first. I wasn’t alone too. We all thought it was a joke. Turns out it wasn’t. My lecturer was so serious, he slapped a 20 marks tag on the assignment. Anyway, after hours scouring the internet, yelling at my google assistant, several coffee-fueled nights and rowdy group meetings, I was able to come up with something slightly resembling a research paper. I ended up with only 7 marks for my trouble, but I was bursting with pride. I had single-handedly written my first research paper!!!
Let’s face it, most young people straight from secondary school have no idea what a research paper is or how to go about writing one. This article was written to help the undergraduate with the tricky job of writing his/her first and subsequent research papers.
But first things first, let’s answer the question_
What is a Research Project?
A research project is basically an expanded essay that requires you to present your own interpretation, evaluation or argument. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Good!
Now, with that out of the way. Let’s move on to_
The standard structure of a research paper;
First of all, the introduction!!!! The title page should introduce your research paper to whoever picks it up to read. The title page should contain the:
- Name(s) of the author(s)
- Name and position of the mentor
- Name of the program or course in which the research was completed and the department in which the research was conducted
- Contact information of both author(s) and mentor(s)
- Date of completion.
The abstract should be less than 250 words, you don’t want to spill all you have worked so hard on in this section. Just a short summary will do. Keep it simple and sweet. Your abstract should indicate the:
- Problem to be investigated
- Purpose of the study methods
- Major results
- Interpretations and implications of the results
Nope!!! They don’t want to know your name again!!! This part(introduction) of your research paper should provide the reader with all the background information needed to understand the paper. The author (that’s you) should explain key terms, give historical information on the problem studied, and cite other studies that have obtained relevant results.
This section contains the “CORE” of the paper. It’s the soul of your research paper. Ideally, it should be broken down into further sections such as methods and materials, results, discussion, and conclusion. You should use your discretion in dividing the body in the most natural way. Let it flow. You don’t want your reader to stop reading halfway because your research paper resembles a jigsaw puzzle.
Don’t rest easy just yet!!! This section is important too. Give credit to whom credit is due or risk getting your research paper tossed in the trash. The references page should acknowledge all the resources used for obtaining information. The resource should be cited according to either APA or CBE guidelines. Examples of citations can be found on the submissions page of the website.
This section is devoted to thanking any persons or institutions that made the research possible.
Note that the author should own the research, analysis, and interpretation of all conclusions.
Writing a research paper is beyond the structure, you have to be careful not to make mistakes, there are_
6 Essentials of writing an Effective Undergraduate Research Project
Do the Research
This might seem redundant but, yes, do the research. Most students simply search, copy, edit. That’s very bad practice. Effective research will be your ticket to success, no matter how good of a writer you are. It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about the topic, if you don’t cite your argument and findings, your paper will be viewed as an opinion piece or simply plagiarism.
It may go without saying but use resources that are from a legitimate source. If you are searching online, only use information from reputable websites to build your argument. The best place to start looking is your university’s library. Not only will they have tons of print sources to use, they will also have access to reputable online resource databases like Google Scholars, newspapers, Academic OneFile, and other scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. The quality of your sources will speak to the quality of your argument.
Develop a Thesis
Use your own curiosity to guide you when coming up with a thesis. You want to choose a thesis that is original but has enough resources on the topic to draw conclusions from. Try to ask a question that warrants deep reflection and can only be answered in a well-thought-out argument. Brainstorm topics when you are first starting out, do some research on your top three or five, and then choose the one that you are most passionate about.
Choose a topic that is relevant to your field of study, is timely, sparks your interest, and is able to be answered in the page limit and time you are given to write the paper. While you don’t want to run out of things to say, you also want to be able to hit all of the main points.
Develop a Framework
Frameworks are very helpful when first starting out. Start out with a one-sentence introduction, jot down phrases of your main points that you want to make, and then finish with a one-sentence conclusion. You will fill it all in later. The purpose of an outline is to get a visual representation of your paper before you start writing so that you can move things around and fill in some of the blanks if you need.
Many people will jump around when they write, so don’t feel like you have to go from beginning to end. Start with the point in your argument that you know most about or write your conclusion first. As long as everything goes together at the end of writing, it doesn’t matter where you start.
Quotes will be the sails to your ship. They allow you to legitimize your argument with published statements from experts in the field. Use quotes sparingly but use them effectively. If you are trying to make a point, for example, state your point, use the quote as evidence for your argument, and always explain the quote in your own words after.
When you use quotes, be sure to use the required format. Look up online guides on how to cite your articles correctly if you are unsure. It would be unfortunate to lose marks for something as simple as a formatting error.
Free Flow Writing
I know what you’re thinking “Writing?” What have I been doing all this time?
Actually, you’ve been laying the groundwork that would allow you to write something magical.
Now is the time to write. All of the knowledge you have gained by researching needs to come out naturally, so just start writing. Don’t think too hard, just write. Proofreading comes later.
Some people call this free writing, and in academic papers, it is no different. Write and write until you run out of things to say. Even if you have to jump around in your argument or aren’t sure how to end a paragraph, go on to the next one. The idea here is to get all of your thoughts down on paper so that you don’t forget something by trying to go in order.
Proofreading and Editing
This is the final step when writing a research paper and you will repeat this process several times. Well, that’s if you want to get a good score. I’ll assume you do.
Editing is part of the revision process as well but try not to get bogged down with correct spelling and sentence structure until the very end. The logic of your argument is more important than what comma goes where.
After the initial proofreading and editing, it’s time to proofread once again, this time be on the lookout for:
- Incomplete sentences
- Dangling modifiers
- Easily confused words (such as to, too, and two)
- Spelling mistakes
- Apostrophes for possessives and plurals
- Quotation rules obeyed
- Comma use
Next, it’s time to give it to a professional proofreader, friend or family to proofread one more time. You don’t have to take their opinions but seeing the research paper from their eyes will allow you to know if the intended message was properly communicated.
Remember, writing is a process, and most writers are never happy with their finished product. In How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, Kurt Vonnegut said, “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.”