Research Papers


This overview of research paper strategies will focus on the type of research paper that uses library resources.

The research paper is a popular academic assignment. Forms of it are also used in various professional fields. The research paper gives you the opportunity to think seriously about some issue. Building on the research of others, you have the opportunity to contribute your own research and insights to a particular question of interest to you. It also gives you practice in important academic skills such as:

  • formulating research questions
  • conducting research
  • managing time
  • organizing information into coherent ideas
  • substantiating arguments with research in the field
  • and presenting insights about the research

Disciplines vary in their ways of conducting research, in writing research papers, and in the form of the final copy. See the Complete Discipline Listing Guide (Purdue OWL) of style guide information, with links to useful resources under each discipline.

Individual instructors may also vary in their expectations of a research paper. It is important that you read the assignment carefully. Writing a research paper can be a very messy and fluid process, and the following is only a representation of commonly used steps.

Two major types of research papers

Argumentative research paper: 

The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which you clearly introduce the topic and inform the audience exactly which stance you intend to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial. To be debatable, someone must be able to argue against your position. For example, “Mozart was a composer” is a fact and cannot be argued against, but “Mozart was the best composer to ever live” is an opinion and can be argued against. 

You would support the thesis throughout the paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade the audience that the interpretation of the situation is viable. 

Analytical research paper: 

The analytical research paper often begins with asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which you have not taken a stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. 

It is not the intent to persuade the audience that your ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, the goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress particular analysis of the topic. 

It is typically not until you have begun the writing process that the thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance. 

Updated June 2022