Planning And Organizing Research Papers

If there's one thing that you should do to have a successful writing experience, it's create a plan for your document. Please watch the video linked below to learn more:

Creating a document plan (14:34 section of the Introduction to Academic Writing video; also available via Academic Writing)

Other resources:

Organizing your report: The pyramid outline

Students in the RRU School of Business learn the pyramiding approach to organizing a document. This resource by the World Bank Group provides similar information in an easy-to-use module, as well as samples and templates. The information provided in the module is another way of explaining the same basic principle as what is provided to School of Business students; if there are any discrepancies between the module and school materials, please follow the instructions or information provided by School of Business instructors.

How to write an undergraduate-level essay or How to write a a graduate-level essay

These guides break down the process involved in writing a paper into 12 steps and direct you to where you can find more information on each step. In particular, please refer to Create the final version of your document plan or Finalize the document plan (the information is the same in both resources, but the pages live in the different guides to writing essays).

Plan writing with PowerPoint

This writing tip explains how PowerPoint slides can be used to develop a document plan and incorporates the information from Create the final version of your document plan or Finalize the document plan. A sample template is available for download and modification.

Two approaches to writing a compare/contrast essay

This resource provides two ways to organize and plan a compare and contrast essay. If this resource doesn't correspond to the instructions for your assignment, please always give preference to the assignment descriptions. If you are unsure if these approaches align with the assignment, please speak with your instructor for further clarification regarding the assignment's instructions.

Outlining a research paper (©2011 Amy L. Stuart, Associate Professor, University of South Florida)

This resource provides an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process for outlining a major research paper or thesis, including suggestions on how to plan the introduction, literature review, analysis, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Project planner (SAGE Research Methods; requires RRU login)

A comprehensive guide to the stages involved in a research project, including defining a project, writing literature reviews, and writing up the final result.

The MBTI types and what they can learn about writing

The approach you use to plan your document will largely be decided by your own learning preferences. This document, adapted by Sandy McIver for MA in Leadership learners, provides an overview of each of the Myers-Briggs preference types and the preferred writing style for the type.

If you don't know your MBTI preference type, there are a number of websites that provide information and self-tests to help you determine your type. However, please keep in mind that the only true MBTI test is one that is provided and reviewed by a trained administrator. Nonetheless, the following websites will provide you with a good starting point from which to identify your own preference type: Keirsey Temperment Sorter®-II, Personality Pathways, or High Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types.

Writing and thinking checklist

This checklist provides many of the key steps/actions/points to consider during the writing process in checklist format. The document is based on an original document created by Dr. Audrey Dallimore (faculty member in the School of Environmental Sustainability), and has been adapted with her permission.

Assignment Calculator

The assignment calculator is a tool that you can use to keep you on track and help you to meet your deadlines. Plug in the start and deadline dates of your assignment, and you'll see a breakdown of the steps to complete the assignment, along with suggested completion dates and relevant resources.

To search for additional information, please visit WriteAnswers and search the FAQs. If you're a RRU student, you can also use the WriteAnswers contact form to send your questions directly to the Writing Centre. We'll send you a private reply as soon as we can, which is typically within one business day of receiving the message.

I.  General Structure

Most paragraphs in an essay parallel the general three-part structure of each section of a research paper and, by extension, the overall research paper, with an introduction, a body that includes facts and analysis, and a conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating the meaning you intend to covey to the reader.

Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.

Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.

Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea. For long paragraphs, you may also want to include a bridge sentence that introduces the next paragraph or section of the paper. In some instances, the bridge sentence can be written in the form of a question. However, use this rhetorical device sparingly, otherwise, ending a lot of paragraphs with a question to lead into the next paragraph sounds cumbersome.

NOTE:  This general structure does not imply that you should not be creative in your writing. Arranging where each element goes in a paragraph can make a paper more engaging for the reader. However, do not be too creative in experimenting with the narrative flow of paragraphs. To do so may distract from the main arguments of your research and weaken the quality of your academic writing.


II.  Development and Organization

Before you can begin to determine what the composition of a particular paragraph will be, you must consider what is the most important idea that you are trying to convey to your reader. This is the "controlling idea," or the thesis statement from which you compose the remainder of the paragraph. In other words, your paragraphs should remind your reader that there is a recurrent relationship between your controlling idea and the information in each paragraph. The research problem functions like a seed from which your paper, and your ideas, will grow. The whole process of paragraph development is an organic one—a natural progression from a seed idea to a full-blown research study where there are direct, familial relationships in the paper between all of  your controlling ideas and the paragraphs which derive from them.

The decision about what to put into your paragraphs begins with brainstorming about how you want to pursue the research problem. There are many techniques for brainstorming but, whichever one you choose, this stage of paragraph development cannot be skipped because it lays a foundation for developing a set of paragraphs [representing a section of your paper] that describes a specific element of your overall analysis. Each section is described further in this writing guide.

Given these factors, every paragraph in a paper should be:

  • Unified—All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single controlling idea [often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph].
  • Clearly related to the research problem—The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or the thesis, of the paper.
  • Coherent—The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development.
  • Well-developed—Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph's controlling idea.

There are many different ways you can organize a paragraph. However, the organization you choose will depend on the controlling idea of the paragraph. Ways to organize a paragraph in academic writing include:

  • Narrative: Tell a story. Go chronologically, from start to finish.
  • Descriptive: Provide specific details about what something looks or feels like. Organize spatially, in order of appearance, or by topic.
  • Process: Explain step by step how something works. Perhaps follow a sequence—first, second, third.
  • Classification: Separate into groups or explain the various parts of a topic.
  • Illustrative: Give examples and explain how those examples prove your point.

Arnaudet, Martin L. and Mary Ellen Barrett. Paragraph Development: A Guide for Students of English. 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents, 1990; On Paragraphs. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Organization: General Guidelines for Paragraphing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; The Paragraph. The Writing Center. Pasadena City College; Paragraph Structure. Effective Writing Center. University of Maryland; Paragraphs. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Paragraphs. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Paragraphs. University Writing Center. Texas A&M University; Paragraphs and Topic Sentences. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Weissberg, Robert C. “Given and New: Paragraph Development Models from Scientific English.” TESOL Quarterly 18 (September 1984): 485-500.

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