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Like most researchers, political scientists tend to analyse a situation or a set of behaviours to then extract something from their findings that could considerably alter our perception of the topic. In order to accomplish this, they carry out extensive work through a research paper. A research paper is a first-hand guideline and account of the various phases of a certain study or experiment. Do not be fooled, both carrying out research and analysing it can take quite some time and is therefore no easy task. A research paper does, however, typically follow one layout which is quite straightforward and can be divided into: research question, literature review, hypothesis, method, data and findings or conclusion. Once you learn this layout, a research paper will definitely seem like a less daunting task!
A research question is the main question that your paper will endeavour to answer. It is usually quite a specific question which you decide on after doing a decent amount of reading on the topic you’ve chosen to study. For example, ‘ Why are young people less inclined to vote’ is a question which has already produced many papers in political behaviour so something a bit more specific like ‘has party de-alignment contributed to the decline in youths voting?’ is slightly more original. When I had to write my first research proposal (which is slightly different from a research paper as you don’t actually carry out the research, you just propose a question, literature review, hypothesis and method) I spent the majority of my time perfecting the question! Your research question should preferably be empirical – ‘ what happened and why?’ – rather than normative– ‘what should happen and why?’ .
A literature review is written after you have ready all the necessary academic journals, books and research papers on your topic. Generally, each paragraph will address a different topic related to your question and you should try to cover as many author’s as possible – if authors express conflicting opinions on the topic that is great as it gives the reader a sample of the topical debate. If my research proposal is designed to be 3000 words long, I would usually spend 800-1000 words on the literature review.
The hypothesis is your own thesis in which you predict what your findings will be. It is wise to have two hypotheses and also consider what would happen if your findings contradict or dismiss your hypothesis. For example, if in the research paper your hypothesis was that partisan de-alignment influences the decline in voting but your research provides no guarantee that there is any link (causal mechanism) between party de-alignment and voting (also known as variables A and B in a research paper) this may mean that political scientists should focus on considering other causes which may influence voting.
The method section is designed for you to state how you intend on carrying out the research. There are many ways you can do this: from surveys or control groups to polls, from interviews to analysing a collection of existing data from other authors. This section will specify which type of data you will be using and will also set the layout for the next part of your research paper.
Data and Conclusion:
In the data section you’ll typically collect all the gather all the data you have used and demonstrate how it either validates or contradicts your hypothesis. Finally, the conclusion is the area in which you’ll summarise your journey and explicitly explain what you found when carrying out tests.
All this information may seem overwhelming so reading the following article – in which I present an example or a research paper – may help you understand more. The great thing about this layout is that it can be applied to many subjects, not just politics, so once you think you’re ready why not comment below with your own potential research questions on a topic you find most interesting!
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