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General Research Paper Guidelines: Home

Basics of Research Papers

At some point in your academic tenure, you will be asked to write a research paper. A research paper combines two fundamental elements of academic writing: (a) analyzing and synthesizing outside evidence and (b) providing your own evidence-based interpretation or argument about a given topic within your field of study.

Generally, research papers in the social sciences are organized to include an abstract, introduction, literature review, methods section, results section, and discussion section. However, despite these general components, research paper requirements may vary based on the scope and particular assignment guidelines provided by your instructor or within your competency. As a result, make sure that specific assignment and/or instructor requirements supersede the general guidelines included here.

Note: These guidelines do not refer to a doctoral capstone study. If you are writing your doctoral capstone study, be sure to refer to resources on the Doctoral Capstone Form and Style website and email any questions to the editors at


Most social science research manuscripts contain the same general organizational elements:

  1. Title 

  2. Abstract 

  3. Introduction 

  4. Literature Review 

  5. Methods 

  6. Results 

  7. Discussion 

  8. References 

  9. Appendices

Note that the presentation follows a certain logic: in the introduction one presents the issue under consideration; in the literature review, one presents what is already known about the topic (thus providing a context for the discussion), identifies gaps, and presents one’s approach; in the methods section, one identifies the method used to gather data; in the results and discussion sections, one then presents and explains the results in an objective manner, acknowledging the limitations of the study (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020). One may end with a presentation of the implications of the study and areas upon which other researchers might focus.

For a detailed explanation of typical research paper organization and content, be sure to review Table 3.1 (pp. 77-81) and Table 3.2 (pp. 95-99) of your 7th edition APA manual.