The Research Paper
There is a standard format for all research reports, whether they are of the natural or social sciences. The ultimate goal is to test hypotheses, to test predictions derived from one’s theory and built upon the findings of others. The structure of the research paper reflects the profound relationship between theory and fact. On the other hand, theories without facts are meaningless. The premise of science is the authority of experiment and observation over reason, ideology, and intuition. Finally, it is worth stressing that the evaluation of your paper will never be determined by whether or not your hypotheses are verified. It is important to remember that a hypothesis supported by the data does not mean that it is true as there may be an infinite number of other theories that lead to the same prediction. Similarly, failure of support does not necessarily mean that your hypothesis is wrong: it may hold true in some populations. Basically, negative results can be every bit as important as positive ones because they still tell us a great deal of information.
I expect clear and polished papers, not something that reads as if it were a last-minute, late Sunday night effort. Your spelling, grammar, and syntax should be correct. The outline of your papers should be organized as shown below, and you must have the headings.
Outline for the Paper
Statement of Problem
Describe precisely what you intend to show/argue and why. Is your research problem addressing a significant social problem, or is it testing some theoretical hypothesis, such as Marxist argument that high levels of television viewing make people feel powerless? In this section, you should first grab the attention and interest of your readers, and secondly introduce the problem to be studied. You may consider using a rich illustration of the phenomenon you are studying. Remember, a research paper is not an essay or a generalization that you make. Strive to be value-free in your inquiry. A social science research paper is not an editorial piece where one advocates one’s own beliefs.
The success of any science depends on asking the right questions. What distinguishes good questions from bad? In part, good questions advance knowledge about significant issues, issues that are timely (e.g., why the growing homicide rates of American adolescents), that advance our ability to predict future events, that test theoretical hypotheses, or resolve contradictory theoretical predictions. Since you are limited to what you can ask, I will not grade down a paper that does not have a timely issue.
Review of literature and Development of Hypotheses
What have others found regarding your research question? From their findings, coupled with your theory, develop a logical argument that leads to the statements of your hypotheses. You will need to have one hypothesis. Your hypothesis should be the conclusion of the Review section.
In writing this section you want to weave the arguments and findings of others into your own arguments. Take extreme care to avoid plagiarizing; make sure you give credit to the author, and if in doubt – quote and cite. Be sure to define key concepts; your reader may not know anything about your topic. You will need at least two resources. You may have more than two resources, and I do not care from where they come: the internet, books, magazines, journal articles, and so on.
Describe the sample, (the GSS) and the variables used to test your hypotheses. One should give just enough information here so that others can replicate your procedures. Why? An example of what you could say about your sample would be: I used the results that I found in the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of a cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized adults who speak either English or Spanish, eighteen years of age or older. The preferred interview mode is in person interviews; however, a few interviews will be done by telephone in the event that an in person contact cannot be scheduled.
What question did you use from the GSS? You may critique the question asked and possible inferences that might be made about it, such as: What you think people imagined when they read the question, or if it was a good question. An example of this could be: The first GSS variable is sex with a person other than your spouse as the Independent Variable and the respondents had four choices: Always Wrong, Almost Always Wrong, Sometimes Wrong, and Not Wrong At All (GSS 2010). My second GSS variable is general happiness as my Dependent Variable and respondent’s had three choices: Very Happy, Pretty Happy, and Not Too Happy (GSS 2018).
In this section you present those results that specifically address your hypotheses. First, present and discuss the marginal, that is, the percentages of respondents falling into each category of all of your categorical variables. For example, the marginals of the dependent variable, euthanasia, might be that nearly two – thirds (64%) of Americans approve. This summary statistic of euthanasia provides a baseline for later analyses. Example: Responses to the variable, euthanasia revealed that individuals were more than twice as likely to agree as oppose to disagree. Interestingly, although numerous professional books and journal article on the subject detail considerable ambiguities and numerous moral shades of gray, only 5% of the public admitted not knowing where they stand on the issue. You should have graphs in this section of your paper. Use the graphs that you think are best for what you would like your reader to see.
If your variables are continuous, present their mean values. For example, to the question of how much television individuals watch daily, respondents in our sample reported watching a mean of 2.87 hours (median hours = 2.39 hours; standard deviation = 2.04).
Next you should consider the relationship between each dependent variable and independent variable of your hypotheses. These relationships should be presented in a table, i.e. a cross tab. Example:
Table 1: Religiosity by responses to Euthanasia
In table 1, it is evident that the more religious one is, the less likely one supports euthanasia (Gamma = .52). Those having no religious affiliation are 80% more likely to support hastened death than are those who reported being strongly religious.
Given what you have found, what is the status of your hypotheses? Can it be improved? What should other researchers look for, given what you have found? The discussion section can also feature related findings, not directly related to the hypotheses being tested. For instance, the relationship between religiosity and euthanasia attitudes may be found to show more dramatic reversals among individuals who have experienced a recent death of a significant other. You may not have thought of that before your research, but now it seems obvious.
Since this is too often the only part of a paper that some individuals read it is important to repeat what you intended to discover and what, in fact, you found.
At the end of your paper include (alphabetically by first authors’ last names) all materials cited in your paper.