Research and Writing
Five Characteristics of a Good Research Paper
1. A good research paper defends a thesis. Your paper must possess a thesis.
Your paper should not merely share a narrative or be a regurgitation of facts. You must state that which the rest of the paper sets out to prove. Generally it shows up in the introduction and the conclusion. In the introduction you introduce your thesis and the methodology by which you intend to prove it. In the conclusion, you restate your thesis and how you have proven it in the preceding portion of the research paper.
2. A good research paper displays significance. In general, your paper must answer the question, "so what?"
In some way, the writer must press upon his or her readers the urgency of the topic under consideration. Why should this even matter to the reader? This question is important in holding the interest of the reader.
3. A good research paper defers to the ongoing conversation. Specifically, your research paper must contribute to or fit into the broader conversation involving the topic.
Your paper is not the first and last treatise to be written on your topic; therefore, it behooves you to show how your topic fits into the ongoing conversation. Ask the question, "How does this relate to what was said before?" and "How does this influence the direction for future research?" Granted, oftentimes the undergraduate paper will merely champion the cause of some already developed thesis, but even the significance of this borrowed thesis should be borne out in the paper.
4. A good research paper demonstrates well documented research (i.e parenthetical notes, endnotes, or footnotes). Your paper must show your research "tracks."
Research builds upon research, so, help out those who come after you. You should provide references to those ideas in your paper that are not common knowledge and not your own. You need to leave these in a sort of "breadcrumb" fashion so that subsequent researches can follow your research trail either to confirm, contradict, or contribute to your thesis. Help those who come after you by documenting your research.
5. A good research paper demands a clear and concise writing style. Your research paper must not bore your reader.
Use active voice with action verbs. Avoid passive voice and being verbs. Organize your paper into a well-constructed presentation of your topic coupled with the argument for your thesis. Try to say things in fewer words. Avoid verbosity (i.e. wordiness). More words and longer words do not necessarily contribute to the clarity of your paper. Well-chosen words that reflect a firm grasp of English vocabulary, in both denotative and connotative senses, remains the firm ally of the writer. Learn the precise meaning of words and their exact shade of meaning in order to supply the most fitting prose in your paper. For a handy grasp of this sort of writing consult William Strunk and E. B. White's (remember Charlotte's Web and The Once and Future King?) The Elements of Style. If you want to get more philosophical about this, consult Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say.