How to do a research project for your academic study
Writing a research report is part of most university degrees, so it is essential you know what one is and how to write one. This guide on how to do a research project for your university degree shows you what to do at each stage, taking you from planning to finishing the project.
What is a research project?
The big question is: what is a research project? A research project for students is an extended essay that presents a question or statement for analysis and evaluation. During a research project, you will present your own ideas and research on a subject alongside analysing existing knowledge.
How to write a research report
The next section covers the research project steps necessary to producing a research paper.
Developing a research question or statement
Research project topics will vary depending on the course you study. The best research project ideas develop from areas you already have an interest in and where you have existing knowledge.
The area of study needs to be specific as it will be much easier to cover fully. If your topic is too broad, you are at risk of not having an in-depth project. You can, however, also make your topic too narrow and there will not be enough research to be done. To make sure you don’t run into either of these problems, it’s a great idea to create sub-topics and questions to ensure you are able to complete suitable research.
A research project example question would be: How will modern technologies change the way of teaching in the future?
Finding and evaluating sources
Secondary research is a large part of your research project as it makes up the literature review section. It is essential to use credible sources as failing to do so may decrease the validity of your research project.
Examples of secondary research include:
- Peer-reviewed journals
- Scholarly articles
Great places to find your sources are the University library and Google Scholar. Both will give you many opportunities to find the credible sources you need. However, you need to make sure you are evaluating whether they are fit for purpose before including them in your research project as you do not want to include out of date information.
When evaluating sources, you need to ask yourself:
- Is the information provided by an expert?
- How well does the source answer the research question?
- What does the source contribute to its field?
- Is the source valid? e.g. does it contain bias and is the information up-to-date?
It is important to ensure that you have a variety of sources in order to avoid bias. A successful research paper will present more than one point of view and the best way to do this is to not rely too heavily on just one author or publication.
For a research project, you will need to conduct primary research. This is the original research you will gather to further develop your research project. The most common types of primary research are interviews and surveys as these allow for many and varied results.
Examples of primary research include:
- Interviews and surveys
- Focus groups
- Research diaries
If you are looking to study in the UK and have an interest in bettering your research skills, The University of Sheffield is a world top 100 research university which will provide great research opportunities and resources for your project.
Research report format
Now that you understand the basics of how to write a research project, you now need to look at what goes into each section. The research project format is just as important as the research itself. Without a clear structure you will not be able to present your findings concisely.
A research paper is made up of seven sections: introduction, literature review, methodology, findings and results, discussion, conclusion, and references. You need to make sure you are including a list of correctly cited references to avoid accusations of plagiarism.
The introduction is where you will present your hypothesis and provide context for why you are doing the project. Here you will include relevant background information, present your research aims and explain why the research is important.
The literature review is where you will analyse and evaluate existing research within your subject area. This section is where your secondary research will be presented. A literature review is an integral part of your research project as it brings validity to your research aims.
What to include when writing your literature review:
- A description of the publications
- A summary of the main points
- An evaluation on the contribution to the area of study
- Potential flaws and gaps in the research
The research paper methodology outlines the process of your data collection. This is where you will present your primary research. The aim of the methodology section is to answer two questions:
- Why did you select the research methods you used?
- How do these methods contribute towards your research hypothesis?
In this section you will not be writing about your findings, but the ways in which you are going to try and achieve them. You need to state whether your methodology will be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed.
- Qualitative – first hand observations such as interviews, focus groups, case studies and questionnaires. The data collected will generally be non-numerical.
- Quantitative – research that deals in numbers and logic. The data collected will focus on statistics and numerical patterns.
- Mixed – includes both quantitative and qualitative research.
The methodology section should always be written in the past tense, even if you have already started your data collection.
Findings and results
In this section you will present the findings and results of your primary research. Here you will give a concise and factual summary of your findings using tables and graphs where appropriate.
The discussion section is where you will talk about your findings in detail. Here you need to relate your results to your hypothesis, explaining what you found out and the significance of the research.
It is a good idea to talk about any areas with disappointing or surprising results and address the limitations within the research project. This will balance your project and steer you away from bias.
Some questions to consider when writing your discussion:
- To what extent was the hypothesis supported?
- Was your research method appropriate?
- Was there unexpected data that affected your results?
- To what extent was your research validated by other sources?
The conclusion is where you will bring your research project to a close. In this section you will not only be restating your research aims and how you achieved them, but also discussing the wider significance of your research project. You will talk about the successes and failures of the project, and how you would approach further study.
It is essential you do not bring any new ideas into your conclusion; this section is used only to summarise what you have already stated in the project.
As a research project is your own ideas blended with information and research from existing knowledge, you must include a list of correctly cited references. Creating a list of references will allow the reader to easily evaluate the quality of your secondary research whilst also saving you from potential plagiarism accusations.
The way in which you cite your sources will vary depending on the university standard.
If you are an international student looking to study a degree in the UK, The University of Sheffield International College has a range of pathway programmes to prepare you for university study. Undertaking a Research Project is one of the core modules for the Pre-Masters programme at The University of Sheffield International College.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best topic for research?
It’s a good idea to choose a topic you have existing knowledge on, or one that you are interested in. This will make the research process easier; as you have an idea of where and what to look for in your sources, as well as more enjoyable as it’s a topic you want to know more about.
What should a research project include?
There are seven main sections to a research project, these are:
- Introduction – the aims of the project and what you hope to achieve
- Literature review – evaluating and reviewing existing knowledge on the topic
- Methodology – the methods you will use for your primary research
- Findings and results – presenting the data from your primary research
- Discussion – summarising and analysing your research and what you have found out
- Conclusion – how the project went (successes and failures), areas for future study
- List of references – correctly cited sources that have been used throughout the project.
How long is a research project?
The length of a research project will depend on the level study and the nature of the subject. There is no one length for research papers, however the average dissertation style essay can be anywhere from 4,000 to 15,000+ words.