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Writing a Communications Research Paper: The Complete Guide

A research paper is a typical form in which scientists from all disciplines demonstrate the results of their independent work. There is no standardized word count – a research paper is as long as is necessary to get the author’s point across. However, usually, they are fairly large – 4000 words and upwards, so be ready to put a lot of time and effort in this task.

A research paper is usually supposed to be published in an academic journal and subjected to peer review – i.e., it will be read by other specialists in the field who will evaluate whether it contributes anything to the existing body of research, whether your methodology is sound, whether you use proper evidence and so on.

You should be interested in learning how to write this kind of paper not just to receive a good grade right now – if you consider pursuing an academic career after graduation, the research paper is going to be your primary tool, so mastering it early on is certainly a good idea.

Prior to Writing

Select the Topic: What Our Writers Suggest

Students are given research papers to write in order to test their ability to work on their own, to conduct research independently, without the oversight and assistance of instructors. That is why you will usually have more or less complete freedom of choice when it comes to selecting a topic. Defining the direction is a part of the research, and you have to learn to do it yourself. Nevertheless, you will have to discuss your topic with your instructor after you’ve decided upon it – both to see if it complies with the requirements of the assignment and college’s guidelines and to get some advice. Instructors know more about such things from their experience, and sometimes students take topics that will be extremely difficult to write about, making their job unnecessarily difficult without knowing it.
A well-chosen topic is a cornerstone of every high-quality communications research paper, so don’t try to get over this step quickly and give the selection a lot of thought. Here are some suggestions to help you get through it:

  • Go through the topics that have any personal interest to you. It is an especially good choice if you know something beyond your communications course about any of them – this will free you time and effort that would otherwise be used to look for sources of information on them;
  • When you’ve found a topic that you like, take some time to study the sources on it, lest you end up with a topic that has just a couple of second-rate sources to go with. Academic search tools like Google Scholar and EBSCO Academic Search can be indispensable for this. How many sources you are going to need depends on the requirements and guidelines of your assignment. According to the most common rule of the thumb, you should have at least one source per every standard page of your research paper;
  • Try to pick a topic that both has enough research dealing with it (to give you something to work with) and enough blank areas to give you an opportunity to research them;
  • Make sure your topic is narrow enough. Writing research papers is all about digging deep, not wide – you should select a relatively narrow area and provide an exhaustive analysis and research of it. “Development of Communication Skills in Children” is way too broad a topic. “Main Factors Contributing to the Development of Communication Skills in Children Ages 3 to 5” is much better, although you may look for something even more specific;
  • Consult your instructor. He may suggest that you alter your topic or choose another one altogether. Usually, it is in your best interests to follow these suggestions even if you don’t see the reason behind them right now.

Here are some suggestions so that you can see what you should look for:

  • The Role of Depression in Diminishing One’s Communication Skills;
  • Divorce as an Example of Communication Breakdown;
  • The Role of Effective Communication on Business Growth in American Companies;
  • Gender and the Styles of Interpersonal Communication in Teenagers;
  • Deception in Interpersonal Relations.

Write the Thesis Statement

Simplifying it a bit, a thesis statement is the general idea behind your research paper condensed to a single sentence (sometimes two sentences, but no more). You should, however, differentiate between the topic of the paper, the research question and the thesis statement:

  • The topic is your basic area of research and analysis, e.g., “Depression and Communication”;
  • The research question is the question you ask in the beginning of the paper and try to answer with your research, e.g., “Does depression influence one’s communication skills?”;
  • The thesis statement serves as the answer to this question, e.g. “Depression severely limits both one’s communication skills and the desire to seek communication”.

The thesis statement should be located at the beginning of your communications research paper, immediately after the first few introductory sentences. In addition to that, it should be:

  • Precise – use direct, single-meaning words, simple and easily understandable sentence structures. Reread the thesis statement a few times to make sure it is impossible to misunderstand it;
  • Narrow in scope – it should concentrate on a single issue without spreading itself thin over several questions. If you find it impossible to avoid introducing the second point, probably your entire paper lacks focus;
  • Well-worded – avoid awkward and artificial structures like “The purpose of my paper is…” You should introduce your thesis statement naturally;
  • Flexible – if in the course of writing you feel that your perception of the topic shifts, you should be ready to alter the thesis statement accordingly.

Gather the Sources

The main goal of a communications research paper is to do independent research and present your findings to the academic community. However, You cannot do without the existing research on the subject, as no academic work exists in complete isolation from other works on the same topic. They are all connected with the strings of references and quotations, and the more of these strings lead from your paper to trustworthy sources, the more valuable your paper is considered to be.
Most of the sources you use should come from peer-reviewed academic journals on the subject of communications, because they are believed to be by far the sources of highest quality. Other types (books, newspapers, websites, etc.) are also accepted, but should be taken with a grain of salt – not all of them are valuable and trustworthy.
If you don’t know much about the subject matter of your research paper, finding the first few sources is going to be difficult. Here are a few suggestions for where you can start out:

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
  • Books mentioned in the reference section of your textbook will be a good start. Check their authors as well – they may have other publications on similar topics to their names;
  • Check online academic search tools and databases. We have already mentioned Google Scholar and EBSCO; you may also try JSTOR, PsycInfo, PubPsych and many others; at least some of them are bound to lead you to useful sources of information;
  • After the first two steps, you already should have some notion of who are considered to be the most important authorities on the topic you write about. Concentrate your further search on their other books and publications;
  • Look through the Works Cited sections of all the sources you’ve already found. Although the authors of these papers weren’t writing on your precise topic, there should be some overlap points where you may find something useful;
  • Use online academic search tools using keywords related to your topic. You are bound to uncover some sources that have eluded you so far.

When selecting a source, pay attention to how many times it has been cited in other peer-reviewed papers. This number can serve as a good indication of the paper’s quality and authority. However, take it into account that recent publications probably don’t have enough time to gather enough references.

Write the Outline

The outline is a plan that guarantees that your paper is logically organized and that you don’t forget to mention anything you’ve intended to. Naturally, it repeats the intended structure of your paper, which can vary depending on the specifics of your assignment, but generally follows more or less the same lines:

  1. Introduction
    • ‘Hook’ – the sentence aiming to fixate the reader’s attention on the paper and lead up to the thesis statement;
    • Thesis statement – we’ve already covered it;
    • Background info – if necessary, you can provide additional information on the subject so that reader better navigates it;
  2. Body paragraphs. Each of them should be written in this way:
    • Introduction of a new point;
    • Supporting evidence;
    • How does it all relate to the thesis statement;
    • Logical lead-up to the next point;
  3. Conclusion:
    • Summary of everything said so far;
    • Recommendations for the future research on this topic.

Having an outline prevents you from forgetting things and vice versa, from being repetitive. If you know for sure what and where you intend to mention, mistakes are not possible.
There are two types of outlines:

  • Informal – it is basically your own personal plan, not intended to be shared with anybody. Write it in any way that is convenient for you. Even a few lines on a piece of paper torn from a notebook will do;
  • Formal – sometimes you are asked to submit an outline along with the paper. In this case, you will need to follow a specific format. Either find one online or consult your instructor as to how you should do it.

Writing and Revising

General Communications Research Paper Writing Tips

  • Use precise scientific language. Under no circumstances include jargonisms, slang or colloquial expressions into your speech;
  • Be fair towards the existing and potential opposition. The purpose of a communications research paper is to prove your point in honest scientific comparison with other theories and hypotheses, not to obfuscate the subject matter so that your point of view looks to be an optimal one. Your point of view will be opposed, and if you don’t prepare to it from the get go, your argument will be crushed by the peer review;
  • Don’t introduce more than one idea per paragraph;
  • Keep most of your sentences short, but try not to make their length uniform. On average, a sentence should be 20-25 words long, but don’t forget to intersperse your writing with both shorter and longer ones so that it doesn’t feel too monotonous;
  • Avoid passive voice wherever possible. While some students believe that passive voice makes writing more serious and elevated, in truth the only thing it adds is boredom. Sentences in the passive voice, especially if they are long and there are many of them, are also relatively hard to understand when compared to the ones in active voice;
  • Don’t try to diversify your language with synonyms, especially when dealing with scientific terms.

Revising Your Paper

  • No paper (at least no good paper) is written in a single draft. If you find it necessary to change things, replace whole passages or even start writing afresh, do it;
  • Check if it is always obvious which pronouns refer to what. If you find the result ambiguous, replace the problematic pronoun with a noun or a noun phrase. Don’t worry if it makes your writing too cumbersome and repetitive – your job is to make it understandable first and beautiful only when possible;
  • Don’t get too attached to anything. You may be unwilling to cut an especially well-written phrase or passage, but if it doesn’t fit into the overall structure of your paper it has to go;
  • Eliminate redundant words. Phrases like “to introduce a change”, “to do business”, “to make alterations” can and should be rephrased to use simple verbs. The same goes for weak modifiers like “really”, “quite”, “normally”, etc. They don’t add any meaning to your paper and have no place in scientific writing.

We hope that this communications research paper guide will serve you well in the difficult and long job of writing a research paper on communication. Good luck!