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A Complete Guide to Writing a Marketing Research Paper

A research paper in marketing is a fairly large academic work aimed to be published in a scholarly journal, magazine or other type of publication. The quality of research and findings presented in it are evaluated by peer review, which means that you have to make arrangements for potential counterarguments and objections. Research papers are one of the most widespread ways of sharing your progress with academic community – if you don’t intend to get a job in marketing but are going to continue a career of academic research you will have to learn how to write this kind of papers sooner rather than later. This marketing research paper writing guide will help you with it.

What to Do Before You Start Writing: Our Experts Advise

Choosing a Topic

The primary purpose of a research paper as a university assignment is to evaluate the student’s ability to use relevant sources of information, think independently, analyze data, make original conclusions and prove his point of view with viable evidence. Therefore, you will mostly be given a free rein in terms of topic choice, and you should use this freedom to its fullest.

  • Do you have personal interests in the sphere of marketing? Perhaps you’ve heard about a marketing-related event that can serve as a basis for your paper? Have you read anything beyond the basic course that can produce a positive impression on your professor? It is always worth finding a topic you are interested in or even passionate about;
  • Once you’ve defined the general direction of your paper, try narrowing it down. For example, “Walmart’s Marketing Campaigns” is way too broad and vague. “Shopper Events: the New Approach to the Practice of Sampling” is much more focused;
  • If you cannot invent a topic of your own, try looking through the titles of business and marketing literature in one of the online academic databases (e.g., Euromonitor International or Business Source Complete). You don’t have to limit your search to thematic databases, as marketing is closely connected to many other disciplines. For example, PsycInfo offers abstracts and citations to the scholarly literature on behavioral sciences, including an impressive collection of materials on marketing and business;
  • Going through the literature will help you select a topic that is both sufficiently well-researched to have enough sources to draw upon and leaves you enough breathing room to do your own work. This will prevent you from repeating the research topics of the authors you’ve missed.

So what kinds of topics should you be looking for? Here are a few examples:

  • Private Labels vs. Popular Brands: How Can These Products Coexist in a Single Store?
  • Effects of Gender on Family Buying Behavior;
  • Factors Influencing Positive and Negative Word of Mouth Advertising in Café Industry;
  • Methods Used by Companies to Facilitate Impulse Purchases;
  • Client reaction to Unethical Behavior on the Retailer’s Part;
  • Deceptive Advertising and Its Effects on Customer loyalty in Electronics Industry.

Doing Market Research

Most marketing assignments, research papers included, deal with specific situations and case studies. To evaluate them properly you have to precede your work with market research carried out in a uniform fashion:

  • Market survey – gather relevant statistical and unquantifiable data from a test group of consumers. These may be either random people or selected according to a certain principle;
  • Situational analysis – you analyze the situation of the company in question: where it stands, what are its problems, what causes them and so on. Again, you have to use clearly defined tools to do so, such as PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Ethical and Legal) and SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat) Analysis. These are exactly what it says on the tin: they successively evaluate the situation from these points of view to build a bigger picture;
  • Marketing strategy – based on your findings, suggest an effective strategy based on 4 Ps (Product, Price, Promotion and Place).

research process

Formulating Your Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the gist of your research paper, its main point expressed in one or two sentences. Beginner writers often make a mistake of mixing it up with the topic or research question. There is, however, a clear distinction between them:

  • Topic broadly delineates the field of research, e.g. “Brand awareness”;
  • Research question is what your paper aims to address and answer, e.g., “To what extent does brand awareness influence customer loyalty?”;
  • Thesis statement is your answer to that question, e.g., “Brand awareness plays a pivotal role in forming customer loyalty”.

Thesis statement is a defining part of your research paper and should be a part of the introduction. Ideally, you should place it in the first or second paragraph, right after you attract the reader’s attention with the first several sentences. The rest of the paper should be dedicated solely to proving the point it expresses, so make sure to align the thesis statement and body paragraphs to correspond to each other.

Dealing with Sources

Every research paper should maintain a precarious balance between original findings and connections with existing body of research on the subject. On the one hand, you have to produce results that haven’t been presented to peer review by anybody else. On the other hand, you have to build upon works of other researchers.

Information sources can be subdivided into groups based on several principles, but the most important are these:

Low- and High Quality Sources
Low-quality sources are those that contain unverified and unverifiable information and demonstrate signs of subjectivity and author’s agenda: mass media, Internet resources, most books, etc. You can use them, but treat them as more of a supplement than a real source of information you depend on.

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?

High-quality sources are primarily peer-reviewed articles in scholarly publications. A good indication of the source’s authority is how many times it has been cited in peer-reviewed literature so far (you can find this information in most indexing databases). However, don’t decide to use or not to use a source based on this factor alone – a recent article, even if it is very high-quality, will naturally have fewer mentions than an older one.

Primary and Secondary Sources
Primary sources deal directly with their subject – they are, e.g., documents, statistical data, experiment results and so on.

Secondary sources research, cite on and analyze the primary ones. They are not worse than primary sources, they are simply used for a different purpose. A good research paper should contain a balanced selection of both types.

Finding the necessary sources gets easier as you become acquainted with your topic, but in the beginning it can be quite problematic. Here are some good ways to organize your search:

  • Your marketing textbook should have a bibliography section. Look through the sources cited in the chapter/chapters dealing with the subject you are writing about – it is a good place to start;
  • Look through online databases like the aforementioned Euromonitor and Business Source Complete. Multidisciplinary resources like Google Scholar and Academic Search Complete are also quite comprehensive;
  • Study the Works Cited sections of the sources that have been most useful to you so far. Important point concerning using such sources: you should either locate them and use in their original form or introduce them with words “as cited in …”. Don’t pretend to have read the books you haven’t even seen in reality – it will be immediately obvious to anybody more or less familiar with the topic;
  • By now, you should have an idea on who are the main authorities in your chosen field of research. Try locating their other works and see if they can be useful as well.

Outline

Outline is a detailed plan of your research paper. If you boil down your text to its most essential parts, this is what is going to remain. If you put enough work into an outline, you will be able to structure your thoughts and putting them on paper won’t take nearly as much time as usual. So, what you should mention in your outline?

  1. Introduction – what information does the reader need to properly understand your paper?
    • Hook – how you are going to grasp the reader’s attention;
    • Thesis statement – write it down in its entirety, as well as how you are going to lead up to it from the hook;
    • Additional information, if necessary.
  2. Body paragraphs – make sure you introduce one major point per paragraph and provide logical connections between them and the main point of your paper. Don’t forget to give the reader viable evidence in support of each of these points.
  3. Conclusion – here you should restate the thesis and make suggestions for further research and what can be done to alleviate or improve the marketing situation you’ve discussed.

Writing Tips

  • Give yourself plenty of time. You won’t write a good research paper in a single draft, so be ready to change entire sections, cut unnecessary parts and, in extreme cases, rewrite the entire thing from scratch.
  • Avoid colloquial expressions and sentence structures (such as contractions). Marketing may be less academic and more down-to-earth than many other disciplines, but it doesn’t mean that you should use informal language when writing about it.
  • Avoid passive voice unless it is absolutely necessary. Some student writers believe passive voice to be more serious and stylistically scientific, but it is a misconception. The only thing it will do for your writing is make it cumbersome, hard to understand and prone to grammar mistakes.
  • Don’t use first person. A marketing paper should be fully objective, and first person is only used when talking about personal experiences. Even if you describe your own work, experiments and interviews, try to make it sound impersonal to avoid being accused of subjectivity.
  • Avoid overly emotional and unfair evaluations. When writing about marketing you will often describe situations in which people made suboptimal decisions that led to huge losses. Treat people and companies that made them fairly – for some reason, they considered this approach right in their situation given the information they had at the time and didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.
  • Vary the length of your sentences. It is often suggested that sentences in academic papers should be about 25 to 30 words long, but don’t try to bring every sentence to common denominator. Intersperse longer and shorter ones to make your text look more alive.

Post-Writing Tips

Experienced writers know after a paper is finished, there is still a lot of work to be done, and its success depends on this work just as much as on writing per se. There are two stages you should take care of: checking your paper’s formatting and revising it.

Bringing the Paper in Compliance with Formatting Requirements

Marketing courses use both MLA and APA styles, although APA is a little bit more common. This doesn’t mean that you can use whichever you like – the choice falls to your professor, so make sure to ask them about it. All the information about formatting can be found in official style guides or one of many online resources dedicated to helping students with them. There are too many rules and specific situations they deal with, so it is impossible to give any specific recommendations here. When in doubt, consult a respective style guide, if still in doubt, ask your professor.

Revision

There are many tricks that make up for an effective revision, but the most useful one is probably to prepare a checklist to go through when you reach this stage. Reread your paper asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do all structure elements perform their functions?
  • Are paper parts interconnected logically?
  • Does every paragraph cover a single point only?
  • Have you missed anything when summing things up in conclusion?
  • Do you use words that are too complex to make your paper more scientific?
  • If you were somebody else, would you understand everything you are trying to say the first time you read the paper?
  • Cut all unnecessary words. The rule of a thumb is that if you can understand the point without a word (sentence, group of sentences, paragraph), it should be removed.

Using these marketing research paper writing tips won’t turn you into a professional marketing writer overnight, but they certainly will help you get into the spirit of the thing.