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How To Write A Research Paper

Step-By-Step Tutorial With Examples + FREE Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | March 2024

For many students, crafting a strong research paper from scratch can feel like a daunting task – and rightly so! In this post, we’ll unpack what a research paper is, what it needs to do , and how to write one – in three easy steps. 🙂 

Overview: Writing A Research Paper

What (exactly) is a research paper.

  • How to write a research paper
  • Stage 1 : Topic & literature search
  • Stage 2 : Structure & outline
  • Stage 3 : Iterative writing
  • Key takeaways

Let’s start by asking the most important question, “ What is a research paper? ”.

Simply put, a research paper is a scholarly written work where the writer (that’s you!) answers a specific question (this is called a research question ) through evidence-based arguments . Evidence-based is the keyword here. In other words, a research paper is different from an essay or other writing assignments that draw from the writer’s personal opinions or experiences. With a research paper, it’s all about building your arguments based on evidence (we’ll talk more about that evidence a little later).

Now, it’s worth noting that there are many different types of research papers , including analytical papers (the type I just described), argumentative papers, and interpretative papers. Here, we’ll focus on analytical papers , as these are some of the most common – but if you’re keen to learn about other types of research papers, be sure to check out the rest of the blog .

With that basic foundation laid, let’s get down to business and look at how to write a research paper .

Research Paper Template

Overview: The 3-Stage Process

While there are, of course, many potential approaches you can take to write a research paper, there are typically three stages to the writing process. So, in this tutorial, we’ll present a straightforward three-step process that we use when working with students at Grad Coach.

These three steps are:

  • Finding a research topic and reviewing the existing literature
  • Developing a provisional structure and outline for your paper, and
  • Writing up your initial draft and then refining it iteratively

Let’s dig into each of these.

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can student write research paper

Step 1: Find a topic and review the literature

As we mentioned earlier, in a research paper, you, as the researcher, will try to answer a question . More specifically, that’s called a research question , and it sets the direction of your entire paper. What’s important to understand though is that you’ll need to answer that research question with the help of high-quality sources – for example, journal articles, government reports, case studies, and so on. We’ll circle back to this in a minute.

The first stage of the research process is deciding on what your research question will be and then reviewing the existing literature (in other words, past studies and papers) to see what they say about that specific research question. In some cases, your professor may provide you with a predetermined research question (or set of questions). However, in many cases, you’ll need to find your own research question within a certain topic area.

Finding a strong research question hinges on identifying a meaningful research gap – in other words, an area that’s lacking in existing research. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if you wanna learn more, check out the plain-language explainer video below.

Once you’ve figured out which question (or questions) you’ll attempt to answer in your research paper, you’ll need to do a deep dive into the existing literature – this is called a “ literature search ”. Again, there are many ways to go about this, but your most likely starting point will be Google Scholar .

If you’re new to Google Scholar, think of it as Google for the academic world. You can start by simply entering a few different keywords that are relevant to your research question and it will then present a host of articles for you to review. What you want to pay close attention to here is the number of citations for each paper – the more citations a paper has, the more credible it is (generally speaking – there are some exceptions, of course).

how to use google scholar

Ideally, what you’re looking for are well-cited papers that are highly relevant to your topic. That said, keep in mind that citations are a cumulative metric , so older papers will often have more citations than newer papers – just because they’ve been around for longer. So, don’t fixate on this metric in isolation – relevance and recency are also very important.

Beyond Google Scholar, you’ll also definitely want to check out academic databases and aggregators such as Science Direct, PubMed, JStor and so on. These will often overlap with the results that you find in Google Scholar, but they can also reveal some hidden gems – so, be sure to check them out.

Once you’ve worked your way through all the literature, you’ll want to catalogue all this information in some sort of spreadsheet so that you can easily recall who said what, when and within what context. If you’d like, we’ve got a free literature spreadsheet that helps you do exactly that.

Don’t fixate on an article’s citation count in isolation - relevance (to your research question) and recency are also very important.

Step 2: Develop a structure and outline

With your research question pinned down and your literature digested and catalogued, it’s time to move on to planning your actual research paper .

It might sound obvious, but it’s really important to have some sort of rough outline in place before you start writing your paper. So often, we see students eagerly rushing into the writing phase, only to land up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on in multiple

Now, the secret here is to not get caught up in the fine details . Realistically, all you need at this stage is a bullet-point list that describes (in broad strokes) what you’ll discuss and in what order. It’s also useful to remember that you’re not glued to this outline – in all likelihood, you’ll chop and change some sections once you start writing, and that’s perfectly okay. What’s important is that you have some sort of roadmap in place from the start.

You need to have a rough outline in place before you start writing your paper - or you’ll end up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on.

At this stage you might be wondering, “ But how should I structure my research paper? ”. Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, but in general, a research paper will consist of a few relatively standardised components:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology

Let’s take a look at each of these.

First up is the introduction section . As the name suggests, the purpose of the introduction is to set the scene for your research paper. There are usually (at least) four ingredients that go into this section – these are the background to the topic, the research problem and resultant research question , and the justification or rationale. If you’re interested, the video below unpacks the introduction section in more detail. 

The next section of your research paper will typically be your literature review . Remember all that literature you worked through earlier? Well, this is where you’ll present your interpretation of all that content . You’ll do this by writing about recent trends, developments, and arguments within the literature – but more specifically, those that are relevant to your research question . The literature review can oftentimes seem a little daunting, even to seasoned researchers, so be sure to check out our extensive collection of literature review content here .

With the introduction and lit review out of the way, the next section of your paper is the research methodology . In a nutshell, the methodology section should describe to your reader what you did (beyond just reviewing the existing literature) to answer your research question. For example, what data did you collect, how did you collect that data, how did you analyse that data and so on? For each choice, you’ll also need to justify why you chose to do it that way, and what the strengths and weaknesses of your approach were.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that for some research papers, this aspect of the project may be a lot simpler . For example, you may only need to draw on secondary sources (in other words, existing data sets). In some cases, you may just be asked to draw your conclusions from the literature search itself (in other words, there may be no data analysis at all). But, if you are required to collect and analyse data, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to the methodology section. The video below provides an example of what the methodology section might look like.

By this stage of your paper, you will have explained what your research question is, what the existing literature has to say about that question, and how you analysed additional data to try to answer your question. So, the natural next step is to present your analysis of that data . This section is usually called the “results” or “analysis” section and this is where you’ll showcase your findings.

Depending on your school’s requirements, you may need to present and interpret the data in one section – or you might split the presentation and the interpretation into two sections. In the latter case, your “results” section will just describe the data, and the “discussion” is where you’ll interpret that data and explicitly link your analysis back to your research question. If you’re not sure which approach to take, check in with your professor or take a look at past papers to see what the norms are for your programme.

Alright – once you’ve presented and discussed your results, it’s time to wrap it up . This usually takes the form of the “ conclusion ” section. In the conclusion, you’ll need to highlight the key takeaways from your study and close the loop by explicitly answering your research question. Again, the exact requirements here will vary depending on your programme (and you may not even need a conclusion section at all) – so be sure to check with your professor if you’re unsure.

Step 3: Write and refine

Finally, it’s time to get writing. All too often though, students hit a brick wall right about here… So, how do you avoid this happening to you?

Well, there’s a lot to be said when it comes to writing a research paper (or any sort of academic piece), but we’ll share three practical tips to help you get started.

First and foremost , it’s essential to approach your writing as an iterative process. In other words, you need to start with a really messy first draft and then polish it over multiple rounds of editing. Don’t waste your time trying to write a perfect research paper in one go. Instead, take the pressure off yourself by adopting an iterative approach.

Secondly , it’s important to always lean towards critical writing , rather than descriptive writing. What does this mean? Well, at the simplest level, descriptive writing focuses on the “ what ”, while critical writing digs into the “ so what ” – in other words, the implications. If you’re not familiar with these two types of writing, don’t worry! You can find a plain-language explanation here.

Last but not least, you’ll need to get your referencing right. Specifically, you’ll need to provide credible, correctly formatted citations for the statements you make. We see students making referencing mistakes all the time and it costs them dearly. The good news is that you can easily avoid this by using a simple reference manager . If you don’t have one, check out our video about Mendeley, an easy (and free) reference management tool that you can start using today.

Recap: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. To recap, the three steps to writing a high-quality research paper are:

  • To choose a research question and review the literature
  • To plan your paper structure and draft an outline
  • To take an iterative approach to writing, focusing on critical writing and strong referencing

Remember, this is just a b ig-picture overview of the research paper development process and there’s a lot more nuance to unpack. So, be sure to grab a copy of our free research paper template to learn more about how to write a research paper.

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Research Method

Home » Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Paper

Research Paper


Research Paper is a written document that presents the author’s original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue.

It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new knowledge or insights to a particular field of study, and to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the existing literature and theories related to the topic.

Structure of Research Paper

The structure of a research paper typically follows a standard format, consisting of several sections that convey specific information about the research study. The following is a detailed explanation of the structure of a research paper:

The title page contains the title of the paper, the name(s) of the author(s), and the affiliation(s) of the author(s). It also includes the date of submission and possibly, the name of the journal or conference where the paper is to be published.

The abstract is a brief summary of the research paper, typically ranging from 100 to 250 words. It should include the research question, the methods used, the key findings, and the implications of the results. The abstract should be written in a concise and clear manner to allow readers to quickly grasp the essence of the research.


The introduction section of a research paper provides background information about the research problem, the research question, and the research objectives. It also outlines the significance of the research, the research gap that it aims to fill, and the approach taken to address the research question. Finally, the introduction section ends with a clear statement of the research hypothesis or research question.

Literature Review

The literature review section of a research paper provides an overview of the existing literature on the topic of study. It includes a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature, highlighting the key concepts, themes, and debates. The literature review should also demonstrate the research gap and how the current study seeks to address it.

The methods section of a research paper describes the research design, the sample selection, the data collection and analysis procedures, and the statistical methods used to analyze the data. This section should provide sufficient detail for other researchers to replicate the study.

The results section presents the findings of the research, using tables, graphs, and figures to illustrate the data. The findings should be presented in a clear and concise manner, with reference to the research question and hypothesis.

The discussion section of a research paper interprets the findings and discusses their implications for the research question, the literature review, and the field of study. It should also address the limitations of the study and suggest future research directions.

The conclusion section summarizes the main findings of the study, restates the research question and hypothesis, and provides a final reflection on the significance of the research.

The references section provides a list of all the sources cited in the paper, following a specific citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

How to Write Research Paper

You can write Research Paper by the following guide:

  • Choose a Topic: The first step is to select a topic that interests you and is relevant to your field of study. Brainstorm ideas and narrow down to a research question that is specific and researchable.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: The literature review helps you identify the gap in the existing research and provides a basis for your research question. It also helps you to develop a theoretical framework and research hypothesis.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement : The thesis statement is the main argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise and specific to your research question.
  • Plan your Research: Develop a research plan that outlines the methods, data sources, and data analysis procedures. This will help you to collect and analyze data effectively.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Collect data using various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Analyze data using statistical tools or other qualitative methods.
  • Organize your Paper : Organize your paper into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Ensure that each section is coherent and follows a logical flow.
  • Write your Paper : Start by writing the introduction, followed by the literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and follows the required formatting and citation styles.
  • Edit and Proofread your Paper: Review your paper for grammar and spelling errors, and ensure that it is well-structured and easy to read. Ask someone else to review your paper to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Cite your Sources: Ensure that you properly cite all sources used in your research paper. This is essential for giving credit to the original authors and avoiding plagiarism.

Research Paper Example

Note : The below example research paper is for illustrative purposes only and is not an actual research paper. Actual research papers may have different structures, contents, and formats depending on the field of study, research question, data collection and analysis methods, and other factors. Students should always consult with their professors or supervisors for specific guidelines and expectations for their research papers.

Research Paper Example sample for Students:

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health among Young Adults

Abstract: This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults. A literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on the topic. A survey was then administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Introduction: Social media has become an integral part of modern life, particularly among young adults. While social media has many benefits, including increased communication and social connectivity, it has also been associated with negative outcomes, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and mental health problems. This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults.

Literature Review: The literature review highlights the existing research on the impact of social media use on mental health. The review shows that social media use is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. The review also identifies the factors that contribute to the negative impact of social media, including social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Methods : A survey was administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The survey included questions on social media use, mental health status (measured using the DASS-21), and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Results : The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Discussion : The study’s findings suggest that social media use has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. The study highlights the need for interventions that address the factors contributing to the negative impact of social media, such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Conclusion : In conclusion, social media use has a significant impact on the mental health of young adults. The study’s findings underscore the need for interventions that promote healthy social media use and address the negative outcomes associated with social media use. Future research can explore the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health. Additionally, longitudinal studies can investigate the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

Limitations : The study has some limitations, including the use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. The use of self-report measures may result in biased responses, and a cross-sectional design limits the ability to establish causality.

Implications: The study’s findings have implications for mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals can use the findings to develop interventions that address the negative impact of social media use on mental health. Educators can incorporate social media literacy into their curriculum to promote healthy social media use among young adults. Policymakers can use the findings to develop policies that protect young adults from the negative outcomes associated with social media use.

References :

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 15, 100918.
  • Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., … & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.
  • Van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, J. W. (2017). Social media and its impact on academic performance of students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 16, 383-398.

Appendix : The survey used in this study is provided below.

Social Media and Mental Health Survey

  • How often do you use social media per day?
  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • 1 to 2 hours
  • 2 to 4 hours
  • More than 4 hours
  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Others (Please specify)
  • How often do you experience the following on social media?
  • Social comparison (comparing yourself to others)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems in the past month?
  • Do you think social media use has a positive or negative impact on your mental health?
  • Very positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Somewhat negative
  • Very negative
  • In your opinion, which factors contribute to the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Social comparison
  • In your opinion, what interventions could be effective in reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Education on healthy social media use
  • Counseling for mental health problems caused by social media
  • Social media detox programs
  • Regulation of social media use

Thank you for your participation!

Applications of Research Paper

Research papers have several applications in various fields, including:

  • Advancing knowledge: Research papers contribute to the advancement of knowledge by generating new insights, theories, and findings that can inform future research and practice. They help to answer important questions, clarify existing knowledge, and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Informing policy: Research papers can inform policy decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for policymakers. They can help to identify gaps in current policies, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and inform the development of new policies and regulations.
  • Improving practice: Research papers can improve practice by providing evidence-based guidance for professionals in various fields, including medicine, education, business, and psychology. They can inform the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards of care that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • Educating students : Research papers are often used as teaching tools in universities and colleges to educate students about research methods, data analysis, and academic writing. They help students to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and communication skills that are essential for success in many careers.
  • Fostering collaboration: Research papers can foster collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas. They can facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.

When to Write Research Paper

Research papers are typically written when a person has completed a research project or when they have conducted a study and have obtained data or findings that they want to share with the academic or professional community. Research papers are usually written in academic settings, such as universities, but they can also be written in professional settings, such as research organizations, government agencies, or private companies.

Here are some common situations where a person might need to write a research paper:

  • For academic purposes: Students in universities and colleges are often required to write research papers as part of their coursework, particularly in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Writing research papers helps students to develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and academic writing skills.
  • For publication: Researchers often write research papers to publish their findings in academic journals or to present their work at academic conferences. Publishing research papers is an important way to disseminate research findings to the academic community and to establish oneself as an expert in a particular field.
  • To inform policy or practice : Researchers may write research papers to inform policy decisions or to improve practice in various fields. Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies, guidelines, and best practices that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • To share new insights or ideas: Researchers may write research papers to share new insights or ideas with the academic or professional community. They may present new theories, propose new research methods, or challenge existing paradigms in their field.

Purpose of Research Paper

The purpose of a research paper is to present the results of a study or investigation in a clear, concise, and structured manner. Research papers are written to communicate new knowledge, ideas, or findings to a specific audience, such as researchers, scholars, practitioners, or policymakers. The primary purposes of a research paper are:

  • To contribute to the body of knowledge : Research papers aim to add new knowledge or insights to a particular field or discipline. They do this by reporting the results of empirical studies, reviewing and synthesizing existing literature, proposing new theories, or providing new perspectives on a topic.
  • To inform or persuade: Research papers are written to inform or persuade the reader about a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon. They present evidence and arguments to support their claims and seek to persuade the reader of the validity of their findings or recommendations.
  • To advance the field: Research papers seek to advance the field or discipline by identifying gaps in knowledge, proposing new research questions or approaches, or challenging existing assumptions or paradigms. They aim to contribute to ongoing debates and discussions within a field and to stimulate further research and inquiry.
  • To demonstrate research skills: Research papers demonstrate the author’s research skills, including their ability to design and conduct a study, collect and analyze data, and interpret and communicate findings. They also demonstrate the author’s ability to critically evaluate existing literature, synthesize information from multiple sources, and write in a clear and structured manner.

Characteristics of Research Paper

Research papers have several characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of academic or professional writing. Here are some common characteristics of research papers:

  • Evidence-based: Research papers are based on empirical evidence, which is collected through rigorous research methods such as experiments, surveys, observations, or interviews. They rely on objective data and facts to support their claims and conclusions.
  • Structured and organized: Research papers have a clear and logical structure, with sections such as introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. They are organized in a way that helps the reader to follow the argument and understand the findings.
  • Formal and objective: Research papers are written in a formal and objective tone, with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and accuracy. They avoid subjective language or personal opinions and instead rely on objective data and analysis to support their arguments.
  • Citations and references: Research papers include citations and references to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the paper. They use a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago, to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research papers are often peer-reviewed, which means they are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published. Peer-review ensures that the research is of high quality, meets ethical standards, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field.
  • Objective and unbiased: Research papers strive to be objective and unbiased in their presentation of the findings. They avoid personal biases or preconceptions and instead rely on the data and analysis to draw conclusions.

Advantages of Research Paper

Research papers have many advantages, both for the individual researcher and for the broader academic and professional community. Here are some advantages of research papers:

  • Contribution to knowledge: Research papers contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field or discipline. They add new information, insights, and perspectives to existing literature and help advance the understanding of a particular phenomenon or issue.
  • Opportunity for intellectual growth: Research papers provide an opportunity for intellectual growth for the researcher. They require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, which can help develop the researcher’s skills and knowledge.
  • Career advancement: Research papers can help advance the researcher’s career by demonstrating their expertise and contributions to the field. They can also lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and funding.
  • Academic recognition: Research papers can lead to academic recognition in the form of awards, grants, or invitations to speak at conferences or events. They can also contribute to the researcher’s reputation and standing in the field.
  • Impact on policy and practice: Research papers can have a significant impact on policy and practice. They can inform policy decisions, guide practice, and lead to changes in laws, regulations, or procedures.
  • Advancement of society: Research papers can contribute to the advancement of society by addressing important issues, identifying solutions to problems, and promoting social justice and equality.

Limitations of Research Paper

Research papers also have some limitations that should be considered when interpreting their findings or implications. Here are some common limitations of research papers:

  • Limited generalizability: Research findings may not be generalizable to other populations, settings, or contexts. Studies often use specific samples or conditions that may not reflect the broader population or real-world situations.
  • Potential for bias : Research papers may be biased due to factors such as sample selection, measurement errors, or researcher biases. It is important to evaluate the quality of the research design and methods used to ensure that the findings are valid and reliable.
  • Ethical concerns: Research papers may raise ethical concerns, such as the use of vulnerable populations or invasive procedures. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from participants to ensure that the research is conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
  • Limitations of methodology: Research papers may be limited by the methodology used to collect and analyze data. For example, certain research methods may not capture the complexity or nuance of a particular phenomenon, or may not be appropriate for certain research questions.
  • Publication bias: Research papers may be subject to publication bias, where positive or significant findings are more likely to be published than negative or non-significant findings. This can skew the overall findings of a particular area of research.
  • Time and resource constraints: Research papers may be limited by time and resource constraints, which can affect the quality and scope of the research. Researchers may not have access to certain data or resources, or may be unable to conduct long-term studies due to practical limitations.

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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How to Write a Research Paper

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Research Paper Fundamentals

How to choose a topic or question, how to create a working hypothesis or thesis, common research paper methodologies, how to gather and organize evidence , how to write an outline for your research paper, how to write a rough draft, how to revise your draft, how to produce a final draft, resources for teachers .

It is not fair to say that no one writes anymore. Just about everyone writes text messages, brief emails, or social media posts every single day. Yet, most people don't have a lot of practice with the formal, organized writing required for a good academic research paper. This guide contains links to a variety of resources that can help demystify the process. Some of these resources are intended for teachers; they contain exercises, activities, and teaching strategies. Other resources are intended for direct use by students who are struggling to write papers, or are looking for tips to make the process go more smoothly.

The resources in this section are designed to help students understand the different types of research papers, the general research process, and how to manage their time. Below, you'll find links from university writing centers, the trusted Purdue Online Writing Lab, and more.

What is an Academic Research Paper?

"Genre and the Research Paper" (Purdue OWL)

There are different types of research papers. Different types of scholarly questions will lend themselves to one format or another. This is a brief introduction to the two main genres of research paper: analytic and argumentative. 

"7 Most Popular Types of Research Papers" (

This resource discusses formats that high school students commonly encounter, such as the compare and contrast essay and the definitional essay. Please note that the inclusion of this link is not an endorsement of this company's paid service.

How to Prepare and Plan Out Writing a Research Paper

Teachers can give their students a step-by-step guide like these to help them understand the different steps of the research paper process. These guides can be combined with the time management tools in the next subsection to help students come up with customized calendars for completing their papers.

"Ten Steps for Writing Research Papers" (American University)  

This resource from American University is a comprehensive guide to the research paper writing process, and includes examples of proper research questions and thesis topics.

"Steps in Writing a Research Paper" (SUNY Empire State College)

This guide breaks the research paper process into 11 steps. Each "step" links to a separate page, which describes the work entailed in completing it.

How to Manage Time Effectively

The links below will help students determine how much time is necessary to complete a paper. If your sources are not available online or at your local library, you'll need to leave extra time for the Interlibrary Loan process. Remember that, even if you do not need to consult secondary sources, you'll still need to leave yourself ample time to organize your thoughts.

"Research Paper Planner: Timeline" (Baylor University)

This interactive resource from Baylor University creates a suggested writing schedule based on how much time a student has to work on the assignment.

"Research Paper Planner" (UCLA)

UCLA's library offers this step-by-step guide to the research paper writing process, which also includes a suggested planning calendar.

There's a reason teachers spend a long time talking about choosing a good topic. Without a good topic and a well-formulated research question, it is almost impossible to write a clear and organized paper. The resources below will help you generate ideas and formulate precise questions.

"How to Select a Research Topic" (Univ. of Michigan-Flint)

This resource is designed for college students who are struggling to come up with an appropriate topic. A student who uses this resource and still feels unsure about his or her topic should consult the course instructor for further personalized assistance.

"25 Interesting Research Paper Topics to Get You Started" (Kibin)

This resource, which is probably most appropriate for high school students, provides a list of specific topics to help get students started. It is broken into subsections, such as "paper topics on local issues."

"Writing a Good Research Question" (Grand Canyon University)

This introduction to research questions includes some embedded videos, as well as links to scholarly articles on research questions. This resource would be most appropriate for teachers who are planning lessons on research paper fundamentals.

"How to Write a Research Question the Right Way" (Kibin)

This student-focused resource provides more detail on writing research questions. The language is accessible, and there are embedded videos and examples of good and bad questions.

It is important to have a rough hypothesis or thesis in mind at the beginning of the research process. People who have a sense of what they want to say will have an easier time sorting through scholarly sources and other information. The key, of course, is not to become too wedded to the draft hypothesis or thesis. Just about every working thesis gets changed during the research process.

CrashCourse Video: "Sociology Research Methods" (YouTube)

Although this video is tailored to sociology students, it is applicable to students in a variety of social science disciplines. This video does a good job demonstrating the connection between the brainstorming that goes into selecting a research question and the formulation of a working hypothesis.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement for an Analytical Essay" (YouTube)

Students writing analytical essays will not develop the same type of working hypothesis as students who are writing research papers in other disciplines. For these students, developing the working thesis may happen as a part of the rough draft (see the relevant section below). 

"Research Hypothesis" (Oakland Univ.)

This resource provides some examples of hypotheses in social science disciplines like Political Science and Criminal Justice. These sample hypotheses may also be useful for students in other soft social sciences and humanities disciplines like History.

When grading a research paper, instructors look for a consistent methodology. This section will help you understand different methodological approaches used in research papers. Students will get the most out of these resources if they use them to help prepare for conversations with teachers or discussions in class.

"Types of Research Designs" (USC)

A "research design," used for complex papers, is related to the paper's method. This resource contains introductions to a variety of popular research designs in the social sciences. Although it is not the most intuitive site to read, the information here is very valuable. 

"Major Research Methods" (YouTube)

Although this video is a bit on the dry side, it provides a comprehensive overview of the major research methodologies in a format that might be more accessible to students who have struggled with textbooks or other written resources.

"Humanities Research Strategies" (USC)

This is a portal where students can learn about four methodological approaches for humanities papers: Historical Methodologies, Textual Criticism, Conceptual Analysis, and the Synoptic method.

"Selected Major Social Science Research Methods: Overview" (National Academies Press)

This appendix from the book  Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy , printed by National Academies Press, introduces some methods used in social science papers.

"Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 6. The Methodology" (USC)

This resource from the University of Southern California's library contains tips for writing a methodology section in a research paper.

How to Determine the Best Methodology for You

Anyone who is new to writing research papers should be sure to select a method in consultation with their instructor. These resources can be used to help prepare for that discussion. They may also be used on their own by more advanced students.

"Choosing Appropriate Research Methodologies" (Palgrave Study Skills)

This friendly and approachable resource from Palgrave Macmillan can be used by students who are just starting to think about appropriate methodologies.

"How to Choose Your Research Methods" (NFER (UK))

This is another approachable resource students can use to help narrow down the most appropriate methods for their research projects.

The resources in this section introduce the process of gathering scholarly sources and collecting evidence. You'll find a range of material here, from introductory guides to advanced explications best suited to college students. Please consult the LitCharts  How to Do Academic Research guide for a more comprehensive list of resources devoted to finding scholarly literature.

Google Scholar

Students who have access to library websites with detailed research guides should start there, but people who do not have access to those resources can begin their search for secondary literature here.

"Gathering Appropriate Information" (Texas Gateway)

This resource from the Texas Gateway for online resources introduces students to the research process, and contains interactive exercises. The level of complexity is suitable for middle school, high school, and introductory college classrooms.

"An Overview of Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection Methods" (NSF)

This PDF from the National Science Foundation goes into detail about best practices and pitfalls in data collection across multiple types of methodologies.

"Social Science Methods for Data Collection and Analysis" (Swiss FIT)

This resource is appropriate for advanced undergraduates or teachers looking to create lessons on research design and data collection. It covers techniques for gathering data via interviews, observations, and other methods.

"Collecting Data by In-depth Interviewing" (Leeds Univ.)

This resource contains enough information about conducting interviews to make it useful for teachers who want to create a lesson plan, but is also accessible enough for college juniors or seniors to make use of it on their own.

There is no "one size fits all" outlining technique. Some students might devote all their energy and attention to the outline in order to avoid the paper. Other students may benefit from being made to sit down and organize their thoughts into a lengthy sentence outline. The resources in this section include strategies and templates for multiple types of outlines. 

"Topic vs. Sentence Outlines" (UC Berkeley)

This resource introduces two basic approaches to outlining: the shorter topic-based approach, and the longer, more detailed sentence-based approach. This resource also contains videos on how to develop paper paragraphs from the sentence-based outline.

"Types of Outlines and Samples" (Purdue OWL)

The Purdue Online Writing Lab's guide is a slightly less detailed discussion of different types of outlines. It contains several sample outlines.

"Writing An Outline" (Austin C.C.)

This resource from a community college contains sample outlines from an American history class that students can use as models.

"How to Structure an Outline for a College Paper" (YouTube)

This brief (sub-2 minute) video from the ExpertVillage YouTube channel provides a model of outline writing for students who are struggling with the idea.

"Outlining" (Harvard)

This is a good resource to consult after completing a draft outline. It offers suggestions for making sure your outline avoids things like unnecessary repetition.

As with outlines, rough drafts can take on many different forms. These resources introduce teachers and students to the various approaches to writing a rough draft. This section also includes resources that will help you cite your sources appropriately according to the MLA, Chicago, and APA style manuals.

"Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper" (Univ. of Minnesota)

This resource is useful for teachers in particular, as it provides some suggested exercises to help students with writing a basic rough draft. 

Rough Draft Assignment (Duke of Definition)

This sample assignment, with a brief list of tips, was developed by a high school teacher who runs a very successful and well-reviewed page of educational resources.

"Creating the First Draft of Your Research Paper" (Concordia Univ.)

This resource will be helpful for perfectionists or procrastinators, as it opens by discussing the problem of avoiding writing. It also provides a short list of suggestions meant to get students writing.

Using Proper Citations

There is no such thing as a rough draft of a scholarly citation. These links to the three major citation guides will ensure that your citations follow the correct format. Please consult the LitCharts How to Cite Your Sources guide for more resources.

Chicago Manual of Style Citation Guide

Some call  The Chicago Manual of Style , which was first published in 1906, "the editors' Bible." The manual is now in its 17th edition, and is popular in the social sciences, historical journals, and some other fields in the humanities.

APA Citation Guide

According to the American Psychological Association, this guide was developed to aid reading comprehension, clarity of communication, and to reduce bias in language in the social and behavioral sciences. Its first full edition was published in 1952, and it is now in its sixth edition.

MLA Citation Guide

The Modern Language Association style is used most commonly within the liberal arts and humanities. The  MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing  was first published in 1985 and (as of 2008) is in its third edition.

Any professional scholar will tell you that the best research papers are made in the revision stage. No matter how strong your research question or working thesis, it is not possible to write a truly outstanding paper without devoting energy to revision. These resources provide examples of revision exercises for the classroom, as well as tips for students working independently.

"The Art of Revision" (Univ. of Arizona)

This resource provides a wealth of information and suggestions for both students and teachers. There is a list of suggested exercises that teachers might use in class, along with a revision checklist that is useful for teachers and students alike.

"Script for Workshop on Revision" (Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt's guide for leading a 50-minute revision workshop can serve as a model for teachers who wish to guide students through the revision process during classtime. 

"Revising Your Paper" (Univ. of Washington)

This detailed handout was designed for students who are beginning the revision process. It discusses different approaches and methods for revision, and also includes a detailed list of things students should look for while they revise.

"Revising Drafts" (UNC Writing Center)

This resource is designed for students and suggests things to look for during the revision process. It provides steps for the process and has a FAQ for students who have questions about why it is important to revise.

Conferencing with Writing Tutors and Instructors

No writer is so good that he or she can't benefit from meeting with instructors or peer tutors. These resources from university writing, learning, and communication centers provide suggestions for how to get the most out of these one-on-one meetings.

"Getting Feedback" (UNC Writing Center)

This very helpful resource talks about how to ask for feedback during the entire writing process. It contains possible questions that students might ask when developing an outline, during the revision process, and after the final draft has been graded.

"Prepare for Your Tutoring Session" (Otis College of Art and Design)

This guide from a university's student learning center contains a lot of helpful tips for getting the most out of working with a writing tutor.

"The Importance of Asking Your Professor" (Univ. of Waterloo)

This article from the university's Writing and Communication Centre's blog contains some suggestions for how and when to get help from professors and Teaching Assistants.

Once you've revised your first draft, you're well on your way to handing in a polished paper. These resources—each of them produced by writing professionals at colleges and universities—outline the steps required in order to produce a final draft. You'll find proofreading tips and checklists in text and video form.

"Developing a Final Draft of a Research Paper" (Univ. of Minnesota)

While this resource contains suggestions for revision, it also features a couple of helpful checklists for the last stages of completing a final draft.

Basic Final Draft Tips and Checklist (Univ. of Maryland-University College)

This short and accessible resource, part of UMUC's very thorough online guide to writing and research, contains a very basic checklist for students who are getting ready to turn in their final drafts.

Final Draft Checklist (Everett C.C.)

This is another accessible final draft checklist, appropriate for both high school and college students. It suggests reading your essay aloud at least once.

"How to Proofread Your Final Draft" (YouTube)

This video (approximately 5 minutes), produced by Eastern Washington University, gives students tips on proofreading final drafts.

"Proofreading Tips" (Georgia Southern-Armstrong)

This guide will help students learn how to spot common errors in their papers. It suggests focusing on content and editing for grammar and mechanics.

This final set of resources is intended specifically for high school and college instructors. It provides links to unit plans and classroom exercises that can help improve students' research and writing skills. You'll find resources that give an overview of the process, along with activities that focus on how to begin and how to carry out research. 

"Research Paper Complete Resources Pack" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This packet of assignments, rubrics, and other resources is designed for high school students. The resources in this packet are aligned to Common Core standards.

"Research Paper—Complete Unit" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This packet of assignments, notes, PowerPoints, and other resources has a 4/4 rating with over 700 ratings. It is designed for high school teachers, but might also be useful to college instructors who work with freshmen.

"Teaching Students to Write Good Papers" (Yale)

This resource from Yale's Center for Teaching and Learning is designed for college instructors, and it includes links to appropriate activities and exercises.

"Research Paper Writing: An Overview" (CUNY Brooklyn)

CUNY Brooklyn offers this complete lesson plan for introducing students to research papers. It includes an accompanying set of PowerPoint slides.

"Lesson Plan: How to Begin Writing a Research Paper" (San Jose State Univ.)

This lesson plan is designed for students in the health sciences, so teachers will have to modify it for their own needs. It includes a breakdown of the brainstorming, topic selection, and research question process. 

"Quantitative Techniques for Social Science Research" (Univ. of Pittsburgh)

This is a set of PowerPoint slides that can be used to introduce students to a variety of quantitative methods used in the social sciences.

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Home / Guides / Writing Guides / Paper Types / How to Write a Research Paper

How to Write a Research Paper

Research papers are a requirement for most college courses, so knowing how to write a research paper is important. These in-depth pieces of academic writing can seem pretty daunting, but there’s no need to panic. When broken down into its key components, writing your paper should be a manageable and, dare we say it, enjoyable task.

We’re going to look at the required elements of a paper in detail, and you might also find this webpage to be a  useful reference .

Guide Overview

  • What is a research paper?
  • How to start a research paper
  • Get clear instructions
  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Choose a topic
  • Outline your outline
  • Make friends with your librarian
  • Find quality sources
  • Understand your topic
  • A detailed outline
  • Keep it factual
  • Finalize your thesis statement
  • Think about format
  • Cite, cite and cite
  • The editing process
  • Final checks

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is more than just an extra long essay or encyclopedic regurgitation of facts and figures. The aim of this task is to combine in-depth study of a particular topic with critical thinking and evaluation by the student—that’s you!

There are two main types of research paper: argumentative and analytical.

Argumentative  — takes a stance on a particular topic right from the start, with the aim of persuading the reader of the validity of the argument. These are best suited to topics that are debatable or controversial.

Analytical  — takes no firm stance on a topic initially. Instead it asks a question and should come to an answer through the evaluation of source material. As its name suggests, the aim is to analyze the source material and offer a fresh perspective on the results.

If you wish to further your understanding, you can  learn more here .

A required word count (think thousands!) can make writing that paper seem like an insurmountable task. Don’t worry! Our step-by-step guide will help you write that killer paper with confidence.

How to Start a Research Paper

Don’t rush ahead. Taking care during the planning and preparation stage will save time and hassle later.

Get Clear Instructions

Your lecturer or professor is your biggest ally—after all, they want you to do well. Make sure you get clear guidance from them on both the required format and preferred topics. In some cases, your tutor will assign a topic, or give you a set list to choose from. Often, however, you’ll be expected to select a suitable topic for yourself.

Having a research paper example to look at can also be useful for first-timers, so ask your tutor to supply you with one.

Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorming research paper ideas is the first step to selecting a topic—and there are various methods you can use to brainstorm, including clustering (also known as mind mapping). Think about the research paper topics that interest you, and identify topics you have a strong opinion on.

Choose a Topic

Once you have a list of potential research paper topics, narrow them down by considering your academic strengths and ‘gaps in the market,’ e.g., don’t choose a common topic that’s been written about many times before. While you want your topic to be fresh and interesting, you also need to ensure there’s enough material available for you to work with. Similarly, while you shouldn’t go for easy research paper topics just for the sake of giving yourself less work, you do need to choose a topic that you feel confident you can do justice to.

Outline Your Outline

It might not be possible to form a full research paper outline until you’ve done some information gathering, but you can think about your overall aim; basically what you want to show and how you’re going to show it. Now’s also a good time to consider your thesis statement, although this might change as you delve into your source material deeper.

Researching the Research

Now it’s time to knuckle down and dig out all the information that’s relevant to your topic. Here are some tips.

Make Friends With Your Librarian

While lots of information gathering can be carried out online from anywhere, there’s still a place for old-fashioned study sessions in the library. A good librarian can help you to locate sources quickly and easily, and might even make suggestions that you hadn’t thought of. They’re great at helping you study and research, but probably can’t save you the best desk by the window.

Find Quality Sources

Not all sources are created equal, so make sure that you’re referring to reputable, reliable information. Examples of sources could include books, magazine articles, scholarly articles, reputable websites, databases and journals. Keywords relating to your topic can help you in your search.

As you search, you should begin to compile a list of references. This will make it much easier later when you are ready to build your paper’s bibliography. Keeping clear notes detailing any sources that you use will help you to avoid accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work or ideas.

Understand Your Topic

Simply regurgitating facts and figures won’t make for an interesting paper. It’s essential that you fully understand your topic so you can come across as an authority on the subject and present your own ideas on it. You should read around your topic as widely as you can, before narrowing your area of interest for your paper, and critically analyzing your findings.

A Detailed Outline

Once you’ve got a firm grip on your subject and the source material available to you, formulate a detailed outline, including your thesis statement and how you are going to support it. The structure of your paper will depend on the subject type—ask a tutor for a research paper outline example if you’re unsure.

Get Writing!

If you’ve fully understood your topic and gathered quality source materials, bringing it all together should actually be the easy part!

Keep it Factual

There’s no place for sloppy writing in this kind of academic task, so keep your language simple and clear, and your points critical and succinct. The creative part is finding innovative angles and new insights on the topic to make your paper interesting.

Don’t forget about our  verb ,  preposition , and  adverb  pages. You may find useful information to help with your writing!

Finalize Your Thesis Statement

You should now be in a position to finalize your thesis statement, showing clearly what your paper will show, answer or prove. This should usually be a one or two sentence statement; however, it’s the core idea of your paper, and every insight that you include should be relevant to it. Remember, a thesis statement is not merely a summary of your findings. It should present an argument or perspective that the rest of your paper aims to support.

Think About Format

The required style of your research paper format will usually depend on your subject area. For example,  APA format  is normally used for social science subjects, while MLA style is most commonly used for liberal arts and humanities. Still, there are thousands of  more styles . Your tutor should be able to give you clear guidance on how to format your paper, how to structure it, and what elements it should include. Make sure that you follow their instruction. If possible, ask to see a sample research paper in the required format.

Cite, Cite and Cite

As all research paper topics invariably involve referring to other people’s work, it’s vital that you know how to properly cite your sources to avoid unintentional plagiarism. Whether you’re paraphrasing (putting someone else’s ideas into your own words) or directly quoting, the original source needs to be referenced. What style of citation formatting you use will depend on the requirements of your instructor, with common styles including APA and  MLA format , which consist of in-text citations (short citations within the text, enclosed with parentheses) and a reference/works cited list.

The Editing Process

It’s likely that your paper will go through several drafts before you arrive at the very best version. The editing process is your chance to fix any weak points in your paper before submission. You might find that it needs a better balance of both primary and secondary sources (click through to find  more info  on the difference), that an  adjective  could use tweaking, or that you’ve included sources that aren’t relevant or credible. You might even feel that you need to be clearer in your argument, more thorough in your critical analysis, or more balanced in your evaluation.

From a stylistic point of view, you want to ensure that your writing is clear, simple and concise, with no long, rambling sentences or paragraphs. Keeping within the required word count parameters is also important, and another thing to keep in mind is the inclusion of gender-neutral language, to avoid the reinforcement of tired stereotypes.

Don’t forget about our other pages! If you are looking for help with other grammar-related topics, check out our  noun ,  pronoun , and  conjunction  pages.

Final Checks

Once you’re happy with the depth and balance of the arguments and points presented, you can turn your attention to the finer details, such as formatting, spelling, punctuation, grammar and ensuring that your citations are all present and correct. The EasyBib Plus  plagiarism checker  is a handy tool for making sure that your sources are all cited. An EasyBib Plus subscription also comes with access to citation tools that can help you create citations in your choice of format.

Also, double-check your deadline date and the submissions guidelines to avoid any last-minute issues. Take a peek at our other grammar pages while you’re at it. We’ve included numerous links on this page, but we also have an  interjection  page and  determiner  page.

So you’ve done your final checks and handed in your paper according to the submissions guidelines and preferably before deadline day. Congratulations! If your schedule permits, now would be a great time to take a break from your studies. Maybe plan a fun activity with friends or just take the opportunity to rest and relax. A well-earned break from the books will ensure that you return to class refreshed and ready for your next stage of learning—and the next  research paper  requirement your tutor sets!

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  • How to write a research paper

Last updated

11 January 2024

Reviewed by

With proper planning, knowledge, and framework, completing a research paper can be a fulfilling and exciting experience. 

Though it might initially sound slightly intimidating, this guide will help you embrace the challenge. 

By documenting your findings, you can inspire others and make a difference in your field. Here's how you can make your research paper unique and comprehensive.

  • What is a research paper?

Research papers allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. These papers are usually lengthier and more detailed than typical essays, requiring deeper insight into the chosen topic.

To write a research paper, you must first choose a topic that interests you and is relevant to the field of study. Once you’ve selected your topic, gathering as many relevant resources as possible, including books, scholarly articles, credible websites, and other academic materials, is essential. You must then read and analyze these sources, summarizing their key points and identifying gaps in the current research.

You can formulate your ideas and opinions once you thoroughly understand the existing research. To get there might involve conducting original research, gathering data, or analyzing existing data sets. It could also involve presenting an original argument or interpretation of the existing research.

Writing a successful research paper involves presenting your findings clearly and engagingly, which might involve using charts, graphs, or other visual aids to present your data and using concise language to explain your findings. You must also ensure your paper adheres to relevant academic formatting guidelines, including proper citations and references.

Overall, writing a research paper requires a significant amount of time, effort, and attention to detail. However, it is also an enriching experience that allows you to delve deeply into a subject that interests you and contribute to the existing body of knowledge in your chosen field.

  • How long should a research paper be?

Research papers are deep dives into a topic. Therefore, they tend to be longer pieces of work than essays or opinion pieces. 

However, a suitable length depends on the complexity of the topic and your level of expertise. For instance, are you a first-year college student or an experienced professional? 

Also, remember that the best research papers provide valuable information for the benefit of others. Therefore, the quality of information matters most, not necessarily the length. Being concise is valuable.

Following these best practice steps will help keep your process simple and productive:

1. Gaining a deep understanding of any expectations

Before diving into your intended topic or beginning the research phase, take some time to orient yourself. Suppose there’s a specific topic assigned to you. In that case, it’s essential to deeply understand the question and organize your planning and approach in response. Pay attention to the key requirements and ensure you align your writing accordingly. 

This preparation step entails

Deeply understanding the task or assignment

Being clear about the expected format and length

Familiarizing yourself with the citation and referencing requirements 

Understanding any defined limits for your research contribution

Where applicable, speaking to your professor or research supervisor for further clarification

2. Choose your research topic

Select a research topic that aligns with both your interests and available resources. Ideally, focus on a field where you possess significant experience and analytical skills. In crafting your research paper, it's crucial to go beyond summarizing existing data and contribute fresh insights to the chosen area.

Consider narrowing your focus to a specific aspect of the topic. For example, if exploring the link between technology and mental health, delve into how social media use during the pandemic impacts the well-being of college students. Conducting interviews and surveys with students could provide firsthand data and unique perspectives, adding substantial value to the existing knowledge.

When finalizing your topic, adhere to legal and ethical norms in the relevant area (this ensures the integrity of your research, protects participants' rights, upholds intellectual property standards, and ensures transparency and accountability). Following these principles not only maintains the credibility of your work but also builds trust within your academic or professional community.

For instance, in writing about medical research, consider legal and ethical norms , including patient confidentiality laws and informed consent requirements. Similarly, if analyzing user data on social media platforms, be mindful of data privacy regulations, ensuring compliance with laws governing personal information collection and use. Aligning with legal and ethical standards not only avoids potential issues but also underscores the responsible conduct of your research.

3. Gather preliminary research

Once you’ve landed on your topic, it’s time to explore it further. You’ll want to discover more about available resources and existing research relevant to your assignment at this stage. 

This exploratory phase is vital as you may discover issues with your original idea or realize you have insufficient resources to explore the topic effectively. This key bit of groundwork allows you to redirect your research topic in a different, more feasible, or more relevant direction if necessary. 

Spending ample time at this stage ensures you gather everything you need, learn as much as you can about the topic, and discover gaps where the topic has yet to be sufficiently covered, offering an opportunity to research it further. 

4. Define your research question

To produce a well-structured and focused paper, it is imperative to formulate a clear and precise research question that will guide your work. Your research question must be informed by the existing literature and tailored to the scope and objectives of your project. By refining your focus, you can produce a thoughtful and engaging paper that effectively communicates your ideas to your readers.

5. Write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is a one-to-two-sentence summary of your research paper's main argument or direction. It serves as an overall guide to summarize the overall intent of the research paper for you and anyone wanting to know more about the research.

A strong thesis statement is:

Concise and clear: Explain your case in simple sentences (avoid covering multiple ideas). It might help to think of this section as an elevator pitch.

Specific: Ensure that there is no ambiguity in your statement and that your summary covers the points argued in the paper.

Debatable: A thesis statement puts forward a specific argument––it is not merely a statement but a debatable point that can be analyzed and discussed.

Here are three thesis statement examples from different disciplines:

Psychology thesis example: "We're studying adults aged 25-40 to see if taking short breaks for mindfulness can help with stress. Our goal is to find practical ways to manage anxiety better."

Environmental science thesis example: "This research paper looks into how having more city parks might make the air cleaner and keep people healthier. I want to find out if more green spaces means breathing fewer carcinogens in big cities."

UX research thesis example: "This study focuses on improving mobile banking for older adults using ethnographic research, eye-tracking analysis, and interactive prototyping. We investigate the usefulness of eye-tracking analysis with older individuals, aiming to spark debate and offer fresh perspectives on UX design and digital inclusivity for the aging population."

6. Conduct in-depth research

A research paper doesn’t just include research that you’ve uncovered from other papers and studies but your fresh insights, too. You will seek to become an expert on your topic––understanding the nuances in the current leading theories. You will analyze existing research and add your thinking and discoveries.  It's crucial to conduct well-designed research that is rigorous, robust, and based on reliable sources. Suppose a research paper lacks evidence or is biased. In that case, it won't benefit the academic community or the general public. Therefore, examining the topic thoroughly and furthering its understanding through high-quality research is essential. That usually means conducting new research. Depending on the area under investigation, you may conduct surveys, interviews, diary studies , or observational research to uncover new insights or bolster current claims.

7. Determine supporting evidence

Not every piece of research you’ve discovered will be relevant to your research paper. It’s important to categorize the most meaningful evidence to include alongside your discoveries. It's important to include evidence that doesn't support your claims to avoid exclusion bias and ensure a fair research paper.

8. Write a research paper outline

Before diving in and writing the whole paper, start with an outline. It will help you to see if more research is needed, and it will provide a framework by which to write a more compelling paper. Your supervisor may even request an outline to approve before beginning to write the first draft of the full paper. An outline will include your topic, thesis statement, key headings, short summaries of the research, and your arguments.

9. Write your first draft

Once you feel confident about your outline and sources, it’s time to write your first draft. While penning a long piece of content can be intimidating, if you’ve laid the groundwork, you will have a structure to help you move steadily through each section. To keep up motivation and inspiration, it’s often best to keep the pace quick. Stopping for long periods can interrupt your flow and make jumping back in harder than writing when things are fresh in your mind.

10. Cite your sources correctly

It's always a good practice to give credit where it's due, and the same goes for citing any works that have influenced your paper. Building your arguments on credible references adds value and authenticity to your research. In the formatting guidelines section, you’ll find an overview of different citation styles (MLA, CMOS, or APA), which will help you meet any publishing or academic requirements and strengthen your paper's credibility. It is essential to follow the guidelines provided by your school or the publication you are submitting to ensure the accuracy and relevance of your citations.

11. Ensure your work is original

It is crucial to ensure the originality of your paper, as plagiarism can lead to serious consequences. To avoid plagiarism, you should use proper paraphrasing and quoting techniques. Paraphrasing is rewriting a text in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. Quoting involves directly citing the source. Giving credit to the original author or source is essential whenever you borrow their ideas or words. You can also use plagiarism detection tools such as Scribbr or Grammarly to check the originality of your paper. These tools compare your draft writing to a vast database of online sources. If you find any accidental plagiarism, you should correct it immediately by rephrasing or citing the source.

12. Revise, edit, and proofread

One of the essential qualities of excellent writers is their ability to understand the importance of editing and proofreading. Even though it's tempting to call it a day once you've finished your writing, editing your work can significantly improve its quality. It's natural to overlook the weaker areas when you've just finished writing a paper. Therefore, it's best to take a break of a day or two, or even up to a week, to refresh your mind. This way, you can return to your work with a new perspective. After some breathing room, you can spot any inconsistencies, spelling and grammar errors, typos, or missing citations and correct them. 

  • The best research paper format 

The format of your research paper should align with the requirements set forth by your college, school, or target publication. 

There is no one “best” format, per se. Depending on the stated requirements, you may need to include the following elements:

Title page: The title page of a research paper typically includes the title, author's name, and institutional affiliation and may include additional information such as a course name or instructor's name. 

Table of contents: Include a table of contents to make it easy for readers to find specific sections of your paper.

Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the purpose of the paper.

Methods : In this section, describe the research methods used. This may include collecting data , conducting interviews, or doing field research .

Results: Summarize the conclusions you drew from your research in this section.

Discussion: In this section, discuss the implications of your research . Be sure to mention any significant limitations to your approach and suggest areas for further research.

Tables, charts, and illustrations: Use tables, charts, and illustrations to help convey your research findings and make them easier to understand.

Works cited or reference page: Include a works cited or reference page to give credit to the sources that you used to conduct your research.

Bibliography: Provide a list of all the sources you consulted while conducting your research.

Dedication and acknowledgments : Optionally, you may include a dedication and acknowledgments section to thank individuals who helped you with your research.

  • General style and formatting guidelines

Formatting your research paper means you can submit it to your college, journal, or other publications in compliance with their criteria.

Research papers tend to follow the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) guidelines.

Here’s how each style guide is typically used:

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS):

CMOS is a versatile style guide used for various types of writing. It's known for its flexibility and use in the humanities. CMOS provides guidelines for citations, formatting, and overall writing style. It allows for both footnotes and in-text citations, giving writers options based on their preferences or publication requirements.

American Psychological Association (APA):

APA is common in the social sciences. It’s hailed for its clarity and emphasis on precision. It has specific rules for citing sources, creating references, and formatting papers. APA style uses in-text citations with an accompanying reference list. It's designed to convey information efficiently and is widely used in academic and scientific writing.

Modern Language Association (MLA):

MLA is widely used in the humanities, especially literature and language studies. It emphasizes the author-page format for in-text citations and provides guidelines for creating a "Works Cited" page. MLA is known for its focus on the author's name and the literary works cited. It’s frequently used in disciplines that prioritize literary analysis and critical thinking.

To confirm you're using the latest style guide, check the official website or publisher's site for updates, consult academic resources, and verify the guide's publication date. Online platforms and educational resources may also provide summaries and alerts about any revisions or additions to the style guide.

Citing sources

When working on your research paper, it's important to cite the sources you used properly. Your citation style will guide you through this process. Generally, there are three parts to citing sources in your research paper: 

First, provide a brief citation in the body of your essay. This is also known as a parenthetical or in-text citation. 

Second, include a full citation in the Reference list at the end of your paper. Different types of citations include in-text citations, footnotes, and reference lists. 

In-text citations include the author's surname and the date of the citation. 

Footnotes appear at the bottom of each page of your research paper. They may also be summarized within a reference list at the end of the paper. 

A reference list includes all of the research used within the paper at the end of the document. It should include the author, date, paper title, and publisher listed in the order that aligns with your citation style.

10 research paper writing tips:

Following some best practices is essential to writing a research paper that contributes to your field of study and creates a positive impact.

These tactics will help you structure your argument effectively and ensure your work benefits others:

Clear and precise language:  Ensure your language is unambiguous. Use academic language appropriately, but keep it simple. Also, provide clear takeaways for your audience.

Effective idea separation:  Organize the vast amount of information and sources in your paper with paragraphs and titles. Create easily digestible sections for your readers to navigate through.

Compelling intro:  Craft an engaging introduction that captures your reader's interest. Hook your audience and motivate them to continue reading.

Thorough revision and editing:  Take the time to review and edit your paper comprehensively. Use tools like Grammarly to detect and correct small, overlooked errors.

Thesis precision:  Develop a clear and concise thesis statement that guides your paper. Ensure that your thesis aligns with your research's overall purpose and contribution.

Logical flow of ideas:  Maintain a logical progression throughout the paper. Use transitions effectively to connect different sections and maintain coherence.

Critical evaluation of sources:  Evaluate and critically assess the relevance and reliability of your sources. Ensure that your research is based on credible and up-to-date information.

Thematic consistency:  Maintain a consistent theme throughout the paper. Ensure that all sections contribute cohesively to the overall argument.

Relevant supporting evidence:  Provide concise and relevant evidence to support your arguments. Avoid unnecessary details that may distract from the main points.

Embrace counterarguments:  Acknowledge and address opposing views to strengthen your position. Show that you have considered alternative arguments in your field.

7 research tips 

If you want your paper to not only be well-written but also contribute to the progress of human knowledge, consider these tips to take your paper to the next level:

Selecting the appropriate topic: The topic you select should align with your area of expertise, comply with the requirements of your project, and have sufficient resources for a comprehensive investigation.

Use academic databases: Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and JSTOR offer a wealth of research papers that can help you discover everything you need to know about your chosen topic.

Critically evaluate sources: It is important not to accept research findings at face value. Instead, it is crucial to critically analyze the information to avoid jumping to conclusions or overlooking important details. A well-written research paper requires a critical analysis with thorough reasoning to support claims.

Diversify your sources: Expand your research horizons by exploring a variety of sources beyond the standard databases. Utilize books, conference proceedings, and interviews to gather diverse perspectives and enrich your understanding of the topic.

Take detailed notes: Detailed note-taking is crucial during research and can help you form the outline and body of your paper.

Stay up on trends: Keep abreast of the latest developments in your field by regularly checking for recent publications. Subscribe to newsletters, follow relevant journals, and attend conferences to stay informed about emerging trends and advancements. 

Engage in peer review: Seek feedback from peers or mentors to ensure the rigor and validity of your research . Peer review helps identify potential weaknesses in your methodology and strengthens the overall credibility of your findings.

  • The real-world impact of research papers

Writing a research paper is more than an academic or business exercise. The experience provides an opportunity to explore a subject in-depth, broaden one's understanding, and arrive at meaningful conclusions. With careful planning, dedication, and hard work, writing a research paper can be a fulfilling and enriching experience contributing to advancing knowledge.

How do I publish my research paper? 

Many academics wish to publish their research papers. While challenging, your paper might get traction if it covers new and well-written information. To publish your research paper, find a target publication, thoroughly read their guidelines, format your paper accordingly, and send it to them per their instructions. You may need to include a cover letter, too. After submission, your paper may be peer-reviewed by experts to assess its legitimacy, quality, originality, and methodology. Following review, you will be informed by the publication whether they have accepted or rejected your paper. 

What is a good opening sentence for a research paper? 

Beginning your research paper with a compelling introduction can ensure readers are interested in going further. A relevant quote, a compelling statistic, or a bold argument can start the paper and hook your reader. Remember, though, that the most important aspect of a research paper is the quality of the information––not necessarily your ability to storytell, so ensure anything you write aligns with your goals.

Research paper vs. a research proposal—what’s the difference?

While some may confuse research papers and proposals, they are different documents. 

A research proposal comes before a research paper. It is a detailed document that outlines an intended area of exploration. It includes the research topic, methodology, timeline, sources, and potential conclusions. Research proposals are often required when seeking approval to conduct research. 

A research paper is a summary of research findings. A research paper follows a structured format to present those findings and construct an argument or conclusion.

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Office of Undergraduate Research

Writing an academic paper as an undergraduate researcher, by ariane garrett, our peer research ambassador.

Publishing papers is the primary way that scientific knowledge is disseminated within the academic community. Therefore an essential part of becoming a successful researcher is learning how to write an academic paper. Throughout your undergraduate research career you may or may not have the opportunity to be published. Regardless, learning how academic papers are written is useful knowledge for anyone interested in pursuing a research career. Whether or not you have the opportunity to be published as an undergrad depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of your project, how often your faculty advisor publishes papers, and your particular role in the research lab. If you haven’t been published as an undergrad, no need to stress. There are many other ways your research can shine on an application.

I was tasked with writing my first paper in the spring of my junior year. As I am the primary person working on my research project, my faculty advisor expected me to write the paper by myself with his help and feedback. At first, this seemed to be a very daunting task. I had never written an entire academic paper by myself before, and I had no idea where to begin. The writing process took much longer than I expected (I didn’t finish until Fall 2019), and the paper I submitted is currently under review. In this blog post, I will share what I learned while writing my first academic paper. As a biomedical engineering major, my experience is a reflection of the norms within the engineering field. However, I hope that some of these tips will prove useful for those in all majors.

Getting Started

I began my first draft of my paper as I had begun many other papers I have written- with an introduction. When I showed my first draft to my PI, he told me that it is actually most common in the engineering field to begin writing an academic paper by constructing the figures. At first, I thought this seemed rather counterintuitive. Shouldn’t the figures be based on the writing, rather than the other way around? There are several reasons why the opposite is actually true. Firstly, the figures are the most eye-catching part of every paper and sometimes the only thing a reader will look at. In addition, many journals have figure limitations so the figures that are chosen must be carefully thought out in order to maximize their effectiveness. Lastly, constructing the figures first establishes a clear outline that you can follow as you write the rest of the paper.

Writing the Paper

Writing the actual paper is a long process that typically involves many revisions. I found it helpful to read papers from the same journal I was submitting to in order to get an idea of typical paper formats in that journal. I would also recommend seeking feedback at several stages of the writing process. Don’t wait until the entire paper is finished before showing it to your PI, instead, ask for feedback after the first draft of each section is finished. As an academic paper can have anywhere from five to hundreds of sources, I would also suggest using a citation manager as you write. This will save you from having to constantly update the sources in the paper as you add and revise.

Submitting the Paper

In my case, my PI submitted the paper and is the primary contact with the journal. However, I was expected to fully format the paper before I gave it to him to submit. If you visit the website of the journal you are submitting to, there will be details on the formatting expectations. Reformatting the entire paper after it has been written can be a lot of work, so it’s helpful to review these before you begin writing. Often, it is expected that you include a letter to the editor requesting for your paper to be considered, which you may or may not have to write depending on your PI.

After Submission

Depending on the journal, it can be up to several months before you hear back about your submission. In my case, I heard back from the reviewers about two months after submission. There were two reviewers for the paper I submitted, though this number will likely vary depending on the journal. The comments that were made were useful and provided good insight into an outsider’s perspective on my research. It is very common for journals to request revision and resubmission, so don’t expect the first paper you submit to be published!

Although writing an academic paper is challenging, I found it to be a very rewarding experience. I now appreciate how much work it takes to write a good paper and I feel like I grew as a scientific writer throughout the process. If you feel that your research deserves to be published, don’t be afraid to reach out to your PI and ask them if they think you could write a paper. Even if it is never published, writing about your research is an excellent way to become a better writer and also understand your own research area more fully.

Ariane is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and Spanish. Click here to learn more about Ariane.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Research Paper

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The Research Paper

There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.

Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.

The pages in this section cover the following topic areas related to the process of writing a research paper:

  • Genre - This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
  • Choosing a Topic - This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses themselves.
  • Identifying an Audience - This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
  • Where Do I Begin - This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.

How to Write a Research Paper as a High School Student

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By Carly Taylor

Senior at Stanford University

6 minute read

Read our guide to learn why you should write a research paper and how to do so, from choosing the right topic to outlining and structuring your argument.

What is a research paper?

A research paper poses an answer to a specific question and defends that answer using academic sources, data, and critical reasoning. Writing a research paper is an excellent way to hone your focus during a research project , synthesize what you’re learning, and explain why your work matters to a broader audience of scholars in your field.

The types of sources and evidence you’ll see used in a research paper can vary widely based on its field of study. A history research paper might examine primary sources like journals and newspaper articles to draw conclusions about the culture of a specific time and place, whereas a biology research paper might analyze data from different published experiments and use textbook explanations of cellular pathways to identify a potential marker for breast cancer.

However, researchers across disciplines must identify and analyze credible sources, formulate a specific research question, generate a clear thesis statement, and organize their ideas in a cohesive manner to support their argument. Read on to learn how this process works and how to get started writing your own research paper.

Choosing your topic

Tap into your passions.

A research paper is your chance to explore what genuinely interests you and combine ideas in novel ways. So don’t choose a subject that simply sounds impressive or blindly follow what someone else wants you to do – choose something you’re really passionate about! You should be able to enjoy reading for hours and hours about your topic and feel enthusiastic about synthesizing and sharing what you learn.

We've created these helpful resources to inspire you to think about your own passion project . Polygence also offers a passion exploration experience where you can dive deep into three potential areas of study with expert mentors from those fields.

Ask a difficult question

In the traditional classroom, top students are expected to always know the answers to the questions the teacher asks. But a research paper is YOUR chance to pose a big question that no one has answered yet, and figure out how to make a contribution to answering that question. So don’t be afraid if you have no idea how to answer your question at the start of the research process — this will help you maintain a motivational sense of discovery as you dive deeper into your research. If you need inspiration, explore our database of research project ideas .

Be as specific as possible

It’s essential to be reasonable about what you can accomplish in one paper and narrow your focus down to an issue you can thoroughly address. For example, if you’re interested in the effects of invasive species on ecosystems, it’s best to focus on one invasive species and one ecosystem, such as iguanas in South Florida , or one survival mechanism, such as supercolonies in invasive ant species . If you can, get hands on with your project.

You should approach your paper with the mindset of becoming an expert in this topic. Narrowing your focus will help you achieve this goal without getting lost in the weeds and overwhelming yourself.

Would you like to write your own research paper?

Polygence mentors can help you every step of the way in writing and showcasing your research paper

Preparing to write

Conduct preliminary research.

Before you dive into writing your research paper, conduct a literature review to see what’s already known about your topic. This can help you find your niche within the existing body of research and formulate your question. For example, Polygence student Jasmita found that researchers had studied the effects of background music on student test performance, but they had not taken into account the effect of a student’s familiarity with the music being played, so she decided to pose this new question in her research paper.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to skim articles in order to decide whether they’re relevant enough to your research interest before committing to reading them in full. This can help you spend as much time as possible with the sources you’ll actually cite in your paper.

Skimming articles will help you gain a broad-strokes view of the different pockets of existing knowledge in your field and identify the most potentially useful sources. Reading articles in full will allow you to accumulate specific evidence related to your research question and begin to formulate an answer to it.

Draft a thesis statement

Your thesis statement is your succinctly-stated answer to the question you’re posing, which you’ll make your case for in the body of the paper. For example, if you’re studying the effect of K-pop on eating disorders and body image in teenagers of different races, your thesis may be that Asian teenagers who are exposed to K-pop videos experience more negative effects on their body image than Caucasian teenagers.

Pro Tip: It’s okay to refine your thesis as you continue to learn more throughout your research and writing process! A preliminary thesis will help you come up with a structure for presenting your argument, but you should absolutely change your thesis if new information you uncover changes your perspective or adds nuance to it.

Create an outline

An outline is a tool for sketching out the structure of your paper by organizing your points broadly into subheadings and more finely into individual paragraphs. Try putting your thesis at the top of your outline, then brainstorm all the points you need to convey in order to support your thesis.

Pro Tip : Your outline is just a jumping-off point – it will evolve as you gain greater clarity on your argument through your writing and continued research. Sometimes, it takes several iterations of outlining, then writing, then re-outlining, then rewriting in order to find the best structure for your paper.

Writing your paper


Your introduction should move the reader from your broad area of interest into your specific area of focus for the paper. It generally takes the form of one to two paragraphs that build to your thesis statement and give the reader an idea of the broad argumentative structure of your paper. After reading your introduction, your reader should know what claim you’re going to present and what kinds of evidence you’ll analyze to support it.

Topic sentences

Writing crystal clear topic sentences is a crucial aspect of a successful research paper. A topic sentence is like the thesis statement of a particular paragraph – it should clearly state the point that the paragraph will make. Writing focused topic sentences will help you remain focused while writing your paragraphs and will ensure that the reader can clearly grasp the function of each paragraph in the paper’s overall structure.


Sophisticated research papers move beyond tacking on simple transitional phrases such as “Secondly” or “Moreover” to the start of each new paragraph. Instead, each paragraph flows naturally into the next one, with the connection between each idea made very clear. Try using specifically-crafted transitional phrases rather than stock phrases to move from one point to the next that will make your paper as cohesive as possible.

In her research paper on Pakistani youth in the U.S. , Polygence student Iba used the following specifically-crafted transition to move between two paragraphs: “Although the struggles of digital ethnography limited some data collection, there are also many advantages of digital data collection.” This sentence provides the logical link between the discussion of the limitations of digital ethnography from the prior paragraph and the upcoming discussion of this techniques’ advantages in this paragraph.

Your conclusion can have several functions:

To drive home your thesis and summarize your argument

To emphasize the broader significance of your findings and answer the “so what” question

To point out some questions raised by your thesis and/or opportunities for further research

Your conclusion can take on all three of these tasks or just one, depending on what you feel your paper is still lacking up to this point.

Citing sources

Last but not least, giving credit to your sources is extremely important. There are many different citation formats such as MLA, APA, and Chicago style. Make sure you know which one is standard in your field of interest by researching online or consulting an expert.

You have several options for keeping track of your bibliography:

Use a notebook to record the relevant information from each of your sources: title, author, date of publication, journal name, page numbers, etc.

Create a folder on your computer where you can store your electronic sources

Use an online bibliography creator such as Zotero, Easybib, or Noodletools to track sources and generate citations

You can read research papers by Polygence students under our Projects tab. You can also explore other opportunities for high school research .

If you’re interested in finding an expert mentor to guide you through the process of writing your own independent research paper, consider applying to be a Polygence scholar today!

Your research paper help even you to earn college credit , get published in an academic journal , contribute to your application for college , improve your college admissions chances !

Feeling Inspired?

Interested in doing an exciting research project? Click below to get matched with one of our expert mentors!

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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  • Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page

The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  • Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  • Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  • Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  • Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  • Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract

APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  • Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  • Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  • The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  • The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  • The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .

Table 13.1 Section Headings

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Citation Guidelines

In-text citations.

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

References Section

In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.

Key Takeaways

  • Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
  • Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
  • APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
  • APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
  • In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, getting college essay help: important do's and don’ts.

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College Essays


If you grow up to be a professional writer, everything you write will first go through an editor before being published. This is because the process of writing is really a process of re-writing —of rethinking and reexamining your work, usually with the help of someone else. So what does this mean for your student writing? And in particular, what does it mean for very important, but nonprofessional writing like your college essay? Should you ask your parents to look at your essay? Pay for an essay service?

If you are wondering what kind of help you can, and should, get with your personal statement, you've come to the right place! In this article, I'll talk about what kind of writing help is useful, ethical, and even expected for your college admission essay . I'll also point out who would make a good editor, what the differences between editing and proofreading are, what to expect from a good editor, and how to spot and stay away from a bad one.

Table of Contents

What Kind of Help for Your Essay Can You Get?

What's Good Editing?

What should an editor do for you, what kind of editing should you avoid, proofreading, what's good proofreading, what kind of proofreading should you avoid.

What Do Colleges Think Of You Getting Help With Your Essay?

Who Can/Should Help You?

Advice for editors.

Should You Pay Money For Essay Editing?

The Bottom Line

What's next, what kind of help with your essay can you get.

Rather than talking in general terms about "help," let's first clarify the two different ways that someone else can improve your writing . There is editing, which is the more intensive kind of assistance that you can use throughout the whole process. And then there's proofreading, which is the last step of really polishing your final product.

Let me go into some more detail about editing and proofreading, and then explain how good editors and proofreaders can help you."

Editing is helping the author (in this case, you) go from a rough draft to a finished work . Editing is the process of asking questions about what you're saying, how you're saying it, and how you're organizing your ideas. But not all editing is good editing . In fact, it's very easy for an editor to cross the line from supportive to overbearing and over-involved.

Ability to clarify assignments. A good editor is usually a good writer, and certainly has to be a good reader. For example, in this case, a good editor should make sure you understand the actual essay prompt you're supposed to be answering.

Open-endedness. Good editing is all about asking questions about your ideas and work, but without providing answers. It's about letting you stick to your story and message, and doesn't alter your point of view.


Think of an editor as a great travel guide. It can show you the many different places your trip could take you. It should explain any parts of the trip that could derail your trip or confuse the traveler. But it never dictates your path, never forces you to go somewhere you don't want to go, and never ignores your interests so that the trip no longer seems like it's your own. So what should good editors do?

Help Brainstorm Topics

Sometimes it's easier to bounce thoughts off of someone else. This doesn't mean that your editor gets to come up with ideas, but they can certainly respond to the various topic options you've come up with. This way, you're less likely to write about the most boring of your ideas, or to write about something that isn't actually important to you.

If you're wondering how to come up with options for your editor to consider, check out our guide to brainstorming topics for your college essay .

Help Revise Your Drafts

Here, your editor can't upset the delicate balance of not intervening too much or too little. It's tricky, but a great way to think about it is to remember: editing is about asking questions, not giving answers .

Revision questions should point out:

  • Places where more detail or more description would help the reader connect with your essay
  • Places where structure and logic don't flow, losing the reader's attention
  • Places where there aren't transitions between paragraphs, confusing the reader
  • Moments where your narrative or the arguments you're making are unclear

But pointing to potential problems is not the same as actually rewriting—editors let authors fix the problems themselves.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Bad editing is usually very heavy-handed editing. Instead of helping you find your best voice and ideas, a bad editor changes your writing into their own vision.

You may be dealing with a bad editor if they:

  • Add material (examples, descriptions) that doesn't come from you
  • Use a thesaurus to make your college essay sound "more mature"
  • Add meaning or insight to the essay that doesn't come from you
  • Tell you what to say and how to say it
  • Write sentences, phrases, and paragraphs for you
  • Change your voice in the essay so it no longer sounds like it was written by a teenager

Colleges can tell the difference between a 17-year-old's writing and a 50-year-old's writing. Not only that, they have access to your SAT or ACT Writing section, so they can compare your essay to something else you wrote. Writing that's a little more polished is great and expected. But a totally different voice and style will raise questions.

Where's the Line Between Helpful Editing and Unethical Over-Editing?

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your college essay editor is doing the right thing. Here are some guidelines for staying on the ethical side of the line.

  • An editor should say that the opening paragraph is kind of boring, and explain what exactly is making it drag. But it's overstepping for an editor to tell you exactly how to change it.
  • An editor should point out where your prose is unclear or vague. But it's completely inappropriate for the editor to rewrite that section of your essay.
  • An editor should let you know that a section is light on detail or description. But giving you similes and metaphors to beef up that description is a no-go.


Proofreading (also called copy-editing) is checking for errors in the last draft of a written work. It happens at the end of the process and is meant as the final polishing touch. Proofreading is meticulous and detail-oriented, focusing on small corrections. It sands off all the surface rough spots that could alienate the reader.

Because proofreading is usually concerned with making fixes on the word or sentence level, this is the only process where someone else can actually add to or take away things from your essay . This is because what they are adding or taking away tends to be one or two misplaced letters.

Laser focus. Proofreading is all about the tiny details, so the ability to really concentrate on finding small slip-ups is a must.

Excellent grammar and spelling skills. Proofreaders need to dot every "i" and cross every "t." Good proofreaders should correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. They should put foreign words in italics and surround quotations with quotation marks. They should check that you used the correct college's name, and that you adhered to any formatting requirements (name and date at the top of the page, uniform font and size, uniform spacing).

Limited interference. A proofreader needs to make sure that you followed any word limits. But if cuts need to be made to shorten the essay, that's your job and not the proofreader's.


A bad proofreader either tries to turn into an editor, or just lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job.

Some signs that you're working with a bad proofreader are:

  • If they suggest making major changes to the final draft of your essay. Proofreading happens when editing is already finished.
  • If they aren't particularly good at spelling, or don't know grammar, or aren't detail-oriented enough to find someone else's small mistakes.
  • If they start swapping out your words for fancier-sounding synonyms, or changing the voice and sound of your essay in other ways. A proofreader is there to check for errors, not to take the 17-year-old out of your writing.


What Do Colleges Think of Your Getting Help With Your Essay?

Admissions officers agree: light editing and proofreading are good—even required ! But they also want to make sure you're the one doing the work on your essay. They want essays with stories, voice, and themes that come from you. They want to see work that reflects your actual writing ability, and that focuses on what you find important.

On the Importance of Editing

Get feedback. Have a fresh pair of eyes give you some feedback. Don't allow someone else to rewrite your essay, but do take advantage of others' edits and opinions when they seem helpful. ( Bates College )

Read your essay aloud to someone. Reading the essay out loud offers a chance to hear how your essay sounds outside your head. This exercise reveals flaws in the essay's flow, highlights grammatical errors and helps you ensure that you are communicating the exact message you intended. ( Dickinson College )

On the Value of Proofreading

Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well—such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend—and ask for feedback. Remember that you ultimately have control over your essays, and your essays should retain your own voice, but others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit. ( Yale University )

Proofread and then ask someone else to proofread for you. Although we want substance, we also want to be able to see that you can write a paper for our professors and avoid careless mistakes that would drive them crazy. ( Oberlin College )

On Watching Out for Too Much Outside Influence

Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style. ( Carleton College )

Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we're probably going to notice. ( Vanderbilt University )


Now let's talk about some potential people to approach for your college essay editing and proofreading needs. It's best to start close to home and slowly expand outward. Not only are your family and friends more invested in your success than strangers, but they also have a better handle on your interests and personality. This knowledge is key for judging whether your essay is expressing your true self.

Parents or Close Relatives

Your family may be full of potentially excellent editors! Parents are deeply committed to your well-being, and family members know you and your life well enough to offer details or incidents that can be included in your essay. On the other hand, the rewriting process necessarily involves criticism, which is sometimes hard to hear from someone very close to you.

A parent or close family member is a great choice for an editor if you can answer "yes" to the following questions. Is your parent or close relative a good writer or reader? Do you have a relationship where editing your essay won't create conflict? Are you able to constructively listen to criticism and suggestion from the parent?

One suggestion for defusing face-to-face discussions is to try working on the essay over email. Send your parent a draft, have them write you back some comments, and then you can pick which of their suggestions you want to use and which to discard.

Teachers or Tutors

A humanities teacher that you have a good relationship with is a great choice. I am purposefully saying humanities, and not just English, because teachers of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and any other classes where you do a lot of writing, are all used to reviewing student work.

Moreover, any teacher or tutor that has been working with you for some time, knows you very well and can vet the essay to make sure it "sounds like you."

If your teacher or tutor has some experience with what college essays are supposed to be like, ask them to be your editor. If not, then ask whether they have time to proofread your final draft.

Guidance or College Counselor at Your School

The best thing about asking your counselor to edit your work is that this is their job. This means that they have a very good sense of what colleges are looking for in an application essay.

At the same time, school counselors tend to have relationships with admissions officers in many colleges, which again gives them insight into what works and which college is focused on what aspect of the application.

Unfortunately, in many schools the guidance counselor tends to be way overextended. If your ratio is 300 students to 1 college counselor, you're unlikely to get that person's undivided attention and focus. It is still useful to ask them for general advice about your potential topics, but don't expect them to be able to stay with your essay from first draft to final version.

Friends, Siblings, or Classmates

Although they most likely don't have much experience with what colleges are hoping to see, your peers are excellent sources for checking that your essay is you .

Friends and siblings are perfect for the read-aloud edit. Read your essay to them so they can listen for words and phrases that are stilted, pompous, or phrases that just don't sound like you.

You can even trade essays and give helpful advice on each other's work.


If your editor hasn't worked with college admissions essays very much, no worries! Any astute and attentive reader can still greatly help with your process. But, as in all things, beginners do better with some preparation.

First, your editor should read our advice about how to write a college essay introduction , how to spot and fix a bad college essay , and get a sense of what other students have written by going through some admissions essays that worked .

Then, as they read your essay, they can work through the following series of questions that will help them to guide you.

Introduction Questions

  • Is the first sentence a killer opening line? Why or why not?
  • Does the introduction hook the reader? Does it have a colorful, detailed, and interesting narrative? Or does it propose a compelling or surprising idea?
  • Can you feel the author's voice in the introduction, or is the tone dry, dull, or overly formal? Show the places where the voice comes through.

Essay Body Questions

  • Does the essay have a through-line? Is it built around a central argument, thought, idea, or focus? Can you put this idea into your own words?
  • How is the essay organized? By logical progression? Chronologically? Do you feel order when you read it, or are there moments where you are confused or lose the thread of the essay?
  • Does the essay have both narratives about the author's life and explanations and insight into what these stories reveal about the author's character, personality, goals, or dreams? If not, which is missing?
  • Does the essay flow? Are there smooth transitions/clever links between paragraphs? Between the narrative and moments of insight?

Reader Response Questions

  • Does the writer's personality come through? Do we know what the speaker cares about? Do we get a sense of "who he or she is"?
  • Where did you feel most connected to the essay? Which parts of the essay gave you a "you are there" sensation by invoking your senses? What moments could you picture in your head well?
  • Where are the details and examples vague and not specific enough?
  • Did you get an "a-ha!" feeling anywhere in the essay? Is there a moment of insight that connected all the dots for you? Is there a good reveal or "twist" anywhere in the essay?
  • What are the strengths of this essay? What needs the most improvement?


Should You Pay Money for Essay Editing?

One alternative to asking someone you know to help you with your college essay is the paid editor route. There are two different ways to pay for essay help: a private essay coach or a less personal editing service , like the many proliferating on the internet.

My advice is to think of these options as a last resort rather than your go-to first choice. I'll first go through the reasons why. Then, if you do decide to go with a paid editor, I'll help you decide between a coach and a service.

When to Consider a Paid Editor

In general, I think hiring someone to work on your essay makes a lot of sense if none of the people I discussed above are a possibility for you.

If you can't ask your parents. For example, if your parents aren't good writers, or if English isn't their first language. Or if you think getting your parents to help is going create unnecessary extra conflict in your relationship with them (applying to college is stressful as it is!)

If you can't ask your teacher or tutor. Maybe you don't have a trusted teacher or tutor that has time to look over your essay with focus. Or, for instance, your favorite humanities teacher has very limited experience with college essays and so won't know what admissions officers want to see.

If you can't ask your guidance counselor. This could be because your guidance counselor is way overwhelmed with other students.

If you can't share your essay with those who know you. It might be that your essay is on a very personal topic that you're unwilling to share with parents, teachers, or peers. Just make sure it doesn't fall into one of the bad-idea topics in our article on bad college essays .

If the cost isn't a consideration. Many of these services are quite expensive, and private coaches even more so. If you have finite resources, I'd say that hiring an SAT or ACT tutor (whether it's PrepScholar or someone else) is better way to spend your money . This is because there's no guarantee that a slightly better essay will sufficiently elevate the rest of your application, but a significantly higher SAT score will definitely raise your applicant profile much more.

Should You Hire an Essay Coach?

On the plus side, essay coaches have read dozens or even hundreds of college essays, so they have experience with the format. Also, because you'll be working closely with a specific person, it's more personal than sending your essay to a service, which will know even less about you.

But, on the minus side, you'll still be bouncing ideas off of someone who doesn't know that much about you . In general, if you can adequately get the help from someone you know, there is no advantage to paying someone to help you.

If you do decide to hire a coach, ask your school counselor, or older students that have used the service for recommendations. If you can't afford the coach's fees, ask whether they can work on a sliding scale —many do. And finally, beware those who guarantee admission to your school of choice—essay coaches don't have any special magic that can back up those promises.

Should You Send Your Essay to a Service?

On the plus side, essay editing services provide a similar product to essay coaches, and they cost significantly less . If you have some assurance that you'll be working with a good editor, the lack of face-to-face interaction won't prevent great results.

On the minus side, however, it can be difficult to gauge the quality of the service before working with them . If they are churning through many application essays without getting to know the students they are helping, you could end up with an over-edited essay that sounds just like everyone else's. In the worst case scenario, an unscrupulous service could send you back a plagiarized essay.

Getting recommendations from friends or a school counselor for reputable services is key to avoiding heavy-handed editing that writes essays for you or does too much to change your essay. Including a badly-edited essay like this in your application could cause problems if there are inconsistencies. For example, in interviews it might be clear you didn't write the essay, or the skill of the essay might not be reflected in your schoolwork and test scores.

Should You Buy an Essay Written by Someone Else?

Let me elaborate. There are super sketchy places on the internet where you can simply buy a pre-written essay. Don't do this!

For one thing, you'll be lying on an official, signed document. All college applications make you sign a statement saying something like this:

I certify that all information submitted in the admission process—including the application, the personal essay, any supplements, and any other supporting materials—is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented... I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree, should the information I have certified be false. (From the Common Application )

For another thing, if your academic record doesn't match the essay's quality, the admissions officer will start thinking your whole application is riddled with lies.

Admission officers have full access to your writing portion of the SAT or ACT so that they can compare work that was done in proctored conditions with that done at home. They can tell if these were written by different people. Not only that, but there are now a number of search engines that faculty and admission officers can use to see if an essay contains strings of words that have appeared in other essays—you have no guarantee that the essay you bought wasn't also bought by 50 other students.


  • You should get college essay help with both editing and proofreading
  • A good editor will ask questions about your idea, logic, and structure, and will point out places where clarity is needed
  • A good editor will absolutely not answer these questions, give you their own ideas, or write the essay or parts of the essay for you
  • A good proofreader will find typos and check your formatting
  • All of them agree that getting light editing and proofreading is necessary
  • Parents, teachers, guidance or college counselor, and peers or siblings
  • If you can't ask any of those, you can pay for college essay help, but watch out for services or coaches who over-edit you work
  • Don't buy a pre-written essay! Colleges can tell, and it'll make your whole application sound false.

Ready to start working on your essay? Check out our explanation of the point of the personal essay and the role it plays on your applications and then explore our step-by-step guide to writing a great college essay .

Using the Common Application for your college applications? We have an excellent guide to the Common App essay prompts and useful advice on how to pick the Common App prompt that's right for you . Wondering how other people tackled these prompts? Then work through our roundup of over 130 real college essay examples published by colleges .

Stressed about whether to take the SAT again before submitting your application? Let us help you decide how many times to take this test . If you choose to go for it, we have the ultimate guide to studying for the SAT to give you the ins and outs of the best ways to study.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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10 Best AI Tools for Academic Research in 2024 (Free and Paid)

Ayush Chaturvedi

20 min read

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Research can be a time-consuming endeavour. Sifting through mountains of literature, analyzing data, and crafting clear arguments can feel overwhelming. 

However, you can streamline much of this research process with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, some of which are the best for research.

These AI-powered assistants can search vast databases in seconds, pinpoint relevant studies, and customize data to your specific research question. 

They can also recommend key research articles and highlight emerging trends within your field, saving you time.

Additionally, with the help of the best AI tools for research, you can improve your writing and streamline your workflow with real-time grammar and punctuation checks, stylistic suggestions, and clear explanations of complex concepts.

But how do you choose?

Don't worry; we've got you covered. 

We have created a list of all the best AI tools for research on the internet, filtering based on various factors and handpicked the top 10. 

These research AI tools not only assist you in research but also integrate with your workflow and reduce your overall workload. 

So let's get started.

Best AI Tools for Research at a Glance

What are research ai tools, benefits of using ai tools for research, factors to consider when choosing the best ai tools for research, top 10 best ai tools for research, key features of elephas , elephas pricing , elepahs reviews, chatgpt key features , chatgpt pricing , chatgpt reviews , features:, pricing , reviews , quillbot key features , quillbot pricing , quillbot review , features:, pricing , reviews , consensus ai key features , consensus ai pricing , consensus ai reviews , features , pricing , reviews , scholarly key features, scholarcy pricing , scholarcy reviews , proofhub key features , proofhub pricing , proofhub reviews , research rabbit key features , research rabbit pricing , research rabbit reviews , limitations of ai tools for research, case study: how a professor used elephas in his lesson research process.

  • Conclusion 

1. Which AI is better for research?

2. is chatgpt good for research, 3. how can ai be used for research, 4. what is the best ai for phd.

Elephas: Summarize research, rewrite content in different styles, and organize summaries in a central "Super Brain" for easy access.

ChatGPT: Summarize news articles and answer research questions Streamline academic writing with templates and citation management. 

Quillbot: Rephrase text and summarize complex materials for research. : Ensure clarity, grammar, and originality in your academic writing.

Consensus AI: Search vast databases and filter research papers for quality. Get real citations and measure the credibility of research claims.

Scholarcy: Summarize complex articles and build a searchable research library.

ProofHub: Manage research projects with tasks, collaboration tools, and scheduling.

ResearchRabbit: Build a research library and get recommendations for new papers. 

Research AI tools are game-changers for students, academics, and researchers, streamlining the entire research process. 

With the help of the best AI tools for research as your personal research assistant, they help you find relevant articles, analyze information, and even improve your writing!

Imagine being able to find hundreds of relevant research papers in minutes,  or getting a clear summary of a complex article with the click of a button. That's the magic of AI research assistants.

Some specialize in specific areas, like grammar and plagiarism checking, while others focus on broader tasks like literature review and research question development.  

No matter your research needs, there's an AI tool out there to help you save time, improve your work, and produce higher-quality research. 

Let's look closer at the features that a research AI tool offers 

These AI-powered tools offer a variety of features such as:

  • Effortless searching: Quickly find high-quality research papers by entering your topic.
  • Smarter literature reviews: Get suggestions for key studies, authors, and research trends.
  • Enhanced writing: Improve your writing with grammar checks, stylistic suggestions, and help with complex concepts.
  • Citation management: Easily manage and format your citations to avoid plagiarism.
  • Research organization: Build your research library and organize articles for easy access.

These are just a few examples of how AI research tools can save you time and effort, allowing you to focus on the analysis and critical thinking that truly matters. 

Some tools even go beyond and offer a complete suite of AI features that cut down more than half of the research time.

Research can be a time-consuming endeavour. Sifting through mountains of literature, analyzing data, and crafting clear arguments can feel overwhelming. However, you can streamline much of this research process with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools like Research AI tools. 

Here are some benefits you can gain with Research AI tools:

Effortless Information Retrieval: AI tools can search vast databases in seconds, pinpointing relevant studies and data tailored to your specific research question.

Smarter Literature Reviews: No more wading through mountains of papers. AI can recommend key research articles, and influential authors, and highlight emerging trends within your field, saving you time and ensuring a comprehensive review.

Idea Generation: If you struggle to spark new research ideas, then AI can help you. It can brainstorm fresh research questions, and hypotheses, and even suggest innovative experiment designs to propel your research forward.

Writing Assistant & Editor:  You can improve your writing and streamline your workflow with AI's editing prowess. Get real-time grammar and punctuation checks , stylistic suggestions, and clear explanations of complex concepts, all designed to elevate the quality of your research writing.

Enhanced Efficiency: AI automates tedious tasks like citation management and formatting, freeing you to focus on the analysis and interpretation of your research findings.

Personalized Research Assistant: AI tools can adapt to your research interests, suggesting relevant articles, recommending new avenues for exploration, and even summarizing complex research papers for a clearer understanding.

There are different AI tools present on the internet for different needs. So with the vast array of AI-powered research assistants available, selecting the most suitable tool can be problematic. 

Here are some key factors to consider, when you choosing the best AI Tools for Research:

Your Research Needs: Identify your specific needs. Are you searching for literature, summarizing complex papers, or improving your writing? Different tools excel in various areas.

Features Offered: Align the tool's features with your needs. Do you require real-time citation suggestions or plagiarism checkers?

Data Accuracy and Credibility: Ensure the tool retrieves information from reliable sources. stands out for highlighting the credibility of research claims.

Ease of Use: Consider the platform's user-friendliness. Look for intuitive interfaces and clear instructions.

Cost: AI tools often have varying pricing structures. Some offer free trials or basic plans, while others require subscriptions. Determine your budget and choose a tool that aligns with it.

Integration Capabilities: Does the tool integrate with your existing workflow? Look for options that seamlessly connect with your preferred reference managers or writing platforms.

Most importantly, remember that AI research assistants are only there to increase your productivity in the research process, not to replace it .

1. Elephas  


Elephas is an innovative AI tool designed to supercharge your research and writing efficiency. It utilizes advanced technology to break down complex research papers, YouTube videos, and other content, extracting the key points and saving you valuable time.

Additionally, Elephas goes beyond summarizing – it can seamlessly integrate with your workflow and rewrite content in various tones, making it a versatile companion for all your writing needs. 

Elephas doesn't just summarize research papers; it extracts key points and integrates seamlessly with your workflow. Whether you're a student, researcher, or content creator, Elephas helps you achieve more in less time.

Effortless Sum marization: Extract key points from research papers and YouTube videos with ease.

Centralized Hub: Keep all your research summaries organized in one place with Elephas Super Brain .

Seamless Content Creation: Create professional emails, engaging social media posts, and documents in just a few clicks.

Multiple Rewrite Modes: Choose from a variety of writing styles to make your content more engaging.

Super-Command Bar: Increase your productivity with features like article summarization and data extraction.

Elephas is also one of the best AI Tools for Summarizing Research Papers in the market right now. And it bundles up with a powerful iOS app as well.

It works locally and it's 100% privacy friendly!

If you own a Mac, you should definitely try it out.


ChatGPT , the tool behind the existence of many AI tools, is undeniably one of the best AI tools for research. With the right prompts, you can easily summarize any news articles , long notes, etc., in seconds. You can also ask ChatGPT research-related questions to gain a better understanding of research papers. Furthermore, you can improve your writing and avoid any grammar and punctuation mistakes. With the help of ChatGPT, the number of things you can do is endless.

Effortless Information Retrieval: Find the studies and data you need in a flash.

Smarter Literature Reviews: Get suggestions for key papers, authors, and research trends.

Idea Generation on Demand: Spark new research questions, hypotheses, and experiment designs.

Writing Assistant: Improve your writing with grammar checks, stylistic suggestions, and simplified explanations of complex concepts.

  • Premium Plan Starts at $20/month 

Some users have reported false money deductions and low-quality service provided in the premium subscription.

3. streamlines the entire academic writing process, saving you time and frustration.  This user-friendly platform offers a variety of features to help you write, collaborate, and publish top-notch research. From predefined templates to AI-powered writing assistance, empowers researchers of all levels to achieve their scholarly goals.

Effortless Formatting: Predefined templates ensure your paper meets journal requirements.

Citation Breeze: Manage citations and references effortlessly, with automatic generation.

Seamless Collaboration: Work together on research papers in real time.

Smart Journal Selection: Find the perfect fit for your research with a built-in journal database.

Premium Plan Starts at $7.78/month

Users have reported that the tool doesn't notify at the end of the free trial and sneakily charges for the premium plan. Additionally, once the plan is purchased, the money is non-refundable. Some have claimed that even after cancelling the subscription, the customer service did not cancel it and still charged their cards.

4. Quillbot 


Quillbot is your AI research companion, offering several time-saving features to streamline your workflow. It is designed to assist researchers of all levels. This tool utilizes advanced learning algorithms to enhance your writing and comprehension skills. With Quillbot, you can confidently paraphrase text, summarize complex materials, and ensure clear, plagiarism-free writing. Additionally, you can perform citations with high accuracy. Quillbot streamlines your workflow and strengthens your writing.

Paraphrasing & Summarizing: Quillbot rewrites sentences and condenses lengthy passages, saving you time and effort.

Language Enhancement & Learning: Improve your writing with advanced suggestions and explanations, perfect for non-native speakers.

Research Brainstorming: Generate fresh ideas from just a few keywords, overcoming writer's block.

Academic Accuracy & Citation Help: Ensure your writing matches specific citation styles and uses precise academic language.

  • Premium Plan starts at $4.17/month 

Users have reported that the tool is working slowly when used in Microsoft Word, and it often uses complex words while paraphrasing. Some have also reported that the rephrased content on Quillbot is detected as AI-generated content on various AI detection tools.


Wordvice AI is one of the best AI tools for research, it is your one-stop shop for powerful writing assistance. This AI-powered tool uses cutting-edge technology to streamline your research workflow, saving you time and effort. From basic grammar and clarity checks to advanced plagiarism detection, Wordvice AI helps you to write with confidence and produce polished, original academic content.

All-in-one editing: Grammar, style, clarity, and fluency checks with real-time feedback.

Vocabulary booster: Get suggestions for synonyms and alternative phrasing to diversify your writing.

Academic writing companion: Ensures proper citation format, maintains a scholarly tone, and adheres to research conventions.

Originality assured: Scans millions of sources to prevent plagiarism in your work.

Premium Plan starts at $9.95/month 

Users have reported that certain sentence patterns generated by AI are already found on existing web pages, which has led to an increase in plagiarism within content.

6. Consensus AI

Consensus AI

Consensus AI is an innovative platform that uses artificial intelligence to simplify your search process. In just minutes, Consensus AI can search through vast databases and deliver hundreds of relevant, high-quality research papers directly to you. Also, Consensus AI filters results by date, study type, and journal quality, ensuring you find high-quality, credible sources to strengthen your research.

AI-powered Search Engine: Enter your research question and let Consensus AI scour vast databases to find relevant papers.

Time-Saving Efficiency: Gather hundreds of papers in minutes, freeing you up to focus on analysis and writing.

Comprehensive Results: Access a diverse range of studies, including randomized trials, reviews, and observational studies.

High-Quality Papers: Filter results by journal quality to ensure the credibility of your sources.

  • Premium Plan Starts at $8.99/month 

Users have reported that when we try to share the live demo over Zoom, the tool becomes slow and hangs. They think it is a hassle to jump between the browser and Zoom. They suggest introducing some integration features in the tool as a good solution.

7. is one of the best for reliable research assistance powered by Artificial Intelligence. tackles a common problem with AI research tools – unreliable citations.  Unlike others, provides you with real citations to published papers,  so you can be confident in the information you use. Even better, can analyze the research and tell you how many studies support or challenge a specific claim. 

Create Dashboards: Organize your research findings in a user-friendly format.

Journal and Institution Metrics: Gain insights into the reputation of academic sources.

Interactive Visualizations: You can see research trends and connections come through visualizations of the tool. 

Measure Claim Credibility: analyzes the strength of a claim by showing you how many studies support or refute it.

Premium Plan starts at $20/month 

Users have noticed that sometimes the tool produces inaccurate citations, which can be problematic for researchers who rely on its accuracy. Additionally, some users believe that the tool's pricing is significantly higher compared to its competitors. Reviews

8. Scholarcy


Scholarcy is an AI-powered tool that acts like a personal research assistant, summarizing complex articles, reports, and even book chapters for you.  Scholarcy quickly helps you understand the key points of any document and assess its relevance to your work, saving you precious time and effort. Whether you're a researcher, student, or just curious about the latest advancements, Scholarcy helps you quickly grasp key findings and identify relevant sources

Key Points at a Glance: Scholarcy extracts crucial information and organizes it into clear categories, making it easy to grasp the main ideas.

Seamless Integration: Scholarcy offers handy Chrome and Edge browser extensions, allowing you to summarize research directly from your web browser.

Visual Aids: Scholarcy can extract figures, tables, and images from articles, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the research.

Organized Knowledge: Build your searchable database of summarized research, making it easy to revisit key information later.

  • Premium Plan Starts at $4.99/month 

Some users are not satisfied with the complete summaries produced by Scholarcy, as some of the sentences are not actual sentences and need to be corrected. Additionally, some sentences do not make any sense. Other users have claimed that the quality of the tool has significantly dropped in recent months and it feels glitchy while using it.

9. ProofHub


ProofHub is one of the best AI tools for research to streamline research projects. It's an all-in-one project management tool designed specifically to make research teams more efficient and effective. ProofHub centralizes everything your team needs in a single platform, allowing seamless collaboration and communication.  Save valuable time and avoid confusion by ditching the scattered emails, documents, and endless meetings.

Effortless Task & Project Management: Organize your research projects with ease using powerful tools like Kanban boards and Gantt charts.

Centralized Hub for Collaboration: Keep your team on the same page with a central platform for file sharing, discussions, and real-time feedback.

Streamlined Time Tracking & Scheduling: Never miss a deadline again! ProofHub's time tracking and scheduling features help you stay on top of your research project's progress.

Automated Workflows: Save even more time by automating repetitive tasks and creating custom workflows perfectly suited to your research needs.

  • Premium Plan Starts at $45/month 

Users have expressed dissatisfaction with the user interface and email notifications of the tool, stating that they are not up to par. In addition, some have reported that certain features in Proofhub are not as impressive as those of its competitors.

10. Research Rabbit

Research Rabbit

ResearchRabbit is another best AI tools for research, it helps you navigate through the vast world of scientific literature. Nicknamed the "Spotify for Papers," this innovative tool lets you explore research like never before. Build collections of articles you find interesting, and ResearchRabbit will cleverly suggest new papers that align with your specific interests. No more endless searches – ResearchRabbit becomes your personalized research assistant, saving you time and frustration.

Build your research library: Collect and organize articles you find interesting, all in one place.

Smart recommendations: Never miss a groundbreaking study! ResearchRabbit suggests new papers based on your interests, saving you valuable time.

Visualize connections: See how different research areas, authors, and ideas are linked together.

Collaboration made easy: Share your research collections with colleagues to work together more effectively.

Free Forever 

We couldn't find any public reviews for the Research Rabbit. Therefore, we advise users to proceed with caution.

Many best AI tools for research suit different types of people, and these research AI tools have streamlined tasks and uncovered connections. However, they still have many limitations compared to manual research processes. Here's a closer look.

1. Accuracy and Bias: AI tools rely on the data they're trained on. If the data is biased or inaccurate, the results can be misleading. It's crucial to critically evaluate AI outputs and not rely solely on them.

2. Depth vs. Breadth: AI tools can efficiently scan vast amounts of literature, but they may miss nuances or subtleties within research papers. In-depth analysis and critical thinking remain essential for a comprehensive understanding.

3. Overreliance on Automation: AI shouldn't replace the core research process. Researchers should use AI to streamline tasks, not eliminate critical steps like evaluating source credibility and understanding research context.

4. Black Box Problem:  Sometimes, AI won't explain its reasoning behind results. This lack of transparency can make it difficult to assess the trustworthiness of findings or suggestions.

5. Limited Scope: AI tools might not cover all relevant sources, especially niche or emerging research areas. Supplement your search with traditional methods like library databases and expert consultations.

In our community, we have found Elephas being used by some professors at a university, and they have shared their experiences on how they used it in their lesson research process. Here is how they did it:

1. Summarization: The professor utilized Elephas' ability to generate concise summaries of different textbooks and research papers. This allowed him to quickly grasp the core arguments and findings of numerous studies, saving him hours of dedicated reading time.

2. Video Research: Then the professor had to gather more knowledge to create a lesson plan, so he searched for some of the best lengthy video lectures. Packed with historical insights, these videos were no longer a trouble because Elephas efficiently summarized key points from them, enabling our professor to include this valuable information in his lessons without spending hours glued to the screen.

3. Building Knowledge Base: Finally, the professor used Elephas Super Brain to create a centralized hub for all his research summaries. This eliminated the need to sift through countless folders and documents, allowing him to access critical information instantly. Additionally, he utilized the Super Brain to better understand the lesson plan through the Super Brain chat feature of Elephas.

Let's see what Elephas was able to do for our professor who is striving to teach his students in-depth subject knowledge:

1. Increased Efficiency: The professor has seen a significant reduction in research time, freeing up valuable hours for lesson planning and development.

2. Deeper Lesson Understanding: With more time at his disposal, our professor was able to delve into the research he found most compelling, leading to a deeper understanding of historical topics.

3. Engaging Lectures: By using key insights from research summaries provided by Elephas, the professor's lectures became more informative and engaging for his students, helping in their understanding of the topic faster than before.

The professor's experience explains how Elephas can revolutionize the research process for academics. By saving time and streamlining workflows, Elephas helps researchers get deeper into their respective fields and create truly impactful learning experiences and also cut their research process to more than half.


In summary, AI research assistants are transforming how researchers approach their work. These tools can summarize complex information, find relevant studies, and even suggest new research ideas. Top choices include Elephas (which summarizes research papers and YouTube videos), ChatGPT (which summarizes articles and answers questions), and (which streamlines academic writing).

However, make sure to pick the best AI tool for research based on your requirements. Also, remember that while AI offers significant time savings and improved efficiency, it shouldn't replace critical thinking and human expertise in research because AI has several limitations that can degrade your research quality.

Elephas is the best AI tool for research, offering key features for researchers such as summarizing research papers, articles, and YouTube videos. Additionally, you can upload data to a "super brain" for retrieval and chat with uploaded PDFs for deeper understanding. This makes Elephas a strong AI tool for research tasks

Yes, ChatGPT can be a helpful tool for initial research exploration. It can brainstorm ideas, summarize complex topics, and even find relevant sources. However, for in-depth research, specialized academic databases and citation tools are better suited. These resources provide more reliable and accurate information, often with features like peer-reviewed content and advanced search options.

AI is revolutionizing research by summarizing complex information and assisting with content creation. AI tools can analyze research papers, articles, and even videos to extract key findings, saving researchers time and effort. AI can also rewrite content in different tones, making it a valuable asset for researchers who need to communicate their findings to various audiences.

Elephas is an AI tool designed to boost research and writing efficiency for PhD students and researchers. It summarizes complex research papers, YouTube videos, and other content, saving you time. Elephas also integrates with your workflow and rewrites content in various tones, making it a versatile PhD buddy.

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How Often Are Students Submitting AI Papers? Frequently, Says New Data

More than two million papers reviewed by Turnitin's AI detection tool had at least 80% AI-generated content

A robot writing an AI paper

Turnitin released its AI detection tool in April 2023 and since then it has reviewed more than 200 million student papers and found that 10.3% included at least 20% AI-generated content. In addition, 3% — more than 2 million papers or other written materials — consisted of at least 80% AI-generated content. 

A separate Turnitin-sponsored survey about use of AI in college among faculty and students also found that between spring 2023 and fall 2023 the number of students who said they used AI at least once a month rose 22%, going from 27% to 49% of respondents. 

These findings mesh with other recent data points on AI use, including a recent survey of college students from that found that 37% of students used AI, and 29% percent of these students use it to generate entire papers. 

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed a steady trend upward in the number of AI-generated papers I am seeing in the introductory English courses I teach. 

I recently spoke with Patti West-Smith, Turnitin’s Senior Director of Customer Engagement and Customer Experience and a former principal. She discussed what this recent AI cheating data from Turnitin means and what we as teachers can do to protect academic integrity, and more importantly, the student learning that occurs through writing. 

Are 1 in 10 Students Really Using AI To Cheat?  

Not exactly. Though the Turnitin data found that roughly 1 in 10 papers submitted contained at least 20% AI-generated content, West-Smith isn’t particularly concerned about those papers because that level of AI writing in a paper might involve legitimate use. 

“Students who are struggling with language might be looking for a little help or have used it for research, and potentially didn't know that they should cite that depending on the instructor and the institution and their requirements,” she says. 

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What About The 3% of Papers That Were More Than 80% AI-Generated? 

These 2 million-plus papers are more concerning. “That indicates that the AI is being substituted for the student's own thinking,” West-Smith says. 

This is a problem for several reasons. “You don't want a student to get credit for work that they didn't complete, and from an assessment perspective, that's a really big deal,” she says. 

But more important than academic integrity is how the student is shortchanging their own learning process, West-Smith says. “Writing is a tool for thinking. It's the way that the brain makes sense of information. And if you are outsourcing that to AI on a regular basis on a big scale, like 80% of the writing, then what that indicates to me is that as a student, you're completely disengaged from that learning process, you have essentially outsourced it to a contractor.” 

Has AI Cheating Replaced Other Forms of Cheating?  

I’ve written about how the prevalence of AI-generated papers in my classroom has cost me a lot of time . However, on the bright side, I've started seeing less instances of traditional plagiarism. Unfortunately, this appears to be a fluke. 

“We theorized that potentially we would see this dramatic drop off of more classic instances of plagiarism,” West-Smith says. Turnitin data has not revealed that so far. “We are seeing just as much text similarity that comes in. I think one of the reasons for that is, in some cases, text similarity is not intentional plagiarism. You get a lot of skill deficit that leads to that. Students who don't know how to properly paraphrase. Students who don’t understand citation.” 

What Can I Do To Prevent AI Writing in My Class?  

This is one of the pressing questions in education. For her part, here are West-Smith’s suggestions: 

  • Institutions should have clear guidance around AI use that is communicated to teachers and from them to students. 
  • Institutions should also have clear guidance around whether AI detection tools are being used, which ones and what educators can do with the information these tools provide. Because of false-positives, educators should use AI detection readings as just one data point in assessing whether a student used AI.
  • Educators should educate themselves about AI. Learn the tool’s strengths, weaknesses, etc. 
  • Specific class policies around AI should be communicated as many instructors have AI use cases they are okay with and ones they don't allow. These policies sometimes vary from class to class. 

Ultimately, West-Smith says the communication component is critical and all too easy to overlook. 

“A mistake we sometimes make as instructors is that we make these assumptions that students have the same sort of value systems that we do, and they will just implicitly know what is right or wrong from our perspective. And it's been my experience that that's almost always not true,” she says. “The moment that you assume students believe the same thing you do. You already are at a level of miscommunication.” 

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Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist,  author  and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post , The Atlantic , and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective. 

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Get science-backed answers as you write with Paperpal's Research feature

4 Ways Paperpal Encourages Responsible Writing with AI

responsible writing with AI

With the growing popularity of AI tools among researchers and students alike, concerns about responsible writing with AI and the authenticity of journal and essay submissions have been on the rise. Academics constantly face the challenge of producing quality content while amping up their productivity and number of publications.  

The ethical use of AI starts with the right mindset, and Paperpal helps you align on this with the unique guardrails we’ve incorporated into its feature design.  

In 2023, we introduced a range of generative AI features on Paperpal. These were designed to assist you at various stages of the writing process while ensuring that you – the author – remain in full control of your writing. 

We were particularly cognizant of the attitudes around the use of generative AI for research and the risks of AI hallucination and plagiarism. While we were keen on incorporating generative AI in the writing process, it was important to ensure that it boosts productivity while not completely taking over your writing process. Here’s how we ensure Paperpal encourages responsible writing with AI: 

  • Generative AI Tailored for Academic Writing  

General-purpose generative AI tools like ChatGPT provide generic outputs that may lack academic context. This undermines their usefulness in academic writing, where context and accuracy are paramount to communicating research effectively. Paperpal fills this very gap as it has been trained on academic content to cater to the specific needs of scholarly writing. This ensures that Paperpal ‘gets’ your research and offers suggestions that are relevant to your niche, while also helping you up your productivity game and do away with the need of endless iterations with generic AI tools.  

  • Emphasis Remains on Human Authorship    

To encourage responsible writing with AI, our generative AI features were designed to assist human authorship by steering clear of producing full text. Paperpal will support your academic writing at every stage – researching, outlining, editing, and polishing. The AI academic tool will also provide outlines and advisory snippets, using which you can continue writing and take the manuscript to completion. However, research writing has to be led by you, the researcher – that’s a key guiding principle for us at Paperpal.  

can student write research paper

  • Focus on ‘Human-in-the-Loop’ to Ensure Ethical Use of AI    

Paperpal provides language or paraphrasing suggestions to speed up your polishing process. However, the text is intentionally processed only a few paragraphs at a time, requiring you to review the tool’s suggestions section-by-section, add required citations, and ensure authentic, responsible writing with AI. Paperpal also nudges you to review all AI-generated content and recommends you never use this verbatim in your work.  

can student write research paper

  • Regular Coaching on Responsible Writing with AI  

At Paperpal, we routinely post educative pieces about the ethical use of AI, and also host webinars on these key aspects. Paperpal’s product messaging also advocates strongly for responsible writing with AI, which reflects our core ethos for its inception and development. 

can student write research paper

Final Tips on Responsible Writing with AI  

To summarize, Paperpal is focused on nurturing and guiding authors towards responsible writing with AI and ensuring that you are following the guidelines recommended for the ethical use of AI. Here are our final recommendations when using generative AI tools for your writing: 

  • Ensure you know your chosen journal or institute’s guidelines on generative AI tools and follow these when using AI tools to enhance your research journey. 
  • Avoid using AI-generated text as is, make sure you review for inaccuracies or changes in meaning and incorporate only the required elements. 
  • Remember to always check and add citations and references where necessary to avoid any risk of potential plagiarism.  

Bid adieu to worries about the ethical use of AI and explore the efficiency that AI can bring to your academic writing process. By ensuring responsible writing with AI, you can transform your work and write better, faster, and ethically. Try Paperpal today and experience the difference for yourself! 

Paperpal is a comprehensive AI writing toolkit that helps students and researchers achieve 2x the writing in half the time. It leverages 21+ years of STM experience and insights from millions of research articles to provide in-depth academic writing, language editing, and submission readiness support to help you write better, faster.  

Get accurate academic translations, rewriting support, grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, and generative AI assistance that delivers human precision at machine speed. Try for free or upgrade to Paperpal Prime starting at US$19 a month to access premium features, including consistency, plagiarism, and 30+ submission readiness checks to help you succeed.  

Experience the future of academic writing – Sign up to Paperpal and start writing for free!  

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Iowa Reading Research Center

A teacher smiling at a student

Research Article of the Month: April 2024

This blog post is part of our  Research Article of the Month series. For this month, we highlight “ Designing an Intervention in Reading and Self-Regulation for Students With Significant Reading Difficulties Including Dyslexia ,” an article published in the journal Learning Disability Quarterly in 2021. Important words related to research are bolded, and definitions of these terms are included at the end of the article in the “Terms to Know” section.

Why Did We Pick This Paper?

Self-regulation is the ability to modify one’s thinking, emotions, and behavior to achieve a goal. Some self-regulation strategies include setting goals, becoming aware of emotions, practicing positive self-statements (“I am doing my best” or “I will not give up”), and believing in the ability to grow and learn. 

Self-regulation contributes to reading proficiency (Berkeley & Larson, 2018), and students with reading difficulties tend to have impaired self-regulation (Cutting, et al., 2009). Fortunately, training in self-regulation has been shown to improve the use of self-regulation strategies and reading comprehension outcomes (Spörer & Schünemann, 2014). This study examined the feasibility and effects of a reading intervention that explicitly teaches self-regulation strategies. Reading interventions that target self-regulation may support the reading outcomes of students with reading disabilities (RDs). 

What Are the Research Questions or Purpose?

This study examined the feasibility of implementing a specific reading intervention with self-regulation instruction by addressing the following questions:

  • Is the intervention associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than the interventions currently provided to students with RDs in the participating schools?
  • Can teachers implement the intervention as designed?
  • What are the barriers to consistent implementation and to student progress in the intervention?
  • What are teachers’ perceptions of the self-regulation component of the intervention?
  • What parts of the intervention should be maintained as they are and how should the intervention be revised?

What Methodology Do the Authors Employ?

To assess the feasibility of the intervention and explore its potential effects on reading outcomes, the study employed a quasi-experimental design. 

A group of special education teachers, dyslexia specialists,  and reading interventionists were randomly assigned to teach the intervention (the experimental condition) or continue delivering their typical instruction (the business-as-usual , or BAU, condition). Instruction was delivered in small groups of 2-4 students, 4 days a week for 26 weeks.

A total of 21 instructors participated in the study (10 in the intervention and 11 in the BAU condition), as well as 43 students in Grades 2-4 (23 in the intervention and 20 in the BAU condition).

The students were assessed on a number of reading skills, including word recognition, decoding, reading comprehension, and oral reading fluency, at the beginning and end of the study. Pre- and post-test scores were compared in order to assess students’ growth in the measured skills over the course of the study.

The intervention consisted of word study, text reading, reading comprehension, and self-regulation, as described below:

  • Word study: The word study component included instruction in phonemic awareness, decoding, word recognition, and spelling. 
  • Text reading: For the text-reading component, students read high-interest, motivating decodable texts that included phonics and spelling patterns the students had been explicitly taught. They also applied these skills on authentic texts to practice extending these skills to new contexts. 
  • Comprehension: The comprehension component included guiding questions to focus students’ attention and activate prior knowledge. Teachers asked questions that would stimulate students to recall events, generate inferences, make connections across texts, paraphrase, identify main ideas, monitor their understanding, generate questions, and visualize. Teachers modeled comprehension skills and provided students with multiple practice opportunities. 
  • Self-regulation: The self-regulation component included activities designed to support a growth mindset (the belief that one can grow and achieve success in the future despite present challenges), emotional self-regulation (the ability to identify emotions), reflection on comprehension strategy use, positive self-statements, and goal setting. 

These components were delivered in two phases: the first phase focused on foundational reading skills, and the second phase addressed more advanced skills. For all components, students received direct instruction and modeling from teachers, and they practiced skills using multiple modalities (e.g., reading, writing, and manipulation of letter tiles). 

Students in the BAU condition received instruction using other evidence-based programs.

The researchers monitored the fidelity and quality of implementation for the intervention by recording videos of classroom instruction. The researchers conducted an analysis of covariance with pre- and post-test scores to determine whether the intervention was associated with greater effects than traditional instruction. The intervention teachers also participated in two focus groups to provide feedback on the feasibility of the intervention. 

What Are the Key Findings?

Research question 1: is the intervention associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than the interventions currently provided to students with rds in the participating schools.

Students’ pre-test scores on all reading skill variables were higher in the BAU condition compared to the experimental condition, but there were no significant differences between groups for any measures on the post-test. Thus, the intervention was not associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than other interventions used in the participating schools.

Research Question 2: Can teachers implement the intervention as designed?

The fidelity and quality of implementation were reported as a percentage to measure if the intervention was implemented as designed. The mean word study and text reading fidelity rating was 88%, and the quality rating was 92%. For comprehension and self-regulation, the mean fidelity rating was 81%, and the quality rating was 94%. The lower fidelity rating for the comprehension and self-regulation components indicates that these components were more difficult for teachers to implement as intended. 

Research Question 3: What are the barriers to consistent implementation and to student progress in the intervention?

Teachers identified context barriers, including scheduling, limited school resources, limited instructional and planning time, and logistics related to providing the intervention at two different schools on the same day. They also identified student-related barriers, including student frustration with literacy tasks, lack of confidence and inconsistent focus, and behavior management. 

Research Question 4: What are teachers’ perceptions of the self-regulation component of the intervention?

In focus groups, teachers voiced their support for the self-regulation component of the intervention, citing the positive effects of growth mindset instruction on students’ confidence and self-esteem. Teachers also noted the benefits of recognizing negative self-statements and substituting them with positive ones. 

Research Question 5: What parts of the intervention should be maintained as they are and how should the intervention be revised?

The teachers requested a better approach for organizing and managing materials (e.g., letter tiles, books, visual aids). They suggested that future versions of the intervention should focus more on active student participation rather than teacher talk. They wanted a stronger fluency component of the intervention and guidance on incorporating technology into instruction. Overall, the teachers highlighted that the strengths of the intervention include its well-designed curriculum and content, the material resources provided, and the variety of activities that support student interest and participation.

What Are the Limitations of This Paper?

The study examined the implementation of a multi-component intervention for reading and self-regulation for students with RDs. Teachers highlighted several challenges they faced in implementing this intervention, including managing materials and coordinating the pace of the different lesson components. This complexity could potentially limit the intervention’s ease of implementation, as educators may struggle to implement it effectively without substantial preparatory training or additional support and technology. Enhancing teacher readiness through targeted professional development sessions, along with providing ongoing support and technology, could improve the fidelity and quality of implementing of this complex intervention. 

Additionally, the study was constrained by its small sample size, which limits the statistical power in detecting the possible effectiveness of the intervention. A small number of participants can make it challenging to detect smaller but statistically significant effect sizes or subtle differences between treatment and BAU groups. For further research on the effectiveness of the intervention, a greater number of participants is needed to validate the results and conclusions drawn from this study. 

Terms to Know

  • Feasibility:  A feasibility study follows the implementation of a project or process (such as a new reading instructional program) in order to assess its potential for success. Researchers may gather data and feedback to inform future revisions.
  • Quasi-experimental: Experimental research aims to determine whether a certain treatment influences a measurable outcome—for example, whether a certain instructional method influences students’ reading comprehension scores. To do this, participants are assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group, which receives the treatment, and the control group, which does not receive the treatment. In an experimental study, these groups are randomly assigned, meaning each participant has equal probability of being in either the treatment or the control group. A quasi-experimental study is similar to an experimental study except that participants are not randomly assigned to groups. In educational research, groups often are assigned by classroom rather than through random assignment, making this kind of research quasi-experimental. In either case, participants in both groups are tested before and after the treatment, and their results are compared.
  • Business-as-usual (BAU) condition:  The business-as-usual condition is another name for the control group in an experimental or quasi-experimental study.   This group does not receive the experimental treatment and therefore serves as a point of comparison for the experimental group. 
  • Fidelity:  Fidelity is a measure of the extent to which a process, such as an instructional approach, is implemented as intended.
  • Covariance:  Covariance , in statistics, is a measure of the relationship between two variables and the extent to which they change together.
  • Effects:  In statistics, effect size is a measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables in statistical analyses. A commonly used interpretation is to refer to effect size as small (g = 0.2), medium (g = 0.5), and large (g = 0.8) based on the benchmarks suggested by Cohen (1988), where “g” refers to Hedge’s g, a statistical measure of effect size.
  • Focus groups:  A focus group gathers participants for a guided discussion or interview in order to elicit feedback about a product or process.

Berkeley, S., & Larsen, A. (2018). Fostering self–regulation of students with learning disabilities: Insights from 30 years of reading comprehension intervention research. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice , 33 (2), 75-86.  

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Routledge Academic.

Cutting, L. E., Materek, A., Cole, C. A. S., Levine, T. M., & Mahone, E. M. (2009). Effects of fluency, oral language, and executive function on reading comprehension performance. Annals of Dyslexia , 59, 34–54.  

Denton, C. A., Montroy, J. J., Zucker, T. A., Cannon, G. (2021). Designing an intervention in reading and self-regulation for students with significant reading difficulties, including dyslexia. Learning Disability Quarterly , 44 (3), 170-182.  

Spörer, N., & Schünemann, N. (2014). Improvements of self-regulation procedures for fifth graders' reading competence: Analyzing effects on reading comprehension, reading strategy performance, and motivation for reading. Learning and Instruction , 33 , 147-157.  

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ChatGPT in higher education - a synthesis of the literature and a future research agenda

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  • Pritpal Singh Bhullar 1 ,
  • Mahesh Joshi 2 &
  • Ritesh Chugh   ORCID: 3  

ChatGPT has emerged as a significant subject of research and exploration, casting a critical spotlight on teaching and learning practices in the higher education domain. This study examines the most influential articles, leading journals, and productive countries concerning citations and publications related to ChatGPT in higher education, while also shedding light on emerging thematic and geographic clusters within research on ChatGPT’s role and challenges in teaching and learning at higher education institutions. Forty-seven research papers from the Scopus database were shortlisted for bibliometric analysis. The findings indicate that the use of ChatGPT in higher education, particularly issues of academic integrity and research, has been studied extensively by scholars in the United States, who have produced the largest volume of publications, alongside the highest number of citations. This study uncovers four distinct thematic clusters (academic integrity, learning environment, student engagement, and scholarly research) and highlights the predominant areas of focus in research related to ChatGPT in higher education, including student examinations, academic integrity, student learning, and field-specific research, through a country-based bibliographic analysis. Plagiarism is a significant concern in the use of ChatGPT, which may reduce students’ ability to produce imaginative, inventive, and original material. This study offers valuable insights into the current state of ChatGPT in higher education literature, providing essential guidance for scholars, researchers, and policymakers.

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

1 Introduction

ChatGPT, or Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a popular generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI, employing natural language processing to deliver interactive human-like conversational experiences (Jeon et al., 2023 ; Angelis et al., 2023 ). ChatGPT utilises a pre-trained language learning model, derived from an extensive big-data corpus, to predict outcomes based on a given prompt (Crawford et al., 2023 ; Geerling et al., 2023 ; Li et al., 2023 ). Since its inception, ChatGPT has attracted widespread attention and popularity and has the potential to disrupt the education sector (Rana, 2023 ). According to a research survey of adults conducted by the Pew Research Centre, approximately 60% of adults in the United States and 78% of adults in Asia possess knowledge of ChatGPT; furthermore, men are more familiar with ChatGPT than women (Vogels, 2023 ). The study also found that among ethnic groups globally, individuals of Asian descent have the highest level of familiarity with AI-based large language models (LLMs).

People have found value in using ChatGPT for a wide range of purposes, including generating creative content, answering questions, providing explanations, offering suggestions, and even having casual conversations (Crawford et al., 2023 ; Throp, 2023 ; Wu et al., 2023 ). Furthermore, ChatGPT is an effective digital assistant for facilitating a thorough understanding of diverse and intricate subjects using simple and accessible language. Given these features, ChatGPT has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in traditional methods of delivering instruction and revolutionise the future of education (Tlili et al., 2023 ). ChatGPT stands out as a promising tool for open education, enhancing the independence and autonomy of autodidactic learners through personalised support, guidance, and feedback, potentially fostering increased motivation and engagement (Firat, 2023 ). Its capabilities encompass facilitating complex learning, asynchronous communication, feedback provision, and cognitive offloading (Memarian & Doleck, 2023 ).

However, the rapid expansion of ChatGPT has also aroused apprehensions in the academic world, particularly after reports surfaced that the New York Department of Education had unexpectedly imposed a ban on access to the tool due to concerns about academic integrity violations (Sun et al., 2023 ; Neumann et al., 2023 ; Crawford et al., 2023 ). Students who use ChatGPT to produce superior written assignments may have an unfair advantage over peers who lack access (Farrokhnia et al., 2023 ; Cotton et al., 2023 ). Ethical concerns about the deployment of LLMs include the potential for bias, effects on employment, misuse and unethical deployment, and loss of integrity. However, there has been little research on the potential dangers that a sophisticated chatbot such as ChatGPT poses in the realm of higher education, particularly through the lens of a systematic literature review and bibliometric techniques.

In this light, this paper explores the literature on the application of ChatGPT in higher education institutions and the obstacles encountered in various disciplines from the perspectives of both faculty and students. The paper aims to analyse the current state of the field by addressing the following overarching research questions using bibliographic coupling, co-occurrence analysis, citation analysis, and co-authorship analysis:

What are the most influential articles in terms of citations in research related to ChatGPT in education?

What are the top journals and countries in terms of publication productivity related to the implications of ChatGPT in higher education institutions?

What are the emerging thematic clusters in research on the role and challenges of ChatGPT in teaching and learning in higher education institutions?

What are the geographic clusters in research on the role and challenges of ChatGPT in teaching and learning in higher education institutions?

2 Methodology

In conducting this study, publications on the impact of ChatGPT on various aspects of higher education institutions were systematically identified through an extensive search using Elsevier’s Scopus database, a comprehensive repository hosting over 20,000 globally ranked, peer-reviewed journals (Mishra et al., 2017 ; Palomo et al., 2017 ; Vijaya & Mathur, 2023 ). Scopus is a widely used database for bibliometric analyses and is considered one of the “largest curated databases covering scientific journals” (pg. 5116) in different subject areas (Singh et al., 2021 ). Widely acclaimed for its comprehensive coverage, Scopus has been extensively employed in bibliometric analyses across diverse disciplines, as evidenced by studies in capital structure theories, business research, entrepreneurial orientation and blockchain security (Bajaj et al., 2020 ; Donthu et al., 2020 ; Gupta et al., 2021 ; Patrício & Ferreira, 2020 ). Notably, despite the “extremely high” correlation between the Web of Science and Scopus databases, Scopus’s status as a superior and versatile data source for literature extraction is reinforced by its broader coverage of subject areas and categories compared to the narrower journal scope of Web of Science, facilitating scholars in locating literature most pertinent to the review area (Archambault et al., 2009 ; Paul et al., 2021 ). To ensure a systematic literature review, we adhered to the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines (Page et al., 2021 ) for the search, identification, selection, reading, and data extraction from the articles retrieved through the Scopus database (Fig.  1 ). Reliance on a single database is acceptable within the PRISMA framework (Moher et al., 2009 ).

Employing Boolean-assisted search queries, we aimed to capture a comprehensive range of topics related to ChatGPT’s impact on higher education institutions. Specific search queries were carefully selected to ensure a broad yet relevant search scope and included the following:

“ChatGPT and Teaching learning in universities” OR “Effect of ChatGPT in higher education institution” OR “ChatGPT and student assessment in higher education” OR “ChatGPT and academic integrity” OR “ChatGPT and teaching pedagogy in higher education institution” OR “ChatGPT and cheating student course assignment” OR “ChatGPT and teaching in higher education” OR “Implications of ChatGPT in higher education institutions” OR “ChatGPT and evaluation criteria in higher education institution” OR “ChatGPT in universities” OR “ChatGPT and student learnings. ”

The study includes papers published and included in the Scopus database on or before May 26, 2023 on the theme of ChatGPT and higher education. This timeframe was chosen to encompass the most recent and relevant literature available up to the point of data retrieval. Papers identified through the search queries underwent inclusion or exclusion based on predetermined criteria. Specifically, only papers published in journals were considered for this study, as these undergo a peer-review process and are subject to stringent selection criteria set by the journals, ensuring their quality and reliability. Papers in conference proceedings were excluded from the start of the search. Only papers written in English were included to maintain consistency and clarity, whereas others were excluded. Of the 48 research papers that were initially identified, 47 were ultimately selected for the bibliometric analysis, which was conducted using VOSviewer, a bibliometric analysis tool.

figure 1

PRISMA Flowchart

From the identified pool of 47 articles, the analysis uncovered a nuanced distribution of research methodologies. Specifically, 11 studies were grounded in quantitative research methodologies, underscoring a quantitative focus within the literature. In contrast, a substantial majority of 31 articles embraced a qualitative framework, showcasing a diverse spectrum that included pure qualitative research, editorials, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces. Furthermore, the review brought to light four literature reviews, signifying a synthesis of existing knowledge, and identified one study that strategically employed a mixed-methods approach, blending both qualitative and quantitative research techniques.

To address the research questions, the selected publications underwent analysis using various bibliometric techniques. For the first and second research questions, citation analysis was employed. For the third and fourth research questions, bibliographic analysis was performed in VOSviewer software to generate clusters.

3 Findings and discussion

3.1 publication trend.

Information from the Scopus database indicates that academics began focusing on investigating various aspects of ChatGPT’s potential in higher education in 2022, as they published their findings in 2023. All academic articles in reputable publications in the Scopus database were published in 2023.

3.2 Citation analysis

Table  1 presents the top ten articles according to the number of citations. The number of articles increased significantly in 2023, consistent with the emerging nature and growing relevance of the topic. Exploring the ramifications of ChatGPT in higher education is a recent focal point for scholars, with numerous aspects warranting deeper investigation. The limited citation count, as anticipated, underscores that publications from 2023 are in the early stages of gaining visibility and recognition within the academic community.

The article by Thorp ( 2023 ), entitled “ChatGPT is fun, but not an author”, has received the highest number of citations (79). Thorp stresses the risks associated with implementing ChatGPT in the classroom. Although ChatGPT is an innovative AI tool, significant barriers remain to its implementation in the field of education. According to Thorp, using ChatGPT in academic writing is still inefficient. Thorp also expresses concerns about the rising prevalence of ChatGPT in the fabrication of scientific publications. The second most-cited work, “How Does ChatGPT Perform on the United States Medical Licensing Examination?” by Gilson and colleagues, has received 27 citations. Gilson et al. ( 2023 ) evaluated the accuracy, speed and clarity of ChatGPT’s responses to questions on the United States Medical Licensing Examination’s Step 1 and Step 2 tests. The text responses generated by ChatGPT were evaluated using three qualitative metrics: the logical justification of the chosen answer, the inclusion of information relevant to the question, and the inclusion of information extraneous to the question. The model attained a level of proficiency comparable to that of a third-year medical student. The study demonstrates the potential utility of ChatGPT as an interactive educational resource in the field of medicine to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Third is Kasneci et al.’s article “ChatGPT for good? On opportunities and challenges of large language models for education”, with 13 citations. This paper examines the benefits and drawbacks of using language models in the classroom from the perspectives of both teachers and students. The authors find that these comprehensive language models can serve as a supplement rather than a replacement for classroom instruction. Each of the remaining top-ten articles mentioned the impact of ChatGPT on academic integrity in education and had received fewer than ten citations at the time of analysis.

Table  2 presents the top 10 journals in terms of the number of citations of publications related to the topic of ChatGPT in higher education. The journal Science , which published “ChatGPT is fun, but not an author,” was deemed most influential because it received the highest number of citations (79). JMIR Medical Education has published two articles that have been cited by 30 other research articles on the same topic. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practise has published the most articles: three. Innovations in Education and Teaching International has published two articles on this topic, which together have been cited by six articles.

As shown in Table  3 , the majority of research articles pertaining to ChatGPT and higher education have originated from countries in Asia. Six of the top 10 countries for publishing articles on this topic are located in the Asian continent. However, the most influential studies in terms of citations have been produced by the United States, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Combined, these countries have received a total of 63 citations, with individual counts of 36, 17, 7, and 7, respectively. These four countries have 90% of the total citations of the top 10 most productive countries in the field of research on higher education perspectives on ChatGPT.

3.3 Bibliographic coupling

3.3.1 thematic clusters.

Four thematic clusters (TCs) were identified from the included research articles, as shown in Table  4 . VOSviewer was used to perform clustering based on bibliographic coupling. This method identifies relations between documents by examining publications that cite the same sources (Boyack & Klavans, 2010 ). VOSviewer clusters articles with a common knowledge base, assigning each publication to exactly one cluster. To implement this clustering technique, we assessed the co-occurrence of bibliographic references among articles within our dataset. Co-occurrence was determined by identifying shared references between articles, indicating a thematic connection (Boyack & Klavans, 2010 ). Articles sharing common references were considered to co-occur, enabling us to quantify the extent of thematic relationships based on the frequency of shared references. We identified and categorised thematic clusters within our dataset through the combined approach of VOSviewer clustering and co-occurrence analysis. This method typically results in a distribution of clusters, with a limited number of larger clusters and a more substantial number of smaller clusters.

The clusters were derived through an analysis of subordinate articles extracted from the Scopus database. VOSviewer systematically organised similar articles into distinct clusters based on the shared patterns of bibliographic references (Van Eck & Waltman, 2010 ). To ensure methodological transparency and robustness, we established clear criteria and parameters for clustering. Specifically, keywords with a minimum frequency ( n  = 5) were included in the analysis, and co-occurrence was calculated based on a pairwise comparison method. This systematic approach ensured the meaningful representation of thematic relationships within the dataset, guided by insights from previous literature (Jarneving, 2007 ). Using cluster analysis techniques, the articles were organised into cohesive groups characterised by the degree of thematic homogeneity guided by the nature of the research findings. This approach ensured a robust representation of the underlying thematic structure (Jarneving, 2007 ).

Furthermore, to mitigate the risk of subjective bias in thematic categorisation, a counter-coding approach was employed. A second researcher independently categorised thematic clusters identified by VOSviewer to assess inter-rater agreement. The level of agreement between the two researchers was assessed using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, ensuring the reliability and validity of the thematic classification process. The resulting kappa coefficient (0.69) indicated substantial agreement, suggesting a high level of agreement beyond what would be expected by chance alone (Gisev et al., 2013 ). Furthermore, the nomenclature assigned to each cluster was finalised based on the predominant research theme emerging from the analysis, providing a concise and informative label for each group.

TC1: ChatGPT and Academic Integrity: Cotton et al. ( 2023 ) describe ChatGPT as a double-edged sword that potentially threatens academic integrity. AI essay writing systems are programmed to churn out essays based on specific guidelines or prompts, and it can be difficult to distinguish between human and machine-generated writing. Thus, students could potentially use these systems to cheat by submitting essays that are not their original work (Dehouche, 2021 ). Kasneci et al. ( 2023 ) argue that effective pedagogical practices must be developed in order to implement large language models in classrooms. These skills include not only a deep understanding of the technology but also an appreciation of its constraints and the vulnerability of complex systems in general. In addition, educational institutions need to develop a clearly articulated plan for the successful integration and optimal use of big language models in educational contexts and teaching curricula. In addition, students need to be taught how to verify information through a teaching strategy emphasising critical thinking effectively. Possible bias in the generated output, the need for continuous human supervision, and the likelihood of unforeseen effects are just a few of the challenges that come with the employment of AI systems. Continuous monitoring and transparency are necessary to ensure academic integrity while using ChatGPT. Lim et al. ( 2023 ) report that ChatGPT poses academic integrity challenges for the faculty of higher education institutions, who must verify whether academic work (assignments, research reports, etc.) submitted by students is derived from the fresh perspective of data analysis or plagiarised and recycled (copying and pasting original work) by ChatGPT. ChatGPT may threaten student learning and classroom engagement if students have access to information and course assignments without assessing their integrity. Perkins ( 2023 ) also expresses concerns regarding academic integrity in the use of ChatGPT. Students are utilising ChatGPT to complete their course assignments without attribution rather than producing original work. Higher education institutions must establish clear boundaries regarding academic integrity and plagiarism in light of the growing utilisation of AI tools in academic and research settings. In addition, the challenges posed by AI essay writing systems like ChatGPT necessitate a multifaceted approach to safeguard academic integrity. Educational institutions should invest in comprehensive educational programs that not only teach students the ethical use of technology but also incorporate rigorous assessments of critical thinking skills. Additionally, integrating AI literacy into the curriculum, with a focus on understanding the limitations and potential biases of big language models, can empower students to discern between human and machine-generated content.

TC2: ChatGPT and Learning Environment: According to Crawford et al. ( 2023 ), increased stress levels and peer pressure among university students have created a favourable environment for the use of AI tools. ChatGPT provides enhanced educational opportunities for college-level students. It can help students identify areas they may have overlooked, offer guidance on additional reading materials, and enhance existing peer and teacher connections. In addition, ChatGPT can propose alternative methods of evaluating students beyond conventional assignments. Crawford et al. ( 2023 ) recommend providing practical assignments incorporating ChatGPT as a supplementary tool to reduce plagiarism. Su ( 2023 ) documents that ChatGPT can provide students with a personalised learning experience based on their specific needs. In addition, the ChatGPT platform can be used to create a virtual coaching system that offers prompt feedback to educators during their classroom evaluations. This approach fosters critical thinking and supports early childhood educators in refining their teaching methodologies to optimise interactive learning outcomes for students. Tang ( 2023b ) proposes that bolstering research integrity can be achieved by imposing restrictions on the utilisation of NLP-generated content in research papers. Additionally, the author advocates for transparency from researchers, emphasising the importance of explicitly stating the proportion of NLP-generated content incorporated in their papers. This recommendation prompts a critical examination of the role of AI-generated content in scholarly work, emphasising the importance of nurturing independent research and writing skills for both students and researchers.

TC3: ChatGPT and Student Engagement: Lee ( 2023 ) examines the ability of ChatGPT to provide an interactive learning experience and boost student engagement beyond textbook pedagogy. Iskender ( 2023 ) explains that ChatGPT provides a mechanism for students to generate and investigate diverse concepts expeditiously, thereby helping them engage in imaginative and evaluative thinking on specific subject matter. This approach has the potential to optimise time management for students and allow them to concentrate on more advanced cognitive activities. AI tools such as ChatGPT can potentially enhance the personalisation of learning materials by providing visual aids and summaries that can aid the learning process and significantly improve students’ competencies. Hence, leveraging ChatGPT in education can revolutionise learning by facilitating interactive experiences, nurturing imaginative thinking, and optimising time management for students.

TC4: ChatGPT and Scholarly Research: Ivanov and Soliman ( 2023 ) and Yan ( 2023 ) focus on the practical applications and implications of LLMs like ChatGPT in educational settings and scholarly research within the context of language learning, writing, and tourism. Yan’s investigation into ChatGPT’s application in second-language writing examines its effectiveness in addressing specific writing tasks at the undergraduate level. The findings underscore the nuanced balance between the strengths of ChatGPT and the inherent limitations in handling demanding academic writing tasks. Nevertheless, ChatGPT is also labelled as an ‘all-in-one’ solution for scholarly research and writing (Yan, 2023 ). In parallel, Ivanov and Soliman ( 2023 ) highlight that ChatGPT can assist scholars in the field of tourism research by composing preliminary literature reviews, substantiating their chosen methodologies, and creating visual aids such as tables and charts. Furthermore, the researchers outline that ChatGPT could provide valuable methodological ideas and insights by helping researchers generate questions and corresponding scales for inclusion in questionnaires. Hence, ChatGPT has the potential to become a valuable ally as a facilitator in academic writing processes and has the potential to transform the research workflow.

3.3.2 Geographic clusters

The results of the country-based bibliographic analysis are summarised in Table  5 . The present study utilised the prevailing research theme in the existing literature as a framework for categorising the countries into four distinct clusters on the basis of the number of documents published from different countries.

Cluster 1: Implications of ChatGPT for Student Examinations and Education : Cluster 1 is composed of five countries: Germany, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. Researchers in these countries have emphasised the potential role of ChatGPT in higher education within the context of AI language models. Eleven research articles related to this theme were published by researchers based in the United States, the most in this cluster. The top three articles in Table  1 are from the United States. The study entitled “Opportunities and Challenges of Large Language Models for Education,” was authored by German researchers (Kasneci et al., 2023 ) and has been widely cited in the academic community (13 citations). The remaining studies were conducted by researchers from South Korea and Taiwan and focused on the impact of ChatGPT on the education sector and its associated opportunities and challenges. This cluster demonstrates that students could benefit greatly from using ChatGPT in performing various academic tasks, such as reviewing and revising their work, verifying the accuracy of homework answers, and improving the quality of their essays. It has also aided postgraduates whose first language is not English improve their writing, as ChatGPT can be instructed to rewrite a paragraph in a scholarly tone from scratch. The outcomes have demonstrated significant efficacy, thereby alleviating the cognitive load associated with translation for these students, enabling them to concentrate on the substance of their writing rather than the intricacies of composing in an unfamiliar language. To harness the potential benefits, future research could focus on developing targeted training programs for students and educators that emphasise the effective utilisation of ChatGPT to enhance not only academic tasks but also language proficiency for non-native English speakers, addressing both cognitive load and language intricacies.

Cluster 2: ChatGPT and Academic Integrity : Cluster 2 comprises research studies conducted by authors from Japan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, UAE, the UK, Vietnam and the Netherlands. The most influential study in this cluster, “Unlocking the power of ChatGPT: A framework for applying Generative AI in education”, was authored by researchers from Hong Kong (Su & Yang, 2023 ). They document that ChatGPT can be used to respond to student inquiries, reducing the time and effort required of educators and allowing them to focus their resources on other activities, such as scholarly investigations. Farrokhnia et al. ( 2023 ) and Yeadon et al. ( 2023 ) state that ChatGPT can write scientific abstracts with fabricated data and essays that can evade detection by reviewers. According to Liebrenz et al. ( 2023 ), ChatGPT tends to produce erroneous and incoherent responses, thereby raising the potential for disseminating inaccurate information in scholarly literature. The higher-order cognitive abilities of ChatGPT are relatively low, especially in areas related to creativity, critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving. ChatGPT could reduce students’ motivation to explore topics independently, draw their own conclusions, and solve problems independently (Kasneci et al., 2023 ). Ibrahim et al. ( 2023 ) find that ChatGPT can engage students in their academic pursuits. ChatGPT can enhance the writing abilities of non-native English speakers to allow them to concentrate on higher-order cognitive processes. This technological development allows faculty members to allocate more attention to conceptualisation and writing rather than focusing on the mechanics of grammar and spelling. However, there is a debate among intellectuals regarding the implications of AI for content creation, with some asserting that it detracts from innovative content development. The possibility that ChatGPT threatens academic honesty by facilitating essay plagiarism is being acknowledged. In addition, in the absence of appropriate citations, this textual content may violate copyright regulations. Cotton et al. ( 2023 ) express concerns about the potential impact of ChatGPT on academic integrity and plagiarism. Their work corroborates Dehouche’s ( 2021 ) assertion that students may use ChatGPT to engage in academic dishonesty by submitting essays that are not their original work. According to Cotton et al. ( 2023 ), ChatGPT users have a competitive advantage over non-users and can achieve higher grades on their coursework assignments by utilising the AI-based language tool. They classify ChatGPT as a versatile instrument with the potential to pose a threat to academic integrity, noting that AI essay writing systems are specifically programmed to generate content based on specific parameters or prompts, thereby challenging the discernment between human-authored and machine-generated content. Distinguishing between the academic work produced by students and the content of ChatGPT when evaluating assignments is a significant challenge for faculty. It is recommended that academic staff continually monitor student assignments for academic misconduct infractions, coupled with transparent communication about the potential risks associated with AI-generated content.

Cluster 3: ChatGPT and Students’ Learning : Cluster 3 comprises Malaysia, China and Australia. This cluster mainly includes studies of the role of AI-based models in student learning. Researchers from Australia (Crawford et al., 2023 ; Lim et al., 2023 ; Lawrie, 2023 ; Li et al., 2023 ; Seth et al., 2023 ; Cingillioglu, 2023 ; Skavronskaya, 2023 ; and Johinke, 2023 ) have contributed the most (8 studies) to this cluster and put their weight behind the role of AI and student learning in various disciplines. One of the most influential papers, “Generative AI and the future of education: Ragnarök or reformation? A paradoxical perspective from management educators”, was authored by researchers from both Australia and Malaysia (Lim et al., 2023 ) and reflected on the role of AI in classroom learning and teaching. Rather than banning AI tools, the authors advocate for the productive use of these tools in classrooms to facilitate more engaging student learning. Another Australian study titled, “Leadership is needed for ethical ChatGPT: Character, assessment, and learning using artificial intelligence (AI)” (Crawford et al., 2023 ) highlights AI as an alternative path of learning for students. ChatGPT can promptly evaluate students’ assignments and help them identify areas of weakness. Educators have the option to provide innovative assessments to their students instead of adhering solely to conventional assessments. ChatGPT can augment pedagogical approaches, evaluation structures, and the comprehensive educational milieu by reinforcing the trilateral association among instructors, learners, and technology. The implementation of ChatGPT can provide students with a personalised and interactive learning and research experience facilitated by virtual tutors and customised recommendations. In light of the research in this cluster, the integration of ChatGPT into education should inspire a paradigm shift towards a more dynamic and personalised learning environment. Institutions can explore strategic partnerships with AI researchers to develop context-specific applications of ChatGPT that cater to diverse educational needs, promoting a symbiotic relationship between human instructors, students, and technology for an enriched learning experience.

Cluster 4: ChatGPT and Field-specific Research : This cluster includes research by authors in Asian and European countries (India, Oman, Bulgaria and New Zealand) that has emphasised the potential role of ChatGPT in the medical and tourism industries. Authors from India explored the role of ChatGPT in the medical field (Seetharaman, 2023 ; Subramani et al., 2023 ). Seetharaman ( 2023 ) reports that ChatGPT offers supplementary language assistance to students who are not proficient in English, enabling them to enhance their language proficiency and effectively communicate in English, the principal language of instruction in medical establishments. The ChatGPT platform has the potential to serve as a tool for medical students to replicate patient interactions in a simulated environment, such as accurately obtaining medical histories and documenting symptoms. According to Subramani et al. ( 2023 ), ChatGPT is a highly efficient and user-friendly AI technology that can aid healthcare professionals in various aspects, such as diagnosis, critical decision-making, and devising appropriate treatment plans. ChatGPT has demonstrated impressive performance on medical exams, indicating its potential as a valuable resource for enhancing medical education and assessment (Subramani et al., 2023 ) and can support interdisciplinarity in tourism research (Nautiyal et al., 2023 ). Ivanov and Soliman ( 2023 ) note the potential of ChatGPT to serve as a digital instructor to provide students with enhanced and effective learning experiences and outcomes. Digital instructors can impart knowledge in diverse languages and thus can be used to educate individuals of varying nationalities and backgrounds in the field of tourism. Furthermore, LLM-based chatbots, including ChatGPT, can assess written assignments and provide direction on linguistic proficiency, syntax, and composition, ultimately enhancing students’ scholarly writing proficiency. In exploring the intersection of ChatGPT with medical education, institutions can pioneer innovative approaches by using the platform to create immersive, simulated patient interactions that go beyond language assistance, allowing medical students to practice nuanced skills such as medical history gathering and symptom documentation. Simultaneously, leveraging ChatGPT as a versatile digital instructor offers a unique opportunity to provide cross-cultural and multilingual education, contributing to a more inclusive and globally competent workforce within the tourism industry.

3.4 Challenges of ChatGPT in higher education

In addition to some previously mentioned challenges, such as the potential for plagiarism, the investigation also identified other key challenges in implementing ChatGPT within the context of higher education’s teaching and learning environment. Wu and Yu ( 2023 ) found that the benefits of AI-based ChatGPT are more in higher education as compared to primary and secondary education. The study also reported that the novelty effects of AI chatbots may enhance learning outcomes in brief interventions, but their efficacy diminishes in longer interventions.

First, the implementation of ChatGPT within the educational context engenders learning impediments. In the absence of adequate monitoring and regulation, the technology could lead to human unintelligence and unlearning, but teachers will become more adaptive and create authentic assessments to enhance student learning (Alafnan et al., 2023 ; Lawrie, 2023 ). Second, the technology could be used in a manner that violates students’ privacy. If the model is not adequately secured, it could surreptitiously gather confidential data from students without their explicit awareness or authorisation (Kanseci, 2023). Third, the technology could facilitate discrimination against particular students. If the model is not trained on a dataset that accurately represents the entire student population, it has the potential to create disparities in educational access (Cingillioglu, 2023 ; Lin et al., 2023 ). Fourth, according to Ivanov and Soloman (2023), ChatGPT lacks access to real-time data. Therefore, its responses may be inconsequential, inaccurate, or outdated. The information provided in response to a specific query may also be insufficient. Gao et al. (2022) highlight the need for further investigation of the precision and scholarly authenticity of ChatGPT. Fifth, it may be difficult for ChatGPT to comprehend the context and subtleties of complex academic subjects and answer complex questions (Adetayo, 2023 ; Eysenbach, 2023 ; Neumann et al., 2023 ). The system can misinterpret inquiries, offer inadequate or inaccurate responses, or struggle to comprehend the fundamental purpose behind questions (Clark, 2023 ). In particular, ChatGPT may not have the requisite expertise in highly specialised or advanced subjects such as advanced mathematics or specific sciences. Hence, it may not deliver precise and accurate answers (Neumann et al., 2023 ; Fergus et al., 2023 ). Karaali ( 2023 ) claimed that the primary emphasis in the field of AI is currently directed towards the enhancement of advanced cognitive abilities and mental processes associated with quantitative literacy and quantitative reasoning. However, it is important to acknowledge that fundamental skills such as writing, critical thinking, and numeracy continue to serve as essential foundational components among students. Although AI is making significant progress in fundamental domains, it appears that students are experiencing a decline in performance in the context of fundamental skills. Consequently, NLP-based adaptive learner support and education require further investigation (Bauer et al., 2023 ).

In addressing the challenges of ChatGPT in education, educators need to adapt and develop authentic assessments that mitigate the risk of human unlearning, ensuring that technology enhances, rather than hinders, student learning experiences. Simultaneously, recognising the limitations of ChatGPT in comprehending the nuances of highly specialised subjects underscores the importance of balancing advancements in AI’s cognitive abilities with continued emphasis on fundamental skills like critical thinking, writing, and numeracy, urging a reevaluation of priorities in AI-driven educational research towards comprehensive learner support.

4 Conclusion, implications and agenda for future research

This study identified the most influential articles and top journals and countries in terms of citations and publication productivity related to ChatGPT in higher education, as well as highlighted emerging thematic clusters and geographic clusters in research on the role and challenges of ChatGPT in teaching and learning in higher education institutions. Articles on the topic of ChatGPT in higher education published up to May 2023 were identified by searching the Scopus database. Given the emergent nature of ChatGPT starting in late 2022, all the included articles were published in 2023. Thus, this specific research domain remains relatively unexplored. The findings of this analysis reveal that the United States is the most productive country in terms of research on the role of ChatGPT in higher education, especially relating to academic integrity and research. US researchers also emerged as the most influential in terms of number of citations in the literature. Our findings corroborate those of previous research (Crompton & Burke, 2023 ). However, 60% of the articles in our shortlisted literature emanated from Asian countries.

Four thematic clusters (academic integrity, student engagement, learning environment and research) were identified. Furthermore, the country-based bibliographic analysis revealed that research has focused on student examinations, academic integrity, student learning and field-specific research in medical and tourism education (Nautiyal et al., 2023 ; Subramani et al., 2023 ). Plagiarism is recognised as a major challenge that hinders students’ creativity, innovativeness and originality when using ChatGPT in their academic pursuits. To mitigate the potential drawbacks of using ChatGPT in educational and research settings, proactive measures should be taken to educate students and researchers alike on the nature of plagiarism, its negative impacts and academic integrity (Shoufan, 2023 ; Teixeira, 2023 ) Educators may ask students to provide a written acknowledgement of the authenticity of their assignments and their non-reliance on ChatGPT. Such an acknowledgement would discourage students from utilising ChatGPT in their academic and research endeavours and establish accountability for their academic pursuits. In addition, educators should develop authentic assessments that are ChatGPT-proof.

ChatGPT lacks emotional intelligence and empathy, both of which are crucial in effectively addressing the emotional and psychological dimensions of the learning process (Farrokhnia et al., 2023 ; Neumann et al., 2023 ). Higher education institutions may encounter challenges in using ChatGPT to deliver suitable assistance, comprehension, or direction to students needing emotional or mental health support. The significance of human interaction in learning cannot be overstated. Achieving a balance between using AI and the advantages of human guidance and mentorship is a persistent challenge that requires attention (Neumann et al., 2023 ; Rahman et al., 2023 ). Strzelecki ( 2023 ) observed in his research that behavioural intention and personal innovativeness are the two major determinants behind the adoption of ChatGPT among students.

4.1 Implications

The findings of the present study have numerous important implications. This study provides insight into the current state of ChatGPT in higher education and thus can serve as valuable guidance for academics, practitioners, and policymakers. The study’s findings contribute to the literature by providing new insights into the role of ChatGPT and strategies for mitigating its negative aspects and emphasising its positive attributes.

First, the implementation of AI in education can improve academic performance and student motivation, particularly by facilitating personalised learning. Educational institutions should monitor and regulate students’ use of such technologies proactively. Higher education institutions also ought to prioritise the training of their educators in effectively utilising AI technologies, including ChatGPT. Concurrently, it is imperative for these institutions to equip students with comprehensive academic integrity training, shedding light on the appropriate and inappropriate applications of AI tools like ChatGPT. This includes creating awareness about the potential consequences of utilising these technologies for dishonest practices. Furthermore, educational establishments need to urgently revisit and refine their academic integrity policies to address the evolving landscape shaped by the integration of artificial intelligence tools in various academic facets. This proactive approach will foster a learning environment that embraces technological advancements and upholds the principles of honesty and responsible use. Institutional regulations on accountability and transparency should guide the frameworks that govern the use of AI in the campus environment (Pechenkina, 2023 ; Sun & Hoelscher, 2023 ; Dencik & Sanchez-Monedero, 2022 ).

Second, faculty members must proactively replace traditional coursework with modern alternatives that foster elevated levels of critical thinking among students, as suggested by Zhai ( 2022 ). Educators and learners can augment the academic material produced by ChatGPT with their own insights and information obtained from credible scholarly resources (Emenike & Emenike, 2023 ).

Third, ChatGPT should not be considered a threat to the education sector but a supplementary tool for human instruction that can enhance teaching and learning. It is imperative to acknowledge that the vital role of human educators cannot be replaced (Karaali, 2023 ) Moreover, ChatGPT can potentially enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of higher education. Alternative formats, linguistic support, and individualised explanations can help students who are studying English as a second language, are not native English speakers, or have other unique learning needs. Furthermore, Alnaqbi and Fouda ( 2023 ) highlight the implications of AI in evaluating the teaching style of faculty in higher education by collecting the feedback of students through social media and ChatGPT.

Fourth, the faculty in higher education institutions could address ethical concerns by providing students with explicit and comprehensive guidelines about the prescribed structure of academic assignments (Cotton et al., 2023 ; Gardner & Giordano, 2023 ). This practice can facilitate the production of more cohesive assignments. In addition, teachers can use rubrics to assess assignments and blend automated and manual assessment methodologies to evaluate students’ comprehension of the subject matter (Cotton et al., 2023 ; Shoufan, 2023 ).

In summary, using ChatGPT is recommended for enhancing creativity, refining writing proficiency, and improving research abilities. Nonetheless, it is crucial to emphasise that ChatGPT should not be employed as a substitute for critical thinking and producing original work. While it serves as a valuable tool for augmentation, upholding the integrity of independent thought and authentic content creation in academic endeavours is essential.

4.2 Limitations

The present study acknowledges several limitations. Firstly, the reliance on Scopus as the primary data source for bibliometric analysis may have limitations in capturing the full landscape of relevant literature. Future research may consider incorporating additional databases like Web of Science to ensure a comprehensive assessment. Secondly, due to the English language restriction in the review, potentially relevant studies may have been omitted. Future research could enhance inclusivity by extending its scope to encompass papers written in languages other than English. Thirdly, the current study exclusively focused on journal articles. Expanding the scope to include diverse sources, such as conference proceedings or book chapters, could offer a more comprehensive overview.

Additionally, as a rapidly evolving field, literature published after our inclusion dates need capturing, and future studies should consider adjusting their inclusion criteria to accommodate the dynamic nature of the subject matter. Lastly, the specificity of the bibliometric data search, centred around terms like ChatGPT, AI, higher education, and academic integrity, may have excluded certain relevant articles. Future studies should consider employing more generalised search parameters to encompass synonyms associated with these terms.

4.3 Future scope

The findings of the study suggest new avenues for future research. The effectiveness of evaluation criteria for assessments incorporating ChatGPT-generated text needs to be investigated. Specifically, the appropriate level of ChatGPT-produced text that students may use in academic tasks or assessments has not been established. Research on the ethical implications of using AI tools such as ChatGPT in higher education is also needed. Issues pertaining to data confidentiality, bias, and transparency in algorithms used for decision-making remain to be addressed. Feasible approaches for mitigating the excessive reliance of scholars and learners on ChatGPT or similar AI models are needed. Researchers could also explore the implementation of verification processes that go beyond traditional plagiarism detection methods, accounting for the unique challenges posed by AI systems. Future research in this domain could focus on establishing guidelines and best practices for the integration of AI tools like ChatGPT in academic settings, ensuring a balance between technological innovation and the preservation of academic rigour. Finally, the literature on ChatGPT in higher education has largely focused on the medical and tourism sectors. Future researchers must explore applications of ChatGPT in other disciplines.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Bhullar, P.S., Joshi, M. & Chugh, R. ChatGPT in higher education - a synthesis of the literature and a future research agenda. Educ Inf Technol (2024).

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