The concept of audience can be very confusing for novice researchers. Should the student's audience be her instructor only, or should her paper attempt to reach a larger academic crowd? These are two extremes on the pendulum-course that is audience; the former is too narrow of an audience, while the latter is too broad. Therefore, it is important for the student to articulate an audience that falls somewhere in between.
It is perhaps helpful to approach the audience of a research paper in the same way one would when preparing for an oral presentation. Often, one changes her style, tone, diction, etc., when presenting to different audiences. So it is with writing a research paper (In fact, you may need to transform your written work into an oral work if you find yourself presenting at a conference someday).
The instructor should be considered only one member of the paper's audience; he is part of the academic audience that desires students to investigate, research, and evaluate a topic. Try to imagine an audience that would be interested in and benefit from your research.
For example: if the student is writing a twelve page research paper about ethanol and its importance as an energy source of the future, would she write with an audience of elementary students in mind? This would be unlikely. Instead, she would tailor her writing to be accessible to an audience of fellow engineers and perhaps to the scientific community in general. What is more, she would assume the audience to be at a certain educational level; therefore, she would not spend time in such a short research paper defining terms and concepts already familiar to those in the field. However, she should also avoid the type of esoteric discussion that condescends to her audience. Again, the student must articulate a middle-ground.
The following are questions that may help the student discern further her audience:Who is the general audience I want to reach? Who is most likely to be interested in the research I am doing? What is it about my topic that interests the general audience I have discerned? If the audience I am writing for is not particularly interested in my topic, what should I do to pique its interest? Will each member of the broadly conceived audience agree with what I have to say? If not (which will likely be the case!) what counter-arguments should I be prepared to answer?
Remember, one of the purposes of a research paper is to add something new to the academic community, and the first-time researcher should understand her role as an initiate into a particular community of scholars. As the student increases her involvement in the field, her understanding of her audience will grow as well. Once again, practice lies at the heart of the thing.
There is neither template nor shortcut for writing a research paper; again, the process is, amongst other things, one of practice, experience, and organization, and begins with the student properly understanding the assignment at hand.
As many college students know, the writer may find himself composing three quite different research papers for three quite different courses all at the same time in a single semester. Each of these papers may have varying page lengths, guidelines, and expectations.
Therefore, in order for a student to become an experienced researcher and writer, she must not only pay particular attention to the genre, topic, and audience, but must also become skilled in researching, outlining, drafting, and revising.
For a discussion of where to begin one's research, see Research: Overview and Purdue University's CORE module.
Outlining is an integral part of the process of writing. For a detailed discussion see Developing an Outline .
Drafting is one of the last stages in the process of writing a research paper. No drafting should take place without a research question or thesis statement; otherwise, the student will find himself writing without a purpose or direction. Think of the research question or thesis statement as a compass. The research the student has completed is a vast sea of information through which he must navigate; without a compass, the student will be tossed aimlessly about by the waves of sources. In the end, he might discover the Americas (though the journey will be much longer than needed), or—and what is more likely—he will sink.
For some helpful ideas concerning the initial stages of writing, see Starting the Writing Process .
Revising is the process consisting of:Major, sweeping, changes to the various drafts of a project An evaluation of word choice throughout the project The removal paragraphs and sometimes, quite painfully, complete pages of text Rethinking the whole project and reworking it as needed
Editing is a process interested in the general appearance of a text, and includes the following:Analysis of the consistency of tone and voice throughout the project Correction of minor errors in mechanics and typography Evaluation of the logical flow of thought between paragraphs and major ideas
This process is best completed toward the final stages of the project, since much of what is written early on is bound to change anyway.
Proofreading is the final stage in the writing process, and consists of a detailed final reread in order to find any mistakes that may have been overlooked in the previous revisions.
For a discussion of proofreading, see Proofreading Your Writing .