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Types of research papers

Research papers could include peer-reviewed journal papers, conference papers, theses work or other types of publications. They can also take different forms, depending on whether they focus on comparing different ideas or examining relationship between various events or phenomena. Note that the distinctions that are made between the various types of research papers that we discuss below are not always rigid, meaning that a combination of them can be found in one paper (although one approach may be dominant).

This article has been produced by Avidnote as part of a series of articles on the academic writing process. Avidnote is web-based app that makes it easier to read and write research notes online. Check it out for free by clicking here.

Analytical research papers

Analytical research papers are very common in academia. They are typically used in theses, term papers, journal articles, and other academic writings. “Analysis” here means to examine and break down information into its component parts so as to ascertain the relationship between the different component parts as well as to identify patterns that can help lead to wider conclusions or inferences. According to Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, there are three sublevels of the analysis level of the cognitive domain.

  • Analysis of elements

This has to do with the ability to determine underlying elements in communication, e.g., viewpoints, assumptions, hypotheses, evidence, arguments, conclusions, etc as well as to find out the nature and functions of such elements.

  • Analysis of relationships

In this sublevel, attempts are made to establish the relationships among the identified elements. For instance, how does the evidence relate to the conclusion?

  • Analysis of organizational principles

This involves the identification of those systems or principles that determine how the various elements of communication are organized into a whole. These include structures, patterns, systematic arrangements, etc. 

Argumentative research papers

In this type of research paper, the researcher presents a couple of contrasting viewpoints or arguments, one of which he or she is in support of, and then examines both of them thoroughly. Though the researcher supports one viewpoint and tries to convince the audience of his or her choice, the statements and opinions on both arguments must be unbiased, logical, and in-depth. It is usually the norm to cite other sources who support or argue against each side. An example of a good topic for an argumentative research paper is:

Why the evidence for global warming is conclusive: a meta-analysis of 200 papers

Cause and effect research papers

A cause and effect research paper investigates the reasons for and the outcomes of a policy or action. It basically answers two main questions on the subject matter, the “why?” and the “what?” In other words, why did A happen? (identifying the causes of A) and what happened as a result of A? (identifying the effects of A). It is very important that a cause-and-effect research paper clearly establishes the relationship between cause and effect.

Cause and effect papers should be able to track the expected outcomes from some action in a chronological manner that the reader should clearly understand. Apart from these expected outcomes, cause and effect research papers can also be used to identify several possible outcomes depending on some specific conditions.

Important issues to be aware of with these types of papers concern the difference between causation and correlation. Just because some event occurred at the same time as some other event, does not mean that it “caused” it to occur.

Interpretive research papers 

In an interpretative research paper, the writer is expected to explain or interpret a piece of writing using their own words. It helps to showcase the writer’s logical, creative, critical, analytical, and organizational skills, among others. Interpretative papers are popular in the field of humanities where authors interpret literary works such as a poem, play, short story, or novel. The interpretations typically follow some form of structure or theoretical underpinning. In poetry, for instance, there are technicalities that the interpreter has to analyze as part of his or her interpretation. 

The interpretive paradigm recognizes that methods used to comprehend knowledge in the humanities and social sciences can differ from those in the physical or natural sciences. Hence, one phenomenon may have several interpretations rather than one answer derived from a calculation or measurement.

Compare and contrast papers

A compare and contrast research paper examines the similarities and differences between two or more subjects/concepts/ideas/phenomena of interest. Unlike an argumentative research paper, the writer is not mandated to support any side of a compare and contrast paper. The topic, in this case, can be:

Comparing arguments for and against the Austrian School of Economics

Compare and contrast research papers are important because the different perspectives bring greater insight thereby allowing for a better comprehension of the subjects by readers. When writing a compare and contrast paper, you will first need to think critically to identify similarities and differences, the main argument or thesis statement (usually the major themes arising from the comparison) and determine an organizational structure or outline for the paper, and then proceed to write.

Descriptive research papers

Descriptive research is a type of research whose main objective is to systematically and accurately describe the characteristics of a sample, population, event or phenomena. It can involve one or more variables and focuses more on the “what” questions of whatever is being described. That is, what are the characteristics of the sample or phenomena under scrutiny? Its scope does not typically include answering how, when, and why questions.

A descriptive research paper should be constructed in a way that will enable the readers to paint a mental picture of the subject matter being described. It is necessary to develop logical connections from the beginning to the end of the description so as to limit or avoid criticism.


A report is a formally structured document that presents information usually derived from research or investigation. Apart from their informative nature, they can be problem-solving and decision-making instruments across various fields of endeavor. There is no specific length for a report. For instance, it can be a short memorandum or a longer extended report. It may also be explicitly subjective or seek to be objective. In the former case, the writer includes his or her personal opinions while an objective report should, theoretically speaking, be independent of the writer’s opinions. External sources of information are usually cited in reports to make them more credible.

Other resources

This post was produced as part of a research guide series by Avidnote which is a free web-based app that helps you to write and organize your research notes online. Click here to find out more.

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