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Chapter 2: Getting Started in Research
Reviewing the Research Literature
- Define the research literature in psychology and give examples of sources that are part of the research literature and sources that are not.
- Describe and use several methods for finding previous research on a particular research idea or question.
Reviewing the research literature means finding, reading, and summarizing the published research relevant to your question. An empirical research report written in American Psychological Association (APA) style always includes a written literature review, but it is important to review the literature early in the research process for several reasons.
- It can help you turn a research idea into an interesting research question.
- It can tell you if a research question has already been answered.
- It can help you evaluate the interestingness of a research question.
- It can give you ideas for how to conduct your own study.
- It can tell you how your study fits into the research literature.
What Is the Research Literature?
The research literature in any field is all the published research in that field. The research literature in psychology is enormous—including millions of scholarly articles and books dating to the beginning of the field—and it continues to grow. Although its boundaries are somewhat fuzzy, the research literature definitely does not include self-help and other pop psychology books, dictionary and encyclopedia entries, websites, and similar sources that are intended mainly for the general public. These are considered unreliable because they are not reviewed by other researchers and are often based on little more than common sense or personal experience. Wikipedia contains much valuable information, but the fact that its authors are anonymous and may not have any formal training or expertise in that subject area, and its content continually changes makes it unsuitable as a basis of sound scientific research. For our purposes, it helps to define the research literature as consisting almost entirely of two types of sources: articles in professional journals, and scholarly books in psychology and related fields.
Professional journals are periodicals that publish original research articles. There are thousands of professional journals that publish research in psychology and related fields. They are usually published monthly or quarterly in individual issues, each of which contains several articles. The issues are organized into volumes, which usually consist of all the issues for a calendar year. Some journals are published in hard copy only, others in both hard copy and electronic form, and still others in electronic form only.
Most articles in professional journals are one of two basic types: empirical research reports and review articles. Empirical research reports describe one or more new empirical studies conducted by the authors. They introduce a research question, explain why it is interesting, review previous research, describe their method and results, and draw their conclusions. Review articles summarize previously published research on a topic and usually present new ways to organize or explain the results. When a review article is devoted primarily to presenting a new theory, it is often referred to as a theoretical article .
Most professional journals in psychology undergo a process of double-blind peer review . Researchers who want to publish their work in the journal submit a manuscript to the editor—who is generally an established researcher too—who in turn sends it to two or three experts on the topic. Each reviewer reads the manuscript, writes a critical but constructive review, and sends the review back to the editor along with his or her recommendations. The editor then decides whether to accept the article for publication, ask the authors to make changes and resubmit it for further consideration, or reject it outright. In any case, the editor forwards the reviewers’ written comments to the researchers so that they can revise their manuscript accordingly. This entire process is double-blind, as the reviewers do not know the identity of the researcher(s), and vice versa. Double-blind peer review is helpful because it ensures that the work meets basic standards of the field before it can enter the research literature. However, in order to increase transparency and accountability some newer open access journals (e.g., Frontiers in Psychology) utilize an open peer review process wherein the identities of the reviewers (which remain concealed during the peer review process) are published alongside the journal article.
Scholarly books are books written by researchers and practitioners mainly for use by other researchers and practitioners. A monograph is written by a single author or a small group of authors and usually gives a coherent presentation of a topic much like an extended review article. Edited volumes have an editor or a small group of editors who recruit many authors to write separate chapters on different aspects of the same topic. Although edited volumes can also give a coherent presentation of the topic, it is not unusual for each chapter to take a different perspective or even for the authors of different chapters to openly disagree with each other. In general, scholarly books undergo a peer review process similar to that used by professional journals.
Literature Search Strategies
Using psycinfo and other databases.
The primary method used to search the research literature involves using one or more electronic databases. These include Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, and ProQuest for all academic disciplines, ERIC for education, and PubMed for medicine and related fields. The most important for our purposes, however, is PsycINFO, which is produced by the APA. PsycINFO is so comprehensive—covering thousands of professional journals and scholarly books going back more than 100 years—that for most purposes its content is synonymous with the research literature in psychology. Like most such databases, PsycINFO is usually available through your university library.
PsycINFO consists of individual records for each article, book chapter, or book in the database. Each record includes basic publication information, an abstract or summary of the work (like the one presented at the start of this chapter), and a list of other works cited by that work. A computer interface allows entering one or more search terms and returns any records that contain those search terms. (These interfaces are provided by different vendors and therefore can look somewhat different depending on the library you use.) Each record also contains lists of keywords that describe the content of the work and also a list of index terms. The index terms are especially helpful because they are standardized. Research on differences between women and men, for example, is always indexed under “Human Sex Differences.” Research on notetaking is always indexed under the term “Learning Strategies.” If you do not know the appropriate index terms, PsycINFO includes a thesaurus that can help you find them.
Given that there are nearly four million records in PsycINFO, you may have to try a variety of search terms in different combinations and at different levels of specificity before you find what you are looking for. Imagine, for example, that you are interested in the question of whether women and men differ in terms of their ability to recall experiences from when they were very young. If you were to enter “memory for early experiences” as your search term, PsycINFO would return only six records, most of which are not particularly relevant to your question. However, if you were to enter the search term “memory,” it would return 149,777 records—far too many to look through individually. This is where the thesaurus helps. Entering “memory” into the thesaurus provides several more specific index terms—one of which is “early memories.” While searching for “early memories” among the index terms returns 1,446 records—still too many too look through individually—combining it with “human sex differences” as a second search term returns 37 articles, many of which are highly relevant to the topic.
Depending on the vendor that provides the interface to PsycINFO, you may be able to save, print, or e-mail the relevant PsycINFO records. The records might even contain links to full-text copies of the works themselves. (PsycARTICLES is a database that provides full-text access to articles in all journals published by the APA.) If not, and you want a copy of the work, you will have to find out if your library carries the journal or has the book and the hard copy on the library shelves. Be sure to ask a librarian if you need help.
Using Other Search Techniques
In addition to entering search terms into PsycINFO and other databases, there are several other techniques you can use to search the research literature. First, if you have one good article or book chapter on your topic—a recent review article is best—you can look through the reference list of that article for other relevant articles, books, and book chapters. In fact, you should do this with any relevant article or book chapter you find. You can also start with a classic article or book chapter on your topic, find its record in PsycINFO (by entering the author’s name or article’s title as a search term), and link from there to a list of other works in PsycINFO that cite that classic article. This works because other researchers working on your topic are likely to be aware of the classic article and cite it in their own work. You can also do a general Internet search using search terms related to your topic or the name of a researcher who conducts research on your topic. This might lead you directly to works that are part of the research literature (e.g., articles in open-access journals or posted on researchers’ own websites). The search engine Google Scholar is especially useful for this purpose. A general Internet search might also lead you to websites that are not part of the research literature but might provide references to works that are. Finally, you can talk to people (e.g., your instructor or other faculty members in psychology) who know something about your topic and can suggest relevant articles and book chapters.
What to Search For
When you do a literature review, you need to be selective. Not every article, book chapter, and book that relates to your research idea or question will be worth obtaining, reading, and integrating into your review. Instead, you want to focus on sources that help you do four basic things: (a) refine your research question, (b) identify appropriate research methods, (c) place your research in the context of previous research, and (d) write an effective research report. Several basic principles can help you find the most useful sources.
First, it is best to focus on recent research, keeping in mind that what counts as recent depends on the topic. For newer topics that are actively being studied, “recent” might mean published in the past year or two. For older topics that are receiving less attention right now, “recent” might mean within the past 10 years. You will get a feel for what counts as recent for your topic when you start your literature search. A good general rule, however, is to start with sources published in the past five years. The main exception to this rule would be classic articles that turn up in the reference list of nearly every other source. If other researchers think that this work is important, even though it is old, then by all means you should include it in your review.
Second, you should look for review articles on your topic because they will provide a useful overview of it—often discussing important definitions, results, theories, trends, and controversies—giving you a good sense of where your own research fits into the literature. You should also look for empirical research reports addressing your question or similar questions, which can give you ideas about how to operationally define your variables and collect your data. As a general rule, it is good to use methods that others have already used successfully unless you have good reasons not to. Finally, you should look for sources that provide information that can help you argue for the interestingness of your research question. For a study on the effects of cell phone use on driving ability, for example, you might look for information about how widespread cell phone use is, how frequent and costly motor vehicle crashes are, and so on.
How many sources are enough for your literature review? This is a difficult question because it depends on how extensively your topic has been studied and also on your own goals. One study found that across a variety of professional journals in psychology, the average number of sources cited per article was about 50 (Adair & Vohra, 2003)  . This gives a rough idea of what professional researchers consider to be adequate. As a student, you might be assigned a much lower minimum number of references to use, but the principles for selecting the most useful ones remain the same.
- The research literature in psychology is all the published research in psychology, consisting primarily of articles in professional journals and scholarly books.
- Early in the research process, it is important to conduct a review of the research literature on your topic to refine your research question, identify appropriate research methods, place your question in the context of other research, and prepare to write an effective research report.
- There are several strategies for finding previous research on your topic. Among the best is using PsycINFO, a computer database that catalogs millions of articles, books, and book chapters in psychology and related fields.
- Practice: Use the techniques discussed in this section to find 10 journal articles and book chapters on one of the following research ideas: memory for smells, aggressive driving, the causes of narcissistic personality disorder, the functions of the intraparietal sulcus, or prejudice against the physically handicapped.
- Watch the following video clip produced by UBCiSchool about how to read an academic paper (without losing your mind):
- “ Sample PsycINFO Search on EBSCOhost ” by APA Publishing Training . Standard YouTube Licence.
- “ Using Google Scholar (CLIP) ” by clipinfolit . CC BY (Attribution)
- “ How to Read an Academic Paper ” by UBCiSchool . CC BY (Attribution)
- Adair, J. G., & Vohra, N. (2003). The explosion of knowledge, references, and citations: Psychology’s unique response to a crisis. American Psychologist, 58 , 15–23. ↵
All the published research in a particular field.
Periodicals that publish original research articles.
A type of research article which describes one or more new empirical studies conducted by the authors.
A type of research article that summarizes previously published research on a topic and usually presents new ways to organize or explain the results.
A type of review article primarily devoted to presenting a new theory.
Books written by researchers and practitioners mainly for sue by other researchers and practitioners.
Type of scholarly book written by a single author or small group of authors, coherently presents a topic much like an extended review article.
A type of scholarly book in which an editor or small group of editors recruit many authors to write separate chapters on different aspects of the same topic.
An electronic database covering thousands of professional journals and scholarly books produced by the APA.
Research Methods in Psychology - 2nd Canadian Edition by Paul C. Price, Rajiv Jhangiani, & I-Chant A. Chiang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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- Key Differences
Know the Differences & Comparisons
Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Last updated on November 19, 2018 by Surbhi S
In a qualitative research, there are only a few non-representative cases are used as a sample to develop an initial understanding. Unlike, quantitative research in which a sufficient number of representative cases are taken to consideration to recommend a final course of action.
There is a never-ending debate on, which research is better than the other, so in this article, we are going to shed light on the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.
Content: Qualitative Research Vs Quantitative Research
Comparison chart, definition of qualitative research.
Qualitative research is one which provides insights and understanding of the problem setting. It is an unstructured, exploratory research method that studies highly complex phenomena that are impossible to elucidate with the quantitative research. Although, it generates ideas or hypothesis for later quantitative research.
Qualitative research is used to gain an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, experience, attitudes, intentions, and motivations, on the basis of observation and interpretation, to find out the way people think and feel. It is a form of research in which the researcher gives more weight to the views of the participants. Case study, grounded theory, ethnography, historical and phenomenology are the types of qualitative research.
Definition of Quantitative Research
Quantitative research is a form of research that relies on the methods of natural sciences, which produces numerical data and hard facts. It aims at establishing cause and effect relationship between two variables by using mathematical, computational and statistical methods. The research is also known as empirical research as it can be accurately and precisely measured.
The data collected by the researcher can be divided into categories or put into rank, or it can be measured in terms of units of measurement. Graphs and tables of raw data can be constructed with the help quantitative research, making it easier for the researcher to analyse the results.
Key Differences Between Qualitative And Quantitative Research
The differences between qualitative and quantitative research are provided can be drawn clearly on the following grounds:
- Qualitative research is a method of inquiry that develops understanding on human and social sciences, to find the way people think and feel. A scientific and empirical research method that is used to generate numerical data, by employing statistical, logical and mathematical technique is called quantitative research.
- Qualitative research is holistic in nature while quantitative research is particularistic.
- The qualitative research follows a subjective approach as the researcher is intimately involved, whereas the approach of quantitative research is objective, as the researcher is uninvolved and attempts to precise the observations and analysis on the topic to answer the inquiry.
- Qualitative research is exploratory. As opposed to quantitative research which is conclusive.
- The reasoning used to synthesise data in qualitative research is inductive whereas in the case of quantitative research the reasoning is deductive.
- Qualitative research is based on purposive sampling, where a small sample size is selected with a view to get a thorough understanding of the target concept. On the other hand, quantitative research relies on random sampling; wherein a large representative sample is chosen in order to extrapolate the results to the whole population.
- Verbal data are collected in qualitative research. Conversely, in quantitative research measurable data is gathered.
- Inquiry in qualitative research is a process-oriented, which is not in the case of quantitative research.
- Elements used in the analysis of qualitative research are words, pictures, and objects while that of quantitative research is numerical data.
- Qualitative Research is conducted with the aim of exploring and discovering ideas used in the ongoing processes. As opposed to quantitative research the purpose is to examine cause and effect relationship between variables.
- Lastly, the methods used in qualitative research are in-depth interviews, focus groups, etc. In contrast, the methods of conducting quantitative research are structured interviews and observations.
- Qualitative Research develops the initial understanding whereas quantitative research recommends a final course of action.
Video: Qualitative Vs Quantitative Research
An ideal research is one, which is conducted by considering both the methods, together. Although, there are some particular areas which require, only one type of research which mainly depends on the information required by the researcher. While qualitative research tends to be interpretative, quantitative research is concrete.
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Culture of science
Does science disprove the existence of God?
Science doesn’t have the processes to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science studies and attempts to explain only the natural world while God, in most religions, is supernatural.
Tell me more about the differences between science and religion.
Science and religion draw on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations are based on evidence drawn from observing the natural world and conducting experiments. Because these explanations are based on evidence, they can be checked independently by others.
Scientific questions (aka hypotheses) are framed in ways so that they can be confirmed or disproved by evidence. If the evidence shows that the hypothesis is wrong, the hypothesis must be reframed and tested again or rejected.
Religious beliefs don’t depend only on empirical evidence. They can also be based on faith and typically involve supernatural forces or entities.
Where do we come from? What happens when we die? Do science and religion agree on anything? We paired scientists and religious experts and asked them to tackle these big questions in a small space. (Important note: This was filmed pre-Covid, when conversations in small spaces were actually still possible!)
Yes, and they focus on different kinds of questions. For example, science is a powerful tool for understanding and explaining the mechanisms and dynamics of the physical universe. But science can’t examine or explain the purpose of the universe. That’s a question that falls under theology or philosophy.
Pitting science and religion against each other makes both less able to contribute to a more meaningful experience of the world.
Scientists hold a wide range of positions about religion. Many scientists who believe in God, either as a primordial creator or as an active force in the universe, have written eloquently about their beliefs. For example, in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief , Francis Collins, a scientist who is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote: “God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul.”
Theologians and other people of faith have a variety of perspectives on science. Some theologians have proposed critically important scientific ideas and undertaken scientific exploration. For example, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest, was one of the first people to propose almost 100 years ago that the universe first began when extremely condensed matter rapidly expanded (now called the “Big Bang theory”).
And for centuries the Vatican has maintained an astronomical observatory and has appointed a scientifically trained chief astronomer.
Can people who are religious accept evolution?
Yes, many people who are religious don’t see a conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution. They accept evolution as a foundational concept in science while also believing in God.
The Clergy Letter Project has collected signatures from more than 12,000 religious leaders from different faiths in support of a letter that advocates the teaching of evolution.
From 1935 to 1980, the Vatican Observatory was headquartered in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo (above), about 15 miles outside of Rome. Light pollution led the Vatican to relocate the observatory to much darker skies more than 6,000 miles away in Tucson, Arizona. Credit
In the Clergy Letter Project, different religions explain their perspectives on evolution via letters. For example, the letter from Christian clergy reads:
“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
It has transformed science’s understanding of the diversity of life on Earth. Evolution…
- provides a scientific explanation for why there are so many different kinds of organisms on Earth;
- demonstrates why some organisms that look quite different are in fact related, while other organisms that may look similar are only distantly related;
- accounts for the appearance of humans on Earth and reveals our species’ ancestral biological connections with other living things;
- details how different groups of humans who are living today and human-like species that are now extinct are related to each other and how we acquired many of our traits; and
- provides a framework of understanding that suggests pathways for the development of effective new ways to protect ourselves against constantly evolving bacteria and viruses.
As the prominent biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Can science explain the origins of life on Earth?
Figuring out how life began is both an exciting and a challenging scientific problem. Re-creating conditions that led to the earliest known organisms in the fossil record is difficult because a lot remains unknown about the chemical and physical characteristics of the early Earth.
Nevertheless, researchers have been developing hypotheses of how self-replicating organisms could form and begin to evolve, and they have tested the plausibility of these hypotheses in laboratories. So far none has reached scientific consensus, but much progress has been made.
Paleontologists view Archaeopteryx as a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and modern birds. The fossil is considered strong evidence of evolution. Credit
For life to begin, three conditions had to be met. First, groups of molecules that could reproduce themselves had to come together. Second, copies of these molecular groupings had to show variation, so that some were better able to take advantage of resources and withstand challenges in the environment than others. Third, the variations had to be heritable, so that some variants would increase in number under favorable environmental conditions.
To find a credible theory of life’s origins, many questions must be answered. Scientists who study the origin of life explore which sets of chemicals could have begun replicating themselves. Even if a living cell could be made in the laboratory from simpler chemicals, it would not prove that nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago. But the principles behind life’s chemical origins, as well as plausible chemical details of the process, are open to scientific investigation in the same ways as all other natural phenomena.
The history of science shows that even difficult questions such as how life originated may one day be answered as a result of advances in theory, the development of new instrumentation, and the discovery of new facts.
Take a Deep Dive
If you’re curious and want to know more, check out Science, Evolution, and Creationism .
Know it all? Prove it.
- a. no one has wanted to research that question
- b. the universe is filled with so much dark matter and dark energy
- c. it’s a theological or philosophical question, not a scientific one
- a. evidence drawn from examining the natural world
- b. high school and college textbooks
- c. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
- a. provide a scientific explanation for why there are so many different kinds of organisms on Earth
- b. account for the appearance of humans on Earth and reveal our species’ ancestral biological connections with other living things
- c. explain why living things are on Earth and their purpose
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The conclusion is intended to help the reader understand why your research should matter to them after they have finished reading the paper. A conclusion is not merely a summary of the main topics covered or a re-statement of your research problem, but a synthesis of key points and, if applicable, where you recommend new areas for future research. For most college-level research papers, one or two well-developed paragraphs is sufficient for a conclusion, although in some cases, more paragraphs may be required in summarizing key findings and their significance.
Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.
Importance of a Good Conclusion
A well-written conclusion provides you with important opportunities to demonstrate to the reader your understanding of the research problem. These include:
- Presenting the last word on the issues you raised in your paper . Just as the introduction gives a first impression to your reader, the conclusion offers a chance to leave a lasting impression. Do this, for example, by highlighting key findings in your analysis that advance new understanding about the research problem, that are unusual or unexpected, or that have important implications applied to practice.
- Summarizing your thoughts and conveying the larger significance of your study . The conclusion is an opportunity to succinctly re-emphasize the "So What?" question by placing the study within the context of how your research advances past research about the topic.
- Identifying how a gap in the literature has been addressed . The conclusion can be where you describe how a previously identified gap in the literature [described in your literature review section] has been filled by your research.
- Demonstrating the importance of your ideas . Don't be shy. The conclusion offers you the opportunity to elaborate on the impact and significance of your findings. This is particularly important if your study approached examining the research problem from an unusual or innovative perspective.
- Introducing possible new or expanded ways of thinking about the research problem . This does not refer to introducing new information [which should be avoided], but to offer new insight and creative approaches for framing or contextualizing the research problem based on the results of your study.
Bunton, David. “The Structure of PhD Conclusion Chapters.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 4 (July 2005): 207–224; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8.
Structure and Writing Style
I. General Rules
The function of your paper's conclusion is to restate the main argument . It reminds the reader of the strengths of your main argument(s) and reiterates the most important evidence supporting those argument(s). Do this by stating clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem you investigated in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found in the literature. Make sure, however, that your conclusion is not simply a repetitive summary of the findings. This reduces the impact of the argument(s) you have developed in your essay.
When writing the conclusion to your paper, follow these general rules:
- Present your conclusions in clear, simple language. Re-state the purpose of your study, then describe how your findings differ or support those of other studies and why [i.e., what were the unique or new contributions your study made to the overall research about your topic?].
- Do not simply reiterate your findings or the discussion of your results. Provide a synthesis of arguments presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem and the overall objectives of your study.
- Indicate opportunities for future research if you haven't already done so in the discussion section of your paper. Highlighting the need for further research provides the reader with evidence that you have an in-depth awareness of the research problem and that further investigations should take place.
Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is presented well:
- If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If, prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from the data.
The conclusion also provides a place for you to persuasively and succinctly restate the research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with all the information about the topic . Depending on the discipline you are writing in, the concluding paragraph may contain your reflections on the evidence presented. However, the nature of being introspective about the research you have conducted will depend on the topic and whether your professor wants you to express your observations in this way.
NOTE : If asked to think introspectively about the topics, do not delve into idle speculation. Being introspective means looking within yourself as an author to try and understand an issue more deeply, not to guess at possible outcomes or make up scenarios not supported by the evidence.
II. Developing a Compelling Conclusion
Although an effective conclusion needs to be clear and succinct, it does not need to be written passively or lack a compelling narrative. Strategies to help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your research paper may include any of the following strategies:
- If your essay deals with a critical, contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem proactively.
- Recommend a specific course or courses of action that, if adopted, could address a specific problem in practice or in the development of new knowledge.
- Cite a relevant quotation or expert opinion already noted in your paper in order to lend authority and support to the conclusion(s) you have reached [a good place to look is research from your literature review].
- Explain the consequences of your research in a way that elicits action or demonstrates urgency in seeking change.
- Restate a key statistic, fact, or visual image to emphasize the most important finding of your paper.
- If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point by drawing from your own life experiences.
- Return to an anecdote, an example, or a quotation that you presented in your introduction, but add further insight derived from the findings of your study; use your interpretation of results to recast it in new or important ways.
- Provide a "take-home" message in the form of a succinct, declarative statement that you want the reader to remember about your study.
III. Problems to Avoid
Failure to be concise Your conclusion section should be concise and to the point. Conclusions that are too lengthy often have unnecessary information in them. The conclusion is not the place for details about your methodology or results. Although you should give a summary of what was learned from your research, this summary should be relatively brief, since the emphasis in the conclusion is on the implications, evaluations, insights, and other forms of analysis that you make. Strategies for writing concisely can be found here .
Failure to comment on larger, more significant issues In the introduction, your task was to move from the general [the field of study] to the specific [the research problem]. However, in the conclusion, your task is to move from a specific discussion [your research problem] back to a general discussion [i.e., how your research contributes new understanding or fills an important gap in the literature]. In short, the conclusion is where you should place your research within a larger context [visualize your paper as an hourglass--start with a broad introduction and review of the literature, move to the specific analysis and discussion, conclude with a broad summary of the study's implications and significance].
Failure to reveal problems and negative results Negative aspects of the research process should never be ignored. These are problems, deficiencies, or challenges encountered during your study should be summarized as a way of qualifying your overall conclusions. If you encountered negative or unintended results [i.e., findings that are validated outside the research context in which they were generated], you must report them in the results section and discuss their implications in the discussion section of your paper. In the conclusion, use your summary of the negative results as an opportunity to explain their possible significance and/or how they may form the basis for future research.
Failure to provide a clear summary of what was learned In order to be able to discuss how your research fits within your field of study [and possibly the world at large], you need to summarize briefly and succinctly how it contributes to new knowledge or a new understanding about the research problem. This element of your conclusion may be only a few sentences long.
Failure to match the objectives of your research Often research objectives in the social sciences change while the research is being carried out. This is not a problem unless you forget to go back and refine the original objectives in your introduction. As these changes emerge they must be documented so that they accurately reflect what you were trying to accomplish in your research [not what you thought you might accomplish when you began].
Resist the urge to apologize If you've immersed yourself in studying the research problem, you presumably should know a good deal about it [perhaps even more than your professor!]. Nevertheless, by the time you have finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you have produced. Repress those doubts! Don't undermine your authority by saying something like, "This is just one approach to examining this problem; there may be other, much better approaches that...." The overall tone of your conclusion should convey confidence to the reader.
Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8; Concluding Paragraphs. College Writing Center at Meramec. St. Louis Community College; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Freedman, Leora and Jerry Plotnick. Introductions and Conclusions. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Leibensperger, Summer. Draft Your Conclusion. Academic Center, the University of Houston-Victoria, 2003; Make Your Last Words Count. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin Madison; Miquel, Fuster-Marquez and Carmen Gregori-Signes. “Chapter Six: ‘Last but Not Least:’ Writing the Conclusion of Your Paper.” In Writing an Applied Linguistics Thesis or Dissertation: A Guide to Presenting Empirical Research . John Bitchener, editor. (Basingstoke,UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 93-105; Tips for Writing a Good Conclusion. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Writing Conclusions. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
Don't Belabor the Obvious!
Avoid phrases like "in conclusion...," "in summary...," or "in closing...." These phrases can be useful, even welcome, in oral presentations. But readers can see by the tell-tale section heading and number of pages remaining to read, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your readers if you belabor the obvious.
Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8.
Another Writing Tip
New Insight, Not New Information!
Don't surprise the reader with new information in your conclusion that was never referenced anywhere else in the paper and, as such, the conclusion rarely has citations to sources. If you have new information to present, add it to the discussion or other appropriate section of the paper. Note that, although no actual new information is introduced, the conclusion, along with the discussion section, is where you offer your most "original" contributions in the paper; the conclusion is where you describe the value of your research, demonstrate that you understand the material that you’ve presented, and locate your findings within the larger context of scholarship on the topic, including describing how your research contributes new insights or valuable insight to that scholarship.
Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.
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