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How to Write a Research Paper

Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.

Start the Research Process

Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.

Develop Your Thesis Statement

When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.

Create an Outline

Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.

Organize Your Notes

When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.

Write Your Final Draft

After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.


how to write an action research paper


Linking Research to Action: A Simple Guide to Writing an Action Research Report

What Is Action Research, and Why Do We Do It?

Action research is any research into practice undertaken by those involved in that practice, with the primary goal of encouraging continued reflection and making improvement. It can be done in any professional field, including medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, and education. Action research is particularly popular in the field of education. When it comes to teaching, practitioners may be interested in trying out different teaching methods in the classroom, but are unsure of their effectiveness. Action research provides an opportunity to explore the effectiveness of a particular teaching practice, the development of a curriculum, or your students’ learning, hence making continual improvement possible. In other words, the use of an interactive action-and-research process enables practitioners to get an idea of what they and their learners really do inside of the classroom, not merely what they think they can do. By doing this, it is hoped that both the teaching and the learning occurring in the classroom can be better tailored to fit the learners’ needs.

You may be wondering how action research differs from traditional research. The term itself already suggests that it is concerned with both “action” and “research,” as well as the association between the two. Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), a famous psychologist who coined this term, believed that there was “no action without research; no research without action” (Marrow, 1969, p.163). It is certainly possible, and perhaps commonplace, for people to try to have one without the other, but the unique combination of the two is what distinguishes action research from most other forms of enquiry. Traditional research emphasizes the review of prior research, rigorous control of the research design, and generalizable and preferably statistically significant results, all of which help examine the theoretical significance of the issue. Action research, with its emphasis on the insider’s perspective and the practical significance of a current issue, may instead allow less representative sampling, looser procedures, and the presentation of raw data and statistically insignificant results.

What Should We Include in an Action Research Report?

The components put into an action research report largely coincide with the steps used in the action research process. This process usually starts with a question or an observation about a current problem. After identifying the problem area and narrowing it down to make it more manageable for research, the development process continues as you devise an action plan to investigate your question. This will involve gathering data and evidence to support your solution. Common data collection methods include observation of individual or group behavior, taking audio or video recordings, distributing questionnaires or surveys, conducting interviews, asking for peer observations and comments, taking field notes, writing journals, and studying the work samples of your own and your target participants. You may choose to use more than one of these data collection methods. After you have selected your method and are analyzing the data you have collected, you will also reflect upon your entire process of action research. You may have a better solution to your question now, due to the increase of your available evidence. You may also think about the steps you will try next, or decide that the practice needs to be observed again with modifications. If so, the whole action research process starts all over again.

In brief, action research is more like a cyclical process, with the reflection upon your action and research findings affecting changes in your practice, which may lead to extended questions and further action. This brings us back to the essential steps of action research: identifying the problem, devising an action plan, implementing the plan, and finally, observing and reflecting upon the process. Your action research report should comprise all of these essential steps. Feldman and Weiss (n.d.) summarized them as five structural elements, which do not have to be written in a particular order. Your report should:

The overall structure of your paper will actually look more or less the same as what we commonly see in traditional research papers.

What Else Do We Need to Pay Attention to?

We discussed the major differences between action research and traditional research in the beginning of this article. Due to the difference in the focus of an action research report, the language style used may not be the same as what we normally see or use in a standard research report. Although both kinds of research, both action and traditional, can be published in academic journals, action research may also be published and delivered in brief reports or on websites for a broader, non-academic audience. Instead of using the formal style of scientific research, you may find it more suitable to write in the first person and use a narrative style while documenting your details of the research process.

However, this does not forbid using an academic writing style, which undeniably enhances the credibility of a report. According to Johnson (2002), even though personal thoughts and observations are valued and recorded along the way, an action research report should not be written in a highly subjective manner. A personal, reflective writing style does not necessarily mean that descriptions are unfair or dishonest, but statements with value judgments, highly charged language, and emotional buzzwords are best avoided.

Furthermore, documenting every detail used in the process of research does not necessitate writing a lengthy report. The purpose of giving sufficient details is to let other practitioners trace your train of thought, learn from your examples, and possibly be able to duplicate your steps of research. This is why writing a clear report that does not bore or confuse your readers is essential.

Lastly, You May Ask, Why Do We Bother to Even Write an Action Research Report?

It sounds paradoxical that while practitioners tend to have a great deal of knowledge at their disposal, often they do not communicate their insights to others. Take education as an example: It is both regrettable and regressive if every teacher, no matter how professional he or she might be, only teaches in the way they were taught and fails to understand what their peer teachers know about their practice. Writing an action research report provides you with the chance to reflect upon your own practice, make substantiated claims linking research to action, and document action and ideas as they take place. The results can then be kept, both for the sake of your own future reference, and to also make the most of your insights through the act of sharing with your professional peers.

Feldman, A., & Weiss, T. (n.d.). Suggestions for writing the action research report . Retrieved from

Johnson, A. P. (2002). A short guide to action research . Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Marrow, A. J. (1969). The practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin . New York, NY: Basic Books.

Tiffany Ip is a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University. She gained a PhD in neurolinguistics after completing her Bachelor’s degree in psychology and linguistics. She strives to utilize her knowledge to translate brain research findings into practical classroom instruction.

Suggestions for Writing the Action Research Report *

Allan Feldman and Tarin Weiss

University of Massachusetts Amherst

There are five structural elements for an action research report. Although these elements will be described in a particular order, they need not be that way in your report. In fact, they do not even need to be separated from one another.

The context  

The first element of the action research report is a description of the context within which the action research took place. Depending on the project that you do, the locus of the context can be your classroom, your school, or your school district. It is possible that the context of the project includes aspects of more than one of these. It is important to remember that the physical description of the setting is important, but that there are other aspects that are important depending on the project. For example, if your project focuses on working with parents or students, a description of these populations should be included. If the project relates to an entire district, salient features of the geographical and political area, as well as important features of the schools are part of the relevant context.

Statement and Origin of your Research Focus

The statement of your research focus should answer one or more of the following questions:

Ä What did you investigate?

Ä What have you accomplished or attempted to accomplish in this study?

Ä What have been your goals?

This element of the report should also address the way in which your starting point developed. That is

How did the idea originate?

How and why did it change through the year?

What impact did your research notebook group have on the development of your starting point?

In addition, this section should include what you learned from reading the research literature that informed your study.

Methods This element of the report focuses on the way in which you investigated your practice situation.

Ä Describe what you did and why.

Ä What sort of data did you collect?

Ä How did you collect the data?

Ä What successes or difficulties did you have in carrying out this action research?

The Findings The fourth element of the report states what it was that you accomplished and/or found out. Remember that all action research projects involve actions so therefore there are effects of those actions. And, every action research project results in the teacher coming to a new understanding of his or her own educational situation. Therefore each report should contain some description of what it was that you learned. Make sure to include any events, circumstances or data that contradict what you had hoped to do or find out.

Implications Although this element is labeled implications , it is not necessary that each project have far reaching effects. These implications could be a statement of how participation in this research has affected the ways in which you look at your teaching, your students, or your school. In other words, do you see the educational world differently now, and how will that affect what it is that you will do next?

Finally, include a paragraph describing the next step of this research.   Is it complete?   Is there another scenario you wish to research?   Explain how you would continue action research following up on this study or developing a new idea.   Consider possible supports (without an action research course) and impediments to your efforts.

Overall, this structure is not dissimilar to what you may be familiar with -- the standard research report. There is a general introduction that places the research within the field, a statement of the problem or hypothesis, the method used, findings of the research, and finally, implications. But it can be significantly different because you may feel free to write in the first person and to use a narrative style -- to tell a validated story. You may also feel free to write in the formal style of scientific research. The choice is yours.

* Based on suggestions made by Peter Posch.

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Neag School of Education

Educational Research Basics by Del Siegle

Action research.

An Introduction to Action Research Jeanne H. Purcell, Ph.D.

 Your Options

Action Research Is…

Conditions That Support Action Research

The Action Research Cycle

Collecting Data: Sources

Existing Sources

Inventive Sources

Collecting Data: From Whom?

Collecting Data: How Often?

Collecting Data: Guidelines

Organizing Data

Analyzing Data

Taking Action

Action Plans

Action Research Handout


Brubacher, J. W., Case, C. W., & Reagan, T. G. (1994). Becoming a reflective educator . Thousand Oaks: CA: Corwin Press.

Burnaford, G., Fischer, J., & Hobson, D. (1996). Teachers doing research . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Calhoun, Emily (1994). How to use action research in the self-renewing school . Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Corey, S. M. (1953). Action research to improve school practices . New York: Teachers College Press.

Glickman, C. D. (1990). Supervision of instruction: A developmental approach . Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Hubbard, R. S. & Power, B. M. (1993). The art of classroom inquiry . Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

Lewin, K. (1947). Group decisions and social change. In Readings in social psychology . (Eds. T M. Newcomb and E. L. Hartley). New York: Henry Holt.

Action Research Tutorials-CCAR

Creating and understanding change, tutorial 11:  writing your report, tutorial 11: resources for writing, your action research report.

how to write an action research paper

A. Learning From Others

Reading Examples of Action Research Reports from university programs will help you think about the many ways in which people have organized their writing about their action research. It is an effective way to get past writer's block. You have done the work; now you need to share your story in the most compelling way you can. Read a few examples from different universities and see what style seems right for your audience.   

Center for Collaborative Action Research The Center has collected Action Research Portfolios that serve as useful models. The model portfolios are categorized into four groups: 

Classroom Action Research  

Youth Action Research  

Professional Development Action Research  

Community Participatory Action Research 

Organizational Action Research

Center for Practitioner Research at National Louis University Their online journal features original practitioner research studies, theoretical articles about practitioner research, descriptions of practitioner research centers, and book reviews.-  Inquiry in Education Journal

Educational Journal of Living Theories Many -  Action Research Projects  and  a range of studies published in the journal

Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA Many examples of -  Moravian Action Research Projects  some of which focus on the improvement in the arts

Social Publishers Foundation  is a non-profit organization and supports the publishing of  action research reports.

Washington State University, Vancouver Wisdom of Practice: An online journal of (freely accessed)

how to write an action research paper

B. Using Templates and Rubrics to Guide the Writing

In the activities, we have provided a template to help you write your action research report. There are many other templates to help you use a particular style to write your report. Journals or magazines will also have advice as to how they want submissions to their publications to be formatted. If your school or editor suggests that you use the American Psychological Association (APA) style, you will find that  Purdue University's Online Writing Lab  (OWL) will have the best information. Here is their  template  annotated so you can understand the conventions they suggest. Reading through a writing rubric can help you think through the process of writing. Writing one as a group will help you think through the process of doing action research and can be a great exercise before you engage in writing. We include some rubrics here to provide ideas but it is best if you develop your own as a group. We have developed this  web portfolio rubric  to evaluate the action research e-portfolios and/or papers. We use a shorter scoring rubric for evaluating the e-portfolio and a presentation. You are welcome to use this to develop your own document. If you are working in a group, it is great to have each of you use the scoring sheet to give feedback to your peers on their e-portfolios and their practice presentations.  

C. Developing an Online Portfolio of Action Research

Some of you will choose to share your ideas and work over the internet in e-portfolios. Your work might be linked to the university, school, district, state, or global networks. To publish your work in this way you will need to make use of color, design, and multimedia material. There are many online journals for publishing action research. You might want to consider publishing your work on the  Social Publishing Foundation .

For developing your website, here are some considerations:

1) Opening "splash" or home page: This page should present the major topic or problem of your action research and yourself as the action researcher. "My Action Research Project" is not a very descriptive title and something like "Seeing Below the Surface: Using video and peer feedback to improve coaching" is more informative. Your name and links to more information about you are important to include on the page. The page should be graphically clear with images that clearly communicate the nature of the problem you are exploring. The use of an appropriate metaphor (pieces of a puzzle, seasonal changes, transportation, lenses, magnification) can often help communicate your ideas in an engaging way. A video of you giving a short overview of your project (the elevator pitch) might invite your readers to continue exploring.  2) The site should have a very clear navigation bar that helps the reader find the different parts of your work. These should be clear on every page so that the reader does not get lost in exploring your work. Suggested tabs and pull-down menus might look like this:

3) Pay attention to color and design. You don't want to use so many vibrant colors and images that you lose the sense of your work. On the other hand, you do not want to waste the potential of the web by only posting text.

Technology application: web journals (blogs) and project portfolios and wikis (quick websites).

This website was created using the   Wix editor

Blogs ( ,  Typepad , LiveJournal , ), phone blogs (moblogs at blogger)

b2evolution  (not a blogging platform but good for web creation for e-portfolios with feedback)

Good sites for website creation and blogging  -

Google Sites for wiki-web sites that can integrate all of the many google suites of applications 

Site builder is another website editor that many find useful.

Choosing a color scheme  (quick access to popular color schemes based on topics)  (create a color scheme and see it in action)  (use your logo to get the right color scheme)

When you finish your website, please consider submitting it to the Center for Collaborative Action Research -- we will review it and give you feedback which hopefully leads to having your site published. 

D. Developing your Conference Presentation

Some of you might chose the conference format for sharing your action research with peers. In this format you will be given an amount of time and you will need to carefully consider what you can include in the time frame. You will want to make sure you give enough time for each part of your talk. You don't want to spend all your time telling stories about what happened and not get to your analysis of data or reflections on change. 

Here is a guide for the amount of time on each of the elements.

If you have a 10 minute talk, then 10% would be 1 minute. 

10% -  Opening-- Introducing the problem and why you care about it.

20% - Setting the Background (what you learned from reading and from what you know about the setting)

10% -  Your Action Research Approach and plan

40% - Reporting on your Iterative Process (cycles of research)

20% -  Overall Reflections on learning

You can find examples of scoring sheets for presentations in the  Google Drive  / Dropbox  template folders. Example of a short but effective presentation:

how to write an action research paper

E. Publishing Articles on Action Research

If you plan to submit your writing to a journal you will need to match your work to their format. If you are writing a report to share with colleagues, you have more flexibility in the way you describe your work. We include a listing of journals that accept action research reports.

Listing of Journals for publishing accounts of Action Research  

F. Exhibitions of Teacher (and student) Learning

Watch an example of an exhibition of action research:  5th Annual Action Research with Technology Conference  which was held on June 18 & 19 2013. The session has been video streamed. You will see keynote discussions and the presentations of four learning circles.  This is posted to provide a model for organizing a university conference. 

Making Learning Visible  provides resources and tools to support learning in groups in the classroom and schools. The tools are mostly intended for teachers, professional development designers and coaches, and administrators. Almost all of the tools emphasize greater intentionality combined with careful looking and listening. The site includes five kinds of tools and resources:

Supporting Learning in Groups in the Classroom includes practical tools with suggestions for creating learning groups at the beginning of the school year, forming study groups in classrooms, and promoting a culture of dialogue. provides tools for forming adult study groups, hands-on activities for adults to explore learning groups and documentation for themselves, and conversation structures for discussing and reflecting on student learning.

Supporting Learning in Groups in the Staffroom provides tools for forming adult study groups, hands-on activities for adults to explore learning groups and documentation for themselves, and conversation structures for discussing and reflecting on student learning.

Documenting Individual and Group Learning includes resources for understanding, creating, and sharing documentation with students and colleagues. Some tools will help you think through the purpose of your documentation; others provide guidelines for gathering or sharing documentation via video, computer, photographs, or powerpoint.

Engaging Families in Supporting Student Learning offers resources to inform families about visible learning, involve families in supporting their children’s learning, and communicate with families about learning. Tools range from a refrigerator reminder to guidelines for parents interested in forming their own study group.

Making Learning Visible beyond the Classroom provides tools and templates for creating bulletin boards, documentation panels, visual essays, and school-wide exhibitions that make learning and learners visible, with examples from preschool-high school.

how to write an action research paper


  1. How to write an action research paper in education

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  2. 013 Action Research Proposal Paper Examples Page 8 ~ Museumlegs

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  3. 001 Largepreview Research Paper Action Examples In ~ Museumlegs

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  4. Research Paper Outline Templates

    how to write an action research paper

  5. 013 Action Research Proposal Paper Examples Page 8 ~ Museumlegs

    how to write an action research paper

  6. 001 Largepreview Research Paper Action Examples In ~ Museumlegs

    how to write an action research paper


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