The engineering field is not typically known for its literary style or its compelling prose, in large measure because engineering is better known as an applied field than a theoretical one. Most engineering students expect to spend their time working with mathematical equations and applying these equations to discover engineering solutions rather than researching term papers. But engineering is a discipline with an academic component, and research is an essential element of its academic aspect. In short, if you’re a student in an engineering program, you need to be able to write a great research paper just as much as you need to be able to solve complex mathematical problems.However, many students in application-based fields like engineering are much more comfortable with numbers than they are with words. Because of this, research papers can be challenging for them. Fortunately, there are a few key steps you can take to make sure your next engineering research paper truly shines.
Guide to Writing an Engineering Research Paper
- Plan your research early: Many students who are less comfortable with research paper writing tend to wait to research as they write, but this creates problems. First, it means that you are wasting time going back and revising for each new piece of information rather than starting with a complete understanding of your topic. Second, it also means that you will be scrambling to research as you write, costing you time through inefficiency and redundancy. Instead, the better choice is to start your research process as quickly as possible in order to give yourself time to analyze and digest what you are reading and to develop original ideas about what the research has to say about your topic. Separating the research process form the writing process will help you to develop stronger ideas and prepare for the writing process, making the actual writing of your paper that much faster and more efficient.
- Use only the most current research: While there are some cases where historical articles can be important for understanding the development of an idea, you will want to use current research to support your analysis. Current research keeps you abreast of the latest information in you field. This is especially important because of the changing nature of engineering. New information and new approaches can render older ways of doing things obsolete. You want to ensure that your paper is the strongest it can be, which means that you need to stay current to ensure your paper is on the cutting edge.
- Select data by quality, not by quantity: Many engineering students rightly value numbers and data because this is the raw material used in engineering. However, a research paper is a little different from other types of engineering work. In a research paper, you should focus on high quality data, not simply the volume of data you can pack into your paper. In a research paper, focusing on the best and most important information is paramount. Extraneous information, redundant data, or irrelevant data don’t make a manuscript stronger, even if they make it longer. They are a distraction and can undercut the power of your main points.
- Discuss the theory, not just the results: Because engineering is an applied discipline, many students minimize or ignore theory in favor of discussing results. While results are important, in a research paper it’s also essential to talk about the methodology and theory used to obtain those results. By explaining the background of a theory and the underpinnings that demonstrate why it is true, you show the reader that you know what you are talking about and have considered the strengths and weaknesses of the approach you have used to obtaining your results. It also shows that you have an understanding of the conventions and requirements of academic writing.
- Remember to explain your hypothesis: When you have explained the theories behind your work, you will need to tell the reader what your paper will investigate and what you hope to demonstrate or prove. Outlining the hypothesis is important to make sure that the audience understands why you have chosen to present specific data, and what it all means.