Your research paper will likely begin with a question, followed by an analysis, and finally a conclusion. A review of the literature is part of the process of analysis, but need not be formally documented in the paper. Instead, literature (studies, cases, policy analyses, etc.) should be woven into your analysis as needed, to support your points. The main sections of your paper are described in more detail below.
Coming up with a researchable question is often the hardest part of a research paper. It should NOT simply be an obvious "truism" (Do health epidemics destroy families?), or too complex (can NGOs solve world hunger?). Also, a good research question is one that you do not know the answer to. You may have a hunch, or even an hypothesis, but you should be open to being wrong. A good question is researchable (there is sufficient data out there that will help you support, or refute, an argument). Usually it requires significant background research in order to develop an informed conclusion. You will be graded on how carefully, thoroughly and thoughtfully you research the question, regardless of your conclusion. Also, you are not expected to arrive at a conclusion with absolute certainty. A good question is one that does at least two things: a) invites a thorough, and critical investigation, and b) can be "falsified." Both of these requirements necessitate the gathering of evidence, usually in the form of cases/examples that illustrate how your question has played out in different circumstances in other locations, and at other times, and how this evidence leads you to conclude that your analysis is sound.
*Note to Global Studies majors: You may pick a topic that you hope to explore further in your Capstone Research, senior year. In fact you are strongly encouraged to do so.
What native groups live in the Amazon that are impacted by deforestation? ... does not invite critical analysis, only description.
In what ways are native groups in the Amazon impacted by deforestation? ... does invite critical analysis.
Will we ever have a world without war? ... does not permit falsification; it can't be solidly argued one way or the other.
Can global arms reduction policy lead to a diminished likelihood of war?..... permits development of an informed conclusion, based on evidence.
Also, while your analysis should be based on falsifiable evidence, you need not begin your analysis with an argument. You can launch your analysis with a question -- does EU monetary policy undermine the economic success of member states? Also, keep in mind that a good analysis explores how separate, if not altogether independent factors or forces interact and produce certain results. In the previous example you have a) EU monetary policy and b) economic well-being of member states. Your analysis focuses on the relationship between these. Also, for example, it isn't sufficient to ask: What species of fish are most at risk of extinction due to overfishing? But rather it suits a strong analysis much better to ask: How does commercial overfishing have a strong impact on certain species of fish, while impacting other species minimally? Again, the relationship between separate factors is analyzed: a) commercial overfishing, and b) differential survival of fish species (some survive, while others do not).
An analysis is not an opinion. An opinion need not require you to marshall sound evidence. I may think the future of civilization will be one in which war is no longer necessary, but there isn't any information that I could provide the reader that will make my argument even remotely certain. That's the same as saying an analysis needs to be falsifiable. If it isn't falsifiable, it can't be supported, or refuted, on logical grounds.
Your analysis should be convincing because it is logical. A critical analysis is one in which sound logic makes your analysis believable. Because of your sound logic, most people who read your analysis will be more or less convinced that your points are valid. It doesn't depend on what opinion the reader has to begin with (although this will surely affect how they interpret your conclusions). Your analysis should be convincing because it makes good sense.
An analysis is more than a description also. You may use description, but you need to show how it connects to your analysis. You may, for example, describe how huge hydro-electric dams operate, but only so that you can analyze whether or not they are cost effective, or environmentally friendly. Your analysis doesn't need to begin with a "claim" (huge hydro-electric dams destroy the environment for future generations), but it can. It might simply be a question you wish to explore: Are hydro-electric dams doing more harm than good? And although you may not arrive at a certain conclusion, your ANALYSIS needs to delineate the facts of the situation so that a reader can draw their own conclusions (or be hopelessly divided on the issue because the pros and cons are well argued, and well balanced).
Also, "facts" invariably exist that support both (or multiple) sides of your analysis. It is your duty to explore all the relevant facts available to you, and to present these in your paper. Again, a good research paper is NOT one with a clear and certain conclusion necessarily, but rather one in which all the relevant evidence is provided. This is how your analysis will be graded.
You have some choices on how to write your conclusion. You can review the evidence you've already provided and support one conclusion over others, based on this evidence and based on the logic that ties the evidence to your conclusion. Or, you can point out that more information is needed, and point to the kinds of information that will help settle the matter. Or, you can propose a solution that you haven't yet discussed in your paper -- a solution that is speculative, but promising. Or, you might highlight an especially successful project that illustrates how, if things went as they should, the system might operate successfully ........and so on.