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5 Tips for Writing Your Human Rights Research Paper

If you are a human rights student, you will often be asked by your professors to do research on a certain human rights issue and write a research paper. Research papers are considered to be academic writings based on your original research, interpretation and commentary of other research findings. They are done in order to demonstrate your academic knowledge of a certain human rights issue and your acquisition of different research methodologies.

Also read: 10 Tips for conducting human rights research

Research papers on human rights can focus on any type of human right or a broad overview of human rights. For example, you can focus your research paper on the right to labor or do a research on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes 30 human rights.  This article offers five tips for writing your human rights research paper with an aim to assist you to keep good organization and focus.

Step 1: Choose a Human Rights Topic

When writing a research paper the first thing you have to do is to choose a topic. So where can you get inspiration? A common tactic is to skim through thesis directories to discover topics or issues that spark your interest. Another option you can try, is to visit your favorite online magazine and look at the articles through a human rights lens. The fashion brand, where you buy your clothes, do they care about human rights? What are the human rights implications of the latest developments in artificial intelligence? What happens when you apply a human rights perspective to the netflix series you saw last week? Human rights are everywhere, and so are the topics for your research paper.

Step 2: Conduct Research

Once you have selected your topic, the next step is to conduct research. This can take various forms. Most students start with skim reading through the available literature. When you are searching an online library, make sure you also use synonyms and similar keywords in your search. It might be possible that your topic is well researched already but that most researchers choose a different term than the one you had in mind to describe the issue.

Look for articles and books that were written by human rights experts that deal with your chosen topic. Articles and books usually contain an empirical research that was already conducted within the field you are writing about. Once you find articles and books about your topic, check out the reference list or bibliography. The sources listed there can be a great tool for you to identify more suitable literature.

A great source for conducting research is the Internet, where you can find scholarly articles, books, journals, blog posts, encyclopedias and case directories. However, make sure you distinguish between invalid sources (i.e. Wikipedia, forums, etc.) and valid sources (i.e. scholarly article published by a university research center). Usually, your professor will outline and define what type of sources are acceptable to use in a research paper (i.e. scholarly articles, books, online journals, media articles etc.).

However, the most important is that information you find is trustworthy and based on facts. Academic publications often go through a rigorous quality assurance process and are thus considered more trustworthy than a message anyone can post on social media without much accountability. Your research paper should be based on at least five reliable sources.

Research traditions also vary in different universities and locations. At universities in Germany and Austria it is more common to reference twenty to fifty sources, even for a short research paper while in the UK less sources and more original writing is often state of the art. Make sure you discuss expectations with your professors especially if you are studying abroad and may be used to a different university system.

Citing well known authors and academics will make your research more reliable and your arguments well supported. It is a common best practice to summarize the key arguments of two or more authors and then, based on the research that has already been done, develop your own thoughts and conclusions around the topic. Once you have collected enough information on your topic, you can begin creating the outline of your research paper and developing your main argument.

Step 3 : Create an Outline

One of the most important steps in writing a research paper is creating a proper outline which will, later on, serve you as a guide and keep you on track. However, prior to creating an outline you should develop your research question and thesis statement which serve as a main idea and central point of your research paper. The arguments in your research paper should revolve around answering your research question (Is murder a violation of the right to life?) and testing your thesis statement (Murder is not considered a violation of the right to life, but killings are considered a violation of the right to life). The majority of your research paper will be based on arguments to verify or falsify your thesis statement based on facts and reliable sources.  

Once you defined your research question and thesis statement, you should be able to create an outline of your research paper which will help you organize your arguments. Creating an outline usually means organizing your thoughts into a linear structure with headings and subheadings presenting the main points of your argument.

Usually, a research paper, no matter what topic concerns, has the following structure:

  1. Title page (This includes the title, the author’s name, date, the university name and name of your professor)
  2. Abstract (This is a brief summary of your research paper with only main points outlined)
  3. Introduction (Introduction should contain your research question, thesis statement and brief background information on the topic with the main arguments presented)
  4. The main body (This part contains several sections in which you are going to summarize, analyze and present your literature findings and your arguments answering your research question and testing your thesis statement. In this part you are also going to explain how you have conducted your research and what research methodologies you used)
  5. Conclusion (In conclusion you should shortly summarize your main arguments and explain the significance of your research. In this part, you should outline whether or not your research question has been answered and if your thesis statement has been confirmed)
  6. Reference and Literature (In this section you will list all references and literature that you have used in your research paper)
  7. Appendix (This section is necessary only if you have any additional information to support your argument such as charts, tables or figures)

Step 4: Write the paper

Once you finished outlining your paper it is time to begin writing. When starting this process it can be helpful to skip the introduction and start with the main body text. Usually, introduction and conclusion are written last because only then you will have a clear picture of your research paper and will be able to summarize it more concretely without skipping the important points. During the writing process you will develop new ideas and thoughts and the paper might move in a different direction that you originally planned. That’s normal but you need to update all aspects of the paper accordingly to ensure everything is consistent.

While writing, organize your arguments into paragraphs in order to get a clear and concise line of arguments. During the writing stage you will consult the literature and information you collected during the phase of conducting a research. However, it is really important to pay attention to how you summarize your literature in order to avoid plagiarism. This means using someone else’s exact words and copying them into your own research paper. Plagiarism is absolutely unacceptable in any academic discipline and considered as a form of theft.

A common way to avoid plagiarism is to paraphrase a certain argument or a fact in your own words and add a footnote to the original source. If you want to use word to word quotes you must mark them with quotation marks. In addition, always make sure to cite at the end from which source the fact or information derived or came from.

When writing, you should always keep in mind that the main purpose behind writing a research paper is to present arguments supported by the evidence from research.

Step 5: Edit, Revise and Celebrate

After you finished writing your research paper it is important to edit and revise it. At this stage, put your paper away for some time to gain distance to your own writing before you come back and revise it. After a few days, you will be able to notice mistakes more clearly and see whether or not you have presented clear and concise arguments. During the edit phase you should check for typos and spelling mistakes and if language you have used is clear and concise. Also, you will be able to notice if there was repetition in some parts of the paper and repetitive words or phrases that could be replaced with synonyms to improve the style of your paper. Once you have handed in your paper, don’t forget to celebrate! One step closer to your human rights masters.

About the author

Ada Hasanagic

Ada Hasanagić is a human rights professional currently working as a researcher at the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Previously, Ada graduated with honors from the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and the University of Buckingham in the fields of Political Science and International Relations. Also, she earned a master’s degree in Democracy and Human Rights from the University of Sarajevo and University of Bologna.