The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Writing an Educational Administration + Leadership Research Paper

As a graduate student, I used to spend hours on the Internet looking for research-writing help from various sources to hone my writing skills and make my papers more persuasive. But I always felt a little uncertain when submitting my paper to be graded. Had I included enough sources? Had I made valid arguments and accurately cited other researchers?

What if I completely missed the point?

Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone! If you feel like you are making it up as you go, or have no clue how to get started on your first research paper, then you’re in the right place. This article will not only help you get started on your educational administration + leadership research paper, but it will provide you with all the tips and tricks needed to submit your paper with complete confidence.

You might find this article helpful if you’re…

  • A graduate student completing a master’s or Ph.D. in educational administration and leadership who wants some tips and tricks for how to write their first research paper

  • An instructor who is teaching an educational administration course (maybe even your first!) and who wants to write a research paper on a new topic, brush up on their paper-writing skills

  • A professional educational administrator who wants to write a research paper in a course

  • A researcher outside the field of educational administration and leadership who wants to learn how to write a killer research paper in a field you may be unfamiliar with

  • Anyone with an interest in this subject that just wants to write a great research article

If this sounds like you, keep on reading friend, 'cause I've got your research paper-writing basics (and more!) covered.

Don't forgot to check out my free printable research essentials checklist at the end of this post!

Getting Started

You really don’t need much to get started on your research paper, but here is what you’ll probably need in your research toolkit at some stage in your writing process:

  • A notepad and a pen (oh yes, we're going to write some things down!)

  • A computer or laptop (or access to a computer)

  • Research articles or books that you think you may use for your research project (it's okay if you don't have these yet - I will walk you through how to find them if you don’t know how)

  • Sticky notes, highlighters, or different colored pens for planning (optional)

  • A printer (optional)

  • Snacks and water (the world is better with snacks and it’s important to stay hydrated)

In this ultimate beginner’s guide, you’re going to start and finish an educational administration + leadership research paper. If you’ve been procrastinating, now is the time to get down to business. If you’ve never written a research paper before, don’t worry. It’s not really as intimidating as it may seem. It can even be fun.

5 Steps to Writing a Research Paper

  1. Learn how to select a topic you feel excited + inspired about

  2. Formulate a clear + concise research question

  3. Sketch out a research game plan that will give you the framework for your paper

  4. Search for research books, articles, and other scholarly sources to support your ideas

  5. Cite your sources + learn to follow APA formatting

These steps will help you to write your research paper. I also include tips and other helpful advice specific to the field of educational administration + leadership that I hope will be useful.

Ready to get started? Good! Let's do this!

Selecting a Topic You Feel Excited + Inspired About

First thing’s first, you have to select a topic you feel motivated to write about.

What is one aspect of the field of educational administration + leadership that you’re curious about? What is on your mind right now that you want to learn more about?

It might feel overwhelming to just choose one topic, especially if you’re fairly new to writing research papers. It’s tempting to choose a general topic, but don’t be afraid to be more specific. The more specific you can be, the easier it actually is to find research books and journal articles because you know exactly what you’re looking for.

Do this: using a pen and paper, write down some potential topics that you’re interested in writing about. Then, go to your university library website and do a quick search. How many results did you get? If it’s 50,000, you need to be more specific about your topic or be more specific when you’re searching for references. If you get 50-100 results, you’ve probably chosen a very specific topic that will make it clear what you’re writing about.

Remember: there are many interesting topics to write about in the field of educational administration and research, and don’t worry. You have lots of time to write about them. For now, just choose one topic to practice honing your research paper-writing skills. You’ll be writing lengthy and well-researched papers in no time.

Here are just a few examples of some of the topics I have chosen for research papers in the past:

  • A Uses and Gratifications Perspective on Administrators’ Use of Twitter to Improve Research and Practice within the Field of Educational Administration and Leadership

  • The All-Administrative University: Exploring the Disconnect between Academic Administrative Theory and Practice

  • The Adminibrary Project: An Interventionist Arts-Based Approach to Educational Administration and Leadership

What To Do If You Don’t Get to Choose Your Own Topic

But what if you don’t get to choose your own topic because your instructor assigned it to you? Try these things:

  • Suggest your own idea! Some instructors offer a list of suggested topics, especially in introductory courses, but they are often open to your ideas as well. Write out a strong research question for the topic you’d like to write about (you may need to adjust it so that it aligns with the theme of the course), and submit it to your professor as early as possible so that they can review it and approve your idea well in advance of the deadline.

  • Use a variation on a topic. Using one of the pre-determined topics, go one step deeper on one aspect of the topic. For example, if the assigned topic is to write about positivism in the field of educational administration and leadership, you could write about the history of positivism and how it currently affects the field today, or even different modern-day thinking on positivism. As always, make sure you check with your professor to ensure that your idea is okay by them.

  • Add your own perspective on an assigned topic. There’s always room for you to add your own perspective on a topic, even if it’s been handed to you by your professor. What interesting research articles have you found in your quick library search that could magnify a certain issue that hasn’t been looked at in-depth enough yet?

You might feel like you need to have all your references ready in order to get started writing your research paper, but you can get started with just an idea (even a vague idea) of what you want to write about. Selecting your research topic might be the hardest step for you - it may even be the reason you may be procrastinating on your work.

Research topics in the field of educational administration and leadership can vary. There is no “one thing” that is right or wrong to investigate. As a researcher, your job is to get curious about many different topics and to investigate them by seeking out sources that may or may not disagree with you. What would you like to discover? In some cases, your research topic may be given to you by your instructor, or you may be able to choose your own. Either way, there is room for creativity and to look at your topic from your own unique perspective.

Formulating a Clear + Concise Research Question

It’s important to think about your research question before you begin thinking about collecting research articles. After you formulate your question, it will be much more clear to you what kind of articles, books, and other sources you should look for.

If you already have some that you think will work, great. I know as a graduate student, you begin to collect an arsenal of journal articles that you can use over and over again for research papers. It may even be tempting to dive in to the library and start collecting all kinds of research articles, BUT this process will be so much easier if you take a moment to craft a clear and concise research question (in the next section I show you how to take this research question and use it to search your library database, so don’t worry, we’re getting there!).

Your research question is important because it helps to focus your research and give you a clear goal to work toward. For example, if your research question is whether Twitter has a positive effect on educational administrators’ professional learning, then that gives you a lot of ideas to use when it comes to selecting your research articles, and a specific question to try to answer in your essay.

Once you've written a clear and concise research statement, do this: on a hard copy piece of paper, physically write out the title (it can be a temporary title) of your research paper and write your research question at the top of the page. This guide will keep you focused on the question you are trying to answer in your research paper as you write. Research articles can take you in all kinds of exciting directions and you might feel totally overwhelmed reading them. That's totally normal. 

Searching for references

Am I the only one that thinks collecting research articles is the most fun a person can have writing a research paper? There’s nothing better than finding a perfect article that argues your points exactly and backs up your research question. But knowing where to look for research articles seems to be one of the most challenging things about writing your research paper. The good news is, now that you have your research question, collecting research articles is going to be so much easier. There are basically three steps you’re going to take to find research articles:

  1. Login to your university library’s website and search keywords from your research question

  2. Filter your results so that you only view peer-reviewed articles

  3. Further filter your results to find the most recent research on your topic

I’ll give you an example using one of my research questions that I used for a past research essay:

Hint: You might consider storing your research articles on a reference database such as Mendeley. I wrote a helpful guide to get you started to be able to build a starter educational administration and research library in just one weekend. Download it here!

Writing Your Research Paper

The first thing you may want to consider when getting down to write your research paper is to go

A note about procrastination...

You need to set yourself up in a place where you won't be distracted to work on your paper. If you find yourself procrastinating, maybe watching Netflix instead of tackling your thesis statement, chances are you aren't sure how to proceed and you're in an environment that doesn't encourage focus and attention. I had to learn this the hard way when I literally procrastinated for months, but I found when I finally picked myself up and put myself in my university's library, I pounded out 12 whole pages of writing - and this is without having a clear idea of what I even wanted to write about! You're way better than that, because if you've followed the steps above, you will have a written plan (your action plan) for this paper. Some of us are great at writing a paper and turning off all distractions at home, but if you need a little bit of extra help, take your books and go sit in your school library to work. You'll be amazed at how much work you can get done.

Some important things to keep in mind as you write your research paper:

  • Research papers may seem overwhelming or daunting but they are totally manageable and can even be fun to write (Ignore the haters - there’s nothing better than finding that one research article that totally backs up your claims and proves your point!)

  • Writing a research paper is not a linear process. Be open to new ideas and don’t be afraid to change your direction or your research question. Your research can take you in unexpected directions - it doesn’t mean you’re starting all over again, it means you’re learning, and that’s a good thing!

  • Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism includes

  • Don’t procrastinate. Decide to write this paper and put yourself in an environment where you’re more likely to do some work. You may be able to work fine on your couch, but if you’re like most of us (and would rather Netflix-binge than do homework), you need to help yourself up and go to the library instead.

proofreading Your Paper

It’s important to proofread your paper after you have finished your first draft. If possible, try to at least sleep on it and look at it again the next day. But if you’re rushing to finish this paper last minute, take a short break and step away from what you’ve written.

The trick to proofreading your paper is to read it out loud to yourself. If you’re in the library, try to read it quietly to yourself or try mouthing the words. There is something about reading your paper out loud that allows you to catch all kinds of awkward sentence phrases and grammar mistakes, like verb agreement. Also, set aside some time to create your reference list (it’s easiest to create it as you go, but if you save it for the end, make sure you give yourself some time to check your APA citations. The most common mistake students make is in their APA formatting and reference list, but these are really the easiest marks you can get. It just requires some attention to detail.

Consult the following APA guide on how to format your paper and citations. Alternatively, your university will likely have their own guide that they publish on their library’s website.

next steps

You can hand in your paper and be done with it forever. Or, you can use some of the ideas I’ve listed below to do more with your paper. You probably had some great ideas and the field of educational administration + leadership needs your good ideas. So why not try to make something more out of your paper?

  • Create a research poster out of your paper and present it at your school’s next research day

  • Develop a research article using the feedback you receive on your research paper and submit it to a student conference such as the Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education

  • Tweet your ideas using the hashtag #edadmin or share on other social media accounts

C. Valentine