How to Write a Research Essay in Chemistry: Practical Guide for Undergraduates

Writing guide
Posted on August 13, 2019

Various scientific discoveries depend as much on the progress of innovative ideas as they do on the ability of a scientist to communicate those ideas to the audience. The truth is that the most significant scientific discoveries can be set back many years if the results are failed to be distributed in a concise and clear manner. This step-by-step guide will provide you with a solid foundation for researching, organizing, outlining, writing, and editing a clear research essay in the niche of Chemistry. The key goal of a research essay in Chemistry is not to simply articulate the work that has been done by an expert but to explain the scientific process that stands behind the extensive research. In other words, when it comes to the research essay in Chemistry, you’re not only a writer, but a real storyteller, narrator, and scientist, presenting the ultimate findings to the community. Therefore, an essay written for the field of Chemistry should comprise all steps of the scientific method.

Brainstorming Ideas on the Topic

If you’re given an opportunity to choose the research topic in Chemistry, make sure to give preference to the one that interests you at least a little. That last thing on earth you want is to end up spending many hours or days learning and writing about an issue that you have no interest in. The reality is that you will find the whole process more enjoyable if you really care about your research essay topic.

  • Keep in mind the instructions and requirements that your tutor provided. For instance, if you have an opportunity to pick the topic but the general theme must fall under Inorganic Chemistry, don’t write an essay on the biography of the most famous Chemists.
  • Stick with Chemistry topics that aren’t too simple or too complicated – make sure to stay somewhere in between. Do not make things more difficult!

If you’re struggling with finding the hottest topic for Chemistry research, this collection will provide you with some important issues of current scientific interest and some historical points that are designed for both – experienced researchers and undergraduates:

  • Substance Abuse and Chemical Changes in Human Body;
  • The Similarities and Differences between Covalent and Ionic Bonds;
  • Major Challenges for the Modern Chemistry;
  • Acids, Their Use, Properties, and Composition;
  • The Chemical Properties of the Artificial Organic Tissues;
  • How Traumatic Experiences Such as the Holocaust Affect the DNA of the Next Generation;
  • Michael Faraday: Contribution to the Field of Electricity and Magnetism;
  • Key Changes That Should Be Made to Convince Civilization to Use More Renewable Energy;
  • How Can Chemicals Help Prevent Allergies;
  • Big Implications of Nano-reactors in Chemistry;
  • Women in Science: Rosalind Franklin’s Accomplishments in the Field of Chemistry;
  • Biomacromolecules and Their Importance in the Field of Chemistry;
  • Organic Chemical Reactivity Functioning;
  • Air Pollution in Fast Industrializing Countries;
  • The Fascinating History Behind the Periodic Table;
  • How Pesticides Affect Water Quality;
  • Stem Cell Treatment: Pros and Cons;
  • Reasons for Error in Chemistry Experiments;
  • The Future of Analytical Chemistry;
  • The Physics and Chemistry of Photonic and Electronic Materials;
  • Laboratory Skills Essential for Chemical Equation Experiments;
  • Chemistry in Ancient Civilizations – Philosophical Attempt to Explain the Nature of Matter?
  • Women of Science: The Struggles and Achievements of Marie Curie;
  • The History of Chemical Experiments;
  • Huge Gaps and Challenges in Astrochemistry.

The goals of this step are to brainstorm intensively, come up with a topic that you’re passionate about, and develop a clear research question that you will extend later during the research stage. Thus, you will be able to research more efficiently because you’ll be well-prepared with the topic that is relevant to your skills and interests.

Build up an Outline

One of the most helpful things that you can do when working on the research essay in Chemistry is to outline the sections and primary points of the paper. It is an important thing to do before you start writing so you can visualize how every segment of the research essay will work with the rest of the text. What is more, this will give you an opportunity to re-organize components of the essay in order to make it go smoothly.

  • Make your research essay outline as general or detailed, as you prefer, so long as it guides you throughout the essay building process. Some students tend to include a couple of sentences under every heading or sub-heading in their outline. Thus, they build a small essay before they start writing. At the same time, some prefer creating a simple list of topics and check them later. Choose the method that works best for you.
  • It’s better to create your outline a day or two before you begin to write the research essay and come back to it several times. Thus, you will have a chance to think about how the sections of the text will best work together. Add and erase things in your essay outline as many times and as often as you want until you’re 100% sure you have a piece that you (and your tutor!) are satisfied with.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when you work on your outline:

  • Is the research essay well-organized, and do the thoughts in your text flow logically from paragraph to paragraph?
  • Is your thesis clear and well supported by solid arguments and experiments’ results?
  • Have you made sure that each of your sources is cited properly?
  • How repetitive is the essay? Is it possible to get rid of all the superlative issues in order to tighten the argument?

The Writing Stage: Develop a Focus, Choose the Scientific Method, and Gather Sources

A great way to start the research essay in Chemistry is through choosing the topics (done now!), the scientific method, gathering sources, and recording information on the note cards that you’ll use later in the process of writing.

  • Formulate a question. At this point, you have to articulate the key scientific question that your research addresses. For instance, if you work on the Chemistry topic ‘The Effects of Pesticides on Human Health,’ your research question may sound as follows: ‘Are the effects of pesticides dire to people’s health?’
  • Do some background research. Determine what sort of work has been done in order to address the research question mentioned above, as well as confirm that your research is unique. For example: ‘The earliest documented pesticides were the heavy metals, salt, and sulfur. The use of the chemical compounds for pest control began at the dawn of agriculture and has carried on through the present day.’
  • Provide a hypothesis. Give certain predictions on what is going to happen based on the background research conducted. For example: ‘Increased risk of childhood cancer will be associated with usage of the pesticides.’
  • Experiment and analyze your data. Check the most recent stats, online publications, interview experts in the fields to test your hypothesis and draw the research conclusions.
  • Check and discuss your results. This part of your research essay in Chemistry, usually the longest, describes the work that you, as the author, have done together with the results that you’ve obtained. While the necessary data here usually varies between the disciplines in the field of Chemistry, keep in mind that this part of your research essay is not just a technical description of all the steps. Instead, it’s a sort of a narrative that explains the progress of your research and your path to the final results. Here are some of the questions that will help you compose your analysis properly:
    • Did each of your experiments work? What kind of explanation can be provided for this failure/success?
    • How did you overcome the shortcomings in the initial experimental strategies?
    • What fundamental principles in Chemistry are demonstrated by your results?
    • Are your research results consistent with the experiments that were reported previously?
    • What other experiments can be performed in order to (dis)prove this research?
  • Form a conclusion. Prove the accuracy of the hypothesis and make sure to draw additional conclusions from the research.

Create the Section for Cited Works

This is an important section for every research essay since this is where you give credit to every source from which you took the information. Mind that it is something that you can’t leave for the end of your work. Rather, it is important to create the “works cited” section as you write, adding and taking away citation as you reference each in your text.

  • Use software such as EndNote to make citation organization as clear, quick, and simple as you can. As an alternative, you may build the so-called reference library with a direct link to your essay document, adding as many in-text citations as you need in the process of writing. The program mentioned above creates a special section for the cited works right at the end of the document.

Punctuation and Symbols

Before you submit your research essay in Chemistry, make sure to check your text for common punctuation and symbols that one should use in this type of writing. Since MS Word does have all the required symbols, you’re not allowed to use shortcuts of any kind.

  • Temperature: –60 °C. En-dash is here to indicate a negative sign with a space between the ° and the number.
  • Melting point: 75–89 °C. Since melting points are always a range, you have to use en-dash.
  • Common abbreviations: Make sure to use the abbreviations in the field of Chemistry properly (h: hour(s) / calcd: calculated / min: minute(s) / equiv: equivalent, etc.)
  • Weight: 0.066 g. It is important to use a leading zero in case a number is less than one. Besides, there should always be a space between the units and the number.
  • Ratios: 86:3. Do not place a space before/after the colon.

Some Errors to Avoid in a Research Essay in Chemistry

Usually, students believe they accomplished a top-notch research essay in Chemistry. However, the reality is that there are some mistakes that you make without even knowing it. Here are some of them:

  • Verb tense. Your Chemistry research essay should comprise the same verb tense from the introduction to the conclusion. Generally, past tense is preferred. At the same time, you may also use the present tense occasionally.
  • Verb usage. Do not use active verbs. Avoid starting sentences with ‘there is’ or ‘there are.’
    Incorrect: ‘There are many commercial beekeepers in the United States of America, who have lost over half of their bee colonies over the last ten years due to pesticides.’
    Correct: ‘Commercial beekeepers in the United States of America have lost about half their bee colonies over the last decade due to pesticides.’
  • Colloquial expressions. If you communicate verbally, colloquial expressions might become pretty useful. However, when you deal with formal writing, keep away from these language elements. Among the most common examples in Chemistry, one should mention the word “reacted.” For example: ‘This element reacted with water.’ In this case, the word “treated” can be a good substitution for the term “reacted” in chemistry writing.
  • Verb/subject agreement: Both the verb and the subject of a particular sentence should be either plural (‘carbon dioxide and water vapor’) or singular (‘carbon dioxide vapors’). When it comes to the subject that describes a collection, be attentive. For example: ‘the mixture of carbon dioxide and water was vaporing.’ Here the word ‘mixture’ has a singular form.
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