Example of a Quantitative Research Paper for Students & Researchers
This example of a quantitative research paper is designed to help students and other researchers who are learning how to write about their work. The reported research observes the behaviour of restaurant customers, and example paragraphs are combined with instructions for logical argumentation. Authors are encouraged to observe a traditional structure for organising quantitative research papers, to formulate research questions, working hypotheses and investigative tools, to report results accurately and thoroughly, and to present thoughtful interpretation and logical discussion of evidence.
The structure of the example and the nature of its contents follow the recommendations of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This APA style calls for parenthetical author–date citations in the paper’s main text (with page numbers when material is quoted) and a final list of complete references for all sources cited, so I have given a few sample references here. Content has been kept as simple as possible to focus attention on the way in which the paper presents the research process and its results. As is the case in many research projects, the more the author learns and thinks about the topic, the more complex the issues become, and here the researcher discusses a hypothesis that proved incorrect. An APA research paper would normally include additional elements such as an abstract, keywords and perhaps tables, figures and appendices similar to those referred to in the example. These elements have been eliminated for brevity here, so do be sure to check the APA Manual (or any other guidelines you are following) for the necessary instructions.
Surprises at a Local “Family” Restaurant: Example Quantitative Research Paper
A quantitative research paper with that title might start with a paragraph like this:
Quaintville, located just off the main highway only five miles from the university campus, may normally be a sleepy community, but recent plans to close the only fast-food restaurant ever to grace its main street have been met with something of a public outcry. Regular clients argue that Pudgy’s Burgers fills a vital function and will be sorely missed. As the editor of the Quaintville Times would have it, “good old Pudgy’s is the only restaurant in Quaintville where a working family can still get a decent meal for a fair buck, and a comfortable place to eat it too, out of the winter wind where the kids can run about and play a bit” (Chapton, 2017, p. A3). On the other hand, the most outspoken of Quaintville residents in favour of the planned closure look forward to the eradication of a local eyesore and tend to consider the restaurant more of “a hazard than a benefit to the health of some of our poorest families” (“Local dive,” 2017, p. 1).
Following this opening a brief introduction to published scholarship and other issues associated with the problem would be appropriate, so here the researcher might add a paragraph or two discussing:
• A selection of recently published studies that investigate the effect of inexpensive fast-food restaurants on the health of low-income families, especially their children (Shunts, 2013; Whinner, 2015).
• Fast-food restaurants that have responded to criticism about the quality of their food by offering healthy menu items. This could be enhanced with evidence that when such choices are available, they are rare purchases for many families (Parkson, 2016), particularly in small towns and rural areas (Shemble, 2017).
• The interesting trend in several independent studies suggesting that families form a much smaller portion of the clientele of fast-food restaurants than anticipated.
Explaining how the current research is related to the published scholarship as well as the specific problem is vital. Here, for instance, the author might be thinking that Pudgy’s, which has healthy menu items as well as the support of so many long-term residents, will prove an exception to the trends revealed by other studies. Research questions and hypotheses should be constructed to articulate and explore that idea. Research questions, for instance, could be developed from that claim in the Quaintville Times as well as from the published scholarship:
• Do families constitute the majority of Pudgy’s regular clientele?
• Does the restaurant offer a decent family meal for a fair price?
• Do families linger in the restaurant’s comfort and warmth?>
• Do children use the indoor play area provided by the restaurant?
Working hypotheses can be constructed by anticipating answers to these questions. The example paper assumes a simple hypothesis something along the lines of “Families do indeed constitute the majority of Pudgy’s clientele.” The exact opposite supposition would work as well – “Families do not constitute the majority of Pudgy’s clientele” – and so would hypotheses exploring and combining other aspects of the situation, such as “Pudgy’s healthy menu options and indoor play area are positive and appealing considerations for families” or “The comfortable atmosphere of Pudgy’s with its play area makes it much more than a restaurant for local families.”
The exact wording of your questions and hypotheses will ultimately depend on your focus and aims, but certain terms, concepts and categories may require definition to ensure precision in communicating your ideas to readers. Here, for instance, exactly what is meant by ‘a family,’ ‘a decent meal,’ ‘a fair price’ and even ‘comfortable’ could be briefly but carefully defined. A general statement about your understanding of how the current research will explore the problem, answer your questions and test your hypotheses is usually required as well, setting the stage for the more detailed Method section that follows. This statement might be something as simple as “I intend to observe the restaurant’s customers over a two-month period with the objective of learning about Pudgy’s clientele and measuring the use and value of the establishment for local families.” On the other hand, outlining your research might require a paragraph or two of introductory discussion.
Whether a brief general statement or a longer explanation of how the research will proceed appears among your introductory material, it is in the Method section that you should report exactly what you did to conduct your investigation, explain the conditions and controls you applied to increase the reliability and value of your research, and reveal any difficulties you encountered. For example:
My observations took place at Pudgy’s Burgers in January and February of 2018. Each session was approximately four hours long, and I aimed to obtain an equivalent number of observations for all opening hours of the week (the restaurant’s hours are listed in Table 1), but course requirements made this difficult. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are therefore underrepresented, and observations from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on two consecutive Tuesdays (6 and 13 February) are the work of my classmate, Jake Jenkins. Without his assistance, I could not have met my objective of gathering observations for every opening hour of the week at least twice (Table 2 outlines the overall pattern of observation sessions). Serving staff at the restaurant assure me that I have now “seen ‘em all,” so I believe my observations have resulted in a representative sampling of local customers over two months when that “winter wind” has been especially busy about its work.
To avoid detection by the customers I was observing and the possibility of altering their behaviour, I obtained permission from Pudgy’s manager, Mr Jobson, to sit at the staff table in a dark and quiet corner of the restaurant where clients never go. This table is labelled in the plan of Pudgy’s Burgers and its grounds that I have included as Figure 1. From there I could see the customers both at the service counter and at their tables, but they could not see me, at least not clearly, and if they did, they paid me no more attention than they did the restaurant employees. From the staff table I could also see the row of indoor park-style children’s toys running down the north wall of windows, as well as the take out lane and the people waiting in their cars.
A Method section often features subheadings to separate and present particularly important aspects of the research methodology, such as the Customer Fact Sheet developed and used by the author of this study.
The Customer Fact Sheet
Recording thorough and equivalent information about every Pudgy’s customer I observed was crucial for quantifying and analysing the results of my study. I therefore prepared a Customer Fact Sheet (included as Appendix I at the end of this paper) for gathering key pieces of information and recording observations about each individual, couple or group who purchased food or beverages. This sheet ensured that vital details such as date, weather conditions, time of arrival, eat in or take out order, number in party, approximate age of individuals, food purchased, food consumed, healthy choices, amount spent, who paid, dessert or extra beverage, children playing, interaction with other children and families, time of departure and other important details were recorded in every case. The Customer Fact Sheet proved particularly helpful when my classmate performed observations for me and was invaluable for evaluating the data I collected. I initially hoped to complete at least 500 of these Customer Fact Sheets and was pleased to increase that number by 100 for a total of 600 or an average of just over 10 per day over the 59 days of the study.
Notice in the three example paragraphs for the Method section that clear references to Tables 1 & 2, Figure 1 and Appendix I are provided to let readers know when and why these extra elements are relevant and helpful. Be sure also to include in your description of methods any additional approaches or sources of information that should be considered part of your research procedures, such as:
• Receipt information about customer purchases provided by the restaurant manager.
• Conversations with restaurant servers who might confirm family relationships and estimated ages or tell you what was eaten and what was not by particular customer groups.
• The analysis you performed to make sense of your results, such as counting customers, meals and behaviours and working out percentages and averages overall as well as for certain categories in order to answer the research questions.
The Results section is where you report what you discovered during your research, including the findings that do not support your hypothesis (or hypotheses) as well as those that do. Returning to your research questions to indicate exactly how the data you gathered answers them is an excellent way to stay focused and enable the selectivity that may be necessary to meet length requirements or maintain a clear line of argumentation. A Results section for the Pudgy’s research project might start like this:
The results of my investigation were both surprising and more complex than I had anticipated. I asked whether families constituted the majority of Pudgy’s clientele and assumed they did, but my research shows that they do not (see Figure 2 for information on customer categories). Even when the loosest definition of family as explained in my introduction is applied, only slightly over 25% (152) of the 600 Customer Fact Sheets record family visits to the restaurant. Among them fathers alone with their children are the most frequent patrons (68 Customer Fact Sheets or nearly 45% of the family category). The only day of the week on which families approach 50% of the restaurant’s customers is Sunday, particularly in the afternoon, when family groups account for 48% of the total customers averaged over the eight Sundays of observation. On all other days of the week, individual customers are the most frequent patrons, with their numbers hovering around 50% on most days. Single men visit the restaurant more often than any other customers and constitute as much as 61% of the clientele on a few weekday evenings.
The report of results might then continue by providing information about other categories of customer, what different types of customers ate and did, and any additional results that help answer the other research questions posed in the introductory paragraphs. Major trends revealed by the data should be reported, and both content and writing style should be clear and factual. Interpretation and discussion are best saved for the Discussion section except in those rare instances when guidelines indicate that research results and discussion should be combined in a single section. Although you will need to inform readers about any mathematical or statistical analysis of your raw data if you have not already done so in the Method section, the raw data itself is usually not appropriate for a short research paper. Selecting the most convincing and relevant evidence as the focus is, however, and the raw data can usually be made available via a university’s website or a journal’s online archives for expert readers and future researchers.
The Discussion section of a quantitative paper is where you interpret your research results and discuss their implications. Here the hypotheses as well as the research questions established in the introductory material are important. Were your primary suppositions confirmed by your results or not? Be precise and concise as you discuss your findings, but keep in mind that matters need not be quite as black and white or as strictly factual as they were in the Results section. Your ideas and argument should be soundly based on the data you collected, of course, but the Discussion is the place for describing complexities and expressing uncertainties as well as offering interpretations and explanations. The following opening briefly restates primary findings, picks up other important threads from the Results section and sets the stage for discussing the complexities involved in assessing the true value of Pudgy’s to the Quaintville community:
Although I had anticipated that families constitute the majority of Pudgy’s clientele, the evidence gathered over two months of observation does not support this supposition. In fact, individuals are the most frequent customers, with groups of teenagers running a close second. These teenagers are often in the restaurant when families are and they sometimes sit on the indoor toys instead of at the plastic tables and chairs, which I can confirm as extremely uncomfortable. On a few occasions the presence of teenagers appeared to intimidate the children and prevent them from playing on the facilities intended for them. In accordance with Parkson (2016) and Shemble (2017), my research also showed that most families who eat at Pudgy’s do not choose the healthier low-fat menu items, with the limited number and extremely high prices of these items offering little incentive. The few parents who make healthy choices for themselves and their children often do not insist upon the children eating those items, adding waste (of both food and money) to the problem. Furthermore, although Pudgy’s prices for their more traditional fast-food items are the lowest in town, at least two of the restaurants in Quaintville offer equivalent meals for similar prices and far healthier ones for just a little more.
The claim, then, in the Quaintville Times that “good old Pudgy’s is the only restaurant in Quaintville where a working family can still get a decent meal for a fair buck, and a comfortable place to eat it too, out of the winter wind where the kids can run about and play a bit” (Chapton, 2017, p.A3) is revealed as more sentiment than fact. It would be equally erroneous, however, to insist that Pudgy’s Burgers has no value for the local community or to call it more of “a hazard…to the health of some of our poorest families” (“Local dive,” 2017, p.1) than any other restaurants serving burgers and chips in Quaintville. Indeed, I suspect those “poorest families” very rarely visit local restaurants at all, but my observations have revealed a great deal about who does eat at Pudgy’s, what they do when they are there and what kind of value the establishment actually has for Quaintville residents.
The discussion could then continue with information about the customers, behaviours and other issues that render the findings more complex and the restaurant more valuable to the community than the primary results noted above may indicate:
• Perhaps the restaurant serves a vital function as a social gathering place for all those single customers. Do they usually remain alone or do they meet up with others to linger and talk over coffee or lunch?
• Do the teenagers who gather at Pudgy’s have an alternative place to meet out of the cold? In towns without recreation centres or other facilities for teens, restaurants with informal, open-door policies can be vital. Where might those teenagers go or what might they be doing were Pudgy’s not there?
• Even though the evidence showed that families are not the most frequent customers, you may want to consider the value the restaurant has for the families who do use it. Those single fathers are certainly worthy of some attention, for instance, and perhaps family groups occasionally met up with other families, ate together and then lingered for dessert and talk as their children enjoyed the toys. This would be worth discussing too.
• Less measurable considerations viewed through a qualitative research lens may be helpful as well, but the data collected through observations should support such discussions. Remember as you analyse your data, reflect on your findings, determine their meaning and develop your argument that it is important to keep the limitations of your methodology and thus of your results and their implications clearly in mind.
Offering recommendations is also standard in the Discussion section of a quantitative research paper, and here recommendations might be particularly useful if the franchise had not yet finalised its decision about closing Pudgy’s and was actively seeking community feedback. The researcher might suggest that Pudgy’s could better serve families by increasing the number of healthy food items on the menu, offering these for more affordable prices and making an effort to keep the teenagers off the children’s toys. Finally, the last part of a Discussion usually provides concluding comments, so summarising your key points and clearly articulating the main messages you want your readers to take away with them are essential. In some organisational templates, Conclusions are offered in a separate final section of the paper instead of at the end of the Discussion, so always check the guidelines.
These references follow APA style, but since special fonts may not display properly in all online situations, please note that the titles of books and the names and volume numbers of journals are (and should be) in italic font. The list represents a sample only; a paper the length of the one posited in this example would almost certainly mention, discuss and list more than half a dozen studies and sources.
Chapton, D. (2017, September 29). Will Quaintville lose its favourite family restaurant? Quaintville Times, pp. A1, A3.
Local dive sees last days. (2017, Autumn). Quaintville Community Newsletter, pp. 1–2.
Shemble, M. (2017). Is anyone really eating healthy fast food in rural towns? Country Food & Families, 14, 12–23.
Shunts, P. (2013). The true cost of high-fat fast food for low-income families. Journal of Family Health & Diet, 37, 3–19.
Parkson, L. (2016). Family diets, fast foods and unhealthy choices. In S. Smith & J. Jones (eds.), Modern diets and family health (pp. 277–294). Philadelphia, PA: The Family Press.
Whinner, N. (2015). Healthy families take time: The impact of fatty fast foods on child health. Journal of Family Health & Diet, 39, 31–43.