Regardless of what you decided to study in college, you're probably going to have to take an English class, and in that English class you're going to be asked to write plenty of research papers. Even if you're a science or math major, the skills you learn from understanding how to write a research paper serve you well. Research papers are all about organizing your ideas in a linear, understandable format.
A research paper requires exactly what the name implies---a lot of research. However, it is more than just a regurgitation of facts or an explanation of a topic. A research paper must give a perspective or make an argument. For example, if the topic of a research paper is abortion, then the writer should take a stance on abortion rather than just list the history of abortion. While it does not need to be for or against abortion, it needs to analyze one of these stances.
The introduction is the beginning of the research paper. If a paper is of average length, up to 20 pages, the introduction should be no more than one paragraph. It should explain why the paper is being written and how the writer plans on approaching the topic. The major points that will be analyzed should be included.
A thesis is a statement that should appear in the introduction of a research paper. The thesis statement should, in once sentence, explain to the reader what the topic of the paper is, the position the paper is taking and through what means the paper will prove this position to be true. A thesis statement should summarize your entire paper from beginning to end in a short statement. While a writer may be worried about spoiling the ending, it is imperative to a research paper's goals that a thesis function this way.
The body is the bulk of the research paper. The body branches off of the introduction and works to prove the thesis statement using parenthetical citations that were found during research. The body presents ideas that are backed up using an expert's opinion or voice as quotes or paraphrases. Since the goal of a research paper is to do research, almost all of the writer's opinions should be backed up by an expert. Otherwise, the writer can simply refute an expert's ideas with his own.
The conclusion is the final paragraph in a research paper. There should be no new information or evidence introduced in a concluding paragraph. Conclusions usually point briefly to the main points but don't repeat the themes of the paper. Rather, they pull everything together and point to an insight or a course of action for the reader to take. At some point in the conclusion, the thesis should be restated.