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How to Structure a Research Paper

OK, there are many ways to structure a research paper, and I would urge everyone to follow the guidelines of which ever journal, school or university they are writing for. However, have you ever wondered how to structure a research paper? (A typical one anyway)!…Well I have put together one structure which you may find useful in your writing and planning (I certainly have).

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Introduction:

  • State what this paper going to do, say or explore
  • State why your topic or ‘problem’ is important – why should we care about it?
  • State what we already know about this issue, and what is yet to learn
  • What are you aiming to do with this work? If you are answering a problem, what are your research question(s)?

Background:

  • If the word count allows, give the reader a broader picture of your topic and what you are trying to highlight with the problem you have identified
  • What is the prevalence of your problem? – Give us some stats
  • What could be changed for the better? – Tell us what has already been tried

Methods:

  • Tell us exactly what you have done in order to get the results and findings of this study
  • Tell us where your study took place and in what context
  • State the type of study you chose to use, and why that particular design was appropriate in your case
  • Who did you include in your study? – Tell us about them
  • State how you recruited this sample of participants for your study in detail – How many? where? why?
  • Describe in detail the process you went through to gather your data
  • If you use an intervention, describe it in detail
  • Tell us whether or not there were any variables in this study, is there anything we should know about?
  • How did you collect or ‘extract’ data for this study? – Tell us, and be sure to mention any instruments or tools that were used in this data collection, and why they were chosen
  • State in detail how you analysed the data you collected

Results:

  • How did it all go? Tell us who responded, what your drop out rates where and how many participants took part overall
  • Describe those who did take part – were they men? women? old? young?… where were they from and what conditions did they have?
  • Go back to your research question – Tell us what key findings relate back to answering these questions and how
  • What else did you find out – Tell us the interesting bits, the correlations, the secondary findings which came out of your work

Discussion:

  • Give the reader a quick recap summary of your overall results/findings
  • Discuss what you found in relation to previous research – How do your findings differ from or confirm previous conclusions?
  • Discuss the implications of what you have found – what might change? and who might benefit from knowing?
  • Make sure you do not overstate your findings or exaggerate (I am guilty of this too)! – List the limitations and strengths of your study
  • Offer some thoughts on what research may come next

Conclusions:

If you have covered all of the points above, all you should need to do here is describe what your paper has done, and what is has added to the literature. Leave the reader with some closing thoughts and remarks, before declaring any conflicts of interest and/or funding sources.

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Top academic writing tips:

  • Consider whether your work may be improved by applying a theory to underpin it
  • Think about which other frameworks and/or evidence may underpin your work
  • Consider using a reporting framework or guideline to strengthen the standard of reporting in your work (also….ensure that the framework is suited to the type of research you are doing) – See list here. 
  • How else might you ensure rigor in your research? – Use peer review, risk of bias and quality appraisal tools to check your work
  • Be proud of what you have achieved… always. You are always ahead of those who have yet to begin 💜🎓💜

Further reading:

Huth EJ. How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences, 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins,1990.
Browner WS. Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999.
Devers KJ , Frankel RM. Getting qualitative research published. Educ Health 2001; 14: 109–117.
Docherty M, Smith R. The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. Br Med J 1999; 318: 1224–1225.
Perneger, T V, Hudelson P M; Writing a research article: advice to beginners. Int J Qual Health Care 2004; 16 (3): 191-192. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzh053
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Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤