Major Sections of a Research Paper
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
The structure of the research paper may vary according to your institution’s guidelines or the journal instruction you are writing for.
Many Scientific references see the research paper structure as a funnel shape where the researcher starts with a broad and general context and then narrows to the main purpose of the research paper. Then, in the discussion section, start with a narrow interpretation of the research results and continue to general implications and future recommendations. The conclusion is the brief outcome of the study
What are the details of the research paper sections?
In the following, you will find a breakdown of the research paper sections:
The first thing the reader sees when trying to search for a research topic is the title of the research paper. It highlights the approach, design, the population, the aim, and where the study research takes place. The title section should be clear enough that if anyone looking at the title could tell if it is the type of paper, they are looking for. It is preferable to include research specialization when writing the title, as this will help potential readers determine whether your content is appropriate for their reading requirements. When writing the title of the paper, do not use verbs, numbers, and abbreviations unless they are more widely recognized, such as the well-known abbreviation e.g., "DNA". In addition, the title section contains the names of the authors with their institutional affiliations.
It is an overview of the whole study and is often no more than 250-300 words in length. The abstract is simply the part that helps readers decide whether to read the whole paper or not. The main parts of the abstract are basic data about the topic of study, which comprises the background, research question, and what the author aims to address. In addition, the abstract includes a summary of the analytical research methods and important findings. Finally, it will spotlight the significance of the research.
In this section, you will discuss the research problem by mentioning relevant previous studies in the research literature, and mention the question or theory that you will answer through your research project. In the introduction section, you will write an overview of the problem and present the case. As you discuss the results of previous research in this area, be sure to provide background information. It is preferable to mention the gap in the literature that the work of your research project is supposed to address. Why is the field of research important? What is the scope of the study? What will you cover and discuss in the introduction? Conclude it with the objectives of your research project.
In this section, the researcher informs the readers about what he/she did by describing the study design, the materials used, or the research procedures that were applied in the study. In addition, the section contains information about where and when the study was conducted, ethical approval, and study limitations. Moreover, inclusion and exclusion criteria should be addressed here. Keep in mind that this section may be used by other researchers, so it should be sufficiently detailed.
A section that does not contain opinions, which means that you as a researcher must only attach the finding of your study or the results of any statistical tests or scientific experiments that were conducted during the research study, and it must be complete, accurate, and written in a logical order, free from bias or interpretation. It must be ensured that the mentioned results have achieved the objectives of the research project. This section may contain tables and figures to simplify these data.
The discussion section is a summary of the results, and here the results are linked to the context of the research objectives and the results of previous studies. Here you explain the significance of the research. You begin by summarizing the main results of the study and providing explanations for those findings. In addition to comparing your findings with the similar results of previous studies. Do not forget to; discuss the limitations of your study, and suggest some potential implications of the study. It is recommended that you do not make claims that are not supported by your data, or introduce new terms or ideas unexpectedly.
The conclusion section does not provide a summary of the research; it basically emphasizes the most important findings shown by your research, and you must be careful that the conclusion does not contain results other than what was mentioned in your results section. Avoid making judgments and generalizing results or concluding that your research proves that the medical treatment used is “safe”, “well-tolerated”, “low-risk”, etc. Do not make comments based on personal opinions without scientific evidence. Stay away from repeating any of the previously mentioned parts of the research. Be careful not to overemphasize the importance of your study. Furthermore, unless your study is really inconclusive, don't suggest that "additional research is required" anyway.
In this section, you list the research papers and any books you have cited in your study by using one of several types of citation methods, an example of which are the most commonly used APA, Harvard, or Vancouver style. Be aware that in research, it is preferable to use up-to-date, multiple, relevant, high-quality, and accessible references. The references should be scientific articles obtained from peer review journals, books, or official sources. Be sure to mention the most important scientific papers that will affect your studies. You shouldn't quote too many sources at once. Remember to review your paper after you've finished and checked for any assumptions that don't have any supporting evidence from the references (especially in the introduction and discussion). Some studies mention that it is useful to adhere to a specific number of references based on the author's guidelines of your target journal that you plan to publish in. In some cases, a special section is added after the reference section that includes all tables and figures used in/ delivered from the study. Other journals attach supplementary/additional files if any after references.
This part is for those who have contributed to your research project but are not eligible for authorship entitlement to the research paper. Moreover, you will thank those who provided intellectual or technical assistance or special equipment or materials to complete your research project.
It is a supplementary section containing additional relevant material that is not part of the main paper such as programming code, raw statistical data, correspondence, …etc. This section may require you to obtain permission to share this data publicly if a third party owns or shares the right to that data.
Finally, knowing the main sections of a research paper is a good start. However, writing a research paper is a process of reading and following the author's guidelines on the journal's website or the instructions given to you by your supervisor. Double-check your work and try to consult the editors to help you.
For more information in this regard, you can check out the recently launched MUDIU course, which talks about the research paper in more depth.
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Casey, C.(2010). How to Write an APA Style Research Paper. Hamilton University. https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/centers/writing/writing-resources/how-to-write-an-apa-research-paper
Geller, E. (2018). How to write an APA-style research report. [Instructional Materials]. https://psychology.ucsd.edu/_files/undergrad/writingresearchpapersinapastyleguide.pdf
Hanna, Michael. (2019). How to Write Better Medical Papers. 10.1007/978-3-030-02955-5. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-02955-5
Shrestha, L., Joshi, B., & Kumar, A. (2021). Writing a Research Paper: A Guide. Journal of Universal College of Medical Sciences, 9(1), 76–81. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352759651_Writing_A_Research_Paper_A_Guide