For some students, mentioning the word research paper structure makes them shiver, get stressed, and feel like the earth should swallow them already. However, the point of having well-defined parts of a research paper is to make your academic life easier.
In both academic and scientific writing, the various parts of a research paper are established to form a framework, a skeleton, or a structure that can be ubiquitously used to make writing and reading research projects easier. For instance, a student writing a research paper in the USA will follow the same format as a student writing a research paper in Australia, as long as they apply the proper scientific methodology.
Given the confusion about the real parts of a research paper, we have developed a guide that will explore the structure of a research paper. We aim to make it easier for you to write a great research paper that will meet the checklist of a good research paper.
Like an essay, a research paper is supposed to explore a given topic in-depth, with information organized in a specific way that makes it easier to read, understand, and internalize the contents.
Without further delay, let’s delve deeper into the essential parts of a research paper.
Although this article focuses on the parts of a research paper, it mainly dwells on the scientific paper.
A scientific research paper is usually written after conducting research. It is a report of research that was conducted and findings made, correlated with literature, and explanations are given to inform the audience about a given topic. Dissertations, capstone projects, and thesis papers are perfect examples of scientific research papers.
On the other hand, a typical research paper can be an argumentative, interpretive, definitive, narrative, or compare and contrast paper where a student explores a given research question or a topic. Typical research papers are common assignments in English, social sciences, political sciences, nursing, and humanities subjects. They are usually long papers between 5 to 20 pages that are written based on findings and facts from other studies rather than primary research.
On the other hand, scientific research papers are usually ten pages and above but entail experimentation or primary research. They entail calculations, manipulation of data, drawing of inferences. For the standard research papers, students only research a topic, define it, take sides, compare and contrast, explore the causes and consequences, perform rhetorical analysis, or synthesize their findings.
In most cases, scientific research papers can be published in online journals such as Elsevier if they meet the publication guidelines. On the other hand, typical research papers are for assignments to gauge the understanding, research, and writing skills of a student.
While a scientific research paper entails the IMRAD format in its body, a typical research paper only has the introduction, body, and conclusion. The body paragraphs develop the main ideas based on the topics. It is also uncommon to find a typical research paper including the appendices, unless on rare occasions.
In general, typical research papers dwell on written literature. In contrast, scientific research papers dwell on research data contrasted against the secondary and primary data.
Whether scientific or academic, a scientific research paper has a total of 10 parts: title/cover page, table of content, abstract, introduction, methodology, data analysis, results/findings and discussion, conclusion and recommendations, references, and appendices.
Following this structure helps develop an organized, flowing, and top-quality research paper. You have to follow the exact research paper structure as failing to do so could lead to deduction of marks and a poor grade overall.
In most cases, when writing a research paper, it is important to stick to the structure we will explore shortly. It should be the same structure you use to develop a good research paper outline.
Although different academic papers have their preferred structures, a research paper has a defined structure that is ubiquitous worldwide. Sometimes, suppose you are writing a research paper that does not require you to conduct an experiment. In that case, you are allowed to skip the methodology section. Instead, such research papers will have the introduction and body paragraphs divided into sub-sections that tackle different aspects of the topic before writing the conclusion and recommendations.
If you face trouble with any of these parts, go through our step-by-step guide for writing a good research paper, and develop concepts and ideas for each section.
Let’s see what makes a research paper structure.
The cover or title page is the very first page of your research paper. It majorly contains the details of the author and the paper. The details include:
Without the cover page, your research paper will probably miss some marks or risk not being published in an online journal if that is the intention behind writing it.
Although making a title page is a straightforward process, you need to be keen on the different formatting style requirements for the cover page. For instance, the APA cover page differs from an MLA research paper cover page, and so do research papers in Chicago, IEEE, Oxford, or Harvard formats.
Therefore, if you get the formatting right, you will notice that it is the simplest part of writing a scientific research paper.
This is the part of the research paper you save for the last. The table of contents lists all the sections of your research paper. The list of items in the research paper are based on the subheadings and headings of the research paper and depends on the levels of these headings.
There is never a limit on the number of items or headings/subheadings to use in a research paper. However, the formatting, content, and length of the research paper will determine the items featured in the table of contents.
Usually, the various word processors have inbuilt features that allow you to generate a table of content automatically. After generating the table of content, you can update it if you make any changes to the paper or just before submitting your research paper for marking.
A research paper abstract is a short summary or a snapshot of the research paper. It is typically between 150-200 words or less (sometimes up to 300 or 450 words depending on the instructions and length of the paper) and lists the most important points of the paper.
An abstract briefly states the rationale for the study, what was done, a summary of the results, and concludes with a brief statement of the importance of these results. In most cases, your abstract should have a detailed overview of the research question and its significance, participants, methods, data collection and analysis, snapshot of the results, and conclusions.
An abstract does not include the background information, neither is it cited. Abstracts allow the readers of the research paper to quickly fill themselves in with the points of the paper without reading the paper. As such, an abstract should be a self-contained section that can easily be understood without reading the entire text of the research paper or article.
Abstracts are litmus papers to determine whether the audience wants to read the entire paper or is just not worth their time.
A good abstract has strong content, aesthetic appeal, good style, and carefully selected language. So, you should write it with care, slowly, and keenly.
As is the custom of writing academic papers, some students might write the introduction first to set the direction of the research paper while others will leave it for the last, where it summarizes the entire paper.
No method is wrong as long as you have a good research paper structure and outline for the parts of the research paper.
A perfect research paper introduction consists of three distinct parts:
The literature review section is one of the basic elements of a research paper that one can never miss out on. In the literature review section, you consider the current published works related to the subject matter or topic of your research paper. In addition, you will be evaluating what other researchers have already done as concerns your topic. Therefore, the purpose of your literature review is to describe the past research and how it relates to your research thesis or topic. When writing the literature review, you need to synthesize the previous literature and the new idea you are researching. Therefore, it must examine the major theories, frameworks, conceptual models, and data related to your research topic and their contributions. You must also look at the findings to be able to:
Our definitive writing literature review guide will come in handy here.
Also referred to as the Materials and Procedures section, the methodology section of your research paper details the approach you took while researching. The research methodology completes the structure of a scientific research paper.
In your research methodology section, you will explore:
The methodology section of your research paper must have relevant citations to fortify it and give credibility, reliability, and authority to your findings. In this part of your research paper, you will be using passive voice since it is based on something that was done previously.
Although all the other parts are important in a research paper, the data analysis section is also among the most critical from a practical perspective. It depends on the research approach or design you have chosen for your paper.
The data analysis process encompasses drawing inferences or making meaning from the collected data through manipulating the data. It could be through statistical methods or qualitative approaches such as content, a thematic, narrative, and discourse analysis.
This is by far the toughest part of a research paper, as analyzing data is time-consuming, confusing, and challenging. When handling this part, you need to bring on your A-game. Be accurate, keen, and aware of different formulae to apply.
If your data analysis is a sham, your entire research process will be deemed a failure, irrelevant, inconsistent, unreliable, and invalid.
This is another part of the paper that is longer. Again, the results and discussions combine to make sense to the readers without interpretation.
In this section of the research paper, you will be drawing comparisons between existing literature, the ones you included in your literature review, and the findings of your research study.
Ask yourself these questions:
When writing this section, it is important to focus on what happened and develop the message to convince your audience. This section should contain:
As you write, end your discussion with a small summary of the key points that your readers should note. It is also prudent to point to your readers the relevance of the findings and who should care to implement or read the findings. For instance, if you are writing about childhood obesity, it is prudent to outline the implications of the findings to policymakers, healthcare practitioners, or parents.
You need to also weigh in on the limitations of your research study in this section of your research paper so that subsequent research can cover that as a research gap. It also contextualizes your study and qualifies your findings. Furthermore, it also explains the various factors that might have influenced your findings and suggestions that could lead to otherwise different results. This is the last section of the Introduction, Methods, Results, And, Discussion (IMRAD) format, which defines how the main body of the research paper should be.
A research paper, like an essay, is not complete without a proper conclusion. The conclusion is one of the most important parts of a research paper that every student looks up to. It usually signals that you are almost done.
In this section, you will summarize your research findings, weigh in on the findings vis a vis your identified research gap, express the limitations of your research, propose recommendations based on the findings for stakeholders and other researchers, and finalize your research paper.
When writing the conclusion, ask yourself:
Depending on the formatting/citation style, the references, sometimes labeled as bibliography or works cited, depending on the formatting/citation style, come in as the second-last part of the research paper. It begins on a new page immediately a research paper’s conclusion.
The length of this section depends on the number of references. We explored the estimated number of references for a research paper depending on length in our guide. Rightfully so, the more the references, the longer the reference section.
The references are usually arranged in alphabetic order unless it is the IEEE formatting and citation style that uses numbers instead of an alphabetized approach to arranging the references.
You are allowed to use one or more appendices in your research paper. Although many students and authors often ignore this part of a research paper, it entails material that is appropriate to expound the understanding of the readers but does not fit directly to the man body of the research paper.
This section can include tables, charts, summaries, images, figures, pictures, questionnaires, interview guides/questions, survey tools, maps, pictures, list of terms, glossary, letters, copies of documentation, and other supplementary material.
The appendices are referred to within the text of your research paper. It is placed right after the works cited, bibliography, or references page.
You can designate them as Appendix A, Appendix B, C, D…etc.
Although there is no single bulletproof style or approach for writing a research paper, writing a scientific research paper has to follow a specific format. We have explored all the customary parts of a scientific research paper, where data collection and analysis are involved.
Structure aside, the presentation deviates when writing a typical research paper, such as an English or political science research paper, where no data collection takes place. In this context, the content will be organized as a long essay. These standard research papers lack the methodology, results/findings, discussion, and sometimes the appendices sections, but the others remain standard. Nevertheless, scientific research papers must have all the 11 parts we have covered above in the order we have listed them.
Ensure that you focus on these 10 essential parts of a research paper to have a fulfilling and successful research and writing process. Producing a research paper should not be arduous when you have a solid outline. We have listed and discussed these parts to ease your life and help you maintain good focus.
To this end, we believe that you will be able to write a research paper with ease, taking into account its various parts. For now, we wish you all the best, and if you need help, our professional research paper writers are available to help.