How to Structure Your Research Paper in 8 Steps

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Writing a scientific paper requires meticulous work and organization during every step of the process. From reading through journals and conducting your own research to recording your findings and finalizing your text, organization and structure are key to creating a successful paper, especially if your goal is to have it published in an academic journal. It’s not enough to conduct an in-depth study that produces ground-breaking results—if you want your research to gain traction, you have to present it professionally in a well-organized paper.

If you’ve been in academia for a while, you’re bound to have heard of IMRaD (introduction, methods, results, and discussion)—a format commonly used to structure scientific research papers, which is what our list is mostly based on. IMRaD works because it’s simple, straightforward, and clear, helping you stay on track to make your research the focus of your paper. Since organization is so important in academic writing, now’s not the time to get creative—you want to stick to what works. However, there are a few other elements to keep in mind when putting your research paper together for submission to an academic journal, and we’ll go over them in this post. 

If you’re struggling with your article and would like professional assistance, check out our deluxe academic package, which includes exclusive services such as extensive editorial feedback and a requirements review to help you get your paper ready for publication. If you’re still working on your first draft, let’s take a look at how you can structure your research paper in eight steps. 

1. Come up with a title 

Although many writers wait until they’ve finished their paper to formulate an appropriate title, it’s the kind of thing you should be considering from the very beginning. That doesn’t mean you should come up with a great title before you start writing—it simply means that title ideas should always be on your mind. Note any ideas you have during the research and writing stages, as well as the titles of similar papers that have been published to ensure you don’t inadvertently steal someone else’s idea. 

Remember that the title is your first chance to make a strong impression on a potential reader or a journal editor. It’s the first thing they will see, and it will help them determine whether to invest the time in reading your paper. Therefore, it’s vital that you choose something interesting and intriguing that accurately represents the contents of your article. 

Your title should be clear and specific, indicating what your paper is about. It needs to make sense and be descriptive, but it shouldn’t be too long or too technical—keep it concise. Remove redundancies, be precise, and consider what you would plug into a search engine to find your article. The typical pattern for an academic paper title is to start with something catchy and separate it with a colon from a brief introduction to the topic, striking the right balance between detail and generalization.

2. Write the abstract 

The abstract is your chance to tell editors and potential readers what your research is about and what your most important findings are. After your title, it’s the first thing people will read, so it has to sell your article as novel and intriguing while remaining clear and easy to understand. 

Think of it like the blurb on the back of print books, the difference here being that you want your abstract to give away the ending. It’s effectively an extremely condensed version of your paper, designed to intrigue readers so that they invest their time in going through the entire thing. Try to use simple language as much as possible, but be accurate when describing your research. Remember that the expectations you set in your abstract must be met in the text, so keep the abstract faithful to the paper. 

This short description should include the purpose of your research and share the key results without going into too much detail, providing just enough information for a potential reader to decide if they want to explore the full text or not. You only have a few hundred words at best, which isn’t much room to cram the essence of your entire paper into, so choose your words carefully and only highlight the most important information. Though abstracts must be brief, they must also be powerful as they can determine whether or not a paper is accepted for publication. 

3. List your keywords

Keywords are crucial for indexing and search engine optimization (SEO), so give yourself some time to come up with the most effective ones. They will help other researchers find your work, so make them specific (but not too narrow) and avoid using any words that already appear in the title of your paper or the journal name—you can cover more ground by designating unique words or phrases as keywords. 

Think of terms that appear repeatedly in your text or that you would search for when researching your topic. In fact, conduct a mock search by trying out various keyword ideas and evaluating the search results they generate—are the works that come up similar to your paper? If not, keep tweaking your search terms until you find the best matches. How many keywords you will need to submit will depend entirely on the publication you’re targeting, so check its submission guidelines carefully.  

4. Prepare your display items

Display items—figures, tables, graphs, and illustrations—are an integral part of your research paper as they make it easier to present large quantities of information, affecting how your work is perceived and how easy it is to grasp the data. Even experts in your field will be more drawn to well-designed graphics than walls of text, and if you’re writing for a more general audience, great graphics become all the more crucial. Keep in mind that your illustrations shouldn’t duplicate any of the written content; rather, they should focus on new data that backs up your research and should all be easy to read and understand. Use graphics to complement and bolster your paper, weaving them in seamlessly to help readers get the whole picture.

Choosing the right place, size, font, legend, and coloring (when applicable and necessary, but try to stick to black and gray, especially for print) for a display item is just as important as its accuracy. So, rather than leaving graphics for last, like an annoying afterthought, give them the attention and time they need so they can truly enhance your paper. They can add significant value to your work, but only if you use them right.

5. Dive into the introduction 

Once you’ve hooked the reader with your abstract, your introduction has to convince them that your paper is exactly what they’ve been searching for. It is one of the most important sections of your text, not only because it’s your final chance to convince the reader to stay with your paper but also because it lays the groundwork for your study. 

State why your work is valuable, how it’s innovative, how it fits into the existing literature or addresses a gap of knowledge in the field, and what you hope to achieve through your research. You should also mention the problem you studied, whether there were any existing solutions, and what the main limitations to solving it are. 

Additionally, use the introduction as an opportunity to align your research with the publication you’re submitting it to and cite a couple of important works that you used in your own research. However, make sure any other papers or journals you mention are relevant to your work and add to your argument. Don’t delve into irrelevant matters just to throw out a few good references—you need to stay professional and on track if you want to keep your reader’s attention. 

Be concise and purposeful with every word in your introduction so you don’t bore your audience. Paint them a full picture of what they can expect going forward, but don’t go into details about your results—that comes later. Just provide an overview of the entire paper and save the details for the relevant sections. End your introduction by clearly stating your hypothesis and objectives. 

6. Explain your methods

Your methods clarify how you studied the problem you chose for your research, so you want to make sure this section is clear, complete, easy to understand, and accurate. If you used novel methods, include detailed information so that readers can grasp them and other scientists duplicate them, but avoid over-explaining if they’re widely known methods—that would just be wasting space that you could use for more pertinent information, not to mention that it can come across as patronizing. You want to be transparent about your approach so your results can be reproduced, so make sure you identify all chemicals, compounds, and tools you used, and be consistent in your units of measurement and nomenclature. 

Include details about the sites where you conducted your study, the dates and locations of any experiments, any particular lab techniques you employed, and the statistical methods you used. Remember that this section is not the place to add your comments or conclusions—it’s just meant to serve as a guide for other scientists interested in the subject matter. It also presents the framework for your research and can help readers identify elements that could have swayed your results in a given direction. 

7. Present your results

The results section is probably the most exciting one to put together as it allows you to share your findings with the world. All the results you include here must be essential to your conclusions, so save any secondary data for the supporting materials to avoid clogging up your text. Keep the focus on results that support your conclusions because including less relevant details can muddy your message.

Be extra organized in this section, using sub-headings and lists when appropriate so your data is clear and easy to follow, and make sure it’s all laid out in the most logical order, always starting with the most important information and working your way down. Since your results are the heart and soul of your paper, it’s crucial that you present everything clearly—otherwise, your readers may not properly understand your findings. Keep in mind you shouldn’t include any references here as this section is only about the results produced by your own research. 

8. Discuss your findings 

This section is where you can analyze your results and share your conclusions with the reader. It’s your chance to present all your relevant data and compare the results from other published articles to your own, including work that contradicts yours. In this case, you can explore the potential reasons for the conflict or dive into its implications. This section is all about analysis and context—it’s effectively where you explain why your results matter and how they can impact your field or even the world at large. If this section is weak, it will surely lead to your paper getting rejected. 

Use quantitative descriptions rather than non-specific expressions, don’t introduce any new terms or ideas, steer clear of broad statements that can’t be directly supported by your research, and refrain from speculating unless you can back up your theories with facts. What you do want to include is the meaning of your results, the implications they hold, potential limitations or flaws in your research, and areas that future scientists can explore to add to your findings. Some academic publications require the conclusion to be a separate section from the discussion, so check your journal’s requirements before finalizing your paper. 

Also, don’t forget to acknowledge anyone who helped with your research and list your references—all of these should be carefully proofread and checked to make sure they are error-free. In fact, your entire paper should be meticulously edited and proofread by a team of experts—typos or unclear writing will quickly get your paper thrown in the rejection pile. We can help—get an instant quote for our combined proofreading and editing service and feel secure in the knowledge that you’re submitting a polished, high-quality article for publication. 

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