Writing an Article
Components of a Research Article
This module explores the various components that make up a research article.
A research article is one way researchers present findings from their research. It is important to note that there are other types of articles published in journals including literature reviews and theoretical reviews however this module will focus only on research articles.
When you read research articles you will notice that within each field, there will be a similar format. Research articles in literature look very similar, yet very different from research articles in biology, which look similar to one another. As a rule, articles in the sciences are likely to have more subsections and headings than those in the humanities. The range of sections and headings might include:
- Title and Authors
- Literature review
- Methodology or Methods
- Discussion and Conclusion
Each of these components will be explored in more detail on the following sections.
The title is an important component of a research article because it will catch the attention of the reader as well as indicate what the article is about.
Titles can describe the content of a research study or they may indicate the author's main conclusion. The words in the title are important because these are what databases search for when someone conducts a database search using key words. The better the title, the more likely the article is to be located, and read.
You may have thought this article was about UFO's, some weather aberation or perhaps even kites. This article was actually written in a medical journal and it looks at "blue-skying", a business method for finding innovative solutions to new or seemingly insoluble problems, as a technique for use in cancer research. Titles can often be misleading so it is important to read through the abstract to find out a bit more before abandoning the article.
The authors that contributed to the article are named along with their credentials and usually the academic institution they are associated with. If there is more than one author, one will be designated the corresponding author. Sometimes it is not the title, but the author who will attract readers to a particular article. We might uncover the names of experts in our field while we are studying or reading, and then search for their work.
The abstract is a brief summary of the paper. It includes the title followed by a synopsis of the other components of an article - the introduction, methodology, results and conclusions. It is usually not more than a paragraph or two with or without headings.
The abstract is very helpful to deciding whether you want to read the full article. Titles of articles can be misleading and may not tell you anything about the research results. After reading the abstract however you will know a bit more about the research and can make a decision whether the rest of the article will be useful to you or not.
The purpose of an introduction is to set the tone for the rest of the article. It provides the reader with the research problem or issue and justifies the importance of the research.
An introduction should contain the following information:
- The reason for conducting the study. How does the research build on previous knowledge? What knowledge gap does it attempt to fill?
- The research question or hypothesis together with the aims of the research.
The literature review is a concise review of previously published research related to the research topic - what research have others done in this area? While the literature review may be included within the Introduction rather than a separate component, it is an important section of the article. This section provides references for and discussion of key studies conducted on this topic. It positions this particular research in the context of the field, and typically shows why this particular study either addresses unanswered questions and knowledge gaps or provides another, or more developed, discussion on the topic. At the end of the review of the literature, the reader should know the rationale for why this particular piece of research was conducted.
The number of references included in the literature review will depend on the amount of research conducted on the topic. As well, most journals have word restrictions and therefore this section may be relatively short with only 5-10 references, or be very detailed and have many references.
Methodology and Methods
The purpose of this section is to explain how the research was undertaken. It is important that this information, and not just the findings, be provided to the reader for two reasons:
- To evaluate the study. Did the researchers use the most appropriate methodology and methods for the specific research topic and question?
- To allow others to replicate the study.
This section should include:
- the type of methodology used (these are explored in the next page)
- the research material collected for the research which may include information on study participants, how they were chosen and information related to their consent to take part in the research
- ethical considerations
- the methods used to collect the data, facts or information (these are explored in the next page)
- the tools or processes used to analyse the data or information collected
Experimental: In experimental research this section is sometimes referred to as Methods and Materials and may include information regarding laboratory techniques and biochemical analyses that were used.
Humanities: In the humanities, the explanation of the way a research study was undertaken may not be in a separate section. The description of the subject of study and how it was analysed may be described in a more informal manner in the body of the text. Social theory, for example, may not use a science-based form of research, but instead may propose complex hypotheses on the basis of interpretive reflection. In this case, the method takes a far less important role, and logical argument will instead be the important focus.
Making sense of Methodology and Methods
The terms methodology and methods are often used interchangeably in research however these terms do not have the same meaning.
Methodology refers to the overall research strategy. It includes the theoretical beliefs or perspective on which the study is based, linking the choice and use of methods to the desired outcomes. Methodology is our plan of action - not only how we carry out the research but also the rationale for why we are doing it this way. It is the link between theory and methods.
Examples of methodologies include:
- Experimental research - testing a hypothesis under controlled conditions
- Survey research - gathering information from a subset of a population (a sample) in order to generalize to the entire population
- Ethnography - studying and learning about a particular group of persons or culture
Methods differ from methodology as it refers only to the tools and techniques used to gather and analyse the information collected.
Examples of methods include:
- Statistical analysis
- Focus groups
The purpose of the results section is to present the information collected.
The results can differ widely depending on the type of methodology used and the information collected.
The way results are presented will depend on whether the study is classified as qualitative, quantitative, interpretative, theoretical or critical.
- Qualitative information
Qualitative information is information that can't be turned into numbers and counted. It can be gathered from study participants in the form of surveys, interviews or focus groups, or from documents, pictures, or other artifacts. They are words, descriptions, explanations, ideas etc. Excerpts from study participants are often included as quotations in the results section.
The analysis used with this type of information is interpretive and may be done manually or using specific software that orders and categorizes the data into themes or concepts.
- Quantitative information
Quantitative information is information that is numerical in nature, or which can be changed into numbers. It may be gathered from surveys, structured interviews with specific questions asked, like an oral survey, or other information that can be counted such as the number of students with blue eyes, household average income, present age, number of courses you are currently enrolled in, blood glucose level, height, weight, etc. Statistical analysis is used to examine and interpret quantitative data.
The discussion includes a summary of the findings and an interpretation of the information reported in the results. The author typically relates the results to previous research studies and to the original research question. In addition, any unexpected or aberrant results may be discussed. The conclusion of the discussion tends to include limitations of the study, suggestions for future research and any theoretical or practical implications of the research.
The reference section includes all the references cited within the article. Personal communication, websites, government publications, books and journal articles are examples of references that may be present in the reference section of a research article.
There are various referencing styles that are used in journals. Each journal has specific requirements regarding the referencing style they use, often dependent on the journal's subject area.
Use the internet to find three different referencing styles. Then go to the library, locate a journal that is relevant to your area of study and identify the type of referencing style it uses - is it one that you found on your internet search?