The Anatomy of a Research Article
The IMRaD format was introduced by the American National Standards Institute in 1979. It corresponds to the sections which should be included within a research article. They are as follows:
- Introduction: what did you or others do? Why did you do it?
- Methods: how did you do it?
- Results: what did you find?
- Discussion: what does it all mean?
This article explores the IMRaD format and discusses what should be included within each section. The article is written in the order in which you might encounter the components of an article, however they are listed directly below in the order in which you should write them.
- (1) Results (Figure Preparation)
- (2) Methods
- (3) Results (Write Up)
- (4) Discussion
- (5) Conclusion
- (6) Introduction
- (7) Abstract
- (8) Title
- (9) Key Words
- (10) Acknowledgements
- (11) References
- (12) Supplementary Data
Components of An Article
Order Position: 8
Explanation: This might be your only opportunity to attract a reader’s attention. Ensure it is specific and reflects the content of your article. It should explain what the paper is broadly about and encapsulate the central ideas of your work. Research has shown that an easy-to-understand and informative title is more likely to be picked up by both social media and fellow researchers.
Top Tips: You will need to spend some time thinking about this. Ensure it is informative, specific, clear and concise. Avoid any technical jargon and steer clear of abbreviations.
Order Position: 7
Explanation: The abstract should provide a short description of your paper and briefly outline what you did. Begin by orienting the reader to the broader field and then rapidly narrow down onto the question your article answers. Describe the novel methods or approaches used and present an executive summary of your results. End by interpreting the results to provide an answer to the question posed at the start. Your abstract should tell a complete story! Aim to precisely convey the meaning of your work.
Top Tips: This will take many iterations to get right. This is your advert to get readers to pick up your article. It might be the only part they read so convey the entire message! What has been done? What are the main findings? Avoid jargon at all costs and make it easy and interesting to understand.
Order Position: 9
Explanation: These are used to index your paper and will act as labels.
Top Tips: You should avoid terms with a broad meaning and do not use terms already included in the title. Only firmly established abbreviations should be used.
Order Position: 6
Explanation: State the purpose of your paper and convince the readers why your work is useful. You should highlight the gap in current knowledge or methods and use progressively more specific paragraphs to describe what is missing in the literature. Each paragraph should develop the gap by adding context, explaining the current knowns and then describing the unknowns. Writing in this way will introduce the main scientific publications on which your work is based and sets the readers expectation for what this paper will do. Your final paragraph should describe what you hope to achieve and clearly state your hypothesis or objectives. The introduction may also summarise the results that will fill this gap and may briefly preview the conclusion.
Top Tips: Finalise the results and the discussion before writing the introduction. If the discussion isn’t finished, how can you objectively demonstrate the significance of your work in the introduction? The introduction should be concise and to the point. Try to give a global perspective and guide readers to your objectives.
Order Position: 2
Explanation: The methods describe how the problem was studied. Anyone reading the methods should be able to reproduce the work you have done. You should include detailed information for any new methods that were used. If methods are already established, be sure to reference the previously published procedures. Methods should include information such as where the study was conducted, a description of what was done, when it was done, how results were measured, and the statistical methods used.
Top Tips: The methods should be written in the same order in which they appear in the results section, and thus the logical order in which the research proceeded. Remember to include description of the statistical methods used, including your defined limits such as confidence levels. Make sure you do not make any comments or add any results in the methods.
Results – Prepare Figures and Tables
Order Position: 1
Explanation: Your data is the driving force of the paper and illustrations are the most effective way to communicate your results. Ensure they do not duplicate information elsewhere. Figures and legends should be self-explanatory as stand-alone items. They are often viewed by those who skip on from the abstract. Tables should be used for displaying the actual experimental results whereas figures can be used for comparisons of your results to previous work or theoretical values.
Top Tips: Think about the scale you will be using. Photographs need a scale bar. Ensure the axis labels are appropriately sized. Include clear symbols and data points that are easy to distinguish. Long boring tables can be placed into the supplementary data. Never include vertical lines in a table. Make charts large enough to read and avoid crowded plots. Lines joining data should be used for time series or consecutive samples of data only. Use histograms where there is no connection between samples or there is no gradient.
Results – Write Up
Order Position: 3
Explanation: You should describe what you have found but only include results which are representative of your research. Deliver the results as a sequence of logical statements that tell a compelling story and is easy to follow. This order of results is often the same as used in the methods. Subheadings can be used to keep similar types of result together. Any data not included in the results should be placed into the supplementary data. Your results need to convince readers that the central claim of your paper is supported by both data and logic. The first paragraph should summarise the overall approach to the problem and will touch on any new methods that were developed. Each subsequent paragraph should begin with a question that needs to be answered, then present the logic and data before ending with a sentence that answers the question.
Top Tips: You can begin by sketching out the logical structure of how your results support your claims and then convert this into a sequence of declarative statements which you can use as headers for subsections within the results or as titles for figures. There should be no references in this section as you are presenting your results. The mean and standard deviation can be used to report normally distributed data. The median and inter-percentile range can be used to report skewed data. Use two significant digits for numbers unless more precision is needed.
Order Position: 4
Explanation: This is the most important part of your article. It is the easiest to write but also the hardest to get right. You should discuss your results (do not reiterate them) and how you filled the gap identified in the introduction. Compare your results to your peers and confront any disagreements in the literature; convince your reader that you are correct. Sell your data! The first paragraph should summarise the important findings from the results. Each subsequent paragraph should then describe an area of weakness or strength before making evaluations of that point and discussing links with the literature. Your final paragraph should describe how to perceive the contribution of this article and will discuss the future directions for its use and where further research may be needed.
Try to cover the following points: How do your results relate to the original question? How do your results support your hypothesis? Are your results consistent with others? Are there any weaknesses? Are there any other ways to interpret the results? How are your results relevant to the field? What is new? How will your results lead to progress or further research?
Top Tips: Ensure you only make statements that your results can support. Do not introduce new ideas or terms at this point. Speculation is permitted, but they should be rooted in fact. Look for interesting results that will be useful to your field of study. Your readers should feel convinced that they have considered alternative explanations by the time you have finished.
Order Position: 5
Explanation: The conclusion should provide clear scientific justification for your work and indicate the potential for its use. You may also suggest future experiments and point to those underway. It should address both global and specific objectives included in the introduction.
Top Tips: Do not repeat the abstract or the results in this section. Try to avoid using trivial statements.
Order Position: 10
Explanation: These are to thank individuals who have helped but are not eligible for authorship.
Top Tips: Remember to mention the grant number if any funding was received.
Order Position: 11
Explanation: This should include any scientific publications you have used in your article. Make sure your references are in accordance with the rules set out in your journal’s guidance for authors.
Top Tips: There are lots of tools you can use to help; examples include Mendeley or RefWorks. Try to avoid excessive self-citation.
Order Position: 12
Explanation: This is any data that was produced by your research which does not form a central part of your core concept.