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How to write an academic research paper


In general, the sections of a scientific paper (article, report, thesis) are:

1. Title page

2. Abstract

3. Introduction

4. Method

5. Results

6. Discussion (Conclusions)

7. References

Appendices (if necessary)


1. Title page

The first page of a scientific paper is the Title page, including the title of the paper, the author(s), and their institutional affiliation.

The title should be clear and concise (12 words or fewer).

The title should communicate the primary variables and research questions.

Below the title are the author’s names and, on the next line, their institutional affiliation (where the authors worked when conducted the research presented in the paper). The authors are listed in the order that reflects their contribution to the research (first author has the greatest contribution, and so on). When authors have made equal contributions to the research, they often list their names alphabetically.


2. Abstract

The Abstract is a summary of the study.

The Abstract is about 150-200 words, written as a single paragraph.

The Abstract presents the research question, a summary of the method, the main results, and the most important conclusions.


3. Introduction

The Introduction has three distinct sections, although they are not identified by separate headings:

  • The Opening

    • One-two paragraphs long

    • Presents the research question and explains why the study is interesting and necessary

    • It can start with a short overview of the issue or problem, then introduce the research question and explain why the study is interesting: Will the answer fill a gap in the literature? Does it have practical implications?


  • The Literature review

    • Several paragraphs to several pages long

    • The Literature review comes immediately after the Opening.

    • It describes relevant previous research on the topic, however it does not simply list past studies. It represents an argument for why the research question (mentioned in the opening) is worth studying

    • The Literature review must be organized in a logical way.

    • There are two ways of writing the Literature review:

      • Begin the literature review by stating the paper’s objective: “The present paper will describe two apparently contradictory phenomena, present a new theory that has the potential to resolve the apparent contradiction, and finally present a hypothesis to test the theory”. Then the paper lists the previous studies, indicating brief summaries for each and citing the sources.

      • Open each paragraph with a sentence that summarizes the main point of the literature source(s) and links it to the previous points: “Another example of this phenomenon comes from Williams (2004)”.

  • The Closing

    • One or two paragraphs long

    • Includes two important elements:

      • A clear statement of the main research question or hypothesis, often expressed in terms of operational definitions of the key variables

      • A brief overview of the research method


4. Method

The Method section describes how the research was conducted.

This section should be clear and detailed, allowing other reserachers to replicate the study if they follow the same steps.

The Method should describe all the important elements of the study: basic demographic characteristics of the participants, how they were selected, how the variables were measured and manipulated.

The Method section can have different sub-sections, identified by separate heading:

  • Participants (“The participants were…”)

    • How many participants there were

    • Number of women and men

    • Other demographics that may be relevant to the study

    • How the participants were recruited

  • Design (“There were three conditions…”)

    • The design of a study is its overall structure

    • What were the independent and dependent variables?

    • Was the independent variable manipulatedd?

    • Which were the operational definitions for variables?

  • Procedure (“Participants viewed each question / scenario on a computer screen…”)

    • The procedure is how the study was carried out.

    • It describes what the participants did: the participants gave their informed consent, read a set of instructions, completed a block of tests, completed two questionnaires, etc



5. Results

The Results section presents the main results of the study, including the results of the statistical analyses.

This section does not include raw data but an analysis of them. However, the researchers should keep the raw data and make them available to other researchers who request them. Moreover, scientific journals encourage now the open sharing of raw data online.

The Results section should be clearly and logically organized.

Typically, the Results section starts with certain of the study.

  • For example, whether any participants or responses were excluded from the study and why.

  • Another example is how multiple responses were combined to produce the primary variables.

  • Another example is the reliability of the measures. Here there should be presented test-retest correlations or other statistics to show that the measures are consistent across time and across items.

  • A final example is whether the manipulation was succesful. Here there should be presented the reports ao any manipulation checks.

Then the Results section should tackle the main research questions, one at a time. Bem (2003) suggests the following structure for discussing each new result:

  • Remind the research question

  • Give the answer to the research question in words

  • Present the relevant statistics

  • Qualify the answer, if necessary

  • Summarize the result


It should be noted that the Results should be given in words; the only step involving numbers is when presenting relevant statistics, as support for the text. Do not present a multitude of graphs and numbers, only a few that enforce your statements.


6. Discussion

The Discussion section is the final major part of the research paper. It should provide a clear answer to the research question. Sometimes it is called “Conclusions”.

The Discussion section should cover the following sub-sections, however they are not identified by separate headings:

  • Summary of research

    • One sentence or one short paragraph.

    • A summary of the study caaried out

  • Theoretical implications of the research

    • Do the results provide support for any existing theories? If not, how can they be explained?

    • You do not have to provide a definitive explanation or detailed theory for your results, however you need to outline one or more possible explanations

  • Practical implications of the research

    • Typically in applied research, but it can happen in basic research as well

    • How can the results be used, and by whom, to accomplish some real-life objective?

  • Limitations of the study

    • The Discussion section should follow by addressing some limitations of the study, for example:

      • The internal and external validity of the study

      • The manipulation was not very effective

      • There is some evidence that the participants did not fully understand their tasks

    • The Limitations sub-section should not be very long, all studies have limitations. Pick two or three limitations that may have influenced the results, explain how these limitations could have influenced the results, and suggest ways to deal with them

  • Suggestions for future research

    • Most Discussion (Conclusion) sections end with some suggestions for future research

    • This is a discussion of two or three of the most important unresolved issues



The References section starts on a new page.

All references cited in text are listed at the end of the paper, in alphabetic order by the last name of the first author.

For citing sources and write the References section, the most used practice is the APA style.



An appendix is used for supplemental material that is not included in the main paper because it would interrupt the flow of ideas.

An appendix could be used to present list of questions, questionnaire items, statistical analyses.

Each Appendix starts on a new page.

Appendices are titled “Appendix A”, “Appendix B”, and so on.




Bem, D. J. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In J. M. Darley, M. P. Zanna, & H. R. Roediger III (Eds.), The compleat academic: A practical guide for the beginning social scientist (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

EasyBib. Guide to Citing and Writing in APA Format. Retrieved from

Price, P.C, Jhangiani, R.S., Chiang, I-C, A (2015). Research Methods in Pshychology. 2nd Canadian Edition. Retrieved from


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