An abstract contains:
- research question and aim
- data/materials, concepts, theories, methods
- results, conclusions.
While a research question asks what you would like to research, the aim/purpose questions why you pose that particular question.
Aim means: How is your work useful, and especially for whom? Why write specifically about this? Which developments of research, theory, concepts, methods, practice and profession does the article provide? Which discussions would you like to contribute to with this article? Why would that be important? And so what?
There may be several aims for an article, but there is often a more overriding purpose.
Analysis means breaking down into parts to observe elements, connections and functions.
What do you analyse?
- With what do you analyse?
- In which categories (sub-headings)?
A sequence of analysis may be written like this:
- Mention before the analysis those concepts/theories/methods/principles that you use for analysing
- Write the analysis
- Sum up what your analysis shows
- State what you are using the analysis for, and how it ties in with your other analyses in the paper.
Use your concepts/theories and methods explicitly in your analysis.
Make an explicit connection to your research question/point at least once at the end of your analysis.
- Empirical quantitative (building on numbers)
- Empirical qualitative (e.g. case article) (building on texts, observations)
- Theoretical (without data, building on concepts and theories alone. The method will be qualitative)
- Review article, which builds on a systematic literature review with a detailed account of search terms, bases, date of search, topics, choices and delimitations, and eventually analysis and discussion of search results and gaps in the literature. A review article is a type of research article.
Also, check the particular journal’s descriptions and possibly some examples of its article types. Types may vary from research and professional to debate, review and reflection articles.
An author profile may contain:
- current work
- education and position
- primary professional interests
- publications relevant for the article
- co-operation partners
- email and website.
Keyword (frequently from theory) used for analysis/discussion/evaluation/design etc.
The conclusion states the argument, the point and the message of the article. It restates what the argument is based on, and returns to the introduction’s point of departure:
- the problem: the project, aims and purposes of the work in relation to the gap that the article will fill, and to the contribution to insights and discussions that the article proposes
- the base for the conclusion: documentation, methods and the central reasoning (short)
- the scope and conditions of the conclusion, given the limitations and reservations that should be taken into account.
A contribution is a contribution to published knowledge, according to the writer’s research into the literature of the field.
A contribution may be to:
- empirical, factual knowledge
- analysis, interpretations, and understandings
- concepts, theories, frameworks, disagreements, developments – and the relations between them
- problem solutions to research and/or practice, practice developments
- designs and constructions
- the history of the field
- methods and method development
- discussions in the field
- perspectives and implications.
A contribution may be very small and still be valid and interesting!
Data, materials, phenomena that are the object of your research and which you may refer to as observations, empirical matter, measurements, texts, sources, etc. Data may be collected by the article writer or by others.
You delimit your research or project by proposing what you will and will not cover.
Delimitations may be with regard to:
- topic and questions covered, aims, audience, applications
- time period
- literature, sources
- data, materials may be delimited in time, scope, geography, subjects/items, phenomena, etc.
- theoretical frameworks, concepts, methods, points of view that may be delimited by stating which theories/concepts/methods will not be used in this research or project, specifying which parts of the theories, concepts and methods chosen, will come into play in the article
- other parameters that you deem relevant.
Delimitations and their rationales are especially important if the reader may have justifiable expectations of what might have a natural place in the text.
You may delimit your material based on the relevance for the targeted audience for this particular article.
Discussion always has a theme, a focal point and one or more criteria or categories that the article writer wants to bring into play.
Discussion has two parts: 1) Discussion of your own research (methods and results) and 2) Discussion of positions, theories, concepts, practices. You may find one or both kinds in an article, often one more prominent than the other, according to the focus and aims of the article.
1. Discussion of your own research:
- State your results
- Discuss issues and problems of your method(s) and the methodologies used in your research
- Explain any unexpected results
- Explain and interpret your results and discuss any criticisms of the method(s) and the research design you have used.
2. Discussion in relation to the scholarship (the literature) of the field:
- Discuss any discrepancies between your results and the results of others, and explain possible causes of the discrepancies
- Discuss your results vis-a-vis concepts, theories/methods in your field that you want to take argument with
- State your point/position.
Discussion should correspond with the issues raised in the introduction and with the most important sources in your literature review.
A gap is something missing from the literature or from practices of the field.
Examples of a gap:
- Description of …
- Documentation for …
- Qualification of …
- Analysis and interpretation of …
- Categorisation of …
- Explanation of …
- Ideas for …
- Evaluation of …
- Design/praxis for …
- Construction of …
- Testing/use/implementation of …
- Alternatives for …
(Rienecker, Stray Jørgensen and Gandil (2015): Skriv artikler [Write Articles], p. 81)
Expectation and prediction of outcome (whereas a thesis makes an introductory point). Hypotheses are frequent in ‘hard’ disciplines (disciplines where what is measurable is prominent).
A standard introduction may contain:
- topic – problem area
- context, history
- research question
- point, argument
- hypothesis (optional)
- philosophy of science (optional)
- concept definitions
- procedure, overview.
The order is flexible, and not all of these elements may be relevant to every project.
Explain your choice of data, concepts, theory(ies) and methods, and your delimitations.
Design your introduction in terms of what you know or expect to be your readers’ needs. You may ask yourself: ‘What will make my reader read beyond the first few lines?’
Part of methods and procedure is the selection of literature, especially if the article builds on literature alone. The literature method is an account of search terms, search strings and bases and criteria for inclusion/exclusion (motivations and delimitations). Explain your criteria and selections.
A section titled ‘Literature’, ‘Literature review’, ‘Materials and methods’, ‘Sources’, ‘State-of-the-art’ or ‘Background’, which also contains coverage of the relevant literature, finds a place in many articles, and may be most comprehensive in research articles. This section summarises and reviews selected literature and is the background for the writer’s own research question and design. The literature section reviews sources on the object of the research, whether that be material, conceptual, methodological or theoretical.
The purpose of a literature review is to:
- place the research in the literature
- explain the motivation for the research question and research design for the reader
- distinguish the article from previous publications
- indicate the article’s argument by positioning the writer in relation to the literature and its gaps.
The literature review should make gaps apparent (while acknowledging the contributions of others) in order for the article writer to move on to the empty space (gap) and occupy it at the end of the literature review. This establishes the article as relevant in relation to the literature. Literature review and literature search is central to research articles, but may be less so for professional and other articles.
Check the expectations of the publication, and make decisions based on the aims and audiences for the particular article.
Materials and data are what the researcher/article writer makes the object of the research or project.
There may be methods for:
- selection of data and materials
- design, evaluation, construction, intervention, implementation.
Most projects have methods for selection of data and analysis, whereas methods for design, construction, intervention, etc. are only relevant in applied projects.
Perspective may be in relation to future:
- practice and projects, profession, discipline and field
- policy, politics
- scholarly or public debate.
Options are to qualify research (own and others’), to make suggestions, recommendations and predictions.
A description of the context of a given research question (many different research questions can share the same problem area).
Problems are found particularly in areas where a field must do more than merely refer to already known facts and established dogma. A problem is something that the field (or representatives of the field) has yet to finish working on or which ought to have been fully researched because it is:
- an unexplained observation or a small observation that sticks out
- something not yet fully analysed, measured, tested, documented, interpreted (using this particular methodology; to this degree of detail or from this particular angle)
- something that does not seem quite right
- a conflict that can still be discussed
- something that can and should be argued for (and against), i.e. something that not all representatives of the field are familiar with/agree with
- something that goes against general opinion
- something that requires reassessment, modification, alteration, construction or new practices and designs.
(Rienecker and Stray Jørgensen et al. (2017): Den gode opgave [The Good Paper])
Problems may be found anywhere where you do more than regurgitate already known facts or established dogma.
Procedure is the combined methods and steps in the whole research and writing process.
A professional article is a contribution to a profession/practice and to studies, not to theory and research. The targeted audience is professionals in the field, students and teachers, policymakers and administrators, not primarily researchers or theorists. In a professional article, the writer is less bound by:
- comprehensive literature (state-of-the-art)
- a contribution to a concept/theory/method
- amount of data studied.
The basis of the professional article can be illustrated by this pentagon model:
The objective is to exemplify more than to document. The article writer should supply:
- a professionally useful point and possibly a practice
- new projects, experiments, actions, applications, perspectives and implications for practice
- new frames of thinking and contributions to ‘the ongoing-conversation-in-the-field’.
Process may be more important than product or results; experience and reflections from practice and profession may be appreciated, as is communication.
Structure may be like the structure of a conventional research article, or it may be a softer version of that, with less literature review, theory, methodology and discussion. In the professional article, there may be more practice, application, implications and perspectives, and more discussion and critique of practice, application, implications and perspectives. There may be illustration through case examples and practice projects to highlight principles, concepts, routines and methods of the field/topic in question. The aim is to form a basis for discussion and to evolve and develop professional practices and methods.
Literature and data may be research based or more professionally or textbook based. It is often the comprehensiveness of the literature and the absence of a contribution to research that determines whether an article is deemed to be research or professional.
Considerations, frequently in the form of relating theory/concept/method to data or phenomenon, relating past/present/future, relating observation to explanation. Reflections need not be systematic.
A research article is a contribution to research and new knowledge – even if the contribution is quite small – to data/materials, concept, theory, method, a new analysis, new results, a nuancing of beliefs, a new interpretation or angle, a new collection or contextualisation of the subject studied. The audiences are primarily researchers, teachers and students, and secondly professionals, policymakers and administrators. In a research article, you should base your work on:
- a literature search that is up to date with state-of-the-art, and an awareness of what is already there and where there is a gap for your own research
- a contribution of (even just a little) new knowledge or a new angle
- dialogue with the literature
- a sound research design and a motivated connection between materials, methods, and concepts/theories/scientific theory
- methods that are transparent and are discussed
- argumentation supported by documentation.
The basis is illustrated by this pentagon model for research articles:
Preferably, you will be able to fill in all five corners of the pentagon model – although you may make an exception for data if you are writing a theoretical article. See Research article, theoretical.
A comprehensive standard structure for articles is the basis of the questions in Article Writing Tool, and it is up to you to assess whether this is a suitable structure for your article.
Behind this expanded standard structure lies the IMRAD structure for research articles:
IMRAD is used widely by hard/wet disciplines (HEALTH, NATURAL SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY). In soft/dry disciplines (HUMANITIES, SOCIAL SCIENCES) the comprehensive standard structure and adjusted versions are used – usually with other and more elements than the IMRAD, i.e. theory, analysis, conclusion and future perspectives, and with headings tailored to the content, and crafted by the writer.
In Article Writing Tool the IMRAD structure is expanded with elements that many (sub)disciplines use in their articles. View Article Writing Tool’s structure as a point of departure and as a short list from which you may pick and develop an article structure suitable for your purpose. Below is the comprehensive article structure used in Article Writing Tool:
- Presentation of current context, history, background, disciplinary concerns
- Problem area
- Research question, hypotheses
- Aim, relevance
- Short presentation of research design: data, concepts/theory(ies)/methods
- Procedure and overview of the article.
Data, materials, phenomenon
Concepts, theories, scientific theory
- For selection of data and materials, for analysis and for evaluation/design/action/intervention.
Literature review, state-of-the-art
- Key works
- ‘Filling the gap’, positioning the literature in relation to own research.
- Dimensions, categories for analysis
- Analysis of data/materials (or concept, theory, method) in grouped, categorised quotes or summaries, statistics, tables, figures, measurements.
- Summing up of results and interpretation of meanings, impact, effects, evidence
- Confirmation/affirmation/disaffirmation of hypotheses.
- Interpretation and explanation of results
- Critique and evaluation of own methods, limitations, scope
- Discussion of own methods and results in the light of the literature’s findings and explanations. Here your own research is related to the key sources in your literature review. Similarities, differences and their explanations? Limitations, reservations?
- Point(s)/argument(s) – which argument may be put forward after research and discussion? What is your contribution?
- Interpretations, explanations
- Possible new designs.
Future perspectives and recommendations
Your research’s or project’s contribution and potential for:
- factual knowledge, data, research findings
- theory, concept, methods, procedures
- profession, practice, applications, designs, constructions, implementations
- scientific or public debate
- possibly with a focus on special target audience(s).
Appendices, references, acknowledgements, author profile
An article that does not refer to data but which analyses, discusses and reviews concepts or theories. In a theoretical article concepts and theories will be the object of analysis and appear in the third (Data) corner of the pentagon model.
The research question is the question(s) you wish to study (sometimes formulated as a thesis you want to investigate, validate, analyse, etc., or a problem formulation).
Belcher, W. (2009). Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Murray, R. (2013). Writing for Academic Journals. 3rd edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Thomson, P., Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals. Strategies for Getting Published. London: Routledge.
Results of your research may be communicated through:
- text, interpretation, a summing up of outcomes
- tables, forms
- calculations, numbers
- diagrams, models, graphs.
If you have graphical material to convey your results, the results section will consist of the graphics and the comments and explanations drawing up the results.
A conscious, coherent and explicit view of the connection between and the delimitations in data, concepts, theory(ies) and methods in a piece of research/project/article which makes the research/project scientific.
Text acts are actions we do with words, spoken and written (see Text types). Text types are the textual building blocks of articles. Text acts are the text types, plus a large number of synonyms used about academic writing acts. There are many more text acts than text types – see list below. Planning the most important text acts and text types in your article helps you prioritise and proportion the sections you will allot to data/project description, concepts, theories, methods, analysis, discussion, etc. Here is a list of frequently used text acts in research and professional articles:
… the list is not exhaustive!
Below is a list of connections between the writer’s intentions and the writer’s text acts. Many text acts may be placed in several slots.
Text types are the building blocks of articles. Academic text types refer to what the text does (this is called ‘text acts’). You will probably need at least some of these text types in your article:
- Design: Recommend a design or a course of action based on principles, parameters, criteria
- Put into perspective: Discuss the meaning, scope, consequences, implications of the research for the future/other contexts
- Evaluation: Gauge or measure the value of something on the basis of defined research criteria and reasoning
- Reflection: Unsystematically (systematic would turn reflection into an analysis) relate concept/theory/method to experiences, observations and phenomena, praxis to theory, past to present or future, ideal to reality, etc., often in order to understand, develop or criticise praxis or theory
- Discussion: Relate opposing viewpoints, attitudes, frameworks, etc. to each other with the intent to reach a combined, new or own point of view
- Interpretation: Reach and render a meaning from an analysis of a problem, data, phenomena, texts
- Comparison: Show similarities and differences between two or more topics, phenomena, texts, concepts, etc.
- Categorisation: Put information in categories systematically
- Analysis: Break down a topic, data, phenomenon, text(s), etc. into parts
- Summary: Rephrase the main points of a text
- Paraphrase: Rephrase a piece of text closely, meaning by meaning
- Quote: Render text verbatim.
(From Rienecker, Stray Jørgensen and Gandil (2016): Skriv artikler. Om videnskabelige, faglige og formidlende artikler [Write Articles], p. 93)
A theory is a system of ideas (or assumptions) within a given academic field that describes, explains and even predicts the phenomena of the field and the interactions of those phenomena. Theory establishes a frame of understanding for the field that the theory addresses.
Concepts can be extracted from theories, subsequently explained and then used as tools for analysis, discussion and evaluation.
A thesis is a claim/assumption that is tested and discussed in your paper. In disciplines such as literature and philosophy the use of theses may be more widespread than formulating a research question.