- 1 The Purpose of a Research Article
- 2 Choosing a Target Journal
- 3 Conducting a Genre Analysis
- 4 IMRAD
- 5 Next Steps
- 6 Mapping, Outlining, and Drafting Your Research Article
- 7 Drafting Your Research Article
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 Survey
The Purpose of a Research Article
Research articles are an essential form of communication within the sciences, and we write them for many reasons. Establishing your purpose for writing will help you organize your material and communicate your main message.
We may think of science and writing as separate enterprises, but they are in fact connected. Professional scientists are in many ways professional writers, so the craft of writing is very important in this field.
Sharing Your Findings
Sharing your findings with the scientific community:
As scientists, we write research articles to share our findings with the scientific community. Research is collaborative both within and across our institutions, so we read to be aware of what others are researching, and we write to share our progress with others.
Writing research articles allows scientists to do the following:
- Communicate with others in the field so that they can work together to make advances
- Share their methods to ensure that others can replicate or build upon them
- Share their results and data so that others can determine if findings are reproducible
- Show how they interpret their findings and suggest areas for future research
Sharing your findings more broadly:
Making your work public is an essential obligation to funders (often indirectly tax-payers).
In addition to writing for other scientists, we write research articles to make our findings available to policymakers and other stakeholders. Because people may make important decisions based on our work, we want to communicate as clearly and precisely as possible.
Peer review is the process for ensuring quality. Peer reviewed papers are thus essential to demonstrate the success of a project, and also for researchers’ scholarship, job and grant applications. THIS is the main reason why we publish!!!
Choosing a Target Journal
Before you start writing, you’ll want to identify a target journal – the academic journal that you want to publish in. Choosing a journal in advance will help you identify your target audience and determine what their expectations are as readers.
Choosing a journal can also be based on a number of factors:
- how competitive and selective a journal is
- its “Impact Factor”
- whether or not its open access/widely held by libraries around the world
- how long it takes the journal to makes decisions
If you’re a graduate student
Consider reaching out to your supervisor for support in identifying an appropriate target journal in your field, or investigate where your supervisor has already published their research.
NOTE: Oftentimes your advisor will choose the journal for you.
Another helpful strategy for choosing a journal is to look at the papers from your field that you tend to cite most frequently and identify where these articles are published. If you’re researching the same topics as the scientists that you’re reading, you may be able to publish in the same journals. Therefore, read at least three papers from this journal.
Conducting a Genre Analysis
The scientific research article has specific writing conventions and characteristics that you need to be familiar with when drafting your own article for publication. By learning how to analyze the structure and style of articles in your own field, you will quickly develop more effective outlines for drafting specific sections of your article, and you will create a more logical flow of content and ideas.
Genre analysis is a critical reading practice that you can use when you’re preparing to write a research article, and it has the added benefit of making the reading process easier for your own reader.
The research article, as a genre, is typically organized into four key areas:
This framework, known as IMRAD, is a common framework for organizing published research in the sciences. Each part of IMRAD answers specific questions.
The Introduction answers,
“What is your research question, and why did you investigate it?”
The Methods answers,
“What did you do, and how did you do it?”
The Results answers,
“What did you find, and what patterns and trends did you observe?”
Finally, the Discussion answers,
“What do your findings mean, and how do they relate to the research in your field?”
While the Results and Discussion sections are typically separate, some disciplines within the sciences will combine them. Whether these sections are typically separate or combined in your discipline is something you can investigate and make note of when you’re doing your genre analysis.
These four sections constitute a broad convention that research articles typically follow. An analogy that can help us understand why conventions are important is going out to a movie.
If I’m an action movie fan, and I see a movie advertised as an action movie, I’m expecting to see specific things – fast-paced action, fight and chase sequences, exciting special effects, and specific performers.
If I go to what I think is an action movie, and I don’t see these things, and I start to see the conventions of other genres, such as romance or horror, I may be confused, disappointed, and frustrated.
Similarly, readers approach scientific research articles with specific expectations in mind. If the reader reaches your Discussion section and doesn’t read an answer to what your findings mean, they may similarly feel confused, disappointed, and frustrated.
One of the advantages of the IMRAD format is that this consistent structure helps to facilitate the transmission of ideas because readers know how to locate and process information.
Now that you’ve learned about genre analysis, your next step is to select three articles from your field – perhaps even from your target journal – and analyze them.
For each article, ask the following 4 questions:
As you start to compare the three articles, you’ll start to recognize the writing conventions in your own field, and you’ll be equipped to start writing your own research article.
Mapping, Outlining, and Drafting Your Research Article
As science writers, we need to include an Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion in our research articles. However, we might not know what content to include in each section and how to organize it.
This Research Article Mapping Template, developed by Dr. Jodie Salter in consultation with Lenore Latta, provides answers to many of these questions. This mapping template is a guided outline with prompts and questions that will help you map the content of your research article from beginning to end.
This template is designed to be broadly applicable to multiple disciplines within the physical, biological, and social sciences. You can use this mapping template as a starting place and modify it to fit the specific genre conventions of your own discipline.
Drafting Your Research Article
When you’re moving from taking notes to writing your first draft, you don’t need to start with the Introduction. Many writers in the sciences intentionally avoid this linear approach.
Once you’ve identified your target journal, analyzed articles in your field, and created a map of your article, you’re ready to start writing. Proceed to the next section on Introductions.
The content of this page was created by Dr. Jodie Salter and Dr. Sarah Gibbons.