Academic Pubs, Part 5: Article Structure

For previous posts on this topic, see:

How to Start Writing

Strangely, I find research articles one of the easiest article types to write… once I get started, that is. They are also intimidating for me, so it takes me awhile to convince myself to start writing, even though by that point I’ve already done the research. But research articles for library science and education, the fields in which I publish, tend to have the same outline for all research articles:

  • Introduction (Background)
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion (Conclusions)

I tend to use this format as the guideline for my research-based conference presentations as well. It’s the same format as a social sciences dissertation, and it boils down to the following guides.


What’s your topic about? why is it important? why did you perform this research?

Lit Review

What are the most significant things that other people have written about this topic? unusual findings? commonalities? methodological flaws? what gap in the literature are you filling, or what study are you replicating?


What did you do?
For me, this is the most intimidating, but also most straightforward part of a research article. The title “methodology” sounds grand, but really it boils down to following the rule, “plainly tell your audience what you did in enough detail that they could exactly replicate your study.” My trick for this: I pretend I’m telling a colleague about the study, and then suddenly it doesn’t seem as intimidating! Plus, I tend to write clearly and concisely when I think of it as explaining to a colleague, without being in “academic mode” which causes me problems (wordiness, jargon, convulted sentences). I am decidedly of the “less is more” camp of academic writing.


What statistical analyses did you perform, and what were the results?
Report these either in the text, or in a table. APA says do one or the other, but if the results are particularly complex, I break the rules to do both, in favor of clarity.

Discussion / Findings / Conclusions

How do you interpret these result? what do they mean? what implications do they have on the topic, on library/educational practice, or on the literature previously mentioned?

That’s it. It’s not rocket science, it’s writing.


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