How to Write a Research Paper?

Standard Format

Every piece of writing has a beginning, middle and an end. In a typical medical original article the beginning corresponds to the introduction, the middle is the methods and results, and the end is the discussion. This structure is known as IMRAD structure - (Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion.)

Table of Contents (Optional)

Purpose: This part provides the reader with an outline of the research paper.

When present, it should be on a separate page and usually limited to one page titled `Table of Contents' or just `Contents'.

The list should include the heading of each section (Level 1), reference, and appendix along with their page numbers. If each part is divided into subsections, the heading of the major subsections (Level 2) can be listed as indentations.

Avoid listing headings of levels 3, 4 etc.


Purpose: This section states the major points of the paper and allows the reader to assess whether there is a further need to refer to any other part of the paper. It can also be used to search the particular field. It is a short description of the research paper, often within 200 words in a single paragraph. State the purpose of your research, the methodology used, the results obtained and the conclusions drawn thereupon.


This section presents the background knowledge necessary for the research and the objective of the study. It also explains the reason why the present research is an advance on the present knowledge in the field.

Steps to take:  Review the available literature

Present the background of the research area. Review the literature to provide a broad context for the rationale of your research. Include only the information relevant to your research topic.

  • Provide the rationale for your research

    Identify the gaps in the existing literature. The gaps may be due to lack of information or a misinterpretation of the available facts. Propose how you plan to resolve the problem by stating your research objectives and the hypothesis.
  • Explain why the research design was chosen

    Justify the suitability of the research design. Disclose any limitations or assumptions in the methodology.


The next section of the paper is the methodology. Its purpose is to describe the materials used in the research and the methods by which it was carried out.

Purpose: This section allows the reader to evaluate the strengths and limitations of your study.
It also enables the reader to replicate a part or the entire method for a similar or different study.

Steps to take:

  • Mention the materials used
    Include any specialized materials such as a specific cell line, animal model, radioactive chemical or a specialized apparatus. Mention the source of the material and, if appropriate, the conditions under which the material is maintained.
  • Give the sampling plan
    If the research involves sampling; identify the sample area, size, population and other pertinent characteristics.
  • Describe the research design
    State the research design used. Mention whether it involves experimentation, description, survey, case study etc. Specify the independent and dependent variables measured.
  • Explain the procedure in detail
    Describe the tools and techniques used for collecting data. The tools could be questionnaires, equipments, and other instruments. Describe the techniques or processes comprehensively. Include details such as specific time intervals, incubation temperatures, etc. Do not describe well-known procedures, just mention their names.
  • Discuss the statistical analysis
    Include the type of statistical test, measures of variability and any software that was used to analyze the collected data.


The third section is usually the results. The questions posed in the introduction are answered in this section.
Purpose: This section objectively presents your research findings (without interpretation) to the reader.

Steps to take:

  • Prepare tables for numeric data
    • Use only analyzed data. (Raw data can be included in the appendix.)
    • Arrange the data in appropriate columns and rows.
    • Use column and row headings to identify the contents. Include appropriate units.
    • Number each table according to the order in which it is placed in the paper.
    • Place the title of the table above it. The title includes the table number and a short description of the result.
    • Use footnotes to indicate details limited to only a few data points.
    • Include statistical information such as variance with the data point and significance as a footnote.
  • Prepare figures for visual representation of numeric and other data
  • Use graphs to represent trends in numeric data.
  • Include appropriate units and statistical information such as variance with the data point and significance as part of the legend.
  • Use maps, scans, photos, diagrams etc. to represent non-numeric data.
  • Number each figure according to the order in which it is placed in the paper.
  • Place the legend or caption below the figure.
  • It includes the figure number and a short description of the result.
  • Describe each result clearly and specifically.
  • Use appropriate units. Include the statistical analysis.
  • Refer to the relevant table or figure.
  • Indicate the research objective that was accomplished by the result.
  • Report all results including those that are negative or inconclusive.
  • If placed within the text of the results section, position them as close to the relevant text as possible. Do not split tables or figures into different pages.
  • If they are included after the references, place the tables before the figures. Present only one table or figure per page.
  • Summarize the data in the form of text
  • Arrange tables and figures in the paper according to the guidelines


Purpose: This section conveys the importance of your findings to the reader.

Steps to take:

  • Interpret your results
    Explain whether your findings answer your research objectives and agree with your hypothesis. Highlight the difference between existing literature and your findings.
  • Consider alternative mechanisms
    Mention if your findings can be explained by mechanisms not tested in your investigation.
  • Compare with similar studies
    Discuss similar studies. Refer to literature that supports your findings as well as those that differ from yours. Provide possible explanations for such similarities and differences.
  • Acknowledge any limitations
    Describe the limitations of your study. Explain their effect on your findings.
  • Give a conclusion
    Summarize your main finding(s) and interpretation(s) in a single Suggest future direction
    You may choose to include your suggestion for further research


Purpose: This section enables the reader to find the source of the material used in the document for further study.
List all the literature cited in the document. Formatting of this section is dealt in greater detail in the section on Citations and Bibliography.

Appendix (Optional)

Purpose: This section provides the reader information that is not included in the methods or results sections but may be required for better understanding of the paper. Such information could be raw data, lengthy questionnaires, large maps, and large tables. Include different information in separate appendices. Number each appendix with a Roman numeral. For example, Appendix I can contain raw data and Appendix II can contain a questionnaire.

Citations and Bibliography

The purpose of citations in a research paper is to attribute expressed ideas in a document to the original authors. The purpose of a bibliography/reference list is to enable the readers to find the source of the material used in a document for further study. All citations are listed in the bibliography. Refer to the appropriate style guide for proper formatting of citations and bibliography.

Footnotes and Endnotes

Sources can be cited using footnotes (placed at the bottom of the page) or endnotes (placed at the end of the document). Sequentially number the cited material in the text. Give details of the source as footnotes or endnotes. "A number of instances have been documented in which postlabelling of non-adducts can occur"[1]

  1. David H. Phillips (1997). Detection of DNA modifications by the 32P-postlabelling assay. Mutation Research. 378: 1 — 12

In-text Citations

For in-text citations, use parenthetical referencing. Use the author's name and the year of publication (Phillips, 1997) or the page number (Phillips, 7). If the author is part of the sentence, only the year or page number is placed within parenthesis. For two authors, the names of the authors appear in the same order as in the cited document. For more than two authors, the names of all authors appear the first time the work is cited and subsequent references would be first author et al

APA style:

"A number of instances have been documented in which post labeling of non-adducts can occur" (Phillips, 1997). According to Phillips (1997), "a number of instances have been documented in which post labeling of non-adducts can occur".

MLA style:

"A number of instances have been documented in which post labeling of non-adducts can occur"

Bibliographic Citations

Citations in the Bibliography/Reference can either be in the sequence of their first appearance (or) arranged alphabetically according to the first author's last name. If more than one document of the author is cited, they are then arranged by the year of publication. Refer to the appropriate style guides for formatting. The following examples of bibliographic citations are in the CBE (CSE) format.

Journal articles Author(s), year of publication, title of article, journal name, volume, issue, page numbers.

Books Author(s), year of publication, title of chapter, editor(s), title of book, edition, place of publication, publisher, and page number.

Online sources Same as for journal articles/books. In addition, include date of retrieval and the URL.

It is the use of other people's ideas and/or language without acknowledging the original source. Anyone can recognize that turning in another person's work as one's own is plagiarism. However, it is not always easy to identify plagiarism. There is misunderstanding of when the line crosses from research to plagiarism. The popular Wilson Mizner's quote "copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research" is a case in point. Put all original text in quotes and cite the source(s) as close to the quote as possible. Even if the original text is paraphrased into one's own words, it is important to credit the source. Types of plagiarism are

  • Using word-for-word sentences or phrases from one or more sources without citation. Adding the source but not indicating the original text in quotes is still plagiarism.
  • Altering a few words or phrases in the original text or altering the order of sentences but retaining much of the original text without citation.
  • Paraphrasing the original text in one's own words but not including the relevant citations thereby not crediting the original author for the ideas or style.
  • Properly paraphrasing the original text but including either the in-text citation or the bibliographic citation but not both.
  • Not including enough information in the references making it difficult or impossible to locate the sources. Examples are including the original author's name but not the year of publication, not including the exact page numbers, etc.
  • Giving inaccurate information about the sources. Even if this happens inadvertently, inaccurate citations mislead the reader about the sources.
  • Properly citing the source in some places but not others.
  • Using one's own previous work without a proper reference (self plagiarism).

Information that falls under common knowledge need not be cited. An example of such information is the fact that earth revolves around the sun.


More by :  Dr. Sachin Khot

Top | Education

Views: 3391      Comments: 1

Comment Sir,
The article is too good, just keep it up.

Dr. Kiran B. Patil
07-Apr-2014 03:04 AM

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