Anatomy of a Research Study

So you’ve connected with your interesting academic paper, but upon approach, it appears rather confusing and full of jargon. Have no fear, papers can be intimidating for the uninitiated. Once you know the lay of the land, they’re easier to understand.

While papers vary across disciplines, scientific studies mostly stick to a particular format:

Abstract: A brief summary of the paper. This is the first place you want to look to make sure the paper has what you’re looking for. Depending on how curious you are, it might be as far as you need to go.

Introduction: An overview of the existing research and the study itself. This will supply helpful information putting everything in context.

Methods: The details of the experiment itself. Unless you’re a researcher or interested in methodology, the casual reader might skip this section.

Results: This will give the details of the statistical analysis and what they found. Again, unless you’re a fellow researcher or want to examine the numbers, this might be skipped.

Discussion: This will tell you what they found and talk about its implications and future potential research directions. This is the part that popular press articles generally focus on.

Papers from the humanities tend to have a more traditional, essay type structure, though they also have abstracts.