Three versions of the RA

This section is about three different RA macrostructures, namely 'The Experimental RA' (IMRAD or IMRD), 'The Logical Argument RA' and 'The Essay Style RA'.

Instructional video from the free online MOOC "Writing in English at University" which was developed at Lund University in 2016.

The Experimental RA (IMRAD or IMRD)

The Experimental RA, as the name implies, is frequently used to report one or several experimental studies. It is commonly referred to as the Introduction-Methods-Results-Discussion structure, hence the abbreviation IMRD. You sometimes also see the acronym IMRAD, where the letter A stands for the word 'and'.

In this section, first, a structural overview of the IMRD will be given. After that, the characteristics of each of the four sections will be explained and discussed.

The common structures of an experimental RA

Even though the typical IMRD article consists of four parts, there exist a couple of different alternatives for how to structure it. Glasman-Deal (2010) suggests the following alternations:


Introduction

 
Methods

 Results
or
Data Analysis

Results
or
Data Analysis

Results
and Discussion

Results
or
Data Analysis

 Discussion

Discussion

 -

Discussion and Conclusion


Conclusion

 
-


Conclusion


 -

Table based on Glasman-Deal (2010)

 

As can be seen in the table, the first two sections, Introduction and Methods, are seen as fixed elements, whereas there is a choice with regard to which structure to use after that. This is illustrated by the four columns, each indicating an alternative structure that can be used.

It is worth pointing out that a specific Conclusion section is sometimes featured in an IMRD article, and sometimes it is part of a joint section together with Discussion. In some cases, it is difficult to make a distinction between the contents and function of a Discussion and a Conclusion section.

In most cases, an IMRD research article starts off with an abstract. Please see the subsection on abstracts in the AWELU material.

Advice: Which article sections should be used? (click to expand/contract)

When in doubt, always consult a journal's style sheet or the editor(s) of a book volume, or, if relevant, a supervisor, as to which sections should be used in each particular case.


Introduction

Introductions are as important as they are problematic. When writing an introduction, an author has to make a number of difficult decisions about, for instance, how much background knowledge can be assumed on the part of the readers, and how quickly to move towards the more detailed problem or question that the paper will address.

In an influential piece of work on how research articles are structured, Swales (1990) argues that introductions typically follow certain rhetorical movements. Swales calls his model CARS, which stands for Create a Research Space. As the name implies, an introduction can be characterised by its purpose of persuading a reader that the research field is important and significant.

The CARS model can be seen here:

Swales' Create a Research Space (CARS) model for RA introductions (click to expand/contract)

MOVE 1     Establishing a territory                                               

Step 1     Claiming centrality                                                 

and/or                                                                       

Step 2     Making topic generalization(s)

and/or

Step 3     Reviewing items of previous research

 

MOVE 2     Establishing a niche                                          

Step 1A   Counter-claiming                                                 

or                                                                       

Step 1B   Indicating a gap

or

Step 1C  Question-raising

or

Step 1D  Continuing a tradition

 

MOVE 3     Occupying the niche                                          

Step 1A   Outlining purposes                                               

or                                                                       

Step 1B   Announcing present research

Step 2     Announcing principal findings

Step 3     Indicating RA structure

 

(Swales 1990: 141)


Swales' model and some of its ingredients need some explanations. A research article may or may not include all of the available steps. The use of the logical connectors 'and/or' and 'or' indicates what commonly occurs. However, it would be possible for a research article to contain, for instance, all the four steps in Move 2.

In a nutshell, the model predicts that research articles start by a move (MOVE 1) that establishes the topic to be discussed, followed a move (MOVE 2) which creates a niche within the research field, in which the topic can be discussed. Finally (MOVE 3), the specific purposes or concerns of the study reported are outlined.

For further reading: What is a centrality claim? (click to expand/contract)

A centrality claim is a passage in which the author tries to appeal to the intended readership by asking them "to accept that the research about to be reported is part of a lively, significant or well-established research area" (Swales 1990: 144).

Examples of centrality claims can be seen below:

Recently, there has been a spate of interest in how to...

The explication of the relationship between ... is a classic problem of ...


Methods

The methodology section is where authors describe what they did and/or what they used. As pointed out by Glasman-Deal (2010), there are several alternative names for this section, inter alia, Materials and Methods, Procedure, Experiments, Experimental, Simulation, Methodology or Model.

In terms of generalisation, a number of building blocks can be argued to make up the methods section. Glasman-Deal (2010) proposes the following menu from which writers can select appropriate items:

The potential building blocks of a methods section (click to expand/contract)

1     Provide a general introduction and overview of the materials/methods        

       Restate the purpose of the work

       Give the source of the materials/equipment used

       Supply essential background information

2     Provide specific and precise details about materials and methods (i.e.
       quantities, temperatures, duration, sequence, conditions, locations, 
       sizes)

       Justify choices made

       Indicate that appropriate care was taken

3     Relate materials/methods to other studies

4     Indicate where problems occurred

 

(Glasman-Deal 2010: 67)


Grammar points for a methods section (click to expand/contract)

A special characteristic of the methods section has to do with grammar aspects. In terms of voice, i.e. the possible alternation between active and passive constructions, passive constructions seem to dominate this section.

Also, in the choice between the present and past tense, the latter is clearly dominant in a methods section.

Taken together, this means that the language used in a methods section is dominated by simple past passive constructions.

Examples of such constructions are given here:

 

A stratified random sample was collected.

The filled bottles were shipped directly to a medical laboratory.


Results

In the results section, the authors of the research article present what they found or observed. Often, the results are presented in tables, charts, diagrams, images, equations or graphs. However, it is customary also to present, describe and comment on these in proper running text passages.

The main reason for these running text passages is that authors want to highlight and single out certain parts of the results as being particularly important. Alternatively, they want to draw some initial conclusions or they want to render their interpretation of some elements of the results. Thus, it is in most cases beneficial to have a written results section as results do not speak for themselves. 

Advice: Matthews & Matthews (2008) on the running text in a results section (click to expand/contract)

"Don't use the text to parrot the information they [tables and figures] contain. Readers can see the data for themselves. Instead, point out salient features and note relationships between the various results."

Matthews & Matthews (2008: 43)


Just as with the Methods section, it is possible to try to generalise a number of components that are typically present in a Results section. Glasman-Deal (2010) suggests the following smorgasbord, which should be seen as comprising four basic components with some of them in turn containing several potential steps:

The potential building blocks of a results section (click to expand/contract)

1     Revisiting the research aim/existing research

       Revisiting/expanding methodology

       General overview of results

2     Invitation to view results

       Specific/key results in detail, with or without explanations

       Comparisons with results in other research

       Comparisons with model predictions

3     Problems with results

4     Possible implications of results

Glasman-Deal (2010: 123)


Discussion

In the discussion section of an experimental research article, authors typically discuss the findings presented in the results section. The discussion section is also where the fairly narrow scope of the methods and results sections again is widened in that the results are linked to and benchmarked with earlier research findings in the field.

This mirrors the outward movement in the model of the hour-glass structure of RAs, previously accounted for in the initial section on RAs. In the words of Kanoksilapatham (2005: 283), the discussion section "contextualizes the reported study and relates it to previous work in the field, reflecting a sense of membership in the larger scientific community".

As argued by Swales (2004), in discussion sections it is the present study and its results that receive primary rhetorical focus and are foregrounded, as opposed to how it seems to be in introduction sections, where the work of others is typically placed centre stage, at least up until the very end of the section.

In terms of internal structure, Glasman-Deal (2010) proposes the following model for what components are typically utilised in discussion sections:

 

The potential building blocks of a discussion section (click to expand/contract)

1     Revisiting previous sections

       Summarising/revisiting general or key results

2     Mapping (relationship to existing research)

3     Achievement/Contribution

       Refining the implications

4     Limitations

       Current and future work

       Applications

Glasman-Deal (2010: 179-180)


Grammar points for a discussion section (click to expand/contract)

It is very common in a discussion section, as well as in a results section, for an author to argue for his or her interpretation of a specific observation or result. In many cases, though, it is not beyond reasonable doubt, for example, what was the cause of a result. For this reason, it is important to be able to express degrees of uncertainty. This can be done in many ways. One of them is through modal verbs.

By way of illustration, consider the following sentences:

(a) The results show that free fatty acids have an significant effect on insulin receptor-beta (IR-β).

(b) The results show that free fatty acids may have an significant effect on insulin receptor-beta (IR-β). 

In sentence (a), the claim that free fatty acids have an effect is made without reservations. In sentence (b), however, the insertion of the modal auxiliary verb may clearly introduces a level of uncertainty in the claim. For example, it could be the case that the free fatty acids could have a significant effect under certain conditions. Thus, modal verbs can be effectively used when there is a need to express different levels of uncertainty of claims made.

Please go to the AWELU section on English grammar and words if you want to learn more about the use of modal auxiliary verbs.


Research articles will normally have a section at the end where the references occurring in the proper text are listed in some logical fashion. See the AWELU section called Sources and Referencing for information on how to write this section.

The Logical Argument RA

In the Logical Argument RA, a top-down, general-specific structure is used. In general, the argumentation moves from known principles to cited observations followed by simplifying equations which are used to account for the observed phenomena (Swales 2004). The logical argument structure is reported to be commonly used in subjects like mathematics, theoretical physics, large areas of economics, theoretical linguistics, biostatistics and computer modeling engineering  (Swales 2004; Tarone et al. 1998).

The Essay Style RA

An essay style RA can be seen as a blown-up version of an undergraduate essay format text. This means that most of the characteristics that are commonly presented in terms of how to write an essay can be adhered to also when writing an essay style RA. Click on the link below to read about the essay format: