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:
Discussion and 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.
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' 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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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: