Throughout the course of our studies, we have all read a lot of literature reviews or scientific papers, those whose methodological standard we could have learned from and improved and others that make us wonder how they ever made it through the peer- review process of the journal. Nevertheless, we have to admit that we all still make mistakes and sometimes submit manuscripts that do not match APA guidelines. In order to improve our general knowledge about how to format papers in our beloved APA style or to refresh our previous knowledge related to it, this post intends to give a brief overview over the structure of a scientific paper and some other crucial APA features your paper should contain.
Main sections of your research paper
Whereas a literature review summarizes the most important experimental and qualitative studies that have been conducted in a specific are of interest, the experimental report is the most common form, one that you will employ when reporting the results of your own thesis or study. Its structure reflects the scientific method and the steps relate to the course your research project follows. It helps interested readers to quickly find the section they are looking for and as it is universally determined by the APA guidelines, it is easy to memorize since you will always have to follow the same structure. Thus, your paper should cover the following areas of interest:
- why is the topic so important and what the research question and problem is (covered in your introduction)
- what you did in order to approach and solve the problem/research question (covered in your method section
- your findings that will help make the academic world a little bit brighter (result section)
- such as the interpretation of your findings and posterior work should investigate in the future (covered in your discussion section)
Your paper should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. APA recommends you to use 12 pt Times New Roman as your font, since it is well readable. Nevertheless, make sure to check the guidelines for paper submission every journal has in order to prepare and structure your research work according to their wishes. If you refer to them, it might help you speeding up the reviewing process a little bit, since they will not have to make a large amount of technical corrections. In the following paragraph, the sections of a scientific paper are listed chronologically from the beginning of the paper to its end providing some short ideas on the core features that those sections should contain. Normally an experimental report consists of the following sections:
- The title page
The title page should contain the following important parameter: title of the paper, the author’s name, and the institutional affiliation. Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.
All subsequent pages of your article should contain a running head that indicates the title of your paper in the left column of the page, like this:
TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
[Text you want to write on this page]
Beginning a new page after the first one introducing your research, your abstract page should already contain the above mentioned running head. On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, no formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).
Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. Moreover, it should be a single paragraph double-spaced with a normal lenght of somewhat between 150 and 250 words.
You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.
After having briefly described your entire research conducted in your paper, you can now focus on a more detailed presentation of the theoretical background of your research topic. Never forget to refer to the authors you received the theoretical information from and to enlist them later on in the reference list.
4. The method
This section will contain information about the participants of your experimental study, the research design you have employed, the procedure underlying your experiment (or whatever it is you did to collect some qualitative or quantitative data) such as a brief information about the analysis method (for instance: a two- factor ANOVA) you have used to analyze the data collected. Materials or questionnaires that you have presented the participants should be referred to briefly and added to the Appendix section at the end of your paper, because it would interrupt the flow of reading if you inserted it here.
5. The results
A description of the results you have obtained from your research is destined to be presented here. Sometimes, it is useful to present your results in a table or a figure, but they should simply be additional to the results you have mentioned in the text, not replacing it. Focus on a rather descriptive information about your results, since its discussion will follow in the next part.
6. The discussion
Since the result section is rather descriptive and you have suffered from not being able to reveal the brilliant interpretations, this is where you can impress the world out there or your supervisor with the conclusions you have drawn from your data analysis. Nevertheless, do not forget to include limitations and future research ideas in this section.
7. The reference list
Sometimes, you feel like the reference list and those thousands of different citation rules you have to stick to need an entire study programme on its own. It really is crazy, but those previous posts about referencing software and ideas could help you manage it.
8. Appendices (if you have any)
9.Tables and/or figures (if you have any that have been too large to insert already in the result section)
If all of those guidelines seem familiar to you, you have known already and frequently design the papers you write according to it, then you seem to be an APA genius. If this post helped you sort the diffuse ideas you had in your mind, you are more than welcome. But if there are some questions that remain unanswered, discuss them with us here or in our APA Questions and Answers tool here.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
As being part of EFPSA’s JEPS team, Sina Scherer works as JEPS Bulletin’s editor and is currently enrolled in the last year of her Master programme in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. Her fields of interest cover the areas of Intercultural Psychology, Personality and Organizational Psychology such as Health Psychology.
Sina Scherer, studying at University of Münster, Germany, and University of Padova, Italy. I have previously worked as JEPS Bulletin Editor and am active in a NMUN project simulating the political work of the United Nations as voluntary work. I am interested in cognitive neuroscience and intercultural psychology, anthropology and organizational psychology (aspects of work-life balance, expatriation).
Structure of a Research Paper
While academic disciplines vary on the exact format and style of journal articles in their field, most articles contain similar content and are divided in parts that typically follow the same logical flow. Following is a list of the parts commonly found in research articles.
- Literature Review
Research papers are organized so that the information flow resembles an hourglass in that it goes from general to specific and then back to general again. The introduction and literature review sections will introduce the problem and provide general information. The methods and results will provide specific, detailed information about this research project and the discussion/conclusion will discuss the findings in a larger context. The following section will describe each of these parts in more detail. Additional information can be found in the Resources section of this module and in the Suggested Readings.
The title should be specific and indicate the problem the research project addresses using keywords that will be helpful in literature reviews in the future.
The abstract is used by readers to quickly review the overall content of the paper. Journals typically place strict word limits on abstracts, such as 200 words, making them a challenge to write. The abstract should provide a complete synopsis of the research paper and should introduce the topic and the specific research question, provide a statement regarding methodology and should provide a general statement about the results and the findings. Because it is really a summary of the entire research paper, it is often written last.
The introduction begins by introducing the broad overall topic and providing basic background information. It then narrows down to the specific research question relating to this topic. It provides the purpose and focus for the rest of the paper and sets up the justification for the research.
The purpose of the literature review is to describe past important research and it relate it specifically to the research problem. It should be a synthesis of the previous literature and the new idea being researched. The review should examine the major theories related to the topic to date and their contributors. It should include all relevant findings from credible sources, such as academic books and peer-reviewed journal articles.
The methods section will describe the research design and methodology used to complete to the study. The general rule of thumb is that readers should be provided with enough detail to replicate the study.
In this section, the results of the analysis are presented. How the results are presented will depend upon whether the research study was quantitative or qualitative in nature. This section should focus only on results that are directly related to the research or the problem. Graphs and tables should only be used when there is too much data to efficiently include it within the text. This section should present the results, but not discuss their significance.
This section should be a discussion of the results and the implications on the field, as well as other fields. The hypothesis should be answered and validated by the interpretation of the results. This section should also discuss how the results relate to previous research mentioned in the literature review, any cautions about the findings, and potential for future research.
The research paper is not complete without the list of references. This section should be an alphabetized list of all the academic sources of information utilized in the paper. The format of the references will match the format and style used in the paper. Common formats include APA, MLA, Harvard and so forth.