Parts of a Research Article

A research article is written by one or several authors who have conducted original research (Dunifon, 2005). Research can be conducted on primary data (new data) and/or secondary data (data collected for another purpose) (Dunifon, 2005). When a study is complete, researchers often publish articles in journals as the primary means of making their research public.

There are many benefits to reading research articles (Dunifon, 2005):

  • Research articles are the best source of tested, evidence-based information.
  • By going to the source of information, readers can draw their own conclusions about the quality of the research and its usefulness to their work.
  • Readers can use the research to inform decisions about their programs, including decisions about program development, design, or discontinuation.
  • Readers can incorporate the evidence into their practice or resource materials.

Anatomy of an article

Researchers tend to follow a common framework when they write an article:

1. Title, author, and contact information: Typically, research articles begin with a title. Next, the authors are identified along with their affiliation (i.e., who they work for, such as a university or agency). Usually, one author - who can be contacted for further information or permission to use the article - is listed at the bottom of the first page of the research article. 

2. Abstract: This is a summary of the research article. It provides an overview of the research, which is useful to determine if the article is relevant to the reader’s work. Abstracts typically follow a standard format. The authors briefly state why the research is important, the methodology used, the results, and a concluding statement based on the findings.

3. Introduction or literature review: In this section, the authors describe the rationale for the study by outlining what research has already been done in this area. The literature review provides the reader with a summary of other research related to the topic. It also addresses questions that remain unanswered or require additional research (Dunifon, 2005). In general, this is also the section where the authors’ research question is introduced, and hypotheses or anticipated results are stated.

4. Methods or methodology:  In this section, the authors outline how the research was conducted. Key elements that the authors describe in this section include:

  • Participants in the study including the sample size and a description of those participants (e.g., age, gender, education level).
  • How participants were selected for the study (e.g., random sample, convenience sample, census)
  • What was measured and how was it measured (e.g., depressive symptoms among girls aged 11-17 were measured using the Beck Depression Inventory)
  • An explanation of how the data was analyzed (e.g., logistic regression)


5. Results: The authors present the research findings in this section. Any statistical analyses that the authors conducted are described as well. The results are often displayed using tables, charts, or figures along with a written explanation. 

6. Discussion: In this section, the authors interpret the results. The authors may provide possible explanations for what they found, including an interpretation of unexpected results.

7. Conclusion and summary: In this section, the authors summarize what they found and link it back to the current literature in the area. Often, any limitations of the study are described in this section. For example, if the researchers used a convenience sample to recruit participants, the results may not apply to people that are different in some way from the study participants. The authors may also suggest directions for future research in this section.

8. References or sources: The references section lists the publications that the authors cited in the article. The references may help the reader judge the quality of the article and can be used to learn more about the topic area.
Qualitative research articles can follow a similar pattern as quantitative research articles (the type of article described in this summary) or they can appear quite different.

Sometimes, authors choose to represent their findings in a way that mirrors the methods they used to collect the data. For example, if the authors collected life stories, they may present their findings in a story format. Regardless of style or type of research article, the author should describe what is being studied and why, the methods used, the results, and their implications.


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