Academic paper structure

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Typical structure of academic papers

Published academic papers in journals (and book articles) often follow a format like the one below. Science papers follow this rather rigidly, and quantitative papers in social sciences generally follow this structure. Qualitative papers in social sciences and other fields deviate from this more so, and humanities papers can be much more free-form, as the topic requires. But papers will generally have these elements to some degree, even if they do not constitute separate sections (that are sectioned off and labelled with subheaders) in the paper.

Abstract A paragraph, separate from the body of the paper, that provides an overview and summary of the paper and its findings or conclusions; this is useful for indexing purposes, and to see if you want to read the whole paper
Introduction One or several paragraphs introducing the issue, including the thesis statement and overview of the paper
Literature review Previous published research studies (literature) or scholarly writings about the topic are reviewed and critiqued
Research question or hypothesis The main question that the writer wants to investigate (this is usually part of the intro or lit review in science and social science papers; this is not usually explicitly stated in humanities and theoretical papers)
Main body & discussion (humanities) The author’s original research, analysis, and/or findings.
Experiment / study (science / soc. sci.) Science & quantitative papers (e.g., social sciences):

Details of the study or experiment conducted, including: subjects / participants, materials, procedures, statistical results

General discussion (science / soc. sci.) Interpretation of the quantitative study and how it addresses the research question / hypothesis, and critique of the author’s findings cf. previous research; implications
Conclusion Summary of main findings, implications, or rationale of the research

An explicitly stated research hypothesis is common in quantitative research, while in other types of research it may be a less specific research question.