Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 7

The Structure of Academic Texts

An important feature of academic texts is that they are organized in a


specific way; they have a clear structure. This structure makes it
easier for your reader to navigate your text and in that way understand
the material better, but it also makes it easier for you to organize your
material. The structure should be clear on all levels of the academic
text: the entire text, each section, every paragraph, and even
sentences.

The Structure of the Entire Text and of Each Section

Most academic texts in the sciences adhere to the model called imrad,
which is an acronym for introduction, methods and materials, results,
and discussion. Imrad is often illustrated with the following image (see
explanation below).

The model should however be complemented with sections for aims


and research questions, as these make up the very backbone of the
academic text. They often appear towards the end of the introduction,
but sometimes after a separate heading.

Below is an overview of what should be included in each of the


sections of the academic text, as well as advice on how you can make
the text coherent and how to structure your text.

Aim

The aim determines the entire academic text and the content in all its
parts. The aim captures what you intend to achieve with your study.
One example could be that the aim was to investigate how effective
nursing interventions are for smoking cessation. It is crucial that the
aim is the exact same in every part of the academic text. The title
should highlight the same aspects as the explicit aim, and all the
subsequent parts should have the same focus.

Research questions
The aim is often rather general, and may have to be narrowed down
with research questions. Research questions are, in other words,
specific questions that will enable you to reach your aim. For the
example above, the research questions could be What nursing
interventions exist? and How many patients are still smoke free after
one year?. Remember that there must be a clear link between your
aim and your research questions, but they should not be identical. Only
ask questions that will help you to fulfil your aim.

If you have several research questions, you should consider the order
of these. Is there a logical order, so that some questions may only be
understood after having read others? Are some questions more
important than others? Place the research questions in an order that
makes sense to you and then keep to the order in the rest of your
thesis.

Your aim and your thesis must be delimited and narrow, as we can only
research a small part of the world in our studies. That is the reason
that the parts that concern what we have done in our study methods
and results are narrow in the imrad model above.

Introduction

In order to make our narrow research interesting to others we must


however place it in a larger context. For that reason the introduction of
the text must start with something much more general than your
research questions. It is often said that the introduction should be
shaped like a funnel (as it is in the imrad model above) that means
that you should start in a broad and general manner and then gradually
zoom in on your own specific and narrow topic. The text needs to start
with something that your reader can relate to, and something that
shows what field your research will contribute to, and how.

The introduction should provide everything the reader needs to know


in order to understand your aim, but also to understand why the aim is
important. Convincing your reader that your aim is important often
entails showing that there is something we do not know, but that we
would benefit from knowing perhaps in order to provide better care or
develop a new drug or a new treatment method. It could also entail
indicating that there is a problem with an existing method and that
alternative methods are needed. When you have accounted for the
context and pointed to the importance of new knowledge in the field,
your reader will be well prepared when you present your aim and
research questions towards the end of the introduction. (As mentioned
above, the aim and research questions are sometimes placed under a
separate heading, which may be placed right after the introduction.)

Please note that the introduction may also be called background.


Sometimes the two terms are used for the exact same thing, but
sometimes there is a difference. There may be a short introduction
that raises interest and gives a very short introduction to the field, and
which is followed by a more extensive background section. Sometimes
your instructions specify what parts your thesis or assignment should
include, and what should be included in each part but if not, you
could ask your teacher. If you are writing a thesis you can also
examine previous theses from your field in order to get an idea how
they normally look. (Just remember that theses may differ from each
other significantly, so in order to get a good perception, it may be a
good idea to look at several theses.)

Methods and Materials

In the methods section you should show your reader exactly how you
have conducted your research, that is, what you have done to be able
to fulfill your aim and answer your research questions. Firstly, your
reader should understand how you got the results you did, and
secondly, they should be able to duplicate your research. But what do
we mean by exactly how you conducted your research? You do not
need to tell your readers that you went to the library or that you talked
to Barbro the librarian. Neither do you need to tell your readers about
all the ideas that you had but did not use. The most important thing is
to focus on what you actually did in your study, as well as account for
the choices you made, when necessary.
It is helpful if you begin your methods section by writing something
overarching about your method, mentioning your study design. If you
tell your readers right away that your work is a literature review or that
your method is to interview nurses using a semi-structured interview,
it is easier for the readers to understand than if you go straight to the
details about your search process or the study group, without telling
your readers what you intend to do with them.

Results

In the results section you should account for your results in an


objective manner, without interpreting them (that you do in the
discussion part). If you study several aspects related to your research
questions you should account for the results in the same order that
you posed your research questions; the consistent order makes the
text coherent and helps your reader follow your points.

It may help your readers if you use illustrations such as tables and
charts when presenting your results. The illustrations should be clearly
linked to your text, but you should not repeat all the information
provided in the chart. Instead you can account for the most important
aspects, that is, tell your reader what you want them to observe.
Please note that tables and charts should be understandable without
reading the body text, so it is important that you have a caption that
indicates what your picture illustrates.

Discussion

The discussion part is the part in which you interpret your results, and
it is also the part that takes longest to write. The reason is that you do
not merely write about something that you have already done you
actually write and analyze at the same time. All parts of your
discussion should focus on the analysis of your results there should
not be too much repetition from your background, your methods and
materials, or your results (sometimes you may need to remind your
readers about things that you have accounted for in these parts, but
there cannot be too much focus on them). Please read the section
about the principles of paragraphing and topic sentences and make
sure that each paragraph except the very first one contains some
analysis of your topic. A common outline of the discussion is the
following:

The first paragraph reminds your reader about the aim, preferably
hinting at how you will contribute to the field. You may for example
write This is the first study to examine the correlation between
Then you briefly account for the most important parts of your results,
perhaps linking them to your hypothesis if you have one. You may say
that the first paragraph makes for a shortcut into the discussion: it
should enable your readers to understand the discussion without
reading all the sections of your thesis.

The rest of the discussion should analyze and discuss your results. It
may be helpful to keep the following questions in mind:

What do your results mean?

How do they relate to previous research? What are the reasons


for potential differences between your study and previous research?
What do potential similarities indicate?

How may your method have affected your results?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the study? How do


they affect your results?

How are your results important to future development? What are


the clinical implications, for example?

What kind of research is needed in the field in the future, and


why?

It is also common to divide the discussion into two parts, a results


discussion and a methods discussion. If you do that, you first focus on
the results of your study, and then scrutinize your methods.

Conclusion

In your conclusion you should fulfil your aim and account for what you
have found in your study. When you write your conclusion you have a
golden opportunity to check and make sure that all the parts of your
thesis are connected and that the same parts are central in each part
of the text in other words, that you actually do what you promise to
do.

Please remember that the conclusion should not merely be a brief


repetition of your results in that case your discussion would seem
fairly pointless. Focus instead on what your results may imply after
careful consideration (consideration that you have outlined in your
discussion).

However, accounting for what you have found in your study does not
mean that you can or even should say anything for sure clear
conclusions cannot often be drawn from a small study, if ever. Focus
instead on what your results may imply and it rarely hurts to note
that more research is needed.

The Structure of Paragraphs

The academic text has an expected structure even in each paragraph.


Each paragraph should begin with something more general and then
gradually become more specific. Each paragraph should also be about
one thing, and each paragraph should add something new and
contribute with something that no other paragraph contributes with.
To be able to achieve a clear structure in each paragraph you can
use topic sentences.

The Structure of Sentences

Sentence structure also affects your text and how it is perceived. What
comes first in a sentence is often given more attention and appears to
be most important. Read more about the structure of sentences.

Making Your Structure Visible and Indicating How Different Parts


Relate to Each Other

A clear structure also entails that different parts are clearly


connected to each other. Two ways of achieving a clear structure are
to use transition words and start sentences with what your
readers have just read about.