How to write a standard research article

Caroline Coffin and Rupert Wegerif (r.b.wegerif@exeter.ac.uk)

Research Report Abstract

   What is an abstract?

   How do you structure an abstract?

   Sample Abstract

   The Sample Abstract Analysed

   Finding our more about the moves of an abstract

   Review

   Practice

The Introduction section

   What is an Introduction?

   How do you structure of an introduction?

   The sample introduction analysed

   Finding out more about the moves of an Introduction

The Methods Section

   What is a methods section?

   How do you structure a methods section?

   Sample methods section (abbreviated)

   The sample Methods Section analysed

The Results Section of an IMRD Research Report

   How do you structure a results section?

   Sample Extract from a Results Section (abridged version)

   The sample Results section analysed

   Review

The Discussion and Conclusion section

   What is a discussion and conclusion?

   How do you structure a discussion and conclusion?

   Sample Discussion and Conclusion

   The sample Discussion and Conclusion analysed

   Finding out more about the moves of a Discussion and Conclusion section

   Review

   Practice

Titles and the Research Article as a Whole

   What is the purpose of a title?

   How do you structure a title?

   Practice

The Article as a Whole

   How do you structure the research article as a whole?

   Finding out more about structuring

   Advanced organisers and thematic unity

   Practice

 

Research Report Abstract

What is an abstract?

The abstract of an article may have four different functions:

  • as a planning tool written before the paper
  • as a preview preceding a paper in a journal
  • as an application for a place at a conference
  • as a stand-in for a full paper (the kind that occurs in an abstracting journal)

When you begin thinking about your research article you may find that an abstract is a useful starting point. This is because it can be used as a planning tool to 'scaffold' your whole research article. Writers often use the structure of an abstract to help them work out the key information which will go into each part of the report. For this reason, an abstract may at first exceed the standard 1-200 words. At a later stage, however, this extended version can be reduced for conference application or publication purposes.

Deciding which information to highlight and include in an abstract is an important process. Not only should your abstract reflect the main issues or arguments you are putting forward in your paper but it should also highlight the contribution that your research can make within a particular research community. This enables a reader to quickly assertain from the abstract as to whether the article will be of relevance and significance to their own research interests and needs.

In the section below we will look at how an abstract for an IMRD journal article is typically structured. By looking at an example of a successful abstract we will see what kinds of 'moves' an author typically makes.

How do you structure an abstract?

A successful abstract will typically contain some or all of the moves exemplified in our sample abstract below. First read the sample abstract. As you read, think about how it could be broken down into a series of 'moves' each with a particular function. For example is the first part of the abstract functioning to locate the research within its wider context? Or is it telling you what the purpose of the study is?

Sample Abstract

Title: Computers and reasoning through talk across the primary curriculum

Abstract: Computers are now a fact of primary school life but there is a need for research on how to use them effectively. This paper investigates the use of computers in classrooms as a support for collaborative learning within a socio-cultural pedagogic framework. Three hypotheses are posed: 1) that coaching the practice of reasoning together through talk would improve the quality of group work at computers 2) that computers can be used to support the coaching of reasoning together through talk and 3) that the use of computers as a stimulus for discussion can integrate the generic skill of reasoning together into specific knowledge construction in curriculum areas. These hypotheses are explored through the development and evaluation of an educational intervention programme designed to coach reasoning through talk. The intervention programme incorporates the use of computer software specifically designed to support discussion between children and to direct this discussion towards knowledge construction in the curriculum. Evaluation shows a marked improvement in the quality of children's talk at the computer and also in off-computer tasks designed to provide a measure of group reasoning. Evaluation also shows that the specially designed software was effective in integrating reasoning through talk with curriculum learning. These results are evidence of the educational value of coaching reasoning through talk and suggest a practical approach to the use of computers in primary schools.

Sample abstract based on Wegerif (1996) Using Computers to Help Coach Exploratory Talk Across the Curriculum. Computers and Education. Vol 26, 1-3, p51-60.

The Sample Abstract Analysed

Now you can compare your responses with our analysis of moves and their functions. As you will see below, our sample abstract moves through a number of moves in order to achieve its overall purpose (we elaborate on each of these moves later in this section). Typically any abstract will contain a selection of most of these moves but whilst some of the moves appear to be optional, there are three 'obligatory' moves which a successful abstract should contain. Whether a move is optional or obligatory is shown in brackets.

Move 1: Orientation - Locating the research study within its field/wider context

Example: Computers are now a fact of primary school life

(Optional)

Move 2: Rationale - Creating a 'niche' for the research

Example: but there is a need for research on how to use them effectively.

(Optional)

Move 3: Aim - Providing the aim or purpose of the research

Example: This paper investigates the use of computers in classrooms as a support for collaborative learning within a socio-cultural pedagogic framework. Three hypotheses are posed: 1) that coaching the practice of reasoning together through talk would improve the quality of group work at computers 2) that computers can be used to support the coaching of reasoning together through talk and 3) that the use of computers as a stimulus for discussion can integrate the generic skill of reasoning together into specific knowledge construction in curriculum areas.

(Obligatory)

Move 4: Methods - Outlining the research methodology/ theoretical framework

Example: These hypotheses are explored through the development and evaluation of an educational intervention programme designed to coach reasoning through talk. The intervention programme incorporates the use of computer software specifically designed to support discussion between children and to direct this discussion towards knowledge construction in the curriculum.

(Obligatory)

Move 5: Findings - Outlining the research findings

Example: Evaluation shows a marked improvement in the quality of children's talk at the computer and also in off-computer tasks designed to provide a measure of group reasoning. Evaluation also showed that the specially designed software was effective in integrating reasoning through talk with curriculum learning.

(Obligatory)

Move 6: Interpretation - Giving the general significance of the research findings

Example: These results are evidence of the educational value of coaching reasoning through talk and suggest a practical approach to the use of computers in primary schools.

(Optional)

Finding our more about the moves of an abstract

In this section we provide a fuller account of each of the moves we identified in the sample analysis. We also provide some further examples of each of the moves. These examples are all taken from successful published articles. Notice how we have underlined key words and phrases.

At this point it is also important to point out that although we present the moves in a particular sequence from Move 1 to 6 not all abstracts follow this sequence. For example some abstracts may wish to foreground the main findings of their study and therefore will start with move 5, 'Findings'. Deciding which move to start with is a persuasive or 'rhetorical' strategy and you will need to bear in mind the particular readers or research community which you wish to engage with.

Please note that asterisks have been used to mark the obligatory moves.

Orientation

Many writers will initially locate their research within its wider context by referring to the wider field of research and possibly to similar studies previously undertaken. For example:

Studies of peer interaction among children have generally shown ... (From: Social Development)

Rationale

Some writers will build a brief background for their research in order to locate a niche or a gap for their own, for example by pointing out the limitations or problematic nature of previous studies. This move, is often reserved for the introduction section of the report. For example:

...working with a more able partner has been found to be a particularly effective form of peer interaction. In contrast a model proposed by Karmiloff-Smith suggests that at certain phases of cognitive development children may ignore feedback and information from task activities. These two ideas were tested in a study where ... (From: Social Development)

*3 Aim

The overall purpose or aim of a research study is an obligatory move. Describing what the research study sets out to achieve serves to emphasise its importance and research contribution. For example:

The study addressed the consequences of exchanging ideas while making joint decisions about the paths followed by falling objects.
(From Journal of Computer Assisted Learning)

An interview study ..... was conducted to identify features of the students' reasoning about horizontal and vertical motion
(From International Journal of Science Education)

*4 Methods

This is also an obligatory move which provides a brief outline of the methods used to carry out the research study - for example the population sampled, the research design and the tools developed. Here are some examples:

This paper presents the key findings of an evaluation of a 6 month trial of one Integrated Learning System (ILS) in nine UK. Schools. The pupils in the target population ranged from 8 to 13 years of age. The evaluation design was based on the comparison of outcome performance in mathematics (basic numeracy) and reading.
(From Computers and Education)

This study was undertaken to investigate the verbal interactions of students (about 10 years old) when working in cooperative groups structured on ability (either homogeneous or heterogeneous) using simulation and word-processing software.
(From Journal of Computer Assisted Learning)

*5 Findings

Providing the research findings is another obligatory move. Rather than simply foreshadowing that the report will contain details of the findings, in the abstract these are often specified and may include numerical data. For example, rather than:

This report presents the results of management training on students

the following is more typical:

Management training improved the near-and far-transfer performances of both high- and low-achieving students.
(From Learning and Instruction)

Quantitative results are normally expressed without the use of figures. For example:

Children who were working with a more able partner were found to perform significantly worse than other children.
(From Social Development)

There was no significant main effect for treatment. However a significant main effect on the PLAI I score for low functioning students was found in both conditions
(From Journal of Educational Computing Research)

Interpretation

The findings may be interpreted and generalised to highlight their general significance to the particular field of research. Potential applications may also be referred to. Again, rather than simply indicating that the report will contain general conclusions, the abstract is often more specific. Thus, rather than.

Some implications and consequences are discussed

the following is more functional:

This research shows that only a limited number of students used an efficient drafting (organised draft) even though such a strategy is generally associated with the highest ratings.
(From Learning and Instruction)

Here is another example:

The findings from these two studies indicate that peer interaction can result in poorer learning outcomes, and that Karmiloff-Smith's model should include the possibility of peer interaction effects
(From Social Development)

Review

As you can see from these examples, the information in an abstract is organised and 'shaped' so that a reader can easily find out whether or not an article is relevant and significant to their own research interests and needs. In many ways, it is a telescoped version of the whole article. It provides the essence of the research - in terms of both its design and the significance of its findings.

Practice

Now practise constructing an abstract for a research article that you would like to write and publish. If you have already written an abstract but you feel you could improve it try redrafting it. Use your understanding of moves to make it effective.

The Introduction section

What is an Introduction?

Much work has already been published on the structure of the introduction sections of IMRD research articles. Swales (1990, 1994) in particular presents a comprehensive account. In this section we make use of his CARS (Create a Research Space) Model This model illustrates how an introduction is typically shaped by its purpose of 'creating a research space'. Swales uses an ecological metaphor to suggest that research articles are all competing for 'space'. Thus introductions have to start by establishing the significance of the research field ('establishing a territory'); then provide a rationale for their research in terms of that significance ('establishing a niche'); and finally show how the paper will occupy and defend the ecological niche that has been carved out ('occupying the niche').

How do you structure of an introduction?

In the introduction below you will see an example of the typical moves a successful introduction contains. First read the sample introduction. As you read, think about Swales' ecological niche. How would you divide up the text into the three moves of 'establishing a territory', 'establishing a niche' and 'occupying the niche'?

Sample introduction

Introduction:

Computers are becoming an established part of education in schools throughout the developed world (Plomp and Pelgrum, 1991; Crook, 1994, p 1). However, despite the growing expectation that computers will be available in classrooms, there remains considerable uncertainty and debate over how best to use them. Underwood and Underwood report that even in well-resourced schools computers are often underused because, apparently, teachers claim that they `don't know what to with them' (1990, p 16). Crook's review of the evidence on the impact of computers in school education suggests that computers are often used in a way `decoupled from the mainstream of classroom life' (1994, p 29). Crook and others (e.g. Fisher, 1993) argue that the limited use of computers in classrooms stems partly from the inadequate way their educational role is often conceptualised. This paper joins the debate about how best to integrate the use of computers into classroom education. A socio-cultural approach is adopted, based on the claim that education is essentially a discursive process (Edwards and Mercer 1997), and from this approach it is argued that computers can be used most effectively as a resource for group work and for the support of the teaching and learning of language skills. These arguments where made by Crook (1994) but this paper also argues that the educational implications of a sociocultural analysis go further: to be used effectively, computers must be integrated into the curriculum-based culture of schooling.

The first part of the paper develops an educational strategy for the use of more directive `tutorial' software which can be incorporated by teachers into curriculum-based classroom activities. This strategy is based upon coaching 'exploratory talk' and then encouraging 'exploratory talk' in group work around computers within different curriculum subject areas. 'Exploratory talk' is defined, through the findings of a survey of research on collaborative learning, as that kind of interaction which best supports group problem-solving and group learning. The second part of the paper reports on the implementation and evaluation of an intervention programme which applied the proposed strategy in a primary classroom. The intervention programme was designed to explore three research questions which arose from the educational strategy:

  • Can the quality of children's interactions when working together at computers be improved by coaching exploratory talk?
  • Can computers be used effectively to support the teaching and learning of exploratory talk?
  • Can computer supported collaborative learning integrate peer learning with directive teaching?
  • Can the quality of children's interactions when working together at computers be improved by coaching exploratory talk?
  • Can computers be used effectively to support the teaching and learning of exploratory talk?
  • Can computer supported collaborative learning integrate peer learning with directive teaching?

The sample introduction analysed

Now you can compare your analysis with the one below. In this analysis we have broken down each of the three main moves into smaller steps. Typically any introduction will contain a selection of these steps. Whether the steps are optional or obligatory is marked in brackets.

Move 1: Establishing a territory

Step 1: Claiming significance -showing that the general research area is important, central, interesting or relevant

Example:

Computers are becoming an established part of education in schools throughout the developed world (Plomp and Pelgrum, 1991; Crook, 1994, p 1). However, despite the growing expectation that computers will be available in classrooms, there remains considerable uncertainty and debate over how best to use them.

(optional)

Step 2: Reviewing literature -introducing and reviewing items of previous research in the area

Example:

Underwood and Underwood report that even in well-resourced schools computers are often underused because, apparently, teachers claim that they `don't know what to do with them' (1990, p 16). Crook's review of the evidence on the impact of computers in school education suggests that computers are often used in a way `decoupled from the mainstream of classroom life' (1994, p 29). Crook and others (e.g. Fisher, 1993) argue that the limited use of computers in classrooms stems partly from the inadequate way their educational role is often conceptualised.

(obligatory)

Move 2: Establishing a niche (rationale)

Step 1 - Justifying the research topic - indicating a gap, raising questions, extending knowledge

Example:

These arguments where made by Crook (1994) but this paper also argues that the educational implications of a sociocultural analysis go further: to be used effectively, computers must be integrated into the curriculum-based culture of schooling.

(obligatory)

Step 2 - Justifying the research paradigm -defending the choice of approach/ theoretical framework

Example:

This paper joins the debate about how best to integrate the use of computers into classroom education. A socio-cultural approach is adopted, based on the claim that education is essentially a discursive process (Edwards and Mercer 1997), and from this approach it is argued that computers can be used most effectively as a resource for group work and for the support of the teaching and learning of language skills.

(optional)

Move 3: Occupying the niche

Step 1 Aims and scope of current research - outlining purposes, methodology, stating parameters

Example:

The first part of the paper develops an educational strategy for the use of more directive `tutorial' software which can be incorporated by teachers into curriculum-based classroom activities. This strategy is based upon coaching 'exploratory talk' and then encouraging 'exploratory talk' in group work around computers within different curriculum subject areas.

..........The intervention programme was designed to explore three research questions which arose from the educational strategy:

  • Can the quality of children's interactions when working together at computers be improved by coaching exploratory talk?
  • Can computers be used effectively to support the teaching and learning of exploratory talk?
  • Can computer supported collaborative learning integrate peer learning with directive teaching?

(obligatory)

Step 2 - Definition -defining key terms

Example:

'Exploratory talk' is defined, through the findings of a survey of research on collaborative learning, as that kind of interaction which best supports group problem-solving and group learning.

(optional)

Step 3 - Outline - indicating the structure of the research article

Example:

The first part of the paper develops an educational strategy for the use of more directive `tutorial' software ..............

The second part of the paper reports on the implementation and evaluation of an intervention programme which applied the proposed strategy in a primary classroom.

(optional)

Finding out more about the moves of an Introduction

In this section we provide a fuller account of each of the moves we identified in the sample analysis. We also provide some further examples of each of the moves. These examples are all taken from successful published articles. Notice how we have underlined key words and phrases.

Please also note that asterisks have been used to mark the obligatory moves.

Establishing a territory

Step 1 Claiming significance

This step is designed to persuade the reader of the significance of the research area by showing that the general research area is important, central, interesting or relevant in some way.

*Step 2 Reviewing literature

In this step the writer introduces and reviews items of previous research in the area. For example:

Recently, investigators have examined strategies that are aimed at facilitating learning of factual information (Woloshyn, Willoughby, Wood and Presley, 1990)
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 139

Establishing a niche (rationale)

* Step 1 Justifying the research topic

In this step you can state the reasons why the study is worthwhile. The reasons you put forward may include the theoretical and/or methodological advances that the study will make in a particular research area, the further evidence it will provide to either confirm or disconfirm existing hypotheses, or its social/educational relevance. Here are some examples:

It has, however, been stressed that we need to further our understanding of the relationship between these processes and the learning of mathematics, and we need empirical evidence to clarify their role.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 124)

Textbooks form a major source of information for students in all academic disciplines. Why do students often fail to acquire knowledge from expository texts? How can students be taught and trained to develop and use study skills?
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 151 )

One reason to investigate the level of these skills (university students' argumentation skills) is that the resulting knowledge should help to clarify how the aims of university studies might be attained and direct the evaluation and development of university teaching.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 177)

Sometimes Move 2 is made in the form of a challenge to the claims of previous research. You can do this by drawing the reader's attention to the limitations or problematic nature of previous research either in terms of

  • the theoretical framework used
  • the methodologies employed
  • the generalisability of the findings
  • the comparability of different studies

By pointing out the problems and limitations of previous research a gap or niche is created for the current research study.

For example:

The theory of conceptual change (Posner, Strike, Hewson and Gertzog, 1982) underlying many of these projects has, however, been recognised as largely unsatisfactory...
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 123)

A large quantity of the literature gives evidence of positive effects of ESD use in study texts. But, this research body has some important shortcomings. On the one hand we find methodological problems, on the other hand there are theoretical shortcomings.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 1, 96, 78)

Step 2 Justifying the research paradigm

The purpose of this step is to draw either on previous research studies or current theoretical thinking in order to justify the overall orientation or direction of the current research study. In this way the move serves to 'locate' the researcher. For example:

In the education of mathematics, recent reform programs have proposed that communication as well as reflection is to be viewed as an equally important means when children learn mathematics (Ernest, 1991; Hiebert, 1992).
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 124)

Occupying the niche

*Step 1 Aims or nature of current research

In this step the writer frames the aim of the study as a hypothesis, a research question or as a domain for general exploration.

The aim of this paper is to give an empirical account of how reflection and communication influence learning when children solve a mathematical problem.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 123

Step 2 Definition

In this move writers seek to clarify their understanding of a particular term, concept or construct. To do this they may draw on definitions that have been established and are widely accepted in the research literature. This move may occupy a great deal of the introductory section. At times content based titles serve to structure the terms/ constructs under discussion. In one article from the journal Learning and Instruction (Vol 4, 2, 94 , 152) there are five headings which occupy three pages:

The Study Process

Learning Styles

Study Tasks

Instruction

The Experimental Hypertext Reading Environment

It is important to note that the Definition move does not occupy a predictable place in the sequence of moves. You will find that sometimes the definition is minimal and is embedded in one of the other moves.

Viewed from the learner's perspective, reflection and communication can be described as intellectual tools in the process of learning
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 124)

Studying text is considered here as a problem-solving task. In accordance with widely accepted theories of problem solving (Newell and Simon, 1972; Greeno and Simon, 1988; Hayes, 1989) we distinguish between four categories of study actions, arranged in successive cycles: target setting; information selection;...
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94 , 152)

Step 3 - Outline - indicating the structure of the research article

In this step you can help the reader to anticipate how the article is organised through the use of 'signposting'. Although in an IMRD research article the predictably of the structure makes this step more unusual you may still find it useful to flag important issues and sections as well as the order in which they will occur (e.g. 'First we will define.......,' 'In the second section we will discuss....'). This not only makes the reading easier but it also helps the reader to locate relevant information.

The Methods Section

What is a methods section?

In the methods section of an IMRD article you need to provide an account of what you did in your research study. Many manuals of science writing describe the methods section as simply describing the procedures followed, the 'facts' of the study. However, many methods sections of articles published within the fields of social science and educational and technology research do not confine themselves to description but try to persuade the reader of the Review Strand AWOG value and appropriateness of the methods used through:

situating themselves within a methodological tradition and justifying the methodological choices that were made.

Even though you may find that writing a methods section is less straightforward than is often claimed, many writers begin writing their research article with this section. This is because it is still often easier to write up the notes recorded during an empirical study than it is to construct a persuasive and effective introduction or discussion section.

How do you structure a methods section?

It is quite possible for an effective methods section to have only one move: the description of the procedures followed. However, many IMRD articles also have one or two further moves: orientation, and rationale. Where these moves are present the information contained in them can be generally characterised as moving from the general (orientation) to the specific (description). The orientation move is typically concerned with the overall research paradigm. In this move the writer will outline the overall approach - for example, the choice of qualitative or quantitative methods. A rationale for the choice of method may then be put forward, and, reference to the origins of the research method may also be made. Finally a detailed description of the various aspects of the research design is provided. The following example is an abbreviated version of a sample methods section. As you read, think about whether or not it could be broken down into distinct 'moves'. Is there just a description move or is there an orientation and/or rationale move as well?

Sample methods section (abbreviated)

Methods

Overview of the methods used

The study adopted the 'multiple perspectives' paradigm of educational research proposed by Snyder (1991). This paradigm rejects the dichotomy which some have drawn between `quantitative' methods and `qualitative' methods and asserts the value of combining different perspectives arrived at through using different methods. In pursuit of multiple perspectives three different methods were used: quantitative analysis of test scores; quantitative computer-based discourse analysis and the qualitative analysis of collaborative interactions.

Using video-recordings of group of children talking together while doing shared reasoning tests made it possible to relate the talk of the children to the answers that they gave to particular problems in the test. With this research design it was possible to statistically link changes in test score measures to changes in linguistic features, in a similar way to many coding and counting studies (e.g. King, 1989), but it was also possible to relate extracts of transcripts of groups talking together to their work on specific problems, which is the sort of study normally found in the qualitative discourse analysis tradition (e.g. Mercer, 1995).

One limitation of this method is that it used `artificial' reasoning tests and not normal classroom activities. Some might argue that this means the results would not necessarily be valid for normal activities. Reasoning tests were used despite this possible criticism because they enabled a clear measure to be taken of the effectiveness of different types of interaction and because results of these particular tests, Raven's progressive matrices, when used with individuals, have been shown to correlate closely to educational achievement.

Method 1: Group reasoning tests

A reasoning test, consisting of problems from Ravens progressive matrices, was given to both the target class and a control class, divided up into groups of three, at the beginning of the intervention programme and again at the end. In the target class there were nine groups while in the smaller control class there were five groups. Both classes were of 9 and 10 year old children. There was one question sheet and answer sheet per group and children were encouraged to talk together in reaching a joint solution. In each case the first two questions were used to explain the tests and the tests did not begin until it was clear that all in the class understood the procedure.

Method 2: Computer-based discourse analysis

.................

(Details of the computer based discourse analysis were included here)

Method 3: Qualitative discourse analysis

.................

(Details of the qualitative discourse analysis were included here)

The sample Methods Section analysed

Now you can compare your responses with our analysis of moves and their functions. As you will see below, our sample Methods section has three moves. Whether the steps are optional or obligatory is marked in brackets.

Move 1: Orientation - locating the methods within an overall approach to research

Example:

The study adopted the 'multiple perspectives' paradigm of educational research proposed by Snyder (1991). This paradigm rejects the dichotomy which some have drawn between `quantitative' methods and `qualitative' methods and asserts the value of combining different perspectives arrived at through using different methods. In pursuit of multiple perspectives three different methods were used: quantitative analysis of test scores; quantitative computer-based discourse analysis and the qualitative analysis of collaborative interactions.

(Optional)

Move 2: Rationale - arguing for the choice of methods

Example:

From 'Using video-recordings of group of children talking together while doing shared reasoning tests made ...'

to '...Raven's progressive matrices, when used with individuals, have been shown to correlate closely to educational achievement.'

(Optional)

Move 3: Description - providing details on the subjects, data and procedure

Example:

A reasoning test, consisting of problems from Ravens progressive matrices, was given to both the target class and a control class, divided up into groups of three, at the beginning of the intervention programme and again at the end. In the target class there were nine groups while in the smaller control class there were five groups. Both classes were of 9 and 10 year old children. There was one question sheet and answer sheet per group and children were encouraged to talk together in reaching a joint solution. In each case the first two questions were used to explain the tests and the tests did not begin until it was clear that all in the class understood the procedure.

(Obligatory)

Finding out more about the moves of a Methods section

In this section we provide a fuller account of the three moves we identified in the sample analysis. We exemplify each step with additional examples taken from successful published articles. Key words and phrases are underlined.

Please note that asterisks have been used to mark the obligatory moves.

Move 1: Orientation - locating the methods within an overall approach to research

Many writers will situate their particular methodology within a more general approach to research. Although this approach may have become apparent in the 'Introduction' section it can be restated to emphasise the reflexivity of the researcher. This explicit 'positioning' is particularly common in the social sciences, less so in more traditional science based research articles. Here is an example:

This context relied on a methodology developed in conformity to the principles and criteria of a context bound approach, and on the application of this approach to classroom goal research, combining qualitative and quantitative methods
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6 , (2) p154)

Move 2: Rationale - arguing for the choice of methods

Writers will often argue for their choice of methods. There follows a few of the many possible strategies which you can use as part of this move.

Previous research studies can be referred to. These can act as a shorthand for methods but also lend credibility to the methods being used. For example:

A modification of Bales's (1951) Interaction Process Analysis coding scheme and King's (1988) seven verbal interaction categories were used to develop an observation checklist of eight language categories.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (3), p191

Writers may justify their own methods by pointing out the inadequacies of alternative methods, methods that they could have chosen but decided not to. For example:

To meet the objectives of the present study, and in particular, to show that there is a relationship between the way rough drafts are written and the quality of the final essay, the drafts of more than one class of students had to be analysed. Had we only used one class, the problem posed would have been the relevance of the draft typology defined, and the specific vs. general nature of the corresponding drafting modes for essay exam writing.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6,(2), p115)

Some writers point out modifications made to their methods based on the limitations that emerged as a result of carrying out pilot studies or tests. The methods used to test aspects of design are usually mentioned in brief but they certainly serve to give further credibility to the final design/methods adopted.

Sometimes you may want to attempt to disarm potential criticism by pointing out the limitations of your methods. It is important, however, to make sure that the method is shown to be useful despite its acknowledged limitations. Here is an example from the sample methods section:

One limitation of this method is that it used `artificial' reasoning tests and not normal classroom activities. Some might argue that this means the results would not necessarily be valid for normal activities. Reasoning tests were used despite this possible criticism because ....

* Move 3: Description - providing details on the subjects, data and procedure

The original ideal for methods sections in science articles was to enable other researchers to replicate the study and so check the findings. However, realising this ideal would often require more information than it is practical to put in a research article and may well be impossible in many social science studies. In the writing of a journal article a selection has to be made based on the minimum of information required for the reader to make sense of the study.

The guidelines for making this selection depends on the specific area of the study. It is a good idea to look at other papers in a similar area to see what it is conventional to include and you might also ask colleagues working in a similar area to look at a draft of the paper, to find out if your method section is clear or if they think you need to put in more details.

Typically the research study (sometimes referred to as the 'Experimental Design' in quantitative studies) is broken up into its component parts such as the participants, the data, the method of analysis and these may be used as headings. In some cases sub headings may also be used. Below is an outline of some of the component parts that could be included in the description stage of a large study:

Participants/subjects

In this section the following may be included:

  • Population
  • Sampling procedures
  • Details of Experimental and Control groups

Method of Data collection

In this section writers provide details of questionnaires, semi- structured interviews, tests and so on.

Materials

This section may include details on texts or software that were used in the study.

Procedure of Data Collection/Outline of Procedures

Typically this section includes information on the following: Time period People involved in data collection

(If more than one test or experiment was carried out, it is best to number them)

Method/Type of Analysis

In this section writers explain their method of analysis. For example, their use of keywords or rating scales, the criteria they used to create categories in their analysis of qualitative data or the kind of statistical or discourse analysis carried out.

The Results Section of an IMRD Research Report

The results sections presents results which answer the questions or relate to the hypothesis which were put forward in the introduction section. It is an important section in the overall research articles because it is the basis for your discussion and the conclusions you draw.

How do you structure a results section?

The results section is made up of one move - Description - and this is typically made up of both verbal and visual information. Look at the sample extract from a Results section below. Think about the kind of information that makes up a Description move and how this is expressed - both verbally and visually.

Sample Extract from a Results Section (abridged version)

Results

All the group scores in both target and control classes increased over the period of the intervention programme (see Figure 9). The target class group scores increased by 32% while the control class group scores increased by 15%. The differences between the pre- and post-intervention test scores for all groups in the target class were compared to the differences between the pre- and post-intervention-test scores for all groups in the control class and it was found that this difference was significant (Z = -1.87 p = 0.031. One-tailed Mann-Whitney test, corrected for ties). (These results are presented with more context in Wegerif, 1996).

Figure 9. comparing the pre- to post-intervention change in the means of the target and control group reasoning tests

The sample Results section analysed

In the sample results section you probably noticed that the Description move presents key information in graphical form which is then highlighted in the accompanying text. Notice that information in Figure 1 is not simply repeated in full.

Finding out more about the moves of a Results Section In this section we discuss the Description move further.

Using figures

Perhaps the most significant feature of a Description move is the presentation of data in the form of tables or graphs. If you use quantitative methods you can use these tables and graphs to provide detailed statistical information. For example, the means, standard deviations, correlations and statistical significance. Rather than provide detailed commentary, you can make your data easily accessible in graphic form. You can then simply refer to significant aspects of the data, namely those aspects which will form the basis of your discussion. Remember that if you use graphs and tables you will need to make explicit reference to them in your text. You will also need to provide clear and accurate labels. Here is an example of the interplay between text and figure:

Figure 1 shows that the goals orienting most students' activities are "working goals" (29%). "Evaluation" goals are the second most important type of goals (21%). ...

Figure 1. Profile of students' types of goals (2nd LA).
(Learning and Instruction 1996 Vol 6, (2) p160)

Comparison

In the Description section you may also find that you want to compare results, although comments on the wider significance of the comparison are reserved for the discussion sections. For example:

Using Mann-Whitney's U-test, it has been found that the training group outperformed the control group with both dependent variables (U = 220.5, z=-3.50, p<0.001 for 'value of the farm" and U=294.5, z=-2.30, p=0.01 for "number of years" ).
(Learning and Instruction 1996 Vol 6, (1) p 50)

Sub-headings

Sometimes key research findings may be summarised and used as headings. For example:

The Finnish pupils appear to be more dependent on their teachers in school than their British Peers

If you use discourse analysis as part of a qualitative research paradigm you will find that the conventions vary a great deal. With discourse analysis there is a tendency for the boundary between results and discussions to be unclear. Where qualitative discourse analysis is the main method it is rare to find an IMRD Research Report structure to the article. The style is usually that of a Discursive Article. However short extracts of discourse can be presented as part of a results section in research reports. One possibility is to present, in the results section, extracts from transcripts of spoken text or extracts from written texts and a first level commentary. The first level commentary just provides sufficient context for the reader to interpret the transcript or text. An analysis of the meaning of these extracts is then provided in the following discussion section.

For discourse analysis of this sort, where the transcript figures as a result, it is also possible to take a cyclical approach and provide a first level commentary and an analysis section after each text extract. It is then necessary to pull together the analysis at the end in a final discussion section.

Review

The results section presents the main findings of the study with minimal commentary.

The Discussion and Conclusion section

What is a discussion and conclusion?

In some articles you will find that the two sections, Discussion and Conclusion, may be distinguished and given different headings. In others you will find that the conclusion may be the final one or two paragraphs of the overall discussion. In the case of the latter the phrases 'In conclusion' or 'In summary' often serve to mark the transition from Discussion to Conclusion.

How do you structure a discussion and conclusion?

The discussion and conclusion sections of a research article are made up of a number of moves which do not all follow a predictable sequence. As well, if the research article has focused on two or more distinct studies or experiments, there may be two different Results and Discussion sections followed by a General Discussion and conclusion section. This general section acts to identify commonalities across the two studies, pulling together and synthesising the two sets of findings.

The Discussion section may contain subheadings, which are content based. For example, in an article exploring students' and teachers' goals in the classroom, the following headings appeared:

Discussion

  • Students' Specific Goals
  • Students' Types of Goals
  • Students' goal priorities
  • Potential conflict in students' goals

You may have noticed that in applied discipline areas a separate Conclusion or 'Concluding Remarks' section usually underlines the social relevance and practical applications of the findings (the Recommendations move). The conclusion section may also serve to reiterate the main argument of the paper.

In the example below we illustrate the range of moves that can be selected from and which form part of the Discussion and Conclusion sections. In some articles, these moves may be organised in the form of several cycles, depending on the number of

research questions. First read the sample Discussion and Conclusion. As you read, think about how it could be broken down into moves. For example is the first part of the Discussion functioning to confirm a hypothesis? Or is it suggesting reasons for a particular research finding?

Sample Discussion and Conclusion

Discussion

The research described in this paper confirms the three hypotheses set out in the form of research questions in the introduction. The results indicate:

  • that coaching exploratory talk leads to improved group problem solving;
  • that coaching exploratory talk appears to improve the scores of some individuals on reasoning tests;
  • that computers can be used effectively to support exploratory talk amongst

groups of children and to direct this towards curriculum ends. The finding that children with the lowest initial scores on the individual reasoning tests improved their scores much more significantly after coaching in exploratory talk than high-scoring children was unexpected. This finding suggests that much of the improvement in individual reasoning test scores resulted from the 'internalisation' or 'appropriation' of simple verbal strategies which many of the children had already acquired.

In interpreting these findings it must be remembered that higher scores on reasoning tests do not imply an increase in general intelligence. The scores on these tests measure primarily the children's ability to do these kind of tests.

However the results obtained do support the socio-cultural view that what we mean by 'intellectual development' is not a universal maturational process but results from being drawn into cultural practices and communities of practice. They also lend support to the argument put forward in Wegerif and Mercer (1996) that 'reason' can be described in terms of structuring ground-rules, the rights and duties of participants in dialogue, which are ethical rather than cognitive in content.

Concluding remarks

Being able to reason together with others in order to solve problems and build knowledge is a core practice in most areas of our collective life. The findings presented in this paper suggest that this practice can be taught and that, to educate children to think for themselves we should first teach them to think with others. This paper suggests one way in which new technology could be used to help with the coaching and support of this core practice. The implications of this modest study are such that they indicate a need for further research, both to confirm these findings and to investigate if the same approach can be applied to different areas of the curriculum.

The sample Discussion and Conclusion analysed

Now you can compare your response with our analysis of moves and their functions. As you will see below, our sample Discussion and Conclusion moves through a number of moves in order to achieve its overall purpose (we elaborate on each of these moves later in the section). Typically, a Discussion and Conclusion will contain a selection of most of these moves. Some of these moves are optional and some obligatory. We show whether a move is optional or obligatory in brackets.

Move 1: Referring back to the aims of the research

Step 1 Reiteration of Aims (Optional)

Example: The research described in this paper confirms the three hypotheses set out in the introduction.

Step 2 Dis/Confirmation of hypotheses (Optional)

Example: The results indicate:

  1. that coaching exploratory talk leads to improved group problem solving;
  2. that coaching exploratory talk appears to improve the scores of some individuals on reasoning tests;
  3. that computers can be used effectively to support exploratory talk amongst groups of children and to direct this towards curriculum ends.

Move 2: Interpretation

Step 1 General significance (Obligatory)

Example:

However the results obtained do support the socio-cultural view that what we mean by 'intellectual development' is not a universal maturational process but results from being drawn into cultural practices and communities of practice.

Step 2 Contribution to knowledge (Optional)

Example:

They also lend support to the argument put forward in Wegerif and Mercer (1996) that 'reason' can be described in terms of structuring ground-rules, the rights and duties of participants in dialogue, which are ethical rather than cognitive in content.

Move 3: Explanation (Optional)

Example:

The finding that children with the lowest initial scores on the individual reasoning tests improved their scores much more significantly after coaching in exploratory talk than high-scoring children was unexpected. This finding suggests that much of the improvement in individual reasoning test scores resulted from the 'internalisation' or 'appropriation' of simple verbal strategies which many of the children had already acquired.

Move 4 Problematising (Optional)

Example:

In interpreting these findings it must be remembered that higher scores on reasoning tests do not imply an increase in general intelligence. The scores on these tests measure primarily the children's ability to do these kind of tests.

Move 5: Implications for practice (Optional)

Example:

This paper suggests one way in which new technology could be used to help with the coaching and support of this core practice.

Move 6: Recommendations (Optional)

Example:

The implications of this modest study are such that they indicate a need for further research, both to confirm these findings and to investigate if the same approach can be applied to different areas of the curriculum.

Move 7: Summarising (Optional)

Example:

Being able to reason together with others in order to solve problems and build knowledge is a core practice in most areas of our collective life. The findings presented in this paper suggest that this practice can be taught and that, to educate children to think for themselves we should first teach them to think with others.

Finding out more about the moves of a Discussion and Conclusion section

In this section we provide a fuller account of each of the steps we identified in the sample analysis. We exemplify each step with additional examples taken from successful published articles. Key words and phrases are underlined. Remember that, although these steps are presented in a particular sequence, when you write your own Discussion and Conclusion you may wish to draw attention to a particular step by changing the sequence around.

Please note that asterisks have been used to mark the obligatory moves.

Move 1: Referring back to the aims of the research

Step 1 Reiteration of Aims

The purpose of this step is to link back to the aims of the research study which were outlined in the introduction. This contributes to the overall cohesion of the article. For example:

The studies described here were designed to provide information on the effect of training students to use procedures that encourage closer management of problem-solving activity.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 1, 96, 12)

Step 2 Dis/Confirmation of hypotheses

In this step you can also make links back to previous sections of the research article. The main purpose is to restate the findings of the study and how they relate to the research questions/hypotheses put forward in the introductory sections. Typically you make a statement as to whether the findings confirm or contradict the hypothesis or predicted findings.

Contrary to predictions, very few students used an organised draft.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 2, 96, 126)

Move 2: Interpretation

* Step 1 General significance

The function of this obligatory move is to give significance to the results or findings. Generally, evidence from the study is used to make a deduction or construct a general principle. For example:

The results of this study provide strong evidence that training children to collaborate facilitates group functioning and has a positive effect on student achievement.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (3), 197)

As part of the Interpretation move you may want to draw on established research constructs and paradigms. For example

Within Nuttin's (1984) conceptualisation of motivational development, the prevalence of this type of motivational functioning indicates a motivational alienation.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96, 166)

Sometimes you will want to anticipate and consider alternative ways of interpreting the data as in the examples below:

These results might suggest a functional strategy of co-ordination of multiple goals... However, an individual analysis of each student intentionality revealed a quite different picture, as is discussed below.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96, 166)

These results can be interpreted in two complementary ways.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 5, (3), 197)

Step 2 Contribution to knowledge

Discussions may emphasise the research contribution made by the study in a number of different ways. It may show how previous research has been confirmed as in the example below:

Confirming previous research (Doyle, 1986), the present study also found that compliance is a goal for both teachers and students. That is students' goals to be compliant can ...
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96, 165)

it may show how previous research has been extended. Here are some examples:

The emergence of seven highly distinct types of goals reveals that a variety of motives direct students activities in the classroom, thus adding two distinctive contributions to goal research
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96, 164)

Studies on the influence of classroom structures upon students' goals have generally compared contrasting classroom environments. This study explores the problem of goal consistency within the natural circumstances of regular classroom experiences, and the results raise relevant interesting hypotheses.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96, 167)

Alternatively the move may show how the findings challenge previous research and how modifications may need to be made to the existing body of knowledge. For example:

(these preliminary results)...cast some doubt on the results obtained by Kellog (1988), who concluded that writers who make a mental draft produce essays of comparable quality to those who write their drafts down.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, (2), 96,126 )

Move 3: Explanation

In this move you can suggest reasons for a particular research finding. Typically the move is taken up when your results are unexpected. Here are some examples:

A reason for this exception may be the fact that the given theme , Equality Between the Sexes in School, was quite general and familiar and, hence, it was easier for the students to formulate their own opinion (claim) relating to the theme and ground it.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94, 188)

One possible explanation of the aforementioned mismatch may lie in the inconsistency between teachers' goals and teachers' instructional strategies.
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 2, 96, 166)

The explanation move can be pre-empted by a rhetorical question as in:

What makes such progress in problem solving possible in such a short time (each session lasted for about three quarters of an hour)?
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 2, 96, 183)

Move 4 Problematising

Although this is a rare move, you may sometimes choose to point out problems with the research study, particularly the methodology employed. For example:

...readers must be cautioned not to dismiss the dilemmas of drawing meaning from qualitative data, namely the possibility of tautological reasoning and conceptual deification
(Learning and Instruction ???

Move 5: Implications for practice

In this move, recommendations or suggestions for the application of the research findings are made. That is, you outline the possible social/pedagogic implications. For example:

Experiment 2 suggests that practitioners should evaluate the critical features of the task in order to support retrieval
(Learning and Instruction Vol 4, 2, 94, 147)

Move 6: Recommendations

As part of a Conclusion section there is often a move which points to gaps in the research which the current study has revealed and which future studies could explore. Here are some examples:

Further research is needed to understand how students organise the pursuit of qualitatively different and potentially contradictory goals within the classroom setting.................
(Learning and Instruction Vol 6, 2, 96, 164)

Move 7: Summarising

As the final part of a Conclusion section there is often a move which repeats the main point or points of the paper. For example:

In summary, the learning journal appeared to provide a very powerful intervention ...
(Learning and Instruction Vol 5, 2, 95, p 184)

Review

The moves of a Discussion and Conclusion section serve to draw together the paper. This section refers back to the paper as a whole to show how it fulfilled the aims and agenda set up in the introduction and then goes on to make its communicative purpose explicit by spelling out its main message or contribution.

Practice

Now write or re-draft your own Discussion and Conclusion section. Use the moves and steps suggested to help you.

Titles and the Research Article as a Whole

In the study guide so far we have dealt with the main stages of a typical IMRD research article one at a time. This final section of the study guide deals with putting all those stages together into a whole article. The details have been covered in the previous sections and this section gives an overview of the research article and deals with the issue of coherence, or how the sections of the article all work together as a whole.

Although you will have had a working title this will often be revised once a draft article has been completed. The title is therefore often the last part of the article to be written. It puts a stamp of unity upon the article.

What is the purpose of a title?

The purpose of an article title is to highlight the main dimensions of the research study being reported. Some titles may also act to draw the reader in by taking an unusual 'angle'.

How do you structure a title?

A title brings together the key features of the study in a highly compressed and summarised form, for example:

  • Computers and reasoning through talk across the primary curriculum
  • Students' drafting strategies and text quality
  • Functions, use and effects of embedded support devices in printed distance learning materials.

Make sure that the key words and traditions of research referred to in the title are picked up in the main body of the article. If the title refers to cooperative learning it is not a good idea to refer only to collaborative learning in the article even if these concepts are being used to mean the same thing.

The way a title is written often situates the article within a research tradition. In the titles above there are references to 'drafting strategies' and then to 'embedded support devices' - these phrases refer the reader to previous research and articles which used these same phrases. This referencing will attract a certain type of reader who will expect a certain type of article and be disappointed if the promise of the title is not followed through. It is necessary to be very sensitive to the key words, phrases and styles of writing being used to signal allegiance to different traditions in your research area in order to be sure that your title gives the impression that you want.

The title:

A Pedagogic Intervention to Enhance Metacognitive Strategies

for example, will attract a different audience from:

Working with Teacher's to improve the Quality of Children's Talk in the Classroom

although both could be ways of referring to the same original study.

When titles are designed to attract attention, their use of 'angle' is similar to that exploited by newspaper headlines. Word play or the use of unexpected vocabulary will often work to engage the reader's curiosity. Typically, 'angle' is created in the first part of the title whereas the last part of the title acts to provide a more concrete rendering of the research study. For example:

Orchestrating a mathematical theme: eleven year olds discuss the problem of infinity

There is more than one way to solve a problem: evaluating a learning environment that supports the development of children's multiplication skills

Practice

Now consider your draft article as a whole and try to produce several titles that could fit. Before you do this look at several issues of the journal you wish to apply for (or the report series you are writing for) in order to for an idea of the way in which titles are being formed in your area. Ask colleagues in the same area as you for their reactions to the titles you suggest.

The Article as a Whole

How do you structure the research article as a whole?

The classic pattern of a science research article is: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion or IMRD. The introduction moves in from the general, current research issues and needs, to the particular, the aims of the paper. The Methods and Results sections remain narrow and focused on the details of the particular study and the Discussion and Conclusion section moves from the particular out to the general again to show how the study relates to the larger context. In the social sciences, the Methods section often repeats the pattern of the Introduction, moving from the general, the range of possible methods available, to the particular method used. This movement from general to particular is achieved through situating and justifying the approach taken. The overall structure of the article is illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The typical structure of a Research Report

The movements indicated in this diagram refer to elements described earlier in the guide. The two moves of the Introduction that claim significance for the article show how to move from the broad perspective of the interests of potential readers to the narrower focus of the article. A similar move is effected at the beginning of the methods section when the choice of methods is argued for. This move, increasingly necessary in social science article, is not found in science areas where the choice of method is not controversial. Finally all the moves of the discussion section, apart from the summary, move out from the specific study to the more general perspective in which the study is located, this is done through describing its significance, through drawing out implications or describing the possible future research it leads on to.

Finding out more about structuring

Part to whole relation

It is easy to lose sight of the place of the section currently being written in the overall argument of the paper. To help the reader it is useful if you provide organising devices which show very clearly where each part fits in to the whole paper. The headings of IMRD sections often make the structure very explicit so that the reader needs little further guidance. For example, if you are in the section headed Methods and the subsection is headed Subjects, you know roughly what to expect. I this case the subsection can start with the facts e.g.

Subjects

Forty mixed ability year two pupils from a state infant school took part in the experiment ...

(S. Ainsworth et al. 1998 Learning and Instruction, 8, 2, 141-159)

However this clear framework signalled by headings with a shared meaning is not available in the more discursive sections of the paper, the Introduction and the Discussion. Here other devices have to used to show the relation of the part to the whole and to integrate the point being made in each paragraph or sub-section into the purpose of the whole article.

We have noted how the structure of the article as a whole locates a research study and gives it significance by moving from the general to the specific details and then out to the general again. The same pattern is often found repeated in each sub-section of the Introduction and the Discussion stages. The first sentence introduces the reader to what the sub-section is about and why it is important and the last sentence summarises, draws a conclusion and possible links on to the next sub-section.

This technique is well illustrated in the paper on students' and teachers' goals quoted below. Each small sub-section is giving a heading clearly indicating the content, this is then almost repeated in the first sentence which introduces the topic and the conclusion of the section is summed up in the last sentence which also often points forward to the next section.

Here is an example of pointing forward. The sub-section of the discussion headed

Student's intentionality, begins:

The learning and evaluation dimensions of the classroom environment seem to elicit an intentionally oriented action on the part of students ...

This expands and elaborates the significance of the title to draw the reader in to the section. The details follow in the body of the section and the final sentence refers to the whole analysis in a sort of backward glance in order to point the reader forwards:

However an individual analysis of each student's intentionality revealed a quite different picture as is discussed below.
(M. S. Lemos, 1996, Learning and Instruction, Vol 6, 2, p 151-171)

Here is an example from a different article of a movement in to specific content followed by a movement out again.

The sub-section is headed Types of Solution and begins:

In addition to increasing he number of solutions, we were also interested in examining whether the types of answers changed after the intervention.

This expands on what is meant by the heading. Details of possible types of solution are then given leading to the final sentence which draws a conclusion from this sub-section:

Rather than learning a few common approaches to these problems from the computer, the range of solutions given suggests that children were generating their own decomposition strategies.
(S. Ainsworth et al. 1998 Learning and Instruction, 8, 2, 141-159)

This is one sub-section of a series of sub-sections in the discussion each of which presents details and then draws a conclusion in the final sentence. All the threads of these conclusions are then brought together in a final short section to the paper as a whole which is headed simply Conclusions.

Advanced organisers and thematic unity

As we saw in the Introduction section of the guide (note a typical 'sign-post'!) the Introduction will often include an outline of the structure of the rest of the article. This is an 'advance organiser' providing a map to help the reader make sense of what is to come. The discussion and conclusion section should refer back to the points raised in the introduction and examined in the sections of the paper. This may be done by picking up the research aims outlined in the introduction and showing how they have been dealt with or it may be done by running back over the article and summarising the main points of each section.

Strong thematic unity can be achieved by posing a set of hypotheses or research questions in the introduction, referring to these in the methods section to show how the method are intended to answer the questions posed, referring to these again in the results possible by structuring the results around the questions or hypotheses and finally re-stating them as knowledge claims in the discussion.

This approach can be seen in Schnotz et al (1993) How do successful and unsuccessful learners use texts and graphics? (Learning and Instruction, 3, 3, 181-201). Three themes are set up as hypotheses in a section marked Research Questions and Hypotheses:

  • Successful learners use a graphic more intensively in that they ...
  • Successful learners retrieve more model-building information from an available text than do unsuccessful learners
  • Successful learners adapt more to the demands of the mental model construction. ...

These themes are then referred to indirectly in the way the methods and the results are described and referred to explicitly in the first section of the discussion in terms of knowledge claims that have been supported by the findings of the study.

With this kind of strong thematic unity maintained throughout the paper the central message is made very clear. The average reviewers will probably spend less time on your paper than you do in writing one or two paragraphs. It therefore pays to be very clear and show how each part relates to the central purpose even if this involves apparent repetition. Do not simply give the reader the story of your research and expect them to decipher the import - tell them first the significance of what you are going to write, write it and then tell them the significance of what you have written.

Sign-posts and organisers link sections of an article together into an overall narrative by telling the reader where they have been and where they are going.

In addition to the major advance organisers at the beginning and the end of the article as a whole it is also common, and often useful, to include similar organising devices in each section. We have noted how many Methods sections have an introduction which gives background to the choice of methods. The same is often true in each section of more theoretical articles and in sub-sections of the Introduction and the Discussion of empirically-based articles.

Practice

Look at your whole draft paper and see if the internal coherence and the structure can be improved. Does the conclusion refer back to the aims set up in the introduction? Is it clear how every sub-section contributes to the aim of the paper?

Creative Commons Licence
How to write a standard research article by Rupert Wegerif, Caroline Coffin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.