Elements of an Academic Article

Most articles are divided into six sections, although you may see variations based on discipline, journal or method.


The abstract is a synopsis of the article. It includes the purpose of the article, the method used and a brief summary of the conclusion or results. It is typically 100-250 words in length. This is not the same as your introduction in that it must summarize and briefly state conclusion, rather than simply introduce.

Introduction and Background

This area provides the reason and purpose for researching a topic, why it is important and any background.

Literature Review

The literature outlines the research that already exists on a topic. It starts with the theoretical grounding for the research and provides a recap of the major works in the field. Then, it narrows the focus to the specific topic being researched in this article. The literature should include any related studies published in the main journals in your field, any related studies that connect it to other fields and articles from popular press that support or add to the understanding of the topic. The literature review should tell the story of what has happened in the field regarding this topic up to now and should identify the place of your research within it.


This section explains how data will be collected for the study, whether quantitative or qualitative analyses will be used, what kind of sample will be used, if any, and how it will be derived, and what statistical tests will be applied to the data. Methods can include survey, experiment, content analysis, observation or other applicable method. Reading other research papers (we will read several) will help you identify an appropriate method. Mixed methods (using more than one method) can also be used, but may not be appropriate for the short timeframe of this session. The methodology section will also include any research questions that you plan to answer or any hypotheses you will test.


The hypotheses or research questions are recapped, and the results of the statistical tests provided. The article will indicate whether the hypotheses were supported (hypotheses are not “proven”) or unsupported. If the article uses research questions rather than hypotheses, it will provide answers to the research questions based on the results.

Discussion and Conclusion

This is where the author(s) draw conclusions about the meaning of the results. You should summarize your results and discuss any implications. This area should address the contribution your research has made to the field. It should answer the question “So what?” Why was this research important? This section should also include any limitations of this research (small sample size, non-generalizable sample, etc.) and directions for future research.
When you are reading other research papers, you can look at the first 2-3 pages and the last 2-3 pages to get a sense of the direction and conclusions of the research. Reading these pages can give you the “big picture” of what the author is trying to say, so you can then read the full article and determine for yourself whether he or she has done an adequate job of supporting their thesis. While you read any academic article you should question the appropriateness of the method, sample, statistical tests used, any assumptions made, the thoroughness of the background research and whether or not the research questions or hypotheses were analyzed appropriately.