Throughout the course of our studies, we have all read a lot of literature reviews or scientific papers, those whose methodological standard we could have learned from and improved and others that make us wonder how they ever made it through the peer- review process of the journal. Nevertheless, we have to admit that we all still make mistakes and sometimes submit manuscripts that do not match APA guidelines. In order to improve our general knowledge about how to format papers in our beloved APA style or to refresh our previous knowledge related to it, this post intends to give a brief overview over the structure of a scientific paper and some other crucial APA features your paper should contain.
Main sections of your research paper
Whereas a literature review summarizes the most important experimental and qualitative studies that have been conducted in a specific are of interest, the experimental report is the most common form, one that you will employ when reporting the results of your own thesis or study. Its structure reflects the scientific method and the steps relate to the course your research project follows. It helps interested readers to quickly find the section they are looking for and as it is universally determined by the APA guidelines, it is easy to memorize since you will always have to follow the same structure. Thus, your paper should cover the following areas of interest:
- why is the topic so important and what the research question and problem is (covered in your introduction)
- what you did in order to approach and solve the problem/research question (covered in your method section
- your findings that will help make the academic world a little bit brighter (result section)
- such as the interpretation of your findings and posterior work should investigate in the future (covered in your discussion section)
Your paper should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. APA recommends you to use 12 pt Times New Roman as your font, since it is well readable. Nevertheless, make sure to check the guidelines for paper submission every journal has in order to prepare and structure your research work according to their wishes. If you refer to them, it might help you speeding up the reviewing process a little bit, since they will not have to make a large amount of technical corrections. In the following paragraph, the sections of a scientific paper are listed chronologically from the beginning of the paper to its end providing some short ideas on the core features that those sections should contain. Normally an experimental report consists of the following sections:
- The title page
The title page should contain the following important parameter: title of the paper, the author’s name, and the institutional affiliation. Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.
All subsequent pages of your article should contain a running head that indicates the title of your paper in the left column of the page, like this:
TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
[Text you want to write on this page]
Beginning a new page after the first one introducing your research, your abstract page should already contain the above mentioned running head. On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, no formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).
Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. Moreover, it should be a single paragraph double-spaced with a normal lenght of somewhat between 150 and 250 words.
You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.
After having briefly described your entire research conducted in your paper, you can now focus on a more detailed presentation of the theoretical background of your research topic. Never forget to refer to the authors you received the theoretical information from and to enlist them later on in the reference list.
4. The method
This section will contain information about the participants of your experimental study, the research design you have employed, the procedure underlying your experiment (or whatever it is you did to collect some qualitative or quantitative data) such as a brief information about the analysis method (for instance: a two- factor ANOVA) you have used to analyze the data collected. Materials or questionnaires that you have presented the participants should be referred to briefly and added to the Appendix section at the end of your paper, because it would interrupt the flow of reading if you inserted it here.
5. The results
A description of the results you have obtained from your research is destined to be presented here. Sometimes, it is useful to present your results in a table or a figure, but they should simply be additional to the results you have mentioned in the text, not replacing it. Focus on a rather descriptive information about your results, since its discussion will follow in the next part.
6. The discussion
Since the result section is rather descriptive and you have suffered from not being able to reveal the brilliant interpretations, this is where you can impress the world out there or your supervisor with the conclusions you have drawn from your data analysis. Nevertheless, do not forget to include limitations and future research ideas in this section.
7. The reference list
Sometimes, you feel like the reference list and those thousands of different citation rules you have to stick to need an entire study programme on its own. It really is crazy, but those previous posts about referencing software and ideas could help you manage it.
8. Appendices (if you have any)
9.Tables and/or figures (if you have any that have been too large to insert already in the result section)
If all of those guidelines seem familiar to you, you have known already and frequently design the papers you write according to it, then you seem to be an APA genius. If this post helped you sort the diffuse ideas you had in your mind, you are more than welcome. But if there are some questions that remain unanswered, discuss them with us here or in our APA Questions and Answers tool here.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
As being part of EFPSA’s JEPS team, Sina Scherer works as JEPS Bulletin’s editor and is currently enrolled in the last year of her Master programme in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. Her fields of interest cover the areas of Intercultural Psychology, Personality and Organizational Psychology such as Health Psychology.
Sina Scherer, studying at University of Münster, Germany, and University of Padova, Italy. I have previously worked as JEPS Bulletin Editor and am active in a NMUN project simulating the political work of the United Nations as voluntary work. I am interested in cognitive neuroscience and intercultural psychology, anthropology and organizational psychology (aspects of work-life balance, expatriation).
I would just like to address this comment from the TC:
Everything is OK, I just heard one conversation that without a written hypothesis and proper literature review no one should start to write an article. I thing that this part belongs to the Introduction but it is possible to have it only in mind when I actually writing a paper and put it on it later. I´ve been just curious, how other people writing their papers.
The order Method > Results > Discussion > Introduction (let's call this the MRDI method) is extremely common in my field (biomedical). From what I can tell there is nothing wrong with it, though your comments are certainly worth discussing.
It's important to distinguish between conceptualizing and writing
Generally, the path from concept to manuscript is not linear or singular. Some phenomenon, questions, or challenges might have sparked us to gather some evidence and perform a hypothesis test. At that stage we might not have writing an introduction, but we would have already known the big three in the introduction section: what is known, what is not, and how can our work help here. So, in a way, your quoted comment seems to have mixed up "research" and "writing." Yes, we may not have the introduction written first, but the big picture is already conceptualized, and recorded in some form not necessarily as a manuscript.
Hypothesis integrated analysis plan
As for the comment on written hypothesis. Again, I think the speaker mixed up "research" and "writing" or he/she was speaking to a group of very new science students. In my field, all analyses were based on hypotheses, and all procedures are predetermined. In a sense, if we come up with any results, it's already implied that hypothesis setting and analysis planning have already been completed.
Don't fuss over the real "order"
Personal experience: Don't sit down and think "Okay, I am going to write the Discussion section and nothing else!" When write, just let your thoughts flow, if later the materials deem more appropriate to be moved to Introduction, so be it.
Same goes for Results section. Some people were very disciplinary about not to interpret any findings in the Results section. But I just write whatever I want in the draft, and then parse out the interpretive parts later. For me, thoughts are thoughts, they just come out like a chain of... sausages of different stuffing, for the lack of a better analogue. After I am done, I'll then go back to cut them up and categorize them. As time goes on I am getting better at churning out sausages of similar stuffing in one chain, but I have no desire to compartment my thought process like how writers compartment a research article.