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Academic Writing

Information designed to assist students in identifying different types of academic writing, and the purpose behind each.

Diagram of Research Paper using an Hourglass Image

Image of an hourglass in the center with text on the left and right sides of the image. Transcription and description of the text follows below the image.

The empirical research paper is often described as having an hourglass structure.  It begins with a general introduction and an overview of related scholarship in the literature review, and then narrows to a specific hypothesis and research question.  The paper broadens again to a general conclusion incorporating the paper's findings. 

Martyn Shuttleworth (2008). What is Research?. Retrieved 16 Aug. 2012 from Experiment Resources:


Transcription of hourglass image

To the left, top or upper side of the image are these statements:
Real World Phenomenon
Background and Theory
Choosing Design and Method.

To the right, top or upper side of the image are these statements:
Questions about the big picture
Concepts, Literature Review, Causal Explanations
 Hypothesis, Prediction, Operationalization

‚ÄčTo the left where the hourglass is the narrowest is this statement:
Data Collection.

To the right where the hourglass is the narrowest is this statement:
Test or Observe in Specific Situation (Measurement or Experimental)

To the left, bottom or lower side of the image are these statements:
Results; Statistical Analysis

To the right, bottom or lower side of the image are these statements:
Test Hypothesis; Describe [an arrow from the top statement "Hypothesis " points to this]
Implications; Possible bias/ errors? [an arrow from the top statement "Concepts " points to this]
Generalization; Future Research? [an arrow from the top statement "Questions" points to this]


A research paper, which often incorporates a literature review, begins with a specific research objective or question.  A hypothesis is formed and then supported with scholarly research.  The author of a research paper draws on the work and theories of other scholars to support their own perspective on a topic, making insightful connections between their own ideas and the current scholarship in a field of study.  The research paper is not an opinion paper, or a summary of a topic, but an extended essay presenting an individual and original interpretation or argument and incorporating other relevant interpretations.     

Elements of the Research Paper

Abstract – a brief summarization of the paper, highlighting the key points and intended to quickly show readers whether or not the full paper will be relevant to their research.

Introduction – describes the current scholarship in a field so that readers will be able to locate the research paper within its scholarly context.  The introduction also contains the author’s hypothesis and an explanation of their methodology.

Literature Review – an evaluative account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers.

Methodology – describes how data was collected and analyzed.

Results – the presentation of the author’s findings.

Discussion – an interpretation and evaluation of the study’s findings with respect to wider scholarly context provided in the literature review.  Includes an explanation of how the study has contributed to or changed that context.

Conclusion – a brief re-statement of the paper’s key points.

Some Questions to Consider

As you read considering the following questions may help you to understand and identify a research paper.

  1. What is the hypothesis?
  2. What research design did the author use?
  3. How did the researcher collect data?
  4. What instruments did the researcher use?
  5. What were the main findings?
  6. What conclusions did the author make?
  7. What were some limitations of the study?
  8. What suggestions does the author make for further research?

Useful Links

The following links all feature information that will help you familiarize yourself with the scientific research paper.  Hovering over the link will give you a brief description of the site.