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Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

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Research Paper

Research Paper

Definition:

Research Paper is a written document that presents the author’s original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue.

It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new knowledge or insights to a particular field of study, and to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the existing literature and theories related to the topic.

Structure of Research Paper

The structure of a research paper typically follows a standard format, consisting of several sections that convey specific information about the research study. The following is a detailed explanation of the structure of a research paper:

The title page contains the title of the paper, the name(s) of the author(s), and the affiliation(s) of the author(s). It also includes the date of submission and possibly, the name of the journal or conference where the paper is to be published.

The abstract is a brief summary of the research paper, typically ranging from 100 to 250 words. It should include the research question, the methods used, the key findings, and the implications of the results. The abstract should be written in a concise and clear manner to allow readers to quickly grasp the essence of the research.

Introduction

The introduction section of a research paper provides background information about the research problem, the research question, and the research objectives. It also outlines the significance of the research, the research gap that it aims to fill, and the approach taken to address the research question. Finally, the introduction section ends with a clear statement of the research hypothesis or research question.

Literature Review

The literature review section of a research paper provides an overview of the existing literature on the topic of study. It includes a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature, highlighting the key concepts, themes, and debates. The literature review should also demonstrate the research gap and how the current study seeks to address it.

The methods section of a research paper describes the research design, the sample selection, the data collection and analysis procedures, and the statistical methods used to analyze the data. This section should provide sufficient detail for other researchers to replicate the study.

The results section presents the findings of the research, using tables, graphs, and figures to illustrate the data. The findings should be presented in a clear and concise manner, with reference to the research question and hypothesis.

The discussion section of a research paper interprets the findings and discusses their implications for the research question, the literature review, and the field of study. It should also address the limitations of the study and suggest future research directions.

The conclusion section summarizes the main findings of the study, restates the research question and hypothesis, and provides a final reflection on the significance of the research.

The references section provides a list of all the sources cited in the paper, following a specific citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

How to Write Research Paper

You can write Research Paper by the following guide:

  • Choose a Topic: The first step is to select a topic that interests you and is relevant to your field of study. Brainstorm ideas and narrow down to a research question that is specific and researchable.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: The literature review helps you identify the gap in the existing research and provides a basis for your research question. It also helps you to develop a theoretical framework and research hypothesis.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement : The thesis statement is the main argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise and specific to your research question.
  • Plan your Research: Develop a research plan that outlines the methods, data sources, and data analysis procedures. This will help you to collect and analyze data effectively.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Collect data using various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Analyze data using statistical tools or other qualitative methods.
  • Organize your Paper : Organize your paper into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Ensure that each section is coherent and follows a logical flow.
  • Write your Paper : Start by writing the introduction, followed by the literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and follows the required formatting and citation styles.
  • Edit and Proofread your Paper: Review your paper for grammar and spelling errors, and ensure that it is well-structured and easy to read. Ask someone else to review your paper to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Cite your Sources: Ensure that you properly cite all sources used in your research paper. This is essential for giving credit to the original authors and avoiding plagiarism.

Research Paper Example

Note : The below example research paper is for illustrative purposes only and is not an actual research paper. Actual research papers may have different structures, contents, and formats depending on the field of study, research question, data collection and analysis methods, and other factors. Students should always consult with their professors or supervisors for specific guidelines and expectations for their research papers.

Research Paper Example sample for Students:

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health among Young Adults

Abstract: This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults. A literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on the topic. A survey was then administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Introduction: Social media has become an integral part of modern life, particularly among young adults. While social media has many benefits, including increased communication and social connectivity, it has also been associated with negative outcomes, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and mental health problems. This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults.

Literature Review: The literature review highlights the existing research on the impact of social media use on mental health. The review shows that social media use is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. The review also identifies the factors that contribute to the negative impact of social media, including social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Methods : A survey was administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The survey included questions on social media use, mental health status (measured using the DASS-21), and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Results : The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Discussion : The study’s findings suggest that social media use has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. The study highlights the need for interventions that address the factors contributing to the negative impact of social media, such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Conclusion : In conclusion, social media use has a significant impact on the mental health of young adults. The study’s findings underscore the need for interventions that promote healthy social media use and address the negative outcomes associated with social media use. Future research can explore the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health. Additionally, longitudinal studies can investigate the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

Limitations : The study has some limitations, including the use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. The use of self-report measures may result in biased responses, and a cross-sectional design limits the ability to establish causality.

Implications: The study’s findings have implications for mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals can use the findings to develop interventions that address the negative impact of social media use on mental health. Educators can incorporate social media literacy into their curriculum to promote healthy social media use among young adults. Policymakers can use the findings to develop policies that protect young adults from the negative outcomes associated with social media use.

References :

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 15, 100918.
  • Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., … & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.
  • Van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, J. W. (2017). Social media and its impact on academic performance of students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 16, 383-398.

Appendix : The survey used in this study is provided below.

Social Media and Mental Health Survey

  • How often do you use social media per day?
  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • 1 to 2 hours
  • 2 to 4 hours
  • More than 4 hours
  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Others (Please specify)
  • How often do you experience the following on social media?
  • Social comparison (comparing yourself to others)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems in the past month?
  • Do you think social media use has a positive or negative impact on your mental health?
  • Very positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Somewhat negative
  • Very negative
  • In your opinion, which factors contribute to the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Social comparison
  • In your opinion, what interventions could be effective in reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Education on healthy social media use
  • Counseling for mental health problems caused by social media
  • Social media detox programs
  • Regulation of social media use

Thank you for your participation!

Applications of Research Paper

Research papers have several applications in various fields, including:

  • Advancing knowledge: Research papers contribute to the advancement of knowledge by generating new insights, theories, and findings that can inform future research and practice. They help to answer important questions, clarify existing knowledge, and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Informing policy: Research papers can inform policy decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for policymakers. They can help to identify gaps in current policies, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and inform the development of new policies and regulations.
  • Improving practice: Research papers can improve practice by providing evidence-based guidance for professionals in various fields, including medicine, education, business, and psychology. They can inform the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards of care that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • Educating students : Research papers are often used as teaching tools in universities and colleges to educate students about research methods, data analysis, and academic writing. They help students to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and communication skills that are essential for success in many careers.
  • Fostering collaboration: Research papers can foster collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas. They can facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.

When to Write Research Paper

Research papers are typically written when a person has completed a research project or when they have conducted a study and have obtained data or findings that they want to share with the academic or professional community. Research papers are usually written in academic settings, such as universities, but they can also be written in professional settings, such as research organizations, government agencies, or private companies.

Here are some common situations where a person might need to write a research paper:

  • For academic purposes: Students in universities and colleges are often required to write research papers as part of their coursework, particularly in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Writing research papers helps students to develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and academic writing skills.
  • For publication: Researchers often write research papers to publish their findings in academic journals or to present their work at academic conferences. Publishing research papers is an important way to disseminate research findings to the academic community and to establish oneself as an expert in a particular field.
  • To inform policy or practice : Researchers may write research papers to inform policy decisions or to improve practice in various fields. Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies, guidelines, and best practices that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • To share new insights or ideas: Researchers may write research papers to share new insights or ideas with the academic or professional community. They may present new theories, propose new research methods, or challenge existing paradigms in their field.

Purpose of Research Paper

The purpose of a research paper is to present the results of a study or investigation in a clear, concise, and structured manner. Research papers are written to communicate new knowledge, ideas, or findings to a specific audience, such as researchers, scholars, practitioners, or policymakers. The primary purposes of a research paper are:

  • To contribute to the body of knowledge : Research papers aim to add new knowledge or insights to a particular field or discipline. They do this by reporting the results of empirical studies, reviewing and synthesizing existing literature, proposing new theories, or providing new perspectives on a topic.
  • To inform or persuade: Research papers are written to inform or persuade the reader about a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon. They present evidence and arguments to support their claims and seek to persuade the reader of the validity of their findings or recommendations.
  • To advance the field: Research papers seek to advance the field or discipline by identifying gaps in knowledge, proposing new research questions or approaches, or challenging existing assumptions or paradigms. They aim to contribute to ongoing debates and discussions within a field and to stimulate further research and inquiry.
  • To demonstrate research skills: Research papers demonstrate the author’s research skills, including their ability to design and conduct a study, collect and analyze data, and interpret and communicate findings. They also demonstrate the author’s ability to critically evaluate existing literature, synthesize information from multiple sources, and write in a clear and structured manner.

Characteristics of Research Paper

Research papers have several characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of academic or professional writing. Here are some common characteristics of research papers:

  • Evidence-based: Research papers are based on empirical evidence, which is collected through rigorous research methods such as experiments, surveys, observations, or interviews. They rely on objective data and facts to support their claims and conclusions.
  • Structured and organized: Research papers have a clear and logical structure, with sections such as introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. They are organized in a way that helps the reader to follow the argument and understand the findings.
  • Formal and objective: Research papers are written in a formal and objective tone, with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and accuracy. They avoid subjective language or personal opinions and instead rely on objective data and analysis to support their arguments.
  • Citations and references: Research papers include citations and references to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the paper. They use a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago, to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research papers are often peer-reviewed, which means they are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published. Peer-review ensures that the research is of high quality, meets ethical standards, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field.
  • Objective and unbiased: Research papers strive to be objective and unbiased in their presentation of the findings. They avoid personal biases or preconceptions and instead rely on the data and analysis to draw conclusions.

Advantages of Research Paper

Research papers have many advantages, both for the individual researcher and for the broader academic and professional community. Here are some advantages of research papers:

  • Contribution to knowledge: Research papers contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field or discipline. They add new information, insights, and perspectives to existing literature and help advance the understanding of a particular phenomenon or issue.
  • Opportunity for intellectual growth: Research papers provide an opportunity for intellectual growth for the researcher. They require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, which can help develop the researcher’s skills and knowledge.
  • Career advancement: Research papers can help advance the researcher’s career by demonstrating their expertise and contributions to the field. They can also lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and funding.
  • Academic recognition: Research papers can lead to academic recognition in the form of awards, grants, or invitations to speak at conferences or events. They can also contribute to the researcher’s reputation and standing in the field.
  • Impact on policy and practice: Research papers can have a significant impact on policy and practice. They can inform policy decisions, guide practice, and lead to changes in laws, regulations, or procedures.
  • Advancement of society: Research papers can contribute to the advancement of society by addressing important issues, identifying solutions to problems, and promoting social justice and equality.

Limitations of Research Paper

Research papers also have some limitations that should be considered when interpreting their findings or implications. Here are some common limitations of research papers:

  • Limited generalizability: Research findings may not be generalizable to other populations, settings, or contexts. Studies often use specific samples or conditions that may not reflect the broader population or real-world situations.
  • Potential for bias : Research papers may be biased due to factors such as sample selection, measurement errors, or researcher biases. It is important to evaluate the quality of the research design and methods used to ensure that the findings are valid and reliable.
  • Ethical concerns: Research papers may raise ethical concerns, such as the use of vulnerable populations or invasive procedures. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from participants to ensure that the research is conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
  • Limitations of methodology: Research papers may be limited by the methodology used to collect and analyze data. For example, certain research methods may not capture the complexity or nuance of a particular phenomenon, or may not be appropriate for certain research questions.
  • Publication bias: Research papers may be subject to publication bias, where positive or significant findings are more likely to be published than negative or non-significant findings. This can skew the overall findings of a particular area of research.
  • Time and resource constraints: Research papers may be limited by time and resource constraints, which can affect the quality and scope of the research. Researchers may not have access to certain data or resources, or may be unable to conduct long-term studies due to practical limitations.

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Structure of a Research Paper

Phillips-Wangensteen Building.

Structure of a Research Paper: IMRaD Format

I. The Title Page

  • Title: Tells the reader what to expect in the paper.
  • Author(s): Most papers are written by one or two primary authors. The remaining authors have reviewed the work and/or aided in study design or data analysis (International Committee of Medical Editors, 1997). Check the Instructions to Authors for the target journal for specifics about authorship.
  • Keywords [according to the journal]
  • Corresponding Author: Full name and affiliation for the primary contact author for persons who have questions about the research.
  • Financial & Equipment Support [if needed]: Specific information about organizations, agencies, or companies that supported the research.
  • Conflicts of Interest [if needed]: List and explain any conflicts of interest.

II. Abstract: “Structured abstract” has become the standard for research papers (introduction, objective, methods, results and conclusions), while reviews, case reports and other articles have non-structured abstracts. The abstract should be a summary/synopsis of the paper.

III. Introduction: The “why did you do the study”; setting the scene or laying the foundation or background for the paper.

IV. Methods: The “how did you do the study.” Describe the --

  • Context and setting of the study
  • Specify the study design
  • Population (patients, etc. if applicable)
  • Sampling strategy
  • Intervention (if applicable)
  • Identify the main study variables
  • Data collection instruments and procedures
  • Outline analysis methods

V. Results: The “what did you find” --

  • Report on data collection and/or recruitment
  • Participants (demographic, clinical condition, etc.)
  • Present key findings with respect to the central research question
  • Secondary findings (secondary outcomes, subgroup analyses, etc.)

VI. Discussion: Place for interpreting the results

  • Main findings of the study
  • Discuss the main results with reference to previous research
  • Policy and practice implications of the results
  • Strengths and limitations of the study

VII. Conclusions: [occasionally optional or not required]. Do not reiterate the data or discussion. Can state hunches, inferences or speculations. Offer perspectives for future work.

VIII. Acknowledgements: Names people who contributed to the work, but did not contribute sufficiently to earn authorship. You must have permission from any individuals mentioned in the acknowledgements sections. 

IX. References:  Complete citations for any articles or other materials referenced in the text of the article.

  • IMRD Cheatsheet (Carnegie Mellon) pdf.
  • Adewasi, D. (2021 June 14).  What Is IMRaD? IMRaD Format in Simple Terms! . Scientific-editing.info. 
  • Nair, P.K.R., Nair, V.D. (2014). Organization of a Research Paper: The IMRAD Format. In: Scientific Writing and Communication in Agriculture and Natural Resources. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-03101-9_2
  • Sollaci, L. B., & Pereira, M. G. (2004). The introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD) structure: a fifty-year survey.   Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA ,  92 (3), 364–367.
  • Cuschieri, S., Grech, V., & Savona-Ventura, C. (2019). WASP (Write a Scientific Paper): Structuring a scientific paper.   Early human development ,  128 , 114–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2018.09.011

Writing up a Research Report

  • First Online: 04 January 2024

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what is the structure of a research report

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A research report is one big argument about how and why you came up with your conclusions. To make it a convincing argument, a typical guiding structure has developed. In the different chapters, there are distinct issues that need to be addressed to explain to the reader why your conclusions are valid. The governing principle for writing the report is full disclosure: to explain everything and ensure replicability by another researcher.

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Field, A. (2020). Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS statistics (5th ed.). SAGE.

Früh, M., Keimer, I., & Blankenagel, M. (2019). The impact of Balanced Scorecard excellence on shareholder returns. IFZ Working Paper No. 0003/2019. https://zenodo.org/record/2571603#.YMDUafkzZaQ . Accessed: 9 June 2021.

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Research Paper Structure: A Comprehensive Guide

Sumalatha G

Table of Contents

Writing a research paper is a daunting task, but understanding its structure can make the process more manageable and lead to a well-organized, coherent paper. This article provides a step-by-step approach to crafting a research paper, ensuring your work is not only informative but also structured for maximum impact.

Introduction

In any form of written communication, content structure plays a vital role in facilitating understanding. A well-structured research paper provides a framework that guides readers through the content, ensuring they grasp the main points efficiently. Without a clear structure, readers may become lost or confused, leading to a loss of interest and a failure to comprehend the intended message.

When it comes to research papers, structure is particularly important due to the complexity of the subject matter. Research papers often involve presenting and analyzing large amounts of data, theories, and arguments. Without a well-defined structure, readers may struggle to navigate through this information overload, resulting in a fragmented understanding of the topic.

How Structure Enhances Clarity and Coherence

A well-structured research paper not only helps readers follow the flow of ideas but also enhances the clarity and coherence of the content. By organizing information into sections, paragraphs, and sentences, researchers can present their thoughts logically and systematically. This logical organization allows readers to easily connect ideas, resulting in a more coherent and engaging reading experience.

One way in which structure enhances clarity is by providing a clear roadmap for readers to follow. By dividing the research paper into sections and subsections, researchers can guide readers through the different aspects of the topic. This allows readers to anticipate the flow of information and mentally prepare themselves for the upcoming content.

In addition, a well-structured research paper ensures that each paragraph serves a specific purpose and contributes to the overall argument or analysis. By clearly defining the main idea of each paragraph and providing supporting evidence or examples, researchers can avoid confusion and ensure that their points are effectively communicated.

Moreover, a structured research paper helps researchers maintain a consistent focus throughout their writing. By organizing their thoughts and ideas, researchers can ensure that they stay on track and avoid going off on tangents. This not only improves the clarity of the paper but also helps maintain the reader's interest and engagement.

Components of a Research Paper Structure

Title and abstract: the initial impression.

The title and abstract are the first elements readers encounter when accessing a research paper. The title should be concise, informative, and capture the essence of the study. For example, a title like "Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity in Tropical Rainforests" immediately conveys the subject matter and scope of the research. The abstract, on the other hand, provides a brief overview of the research problem, methodology, and findings, enticing readers to delve further into the paper. In a well-crafted abstract, researchers may highlight key results or implications of the study, giving readers a glimpse into the value of the research.

Introduction: Setting the Stage

The introduction serves as an invitation for readers to engage with the research paper. It should provide background information on the topic, highlight the research problem, and present the research question or thesis statement. By establishing the context and relevance of the study, the introduction piques readers' interest and prepares them for the content to follow. For instance, in a study on the impact of social media on mental health, the introduction may discuss the rise of social media platforms and the growing concerns about its effects on individuals' well-being. This contextual information helps readers understand the significance of the research and why it is worth exploring further.

Furthermore, the introduction may also outline the objectives of the study, stating what the researchers aim to achieve through their research. This helps readers understand the purpose and scope of the study, setting clear expectations for what they can expect to learn from the paper.

Literature Review: Building the Foundation

The literature review is a critical component of a research paper, as it demonstrates the researcher's understanding of existing knowledge and provides a foundation for the study. It involves reviewing and analyzing relevant scholarly articles, books, and other sources to identify gaps in research and establish the need for the current study. In a comprehensive literature review, researchers may summarize key findings from previous studies, identify areas of disagreement or controversy, and highlight the limitations of existing research.

Moreover, the literature review may also discuss theoretical frameworks or conceptual models that have been used in previous studies. By examining these frameworks, researchers can identify the theoretical underpinnings of their study and explain how their research fits within the broader academic discourse. This not only adds depth to the research paper but also helps readers understand the theoretical context in which the study is situated.

Methodology: Detailing the Process

The research design, data collection methods, and analysis techniques used in the study are described in the methodology section. It should be presented clearly and concisely, allowing readers to understand how the research was conducted and evaluated. A well-described methodology ensures the study's reliability and allows other researchers to replicate or build upon the findings.

Within the methodology section, researchers may provide a detailed description of the study population or sample, explaining how participants were selected and why they were chosen. This helps readers understand the generalizability of the findings and the extent to which they can be applied to a broader population.

In addition, researchers may also discuss any ethical considerations that were taken into account during the study. This could include obtaining informed consent from participants, ensuring confidentiality and anonymity, and following ethical guidelines set by relevant professional organizations. By addressing these ethical concerns, researchers demonstrate their commitment to conducting research in an ethical and responsible manner.

Results: Presenting the Findings

The results section represents the study findings. Researchers should organize their results in a logical manner, using tables, graphs, and descriptive statistics to support their conclusions. The results should be presented objectively, without interpretation or analysis. For instance, for a study on the effectiveness of a new drug in treating a specific medical condition, researchers may present the percentage of patients who experienced positive outcomes, along with any statistical significance associated with the results.

In addition to presenting the main findings, researchers may also include supplementary data or sub-analyses that provide further insights into the research question. This could include subgroup analyses, sensitivity analyses, or additional statistical tests that help explore the robustness of the findings.

Discussion: Interpreting the Results

In the discussion section, researchers analyze and interpret the results in light of the research question or thesis statement. This is an opportunity to explore the implications of the findings, compare them with existing literature, and offer insights into the broader significance of the study. The discussion should be supported by evidence and it is advised to avoid speculation.

Researchers may also discuss the limitations of their study, acknowledging any potential biases or confounding factors that may have influenced the results. By openly addressing these limitations, researchers demonstrate their commitment to transparency and scientific rigor.

Conclusion: Wrapping It Up

The conclusion provides a concise summary of the research paper, restating the main findings and their implications. It should also reflect on the significance of the study and suggest potential avenues for future research. A well-written conclusion leaves a lasting impression on readers, highlighting the importance of the research and its potential impact. By summarizing the key takeaways from the study, researchers ensure that readers walk away with a clear understanding of the research's contribution to the field.

Tips for Organizing Your Research Paper

Starting with a strong thesis statement.

A strong and clear thesis statement serves as the backbone of your research paper. It provides focus and direction, guiding the organization of ideas and arguments throughout the paper. Take the time to craft a well-defined thesis statement that encapsulates the core message of your research.

Creating an Outline: The Blueprint of Your Paper

An outline acts as a blueprint for your research paper, ensuring a logical flow of ideas and preventing disorganization. Divide your paper into sections and subsections, noting the main points and supporting arguments for each. This will help you maintain coherence and clarity throughout the writing process.

Balancing Depth and Breadth in Your Paper

When organizing your research paper, strike a balance between delving deeply into specific points and providing a broader overview. While depth is important for thorough analysis, too much detail can overwhelm readers. Consider your target audience and their level of familiarity with the topic to determine the appropriate level of depth and breadth for your paper.

By understanding the importance of research paper structure and implementing effective organizational strategies, researchers can ensure their work is accessible, engaging, and influential. A well-structured research paper not only communicates ideas clearly but also enhances the overall impact of the study. With careful planning and attention to detail, researchers can master the art of structuring their research papers, making them a valuable contribution to their field of study.

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AI for Meta-Analysis — A Comprehensive Guide

Monali Ghosh

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Online Guide to Writing and Research

The research process, explore more of umgc.

  • Online Guide to Writing

Structuring the Research Paper

Formal research structure.

These are the primary purposes for formal research:

enter the discourse, or conversation, of other writers and scholars in your field

learn how others in your field use primary and secondary resources

find and understand raw data and information

Top view of textured wooden desk prepared for work and exploration - wooden pegs, domino, cubes and puzzles with blank notepads,  paper and colourful pencils lying on it.

For the formal academic research assignment, consider an organizational pattern typically used for primary academic research.  The pattern includes the following: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions/recommendations.

Usually, research papers flow from the general to the specific and back to the general in their organization. The introduction uses a general-to-specific movement in its organization, establishing the thesis and setting the context for the conversation. The methods and results sections are more detailed and specific, providing support for the generalizations made in the introduction. The discussion section moves toward an increasingly more general discussion of the subject, leading to the conclusions and recommendations, which then generalize the conversation again.

Sections of a Formal Structure

The introduction section.

Many students will find that writing a structured  introduction  gets them started and gives them the focus needed to significantly improve their entire paper. 

Introductions usually have three parts:

presentation of the problem statement, the topic, or the research inquiry

purpose and focus of your paper

summary or overview of the writer’s position or arguments

In the first part of the introduction—the presentation of the problem or the research inquiry—state the problem or express it so that the question is implied. Then, sketch the background on the problem and review the literature on it to give your readers a context that shows them how your research inquiry fits into the conversation currently ongoing in your subject area. 

In the second part of the introduction, state your purpose and focus. Here, you may even present your actual thesis. Sometimes your purpose statement can take the place of the thesis by letting your reader know your intentions. 

The third part of the introduction, the summary or overview of the paper, briefly leads readers through the discussion, forecasting the main ideas and giving readers a blueprint for the paper. 

The following example provides a blueprint for a well-organized introduction.

Example of an Introduction

Entrepreneurial Marketing: The Critical Difference

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, John A. Welsh and Jerry F. White remind us that “a small business is not a little big business.” An entrepreneur is not a multinational conglomerate but a profit-seeking individual. To survive, he must have a different outlook and must apply different principles to his endeavors than does the president of a large or even medium-sized corporation. Not only does the scale of small and big businesses differ, but small businesses also suffer from what the Harvard Business Review article calls “resource poverty.” This is a problem and opportunity that requires an entirely different approach to marketing. Where large ad budgets are not necessary or feasible, where expensive ad production squanders limited capital, where every marketing dollar must do the work of two dollars, if not five dollars or even ten, where a person’s company, capital, and material well-being are all on the line—that is, where guerrilla marketing can save the day and secure the bottom line (Levinson, 1984, p. 9).

By reviewing the introductions to research articles in the discipline in which you are writing your research paper, you can get an idea of what is considered the norm for that discipline. Study several of these before you begin your paper so that you know what may be expected. If you are unsure of the kind of introduction your paper needs, ask your professor for more information.  The introduction is normally written in present tense.

THE METHODS SECTION

The methods section of your research paper should describe in detail what methodology and special materials if any, you used to think through or perform your research. You should include any materials you used or designed for yourself, such as questionnaires or interview questions, to generate data or information for your research paper. You want to include any methodologies that are specific to your particular field of study, such as lab procedures for a lab experiment or data-gathering instruments for field research. The methods section is usually written in the past tense.

THE RESULTS SECTION

How you present the results of your research depends on what kind of research you did, your subject matter, and your readers’ expectations. 

Quantitative information —data that can be measured—can be presented systematically and economically in tables, charts, and graphs. Quantitative information includes quantities and comparisons of sets of data. 

Qualitative information , which includes brief descriptions, explanations, or instructions, can also be presented in prose tables. This kind of descriptive or explanatory information, however, is often presented in essay-like prose or even lists.

There are specific conventions for creating tables, charts, and graphs and organizing the information they contain. In general, you should use them only when you are sure they will enlighten your readers rather than confuse them. In the accompanying explanation and discussion, always refer to the graphic by number and explain specifically what you are referring to; you can also provide a caption for the graphic. The rule of thumb for presenting a graphic is first to introduce it by name, show it, and then interpret it. The results section is usually written in the past tense.

THE DISCUSSION SECTION

Your discussion section should generalize what you have learned from your research. One way to generalize is to explain the consequences or meaning of your results and then make your points that support and refer back to the statements you made in your introduction. Your discussion should be organized so that it relates directly to your thesis. You want to avoid introducing new ideas here or discussing tangential issues not directly related to the exploration and discovery of your thesis. The discussion section, along with the introduction, is usually written in the present tense.

THE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS SECTION

Your conclusion ties your research to your thesis, binding together all the main ideas in your thinking and writing. By presenting the logical outcome of your research and thinking, your conclusion answers your research inquiry for your reader. Your conclusions should relate directly to the ideas presented in your introduction section and should not present any new ideas.

You may be asked to present your recommendations separately in your research assignment. If so, you will want to add some elements to your conclusion section. For example, you may be asked to recommend a course of action, make a prediction, propose a solution to a problem, offer a judgment, or speculate on the implications and consequences of your ideas. The conclusions and recommendations section is usually written in the present tense.

Key Takeaways

  • For the formal academic research assignment, consider an organizational pattern typically used for primary academic research. 
  •  The pattern includes the following: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions/recommendations.

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Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing

Chapter 1: College Writing

How Does College Writing Differ from Workplace Writing?

What Is College Writing?

Why So Much Emphasis on Writing?

Chapter 2: The Writing Process

Doing Exploratory Research

Getting from Notes to Your Draft

Introduction

Prewriting - Techniques to Get Started - Mining Your Intuition

Prewriting: Targeting Your Audience

Prewriting: Techniques to Get Started

Prewriting: Understanding Your Assignment

Rewriting: Being Your Own Critic

Rewriting: Creating a Revision Strategy

Rewriting: Getting Feedback

Rewriting: The Final Draft

Techniques to Get Started - Outlining

Techniques to Get Started - Using Systematic Techniques

Thesis Statement and Controlling Idea

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Freewriting

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Summarizing Your Ideas

Writing: Outlining What You Will Write

Chapter 3: Thinking Strategies

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone: Style Through Vocabulary and Diction

Critical Strategies and Writing

Critical Strategies and Writing: Analysis

Critical Strategies and Writing: Evaluation

Critical Strategies and Writing: Persuasion

Critical Strategies and Writing: Synthesis

Developing a Paper Using Strategies

Kinds of Assignments You Will Write

Patterns for Presenting Information

Patterns for Presenting Information: Critiques

Patterns for Presenting Information: Discussing Raw Data

Patterns for Presenting Information: General-to-Specific Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Problem-Cause-Solution Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Specific-to-General Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Summaries and Abstracts

Supporting with Research and Examples

Writing Essay Examinations

Writing Essay Examinations: Make Your Answer Relevant and Complete

Writing Essay Examinations: Organize Thinking Before Writing

Writing Essay Examinations: Read and Understand the Question

Chapter 4: The Research Process

Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Ask a Research Question

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Cite Sources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Collect Evidence

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Decide Your Point of View, or Role, for Your Research

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Draw Conclusions

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Find a Topic and Get an Overview

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Manage Your Resources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Outline

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Survey the Literature

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Work Your Sources into Your Research Writing

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Human Resources

Research Resources: What Are Research Resources?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Electronic Resources

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Print Resources

Structuring the Research Paper: Formal Research Structure

Structuring the Research Paper: Informal Research Structure

The Nature of Research

The Research Assignment: How Should Research Sources Be Evaluated?

The Research Assignment: When Is Research Needed?

The Research Assignment: Why Perform Research?

Chapter 5: Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity

Giving Credit to Sources

Giving Credit to Sources: Copyright Laws

Giving Credit to Sources: Documentation

Giving Credit to Sources: Style Guides

Integrating Sources

Practicing Academic Integrity

Practicing Academic Integrity: Keeping Accurate Records

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Paraphrasing Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Quoting Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Summarizing Your Sources

Types of Documentation

Types of Documentation: Bibliographies and Source Lists

Types of Documentation: Citing World Wide Web Sources

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - APA Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - CSE/CBE Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - Chicago Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - MLA Style

Types of Documentation: Note Citations

Chapter 6: Using Library Resources

Finding Library Resources

Chapter 7: Assessing Your Writing

How Is Writing Graded?

How Is Writing Graded?: A General Assessment Tool

The Draft Stage

The Draft Stage: The First Draft

The Draft Stage: The Revision Process and the Final Draft

The Draft Stage: Using Feedback

The Research Stage

Using Assessment to Improve Your Writing

Chapter 8: Other Frequently Assigned Papers

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Article and Book Reviews

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Reaction Papers

Writing Arguments

Writing Arguments: Adapting the Argument Structure

Writing Arguments: Purposes of Argument

Writing Arguments: References to Consult for Writing Arguments

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Anticipate Active Opposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Determine Your Organization

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Develop Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Introduce Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - State Your Thesis or Proposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Write Your Conclusion

Writing Arguments: Types of Argument

Appendix A: Books to Help Improve Your Writing

Dictionaries

General Style Manuals

Researching on the Internet

Special Style Manuals

Writing Handbooks

Appendix B: Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing

Collaborative Writing: Assignments to Accompany the Group Project

Collaborative Writing: Informal Progress Report

Collaborative Writing: Issues to Resolve

Collaborative Writing: Methodology

Collaborative Writing: Peer Evaluation

Collaborative Writing: Tasks of Collaborative Writing Group Members

Collaborative Writing: Writing Plan

General Introduction

Peer Reviewing

Appendix C: Developing an Improvement Plan

Working with Your Instructor’s Comments and Grades

Appendix D: Writing Plan and Project Schedule

Devising a Writing Project Plan and Schedule

Reviewing Your Plan with Others

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  • Academic Skills
  • Reading, writing and referencing

Research reports

This resource will help you identify the common elements and basic format of a research report.

Research reports generally follow a similar structure and have common elements, each with a particular purpose. Learn more about each of these elements below.

Common elements of reports

Your title should be brief, topic-specific, and informative, clearly indicating the purpose and scope of your study. Include key words in your title so that search engines can easily access your work. For example:  Measurement of water around Station Pier.

An abstract is a concise summary that helps readers to quickly assess the content and direction of your paper. It should be brief, written in a single paragraph and cover: the scope and purpose of your report; an overview of methodology; a summary of the main findings or results; principal conclusions or significance of the findings; and recommendations made.

The information in the abstract must be presented in the same order as it is in your report. The abstract is usually written last when you have developed your arguments and synthesised the results.

The introduction creates the context for your research. It should provide sufficient background to allow the reader to understand and evaluate your study without needing to refer to previous publications. After reading the introduction your reader should understand exactly what your research is about, what you plan to do, why you are undertaking this research and which methods you have used. Introductions generally include:

  • The rationale for the present study. Why are you interested in this topic? Why is this topic worth investigating?
  • Key terms and definitions.
  • An outline of the research questions and hypotheses; the assumptions or propositions that your research will test.

Not all research reports have a separate literature review section. In shorter research reports, the review is usually part of the Introduction.

A literature review is a critical survey of recent relevant research in a particular field. The review should be a selection of carefully organised, focused and relevant literature that develops a narrative ‘story’ about your topic. Your review should answer key questions about the literature:

  • What is the current state of knowledge on the topic?
  • What differences in approaches / methodologies are there?
  • Where are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
  • What further research is needed? The review may identify a gap in the literature which provides a rationale for your study and supports your research questions and methodology.

The review is not just a summary of all you have read. Rather, it must develop an argument or a point of view that supports your chosen methodology and research questions.

The purpose of this section is to detail how you conducted your research so that others can understand and replicate your approach.

You need to briefly describe the subjects (if appropriate), any equipment or materials used and the approach taken. If the research method or method of data analysis is commonly used within your field of study, then simply reference the procedure. If, however, your methods are new or controversial then you need to describe them in more detail and provide a rationale for your approach. The methodology is written in the past tense and should be as concise as possible.

This section is a concise, factual summary of your findings, listed under headings appropriate to your research questions. It’s common to use tables and graphics. Raw data or details about the method of statistical analysis used should be included in the Appendices.

Present your results in a consistent manner. For example, if you present the first group of results as percentages, it will be confusing for the reader and difficult to make comparisons of data if later results are presented as fractions or as decimal values.

In general, you won’t discuss your results here. Any analysis of your results usually occurs in the Discussion section.

Notes on visual data representation:

  • Graphs and tables may be used to reveal trends in your data, but they must be explained and referred to in adjacent accompanying text.
  • Figures and tables do not simply repeat information given in the text: they summarise, amplify or complement it.
  • Graphs are always referred to as ‘Figures’, and both axes must be clearly labelled.
  • Tables must be numbered, and they must be able to stand-alone or make sense without your reader needing to read all of the accompanying text.

The Discussion responds to the hypothesis or research question. This section is where you interpret your results, account for your findings and explain their significance within the context of other research. Consider the adequacy of your sampling techniques, the scope and long-term implications of your study, any problems with data collection or analysis and any assumptions on which your study was based. This is also the place to discuss any disappointing results and address limitations.

Checklist for the discussion

  • To what extent was each hypothesis supported?
  • To what extent are your findings validated or supported by other research?
  • Were there unexpected variables that affected your results?
  • On reflection, was your research method appropriate?
  • Can you account for any differences between your results and other studies?

Conclusions in research reports are generally fairly short and should follow on naturally from points raised in the Discussion. In this section you should discuss the significance of your findings. To what extent and in what ways are your findings useful or conclusive? Is further research required? If so, based on your research experience, what suggestions could you make about improvements to the scope or methodology of future studies?

Also, consider the practical implications of your results and any recommendations you could make. For example, if your research is on reading strategies in the primary school classroom, what are the implications of your results for the classroom teacher? What recommendations could you make for teachers?

A Reference List contains all the resources you have cited in your work, while a Bibliography is a wider list containing all the resources you have consulted (but not necessarily cited) in the preparation of your work. It is important to check which of these is required, and the preferred format, style of references and presentation requirements of your own department.

Appendices (singular ‘Appendix’) provide supporting material to your project. Examples of such materials include:

  • Relevant letters to participants and organisations (e.g. regarding the ethics or conduct of the project).
  • Background reports.
  • Detailed calculations.

Different types of data are presented in separate appendices. Each appendix must be titled, labelled with a number or letter, and referred to in the body of the report.

Appendices are placed at the end of a report, and the contents are generally not included in the word count.

Fi nal ti p

While there are many common elements to research reports, it’s always best to double check the exact requirements for your task. You may find that you don’t need some sections, can combine others or have specific requirements about referencing, formatting or word limits.

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Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.

Introduction

What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section. 
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered.  Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References.  Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures  – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first). 
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun).  In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research.  Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely.  You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.  

External Resources

  • Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
  • How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
  • WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper
  • Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

Back to top  

  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing a Literature Review
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

Research report guide: Definition, types, and tips

Last updated

5 March 2024

Reviewed by

From successful product launches or software releases to planning major business decisions, research reports serve many vital functions. They can summarize evidence and deliver insights and recommendations to save companies time and resources. They can reveal the most value-adding actions a company should take.

However, poorly constructed reports can have the opposite effect! Taking the time to learn established research-reporting rules and approaches will equip you with in-demand skills. You’ll be able to capture and communicate information applicable to numerous situations and industries, adding another string to your resume bow.

  • What are research reports?

A research report is a collection of contextual data, gathered through organized research, that provides new insights into a particular challenge (which, for this article, is business-related). Research reports are a time-tested method for distilling large amounts of data into a narrow band of focus.

Their effectiveness often hinges on whether the report provides:

Strong, well-researched evidence

Comprehensive analysis

Well-considered conclusions and recommendations

Though the topic possibilities are endless, an effective research report keeps a laser-like focus on the specific questions or objectives the researcher believes are key to achieving success. Many research reports begin as research proposals, which usually include the need for a report to capture the findings of the study and recommend a course of action.

A description of the research method used, e.g., qualitative, quantitative, or other

Statistical analysis

Causal (or explanatory) research (i.e., research identifying relationships between two variables)

Inductive research, also known as ‘theory-building’

Deductive research, such as that used to test theories

Action research, where the research is actively used to drive change

  • Importance of a research report

Research reports can unify and direct a company's focus toward the most appropriate strategic action. Of course, spending resources on a report takes up some of the company's human and financial resources. Choosing when a report is called for is a matter of judgment and experience.

Some development models used heavily in the engineering world, such as Waterfall development, are notorious for over-relying on research reports. With Waterfall development, there is a linear progression through each step of a project, and each stage is precisely documented and reported on before moving to the next.

The pace of the business world is faster than the speed at which your authors can produce and disseminate reports. So how do companies strike the right balance between creating and acting on research reports?

The answer lies, again, in the report's defined objectives. By paring down your most pressing interests and those of your stakeholders, your research and reporting skills will be the lenses that keep your company's priorities in constant focus.

Honing your company's primary objectives can save significant amounts of time and align research and reporting efforts with ever-greater precision.

Some examples of well-designed research objectives are:

Proving whether or not a product or service meets customer expectations

Demonstrating the value of a service, product, or business process to your stakeholders and investors

Improving business decision-making when faced with a lack of time or other constraints

Clarifying the relationship between a critical cause and effect for problematic business processes

Prioritizing the development of a backlog of products or product features

Comparing business or production strategies

Evaluating past decisions and predicting future outcomes

  • Features of a research report

Research reports generally require a research design phase, where the report author(s) determine the most important elements the report must contain.

Just as there are various kinds of research, there are many types of reports.

Here are the standard elements of almost any research-reporting format:

Report summary. A broad but comprehensive overview of what readers will learn in the full report. Summaries are usually no more than one or two paragraphs and address all key elements of the report. Think of the key takeaways your primary stakeholders will want to know if they don’t have time to read the full document.

Introduction. Include a brief background of the topic, the type of research, and the research sample. Consider the primary goal of the report, who is most affected, and how far along the company is in meeting its objectives.

Methods. A description of how the researcher carried out data collection, analysis, and final interpretations of the data. Include the reasons for choosing a particular method. The methods section should strike a balance between clearly presenting the approach taken to gather data and discussing how it is designed to achieve the report's objectives.

Data analysis. This section contains interpretations that lead readers through the results relevant to the report's thesis. If there were unexpected results, include here a discussion on why that might be. Charts, calculations, statistics, and other supporting information also belong here (or, if lengthy, as an appendix). This should be the most detailed section of the research report, with references for further study. Present the information in a logical order, whether chronologically or in order of importance to the report's objectives.

Conclusion. This should be written with sound reasoning, often containing useful recommendations. The conclusion must be backed by a continuous thread of logic throughout the report.

  • How to write a research paper

With a clear outline and robust pool of research, a research paper can start to write itself, but what's a good way to start a research report?

Research report examples are often the quickest way to gain inspiration for your report. Look for the types of research reports most relevant to your industry and consider which makes the most sense for your data and goals.

The research report outline will help you organize the elements of your report. One of the most time-tested report outlines is the IMRaD structure:

Introduction

...and Discussion

Pay close attention to the most well-established research reporting format in your industry, and consider your tone and language from your audience's perspective. Learn the key terms inside and out; incorrect jargon could easily harm the perceived authority of your research paper.

Along with a foundation in high-quality research and razor-sharp analysis, the most effective research reports will also demonstrate well-developed:

Internal logic

Narrative flow

Conclusions and recommendations

Readability, striking a balance between simple phrasing and technical insight

How to gather research data for your report

The validity of research data is critical. Because the research phase usually occurs well before the writing phase, you normally have plenty of time to vet your data.

However, research reports could involve ongoing research, where report authors (sometimes the researchers themselves) write portions of the report alongside ongoing research.

One such research-report example would be an R&D department that knows its primary stakeholders are eager to learn about a lengthy work in progress and any potentially important outcomes.

However you choose to manage the research and reporting, your data must meet robust quality standards before you can rely on it. Vet any research with the following questions in mind:

Does it use statistically valid analysis methods?

Do the researchers clearly explain their research, analysis, and sampling methods?

Did the researchers provide any caveats or advice on how to interpret their data?

Have you gathered the data yourself or were you in close contact with those who did?

Is the source biased?

Usually, flawed research methods become more apparent the further you get through a research report.

It's perfectly natural for good research to raise new questions, but the reader should have no uncertainty about what the data represents. There should be no doubt about matters such as:

Whether the sampling or analysis methods were based on sound and consistent logic

What the research samples are and where they came from

The accuracy of any statistical functions or equations

Validation of testing and measuring processes

When does a report require design validation?

A robust design validation process is often a gold standard in highly technical research reports. Design validation ensures the objects of a study are measured accurately, which lends more weight to your report and makes it valuable to more specialized industries.

Product development and engineering projects are the most common research-report examples that typically involve a design validation process. Depending on the scope and complexity of your research, you might face additional steps to validate your data and research procedures.

If you’re including design validation in the report (or report proposal), explain and justify your data-collection processes. Good design validation builds greater trust in a research report and lends more weight to its conclusions.

Choosing the right analysis method

Just as the quality of your report depends on properly validated research, a useful conclusion requires the most contextually relevant analysis method. This means comparing different statistical methods and choosing the one that makes the most sense for your research.

Most broadly, research analysis comes down to quantitative or qualitative methods (respectively: measurable by a number vs subjectively qualified values). There are also mixed research methods, which bridge the need for merging hard data with qualified assessments and still reach a cohesive set of conclusions.

Some of the most common analysis methods in research reports include:

Significance testing (aka hypothesis analysis), which compares test and control groups to determine how likely the data was the result of random chance.

Regression analysis , to establish relationships between variables, control for extraneous variables , and support correlation analysis.

Correlation analysis (aka bivariate testing), a method to identify and determine the strength of linear relationships between variables. It’s effective for detecting patterns from complex data, but care must be exercised to not confuse correlation with causation.

With any analysis method, it's important to justify which method you chose in the report. You should also provide estimates of the statistical accuracy (e.g., the p-value or confidence level of quantifiable data) of any data analysis.

This requires a commitment to the report's primary aim. For instance, this may be achieving a certain level of customer satisfaction by analyzing the cause and effect of changes to how service is delivered. Even better, use statistical analysis to calculate which change is most positively correlated with improved levels of customer satisfaction.

  • Tips for writing research reports

There's endless good advice for writing effective research reports, and it almost all depends on the subjective aims of the people behind the report. Due to the wide variety of research reports, the best tips will be unique to each author's purpose.

Consider the following research report tips in any order, and take note of the ones most relevant to you:

No matter how in depth or detailed your report might be, provide a well-considered, succinct summary. At the very least, give your readers a quick and effective way to get up to speed.

Pare down your target audience (e.g., other researchers, employees, laypersons, etc.), and adjust your voice for their background knowledge and interest levels

For all but the most open-ended research, clarify your objectives, both for yourself and within the report.

Leverage your team members’ talents to fill in any knowledge gaps you might have. Your team is only as good as the sum of its parts.

Justify why your research proposal’s topic will endure long enough to derive value from the finished report.

Consolidate all research and analysis functions onto a single user-friendly platform. There's no reason to settle for less than developer-grade tools suitable for non-developers.

What's the format of a research report?

The research-reporting format is how the report is structured—a framework the authors use to organize their data, conclusions, arguments, and recommendations. The format heavily determines how the report's outline develops, because the format dictates the overall structure and order of information (based on the report's goals and research objectives).

What's the purpose of a research-report outline?

A good report outline gives form and substance to the report's objectives, presenting the results in a readable, engaging way. For any research-report format, the outline should create momentum along a chain of logic that builds up to a conclusion or interpretation.

What's the difference between a research essay and a research report?

There are several key differences between research reports and essays:

Research report:

Ordered into separate sections

More commercial in nature

Often includes infographics

Heavily descriptive

More self-referential

Usually provides recommendations

Research essay

Does not rely on research report formatting

More academically minded

Normally text-only

Less detailed

Omits discussion of methods

Usually non-prescriptive 

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Article Contents

Primacy of the research question, structure of the paper, writing a research article: advice to beginners.

  • Article contents
  • Figures & tables
  • Supplementary Data

Thomas V. Perneger, Patricia M. Hudelson, Writing a research article: advice to beginners, International Journal for Quality in Health Care , Volume 16, Issue 3, June 2004, Pages 191–192, https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzh053

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Writing research papers does not come naturally to most of us. The typical research paper is a highly codified rhetorical form [ 1 , 2 ]. Knowledge of the rules—some explicit, others implied—goes a long way toward writing a paper that will get accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.

A good research paper addresses a specific research question. The research question—or study objective or main research hypothesis—is the central organizing principle of the paper. Whatever relates to the research question belongs in the paper; the rest doesn’t. This is perhaps obvious when the paper reports on a well planned research project. However, in applied domains such as quality improvement, some papers are written based on projects that were undertaken for operational reasons, and not with the primary aim of producing new knowledge. In such cases, authors should define the main research question a posteriori and design the paper around it.

Generally, only one main research question should be addressed in a paper (secondary but related questions are allowed). If a project allows you to explore several distinct research questions, write several papers. For instance, if you measured the impact of obtaining written consent on patient satisfaction at a specialized clinic using a newly developed questionnaire, you may want to write one paper on the questionnaire development and validation, and another on the impact of the intervention. The idea is not to split results into ‘least publishable units’, a practice that is rightly decried, but rather into ‘optimally publishable units’.

What is a good research question? The key attributes are: (i) specificity; (ii) originality or novelty; and (iii) general relevance to a broad scientific community. The research question should be precise and not merely identify a general area of inquiry. It can often (but not always) be expressed in terms of a possible association between X and Y in a population Z, for example ‘we examined whether providing patients about to be discharged from the hospital with written information about their medications would improve their compliance with the treatment 1 month later’. A study does not necessarily have to break completely new ground, but it should extend previous knowledge in a useful way, or alternatively refute existing knowledge. Finally, the question should be of interest to others who work in the same scientific area. The latter requirement is more challenging for those who work in applied science than for basic scientists. While it may safely be assumed that the human genome is the same worldwide, whether the results of a local quality improvement project have wider relevance requires careful consideration and argument.

Once the research question is clearly defined, writing the paper becomes considerably easier. The paper will ask the question, then answer it. The key to successful scientific writing is getting the structure of the paper right. The basic structure of a typical research paper is the sequence of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (sometimes abbreviated as IMRAD). Each section addresses a different objective. The authors state: (i) the problem they intend to address—in other terms, the research question—in the Introduction; (ii) what they did to answer the question in the Methods section; (iii) what they observed in the Results section; and (iv) what they think the results mean in the Discussion.

In turn, each basic section addresses several topics, and may be divided into subsections (Table 1 ). In the Introduction, the authors should explain the rationale and background to the study. What is the research question, and why is it important to ask it? While it is neither necessary nor desirable to provide a full-blown review of the literature as a prelude to the study, it is helpful to situate the study within some larger field of enquiry. The research question should always be spelled out, and not merely left for the reader to guess.

Typical structure of a research paper

The Methods section should provide the readers with sufficient detail about the study methods to be able to reproduce the study if so desired. Thus, this section should be specific, concrete, technical, and fairly detailed. The study setting, the sampling strategy used, instruments, data collection methods, and analysis strategies should be described. In the case of qualitative research studies, it is also useful to tell the reader which research tradition the study utilizes and to link the choice of methodological strategies with the research goals [ 3 ].

The Results section is typically fairly straightforward and factual. All results that relate to the research question should be given in detail, including simple counts and percentages. Resist the temptation to demonstrate analytic ability and the richness of the dataset by providing numerous tables of non-essential results.

The Discussion section allows the most freedom. This is why the Discussion is the most difficult to write, and is often the weakest part of a paper. Structured Discussion sections have been proposed by some journal editors [ 4 ]. While strict adherence to such rules may not be necessary, following a plan such as that proposed in Table 1 may help the novice writer stay on track.

References should be used wisely. Key assertions should be referenced, as well as the methods and instruments used. However, unless the paper is a comprehensive review of a topic, there is no need to be exhaustive. Also, references to unpublished work, to documents in the grey literature (technical reports), or to any source that the reader will have difficulty finding or understanding should be avoided.

Having the structure of the paper in place is a good start. However, there are many details that have to be attended to while writing. An obvious recommendation is to read, and follow, the instructions to authors published by the journal (typically found on the journal’s website). Another concerns non-native writers of English: do have a native speaker edit the manuscript. A paper usually goes through several drafts before it is submitted. When revising a paper, it is useful to keep an eye out for the most common mistakes (Table 2 ). If you avoid all those, your paper should be in good shape.

Common mistakes seen in manuscripts submitted to this journal

Huth EJ . How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences , 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1990 .

Browner WS . Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research . Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999 .

Devers KJ , Frankel RM. Getting qualitative research published. Educ Health 2001 ; 14 : 109 –117.

Docherty M , Smith R. The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. Br Med J 1999 ; 318 : 1224 –1225.

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  • Research Report: Definition, Types + [Writing Guide]

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One of the reasons for carrying out research is to add to the existing body of knowledge. Therefore, when conducting research, you need to document your processes and findings in a research report. 

With a research report, it is easy to outline the findings of your systematic investigation and any gaps needing further inquiry. Knowing how to create a detailed research report will prove useful when you need to conduct research.  

What is a Research Report?

A research report is a well-crafted document that outlines the processes, data, and findings of a systematic investigation. It is an important document that serves as a first-hand account of the research process, and it is typically considered an objective and accurate source of information.

In many ways, a research report can be considered as a summary of the research process that clearly highlights findings, recommendations, and other important details. Reading a well-written research report should provide you with all the information you need about the core areas of the research process.

Features of a Research Report 

So how do you recognize a research report when you see one? Here are some of the basic features that define a research report. 

  • It is a detailed presentation of research processes and findings, and it usually includes tables and graphs. 
  • It is written in a formal language.
  • A research report is usually written in the third person.
  • It is informative and based on first-hand verifiable information.
  • It is formally structured with headings, sections, and bullet points.
  • It always includes recommendations for future actions. 

Types of Research Report 

The research report is classified based on two things; nature of research and target audience.

Nature of Research

  • Qualitative Research Report

This is the type of report written for qualitative research . It outlines the methods, processes, and findings of a qualitative method of systematic investigation. In educational research, a qualitative research report provides an opportunity for one to apply his or her knowledge and develop skills in planning and executing qualitative research projects.

A qualitative research report is usually descriptive in nature. Hence, in addition to presenting details of the research process, you must also create a descriptive narrative of the information.

  • Quantitative Research Report

A quantitative research report is a type of research report that is written for quantitative research. Quantitative research is a type of systematic investigation that pays attention to numerical or statistical values in a bid to find answers to research questions. 

In this type of research report, the researcher presents quantitative data to support the research process and findings. Unlike a qualitative research report that is mainly descriptive, a quantitative research report works with numbers; that is, it is numerical in nature. 

Target Audience

Also, a research report can be said to be technical or popular based on the target audience. If you’re dealing with a general audience, you would need to present a popular research report, and if you’re dealing with a specialized audience, you would submit a technical report. 

  • Technical Research Report

A technical research report is a detailed document that you present after carrying out industry-based research. This report is highly specialized because it provides information for a technical audience; that is, individuals with above-average knowledge in the field of study. 

In a technical research report, the researcher is expected to provide specific information about the research process, including statistical analyses and sampling methods. Also, the use of language is highly specialized and filled with jargon. 

Examples of technical research reports include legal and medical research reports. 

  • Popular Research Report

A popular research report is one for a general audience; that is, for individuals who do not necessarily have any knowledge in the field of study. A popular research report aims to make information accessible to everyone. 

It is written in very simple language, which makes it easy to understand the findings and recommendations. Examples of popular research reports are the information contained in newspapers and magazines. 

Importance of a Research Report 

  • Knowledge Transfer: As already stated above, one of the reasons for carrying out research is to contribute to the existing body of knowledge, and this is made possible with a research report. A research report serves as a means to effectively communicate the findings of a systematic investigation to all and sundry.  
  • Identification of Knowledge Gaps: With a research report, you’d be able to identify knowledge gaps for further inquiry. A research report shows what has been done while hinting at other areas needing systematic investigation. 
  • In market research, a research report would help you understand the market needs and peculiarities at a glance. 
  • A research report allows you to present information in a precise and concise manner. 
  • It is time-efficient and practical because, in a research report, you do not have to spend time detailing the findings of your research work in person. You can easily send out the report via email and have stakeholders look at it. 

Guide to Writing a Research Report

A lot of detail goes into writing a research report, and getting familiar with the different requirements would help you create the ideal research report. A research report is usually broken down into multiple sections, which allows for a concise presentation of information.

Structure and Example of a Research Report

This is the title of your systematic investigation. Your title should be concise and point to the aims, objectives, and findings of a research report. 

  • Table of Contents

This is like a compass that makes it easier for readers to navigate the research report.

An abstract is an overview that highlights all important aspects of the research including the research method, data collection process, and research findings. Think of an abstract as a summary of your research report that presents pertinent information in a concise manner. 

An abstract is always brief; typically 100-150 words and goes straight to the point. The focus of your research abstract should be the 5Ws and 1H format – What, Where, Why, When, Who and How. 

  • Introduction

Here, the researcher highlights the aims and objectives of the systematic investigation as well as the problem which the systematic investigation sets out to solve. When writing the report introduction, it is also essential to indicate whether the purposes of the research were achieved or would require more work.

In the introduction section, the researcher specifies the research problem and also outlines the significance of the systematic investigation. Also, the researcher is expected to outline any jargons and terminologies that are contained in the research.  

  • Literature Review

A literature review is a written survey of existing knowledge in the field of study. In other words, it is the section where you provide an overview and analysis of different research works that are relevant to your systematic investigation. 

It highlights existing research knowledge and areas needing further investigation, which your research has sought to fill. At this stage, you can also hint at your research hypothesis and its possible implications for the existing body of knowledge in your field of study. 

  • An Account of Investigation

This is a detailed account of the research process, including the methodology, sample, and research subjects. Here, you are expected to provide in-depth information on the research process including the data collection and analysis procedures. 

In a quantitative research report, you’d need to provide information surveys, questionnaires and other quantitative data collection methods used in your research. In a qualitative research report, you are expected to describe the qualitative data collection methods used in your research including interviews and focus groups. 

In this section, you are expected to present the results of the systematic investigation. 

This section further explains the findings of the research, earlier outlined. Here, you are expected to present a justification for each outcome and show whether the results are in line with your hypotheses or if other research studies have come up with similar results.

  • Conclusions

This is a summary of all the information in the report. It also outlines the significance of the entire study. 

  • References and Appendices

This section contains a list of all the primary and secondary research sources. 

Tips for Writing a Research Report

  • Define the Context for the Report

As is obtainable when writing an essay, defining the context for your research report would help you create a detailed yet concise document. This is why you need to create an outline before writing so that you do not miss out on anything. 

  • Define your Audience

Writing with your audience in mind is essential as it determines the tone of the report. If you’re writing for a general audience, you would want to present the information in a simple and relatable manner. For a specialized audience, you would need to make use of technical and field-specific terms. 

  • Include Significant Findings

The idea of a research report is to present some sort of abridged version of your systematic investigation. In your report, you should exclude irrelevant information while highlighting only important data and findings. 

  • Include Illustrations

Your research report should include illustrations and other visual representations of your data. Graphs, pie charts, and relevant images lend additional credibility to your systematic investigation.

  • Choose the Right Title

A good research report title is brief, precise, and contains keywords from your research. It should provide a clear idea of your systematic investigation so that readers can grasp the entire focus of your research from the title. 

  • Proofread the Report

Before publishing the document, ensure that you give it a second look to authenticate the information. If you can, get someone else to go through the report, too, and you can also run it through proofreading and editing software. 

How to Gather Research Data for Your Report  

  • Understand the Problem

Every research aims at solving a specific problem or set of problems, and this should be at the back of your mind when writing your research report. Understanding the problem would help you to filter the information you have and include only important data in your report. 

  • Know what your report seeks to achieve

This is somewhat similar to the point above because, in some way, the aim of your research report is intertwined with the objectives of your systematic investigation. Identifying the primary purpose of writing a research report would help you to identify and present the required information accordingly. 

  • Identify your audience

Knowing your target audience plays a crucial role in data collection for a research report. If your research report is specifically for an organization, you would want to present industry-specific information or show how the research findings are relevant to the work that the company does. 

  • Create Surveys/Questionnaires

A survey is a research method that is used to gather data from a specific group of people through a set of questions. It can be either quantitative or qualitative. 

A survey is usually made up of structured questions, and it can be administered online or offline. However, an online survey is a more effective method of research data collection because it helps you save time and gather data with ease. 

You can seamlessly create an online questionnaire for your research on Formplus . With the multiple sharing options available in the builder, you would be able to administer your survey to respondents in little or no time. 

Formplus also has a report summary too l that you can use to create custom visual reports for your research.

Step-by-step guide on how to create an online questionnaire using Formplus  

  • Sign into Formplus

In the Formplus builder, you can easily create different online questionnaires for your research by dragging and dropping preferred fields into your form. To access the Formplus builder, you will need to create an account on Formplus. 

Once you do this, sign in to your account and click on Create new form to begin. 

  • Edit Form Title : Click on the field provided to input your form title, for example, “Research Questionnaire.”
  • Edit Form : Click on the edit icon to edit the form.
  • Add Fields : Drag and drop preferred form fields into your form in the Formplus builder inputs column. There are several field input options for questionnaires in the Formplus builder. 
  • Edit fields
  • Click on “Save”
  • Form Customization: With the form customization options in the form builder, you can easily change the outlook of your form and make it more unique and personalized. Formplus allows you to change your form theme, add background images, and even change the font according to your needs. 
  • Multiple Sharing Options: Formplus offers various form-sharing options, which enables you to share your questionnaire with respondents easily. You can use the direct social media sharing buttons to share your form link to your organization’s social media pages.  You can also send out your survey form as email invitations to your research subjects too. If you wish, you can share your form’s QR code or embed it on your organization’s website for easy access. 

Conclusion  

Always remember that a research report is just as important as the actual systematic investigation because it plays a vital role in communicating research findings to everyone else. This is why you must take care to create a concise document summarizing the process of conducting any research. 

In this article, we’ve outlined essential tips to help you create a research report. When writing your report, you should always have the audience at the back of your mind, as this would set the tone for the document. 

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Structure of a Research Paper: Tips to Improve Your Manuscript

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You’ve spent months or years conducting your academic research. Now it’s time to write your journal article. For some, this can become a daunting task because writing is not their forte. It might become difficult to even start writing. However, once you organize your thoughts and begin writing them down, the overall task will become easier.

We provide some helpful tips for you here.

Organize Your Thoughts

Perhaps one of the most important tasks before you even begin to write is to get organized. By this point, your data is compiled and analyzed. You most likely also have many pages of “notes”. These must also be organized. Fortunately, this is much easier to do than in the past with hand-written notes. Presuming that these tasks are completed, what’s next?

Related: Ready with your title and looking forward to manuscript submission ? Check these journal selection guidelines  now!

When suggesting that you organize your thoughts, we mean to take a look at what you have compiled. Ask yourself what you are trying to convey to the reader. What is the most important message from your research? How will your results affect others? Is more research necessary?

Write your answers down and keep them where you can see them while writing. This will help you focus on your goals.

Aim for Clarity

Your paper should be presented as clearly as possible. You want your readers to understand your research. You also do not want them to stop reading because the text is too technical.

Keep in mind that your published research will be available in academic journals all over the world. This means that people of different languages will read it. Moreover, even with scientists, this could present a language barrier. According to a recent article , always remember the following points as you write:

  • Clarity : Cleary define terms; avoid nonrelevant information.
  • Simplicity : Keep sentence structure simple and direct.
  • Accuracy : Represent all data and illustrations accurately.

For example, consider the following sentence:

“Chemical x had an effect on metabolism.”

This is an ambiguous statement. It does not tell the reader much. State the results instead:

“Chemical x increased fat metabolism by 20 percent.”

All scientific research also provide significance of findings, usually presented as defined “P” values. Be sure to explain these findings using descriptive terms. For example, rather than using the words “ significant effect ,” use a more descriptive term, such as “ significant increase .”

For more tips, please also see “Tips and Techniques for Scientific Writing”. In addition, it is very important to have your paper edited by a native English speaking professional editor. There are many editing services available for academic manuscripts and publication support services.

Research Paper Structure

With the above in mind, you can now focus on structure. Scientific papers are organized into specific sections and each has a goal. We have listed them here.

  • Your title is the most important part of your paper. It draws the reader in and tells them what you are presenting. Moreover, if you think about the titles of papers that you might browse in a day and which papers you actually read, you’ll agree.
  • The title should be clear and interesting otherwise the reader will not continue reading.
  • Authors’ names and affiliations are on the title page.
  • The abstract is a summary of your research. It is nearly as important as the title because the reader will be able to quickly read through it.
  • Most journals, the abstract can become divided into very short sections to guide the reader through the summaries.
  • Keep the sentences short and focused.
  • Avoid acronyms and citations.
  • Include background information on the subject and your objectives here.
  • Describe the materials used and include the names and locations of the manufacturers.
  • For any animal studies, include where you obtained the animals and a statement of humane treatment.
  • Clearly and succinctly explain your methods so that it can be duplicated.
  • Criteria for inclusion and exclusion in the study and statistical analyses should be included.
  • Discuss your findings here.
  • Be careful to not make definitive statements .
  • Your results suggest that something is or is not true.
  • This is true even when your results prove your hypothesis.
  • Discuss what your results mean in this section.
  • Discuss any study limitations. Suggest additional studies.
  • Acknowledge all contributors.
  • All citations in the text must have a corresponding reference.
  • Check your author guidelines for format protocols.
  • In most cases, your tables and figures appear at the end of your paper or in a separate file.
  • The titles (legends) usually become listed after the reference section.
  • Be sure that you define each acronym and abbreviation in each table and figure.

Manuscript

Helpful Rules

In their article entitled, “Ten simple rules for structuring papers,” in PLOS Computational Biology , authors Mensh and Kording provided 10 helpful tips as follows:

  • Focus on a central contribution.
  • Write for those who do not know your work.
  • Use the “context-content-conclusion” approach.
  • Avoid superfluous information and use parallel structures.
  • Summarize your research in the abstract.
  • Explain the importance of your research in the introduction.
  • Explain your results in a logical sequence and support them with figures and tables.
  • Discuss any data gaps and limitations.
  • Allocate your time for the most important sections.
  • Get feedback from colleagues.

Some of these rules have been briefly discussed above; however, the study done by the authors does provide detailed explanations on all of them.

Helpful Sites

Visit the following links for more helpful information:

  • “ Some writing tips for scientific papers ”
  • “ How to Structure Your Dissertation ”
  • “ Conciseness in Academic Writing: How to Prune Sentences ”
  • “ How to Optimize Sentence Length in Academic Writing ”

So, do you follow any additional tips when structuring your research paper ? Share them with us in the comments below!

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Report writing

  • Features of good reports
  • Types of Report

Introduction

Organising your information, abstract / executive summary, literature review, results / data / findings, reference list / bibliography.

  • Writing up your report

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The structure of a report has a key role to play in communicating information and enabling the reader to find the information they want quickly and easily. Each section of a report has a different role to play and a writing style suited to that role. Therefore, it is important to understand what your audience is expecting in each section of a report and put the appropriate information in the appropriate sections.

The guidance on this page explains the job each section does and the style in which it is written. Note that all reports are different so you must pay close attention to what you are being asked to include in your assignment brief. For instance, your report may need all of these sections, or only some, or you may be asked to combine sections (e.g. introduction and literature review, or results and discussion). The video tutorial on structuring reports below will also be helpful, especially if you are asked to decide on your own structure.

  • Finding a structure for your report (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Finding a structure for your report (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.

what is the structure of a research report

  • When writing an essay, you need to place your information  to make a strong argument
  • When writing a report, you need to place your information  in the appropriate section

Consider the role each item will play in communicating information or ideas to the reader, and place it in the section where it will best perform that role. For instance:

  • Does it provide background to your research? ( Introduction  or  Literature Review )
  • Does it describe the types of activity you used to collect evidence? ( Methods )
  • Does it present factual data? ( Results )
  • Does it place evidence in the context of background? ( Discussion )
  • Does it make recommendations for action? ( Conclusion )

what is the structure of a research report

  • the purpose of the work
  • methods used for research
  • main conclusions reached
  • any recommendations

The introduction … should explain the rationale for undertaking the work reported on, and the way you decided to do it. Include what you have been asked (or chosen) to do and the reasons for doing it.

- State what the report is about. What is the question you are trying to answer? If it is a brief for a specific reader (e.g. a feasibility report on a construction project for a client), say who they are.

- Describe your starting point and the background to the subject: e.g., what research has already been done (if you have to include a Literature Review, this will only be a brief survey); what are the relevant themes and issues; why are you being asked to investigate it now?

- Explain how you are going to go about responding to the brief. If you are going to test a hypothesis in your research, include this at the end of your introduction. Include a brief outline of your method of enquiry. State the limits of your research and reasons for them, e.g.

what is the structure of a research report

Introduce your review by explaining how you went about finding your materials, and any clear trends in research that have emerged. Group your texts in themes. Write about each theme as a separate section, giving a critical summary of each piece of work, and showing its relevance to your research. Conclude with how the review has informed your research (things you'll be building on, gaps you'll be filling etc).

  • Literature reviews LibGuide Guide on starting, writing and developing literature reviews.
  • Doing your literature review (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Doing your literature review (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.

The methods  should be written in such a way that a reader could replicate the research you have done. State clearly how you carried out your investigation. Explain why you chose this particular method (questionnaires, focus group, experimental procedure etc). Include techniques and any equipment you used. If there were participants in your research, who were they? How many? How were they selected?

Write this section  concisely  but  thoroughly  – Go through what you did step by step, including everything that is relevant. You know what you did, but could a reader follow your description?

what is the structure of a research report

Label your graphs and tables clearly. Give each figure a title and describe in words what the figure demonstrates. Save your interpretation of the results for the Discussion section.

The discussion ...is probably the longest section. It brings everything together, showing how your findings respond to the brief you explained in your introduction and the previous research you surveyed in your literature review. This is the place to mention if there were any problems (e.g. your results were different from expectations, you couldn't find important data, or you had to change your method or participants) and how they were, or could have been, solved.

  • Writing up your report page More information on how to write your discussion and other sections.

The conclusions ...should be a short section with no new arguments or evidence. This section should give a feeling of closure and completion to your report. Sum up the main points of your research. How do they answer the original brief for the work reported on? This section may also include:

  • Recommendations for action
  • Suggestions for further research

what is the structure of a research report

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The appendices ...include any additional information that may help the reader but is not essential to the report's main findings. The report should be able to stand alone without the appendices. An appendix can include for instance: interview questions; questionnaires; surveys; raw data; figures; tables; maps; charts; graphs; a glossary of terms used.

  • A separate appendix should be used for each distinct topic or set of data.
  • Order your appendices in the order in which you refer to the content in the text.
  • Start each appendix on a separate page and label sequentially with letters or numbers e.g. Appendix A, Appendix B,…
  • Give each Appendix a meaningful title e.g. Appendix A: Turnover of Tesco PLC 2017-2021.
  • Refer to the relevant appendix where appropriate in the main text e.g. 'See Appendix A for an example questionnaire'.
  • If an appendix contains multiple figures which you will refer to individually then label each one using the Appendix letter and a running number e.g. Table B1, Table B2. Do not continue the numbering of any figures in your text, as your text should be able to stand alone without the appendices.
  • If your appendices draw on information from other sources you should include a citation and add the full details into your list of references (follow the rules for the referencing style you are using).

For more guidance see the following site:

  • Appendices guidance from University of Southern California Detailed guidance on using appendices. Part of the USC's guide to Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper.
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Home Market Research

Research Reports: Definition and How to Write Them

Research Reports

Reports are usually spread across a vast horizon of topics but are focused on communicating information about a particular topic and a niche target market. The primary motive of research reports is to convey integral details about a study for marketers to consider while designing new strategies.

Certain events, facts, and other information based on incidents need to be relayed to the people in charge, and creating research reports is the most effective communication tool. Ideal research reports are extremely accurate in the offered information with a clear objective and conclusion. These reports should have a clean and structured format to relay information effectively.

What are Research Reports?

Research reports are recorded data prepared by researchers or statisticians after analyzing the information gathered by conducting organized research, typically in the form of surveys or qualitative methods .

A research report is a reliable source to recount details about a conducted research. It is most often considered to be a true testimony of all the work done to garner specificities of research.

The various sections of a research report are:

  • Background/Introduction
  • Implemented Methods
  • Results based on Analysis
  • Deliberation

Learn more: Quantitative Research

Components of Research Reports

Research is imperative for launching a new product/service or a new feature. The markets today are extremely volatile and competitive due to new entrants every day who may or may not provide effective products. An organization needs to make the right decisions at the right time to be relevant in such a market with updated products that suffice customer demands.

The details of a research report may change with the purpose of research but the main components of a report will remain constant. The research approach of the market researcher also influences the style of writing reports. Here are seven main components of a productive research report:

  • Research Report Summary: The entire objective along with the overview of research are to be included in a summary which is a couple of paragraphs in length. All the multiple components of the research are explained in brief under the report summary.  It should be interesting enough to capture all the key elements of the report.
  • Research Introduction: There always is a primary goal that the researcher is trying to achieve through a report. In the introduction section, he/she can cover answers related to this goal and establish a thesis which will be included to strive and answer it in detail.  This section should answer an integral question: “What is the current situation of the goal?”.  After the research design was conducted, did the organization conclude the goal successfully or they are still a work in progress –  provide such details in the introduction part of the research report.
  • Research Methodology: This is the most important section of the report where all the important information lies. The readers can gain data for the topic along with analyzing the quality of provided content and the research can also be approved by other market researchers . Thus, this section needs to be highly informative with each aspect of research discussed in detail.  Information needs to be expressed in chronological order according to its priority and importance. Researchers should include references in case they gained information from existing techniques.
  • Research Results: A short description of the results along with calculations conducted to achieve the goal will form this section of results. Usually, the exposition after data analysis is carried out in the discussion part of the report.

Learn more: Quantitative Data

  • Research Discussion: The results are discussed in extreme detail in this section along with a comparative analysis of reports that could probably exist in the same domain. Any abnormality uncovered during research will be deliberated in the discussion section.  While writing research reports, the researcher will have to connect the dots on how the results will be applicable in the real world.
  • Research References and Conclusion: Conclude all the research findings along with mentioning each and every author, article or any content piece from where references were taken.

Learn more: Qualitative Observation

15 Tips for Writing Research Reports

Writing research reports in the manner can lead to all the efforts going down the drain. Here are 15 tips for writing impactful research reports:

  • Prepare the context before starting to write and start from the basics:  This was always taught to us in school – be well-prepared before taking a plunge into new topics. The order of survey questions might not be the ideal or most effective order for writing research reports. The idea is to start with a broader topic and work towards a more specific one and focus on a conclusion or support, which a research should support with the facts.  The most difficult thing to do in reporting, without a doubt is to start. Start with the title, the introduction, then document the first discoveries and continue from that. Once the marketers have the information well documented, they can write a general conclusion.
  • Keep the target audience in mind while selecting a format that is clear, logical and obvious to them:  Will the research reports be presented to decision makers or other researchers? What are the general perceptions around that topic? This requires more care and diligence. A researcher will need a significant amount of information to start writing the research report. Be consistent with the wording, the numbering of the annexes and so on. Follow the approved format of the company for the delivery of research reports and demonstrate the integrity of the project with the objectives of the company.
  • Have a clear research objective: A researcher should read the entire proposal again, and make sure that the data they provide contributes to the objectives that were raised from the beginning. Remember that speculations are for conversations, not for research reports, if a researcher speculates, they directly question their own research.
  • Establish a working model:  Each study must have an internal logic, which will have to be established in the report and in the evidence. The researchers’ worst nightmare is to be required to write research reports and realize that key questions were not included.

Learn more: Quantitative Observation

  • Gather all the information about the research topic. Who are the competitors of our customers? Talk to other researchers who have studied the subject of research, know the language of the industry. Misuse of the terms can discourage the readers of research reports from reading further.
  • Read aloud while writing. While reading the report, if the researcher hears something inappropriate, for example, if they stumble over the words when reading them, surely the reader will too. If the researcher can’t put an idea in a single sentence, then it is very long and they must change it so that the idea is clear to everyone.
  • Check grammar and spelling. Without a doubt, good practices help to understand the report. Use verbs in the present tense. Consider using the present tense, which makes the results sound more immediate. Find new words and other ways of saying things. Have fun with the language whenever possible.
  • Discuss only the discoveries that are significant. If some data are not really significant, do not mention them. Remember that not everything is truly important or essential within research reports.

Learn more: Qualitative Data

  • Try and stick to the survey questions. For example, do not say that the people surveyed “were worried” about an research issue , when there are different degrees of concern.
  • The graphs must be clear enough so that they understand themselves. Do not let graphs lead the reader to make mistakes: give them a title, include the indications, the size of the sample, and the correct wording of the question.
  • Be clear with messages. A researcher should always write every section of the report with an accuracy of details and language.
  • Be creative with titles – Particularly in segmentation studies choose names “that give life to research”. Such names can survive for a long time after the initial investigation.
  • Create an effective conclusion: The conclusion in the research reports is the most difficult to write, but it is an incredible opportunity to excel. Make a precise summary. Sometimes it helps to start the conclusion with something specific, then it describes the most important part of the study, and finally, it provides the implications of the conclusions.
  • Get a couple more pair of eyes to read the report. Writers have trouble detecting their own mistakes. But they are responsible for what is presented. Ensure it has been approved by colleagues or friends before sending the find draft out.

Learn more: Market Research and Analysis

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Structure of reports Report sections and what goes in them

Reports are a common academic genre at university. Although the exact nature will vary according to the discipline you are studying, the general structure is broadly similar for all disciplines. The typical structure of a report, as shown on this page, is often referred to as IMRAD, which is short for Introduction, Method , Results And Discussion . As reports often begin with an Abstract , the structure may also be referred to as AIMRAD.

Preliminaries

report writing

For another look at the same content, check out YouTube » or Youku » .

There are several parts which go at the beginning of the report, before the main content. These are the title page , abstract and contents page .

Your report should have a title page. Information which could be included on this page are:

  • the title of the report
  • the name(s) of the author(s)
  • your student number(s)
  • name of the lecturer the report is for
  • date of submission

Many longer reports will contain an abstract. This is like a summary of the whole report, and should contain details on the key areas, in other words the purpose, the methodology, the main findings and the conclusions. An abstract is not usually needed for shorter reports such as science lab reports.

Contents page

Many reports will contain a contents page. This should list all the headings and sub-headings in the report, together with the page numbers. Most word processing software can build a table of contents automatically.

The first section of your report will be the introduction. This will often contain several sub-sections, as outlined below.

There should be some background information on the topic area. This could be in the form of a literature review. It is likely that this section will contain material from other sources, in which case appropriate citations will be needed. You will also need to summarise or paraphrase any information which comes from your text books or other sources.

Many reports, especially science reports, will contain essential theory, such as equations which will be used later. You may need to give definitions of key terms and classify information. As with the background section, correct in-text citations will be needed for any information which comes from your text books or other sources.

This part of the report explains why you are writing the report. The tense you use will depend on whether the subject of the sentence is the report (which still exists) or the experiment (which has finished). See the language for reports section for more information.

Also called Methodology or Procedure, this section outlines how you gathered information, where from and how much. For example, if you used a survey:

  • how was the survey carried out?
  • how did you decide on the target group?
  • how many people were surveyed?
  • were they surveyed by interview or questionnaire?

If it is a science lab report, you will need to answer these questions:

  • what apparatus was used?
  • how did you conduct the experiment?
  • how many times did you repeat the procedure?
  • what precautions did you take to increase accuracy?

This section, also called Findings, gives the data that has been collected (for example from the survey or experiment). This section will often present data in tables and charts. This section is primarily concerned with description. In other words, it does not analyse or draw conclusions.

The Discussion section, also called Analysis, is the main body of the report, where you develop your ideas. It draws together the background information or theory from the Introduction with the data from the Findings section . Sub-sections (with sub-headings) may be needed to ensure the readers can find information quickly. Although the sub-headings help to clarify, you should still use well constructed paragraphs, with clear topic sentences . This section will often include graphs or other visual material, as this will help the readers to understand the main points. This section should fulfil the aims in the introduction, and should contain sufficient information to justify the conclusions and recommendations which come later in the report.

The conclusions come from the analysis in the Discussion section and should be clear and concise. The conclusions should relate directly to the aims of the report, and state whether these have been fulfilled. At this stage in the report, no new information should be included.

Recommendations

The report should conclude with recommendations. These should be specific. As with the conclusion, the recommendations should derive from the main body of the report and again, no new information should be included.

Reference section

Any sources cited in the text should be included in full in the reference section. For more information, see the reference section page of the writing section.

Appendices are used to provide any detailed information which your readers may need for reference, but which do not contain key information and which you therefore do not want to include in the body of the report. Examples are a questionnaire used in a survey or a letter of consent for interview participants. Appendices must be relevant and should be numbered so they can be referred to in the main body. They should be labelled Appendix 1, Appendix 2, etc. ('appendices' is the plural form of 'appendix').

The diagram below summarises the sections of a report outlined above.

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There is a downloadable checklist for reports (structure and language ) in the writing resources section.

Next section

Find out about report language in the next section.

Previous section

Read the previous article about writing reports .

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Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 22 January 2022.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of EAPFoundation.com. He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter , Facebook and LinkedIn .

Compare & contrast essays examine the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences.

Cause & effect essays consider the reasons (or causes) for something, then discuss the results (or effects).

Discussion essays require you to examine both sides of a situation and to conclude by saying which side you favour.

Problem-solution essays are a sub-type of SPSE essays (Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation).

Transition signals are useful in achieving good cohesion and coherence in your writing.

Reporting verbs are used to link your in-text citations to the information cited.

Research-Methodology

Research Structure

Research structure is basically an outline of your paper. In your dissertation you are expected to provide the research structure towards the end of introduction chapter. The components of research structure are illustrated in table below:

Components of each chapter in research structure

The following is a sample of a research structure:

Chapter One communicates the purpose and focus of the study and explains the outline of the research. This chapter includes a brief explanation of the research background , and provides rationale for the selection of the research area . Moreover, the first chapter contains explanation of the research aim and objectives , and explains research structure.

Chapter Two constitutes a literature review, and accordingly, contains analysis of models and theoretical frameworks that have been previously introduced to the research area. This chapter contains definitions of main terms and explains search strategy for the secondary data . Viewpoints of other authors regarding the research area in general and research problem in particular have been presented in a logical manner in this chapter.

Chapter Three addresses methodology. The chapter explains the research process and addresses the issues of research philosophy . Moreover, methodology chapter contains explanation of research design , and the choice and implementation of data collection methods . Sampling aspect of the study and discussions of ethical considerations are also included in this chapter.

Chapter Four contains presentation of the primary data collected through questionnaires/interviews/focus groups/observation/etc. Presentation of primary data findings have been facilitated through bar charts/pie charts. Brief discussions have been included to explain each chart.

Chapter Five constitutes discussions and analyses. This chapter plays a critical role in the achievement of research aim and objectives. Findings of the literature review have been compared to primary data findings in this chapter. Also, in-depth discussions have been provided in relation to each individual research objective.

Chapter Six concludes the work and summarises the level of achievement of research aim and objectives. The chapter comprises acknowledgement of limitations of the study and highlights scope for future studies in the same research area.

Your dissertation has also to contain title page, acknowledgements, abstract, table of contents at the beginning. Furthermore, you need to add references, bibliography and appendices sections at the end of your dissertation.

Research Structure

John Dudovskiy

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Research Methodology - Structure And Components Of Research Reports

Structure of a research report - structure and components of research reports.

A research report has a different structure and layout in comparison to a project report.

PARTS OF RESEARCH REPORT

List of the tables, abstract or summary or executive summary or introduction:, aims and purpose or aims and objectives:, review of literature, methodology, results or findings, analysis and discussion, conclusions, recommendations, review of literature, the presentation of report, other sugest topic.

...

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How to Choose the Best Legal Structure for Your Business

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Your business’s legal structure has many ramifications. It can determine how much liability your company faces during lawsuits. It can put up a barrier between your personal and business taxes – or ensure this barrier doesn’t exist. It can also determine how often your board of directors must file paperwork – or if you even need a board. [Related article: What to Do if Your Business Gets Sued ]

We’ll explore business legal structures and how to choose the right structure for your organization. 

What is a business legal structure?

A business legal structure, also known as a business entity, is a government classification that regulates certain aspects of your business. On a federal level, your business legal structure determines your tax burden. On a state level, it can have liability ramifications.

Why is a business legal structure important?

Choosing the right business structure from the start is among the most crucial decisions you can make. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Taxes: Sole proprietors, partnership owners and S corporation owners categorize their business income as personal income. C corporation income is business income separate from an owner’s personal income. Given the different tax rates for business and personal incomes, your structure choice can significantly impact your tax burden.
  • Liability: Limited liability company (LLC) structures can protect your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. That said, the federal government does not recognize LLC structures; they exist only on a state level. C corporations are a federal business structure that includes the liability protection of LLCs.
  • Paperwork: Each business legal structure has unique tax forms. Additionally, if you structure your company as a corporation, you’ll need to submit articles of incorporation and regularly file certain government reports. If you start a business partnership and do business under a fictitious name, you’ll need to file special paperwork for that as well.
  • Hierarchy: Corporations must have a board of directors. In certain states, this board must meet a certain number of times per year. Corporate hierarchies also prevent business closure if an owner transfers shares or exits the company, or when a founder dies . Other structures lack this closure protection.
  • Registration: A business legal structure is also a prerequisite for registering your business in your state. You can’t apply for an employer identification number (EIN) or all your necessary licenses and permits without a business structure.
  • Fundraising: Your structure can also block you from raising funds in certain ways. For example, sole proprietorships generally can’t offer stocks. That right is primarily reserved for corporations.
  • Potential consequences for choosing the wrong structure: Your initial choice of business structure is crucial, although you can change your business structure in the future. However, changing your business structure can be a disorganized, confusing process that can lead to tax consequences and the unintended dissolution of your business. 

If you have to expand your business to another state , you won’t have to create a new company or structure, but you may have to register it as a “foreign entity.”

Types of business structures

The most common business entity types are sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations and cooperatives. Here’s more about each type of legal structure.

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business entity. When you set up a sole proprietorship , one person is responsible for all a company’s profits and debts.

“If you want to be your own boss and run a business from home without a physical storefront, a sole proprietorship allows you to be in complete control,” said Deborah Sweeney, vice president and general manager of business acquisitions at Deluxe Corp. “This entity does not offer the separation or protection of personal and professional assets, which could prove to become an issue later on as your business grows and more aspects hold you liable.”

Proprietorship costs vary by market. Generally, early expenses will include state and federal fees, taxes, business equipment leases , office space, banking fees, and any professional services your business contracts. Some examples of these businesses are freelance writers, tutors, bookkeepers , cleaning service providers and babysitters.

A sole proprietorship business structure has several advantages.

  • Easy setup: A sole proprietorship is the simplest legal structure to set up. If you – and only you – own your business, this might be the best structure. There is very little paperwork since you have no partners or executive boards.
  • Low cost: Costs vary by state, but generally, license fees and business taxes are the only fees associated with a proprietorship.
  • Tax deduction: Since you and your business are a single entity, you may be eligible for specific business sole proprietor tax deductions , such as a health insurance deduction.
  • Easy exit: Forming a proprietorship is easy, and so is ending one. As a single owner, you can dissolve your business at any time with no formal paperwork required. For example, if you start a day care center and wish to fold the business, refrain from operating the day care and advertising your services.

The sole proprietorship is also one of the most common small business legal structures. Many famous companies started as sole proprietorships and eventually grew into multimillion-dollar businesses. These are a few examples:

  • Marriott Hotels

Partnership 

A partnership is owned by two or more individuals. There are two types: a general partnership, where all is shared equally, and a limited partnership, where only one partner has control of operations and the other person (or persons) contributes to and receives part of the profits. Partnerships can operate as sole proprietorships, where there’s no separation between the partners and the business, or limited liability partnerships (LLPs), depending on the entity’s funding and liability structure.

“This entity is ideal for anyone who wants to go into business with a family member, friend or business partner – like running a restaurant or agency together,” Sweeney said. “A partnership allows the partners to share profits and losses and make decisions together within the business structure. Remember that you will be held liable for the decisions made as well as those actions made by your business partner.”

General partnership costs vary, but this structure is more expensive than a sole proprietorship because an attorney should review your partnership agreement. The attorney’s experience and location can affect the cost. 

A business partnership agreement must be a win-win for both sides to succeed. Google is an excellent example of this. In 1995, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created a small search engine and turned it into the leading global search engine. The co-founders met at Stanford University while pursuing their doctorates and later left to develop a beta version of their search engine. Soon after, they raised $1 million in funding from investors, and Google began receiving thousands of visitors a day. Having a combined ownership of 11.4% of Google provides them with a total net worth of nearly $226.4 billion.

Business partnerships have many advantages. 

  • Easy formation: As with a sole proprietorship, there is little paperwork to file for a business partnership. If your state requires you to operate under a fictitious name ( “doing business as,” or DBA ), you’ll need to file a Certificate of Conducting Business as Partners and draft an Articles of Partnership agreement, both of which have additional fees. You’ll usually need a business license as well.
  • Growth potential: You’re more likely to obtain a business loan with more than one owner. Bankers can consider two credit histories rather than one, which can be helpful if you have a less-than-stellar credit score.
  • Special taxation: General partnerships must file federal tax Form 1065 and state returns, but they do not usually pay income tax. Both partners report their shared income or loss on their individual income tax returns. For example, if you opened a bakery with a friend and structured the business as a general partnership, you and your friend are co-owners. Each owner brings a certain level of experience and working capital to the business, affecting each partner’s business share and contribution. If you brought the most seed capital for the business, you and your partner may agree that you’ll retain a higher share percentage, making you the majority owner.

Partnerships are one of the most common business structures. These are some examples of successful partnerships:

  • Warner Bros.
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Ben & Jerry’s

Limited liability company 

A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid structure that allows owners, partners or shareholders to limit their personal liabilities while enjoying a partnership’s tax and flexibility benefits. Under an LLC, members are shielded from personal liability for the business’s debts if it can’t be proven that they acted in a negligent or wrongful manner that results in injury to another in carrying out the activities of the business.

“Limited liability companies were created to provide business owners with the liability protection that corporations enjoy while allowing earnings and losses to pass through to the owners as income on their personal tax returns,” said Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting. “LLCs can have one or more members, and profits and losses do not have to be divided equally among members.”

According to Wolters Kluwer , the cost of forming an LLC comprises the state filing fee and can vary depending on your state. For example, if you file an LLC in New York, you must pay a $200 filing fee, a $9 biennial fee, and file a biennial statement with the New York Department of State .

Although small businesses can be LLCs, some large businesses choose this legal structure. The structure is typical among accounting, tax, and law firms, but other types of companies also file as LLCs. One example of an LLC is Anheuser-Busch, one of the leaders in the U.S. beer industry. Headquartered in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch is a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, a multinational brewing company based in Leuven, Belgium.

Here some other well-known examples of LLCs:

  • Hertz Rent-a-Car

To learn more about LLCs, read our LLC tax guide , our comprehensive overview of starting an LLC , and our guide to creating an LLC operating agreement.

Corporation 

The law regards a corporation as separate from its owners, with legal rights independent of its owners. It can sue, be sued, own and sell property, and sell the rights of ownership in the form of stocks. Corporation filing fees vary by state and fee category. 

There are several types of corporations, including C corporations , S corporations, B corporations, closed corporations, and nonprofit corporations.

  • C corporations: C corporations, owned by shareholders, are taxed as separate entities. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is a multinational investment bank and financial services holding company listed as a C corporation. Since C corporations allow an unlimited number of investors, many larger companies – including Apple, Bank of America and Amazon – file for this tax status.
  • B corporations: B corporations, otherwise known as benefit corporations, are for-profit entities committed to corporate social responsibility and structured to positively impact society. For example, skincare and cosmetics company The Body Shop has proven its long-term commitment to supporting environmental and social movements, resulting in an awarded B corporation status. The Body Shop uses its presence to advocate for permanent change on issues like human trafficking, domestic violence, climate change, deforestation and animal testing in the cosmetic industry.
  • Closed corporations: Closed corporations, typically run by a few shareholders, are not publicly traded and benefit from limited liability protection. Closed corporations, sometimes referred to as privately held companies, have more flexibility than publicly traded companies. For example, Hobby Lobby is a closed corporation – a privately held, family-owned business. Stocks associated with Hobby Lobby are not publicly traded; instead, the stocks have been allocated to family members.
  • Open corporations: Open corporations are available for trade on a public market. Many well-known companies, including Microsoft and Ford Motor Co., are open corporations. Each corporation has taken ownership of the company and allows anyone to invest.
  • Nonprofit corporations: Nonprofit corporations exist to help others in some way and are rewarded by tax exemption. Some examples of nonprofits are the Salvation Army, American Heart Association and American Red Cross. These organizations all focus on something other than turning a profit.

Corporations enjoy several advantages. 

  • Limited liability: Stockholders are not personally liable for claims against your corporation; they are liable only for their personal investments.
  • Continuity: Corporations are not affected by death or the transferring of shares by their owners. Your business continues to operate indefinitely, which investors, creditors and consumers prefer.
  • Capital: It’s much easier to raise large amounts of capital from multiple investors when your business is incorporated.

This structure is ideal for businesses that are further along in their growth, rather than a startup based in a living room. For example, if you’ve started a shoe company and have already named your business, appointed directors and raised capital through shareholders, the next step is to become incorporated. You’re essentially conducting business at a riskier, yet more lucrative, rate. Additionally, your business could file as an S corporation for the tax benefits. Once your business grows to a certain level, it’s likely in your best interest to incorporate it.

These are some popular examples of corporations:

  • General Motors
  • Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • JPMorgan Chase

Learn more about how to become a corporation .

Cooperative 

A cooperative (co-op) is owned by the same people it serves. Its offerings benefit the company’s members, also called user-owners, who vote on the organization’s mission and direction and share profits.

Cooperatives offer a couple main advantages.

  • Increased funding: Cooperatives may be eligible for federal grants to help them get started.
  • Discounts and better service: Cooperatives can leverage their business size, thus obtaining discounts on products and services for their members.

Forming a cooperative is complex and requires you to choose a business name that indicates whether the co-op is a corporation (e.g., Inc. or Ltd.). The filing fee associated with a co-op agreement varies by state. 

An example of a co-op is CHS Inc., a Fortune 100 business owned by U.S. agricultural cooperatives. As the nation’s leading agribusiness cooperative, CHS reported a net income of $422.4 million for fiscal year 2020. These are some other notable examples of co-ops:

  • Land O’Lakes
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Ace Hardware

The five types of business structures are sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation and cooperative. The right structure depends mainly on your business type.

Factors to consider before choosing a business structure

For new businesses that could fall into two or more of these categories, it’s not always easy to decide which structure to choose. Consider your startup’s financial needs, risk and ability to grow. It can be challenging to switch your legal structure after registering your business, so give it careful analysis in the early stages of forming your business. 

Here are some crucial factors to consider as you choose your business’s legal structure. You should also consult a CPA for advice.

Flexibility 

Where is your company headed, and which type of legal structure allows for the growth you envision? Turn to your business plan to review your goals and see which structure best aligns with those objectives. Your entity should support the possibility for growth and change, not hold it back from its potential. [Learn how to write a business plan with this template .]

When it comes to startup and operational complexity, nothing is more straightforward than a sole proprietorship. Register your name, start doing business, report the profits and pay taxes on it as personal income. However, it can be difficult to procure outside funding. Partnerships, on the other hand, require a signed agreement to define the roles and percentages of profits. Corporations and LLCs have various reporting requirements with state governments and the federal government.

A corporation carries the least amount of personal liability since the law holds that it is its own entity. This means creditors and customers can sue the corporation, but they can’t gain access to any personal assets of the officers or shareholders. An LLC offers the same protection but with the tax benefits of a sole proprietorship. Partnerships share the liability between the partners as defined by their partnership agreement.

An owner of an LLC pays taxes just as a sole proprietor does: All profit is considered personal income and taxed accordingly at the end of the year.

“As a small business owner, you want to avoid double taxation in the early stages,” said Jennifer Friedman, principal at Rivetr. “The LLC structure prevents that and makes sure you’re not taxed as a company, but as an individual.”

Individuals in a partnership also claim their share of the profits as personal income. Your accountant may suggest quarterly or biannual advance payments to minimize the effect on your return. 

A corporation files its own tax returns each year, paying taxes on profits after expenses, including payroll. If you pay yourself from the corporation, you will pay personal taxes, such as those for Social Security and Medicare, on your personal return. 

To simplify payroll complexities and taxation issues, consider using a payroll service. Check out our reviews of the best payroll services to find a partner that fits your needs and budget.

If you want sole or primary control of the business and its activities, a sole proprietorship or an LLC might be the best choice. You can negotiate such control in a partnership agreement as well.

A corporation is constructed to have a board of directors that makes the major decisions that guide the company. A single person can control a corporation, especially at its inception, but as it grows, so does the need to operate it as a board-directed entity. Even for a small corporation, the rules intended for larger organizations – such as keeping notes of every major decision that affects the company – still apply.

Capital investment

If you need to obtain outside funding from an investor, venture capitalist or bank, you may be better off establishing a corporation. Corporations have an easier time obtaining outside funding than sole proprietorships.

Corporations can sell shares of stock and secure additional funding for growth, while sole proprietors can obtain funds only through their personal accounts, using their personal credit or taking on partners. An LLC can face similar struggles, although, as its own entity, it’s not always necessary for the owner to use their personal credit or assets.

Licenses, permits and regulations

In addition to legally registering your business entity, you may need specific licenses and permits to operate. Depending on the type of business and its activities, it may need to be licensed at the local, state and federal levels.

“States have different requirements for different business structures,” Friedman said. “Depending on where you set up, there could be different requirements at the municipal level as well. As you choose your structure, understand the state and industry you’re in. It’s not ‘one size fits all,’ and businesses may not be aware of what’s applicable to them.”

The structures discussed here apply only to for-profit businesses. If you’ve done your research and you’re still unsure which business structure is right for you, Friedman advises speaking with a specialist in business law.

Max Freedman and Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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