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By Karen Eckstein-Sarkissian

Basic elements of a research paper (or any academic paper)

A research paper is easier to write when broken down into distinct elements. And those same elements can be used to write other academic papers.

Elements of a research paper

The basic elements of a research paper are:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion/conclusion
  • References/bibliography


It may seem silly to include the title as an important element, but it really is vital. Think about the books at libraries and bookstores. They are lined up in stacks on tables and shelves. There are so many. How do you decide which one to even consider? By its title. If one doesn’t grab your attention, you skip it. So, take your title seriously. Even the title of a research paper. Essentially, it expresses the main idea of your paper.

students doing a research


The abstract is a paragraph that briefly and succinctly summarizes your article. It should:

  • affirm your objectives;
  • explain how data was gathered, handled, and examined;
  • condense your results; and,
  • identify the main research deductions.


The introduction states your thesis, rationalizes your work, and explains why it is relevant. This section is really the most important part of your paper as it directs its flow. Specifics are not required – that is for the body of the your paper. Just focus on making this part interesting.

Literature review

A literature review considers current published works that focus on the subject matter and evaluates what others have already done.


Illustrate how your research was carried out and provide detail about your techniques. They should be sharply detailed and rationalized. The reader should be able to clearly imagine and/or duplicate your methods themselves. Don’t hesitate to waste paper – clarity and logic are crucial.


Leaving out your personal opinion, detail your results but don’t explain. Graphics and tables are recommended in order to help the reader visualize and understand your findings, but don’t rely on the graphics and tables to do all the work.

a student doing a research


Now, you get to talk about the results, the effects, and how it all relates to your thesis. You can relate your deductions to prior studies, provide suggestions and/or warnings, and outline and relate your interpretations.


Your paper will not be thorough until you list your references. The bibliography is an alphabetized list of academic authorities. The easiest way to create a bibliography is to jot down the information concerning each original source, every time you use it. Just note the title, author, publication location, publisher, and publication date, and you’ll have a complete list by the end of your paper.

Essentially, any well-written paper will employ this basic structure to some extent. It doesn’t matter how simple or complex the topic is or important the paper is.  Once you master these elements, you can carry them throughout your education and adjust them in order to write anything, be it a lab report or term paper or even a doctorate. You can even take them through your career, where you might be asked to write a grant proposal or speech or just an opinion.

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