The Science Of Scientific Writing    Set E     Generic Sections    Maps as Section Blueprints        Exercise 1      Exercise 2      ImRaD      Methods : Structure     Methods: Coherence      Exercise 3    Final Page .

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences

SET A: Paragraphs: The Maps Behind Them

SET B: Paragraphs: Using Maps to Meet Readers' Expectations

SET C: Paragraph Coherence and Cohesion

SET D: Sentences

SET E: Scientific Sections (including Methods)

SET F: Scientific Sections: The Discussion

SET G : Scientific Sections: The Introduction

SET H : The Paper as a Whole

The sections of a scientific paper (IMRaD)

The great majority of research papers published today have four major sections (the "IMRaD" format), called most typically:

  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results, and
  • Discussion

The sequence in the list above is also the most common, but occasionally the Methods section occurs at the paper's end, rather like an appendix. The IMRaD structure evolved during the twentieth century, at varying paces in different disciplines. In the medical literature for example it only became the most common pattern during the 1960s, according to a study by Sollaci and Pereira in 2004. Citing work by AJ Meadows, they suggest one main driver for the popularity of this format, which was itself a consequence of the increased amount of reading required of researchers:

"The IMRaD structure facilitates modular reading, because readers usually do not read in a linear way but browse in each section of the article, looking for specific information, which is normally found in preestablished areas of the paper."

When we were considered the generic section we saw that readers have two main expectations:

  • The section will have an early Frame of Reference section (with a Landmark or Pointer Sentence for the section as a whole), followed by an Elaboration
  • The section will be coherent, partly by virtue of:
    • having one dominant (core) purpose (description/report, argument, explanation) which is not overwhlemed by any non-core content
    • having paragraphs with Landmark Sentences, which, considered together, tell a coherent story

The specialised structure of the scientific paper has had an impact on both of these expectations, leading to a weakening of the first expectation in some sections, and greater difficulties in meeting the second throughout the paper. We will consider this in more detail when we look at the plan of the paper as a whole.