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What Are the Elements of a Research Article?


Scientists make the results of their research work public by publishing them in a peer-reviewed research journal. Each journal has its own requirements for how a research manuscript should be organized but they all require the following elements:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction and Review of Literature
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion and Results
  • References
  • Acknowledgement of funding and conflict of interest statement


An abstract is a concise summary of the full text of a research paper.

According to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the uniform requirements of an abstract are that it contain the background for the study, the purpose of the study, the procedures followed such as how study volunteers were selected, and observational and analytic methods used. Abstracts must also contain the study’s main findings, the conclusions and any other important aspects of the study.

Introduction and Review of Literature

The introduction section of a research paper contains the rationale for the study and puts it in context. This background section should contain the objective of the study and the researchers’ hypothesis.

A brief review of related research may be summarized with the current gaps in the knowledge or conflicting data highlighted.


The methods section of the paper should address ethical issues including whether the study was approved by an institutional review board (IRB), what informed consent procedures were followed, and safety monitoring procedures.

The methods section also describes the sample size, provides a statistical analysis of the data, describes whether the study was randomized, controlled and blinded and what procedures were followed to ensure randomization, controlling and blinding of volunteers and researchers.


The results section of a research paper include narrative, charts and tables that describe characteristics and outcomes of the study group using data values, averages, medians and percentages.

Terms used in the results section:

The confidence interval (CI) is a way of stating how precise the estimate is within the population studied. 95% CI is the interval which contains the true risk difference, relative risk, or odds ratio with 95% probability.

P-value is the probability that the observed data could have been obtained if there was no association between the intervention (or exposure) and the outcome. The P-value is obtained by significance or hypothesis testing. P = .05 means that there is a 5% chance that the effect that was observed in the study was obtained by chance. Results are “statistically significant” when p < .05 (or 5%).

When p-value is <5%, the probability that chance can explain the findings is small (less than 1 in 20).

Selection bias refers to groups being different in some way that relates to outcome.

Clinical trials use randomization to minimize selection bias, obtain similar groups.

Information bias refers to systematic differences between groups in how information is reported or obtained.

Masking and placebos are used to prevent knowledge from influencing the reporting of an outcome.

Objective outcomes are occurrences such as death or the recurrence of a disease.

Confounding variables are factors related to both the intervention and the outcome.

A randomized assignment helps to balance known and unknown confounders between study groups

Discussion and References

The discussion and reference section puts the study in context and references related prior research. This section should include the implication the research results may have on future treatment of the subject health condition or disease. Any study limitations or weaknesses should be included, such as whether bias or confounding may have influenced the results.

Funding Acknowledgment and Conflict of Interest Statement

Authors must disclose financial conflicts that could potentially influence how they describe or present the research results.

Sources: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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