The structure of each part and the content depend on the type of text.
Academic texts can be divided into two main categories:
- Analysis: You have been given a problem or a topic to analyse and discuss
- Research reports/papers: You have performed an independent investigation. It also entails discussion.
An analysis is a text in which you are supposed to account for or discuss an issue. The basis is usually a text written by another author that you are asked to analyse and discuss.
The introduction prepares the reader for the content and structure of your text. It presents the topic and the problem to be discussed, and it may give a brief overview of the whole text.
The main part of the text comprises an analysis and discussion of the issue or topic. When the task is to discuss a given topic, the main part will contain objective arguments based on your chosen sources. All claims must be documented by referring to sources and subjective and personal views should only be used with the greatest care (see the section on language and style). The structure of the main part depends on the topic; it may be structured chronologically, thematically, or as arguments for and against.
The conclusion ends the text. Hence it should not contain new information. This is where you sum up the main points of the text and link the conclusion to the introduction. Make sure you have answered all the questions of the problem statement.
A research report is based on academic work performed either as an investigation or a development project. A research report has a complicated structure because it must account both for methods used and results found.
The introduction prepares the reader for the content and structure of your text. It accounts for the purpose and aim of the project or investigation. This is a most important part of the paper and thus one of the most difficult one to write. It is therefore common for the introduction to be one of the last parts of the paper to be completed in its final version.
The introduction should comprise the following elements:
• Topic and aim
• Problem statement, hypothesis/assumptions and research questions
• An account for the background; why is this problem important or interesting to investigate
• An overview of the paper
It is a good strategy to start with the general and proceed to the specific - that is from the topic of the report and the general aim to the assumptions you wish to test and/or the questions you wish to find the answers to.
It is also important to account for the background of the project - why it is interesting or important to investigate this particular issue? This does not mean that you are supposed to account for personal interests (which should be placed in the preface/foreword if you include such a part). The background should focus on the objective, academic reasons for the project and what this investigation can contribute with. This may include accounting for research done or not done earlier in this field and how your project will fill the gaps. This section is called "previous research/work".
In the introduction you also account for the theories used. Only relevant background information and a brief account of the theoretical model should be given here or the introduction will be too long.
It is common to end the introduction with a brief overview of the subsequent parts of the paper to make it easier for the readers to orient themselves.
In a research report, which is based on an investigation, the main part is relatively extensive and there are certain conventions for what sections it must comprise and topics it must deal with. The main part comprises different sections: Theory, method, results and discussion.
The theory should be dealt with in a chapter or section of its own if the account for theories used is extensive. If not, it can be placed in the introduction.
The method section accounts for the way you proceeded to answer the research questions. This means accounting for the choice of method(s), data collection, selection of informants, the categories and criteria you have used in the selection, and analysis of the material. This must be done so thoroughly that it is possible for the reader to understand how you arrived at your results. The account of theoretical model may be placed in the same part or chapter as the account of method.
The results account for what you found out from your investigation, i.e. the concrete results of it. In this part/chapter you may use figures, tables and examples to clarify the description. But remember that illustrations, tables and examples are extras, that is, they are additions to the verbal text. This entails referencing and comments in the body text.
The discussion chapter discusses the results of the investigation and their meaning and importance. It is important to get at the essence of the results, which entails generalising and critical thinking. Questions that should be raised in the discussion are:
- How reliable are the results? Possible faults and sources of error must be considered.
- What are the consequences of the investigation? This has to do with the possible use of the results.
- How successful was the investigation? Did it yield good results? It is important to be critical and unbiased, taking counter arguments into the discussion as well as results that do not support the assumptions you started out with or the conclusion you draw.
The conclusion is the last part of the text and should not contain new information. This is where you sum up the main points and draw connections to the introduction. Have you answered the questions? What did you really find out?
In a research paper you must compare the conclusions you draw with the problem statement and the research questions. Were the questions answered? Were assumptions confirmed?
The conclusion should mirror the introduction. While the introduction goes from the general (the topic) to the specific (the research questions), the conclusion goes from the specific (the research questions) to the general (new knowledge on the topic).