In general, scholarly research articles are divided into the following sections: Introduction; Methods; Results; Discussion; Conclusion (sometimes referred to as the IMRAD format), though each main heading might have subsections. There will also be an abstract, usually in a structured format, and a reference section; articles missing any of these pieces are likely flawed in some manner. Keep in mind that research reports have structures that differ from case reports or literature reviews, which themselves have unique structures.
Abstract: This is a brief summary of the article limited to a paragraph or 250 words, providing a synopsis of the article. Typically, this is what a reader views before making a decision to read the full article. Today, structured abstracts are most common; these have subheadings for each part of the paper. These are preferred because they do a better job than the traditional prose abstract did. The abstract should present the purpose of the study, and allow the reader to screen for possible bias.
Introduction: This provides a rationale for the study and conveys the article’s purpose. It will usually provide a brief review of the literature, highlighting important research on the topic and giving context for the research. It should stimulate the reader’s interest. It should conclude with a clear statement of the study’s purpose- indicating the hypothesis to be tested or the question to be answered. Thus, an appraisal of the introduction should look to see if the purpose is presented and the context given.
Methods: This provides details about how the study was carried out. It will tell you how subjects were selected and assigned to groups, will describe the equipment used, and will thoroughly describe the procedures used. It will define its experimental design. A standard for the methods section is that it should give you enough information so that an interested researcher could repeat what was done. There should be a statement about the ethical safeguard used for both human and animal research. And there should be a statement about how the data will be analyzed. When you appraise the methods, ensure that the research design is appropriate for the study’s purpose and question, that the population and samples are identified, and that the methods of data collection are described in detail.
Results: This presents the findings of the study. Data is summarized, tables and graphs prepared and information is presented in a comprehensive and convincing manner. Ensure that you see that all data is presented; missing data may be a sign the author is ignoring data contradictory to the study’s hypothesis. All statements should be supported by the data. You should also look to see that all the demographic data is presented, and that statistical tests are described.
Discussion: This section points our new or important features of the study, and compares the study’s results with previous reports. It should help tell whether the data supports the hypothesis, note any limitations and provide alternate explanations for findings. The discussion should follow logically from the study data, leading to conclusions that support the study objectives.
Conclusion: This points out the importance of the study findings, and points to new directions for future research. This is not a place for any speculation.
References: Should be complete and accurate, mainly from peer-reviewed journals and only relevant citations used and cited. They should be up-to-date and from high-quality evidence sources.