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Formatting Original Research

Typically an original research paper builds on the existing research on a topic, addresses a specific question, presents the findings according to a standard structure (described below), and suggests questions to be investigated in the future.

Though writers in any discipline may conduct original research, scientists and social scientists in particular are interested in controlled investigation and inquiry. Their research often consists of direct and indirect observation in the laboratory or in the field. Many scientific papers are written to investigate a hypothesis (a statement to be tested.)

Although the precise order of research elements may vary somewhat according to the specific task, most include the following elements:

Check your assignment for guidance on which formatting style is required. This page from the Purdue OWL provides information on the most common style guide for each discipline, but be sure to check with your instructor.

Title Page

The title of your work is important. It draws the reader to your text. Data base retrieval systems often work with keywords extracted from the title or from a list the author supplies. When possible, incorporate them into the title. Select these words with consideration of how prospective readers might attempt to access your document.


Table of Contents

The table of contents provides the reader the outline and location of specific aspects of your document. Listings in the table of contents typically match the headings in the paper. The main document and subsequent pages are counted with Arabic numerals. The table of contents and elements of the paper prior to the main text are usually numbered with lower case roman numerals.

List of Illustrations

A listing of illustrations is typically included with longer documents. Under headings such as "List of Illustrations" or "List of Tables" are listed number, title, and page number of each illustration.

Body of the Report

The tone of a report based on original research will be objective and formal, and the writing should be concise and direct. The structure is likely to consist of these standard sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Sections are typically identified and subdivided with headings.

Introduction: Given what the field says about this topic, here is my contribution to this line of inquiry.

In the introduction, you will define and clarify the state of the topic by citing key literature that has laid the groundwork for this investigation. This review of the literature will identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies between previous investigations and this one, and suggest the next step in the investigation chain, which will be your hypothesis. The introduction will be written in the present tense because it is ongoing information.

Methods (Procedures): This is how I collected and analyzed the information.

This section recounts the procedures of the study. It will be written in past tense because you have already completed the study. It must include what is necessary to replicate and validate the hypothesis. What details must the reader know in order to replicate this study? What were your purposes in this study? The challenge in this section is to understand the possible readers well enough to include what is necessary without going into detail on commonly known information. Results should not be recounted in this section.

Results: This is what I found out from my research.

This section reports the findings from your research. Because this section is about research that is completed, it is written primarily in the past tense. The form and level of detail of the results depends on the hypothesis and goals of this report, and the needs of your audience. Visuals are often used in the results section, but they should enhance, rather than substitute for your narrative of results. Develop a narrative and visuals that cite key findings which address your hypothesis. Include any unusual findings that will clarify the data.

Discussion: This is what the findings mean in this situation and in terms of the literature more broadly.

This section is your opportunity to explain the importance and implications of your research. What is the significance of this research in terms of the hypothesis? In terms of other studies? Incorporate key studies introduced in the review of literature into your discussion. What questions for future research do these findings suggest? Because it is ongoing information, the discussion should be written in the present tense. Sometimes the results and discussion are combined; if so, be certain to give fair weight to both.

Conclusion: These are the key findings gained from this research.

Summarize the key findings of your research effort in this brief final section. This section should not introduce new information.


The appendix includes attachments that are pertinent to the main document but are too detailed to be included in the main text. These materials should be titled and labeled (for example Appendix A: Questionnaire). The appendix needs to be referred to in the text so that the reader understands additional useful information is available elsewhere in the document.

Reference Cited

See KU Writing Center guides on Citing/Documenting Your Sources. Make an Appointment for more help.

Revised: 07/11

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