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Writing in the Health Sciences: Drafting

A Resource for Faculty and Students

Structure of Research Reports

Research reports are typically written in a structured format. An abstract providing a brief summary is followed by an introduction, methodology, results, and discussion. This format may be altered to include things like a formal conclusion or acknowledgments section. But it always follows the same general process. The steps of a research report are in place to answer certain questions (see below table). Often these steps are subdivided into subsections which compartmentalize data or explain various findings. 

The Sections of a Research Report
Question Section of a Paper
What is the report in a nutshell? Abstract
What is the objective of the report and how is the problem approached? Introduction
What methods were used to solve or evaluate the problem? Methods
What were the findings? Results
What are the implications? What does it all mean? Discussion
Which individuals should be credited for their contribution? Acknowledgments (optional)
What information was used to gather the information? Literature Cited (optional)


An abstract functions to summarize the major aspects of an entire report. It is positioned at the beginning of a paper (generally beneath the bibliograhic information) and is almost always included within the searchable records of a database. It essentially addresses the questions posed by the hypothesis and answered by the findings. It should be succinct (usually 200-300 words) and able to provide readers with the necessary details of the project. This can be seen below in the outline.

Abstract Format:

  • Address the questions you've investigated (often headed as "Purpose," "Background," or "Objective")
    •  State the general purpose of the report very clearly with one or two sentences
  • Discuss the experimental design including the methods used, subjects sampled, and study category (often titled "Methods," "Methodology," or "Design")
    • Express the general design of the study without excessive detail. 
    • Describe the statistical variables correlating to the things observed and studied.
  • Report the key findings from the results (usually "Results" or "Findings")
    • Identify the results of the study performed
    • Be sure to include the key quantitative results as wells as trends or relative changes found
  • Provide a brief interpretation of the findings ("Discussion")
    • Clearly state the implications from the results and what actionable consequences they entail


  • Use concise language
  • Avoid ambiguity and lengthy background info
  • Write after entire report has been written
  • Only include data that is included in the paper

An introduction establishes the context of the project and states the purpose of the report. It includes the relevant background information regarding the topic and highlights the report's objective. Often it discusses the primary literature used, even summarizing the lit review, and then explains the rationale and approach to answering the questions raised by the objective. These questions mostly involve the following: What has been studied on the topic? Why is the current focus an important topic? What was known beforehand? What did we find? What are the study's implications and how will it affect future clinical studies?

Introduction Format:

  • Identify the subject area of interest
    • Discuss the disciplinary background and current trends within the field
    • State the rationale and approach for the project
    • Narrow the focus down to the primary objective
  • Discuss the pertinent literature within the field of study
    • Summarize what is known about the particular subject
    • Review the literature which raises the most important questions
    • Develop an approach to your purpose for the study
  • Clearly state the primary objective of the study, then describe its methodology and overall scope
    • Include necessary details, but make sure that the study's purpose is effectively and coherently expressed
    • State what the purpose explores and hopes to find
    • Explain the methods (particular study or experimental design) utilized


  • Be coherent
  • Carefully describe the study or studies used for clarity
  • Cite literature properly

This section is often titled "Methodology," "Methods," "Methods and Materials," "Methods/Design," or simply "Methods Used." It describes how the research was carried out. The two key things which must be clearly articulated are the study design and subjects used. Other things such as statistical models and data management should also be included.

Methodology Format:

  • Describe the what, when and where of the subjects studied
    • Whether they are artifacts or organisms, discuss the pre-experimental collection and care
    • Identify where the subjects were observed and during what period
  • Discuss the experimental design and sampling method
    • Detail how the experiment or trial was structured (clearly identify the controls, treatments, sampling, etc.)
    • Identify how the variables were measured and stored
  • Show how the data were analyzed
    • Incorporate the necessary statistical models and procedures
    • Which qualitative analyses were used to determine efficacy?
    • Describe the probability criteria that was used to judge statistical significance
    • Discuss the technology used for statistics and archiving


  • Be detailed enough to account for all criteria
  • Use past tense
  • Organize the information according to the logical flow of your experiment

The results section objectively presents the key findings without interpretation. It identifies the outcome(s) of the study in a well-organized and coherent manner. Generally, this is where most of the visualization tools (tables and figures) will be concentrated as all of the analyzed data must be textually and graphically shown. Each component of the statistical summary must be presented in a logical order with the tables or figures arranged to showcase this.


While the structure of your results may vary, some general guidelines should be observed:

  • Report your findings so that differences between the variables are clearly understood
  • Organize the key findings around the sequence of visual data
  • Present results in a manner that anticipates questions raised by statistical models


  • Maintain past tense for describing results (see infographic below)
  • Use present tense for discussing tables and figures
  • Present in a logical sequence
  • Facts only - avoid interpretation

Discussing the results of your research means interpreting how the quantitative and qualitative data should be considered in light of what was already known. It should then explain a new understanding of the problem after what has been discovered. It should answer the primary question raised by the purpose/objective and address the other questions from the introduction. It should then make inferences about the implications raised by the new findings in light of the recent findings.

Discussion Structure

  • Organize the discussion corresponding to the order in which the results were presented
    • Discuss the results from each phase of the experiment (or individual study) in context of the problem
    • Address whether your findings rejected any null hypothesis
  • Make references to the literature reviewed and their similar or different findings
    • Identify key differences between the work of others and your own to help interpret the data
    • Describe possible limitations or problems with the study
  • Make implications as to what the new results might have on both theoretical and practical terms
  • Suggest future studies that might be done


  • Use past tense to describe your study
  • Use the present tense to interpret results in lieu of other studies
  • Use the past tense to discuss the study and its primary findings
  • Avoid conclusions or implications not supported by findings


Further References and Abstract Writing Resources

Other sections to consider include acknowledgments, annotated bibliographies, and appendices displaying key tables and figures. Certain publications may also require a formal "Conclusion" separate from the discussion. To see the alternate structure and format presentations for research, consult the below resources.

Liesegang TJ, Bartley GB. Footnotes, acknowledgments, and authorship: toward greater responsibility, accountability, and transparency. Ophthalmology. 2014 Dec;121(12):2297-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2014.09.010. 

Peh, W.C.G. and Ng, K. H. (2009). Preparing the references. Singapore Medical Journal. (50)7: 11-4. PubMed ID: 19644619

Scientific Writing & Verb Tense

"Scientific Writing: A Verb Tense Review" @ *

TTUHSC Writing Center

The TTUHSC Writing Center - This is the official writing center for the Health Sciences Center to which both students and faculty can submit drafts for review, consult with trained technical writers, and engage in educational workshops and seminars. The Writing Center is especially useful for students and first-time writers who need help with usage and mechanics. Writing a research report can involve many intricate stylistics and technical phrasing, something the Center's staff can be very valuable for.

Additional Resources

Elsevier's Research Academy Elsevier's Research Academy is an online tutorial to help with both the research and writing process. Additional tools allow writers to navigate the journal allocation and peer review process.

Research4Life Training Portal - Research4Life allows users to download handouts and other materials for every step in the writing process. It also contains several interactive modules pertaining to the lit review and writing processes.

Coursera: Science Writing - While primarily a continuing education resource (sometimes requiring payment), the options on this website allow users to engage in feedback for their work with scientific writing.

UNC-Chapel Hill's Writing Center: Scientific Reports - UNC's Writing Center provides many tools for writers. Among them are materials geared toward the science disciplines such as this handout which focuses on language development for research reports.

Style and Format for Scientific Journals - This handout focuses on the structure, format, and style of writing research reports. Particular attention is given to how each section of a paper is to look.

Formatting Scientific Reports - This brief guide focuses on the official IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, And Discussion), detailing the general procedure for articulating a research report.

Writing a Journal Manuscript - Springer Nature's guide to drafting a manuscript for a journal details the writing and publishing lifecycle and highlights important areas such as the placing of tables and figures within your draft.

Basic Statistical Reporting for Articles Published in Biomedical Journals: The Statistical Analyses and Methods in the Published Literature (The SAMPL Guidelines) - This component of the Equator Network shows one preferred method for describing data and statistics in your research.

Scientific Writing Research Guide - a Duke University guide similarly formatted to this one. It provides a provides help for writers experiencing difficulties with writing successfully coherent prose within their research reports.

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