Definition of a Research Article
A research article reports the results of original research, assesses its contribution to the body of knowledge in a given area, and is published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. A given academic field will likely have dozens of peer-reviewed journals. For university professors, publishing their research plays a key role in determining whether they are granted tenure. Once, research articles had only a limited audience consisting mainly of other scholars and graduate students. Today, websites such as Google Scholar and the proliferation of electronic academic journals have broadened the potential audience for research articles.
Research articles generally consist of the following components: a title and abstract, an introduction, a methodology, results, discussion, and references. Before they are published, the editor of the journal to which the manuscript was submitted sends it to experts in the same field for review. These scholars will review the article for, among other things, the appropriateness of its methodology and its relevance to the field. They may suggest revisions. The peer review process is lengthy. It may be a year or longer between the time an article is submitted and its publication.
Title and Abstract
The title and abstract are key factors in determining whether the entire article will be read. A title should be descriptive, giving the reader an idea of the focus of the study. Because the Internet has made it possible to access so many research articles online, a title should contain enough keywords for an interested reader to find the article. The abstract, meanwhile, serves as a mini-summary of the study. Many readers will review the abstract and, based on the findings, will decide whether to read the entire article.
The introduction of a research article should state the problem being studied and the reason for the study. To place the research in proper context, the introduction should contain a brief summary of the previous research in the area covered by the study. This literature review should include references, which should be listed in the references section at the end of the article. By presenting an overview of the previous research, the article's author(s) can explain how the study presented in the article will contribute to and advance the body of knowledge.
This section of the research article should outline the methodology the author(s) used in conducting the study. Including information on methods used allows readers to determine whether the study used appropriate research methods for the question being investigated. It also makes it possible for other researchers to replicate the study and see if they obtain the same results.
The results section will present the data, the meat of the study. It is easy to confuse the results section with the discussion section that follows, in which the article's author interprets the results of the study. The results section should only report the results from the data analysis, regardless of whether the study is qualitative or quantitative.
The discussion section presents an interpretation of the results of the study. The authors will summarize the findings and assess them in the larger context of the existing knowledge, pointing out the ways in which their findings relate to those from prior studies. Any unusual or unexpected results will be discussed in this section as well. Finally, the authors will consider the larger theoretical implications of the study's results.
The citations (references) come at the end of the article and should list all books, articles, and other resources used and cited in the article. The references -- and the entire article -- should be written in the appropriate style (Modern Languages Association, American Psychological Association, Chicago, etc.).
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.