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IMRAD outline

IMRAD outline: how to do it right with the first try

Jan 19, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
A mainstream and common tool used in formatting scientific papers is the acronym known as IMRAD (which stands for Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion). Without being aware of this little shortcut its likely that you are already quite familiar with the above sections just mentioned. Most scientific reports, whether they be related to biology, medicine, statistics or a social science, will undoubtedly address all of these key aspects. Though alternative versions of this format may be seen from time to time (including sections for analysis or materials and methods) in terms of simplicity and efficiency the IMRAD format is definitely an excellent tool to be used when presenting empirical studies.

Benefits of using IMRAD

The main benefit of the IMRAD format is that it makes it very easy to access the information you need from a particular report without having to wade through a lot of data to get there. In many, many cases readers will only skim through papers and reports searching for specific sections that they may have in mind. So organizing your information in easy-to-locate subsections can be an important part of publication. Put simply- information that is difficult to read is often information left unread.
Likewise, the IMRAD system also allows the compiler to hone in on specific points and avoid dwelling on unnecessary details. The set sections can assist beginner and novice researchers when it comes to supplying relevant and suitable data for a report.

Simple steps to follow

Considering that the format for IMRAD is so straightforward, it only really takes about four steps to successfully complete any scientific report.
Introduction Methods Results and Discussion

Step #1: Craft your Introduction

The introduction should serve the purpose of introducing your topic by explaining to the audience what you examined, the main objective of your research, and (briefly) how you obtained your results as well as a few sentences on your findings (optional). Though more specifically the introduction should;
  1. Provide a hypothesis and a research question
  2. Set the context of your work by referring to work that has been previously done (provide a brief literature review)
  3. Explain why your research is important (answer the question So What?)
  4. Provide enough background information on your topic so that your reader is sufficed with that (and basically doesn't need to look anywhere else)

Step #2: Share your methods

Your methods section should comprise all of the materials used in your research as well as tools and any mechanisms that were necessary for the completion of the experiment (for example specific test or measuring tools). You should also detail all the steps that were taken so that your experiment can easily be duplicated if necessary. Essential steps for the methods section:
  1. Detail exactly who and what was studied
  2. List what materials were used in the study
  3. Explain which study design was applied (There are many types of study designs; yours will depend on your research question and how best to approach it)
  4. Provide step by step instructions of what was done during the experiment (procedures, interventions, and follow ups)
  5. Detail the measurement tools that were used
    *Additional issues connected to the experiment that may be included: any special conditions (weather conditions for instance) or consent forms for studies involving people as well as any ethical issues that needed to be addressed

Step #3: Reproduce the results-thats all!

The results section is one of the main highlights of your paper and involves relaying the most significant findings of your research. When creating the results section of a scientific paper or report its important to steer clear of going beyond simply relaying the results of your experiment. At times it may be tempting to begin interpreting and evaluating your information as you type up your results-this should be avoided as this type of analysis is actually reserved for the discussion portion of your paper. Somethings to keep in mind when writing up your results section;
  1. The results you list should be in accordance with the methods you provide (no outlandish results that are not connected to the rest of the paper)
  2. Include whether or not the hypothesis posed was true
  3. Share whether or not there was any 'lost' data and why
  4. Include visual aids when needed such as charts, tables and diagrams. Be sure to properly label all figures and provide an explanation of them that doesn't simply repeat the obvious.

Step #4: Discuss what you found

The discussion section along with the results section should make up the bulk of your paper. This is where you get to analyze the information you found, make connections, and put your findings in a larger context. Though the IMRAD format combines the conclusion with the discussion section the conclusion can actually be added with a separate subheading within the discussion portion of the paper. This may be optimal for some as even though the issues in both sections tend to overlap, the conclusion often serves a distinct purpose of summarizing the entire paper and bringing closure to the study and its findings. The main issues to present in the discussion section are as follows;
  1. Analysis and discussion of major research findings (this should involve interpreting the results and making evaluations or judgments based on the evidence provided)
  2. Discussion of minor findings (this can be limited to those minor findings that are really relevant to the study)
  3. Mention of any errors or shortcomings of the study (indicate what if anything should be done differently when duplicated)
  4. Examine the significance of the results on a larger scale (why it matters for the particular field or the 'real world' for instance)
  5. Implications for further study

Other important sections

A last point to make would be to mention a few of the other sections that are not included in the acronym IMRAD. Though these are often assumed, a quick review can't hurt. The other sections missed include the abstract, reference page, and appendices. Though appendices are not always needed, in most cases an abstract as well as a reference or work cited page is required for the publication of any type of formal paper or report.
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