Standard format for a social scientific journal article

Social scientific research reports and journal articles are designed to describe what researchers did, why they did it, how they did it, what they found, and what that means. While all journals have their specific requirements, all research reports and journal articles follow the same standard format. The format is standardized to make it easy for readers to study research presented in a variety of journals. The speed with which you read journal articles and the understanding you gain from those articles will increase once you become familiar with the standard format.

  1. Title: The title should be brief but clearly describe the focus of the research described in the article.
  2. Author(s): The names of all authors is given. The institutional affiliation is also given, sometimes with the authors' names, sometimes at the bottom of the first page, sometimes at the end of the article, and sometimes at the end of the journal.
  3. Abstract: The abstract is a brief summary of the article designed to give the reader an overview of what the researchers did, how they did it, what they found, and what it means.
  4. Introduction: This section describes all prior research and theories that all relevant to the study described in the article. That prior literature is integrated to form the basis of an argument(s) supporting why the present study was conducted. The introduction also introduces and argumentatively supports whatever research hypotheses and/or research questions are addresses in the study.
  5. Method: This section describes what the researchers did. The section is written in sufficient detail and precision to allow a reader to replicate the study. There are exceptions to this principle of replication (e.g., lengthy surveys are not normally included, complex and detailed instructions to experimental subjects are often summarized, etc.). The method section contains as many of these five subsections as are appropriate for the study:


    The demographics of the persons used in the study.


    Detailed description of special equipment used, if any, in the study.


    Detailed description of what the researchers and subjects did.


    Description of the type of experimental design used in the study.

    Materials or measures

    Description of which testing and measuring instruments were used, and how they were used if differently than their normal use.

  6. Results: This section describes what the researchers found. You will often find this section to be a mixture of statistical reports, tables, and prose describing those numbers.
  7. Discussion: This section provides the authors' the opportunity to tell what their research results mean, both to the study and to the world at large.
  8. References: A list of all works (e.g., books, articles, personal communication, etc.) cited in the study. Most, and usually all, of the cited works will be cited and discussed in the introduction section of the article.

Readers familiar with statistical analyses and the theories, prior research, and methodologies used in field related to the article should have no problem understanding the article. Readers lacking familiarity with field related theories, research, and methodology usually have some difficulties grasping the big picture of the study, but if the article is well written the readers can understand enough to understand the gist of the study.

Readers unfamiliar with statistical analyses fare worse. These readers often entirely skip the Method and Results section, relying solely on the Introduction and Discussion sections. When read alone, the Introduction and Discussion sections can work well to provide the reader with an overview of the study. However, these sections generally stay at a higher level, leaving the details for the Method and Results sections. Often, the prize is in the details. Certainly, the Results section contains the basis for determining the validity of information in the Discussion section. Readers lacking statistical analyses expertise will be best served by taking a course on experimental design and statistical analysis, preferably in the same discipline as the journal articles they read (e.g., readers of communication articles benefit from an experimental design and statistical analysis course offered by the communication department, readers of psychology articles benefit from an experimental design and statistical analysis course offered by the psychology department, etc.).

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