How to Organize a Paper: The IMRaD Format
What is the IMRaD Format?
The IMRaD (often pronounced “im-rad”) format is a scientific writing structure that includes four or five major sections: introduction (I); research methods (M); results (R); analysis (a); and discussion (D). The IMRaD format is the most commonly used format in scientific article and journal writing and is used widely across most scientific and research fields.
When Do I Use the IMRaD Format?
If you are writing a paper where you are conducting objective research in order answer a specific question, the IMRaD format will most likely serve your purposes best. The IMRaD format is especially useful if you are conducting primary research (such as experimentation, questionnaires, focus groups, observations, interviews, and so forth), but it can be applied even if you only conduct secondary research (which is research you gather from reading sources like books, magazines, journal articles, and so forth.)
The goal of using the IMRaD format is to present facts objectively, demonstrating a genuine interest and care in developing new understanding about a topic; when using this format, you don’t explicitly state an argument or opinion, but rather, you rely on collected data and previously researched information in order to make a claim.
While there are nuances and adjustments that would be made to the following document types, the IMRaD format is the foundational structure many research-driven documents:
- Recommendation reports
- Plans (such as an integrated marketing plan or project management plan)
How Does the IMRaD Format Work?
As mentioned above, the IMRaD format includes four or five major sections. The little “a” has had multiple interpretations over the years; some would suggest it means nothing other than “and,” as in “Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion,” but others have argued that the “a” should be viewed as “Analysis” in papers where the “Results” section may not be immediately clear and a section that analyzes the results is important for reader comprehension. Either way, the “a” often remains in lower-case to indicate that, while it’s often important, it isn’t always necessary. Below, we’ll review the five major sections, with “a” given equal weight to the other sections.
Note that these five sections should always go in the order listed below:
- Introduction: The introduction states the research problem or the question(s) you intend to address through research. Your introduction would typically include some variation of the following:
- Statement of the topic you are about to address
- Current state of the field of understanding (often, we call this a literature review and it may even merit having its own section)
- Problem or gap in knowledge (what don’t we know yet or need to know? what does the field still need to understand? what’s been left out of previous research? is this a new issue that needs some direction?)
- Forecast statement that explains, very briefly, what the rest of the paper will entail, including a possible quick explanation of the type of research that needs to be conducted
- Methods: The research methods section can go any number of different directions, depending on the type of research you conducted. Regardless of what you did for your research, though, this section needs to be very clear, very specific, very detailed, and only focused on research. Avoid explaining what the research means–this is for the next sections, Analysis and Discussion.While the research section is often considered the most boring section for someone to read, it is also considered the most important section to build your credibility. If your research methods are sound, your paper holds a lot more weight. A few tips to make your methods section work well:
- Separate each type of research you conducted (interviews, focus groups, experiments, etc.) into sub-sections and only discuss one research method in each sub-section (for clarity and organization, it’s important to not talk about multiple methods at once)
- Be very detailed about your process. If you interviewed people, for example, we need to know how many people you interviewed, what you asked them, what you hoped to learn by interviewing them, why chose to interview over other methods, why you interviewed those people specifically (including providing they demographic information if it’s relevant), and so forth. For other types of data collection, we need to know what your methods were–how long you observed; how frequently you tested; how you coded qualitative data; and so forth.
- Don’t discuss what the research means. You’ll use the next two sections–Analysis and Discussion–to talk about what the research means. To stay organized, simply discuss your research methods. This is the single biggest mistake when writing research papers, so don’t fall into that trap.
- Results: The results section is critical for your audience to understand what the research showed. Use this section to show tables, charts, graphs, quotes, etc. from your research. At this point, you are building your reader towards drawn conclusions, but you are not yet providing a full analysis. You’re simply showing what the data says. Follow the same order as the Methods section–if you put interviews first, then focus groups second, do the same in this section. Be sure, when you include graphics and images, that you label and title every table or graphic (“Table 3: Interview Results“) and that you introduce them in the body of your text (“As you can see in Figure 1, seventy-nine percent of respondents…”)
- Analysis: The analysis section details what you and others may learn from the data. While some researchers like to combine this section with the Discussion section, many writers and researchers find it useful to analyze the data separately. In the analysis section, spend time connecting the dots for the reader. What do the interviews say about the way employers think about their employees? What do the observations say about how employees respond to workplace criticism? Can any connections be made between the two research types? It’s important in the Analysis section that you don’t draw conclusions that the research findings don’t suggest. Always stick to what the research says.
- Discussion: Finally, you conclude this paper by suggesting what new knowledge this provides to the field. You’ll often want to note the limitations of your study and what further research still needs to be done. If something alarming or important was discovered, this is where you highlight that information. If you use the IMRaD format to write other types of papers (like a recommendation report or a plan), this is where you put the recommendations or the detailed plan.