The IMRAD Research Paper Format
The IMRAD Research Paper Format
ENGA14 Finnish Institutions Research Paper (Hopkins)


When discussing academic writing, one often hears about the "IMRAD format." What is this format?

IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Research [and] Discussion) is a mnemonic for a common format used for academic ['scientific'] research papers. While used primarily in the hard sciences, like physics and biology, it is also widely used in the social and behavioral sciences. The IMRAD format is also known as the APA format, as the American Psychological Association uses the IMRAD headings in its APA stylesheet. IMRAD is simply a more 'defined' version of the "IBC" [Introduction, Body, Conclusion] format used for all academic writing.

Research in the Humanities normally uses a style which is similar to IMRAD, in the sense that academic research in all fields follows common explication principles. However, the focus in Humanities research is more on readability and the clarification of nuances in the topic, with a less-distinct separation of topic explication and 'exact' data collection procedures than would be appropriate for research in the hard sciences.

Further, in the Humanities generally, as well as in the ETI Section, MLA (Modern Language Association) style is preferred over APA. There may also be 'house styles' employed by institutions (or university departments/programs) for publication consistency. The format used for the ENGA14 paper is a Humanities-oriented 'house style' enhanced for readabililty and clarity of presentation in the HTML format in which the papers will be published.

A Brief IMRAD Research Example

Following is an example of using the IMRAD format for a report based on field research concerning the annual September "car-free day" events at Tampere University.

The research question is: How did students at Tampere University feel about the car-free day? Your research — based on observation, interviews and/or surveys — will provide the data to answer the question. Your answer will be a hypothesis (proposed thesis) that you will attempt to prove. Your data will be the evidence for your 'proof'.

The IMRAD format would include the following basic sections, as modified to fit the ENGA14 HTML publication standard. (NB: Some other sections, such as the paper's Conclusion, are not included in the "IMRAD" mnemonic.)

Introduction (including a title)

The title is centered at the top of the first page.

Below the title, but without a heading of its own, is the introductory section. This comprises one or several paragraphs which outline the research question and its significance within the topic being discussed, making it clear what the relevance of the question and topic are for readers of the paper.

[*Review of Background, 'Known Information']

[*This section is not part of the 'IMRAD' mnemonic, as it is considered to be self-evident]

What is the history of the car-free day? Who sponsors it, and why? Who/what are these organizations? How long have there been 'car-free days'? How widespread is the concept in Tampere or Finland (perhaps as opposed to other cities or countries)? How 'successful' have past events been (as defined by what criteria)? In what sense might the event or its concept be controversial (in whose eyes, and why)? (etc.)

Method

Describe how you gathered the information. What events did you observe involving university students, teachers and staff during the car-free day? Who did you interview? Why did you interview these particular people? What sort of information did you expect to get from them? If you interviewed people who didn't observe the car-free day, where did you find them? What did you expect they'd tell you? Were attitudes of university students, teachers and staff different from those of other residents of Tampere? In what ways? How do you know? If your paper includes interviews or surveys, here is where you would describe their design and procedure.

Results

What did you find out from the method you had employed? Here's where you would include your description of the recent car-free day, and the various opinions received by different means from different respondents. This is the main section of your paper.

Discussion

What do the findings presented under "Results" above mean? Specifically, how do your findings prove your thesis? What patterns do you see in the data? How do they correlate with what had been 'known' about the event, and/or what you had expected to find? Did you find what you had expected to, or were you surprised? (Often the parts that surprised you are the most significant, and the most interesting.) Is further research desirable? If so, what, and how? Researchers often use this section to promote interest (and funding) for their next research project.

Limitations on the Research Design and Material

Often a separate subdivision of the research discussion is a description of the limitations inherent in your research method, the material available for the research, or other such factors. Viewed after the fact, what would you have done differently (if you had been able to) to obtain more objective and 'reliable' results?

All research projects will have such "limitations": this does not diminish the findings of what was discovered, confirmed or disproved with the plan and material which was used; it simply recognizes that, had it been possible to conduct the project differently (with more complete material, a longer time frame, etc.) the results could or would have been different.

Conclusion, Notes, Works Cited and Appendices

While the IMRAD format presumes the paper's conclusion to be a subsection of the Discussion, there should be a distinct closing to the paper of several paragraphs that briefly summarize what the paper has proposed, discussed and concluded. Following this would be (in MLA format) possible [author] Notes, the paper's Works Cited, and possible Appendices.

FIN-1 Examples of the Optional Research Component

As examples of how past FIN-1 students have incorporated research components into their papers, using the conceptional development illustrated above, see (among others) Tove Jansson, The Moomin Business and Finnish Children (Räihä 2005), Media Education in Finnish Upper Secondary Schools (Silvennoinen 2005), Elk Hunting and Elk Hunters in Finland (Turunen 2006), and The Prospective Difficulty of Integrating Islamic Immigrant Labor Into Finnish Society (Karra 2007).

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Last Updated 10 January 2013