Formatting Original Research

An original research paper should present a unique argument of your own. In other words, the claim of the paper should be debatable and should be your (the researcher’s) own original idea. Typically an original research paper builds on the existing research on a topic, addresses a specific question, presents the findings according to a standard structure (described below), and suggests questions for further research and investigation. Though writers in any discipline may conduct original research, scientists and social scientists in particular are interested in controlled investigation and inquiry. Their research often consists of direct and indirect observation in the laboratory or in the field. Many scientists write papers to investigate a hypothesis (a statement to be tested.)

Although the precise order of research elements may vary somewhat according to the specific task, most include the following elements:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Table of contents
  • List of illustrations
  • Body of the report
  • Appendix
  • References cited

Check your assignment for guidance on which formatting style is required. This page from the Purdue OWL provides information on the most common style guide for each discipline, but be sure to check with your instructor.

Title Page

The title of your work is important. It draws the reader to your text. A common practice for titles is to use a two-phrase title where the first phrase is a broad reference to the topic to catch the reader’s attention. This phrase is followed by a more direct and specific explanation of your project. For example:

“Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!: The Effects of Large Predators on Livestock Yields.”

The first phrase draws the reader in – it is creative and interesting. The second part of the title tells the reader the specific focus of the research.

In addition, data base retrieval systems often work with keywords extracted from the title or from a list the author supplies. When possible, incorporate them into the title. Select these words with consideration of how prospective readers might attempt to access your document. For more information on creating keywords, refer to this Springer research publication guide.


Table of Contents

The table of contents provides the reader with the outline and location of specific aspects of your document. Listings in the table of contents typically match the headings in the paper. Normally, authors number any pages before the table of contents as well as the lists of illustrations/tables/figures using lower-case roman numerals. As such, the table of contents will use lower-case roman numbers to identify the elements of the paper prior to the body of the report, appendix, and reference page. Additionally, because authors will normally use Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3) to number the pages of the body of the research paper (starting with the introduction), the table of contents will use Arabic numerals to identify the main sections of the body of the paper (the introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, references, and appendices).

Here is an example of a table of contents:


TABLE OF CONTENTS...............................iv

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS...........................v

LIST OF TABLES.........................................vii


LITERATURE REVIEW.................................6






APPENDIX................................................. 23

Click here to view more information on creating a table of contents from the Newton Gresham Library at Sam Houston State University.

List of Illustrations

Authors typically include a list of the illustrations in the paper with longer documents. List the number (e.g., Illustration 4), title, and page number of each illustration under headings such as "List of Illustrations" or "List of Tables.”

Body of the Report

The tone of a report based on original research will be objective and formal, and the writing should be concise and direct. The structure will likely consist of these standard sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Typically, authors identify these sections with headings and may use subheadings to identify specific themes within these sections (such as themes within the literature under the literature review section).

Introduction: Given what the field says about this topic, here is my contribution to this line of inquiry.

The introduction often consists of the rational for the project. What is the phenomenon or event that inspired you to write about this topic? What is the relevance of the topic and why is it important to study it now? Your introduction should also give some general background on the topic – but this should not be a literature review. This is the place to give your readers and necessary background information on the history, current circumstances, or other qualities of your topic generally. In other words, what information will a layperson need to know in order to get a decent understanding of the purpose and results of your paper? Finally, offer a “road map” to your reader where you explain the general order of the remainder of your paper. In the road map, do not just list the sections of the paper that will follow. You should refer to the main points of each section, including the main arguments in the literature review, a few details about your methods, several main points from your results/analysis, the most important takeaways from your discussion section, and the most significant conclusion or topic for further research.   

Literature Review: Given what the field says about this topic, here is my contribution to this line of inquiry.

In the literature review, you will define and clarify the state of the topic by citing key literature that has laid the groundwork for this investigation. This review of the literature will identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies between previous investigations and this one, and suggest the next step in the investigation chain, which will be your hypothesis. You should write the literature review in the present tense because it is ongoing information.

Methods (Procedures): This is how I collected and analyzed the information.

This section recounts the procedures of the study. You will write this in past tense because you have already completed the study. It must include what is necessary to replicate and validate the hypothesis. What details must the reader know in order to replicate this study? What were your purposes in this study? The challenge in this section is to understand the possible readers well enough to include what is necessary without going into detail on “common-knowledge” procedures. Be sure that you are specific enough about your research procedure that someone in your field could easily replicate your study. Finally, make sure not to report any findings in this section.

Results: This is what I found out from my research.

This section reports the findings from your research. Because this section is about research that is completed, you should write it primarily in the past tense. The form and level of detail of the results depends on the hypothesis and goals of this report, and the needs of your audience. Authors of research papers often use visuals in the results section, but the visuals should enhance, rather than serve as a substitute, for the narrative of your results. Develop a narrative based on the thesis of the paper and the themes in your results and use visuals to communicate key findings that address your hypothesis or help to answer your research question. Include any unusual findings that will clarify the data. It is a good idea to use subheadings to group the results section into themes to help the reader understand the main points or findings of the research. 

Discussion: This is what the findings mean in this situation and in terms of the literature more broadly.

This section is your opportunity to explain the importance and implications of your research. What is the significance of this research in terms of the hypothesis? In terms of other studies? What are possible implications for any academic theories you utilized in the study? Are there any policy implications or suggestions that result from the study? Incorporate key studies introduced in the review of literature into your discussion along with your own data from the results section. The discussion section should put your research in conversation with previous research – now you are showing directly how your data complements or contradicts other researchers’ data and what the wider implications of your findings are for academia and society in general. What questions for future research do these findings suggest? Because it is ongoing information, you should write the discussion in the present tense. Sometimes the results and discussion are combined; if so, be certain to give fair weight to both.

Conclusion: These are the key findings gained from this research.

Summarize the key findings of your research effort in this brief final section. This section should not introduce new information. You can also address any limitations from your research design and suggest further areas of research or possible projects you would complete with a new and improved research design.

References/Works Cited

See KU Writing Center writing guides to learn more about different citation styles like APA, MLA, and Chicago. Make an appointment at the KU Writing Center for more help. Be sure to format the paper and references based on the citation style that your professor requires or based on the requirements of the academic journal or conference where you hope to submit the paper.


The appendix includes attachments that are pertinent to the main document but are too detailed to be included in the main text. These materials should be titled and labeled (for example Appendix A: Questionnaire). You should refer to the appendix in the text with in-text references so the reader understands additional useful information is available elsewhere in the document. Examples of documents to include in the appendix include regression tables, tables of text analysis data, and interview questions.

Revised: 05/19

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