If you work and are required to publish in any kind of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field you’ve probably used the IMRaD format before. Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion, or IMRaD, is the standard format for scientific writing genres, such as journal articles and technical reports. This article examines each section of the IMRaD format.
The overall purpose and function of an Introduction section is to establish a research territory, justify your study, and state the paper’s overall objective or purpose. The introduction section needs to explain what your research problem is and why it’s so important or necessary (the research questions driving your study is a good place to start). If your reader doesn’t know what you are studying and why they should care about your research, you will lose them as a reader. These two questions need to be answered clearly in the Introduction section. Additionally, the Introduction section needs to include a brief literature review to explain what research currently exists on your topic and how you are contributing to that area of the field (in other words, what have your peers discovered in their research and how does your research inform those findings). If your research has a theoretical orientation, then you will also explain the theory in your introduction. Finally, you need to define the goals of your research paper and provide a reading map for your reader. This final move is often referred to as “signposting” and is a quick way to explain to your readers what they can expect to find in your paper.
The Methods section has two general purposes. First, it provides a detailed description of how you conducted your research to make it transparent and replicable for your reader. Second, the Methods section shows your readers that your research has been designed systematically and performed thoroughly using an approach that is appropriate for addressing your research question or objectives. The Methods section needs to include detailed information about your process, such as the steps you took to conduct any experiments and what equipment you used.
The main purpose of the Results section is to report the findings of your study. These findings need to be based on the methodology that you used for your study. The findings in your Results section should be arranged in a logical order and should not include any bias or interpretive language. In other words, the Results section is strictly about the results of your study—not an analysis of those results; therefore, you should avoid language and implies a cause-and-effect relationship as well as judgment terms, such as interestingly, remarkably, and surprisingly. However, while you want to avoid cause-and-effect and judgement language in the Results section, you do want to use language that clarifies the direction and magnitude of an association between variables. For instance, you might say “mortality and age are correlated,” but that language doesn’t tell your reader the degree or direction of the relationship between mortality and age. A more effective wording might be “as age increases, mortality increases,” which explains the direction of the relationship but not the degree. The most effective wording would be “among the elderly, mortality roughly doubles for each successive five-year age group.” This wording explains both the degree and the magnitude of the relationship between mortality and age; however, the language does not analyze the findings.
The Discussion, or Conclusion, section should reiterate why your research matters by offering the reader a synthesis of your key points. As the author, you need to use this section to remind your reader about the strengths of your main argument and restate the most important evidence that supports that argument. This is the section where you can also analyze your results (although some researchers interpret the “a” in IMRaD as “analysis,” so your analysis of the results may come in a section between the Results and Discussion sections). The Discussion section should use hedging language rather than definite language, such as suggest instead of prove and demonstrate instead of confirm. This section should also present the last word on the issues you raised in your paper, mention any limitations your study had, summarize your thoughts and convey the larger implications of your study, demonstrate the importance of your ideas, explain your results in more detail, offer new ways to think about your research problem, and suggest future research projects. A lot of information needs to fit in your Discussion section; however, with clear and concise writing, you will be able to fit all the required information into this section in a relatively short space.
Whether you work in scientific writing, engineering writing, or any other STEM writing, The STEM Writing Institute (SWI) offers lessons in how to structure your documents in various formats, including IMRaD. Our 5-day writing workshops are open to all STEM graduate students, postdocs, new faculty and new industry professionals. Whether you’re situated in engineering writing, science writing, or technical writing, SWI is available to help with all of your STEM writing needs.
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