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Rhetorical and Organizational patterns of research papers

Check your paper to see if it is consistent with conventional organizational and rhetorical structures of research papers.

The introduction section of most research papers follows a common organizational pattern (Feaks and Swales, 2004), summarized as the three typical “moves” listed below:

1. Begin by defining the larger general territory or context from which the research topic of your study develops.

2. Point out a gap or lack of knowledge that exists in the literature about the topic of your study.


3. Indicate how your study fills this gap.


These three moves vary from field to field and from paper to paper, but they are present in most research papers and they clearly guide your reader, helping them understand the unique contribution of your work. If you have not followed this pattern, consider doing so.

The main purpose of the Methods and Materials section is to report on what experiments, simulations, interviews, analysis of proofs, surveys, modeling, or fieldwork was done to answer the main question or hypothesis of the introduction. Depending upon your field of study, this section is sometimes identified as the Materials and Methods, the Experimental Design, Theory, Protocol, or Procedure. 

The organization pattern of the Materials section typically follows the chronological order of your experiments, analysis of proofs or field work, but there may be some sections within the chronological scheme that use a most-to-least-important structure. For instance, while the overall methods section may be organized chronologically, for a complex topic under a certain sub heading that has more than one paragraph, a most-to-least important structure may used to organize this section. If for example, numerous variables were measured together, then it is common to report the most important results first, followed by less important results. Another possible organizational pattern is general to specific

In addition to organization consider whether: experiments are verifiable or reproducible; the text is confusing; technical specifications are correct; numbers add up; the number of experiment repetitions are sufficient; there is too much irrelevant information; sufficient description of anomalous experiments and results have been provided; statistical analyses are adequate, or the choice of the study design is appropriate.

 The results section presents the data produced by experiments done to address the main question of the paper. It is common to report results in descending order, from the most to least significant findings. Results that are most significant are those that directly  answer the main question of the research. Results can also be presented in chronological order of the experiments as outlined in the materials and methods. The results section should be as brief as possible, presenting only the most representative data, while leaving out less important data. Finding this balance is one of the challenges of writing the results section. 

Likewise, for the Results section, consider using hedging or a qualified choice of language to report your results. One of the most egregious errors made in interpreting and reporting results is to overstate their importance or implications. Instead use more cautious modest qualified word choice. Read more in the section of my book called Hedging.


 Check whether your discussion section follows a conventional pattern for research papers. For example, one common error in the discussion section is to simply repeat data obtained in the results section, without much interpretation of the data as is conventionally expected in the discussion. One distinct feature of the discussion section is that it is characterized by a series of points, rather than facts as in the results section (Swales, 2004). These points are interpretive rather than merely descriptive as in the factual reporting in the results section. If you do not see this pattern, you may wish to revise your discussion accordingly.

 Figures and tables should be used only if they facilitate presenting the results. Information should not appear in a table that is duplicated in the figures. Additionally, do not explain in detail what can be seen in the tables and figures since this is a waste of print space. Likewise, do not repeat information in the legend of figures and tables that have been mentioned in the text. Do not repeat information about the method, which should be explained in detail in the materials and methods section. Save the in-depth analysis and interpretation of the data for the discussion section (Lebrun, J, 2007). Data that is contradictory should not be excluded; instead, it should be included and explained as best as possible. Finally, when the data involves only two variables and is simple enough to be understood in a narrative of one or two sentence, do not use figures or tables. Tables and figures should only be used to visually represent the relation of a number of variables that are not easily explained in a narrative description. 

 Check your references so that formatting conventions are correct, including spelling, punctuation, and abbreviations. The more corrections you make, the less we will have to correct and the less we will charge you. 

 Check that references correspond to the in-text citation, and that all in-text citations refer to studies listed in your references. Use an editing software program, such as EasyBib, RefWorks, Endnote, Pro Cite, and Reference Manager to simplify this tedious and time-consuming task.

This is only a brief summary of some issues and patterns common to research papers, not an exhaustive list. For more detailed information about various topics related to organization and rhetorical conventions of research papers, please refer to our references.

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