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Genre Research Papers

Dr. Kim after receiving her doctoral hood from LSU in 1990.

This post is devoted to the genre of research articles. (If you need a brief introduction to what I mean by genre, read Pros have contextualized knowledge.) The ultimate proving ground for researchers outside the humanities, where books and essays may still be king, is publication of articles in peer-reviewed journals or conference collections. I’m teaching a course on scholarly communication to doctoral students this semester. And we are spending the bulk of our time on writing research articles. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about this genre.

You may find it odd that I would tackle this genre on Pros Write. But I intend no April Fools’ Day joke. Let me briefly explain why research articles can count as “professional” writing. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a fan of academic writing because it normally involves asking students to write for teachers, with no real NEED to communicate a message. So it’s really the lack of authentic rhetorical context I object to — not the fact that the writing is done in school.  (I do teach writing myself after all.) That means I am interested in authentic writing.   Nearly all academics in higher ed have to demonstrate their ability to write about research to be recognized as a pro in their specific discipline and in higher ed, more generally. Thus, research articles are arguably the most important genre researchers must master.

So what do we know about the genre of research articles (RAs from now on)? RA content and its arrangement are often described by the acronym, IMRAD, or less frequently, IMRD.

  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results and
  • Discussion

Researchers, especially in the “hard” sciences, have used these terms to describe the pattern of information in research articles since early in the 20th century, but their use became more prevalent in the 1970s.

In some disciplines, and in some journals, it’s common to use headings in an article that are identical to those terms which gave rise to the acronym. But there is quite a lot of variation. Let’s see how this pattern applies to the sample RA shown below.

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The table lists the headings in the sample RA and how they correspond to those in IMRAD. Click on the links in the table to see my guidance for each section of an RA.

IMRADSample Research ArticleRhetorical Function
Introduction(Introduction)Establish research topic and justify need for more research
(Literature Review)Understanding (In)justiceDemonstrate current knowledge of research and develop research questions
Rapport Management Behavior
MethodsMethodDescribe approach to answering research questions
ResultsInterpretations of Rapport Management and (In)justiceDescribe data gathered via approach
DiscussionProvide answers to research questions based on data gathered
(Conclusions)ConclusionsEvaluate research and make deductions for the future

There are four apparent discrepancies.

  1. The sample RA doesn’t include the actual heading “Introduction.” But there is a section after the abstract that functions like an introduction (establishing the topic and justifying the research).
  2. The sample RA includes two headings that aren’t easily matched against the IMRAD descriptors. Researchers in the social sciences would call these two sections the Literature Review. It’s so commonplace I’ve added it in parentheses within the IMRAD column of the table. In the “hard” sciences, the literature is reviewed within the Introduction because there is generally less previous research to consider. But more extensive literature reviews are the norm in other fields. (I can explain this but won’t subject you to it right now.)
  3. The sample RA combines the Results and Discussion sections in IMRAD. This is commonplace in social science research that does not generate quantitative data for analysis with statistics — sometimes called qualitative research. But the functions of both sections are achieved by describing data and discussing its relevance for answering questions in an integrated way.
  4. The sample RA includes a Conclusion section, which is not named in IMRAD. While most RAs include a Conclusion, the length of that section varies widely. It tends to be very short — a single paragraph — in much “hard” science, which is why I suspect it is omitted from IMRAD.

Despite the wide range of disciplines producing research journals, most of their articles follow the IM(LR)RAD pattern. That’s because they accept, at least in part, the scientific method. The same rhetorical functions must be achieved by the RA even if researchers can be more or less inventive with the wording of their section headings.

Because the rhetorical function of each section of the RA is different, the textual elements most commonly used within those sections also differ. Building from information in John Swale’s Create-A-Research-Space (CARS) model, ), I provide the table below.

RA SectionsTensePassiveCitationHedgingCommentary
Introductionpresent is high & past is midLowHighMidHigh
(Literature Review)present is high & past is midMid HighMid Mid
Methodspresent is low & past is highHighLowLowLow
Resultspresent is low & past is highNo patternNo patternMidNo pattern
present is high & past is midNo patternHigh High High

There’s much more to say about the genre of research articles. But this post is already pretty long. I’ll do a series of posts on each of the sections of the RA in the future. For now, you’ve learned about the overall structure of RA sections and their rhetorical functions. That’s enough for today!

Related Research

Swales & Feak (1994). Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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April 1, 2013 in Crafting a Genre, Research article. Tags: Applied linguistics, English for Specific Purposes, Genre, Professional writing, Science writing

Multigenre research paper is an alternative to the traditional five paragraph essay commonly used in secondary education. It emphasizes the use of multiple genres to represent a given or chosen research topic. A genre is a specific type of art including literature, speech, drawings, music, etc. With this type of project, students are expected to research their given topic and then present the information they gathered using a variety of genres, with an emphasis on writing and composition. The genres created to represent the topic can be put together through the creation of a theme and bracketed by an introduction and conclusion. This creates a unified research paper that avoids the structure of a traditional five paragraph essay.


While some educators may argue that certain genres are not scholarly and/or appropriate to the social studies classroom, the option of utilizing narrative thinking may give students, particularly those who have difficulty connecting with the material, a way to relate to the topic under consideration. Students will have more options in the ways they choose to think and write about a specific topic by having the opportunity to choose multiple genres to write in. The power to choose which genres they include in their papers, mainly based on the particular topic and writer preference, will also create a greater sense of ownership in the written product. In addition, allowing students to choose the genres that they include in their multigenre research papers will help them to recognize that each piece of writing has a specific purpose and audience.

According to Camille A. Allen,[1] there are four main benefits for students who create a multigenre research paper:

  1. Students Become More Interested in Content: Method helps students remember the content because they become invested in it by focusing on areas of interest and connecting the material to their own interests and skills.
  2. Students Gain a New Attitude Toward Learning: Students have the opportunity to make choices about topics and genres and how to present their material in a meaningful way. They are actively involved in the creation process, not simply given a topic and then passively write on it based on research. Students have the opportunity to take risks and be creatively in charge of their own learning.
  3. Students Build Self-Confidence: Students spend time evaluating themselves and their peers and see the value of bouncing their ideas off of others. They also take ownership of the multigenre paper they create and recognize the difficult process that both they and their peers went through in order to create such a paper.
  4. Students Learn to Think: In order to be successful, students are required to communicate with their teacher and peers while composing a multigenre research paper. They get practice asking questions concerning how they will write and present their information.

Students also gain experience by discussing, with others, their possible genre ideas for their topic and work on editing their papers through peer revision.

According to Nancy Mack,[2] other benefits to a multigenre research paper include:

  • Requires that diverse types of writing be generated for a theme.
  • Stimulates critical analysis and higher level thinking skills.
  • Integrates factual information into a meaningful text versus copying or simple recall.
  • Creates coherence among the parts of a problem to be solved.
  • Requires a bibliography, footnotes, and careful documentation of sources.
  • Permits the author to highlight personal interests and special expertise.


  1. ^Allen, Camille A. (2001). The Multigenre Research Paper: Voices, Passion, and Discovery in Grades 4-6. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  2. ^Mack, Nancy. (2002). The Ins, Outs, and In-Betweens of Multigenre Writing. The English Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2, Multigenre Teaching, 91-98

Additional reading[edit]

  • Dickson, R., DeGraff, J., & Foard, M. (2002). "Learning about Self and Others through Multigenre Research Projects". The English Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2, Multigenre Teaching
  • Glasgow, Jacqueline. (2002). "Radical Change in Young Adult Literature Informs the Multigenre Paper". The English Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2, Multigenre Teaching
  • Grierson, Sirpa T. (1999). "Circling through Text: Teaching Research through Multigenre Writing". The English Journal, Vol. 89, No. 1, Research Revisited
  • Kittle, Penny. (2008). Write Beside Them. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
  • LeNoir, W. David. (2002). "The Multigenre Warning Label". The English Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2, Multigenre Teaching
  • Tchudi, Stephen (Ed.). (1997). Alternatives to Grading Student Writing. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English

External links[edit]

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