There are several academic writing formats. It is the reason why academic writing lacks a specific definition. This chapter provides a detailed account of the most popularly used paper structures in academic writing.

  • Generally, the article focuses on structures of:
    • Essay
    • Research paper
    • Annotated bibliography
    • Abstract
    • Dissertation
    • Research proposal
    • Reflection paper
    • Report
    • Memorandum (Memo)
  • Essay

An essay is a short writing piece that in most cases, focuses on a single subject. The main reason for writing an essay is to persuade the target audiences to do something which the writer believes is necessary or appropriate.

An essay consists of 3 parts: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

Part 1: Introduction

Here is the point where you must grab the attention of your reader. Include a brief overview of your study topic and indicate the thesis statement of your article.

Irrespective of your topic, you should include the following points to hook readers effectively:

  • State the key question
  • Clarify the direction your writing takes
  • Include some relevant quotes from a popular book or person
  • Add matching statistics or some facts
  • You may also include the definition of a term that relates to the topic

Part 2: Body

The body of an essay is the central part of the work.  Define your paragraphs in a clear manner and arrange them logically to make the order easy to understand. 

The first sentence in each of the paragraphs should connect to the preceding one to ensure a smooth flow of ideas in your writing. 

All the sentences in a common paragraph should link well and talk about the topic. Ensure you repeat or find synonyms of important words for the topic. Moreover, use transitional words like however, such as, therefore, hence, thus, etc. These will enhance cohesion in your article.

Part 3: Conclusion

The role of this part is to draw the paper to its close in a clear way. It should restate the thesis statement (in different words) and identify the main points discussed in the essay. Depending on the topic, the writer may include suggestions for future studies here. 

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  • Research Paper/Report

Research writing starts with the identification of the concerned research question. A research question should be defined well for the writer to find the most appropriate answer. 

A research paper contains:

  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results, and
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Every section mentioned above has a different objective.

  1. Introduction

Here, you should identify the problem you intend to address, and explain the gaps found in the current understanding of the topic. 

The other thing to add here is the research objectives that should as well be based on the research question

      2. Methods

- Talk about the study context and setting

- Identify the design of your study

- Specify your study population

- Describe the variables in your investigation

- List the data collection instruments and procedures

- Present the data analysis approaches

     3. Results

This section follows data collection and analysis hence its purpose is to present the findings of the study. Therefore, it should present the following details:

  • response rate (a report on participant recruitment and data collection)
  • description of participants' demographics (e.g. age, gender, educational attainment level, etc.)
  • Key findings: primary results of the study without much interpretation

      4. Discussion

Explain the main discovery of your study, and explain them in relation to previous research findings. You should elaborate on the similarities and differences between your study outcomes and those of other researchers that studied a similar topic. 

After this, explain the implications for policy and future practice. State how your findings may be implemented in the future to improve on the current situation.

You may then state the strengths of your study and its limitations. From the limitations, you may indicate potential perspectives for future researchers.

     5. Conclusion and Recommendation

Use this section to summarise your key points. If you used hypotheses, indicate how your findings confirmed or dismissed the null hypotheses. You can add recommendations as well. They should basically be implications for policy or practice.

     6. References

List all the sources you used in your writing in alphabetical order. Also, make sure all sources according to the guidelines of the format style you applied. The format style could be APA, MLA, Havard, etc.

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  • Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography should offer readers a brief elaboration of the research studies selected by the writer. It is simply an outline of research studies, with some short summary and analysis of each source.

In your annotated bibliography assignment, you may be asked to summarize, evaluate, critique, or analyze particular articles.

Tutors use this assignment type to assist students to retrieve the best sources for their study topic.

Here is a list of questions to refer to when searching for sources online:

  1. What is my topic of study?
  2. What is the question I want to explore? What is the aim of my research?
  3. What type of materials am I in need of, and why is that?
  4. Is there a connection between each article I have picked and my topic?
  5. How valuable are my resources? Have they been referenced in other studies?

Components of Annotated Bibliography

The allowed space or coverage of your assignment will determine the components of your annotated bibliography. Otherwise, an annotated bibliography may include the following:

  • The complete bibliographic citation
  • Background information about the author
  • Text content and scope
  • The source's main argument or point
  • Author's target audience
  • Research methods employed
  • Text's reliability and validity
  • Identify the text features you found to be unique or useful (graphs or charts)
  • Describe how the text relates to the themes within your study topic
  • Recognize the strengths and limitations of the source
  • Give your opinion/viewpoint on the text

  • Abstract

It summarizes the entire text into about 150 to 300 words. The abstract could be a summary of a report, research paper, research proposal, academic journal article, or dissertation.

The main components should come as sequenced below:

  1. Overall research purpose or the challenge investigated in the text
  2. The main design used in the study you are referring to
  3. Key findings revealed after data analysis
  4. Your interpretation of the findings,
  5. Conclusion (and recommendations, where applicable)

Abstract: Writing Style

  • Write in concise sentences, but they should be complete and make sense
  • Employ active voice as much as you can
  • It should be written as a single paragraph
  • The abstract paragraph needs to be in block format and free from indentations
  • It could come immediately after the table of content or on the next page from the title page
  • Ensure to center the title "Abstract"
  • The last sentence in your abstract should summarize the conclusion and implications for practice. You may add the recommended direction for future research, too.
  • An abstract should come last, as its purpose is to provide an overview of the important sections of your text


When writing your abstract, remember the following:

  • Avoid lengthy background details
  • No repetitive information
  • Do not include abbreviations or acronyms
  • No in-text citations or reference to other sources
  • Do not include figure, charts, graphs, or images in abstract

  • Dissertation

A dissertation is an outline and detailed explanation of various contents of a research project. The structure generally varies with the discipline of concern or the course type. In this section, however, an overall structure is presented.

The components are:

  • Title page: It is the first page of every assignment. In a dissertation, this section should indicate your research topic, name, institution, and any other details that your instructor suggests.
  • Acknowledgment: Use this section to appreciate any individuals or organizations whose involvement in your study proved important for its completion. In most cases, students acknowledge their tutors, parents, children, spouses, and supervisors.
  • Dedication: if applicable, identify the person(s) that inspired you to conduct the study. It may be what they said that made you curious, or a need of theirs that prompted you to seek solutions through a study.
  • Declaration: This section requires the student to confirm that the text that they present is their own original work and has not been copied from anywhere.
  • Abstract: I discussed this in the previous section. It is the summary of all the constituents of the research project.
  • Table of Contents: This should highlight the main titles and sub-titles in the research project. The tool is automatically generated in Microsoft Word. 
Open Microsoft Word then select "References" from the toolbar. On the left corner of your screen, you will see the Table of Content's menu. Choose the most appropriate form. Use Title Headers in Microsoft Word to update the Table of Contents.
  • List of Tables/Figure: If your research paper contains tables and figures, ensure that you include them in this list. These can be generated automatically too. To number your figures and tables go to References on Microsoft Word then select Captions. Select Table 1 or Figure 1 and add the title, click OK to add it to your document.
  • List of Abbreviation: If your work contains abbreviations, list them here alphabetically and give their full forms.
  • Chapter OneIntroduction. Make sure you provide an overview of your research topic here. After going through your introduction, a reader should understand why you want to conduct the study, how it will happen, what you are going to study, and why the research is important. Note that the introduction section has several subsections that are, however, determined by your discipline. Check the Sample research paper to discover subsections within this chapter.
  • Chapter Two: Literature Review. You should read past studies that focused on a topic similar to yours and identify those that can contribute to your work. You can review books, journals, government reports, reports from large organizations (WorldBank, World Health Organization, etc.), and other research studies. The important task here is to identify gaps in such works and describe how your study intends to address them (or fill the identified gaps).
  • Chapter Three: Methodology: `Should explain the process to be followed when conducting the research. Identify the research type to use, methods for data collection, data analysis tools, and limitations of the instruments and approaches employed in your research. To meet the research objectives, the components of the Methodology should be convincing.
  • Chapter Four: Results. Presents all the results to obtain from following your methodology. In some studies, this section may also include discussion in some research projects. In most cases, however, this chapter simply presents the findings in charts and graphs.
  • Chapter Five: Discussion: Explain your findings here in detail. Also, analyze and present the connection between your findings and those of previous research. You may also speak of your recommendations for the issues you have identified in the study process.
  • Chapter Six: Conclusion (and Recommendation): This should summarise all the components of the dissertation. It should briefly recognize the research questions and the answers discovered by the researcher. It may also include suggestions (recommendations) for future practice and implications for future research.
  • References: Should include an alphabetical list of all the sources employed in the research project.
  • Appendices: This often contains the various tools used during data collection such as surveys, questionnaires, letters of recommendation, cooperation letters, etc.

  • Research Proposal

A research proposal is the first part of the dissertation writing process. It contains some of the areas of a research project paper such as Chapters One to Three.

The following is the list of research proposal components:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures/Tables
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1-3
  • Timeline: a timetable in the form of a graph or Gantt chart, illustrating the proposed beginning and ending date of the project. It also identifies the activities that will be done till the research is completed, and how long each activity will take
  • Budget: Usually in the form of a table. It lists the resources required to complete the planned research project and the cost of each one of them. The total amount that a researcher has to spend is indicated at the bottom of the budget table.
  • References
  • Appendices: In a research proposal, the appendices section presents the instruments that a researcher intends to use. They could be questionnaires, survey questions, and unsigned consent forms.

NoteA research proposal is always written in the future tense.

  • Reflection Essay/Journal

A reflection paper offers you a rare opportunity to select a personal perspective and narrate your thought regarding a topic. Some may require that you use facts to back your story. Examples of interesting assignments in this area are the reflection of a classroom activity or a unit you have studied. 

The subjects may vary a lot but the most popular approach to writing a reflection paper puts 5 parts into consideration. They are as follows:

  1. Introduction: make this part attractive enough to fully grab the attention of readers and make them want to hear more. Also, include the thesis statement here.
  2. 1st Body Paragraph: It should provide an overall description of the subject you are interested in completing
  3. 2nd Body Paragraph: Start expressing your thought now, and explain how the course or activity affected you
  4. 3rd Body Paragraph: Talk about the lessons you learned
  5. Conclusion: It should be a brief summary of what you have written

   You should always use descriptive language to explain your thoughts and experiences.

  • Memo

A memorandum or memo is a document written for the purpose of communicating with a group of professional individuals. 

The main sections of a memo are discussed below.

  • Heading: It indicates the sender, receiver (addressee), date, and subject. When writing people's names, including their appropriate job titles next to the names. You should also indicate your job title after your name (in the "From" section). The heading is placed at the top left of the document. If the memo is urgent, indicate so.
  • Overview: It appears immediately below the heading. It needs to explain the purpose of writing the memo. Your goal could be to suggest an idea or it could contain your response to a task you were allocated.
  • Background: This section provides an overview of the information the writer intends to present. Background avails the content that helps the reader uncover the association between the memo and business undertakings.
  • Tasks and Resolutions: Talk of the tasks you plan to complete in the memo. For instance, say "I will be looking into how digital marketing approaches change with technological advances..." A reader who sees such a statement will start imagining the steps you are likely to engage in. If you are writing a memo to inform your recipients of your discoveries, say "My findings reveal that technological advances have a direct impact on how digital marketers plan their tasks..."        
  • Supporting Ideas and Research: There are memos that require more details. In such a section, therefore, include statistics, charts, graphs, and all the relevant research information.
  •  Conclusion (and Discussion): End your memo with a brief section that informs the reader of some crucial points that you hope they picked when reading the memo. Ensure you use this section to let the readers know that you welcome their comments and questions regarding the issues you have discussed. For instance, include your contact details and allow readers to call or email you any questions or ideas they may have. If applicable, talk of future business plans in a related area.
  • Documents/attachments: If somewhere inside the memo you referred to some reports, charts, graphs, minutes, or certain business documents, ensure you include them in this last section of the memo.