What You Need to Know About an Academic Paper

Jun 2, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

As we’ve said before, the publish or perish culture in the academic world is real—if you’re thinking about publishing a paper, you need to read this.

It’s possible—and entirely within your grasp—to publish a master’s level academic paper.  There are rules and some tricks of the trade though.

Trick #1? Consider co-publishing with your academic advisor.  Why?  Clout.  If your advisor is respected in the field, and signs his or her name to your work, then you’ll share some credibility.

Trick #2? Do your homework.  It’s not really a trick—it’s something you have to do.  Read academic journals and select a few that fit with your research and writing style.  Then, talk to that advisor about how to prepare your manuscript for submission.

Intrigued?  You should be.  Read on to learn more about how to write that paper—and then get it published.

1. The Abstract

The traditional academic paper has a brief synopsis of the paper, its salient points, and its conclusion.  Take note: this is the hardest part of the paper to write.  Why?  You have to boil down all of your research to about a paragraph.

What goes into the abstract?  A synopsis of the problem you researched and why it’s interesting, how you solved the problem—in brief—the results of your research, and your conclusion. 

Our advice?  Write the paper first.  The summarize each section of the paper with one pithy sentence.  Voilá: abstract!


2. The Introduction

The key here is engagement.  You need to hook your readers so that they read all of your brilliant work.  How do you do that?  Start big.  What’s the biggest idea you tackle in your research?  Then narrow down so that eventually you come to your thesis—your primary argument.  Why you did what you did and why it’s important.

Let the introduction read as a roadmap—with an exciting destination for a conclusion. 

Stuck?  Write the rest of the paper first, except for the abstract.


3. The Methodology

Here comes the fun part: you get to explain your thinking.  You know why you care about your research and you’ve explained your problem.  Now you need to explain how you solved it—and the research you did to figure out that path.

Here, you answer two primary questions: how was the data collected, and how was it analyzed?

Know this: unreliable methods yield unreliable results.  Remember that credibility we told you about?  If your methodology isn’t sound, then you lose it all here. 

Things to consider?  Ensure that you have a large enough sample size, pertinent to the scope of your research.  Talk to that advisor again.  You also need to discuss how you anticipated problems and solved them in your data collection.


4. The Results

Nothing but the facts.  Clear, unbiased facts.  Present the results of your research.  Without the editorializing. 

This part is the most straightforward, but requires some strategy so that you don’t bury critical pieces of data. 

What can you point out?  An interesting correlation that you weren’t expecting to see.  Beware: don’t speculate on why—just state that there’s a correlation.

Use graphs, figures, and tables to your heart’s delight—and make sure the information is clear and interesting to your reader.  Include all results—even the negative ones.

If you have more data that is related to your research, but not quite relevant in the results section, consider adding an appendix.


5. The Discussion

Also called “argument,” “critique,” or “analysis,” the discussion section is the meat of your paper.  Your researched reflections on what you found and why they’re relevant. 

This is where you pick up your reader from your thoughtful introduction to what you did, to what you found—and now to why it’s important. 

This section should reiterate your thesis and show how the results of your research have validity. 

Your goal?  Engage your reader in your work.  Think of it as the central pivot of your article.


6. The Conclusion

You made it this far.  Congratulations!  But you’re not done yet.  This is more than summary—reinforce your biggest points and suggest broader importance of your results and discussion within your field.  You can also present complications that you encountered—and expand on your explanation of how they did or did not make an impact on your work. 

In essence, take your introduction, and make it sing.  Leave your reader with a clear understanding of your research, its importance, and its relevance to the field.

Interested in publishing?  Talk to your advisor, do your homework and get started.  Now is the time!





Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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