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How to organize a research paper

Life is replete with many examples of organization and order. Even the universe on which the earth is suspended is an incredibly organized system of planets and other celestial bodies. In education, having a well-organized research paper provides direction and also saves time for the researcher. For the readers, it provides clarity and helps them identify how the researcher has structured his ideas. Although one cannot say that there is only one best way / to organize a research paper, there are however some main points that can be followed in order to produce a well-organized paper. Technically speaking, the best way to organize a research paper depends to some degree on the type of paper that you are writing as well as the research question that you are seeking to adress. 

It’s also important that your paper, from the very first sentence to the very last sentence, is able to capture the interest of your target audience, something that will make them want to engage with the full read. Make sure you
– Define important terms and outline the methods / resources you used for the paper.

– Check out the research paper outline of other papers covering the same topic.

– Produce good arguments when discussing your results and conclusions. Likewise, make sure you your particular take is internally consistent, and that it produces relevant information for the people who are reading it.

Here are some notes on different ways to organize a research paper

Scholars have evolved different ways of organizing research papers based on the demands of peculiarities of each paper. For instance, a scholar may sometimes organize his research paper with the explicit use of the popular format below:

  • introduction (including thesis statement),
  • body
  • conclusion

At some other times, he may want to use the indentation style that uses Roman and Arabic numerals to create an outline for the paper, e.g

  1. Main Idea
  2. Supporting Idea
  3. Details or examples that back up the ideas
  4. Any additional information about a detail or example
  5. Any additional information about a detail or example
  6. Supporting Idea
  7. Details or examples that back up the ideas
  8. Any additional information about a detail or example
  9. Any additional information about a detail or example
  10. Main Idea
  11. Supporting Idea
  12. Details or examples that back up the ideas
  13. Any additional information about a detail or example
  14. Any additional information about a detail or example
  15. Supporting Idea
  16. Details or examples that back up the ideas
  17. Any additional information about a detail or example
  18. Any additional information about a detail or example

Another standard way to organize your research is to use any formal format provide by a journal or your university, for example. Such formats are usually compulsory and leave little or no chance for the student to add his creative instincts to the organization of his research paper. An example format is highlighted below:

Social science thesis format

Cover page

The cover page should start with the topic of the thesis, name and matriculation number of the student, the destination and purpose of the thesis [e.g., a thesis submitted to the department of economics in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in economics] as well as the submission date which is located towards the bottom of the page. The cover page is usually not numbered.

  1. Title page

Has the same contents as the cover page but is numbered (from the title page to the glossary of foreign words page are numbered in Roman numerals).

  1. Certification page

The student is certified as having personally conducted the study by the Faculty Dean, Head of Department, and external examiner.

  1. Dedication page

A page where the student dedicates his or her study to those he or she deems appropriate.

  1. Acknowledgement page

The student expresses gratitude to those who assisted in one way or another during the course of writing the thesis.

  1. Abstract page

A brief (not more than a page) summary or overview of the thesis, especially the research methodology, findings, conclusion, and recommendations.

  1. Table of contents

A table showing all the major headings in the thesis and the page numbers where they are located.

  1. List of tables

A list of all the tables used in the study including their label numbers and the page numbers where they are located.

  1. List of figures

A list of all the figures used in the study including their label numbers and the page numbers where they are located.

  1. Abbreviations of references

An alphabetical ordering of all abbreviations used in the references.

  1. Glossary of foreign words

An expression and translation of all foreign words, phrases, and sentences used in the thesis.



  • Background of the study

This is a brief overview of the topic under investigation. It tries to discuss the key variables, concepts, etc underlying the topic with a view to providing insight and laying the necessary foundation for the research problem and the rest of the thesis.

  • Statement of the problem

This is one of the most important segments of the thesis. The student has to present the problem that prompted his study convincingly. This means that readers should not be in doubt as to the need for the study after perusing the problem statement.

  • Objectives of the study

Every study must have at least one purpose or objective it intends to achieve. This section of the chapter is meant for the student to enumerate the objectives of his study. They are usually expressed in bullet points.

  • Research questions

These are pertinent questions formulated by the researcher to help find solutions to the research problem. They should be carefully framed according to the study’s objectives and problem statement.

  • Research hypothesis

A conjecturing of possible relationships among the key variables under investigation. The hypothesis is subsequently tested with an appropriate technique from the research methodology/design.

  • Significance of the study

Here, the student tries to justify the importance or relevance of his or her research in terms of its overall usefulness to the academic community and society as a whole.

  • Scope of the study

This is a brief explanation of the areas the research intends to focus on. It is mainly determined by the topic and problem.

  • Limitations of the study

All studies are faced with one limitation or another. This could be inadequate funding, scarcity of data, time constraints, etc. In this segment, the student is expected to state whatever constraints he or she faced while conducting his or her research.



Brief introduction of the chapter’s contents.

2.1      Conceptual review of literature

Definition/description of the various key concepts, variables, etc that relate to the topic research problem, questions, and hypothesis.

2.2      Theoretical review of literature

Review of various theories that shed light on the topic under investigation. Care must be taken to include only topics that are relevant to the study.

2.3      Empirical review of literature

A report of some previous empirical findings related to the topic of interest. The student should endeavour to present a balanced report by reporting contrasting findings or results.

2.4    Literature gap

Usually, students are not only expected to identify gaps in knowledge through their research but also to clearly describe how they will fill such gaps. The student is expected to state the observed gaps in this section as well as how he or she will fill them.



Brief introduction of the chapter’s contents.

3.1      Research design

The student explains the design he or she has adopted for his or her research as well as the rationale for choosing such a design.

3.2      Sources of data

In this section, the student clearly discloses all the sources from which he or she collected data for the research.

3.3      Data analysis techniques

Most researches require a combination of various measurement techniques or approaches. The student is expected to enumerate all of them in this segment.

3.4      Model specification

For students that have opted for regression analysis (such as OLS, VAR, etc), it is very important to specify a model for your dependent and independent variables.

3.5.1  Tests of hypothesis and significance

This is the section where you have to describe the various hypotheses testing techniques you used in detail. Be sure to include equations, formulas, and mathematical symbols/notations.



Brief introduction of the chapter’s contents

4.1     Data presentation

To ensure validity and reliability, the data used to generate empirical results or findings should be presented in this section. They are usually arranged in a tabular format.

4.2      Analysis of data and hypothesis tests

A detailed analysis of collected data. Usually commences with descriptive analysis. Results of the hypothesis tests are also analyzed in this segment. Tables and other diagrams should help support verbal analysis. If the tables were generated by software, the software used and its version must be indicated underneath the tables and other diagrams.

4.3      Estimation results

This section is reserved for the results from regression estimates as well as some of the measures of validity and reliability (such as multicollinearity, autocorrelation, homoskedasticity, etc). Results from causality tests and other estimations can also be included here. Tables and other diagrams (e.g., computer printouts) are also necessary for this segment.

4.4      Discussion of findings

 In this section, the researcher is expected to report on the data he or she has collected, processed, and analyzed. He or she has an opportunity to use the discussion to justify his investigation and also to show his logical reasoning capabilities. The student should try to state the theoretical and practical implications of his studies. He or she should also compare his or her findings with those of others.



5.1      Summary of findings

A brief rehash of the key findings of the study.

5.2      Conclusion

The study’s conclusion(s) based on the empirical findings from the measured data.

5.3      Recommendations

The student’s policy (and other) recommendations, also based on the study’s findings.

5.4      Suggestions for further research

Based on his or her observations while conducting the research, the student suggests possible directions or areas that should be researched in future.

5.5      Contributions to knowledge

In this section, the student is expected to clearly explain what his or her study has contributed to the body of knowledge in his field of learning.


An alphabetical ordering or listing of all the sources cited in the thesis. This is written according to the Style Guide approved by the faculty or department.          


An arrangement of all diagrams or illustrations that may provide useful insight (mostly empirical insight) but may not be ideal to be included in the main body of the thesis. These include tables, graphs, charts, and others. Ensure that you place only one diagram per page and that each diagram must be numbered, e.g., Appendix 1, Appendix 2, etc.


Being organized is an important aspect of life in our universe. Without organization, research papers may lack uniformity and appear arbitrary. Organizing a research paper first before proceeding to write is vital because it helps direct the researcher on how to structure his ideas which could end up saving time than otherwise. A research paper can be organized in a number of ways, such as those discussed above. Whatever the approach used, the objective is usually the same: a clear, coherent, logical, and systematic ordering or arrangement of ideas.