Definition of a Research Article

A research article reports the results of original research, assesses its contribution to the body of knowledge in a given area, and is published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. A given academic field will likely have dozens of peer-reviewed journals. For university professors, publishing their research plays a key role in determining whether they are granted tenure. Once, research articles had only a limited audience consisting mainly of other scholars and graduate students. Today, websites such as Google Scholar and the proliferation of electronic academic journals have broadened the potential audience for research articles.


Research articles generally consist of the following components: a title and abstract, an introduction, a methodology, results, discussion, and references. Before they are published, the editor of the journal to which the manuscript was submitted sends it to experts in the same field for review. These scholars will review the article for, among other things, the appropriateness of its methodology and its relevance to the field. They may suggest revisions. The peer review process is lengthy. It may be a year or longer between the time an article is submitted and its publication.

Title and Abstract

The title and abstract are key factors in determining whether the entire article will be read. A title should be descriptive, giving the reader an idea of the focus of the study. Because the Internet has made it possible to access so many research articles online, a title should contain enough keywords for an interested reader to find the article.

The abstract, meanwhile, serves as a mini-summary of the study. Many readers will review the abstract and, based on the findings, will decide whether to read the entire article.


The introduction of a research article should state the problem being studied and the reason for the study. To place the research in proper context, the introduction should contain a brief summary of the previous research in the area covered by the study. This literature review should include references, which should be listed in the references section at the end of the article. By presenting an overview of the previous research, the article’s author(s) can explain how the study presented in the article will contribute to and advance the body of knowledge.


This section of the research article should outline the methodology the author(s) used in conducting the study. Including information on methods used allows readers to determine whether the study used appropriate research methods for the question being investigated. It also makes it possible for other researchers to replicate the study and see if they obtain the same results.


The results section will present the data, the meat of the study. It is easy to confuse the results section with the discussion section that follows, in which the article’s author interprets the results of the study. The results section should only report the results from the data analysis, regardless of whether the study is qualitative or quantitative.


The discussion section presents an interpretation of the results of the study. The authors will summarize the findings and assess them in the larger context of the existing knowledge, pointing out the ways in which their findings relate to those from prior studies. Any unusual or unexpected results will be discussed in this section as well. Finally, the authors will consider the larger theoretical implications of the study’s results.


The citations (references) come at the end of the article and should list all books, articles, and other resources used and cited in the article. The references — and the entire article — should be written in the appropriate style (Modern Languages Association, American Psychological Association, Chicago, etc.).

Article Types

Research article

Original research articles are the most common type of journal article. They’re detailed studies reporting new work and are classified as primary literature.

You may find them referred to as original articles, research articles, research, or even just articles, depending on the journal.

Typically, especially in STEM subjects, these articles will include Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion sections. However, you should always check the instructions for authors of your chosen journal to see whether it specifies how your article should be structured. If you’re planning to write an original research article, take a look at our guidance on writing a journal article.

Review article

Review articles provide critical and constructive analysis of existing published literature in a field. They’re usually structured to provide a summary of existing literature, analysis, and comparison. Often, they identify specific gaps or problems and provide recommendations for future research.

Unlike original research articles, review articles are considered as secondary literature. This means that they generally don’t present new data from the author’s experimental work, but instead provide analysis or interpretation of a body of primary research on a specific topic. Secondary literature is an important part of the academic ecosystem because it can help explain new or different positions and ideas about primary research, identify gaps in research around a topic, or spot important trends that one individual research article may not.

There are three main types of review article:

  • Literature review – presents the current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.
  • Systematic review – identifies, appraises and synthesizes all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making.
  • Meta-analysis – a quantitative, formal, epidemiological study design used to systematically assess the results of previous research to derive conclusions about that body of research. Typically, but not necessarily, a meta-analysis study is based on randomized, controlled clinical trials.
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