The structure of most journal articles in biology follows the same lay-out: Introduction, Materials and methods, Results, and Discussion (short: IMRaD). Each of these sections serves its own purpose.
Here we show you the function of each section and explain how to write it.
The first step to getting a reader’s attention
The title is the first thing anyone will read when encountering your work. Therefore, having a good title is important. A good title can be catchy, but more importantly, it should advertise your work by being informative and accurate so the reader quickly knows whether your work is relevant to their own field.
A summary of your study
The abstract provides the reader with a short and clear summary of your study.
Putting your work into context
The introduction places your work into its broader scientific context. It provides the necessary background information allowing the reader to understand the relevance and importance of your study. Furthermore, the introduction specifies your research objectives.
Explaining how you did your study
The materials and methods section (referred to as the methods section hereafter) describes the steps you have taken to obtain your results. This section gives a clear description of your methods, it helps the reader to interpret your results, and it establishes your expertise and credibility as a scientist.
An objective presentation of your results
The function of your results section is to objectively present your findings that are relevant to answer your research question.
Interpreting your findings in the light of previous knowledge
In the discussion, you interpret your results by viewing them in the light of earlier research. This section is very much connected to the introduction: you answer your research questions and review your hypotheses, building up to the wider context with which your introduction started.
Thanking those that helped carrying out the study
In the acknowledgements you acknowledge the funding support of your study, and contributors that are not listed as co-authors. This section is sometimes optional.
Acknowledging previous research in the field
References serve multiple purposes: they show the reader that you have done a thorough literature search, they allow the reader to track down the sources you have used, and they credit and acknowledge other researchers and their works.
For an overview of how to cite and use references, see this section.
Additional information and data relevant to the study
An appendix contains information that usually is too detailed for the main text, but that is still relevant to the research question.