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Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

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Research Paper

Research Paper

Definition:

Research Paper is a written document that presents the author’s original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue.

It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new knowledge or insights to a particular field of study, and to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the existing literature and theories related to the topic.

Structure of Research Paper

The structure of a research paper typically follows a standard format, consisting of several sections that convey specific information about the research study. The following is a detailed explanation of the structure of a research paper:

The title page contains the title of the paper, the name(s) of the author(s), and the affiliation(s) of the author(s). It also includes the date of submission and possibly, the name of the journal or conference where the paper is to be published.

The abstract is a brief summary of the research paper, typically ranging from 100 to 250 words. It should include the research question, the methods used, the key findings, and the implications of the results. The abstract should be written in a concise and clear manner to allow readers to quickly grasp the essence of the research.

Introduction

The introduction section of a research paper provides background information about the research problem, the research question, and the research objectives. It also outlines the significance of the research, the research gap that it aims to fill, and the approach taken to address the research question. Finally, the introduction section ends with a clear statement of the research hypothesis or research question.

Literature Review

The literature review section of a research paper provides an overview of the existing literature on the topic of study. It includes a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature, highlighting the key concepts, themes, and debates. The literature review should also demonstrate the research gap and how the current study seeks to address it.

The methods section of a research paper describes the research design, the sample selection, the data collection and analysis procedures, and the statistical methods used to analyze the data. This section should provide sufficient detail for other researchers to replicate the study.

The results section presents the findings of the research, using tables, graphs, and figures to illustrate the data. The findings should be presented in a clear and concise manner, with reference to the research question and hypothesis.

The discussion section of a research paper interprets the findings and discusses their implications for the research question, the literature review, and the field of study. It should also address the limitations of the study and suggest future research directions.

The conclusion section summarizes the main findings of the study, restates the research question and hypothesis, and provides a final reflection on the significance of the research.

The references section provides a list of all the sources cited in the paper, following a specific citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

How to Write Research Paper

You can write Research Paper by the following guide:

  • Choose a Topic: The first step is to select a topic that interests you and is relevant to your field of study. Brainstorm ideas and narrow down to a research question that is specific and researchable.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: The literature review helps you identify the gap in the existing research and provides a basis for your research question. It also helps you to develop a theoretical framework and research hypothesis.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement : The thesis statement is the main argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise and specific to your research question.
  • Plan your Research: Develop a research plan that outlines the methods, data sources, and data analysis procedures. This will help you to collect and analyze data effectively.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Collect data using various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Analyze data using statistical tools or other qualitative methods.
  • Organize your Paper : Organize your paper into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Ensure that each section is coherent and follows a logical flow.
  • Write your Paper : Start by writing the introduction, followed by the literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and follows the required formatting and citation styles.
  • Edit and Proofread your Paper: Review your paper for grammar and spelling errors, and ensure that it is well-structured and easy to read. Ask someone else to review your paper to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Cite your Sources: Ensure that you properly cite all sources used in your research paper. This is essential for giving credit to the original authors and avoiding plagiarism.

Research Paper Example

Note : The below example research paper is for illustrative purposes only and is not an actual research paper. Actual research papers may have different structures, contents, and formats depending on the field of study, research question, data collection and analysis methods, and other factors. Students should always consult with their professors or supervisors for specific guidelines and expectations for their research papers.

Research Paper Example sample for Students:

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health among Young Adults

Abstract: This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults. A literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on the topic. A survey was then administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Introduction: Social media has become an integral part of modern life, particularly among young adults. While social media has many benefits, including increased communication and social connectivity, it has also been associated with negative outcomes, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and mental health problems. This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults.

Literature Review: The literature review highlights the existing research on the impact of social media use on mental health. The review shows that social media use is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. The review also identifies the factors that contribute to the negative impact of social media, including social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Methods : A survey was administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The survey included questions on social media use, mental health status (measured using the DASS-21), and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Results : The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Discussion : The study’s findings suggest that social media use has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. The study highlights the need for interventions that address the factors contributing to the negative impact of social media, such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Conclusion : In conclusion, social media use has a significant impact on the mental health of young adults. The study’s findings underscore the need for interventions that promote healthy social media use and address the negative outcomes associated with social media use. Future research can explore the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health. Additionally, longitudinal studies can investigate the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

Limitations : The study has some limitations, including the use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. The use of self-report measures may result in biased responses, and a cross-sectional design limits the ability to establish causality.

Implications: The study’s findings have implications for mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals can use the findings to develop interventions that address the negative impact of social media use on mental health. Educators can incorporate social media literacy into their curriculum to promote healthy social media use among young adults. Policymakers can use the findings to develop policies that protect young adults from the negative outcomes associated with social media use.

References :

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 15, 100918.
  • Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., … & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.
  • Van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, J. W. (2017). Social media and its impact on academic performance of students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 16, 383-398.

Appendix : The survey used in this study is provided below.

Social Media and Mental Health Survey

  • How often do you use social media per day?
  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • 1 to 2 hours
  • 2 to 4 hours
  • More than 4 hours
  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Others (Please specify)
  • How often do you experience the following on social media?
  • Social comparison (comparing yourself to others)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems in the past month?
  • Do you think social media use has a positive or negative impact on your mental health?
  • Very positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Somewhat negative
  • Very negative
  • In your opinion, which factors contribute to the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Social comparison
  • In your opinion, what interventions could be effective in reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Education on healthy social media use
  • Counseling for mental health problems caused by social media
  • Social media detox programs
  • Regulation of social media use

Thank you for your participation!

Applications of Research Paper

Research papers have several applications in various fields, including:

  • Advancing knowledge: Research papers contribute to the advancement of knowledge by generating new insights, theories, and findings that can inform future research and practice. They help to answer important questions, clarify existing knowledge, and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Informing policy: Research papers can inform policy decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for policymakers. They can help to identify gaps in current policies, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and inform the development of new policies and regulations.
  • Improving practice: Research papers can improve practice by providing evidence-based guidance for professionals in various fields, including medicine, education, business, and psychology. They can inform the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards of care that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • Educating students : Research papers are often used as teaching tools in universities and colleges to educate students about research methods, data analysis, and academic writing. They help students to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and communication skills that are essential for success in many careers.
  • Fostering collaboration: Research papers can foster collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas. They can facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.

When to Write Research Paper

Research papers are typically written when a person has completed a research project or when they have conducted a study and have obtained data or findings that they want to share with the academic or professional community. Research papers are usually written in academic settings, such as universities, but they can also be written in professional settings, such as research organizations, government agencies, or private companies.

Here are some common situations where a person might need to write a research paper:

  • For academic purposes: Students in universities and colleges are often required to write research papers as part of their coursework, particularly in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Writing research papers helps students to develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and academic writing skills.
  • For publication: Researchers often write research papers to publish their findings in academic journals or to present their work at academic conferences. Publishing research papers is an important way to disseminate research findings to the academic community and to establish oneself as an expert in a particular field.
  • To inform policy or practice : Researchers may write research papers to inform policy decisions or to improve practice in various fields. Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies, guidelines, and best practices that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • To share new insights or ideas: Researchers may write research papers to share new insights or ideas with the academic or professional community. They may present new theories, propose new research methods, or challenge existing paradigms in their field.

Purpose of Research Paper

The purpose of a research paper is to present the results of a study or investigation in a clear, concise, and structured manner. Research papers are written to communicate new knowledge, ideas, or findings to a specific audience, such as researchers, scholars, practitioners, or policymakers. The primary purposes of a research paper are:

  • To contribute to the body of knowledge : Research papers aim to add new knowledge or insights to a particular field or discipline. They do this by reporting the results of empirical studies, reviewing and synthesizing existing literature, proposing new theories, or providing new perspectives on a topic.
  • To inform or persuade: Research papers are written to inform or persuade the reader about a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon. They present evidence and arguments to support their claims and seek to persuade the reader of the validity of their findings or recommendations.
  • To advance the field: Research papers seek to advance the field or discipline by identifying gaps in knowledge, proposing new research questions or approaches, or challenging existing assumptions or paradigms. They aim to contribute to ongoing debates and discussions within a field and to stimulate further research and inquiry.
  • To demonstrate research skills: Research papers demonstrate the author’s research skills, including their ability to design and conduct a study, collect and analyze data, and interpret and communicate findings. They also demonstrate the author’s ability to critically evaluate existing literature, synthesize information from multiple sources, and write in a clear and structured manner.

Characteristics of Research Paper

Research papers have several characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of academic or professional writing. Here are some common characteristics of research papers:

  • Evidence-based: Research papers are based on empirical evidence, which is collected through rigorous research methods such as experiments, surveys, observations, or interviews. They rely on objective data and facts to support their claims and conclusions.
  • Structured and organized: Research papers have a clear and logical structure, with sections such as introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. They are organized in a way that helps the reader to follow the argument and understand the findings.
  • Formal and objective: Research papers are written in a formal and objective tone, with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and accuracy. They avoid subjective language or personal opinions and instead rely on objective data and analysis to support their arguments.
  • Citations and references: Research papers include citations and references to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the paper. They use a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago, to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research papers are often peer-reviewed, which means they are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published. Peer-review ensures that the research is of high quality, meets ethical standards, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field.
  • Objective and unbiased: Research papers strive to be objective and unbiased in their presentation of the findings. They avoid personal biases or preconceptions and instead rely on the data and analysis to draw conclusions.

Advantages of Research Paper

Research papers have many advantages, both for the individual researcher and for the broader academic and professional community. Here are some advantages of research papers:

  • Contribution to knowledge: Research papers contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field or discipline. They add new information, insights, and perspectives to existing literature and help advance the understanding of a particular phenomenon or issue.
  • Opportunity for intellectual growth: Research papers provide an opportunity for intellectual growth for the researcher. They require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, which can help develop the researcher’s skills and knowledge.
  • Career advancement: Research papers can help advance the researcher’s career by demonstrating their expertise and contributions to the field. They can also lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and funding.
  • Academic recognition: Research papers can lead to academic recognition in the form of awards, grants, or invitations to speak at conferences or events. They can also contribute to the researcher’s reputation and standing in the field.
  • Impact on policy and practice: Research papers can have a significant impact on policy and practice. They can inform policy decisions, guide practice, and lead to changes in laws, regulations, or procedures.
  • Advancement of society: Research papers can contribute to the advancement of society by addressing important issues, identifying solutions to problems, and promoting social justice and equality.

Limitations of Research Paper

Research papers also have some limitations that should be considered when interpreting their findings or implications. Here are some common limitations of research papers:

  • Limited generalizability: Research findings may not be generalizable to other populations, settings, or contexts. Studies often use specific samples or conditions that may not reflect the broader population or real-world situations.
  • Potential for bias : Research papers may be biased due to factors such as sample selection, measurement errors, or researcher biases. It is important to evaluate the quality of the research design and methods used to ensure that the findings are valid and reliable.
  • Ethical concerns: Research papers may raise ethical concerns, such as the use of vulnerable populations or invasive procedures. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from participants to ensure that the research is conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
  • Limitations of methodology: Research papers may be limited by the methodology used to collect and analyze data. For example, certain research methods may not capture the complexity or nuance of a particular phenomenon, or may not be appropriate for certain research questions.
  • Publication bias: Research papers may be subject to publication bias, where positive or significant findings are more likely to be published than negative or non-significant findings. This can skew the overall findings of a particular area of research.
  • Time and resource constraints: Research papers may be limited by time and resource constraints, which can affect the quality and scope of the research. Researchers may not have access to certain data or resources, or may be unable to conduct long-term studies due to practical limitations.

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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Research Paper Structure: A Comprehensive Guide

Sumalatha G

Table of Contents

Writing a research paper is a daunting task, but understanding its structure can make the process more manageable and lead to a well-organized, coherent paper. This article provides a step-by-step approach to crafting a research paper, ensuring your work is not only informative but also structured for maximum impact.

Introduction

In any form of written communication, content structure plays a vital role in facilitating understanding. A well-structured research paper provides a framework that guides readers through the content, ensuring they grasp the main points efficiently. Without a clear structure, readers may become lost or confused, leading to a loss of interest and a failure to comprehend the intended message.

When it comes to research papers, structure is particularly important due to the complexity of the subject matter. Research papers often involve presenting and analyzing large amounts of data, theories, and arguments. Without a well-defined structure, readers may struggle to navigate through this information overload, resulting in a fragmented understanding of the topic.

How Structure Enhances Clarity and Coherence

A well-structured research paper not only helps readers follow the flow of ideas but also enhances the clarity and coherence of the content. By organizing information into sections, paragraphs, and sentences, researchers can present their thoughts logically and systematically. This logical organization allows readers to easily connect ideas, resulting in a more coherent and engaging reading experience.

One way in which structure enhances clarity is by providing a clear roadmap for readers to follow. By dividing the research paper into sections and subsections, researchers can guide readers through the different aspects of the topic. This allows readers to anticipate the flow of information and mentally prepare themselves for the upcoming content.

In addition, a well-structured research paper ensures that each paragraph serves a specific purpose and contributes to the overall argument or analysis. By clearly defining the main idea of each paragraph and providing supporting evidence or examples, researchers can avoid confusion and ensure that their points are effectively communicated.

Moreover, a structured research paper helps researchers maintain a consistent focus throughout their writing. By organizing their thoughts and ideas, researchers can ensure that they stay on track and avoid going off on tangents. This not only improves the clarity of the paper but also helps maintain the reader's interest and engagement.

Components of a Research Paper Structure

Title and abstract: the initial impression.

The title and abstract are the first elements readers encounter when accessing a research paper. The title should be concise, informative, and capture the essence of the study. For example, a title like "Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity in Tropical Rainforests" immediately conveys the subject matter and scope of the research. The abstract, on the other hand, provides a brief overview of the research problem, methodology, and findings, enticing readers to delve further into the paper. In a well-crafted abstract, researchers may highlight key results or implications of the study, giving readers a glimpse into the value of the research.

Introduction: Setting the Stage

The introduction serves as an invitation for readers to engage with the research paper. It should provide background information on the topic, highlight the research problem, and present the research question or thesis statement. By establishing the context and relevance of the study, the introduction piques readers' interest and prepares them for the content to follow. For instance, in a study on the impact of social media on mental health, the introduction may discuss the rise of social media platforms and the growing concerns about its effects on individuals' well-being. This contextual information helps readers understand the significance of the research and why it is worth exploring further.

Furthermore, the introduction may also outline the objectives of the study, stating what the researchers aim to achieve through their research. This helps readers understand the purpose and scope of the study, setting clear expectations for what they can expect to learn from the paper.

Literature Review: Building the Foundation

The literature review is a critical component of a research paper, as it demonstrates the researcher's understanding of existing knowledge and provides a foundation for the study. It involves reviewing and analyzing relevant scholarly articles, books, and other sources to identify gaps in research and establish the need for the current study. In a comprehensive literature review, researchers may summarize key findings from previous studies, identify areas of disagreement or controversy, and highlight the limitations of existing research.

Moreover, the literature review may also discuss theoretical frameworks or conceptual models that have been used in previous studies. By examining these frameworks, researchers can identify the theoretical underpinnings of their study and explain how their research fits within the broader academic discourse. This not only adds depth to the research paper but also helps readers understand the theoretical context in which the study is situated.

Methodology: Detailing the Process

The research design, data collection methods, and analysis techniques used in the study are described in the methodology section. It should be presented clearly and concisely, allowing readers to understand how the research was conducted and evaluated. A well-described methodology ensures the study's reliability and allows other researchers to replicate or build upon the findings.

Within the methodology section, researchers may provide a detailed description of the study population or sample, explaining how participants were selected and why they were chosen. This helps readers understand the generalizability of the findings and the extent to which they can be applied to a broader population.

In addition, researchers may also discuss any ethical considerations that were taken into account during the study. This could include obtaining informed consent from participants, ensuring confidentiality and anonymity, and following ethical guidelines set by relevant professional organizations. By addressing these ethical concerns, researchers demonstrate their commitment to conducting research in an ethical and responsible manner.

Results: Presenting the Findings

The results section represents the study findings. Researchers should organize their results in a logical manner, using tables, graphs, and descriptive statistics to support their conclusions. The results should be presented objectively, without interpretation or analysis. For instance, for a study on the effectiveness of a new drug in treating a specific medical condition, researchers may present the percentage of patients who experienced positive outcomes, along with any statistical significance associated with the results.

In addition to presenting the main findings, researchers may also include supplementary data or sub-analyses that provide further insights into the research question. This could include subgroup analyses, sensitivity analyses, or additional statistical tests that help explore the robustness of the findings.

Discussion: Interpreting the Results

In the discussion section, researchers analyze and interpret the results in light of the research question or thesis statement. This is an opportunity to explore the implications of the findings, compare them with existing literature, and offer insights into the broader significance of the study. The discussion should be supported by evidence and it is advised to avoid speculation.

Researchers may also discuss the limitations of their study, acknowledging any potential biases or confounding factors that may have influenced the results. By openly addressing these limitations, researchers demonstrate their commitment to transparency and scientific rigor.

Conclusion: Wrapping It Up

The conclusion provides a concise summary of the research paper, restating the main findings and their implications. It should also reflect on the significance of the study and suggest potential avenues for future research. A well-written conclusion leaves a lasting impression on readers, highlighting the importance of the research and its potential impact. By summarizing the key takeaways from the study, researchers ensure that readers walk away with a clear understanding of the research's contribution to the field.

Tips for Organizing Your Research Paper

Starting with a strong thesis statement.

A strong and clear thesis statement serves as the backbone of your research paper. It provides focus and direction, guiding the organization of ideas and arguments throughout the paper. Take the time to craft a well-defined thesis statement that encapsulates the core message of your research.

Creating an Outline: The Blueprint of Your Paper

An outline acts as a blueprint for your research paper, ensuring a logical flow of ideas and preventing disorganization. Divide your paper into sections and subsections, noting the main points and supporting arguments for each. This will help you maintain coherence and clarity throughout the writing process.

Balancing Depth and Breadth in Your Paper

When organizing your research paper, strike a balance between delving deeply into specific points and providing a broader overview. While depth is important for thorough analysis, too much detail can overwhelm readers. Consider your target audience and their level of familiarity with the topic to determine the appropriate level of depth and breadth for your paper.

By understanding the importance of research paper structure and implementing effective organizational strategies, researchers can ensure their work is accessible, engaging, and influential. A well-structured research paper not only communicates ideas clearly but also enhances the overall impact of the study. With careful planning and attention to detail, researchers can master the art of structuring their research papers, making them a valuable contribution to their field of study.

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Online Guide to Writing and Research

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  • Online Guide to Writing

Structuring the Research Paper

Formal research structure.

These are the primary purposes for formal research:

enter the discourse, or conversation, of other writers and scholars in your field

learn how others in your field use primary and secondary resources

find and understand raw data and information

Top view of textured wooden desk prepared for work and exploration - wooden pegs, domino, cubes and puzzles with blank notepads,  paper and colourful pencils lying on it.

For the formal academic research assignment, consider an organizational pattern typically used for primary academic research.  The pattern includes the following: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions/recommendations.

Usually, research papers flow from the general to the specific and back to the general in their organization. The introduction uses a general-to-specific movement in its organization, establishing the thesis and setting the context for the conversation. The methods and results sections are more detailed and specific, providing support for the generalizations made in the introduction. The discussion section moves toward an increasingly more general discussion of the subject, leading to the conclusions and recommendations, which then generalize the conversation again.

Sections of a Formal Structure

The introduction section.

Many students will find that writing a structured  introduction  gets them started and gives them the focus needed to significantly improve their entire paper. 

Introductions usually have three parts:

presentation of the problem statement, the topic, or the research inquiry

purpose and focus of your paper

summary or overview of the writer’s position or arguments

In the first part of the introduction—the presentation of the problem or the research inquiry—state the problem or express it so that the question is implied. Then, sketch the background on the problem and review the literature on it to give your readers a context that shows them how your research inquiry fits into the conversation currently ongoing in your subject area. 

In the second part of the introduction, state your purpose and focus. Here, you may even present your actual thesis. Sometimes your purpose statement can take the place of the thesis by letting your reader know your intentions. 

The third part of the introduction, the summary or overview of the paper, briefly leads readers through the discussion, forecasting the main ideas and giving readers a blueprint for the paper. 

The following example provides a blueprint for a well-organized introduction.

Example of an Introduction

Entrepreneurial Marketing: The Critical Difference

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, John A. Welsh and Jerry F. White remind us that “a small business is not a little big business.” An entrepreneur is not a multinational conglomerate but a profit-seeking individual. To survive, he must have a different outlook and must apply different principles to his endeavors than does the president of a large or even medium-sized corporation. Not only does the scale of small and big businesses differ, but small businesses also suffer from what the Harvard Business Review article calls “resource poverty.” This is a problem and opportunity that requires an entirely different approach to marketing. Where large ad budgets are not necessary or feasible, where expensive ad production squanders limited capital, where every marketing dollar must do the work of two dollars, if not five dollars or even ten, where a person’s company, capital, and material well-being are all on the line—that is, where guerrilla marketing can save the day and secure the bottom line (Levinson, 1984, p. 9).

By reviewing the introductions to research articles in the discipline in which you are writing your research paper, you can get an idea of what is considered the norm for that discipline. Study several of these before you begin your paper so that you know what may be expected. If you are unsure of the kind of introduction your paper needs, ask your professor for more information.  The introduction is normally written in present tense.

THE METHODS SECTION

The methods section of your research paper should describe in detail what methodology and special materials if any, you used to think through or perform your research. You should include any materials you used or designed for yourself, such as questionnaires or interview questions, to generate data or information for your research paper. You want to include any methodologies that are specific to your particular field of study, such as lab procedures for a lab experiment or data-gathering instruments for field research. The methods section is usually written in the past tense.

THE RESULTS SECTION

How you present the results of your research depends on what kind of research you did, your subject matter, and your readers’ expectations. 

Quantitative information —data that can be measured—can be presented systematically and economically in tables, charts, and graphs. Quantitative information includes quantities and comparisons of sets of data. 

Qualitative information , which includes brief descriptions, explanations, or instructions, can also be presented in prose tables. This kind of descriptive or explanatory information, however, is often presented in essay-like prose or even lists.

There are specific conventions for creating tables, charts, and graphs and organizing the information they contain. In general, you should use them only when you are sure they will enlighten your readers rather than confuse them. In the accompanying explanation and discussion, always refer to the graphic by number and explain specifically what you are referring to; you can also provide a caption for the graphic. The rule of thumb for presenting a graphic is first to introduce it by name, show it, and then interpret it. The results section is usually written in the past tense.

THE DISCUSSION SECTION

Your discussion section should generalize what you have learned from your research. One way to generalize is to explain the consequences or meaning of your results and then make your points that support and refer back to the statements you made in your introduction. Your discussion should be organized so that it relates directly to your thesis. You want to avoid introducing new ideas here or discussing tangential issues not directly related to the exploration and discovery of your thesis. The discussion section, along with the introduction, is usually written in the present tense.

THE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS SECTION

Your conclusion ties your research to your thesis, binding together all the main ideas in your thinking and writing. By presenting the logical outcome of your research and thinking, your conclusion answers your research inquiry for your reader. Your conclusions should relate directly to the ideas presented in your introduction section and should not present any new ideas.

You may be asked to present your recommendations separately in your research assignment. If so, you will want to add some elements to your conclusion section. For example, you may be asked to recommend a course of action, make a prediction, propose a solution to a problem, offer a judgment, or speculate on the implications and consequences of your ideas. The conclusions and recommendations section is usually written in the present tense.

Key Takeaways

  • For the formal academic research assignment, consider an organizational pattern typically used for primary academic research. 
  •  The pattern includes the following: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions/recommendations.

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Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing

Chapter 1: College Writing

How Does College Writing Differ from Workplace Writing?

What Is College Writing?

Why So Much Emphasis on Writing?

Chapter 2: The Writing Process

Doing Exploratory Research

Getting from Notes to Your Draft

Introduction

Prewriting - Techniques to Get Started - Mining Your Intuition

Prewriting: Targeting Your Audience

Prewriting: Techniques to Get Started

Prewriting: Understanding Your Assignment

Rewriting: Being Your Own Critic

Rewriting: Creating a Revision Strategy

Rewriting: Getting Feedback

Rewriting: The Final Draft

Techniques to Get Started - Outlining

Techniques to Get Started - Using Systematic Techniques

Thesis Statement and Controlling Idea

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Freewriting

Writing: Getting from Notes to Your Draft - Summarizing Your Ideas

Writing: Outlining What You Will Write

Chapter 3: Thinking Strategies

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone

A Word About Style, Voice, and Tone: Style Through Vocabulary and Diction

Critical Strategies and Writing

Critical Strategies and Writing: Analysis

Critical Strategies and Writing: Evaluation

Critical Strategies and Writing: Persuasion

Critical Strategies and Writing: Synthesis

Developing a Paper Using Strategies

Kinds of Assignments You Will Write

Patterns for Presenting Information

Patterns for Presenting Information: Critiques

Patterns for Presenting Information: Discussing Raw Data

Patterns for Presenting Information: General-to-Specific Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Problem-Cause-Solution Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Specific-to-General Pattern

Patterns for Presenting Information: Summaries and Abstracts

Supporting with Research and Examples

Writing Essay Examinations

Writing Essay Examinations: Make Your Answer Relevant and Complete

Writing Essay Examinations: Organize Thinking Before Writing

Writing Essay Examinations: Read and Understand the Question

Chapter 4: The Research Process

Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Ask a Research Question

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Cite Sources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Collect Evidence

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Decide Your Point of View, or Role, for Your Research

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Draw Conclusions

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Find a Topic and Get an Overview

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Manage Your Resources

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Outline

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Survey the Literature

Planning and Writing a Research Paper: Work Your Sources into Your Research Writing

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Human Resources

Research Resources: What Are Research Resources?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found?

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Electronic Resources

Research Resources: Where Are Research Resources Found? - Print Resources

Structuring the Research Paper: Formal Research Structure

Structuring the Research Paper: Informal Research Structure

The Nature of Research

The Research Assignment: How Should Research Sources Be Evaluated?

The Research Assignment: When Is Research Needed?

The Research Assignment: Why Perform Research?

Chapter 5: Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity

Giving Credit to Sources

Giving Credit to Sources: Copyright Laws

Giving Credit to Sources: Documentation

Giving Credit to Sources: Style Guides

Integrating Sources

Practicing Academic Integrity

Practicing Academic Integrity: Keeping Accurate Records

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Paraphrasing Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Quoting Your Source

Practicing Academic Integrity: Managing Source Material - Summarizing Your Sources

Types of Documentation

Types of Documentation: Bibliographies and Source Lists

Types of Documentation: Citing World Wide Web Sources

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - APA Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - CSE/CBE Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - Chicago Style

Types of Documentation: In-Text or Parenthetical Citations - MLA Style

Types of Documentation: Note Citations

Chapter 6: Using Library Resources

Finding Library Resources

Chapter 7: Assessing Your Writing

How Is Writing Graded?

How Is Writing Graded?: A General Assessment Tool

The Draft Stage

The Draft Stage: The First Draft

The Draft Stage: The Revision Process and the Final Draft

The Draft Stage: Using Feedback

The Research Stage

Using Assessment to Improve Your Writing

Chapter 8: Other Frequently Assigned Papers

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Article and Book Reviews

Reviews and Reaction Papers: Reaction Papers

Writing Arguments

Writing Arguments: Adapting the Argument Structure

Writing Arguments: Purposes of Argument

Writing Arguments: References to Consult for Writing Arguments

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Anticipate Active Opposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Determine Your Organization

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Develop Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Introduce Your Argument

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - State Your Thesis or Proposition

Writing Arguments: Steps to Writing an Argument - Write Your Conclusion

Writing Arguments: Types of Argument

Appendix A: Books to Help Improve Your Writing

Dictionaries

General Style Manuals

Researching on the Internet

Special Style Manuals

Writing Handbooks

Appendix B: Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing

Collaborative Writing: Assignments to Accompany the Group Project

Collaborative Writing: Informal Progress Report

Collaborative Writing: Issues to Resolve

Collaborative Writing: Methodology

Collaborative Writing: Peer Evaluation

Collaborative Writing: Tasks of Collaborative Writing Group Members

Collaborative Writing: Writing Plan

General Introduction

Peer Reviewing

Appendix C: Developing an Improvement Plan

Working with Your Instructor’s Comments and Grades

Appendix D: Writing Plan and Project Schedule

Devising a Writing Project Plan and Schedule

Reviewing Your Plan with Others

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Enago Academy

Structure of a Research Paper: Tips to Improve Your Manuscript

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You’ve spent months or years conducting your academic research. Now it’s time to write your journal article. For some, this can become a daunting task because writing is not their forte. It might become difficult to even start writing. However, once you organize your thoughts and begin writing them down, the overall task will become easier.

We provide some helpful tips for you here.

Organize Your Thoughts

Perhaps one of the most important tasks before you even begin to write is to get organized. By this point, your data is compiled and analyzed. You most likely also have many pages of “notes”. These must also be organized. Fortunately, this is much easier to do than in the past with hand-written notes. Presuming that these tasks are completed, what’s next?

Related: Ready with your title and looking forward to manuscript submission ? Check these journal selection guidelines  now!

When suggesting that you organize your thoughts, we mean to take a look at what you have compiled. Ask yourself what you are trying to convey to the reader. What is the most important message from your research? How will your results affect others? Is more research necessary?

Write your answers down and keep them where you can see them while writing. This will help you focus on your goals.

Aim for Clarity

Your paper should be presented as clearly as possible. You want your readers to understand your research. You also do not want them to stop reading because the text is too technical.

Keep in mind that your published research will be available in academic journals all over the world. This means that people of different languages will read it. Moreover, even with scientists, this could present a language barrier. According to a recent article , always remember the following points as you write:

  • Clarity : Cleary define terms; avoid nonrelevant information.
  • Simplicity : Keep sentence structure simple and direct.
  • Accuracy : Represent all data and illustrations accurately.

For example, consider the following sentence:

“Chemical x had an effect on metabolism.”

This is an ambiguous statement. It does not tell the reader much. State the results instead:

“Chemical x increased fat metabolism by 20 percent.”

All scientific research also provide significance of findings, usually presented as defined “P” values. Be sure to explain these findings using descriptive terms. For example, rather than using the words “ significant effect ,” use a more descriptive term, such as “ significant increase .”

For more tips, please also see “Tips and Techniques for Scientific Writing”. In addition, it is very important to have your paper edited by a native English speaking professional editor. There are many editing services available for academic manuscripts and publication support services.

Research Paper Structure

With the above in mind, you can now focus on structure. Scientific papers are organized into specific sections and each has a goal. We have listed them here.

  • Your title is the most important part of your paper. It draws the reader in and tells them what you are presenting. Moreover, if you think about the titles of papers that you might browse in a day and which papers you actually read, you’ll agree.
  • The title should be clear and interesting otherwise the reader will not continue reading.
  • Authors’ names and affiliations are on the title page.
  • The abstract is a summary of your research. It is nearly as important as the title because the reader will be able to quickly read through it.
  • Most journals, the abstract can become divided into very short sections to guide the reader through the summaries.
  • Keep the sentences short and focused.
  • Avoid acronyms and citations.
  • Include background information on the subject and your objectives here.
  • Describe the materials used and include the names and locations of the manufacturers.
  • For any animal studies, include where you obtained the animals and a statement of humane treatment.
  • Clearly and succinctly explain your methods so that it can be duplicated.
  • Criteria for inclusion and exclusion in the study and statistical analyses should be included.
  • Discuss your findings here.
  • Be careful to not make definitive statements .
  • Your results suggest that something is or is not true.
  • This is true even when your results prove your hypothesis.
  • Discuss what your results mean in this section.
  • Discuss any study limitations. Suggest additional studies.
  • Acknowledge all contributors.
  • All citations in the text must have a corresponding reference.
  • Check your author guidelines for format protocols.
  • In most cases, your tables and figures appear at the end of your paper or in a separate file.
  • The titles (legends) usually become listed after the reference section.
  • Be sure that you define each acronym and abbreviation in each table and figure.

Manuscript

Helpful Rules

In their article entitled, “Ten simple rules for structuring papers,” in PLOS Computational Biology , authors Mensh and Kording provided 10 helpful tips as follows:

  • Focus on a central contribution.
  • Write for those who do not know your work.
  • Use the “context-content-conclusion” approach.
  • Avoid superfluous information and use parallel structures.
  • Summarize your research in the abstract.
  • Explain the importance of your research in the introduction.
  • Explain your results in a logical sequence and support them with figures and tables.
  • Discuss any data gaps and limitations.
  • Allocate your time for the most important sections.
  • Get feedback from colleagues.

Some of these rules have been briefly discussed above; however, the study done by the authors does provide detailed explanations on all of them.

Helpful Sites

Visit the following links for more helpful information:

  • “ Some writing tips for scientific papers ”
  • “ How to Structure Your Dissertation ”
  • “ Conciseness in Academic Writing: How to Prune Sentences ”
  • “ How to Optimize Sentence Length in Academic Writing ”

So, do you follow any additional tips when structuring your research paper ? Share them with us in the comments below!

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Primacy of the research question, structure of the paper, writing a research article: advice to beginners.

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Thomas V. Perneger, Patricia M. Hudelson, Writing a research article: advice to beginners, International Journal for Quality in Health Care , Volume 16, Issue 3, June 2004, Pages 191–192, https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzh053

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Writing research papers does not come naturally to most of us. The typical research paper is a highly codified rhetorical form [ 1 , 2 ]. Knowledge of the rules—some explicit, others implied—goes a long way toward writing a paper that will get accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.

A good research paper addresses a specific research question. The research question—or study objective or main research hypothesis—is the central organizing principle of the paper. Whatever relates to the research question belongs in the paper; the rest doesn’t. This is perhaps obvious when the paper reports on a well planned research project. However, in applied domains such as quality improvement, some papers are written based on projects that were undertaken for operational reasons, and not with the primary aim of producing new knowledge. In such cases, authors should define the main research question a posteriori and design the paper around it.

Generally, only one main research question should be addressed in a paper (secondary but related questions are allowed). If a project allows you to explore several distinct research questions, write several papers. For instance, if you measured the impact of obtaining written consent on patient satisfaction at a specialized clinic using a newly developed questionnaire, you may want to write one paper on the questionnaire development and validation, and another on the impact of the intervention. The idea is not to split results into ‘least publishable units’, a practice that is rightly decried, but rather into ‘optimally publishable units’.

What is a good research question? The key attributes are: (i) specificity; (ii) originality or novelty; and (iii) general relevance to a broad scientific community. The research question should be precise and not merely identify a general area of inquiry. It can often (but not always) be expressed in terms of a possible association between X and Y in a population Z, for example ‘we examined whether providing patients about to be discharged from the hospital with written information about their medications would improve their compliance with the treatment 1 month later’. A study does not necessarily have to break completely new ground, but it should extend previous knowledge in a useful way, or alternatively refute existing knowledge. Finally, the question should be of interest to others who work in the same scientific area. The latter requirement is more challenging for those who work in applied science than for basic scientists. While it may safely be assumed that the human genome is the same worldwide, whether the results of a local quality improvement project have wider relevance requires careful consideration and argument.

Once the research question is clearly defined, writing the paper becomes considerably easier. The paper will ask the question, then answer it. The key to successful scientific writing is getting the structure of the paper right. The basic structure of a typical research paper is the sequence of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (sometimes abbreviated as IMRAD). Each section addresses a different objective. The authors state: (i) the problem they intend to address—in other terms, the research question—in the Introduction; (ii) what they did to answer the question in the Methods section; (iii) what they observed in the Results section; and (iv) what they think the results mean in the Discussion.

In turn, each basic section addresses several topics, and may be divided into subsections (Table 1 ). In the Introduction, the authors should explain the rationale and background to the study. What is the research question, and why is it important to ask it? While it is neither necessary nor desirable to provide a full-blown review of the literature as a prelude to the study, it is helpful to situate the study within some larger field of enquiry. The research question should always be spelled out, and not merely left for the reader to guess.

Typical structure of a research paper

The Methods section should provide the readers with sufficient detail about the study methods to be able to reproduce the study if so desired. Thus, this section should be specific, concrete, technical, and fairly detailed. The study setting, the sampling strategy used, instruments, data collection methods, and analysis strategies should be described. In the case of qualitative research studies, it is also useful to tell the reader which research tradition the study utilizes and to link the choice of methodological strategies with the research goals [ 3 ].

The Results section is typically fairly straightforward and factual. All results that relate to the research question should be given in detail, including simple counts and percentages. Resist the temptation to demonstrate analytic ability and the richness of the dataset by providing numerous tables of non-essential results.

The Discussion section allows the most freedom. This is why the Discussion is the most difficult to write, and is often the weakest part of a paper. Structured Discussion sections have been proposed by some journal editors [ 4 ]. While strict adherence to such rules may not be necessary, following a plan such as that proposed in Table 1 may help the novice writer stay on track.

References should be used wisely. Key assertions should be referenced, as well as the methods and instruments used. However, unless the paper is a comprehensive review of a topic, there is no need to be exhaustive. Also, references to unpublished work, to documents in the grey literature (technical reports), or to any source that the reader will have difficulty finding or understanding should be avoided.

Having the structure of the paper in place is a good start. However, there are many details that have to be attended to while writing. An obvious recommendation is to read, and follow, the instructions to authors published by the journal (typically found on the journal’s website). Another concerns non-native writers of English: do have a native speaker edit the manuscript. A paper usually goes through several drafts before it is submitted. When revising a paper, it is useful to keep an eye out for the most common mistakes (Table 2 ). If you avoid all those, your paper should be in good shape.

Common mistakes seen in manuscripts submitted to this journal

Huth EJ . How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences , 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1990 .

Browner WS . Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research . Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999 .

Devers KJ , Frankel RM. Getting qualitative research published. Educ Health 2001 ; 14 : 109 –117.

Docherty M , Smith R. The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. Br Med J 1999 ; 318 : 1224 –1225.

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Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.

Introduction

What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section. 
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered.  Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References.  Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures  – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first). 
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun).  In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research.  Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely.  You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.  

External Resources

  • Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
  • How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
  • WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper
  • Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

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  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing a Literature Review
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

Structure of a Research Paper

Phillips-Wangensteen Building.

Structure of a Research Paper: IMRaD Format

I. The Title Page

  • Title: Tells the reader what to expect in the paper.
  • Author(s): Most papers are written by one or two primary authors. The remaining authors have reviewed the work and/or aided in study design or data analysis (International Committee of Medical Editors, 1997). Check the Instructions to Authors for the target journal for specifics about authorship.
  • Keywords [according to the journal]
  • Corresponding Author: Full name and affiliation for the primary contact author for persons who have questions about the research.
  • Financial & Equipment Support [if needed]: Specific information about organizations, agencies, or companies that supported the research.
  • Conflicts of Interest [if needed]: List and explain any conflicts of interest.

II. Abstract: “Structured abstract” has become the standard for research papers (introduction, objective, methods, results and conclusions), while reviews, case reports and other articles have non-structured abstracts. The abstract should be a summary/synopsis of the paper.

III. Introduction: The “why did you do the study”; setting the scene or laying the foundation or background for the paper.

IV. Methods: The “how did you do the study.” Describe the --

  • Context and setting of the study
  • Specify the study design
  • Population (patients, etc. if applicable)
  • Sampling strategy
  • Intervention (if applicable)
  • Identify the main study variables
  • Data collection instruments and procedures
  • Outline analysis methods

V. Results: The “what did you find” --

  • Report on data collection and/or recruitment
  • Participants (demographic, clinical condition, etc.)
  • Present key findings with respect to the central research question
  • Secondary findings (secondary outcomes, subgroup analyses, etc.)

VI. Discussion: Place for interpreting the results

  • Main findings of the study
  • Discuss the main results with reference to previous research
  • Policy and practice implications of the results
  • Strengths and limitations of the study

VII. Conclusions: [occasionally optional or not required]. Do not reiterate the data or discussion. Can state hunches, inferences or speculations. Offer perspectives for future work.

VIII. Acknowledgements: Names people who contributed to the work, but did not contribute sufficiently to earn authorship. You must have permission from any individuals mentioned in the acknowledgements sections. 

IX. References:  Complete citations for any articles or other materials referenced in the text of the article.

  • IMRD Cheatsheet (Carnegie Mellon) pdf.
  • Adewasi, D. (2021 June 14).  What Is IMRaD? IMRaD Format in Simple Terms! . Scientific-editing.info. 
  • Nair, P.K.R., Nair, V.D. (2014). Organization of a Research Paper: The IMRAD Format. In: Scientific Writing and Communication in Agriculture and Natural Resources. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-03101-9_2
  • Sollaci, L. B., & Pereira, M. G. (2004). The introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD) structure: a fifty-year survey.   Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA ,  92 (3), 364–367.
  • Cuschieri, S., Grech, V., & Savona-Ventura, C. (2019). WASP (Write a Scientific Paper): Structuring a scientific paper.   Early human development ,  128 , 114–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2018.09.011

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Focus: Education — Career Advice

How to write your first research paper.

Writing a research manuscript is an intimidating process for many novice writers in the sciences. One of the stumbling blocks is the beginning of the process and creating the first draft. This paper presents guidelines on how to initiate the writing process and draft each section of a research manuscript. The paper discusses seven rules that allow the writer to prepare a well-structured and comprehensive manuscript for a publication submission. In addition, the author lists different strategies for successful revision. Each of those strategies represents a step in the revision process and should help the writer improve the quality of the manuscript. The paper could be considered a brief manual for publication.

It is late at night. You have been struggling with your project for a year. You generated an enormous amount of interesting data. Your pipette feels like an extension of your hand, and running western blots has become part of your daily routine, similar to brushing your teeth. Your colleagues think you are ready to write a paper, and your lab mates tease you about your “slow” writing progress. Yet days pass, and you cannot force yourself to sit down to write. You have not written anything for a while (lab reports do not count), and you feel you have lost your stamina. How does the writing process work? How can you fit your writing into a daily schedule packed with experiments? What section should you start with? What distinguishes a good research paper from a bad one? How should you revise your paper? These and many other questions buzz in your head and keep you stressed. As a result, you procrastinate. In this paper, I will discuss the issues related to the writing process of a scientific paper. Specifically, I will focus on the best approaches to start a scientific paper, tips for writing each section, and the best revision strategies.

1. Schedule your writing time in Outlook

Whether you have written 100 papers or you are struggling with your first, starting the process is the most difficult part unless you have a rigid writing schedule. Writing is hard. It is a very difficult process of intense concentration and brain work. As stated in Hayes’ framework for the study of writing: “It is a generative activity requiring motivation, and it is an intellectual activity requiring cognitive processes and memory” [ 1 ]. In his book How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing , Paul Silvia says that for some, “it’s easier to embalm the dead than to write an article about it” [ 2 ]. Just as with any type of hard work, you will not succeed unless you practice regularly. If you have not done physical exercises for a year, only regular workouts can get you into good shape again. The same kind of regular exercises, or I call them “writing sessions,” are required to be a productive author. Choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments. When figuring out which blocks of time will be set for writing, you should select the time that works best for this type of work. For many people, mornings are more productive. One Yale University graduate student spent a semester writing from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. when her lab was empty. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she accomplished without even interrupting her regular lab hours. In addition, doing the hardest task first thing in the morning contributes to the sense of accomplishment during the rest of the day. This positive feeling spills over into our work and life and has a very positive effect on our overall attitude.

Rule 1: Create regular time blocks for writing as appointments in your calendar and keep these appointments.

2. start with an outline.

Now that you have scheduled time, you need to decide how to start writing. The best strategy is to start with an outline. This will not be an outline that you are used to, with Roman numerals for each section and neat parallel listing of topic sentences and supporting points. This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help generate ideas and formulate hypotheses. Following the advice of George M. Whitesides, “. . . start with a blank piece of paper, and write down, in any order, all important ideas that occur to you concerning the paper” [ 3 ]. Use Table 1 as a starting point for your outline. Include your visuals (figures, tables, formulas, equations, and algorithms), and list your findings. These will constitute the first level of your outline, which will eventually expand as you elaborate.

The next stage is to add context and structure. Here you will group all your ideas into sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion ( Table 2 ). This step will help add coherence to your work and sift your ideas.

Now that you have expanded your outline, you are ready for the next step: discussing the ideas for your paper with your colleagues and mentor. Many universities have a writing center where graduate students can schedule individual consultations and receive assistance with their paper drafts. Getting feedback during early stages of your draft can save a lot of time. Talking through ideas allows people to conceptualize and organize thoughts to find their direction without wasting time on unnecessary writing. Outlining is the most effective way of communicating your ideas and exchanging thoughts. Moreover, it is also the best stage to decide to which publication you will submit the paper. Many people come up with three choices and discuss them with their mentors and colleagues. Having a list of journal priorities can help you quickly resubmit your paper if your paper is rejected.

Rule 2: Create a detailed outline and discuss it with your mentor and peers.

3. continue with drafts.

After you get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to, the process of real writing begins. Copy your outline into a separate file and expand on each of the points, adding data and elaborating on the details. When you create the first draft, do not succumb to the temptation of editing. Do not slow down to choose a better word or better phrase; do not halt to improve your sentence structure. Pour your ideas into the paper and leave revision and editing for later. As Paul Silvia explains, “Revising while you generate text is like drinking decaffeinated coffee in the early morning: noble idea, wrong time” [ 2 ].

Many students complain that they are not productive writers because they experience writer’s block. Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks. Indeed, writer’s block is a logical fallacy for a scientist ― it is just an excuse to procrastinate. When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper.

3.1. Starting with Materials and Methods

If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first. Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures. Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references. In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in (1):

1a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation. 1b. To isolate T cells, lymph nodes were collected.

As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: the speed of centrifuging your bacteria, the time, and the temperature in (1a); the source of lymph nodes for collection in (b). The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in (2a) and (2b), respectfully:

2a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation at 3000g for 15 min at 25°C. 2b. To isolate T cells, mediastinal and mesenteric lymph nodes from Balb/c mice were collected at day 7 after immunization with ovabumin.

If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in (3a). If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in (3b).

3a. Stem cells were isolated, according to Johnson [23]. 3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies.

Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in (4). This switching misleads and distracts the reader.

4. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness [ 4 ].

The problem with (4) is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment (passive voice) to the point of view of the experimenter (active voice). This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: first person “we” or passive voice [ 5 ]. Let’s consider two revised examples in (5).

5a. We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods) as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music. We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness. 5b. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness.

If you choose the point of view of the experimenter, then you may end up with repetitive “we did this” sentences. For many readers, paragraphs with sentences all beginning with “we” may also sound disruptive. So if you choose active sentences, you need to keep the number of “we” subjects to a minimum and vary the beginnings of the sentences [ 6 ].

Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [ 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. For example, Martínez shows a significant drop in active voice use in the Methods sections based on the corpus of 1 million words of experimental full text research articles in the biological sciences [ 7 ]. According to the author, the active voice patterned with “we” is used only as a tool to reveal personal responsibility for the procedural decisions in designing and performing experimental work. This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections.

Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity. This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section.

Rule 3: Be meticulous and accurate in describing the Materials and Methods. Do not change the point of view within one paragraph.

3.2. writing results section.

For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section . If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results. That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text.

Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals (tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas), and data commentary. For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. In the “standard” research paper approach, your Results section should exclude data interpretation, leaving it for the Discussion section. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: “Reducing the data, generalizing from the data, and highlighting scientific cases are all highly interpretive processes. It should be clear by now that we do not let the data speak for themselves in research reports; in summarizing our results, we interpret them for the reader” [ 10 ]. As a result, many journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation use joint Results/Discussion sections, where results are immediately followed by interpretations.

Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case. This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings. You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper. You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader. However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results. If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction.

In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in (6).

6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections.

Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers. Adverbial intensifiers such as “clearly,” “essential,” “quite,” “basically,” “rather,” “fairly,” “really,” and “virtually” not only add verbosity to your sentences, but also lower your results’ credibility. They appeal to the reader’s emotions but lower objectivity, as in the common examples in (7):

7a. Table 3 clearly shows that … 7b. It is obvious from figure 4 that …

Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i.e., nouns derived from verbs and adjectives paired with weak verbs including “be,” “have,” “do,” “make,” “cause,” “provide,” and “get” and constructions such as “there is/are.”

8a. We tested the hypothesis that there is a disruption of membrane asymmetry. 8b. In this paper we provide an argument that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

In the sentences above, the abstract nominalizations “disruption” and “argument” do not contribute to the clarity of the sentences, but rather clutter them with useless vocabulary that distracts from the meaning. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences.

9a. We tested the hypothesis that the membrane asymmetry is disrupted. 9b. In this paper we argue that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences.

Rule 4: Be clear, concise, and objective in describing your Results.

3.3. now it is time for your introduction.

Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas. So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus. The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction.

The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak [ 11 ].

The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps. These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic. By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The final move, “occupying the niche,” is where you explain your research in a nutshell and highlight your paper’s significance. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers.

Some academic writers assume that the reader “should follow the paper” to find the answers about your methodology and your findings. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections [ 5 ]. However, this “suspense” approach is not appropriate for scientific writing. To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach.

Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction. Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general. The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper.

The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about 250 to 600 words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance.

Rule 5: Interest your reader in the Introduction section by signalling all its elements and stating the novelty of the work.

3.4. discussion of the results.

For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper. Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist. Knowing these rules, or “moves,” can change your attitude about this section and help you create a comprehensive interpretation of your results.

The purpose of the Discussion section is to place your findings in the research context and “to explain the meaning of the findings and why they are important, without appearing arrogant, condescending, or patronizing” [ 11 ]. The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak and Hess [ 11 , 12 ].

The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section. Following the moves in Table 1 , the best choice is to start with the study’s major findings that provide the answer to the research question in your Introduction. The most common starting phrases are “Our findings demonstrate . . .,” or “In this study, we have shown that . . .,” or “Our results suggest . . .” In some cases, however, reminding the reader about the research question or even providing a brief context and then stating the answer would make more sense. This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented. Your summary of the study’s major findings should be followed by your presentation of the importance of these findings. One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question.

Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results. Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher. Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: the research context.

The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic. This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist. However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions.

If your submission does not require a separate Conclusion section, then adding another paragraph about the “take-home message” is a must. This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice.

Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority. The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.

Rule 6: Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations in a concise and convincing tone.

4. choosing the best working revision strategies.

Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe. You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Do not stop ― you are only at the midpoint from your destination. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed. Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess. Use the advice of Paul Silvia: “Your first drafts should sound like they were hastily translated from Icelandic by a non-native speaker” [ 2 ]. The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper.

The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels [ 13 ]. The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. The microstructure level includes individual words, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The best way to approach the macrostructure revision is through the outline of the ideas in your paper. The last time you updated your outline was before writing the Introduction and the Discussion. Now that you have the beginning and the conclusion, you can take a bird’s-eye view of the whole paper. The outline will allow you to see if the ideas of your paper are coherently structured, if your results are logically built, and if the discussion is linked to the research question in the Introduction. You will be able to see if something is missing in any of the sections or if you need to rearrange your information to make your point.

The next step is to revise each of the sections starting from the beginning. Ideally, you should limit yourself to working on small sections of about five pages at a time [ 14 ]. After these short sections, your eyes get used to your writing and your efficiency in spotting problems decreases. When reading for content and organization, you should control your urge to edit your paper for sentence structure and grammar and focus only on the flow of your ideas and logic of your presentation. Experienced researchers tend to make almost three times the number of changes to meaning than novice writers [ 15 , 16 ]. Revising is a difficult but useful skill, which academic writers obtain with years of practice.

In contrast to the macrostructure revision, which is a linear process and is done usually through a detailed outline and by sections, microstructure revision is a non-linear process. While the goal of the macrostructure revision is to analyze your ideas and their logic, the goal of the microstructure editing is to scrutinize the form of your ideas: your paragraphs, sentences, and words. You do not need and are not recommended to follow the order of the paper to perform this type of revision. You can start from the end or from different sections. You can even revise by reading sentences backward, sentence by sentence and word by word.

One of the microstructure revision strategies frequently used during writing center consultations is to read the paper aloud [ 17 ]. You may read aloud to yourself, to a tape recorder, or to a colleague or friend. When reading and listening to your paper, you are more likely to notice the places where the fluency is disrupted and where you stumble because of a very long and unclear sentence or a wrong connector.

Another revision strategy is to learn your common errors and to do a targeted search for them [ 13 ]. All writers have a set of problems that are specific to them, i.e., their writing idiosyncrasies. Remembering these problems is as important for an academic writer as remembering your friends’ birthdays. Create a list of these idiosyncrasies and run a search for these problems using your word processor. If your problem is demonstrative pronouns without summary words, then search for “this/these/those” in your text and check if you used the word appropriately. If you have a problem with intensifiers, then search for “really” or “very” and delete them from the text. The same targeted search can be done to eliminate wordiness. Searching for “there is/are” or “and” can help you avoid the bulky sentences.

The final strategy is working with a hard copy and a pencil. Print a double space copy with font size 14 and re-read your paper in several steps. Try reading your paper line by line with the rest of the text covered with a piece of paper. When you are forced to see only a small portion of your writing, you are less likely to get distracted and are more likely to notice problems. You will end up spotting more unnecessary words, wrongly worded phrases, or unparallel constructions.

After you apply all these strategies, you are ready to share your writing with your friends, colleagues, and a writing advisor in the writing center. Get as much feedback as you can, especially from non-specialists in your field. Patiently listen to what others say to you ― you are not expected to defend your writing or explain what you wanted to say. You may decide what you want to change and how after you receive the feedback and sort it in your head. Even though some researchers make the revision an endless process and can hardly stop after a 14th draft; having from five to seven drafts of your paper is a norm in the sciences. If you can’t stop revising, then set a deadline for yourself and stick to it. Deadlines always help.

Rule 7: Revise your paper at the macrostructure and the microstructure level using different strategies and techniques. Receive feedback and revise again.

5. it is time to submit.

It is late at night again. You are still in your lab finishing revisions and getting ready to submit your paper. You feel happy ― you have finally finished a year’s worth of work. You will submit your paper tomorrow, and regardless of the outcome, you know that you can do it. If one journal does not take your paper, you will take advantage of the feedback and resubmit again. You will have a publication, and this is the most important achievement.

What is even more important is that you have your scheduled writing time that you are going to keep for your future publications, for reading and taking notes, for writing grants, and for reviewing papers. You are not going to lose stamina this time, and you will become a productive scientist. But for now, let’s celebrate the end of the paper.

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How To Structure A Research Paper

How to Structure a Research Paper: A Comprehensive Guide

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Table of Contents

Are you struggling to structure your research paper? Do you find yourself getting lost in the sea of information, unable to organize your thoughts effectively? Worry not, for this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary tips and tricks to structure your research paper like a pro.

Understanding the Requirements

Organization is key when it comes to writing a successful research paper. Learn how to structure yours with our expert tips!

Before you begin structuring your research paper, it’s essential to understand the requirements of the assignment. Different types of research papers have different requirements, and failing to follow them could result in a lower grade.

Start by reading the assignment guidelines thoroughly. Identify the type of research paper you’re writing and the specific requirements, such as the required length, formatting style, and number of sources. Make sure to take note of any specific instructions or restrictions, such as the type of sources you’re allowed to use.

Once you’ve identified the requirements, create a checklist to ensure you’ve covered all the necessary elements. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you’re meeting the requirements of the assignment.

Next, identify the research question or thesis statement. This will be the central argument of your paper and will guide the structure of your research. Make sure to keep the research question or thesis statement in mind as you structure your paper.

By understanding the requirements and identifying the research question or thesis statement, you’ll be better equipped to structure your research paper effectively.

Creating an Outline

Creating an outline is an essential step in structuring your research paper. An outline helps you organize your thoughts and ensures that your paper has a logical flow.

Start by dividing your paper into sections based on the requirements of the assignment. For example, if you’re writing a literature review, you may divide your paper into sections based on themes or categories.

Next, create subheadings for each section. These subheadings should be specific and descriptive, providing the reader with a clear idea of what to expect in each section.

Under each subheading, include bullet points or brief sentences outlining the main points you’ll cover in that section. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you’re covering all the necessary information.

Once you’ve created your outline, review it to ensure that it’s comprehensive and logical. Make any necessary adjustments and use your outline as a guide as you begin writing your research paper.

By creating an outline, you’ll ensure that your research paper has a clear structure and logical flow, making it easier for the reader to follow your argument.

The importance of creating an outline cannot be overstated. An outline helps you stay focused on the main ideas and arguments you want to convey in your research paper. It also helps you organize your thoughts and ideas and ensures that your paper has a logical flow.

An effective outline should include the following elements:

Introduction: This section should include your thesis statement or research question and provide a brief overview of what the reader can expect in the paper.

Body: This section should be divided into several subheadings, each with its main idea or argument. Each subheading should be specific and descriptive, providing the reader with a clear idea of what to expect in each section.

Conclusion: This section should summarize the main points of your research paper and how they support your thesis statement or research question.

References: This section should include a list of all the sources you used in your research paper.

By creating an outline that includes these key elements, you’ll ensure that your research paper has a clear structure and logical flow, making it easier for the reader to follow your argument.

Writing the Introduction

The introduction is the first section of your research paper, and it plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the rest of the paper. The purpose of the introduction is to provide the reader with an overview of your research paper, including your thesis statement or research question.

To write an effective introduction, start by providing some background information on the topic. This will help the reader understand the context of your research and why it’s important. Next, provide a clear and concise thesis statement or research question that outlines the main argument or point of your research paper.

In addition to providing background information and a thesis statement, an effective introduction should also include an overview of what the reader can expect in the paper. This can include a brief summary of the main points you’ll cover in each section of the paper.

To make your introduction more engaging, consider using a hook to grab the reader’s attention. This could be a quote, a surprising statistic, or an anecdote that relates to your topic.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to write an effective introduction that sets the tone for the rest of your research paper and engages the reader from the beginning.

Developing the Body

The body of your research paper is where you’ll present your arguments and evidence to support your thesis statement or research question. It’s essential to ensure that the body is well-developed and structured to provide a clear and convincing argument.

Start by organizing your research into themes or categories. This will help you avoid repetition and ensure that your arguments are presented in a logical order. Each theme or category should have its own subheading and be supported by evidence from your research.

As you write each section of the body, make sure to connect your arguments to your research question or thesis statement. This will help you stay focused and ensure that your arguments are relevant to the overall purpose of your paper.

Make sure to include transitions between sections to ensure that your paper flows smoothly. Transitions can be as simple as a sentence or two that connects the ideas from one section to the next.

Finally, make sure to provide evidence to support your arguments. This can include data, statistics, examples, or quotes from experts in the field. Make sure to cite your sources properly to avoid plagiarism and provide credibility to your arguments.

By developing the body of your research paper effectively, you’ll provide a clear and convincing argument that supports your thesis statement or research question.

In conclusion, structuring a research paper is essential to ensure that your arguments are presented effectively and convincingly. By understanding the requirements and creating an outline, you’ll provide a clear and logical structure for your paper.

When developing the body of your paper, make sure to organize your research into themes or categories and connect your arguments to your research question or thesis statement. Provide evidence to support your arguments and use transitions to ensure that your paper flows smoothly.

Remember to review and revise your paper to ensure that it’s coherent and well-structured. By following these tips and guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to structuring a research paper like a pro.

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What Are The Key Elements of Research Paper Structure?

research paper structure

Writing a well-structured research paper is not everybody’s cup of tea. One may spend months or even years conducting one good research paper. Sometimes, it might become difficult even to start writing. Let alone thinking of the structure of the research paper.

It is truly said that a well-structured research paper is able to address a specific research question. It has the capacity to question the reader’s perspective and idea.

This article is authored with the view to make its viewers understand the importance of research structure and also give out tips on how to write the research paper structure.

On the other hand, as a research paper assignment helper , we understand the importance of a strong research paper structure. Let us help you create a winning paper that will impress your professors and earn you top marks.

What Is Research Paper?

Table of Contents

A research paper is a type of academic document that explores a particular topic in-depth. It involves conducting research, gathering information, and presenting findings in a structured manner. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute knowledge, provide information, or present arguments based on evidence.

In addition, it includes an introduction, body paragraphs with supporting evidence, and a conclusion. Research papers are commonly written by students, scholars, and professionals to share their research and contribute to their respective fields of study.

What Is Research Paper Structure?

The research structure is mainly an outline of the work. The structure consists of a number of sub-sections. We will learn about each in detail as you scroll down.

One is expected to provide the research structure towards the end of the introduction chapter of the dissertation. Most research papers have more or less the same structure.

It is important for the author to first make sure that the information/data is compiled and analyzed. This step is crucial in order to get the paper structured properly. It is also helpful for a better understanding of a particular topic. Providing clear definitions is one of the main aims of creating the structure of a research paper.

Why Is Research Paper Structure Important?

  • Research paper structure improves the organization and coherence of information.
  • It enhances the clarity and readability of the paper for readers.
  • A clear structure helps researchers effectively convey their main points and arguments.
  • It makes it easy navigation and quick access to specific sections or information.
  • A well-defined structure demonstrates the researcher’s ability to present information effectively, enhancing the overall quality and impact of the paper.

Top 10 Key Elements Of Research Paper Structure You Must Know

As discussed above, the key to a successful and impressive research paper is getting its structure right. The basic structure of a general research paper goes in the sequence of the title page, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion of the same which is followed by the conclusion. References and acknowledgments are provided marking the end of the paper.

Each subsection points out a different objective for the main topic or the same point of interest. Below is a detailed description of each of the sub-sections:

1. Title page

The title page allows the reader to identify the work just by reading the title. It is the very first page any reader will come across. The title page must include the name of the author, the name of the course for which the research was performed, the name of the instructor, the date of completion, and the page number.

An individual must be able to understand the purpose of writing the research paper just by reading the title. This is the first section of the research paper structure.

2. Abstract

The abstract of a research paper should be a short summary of the contents it includes. It should be less than 250 words. Usually, it includes the purpose of the study, significant results, and its conclusion.

Since the abstract contains small bits of information about the article, it is best to call it an overview of the paper. An article’s abstract will always be available to view online whether or not you have paid for its subscription.

3. Introduction

After the abstract comes the introduction to the research. The introduction gives the reader all the primary information he or she requires to understand the paper. It must explain the idea of the main topic.

Explanation of the key terms, historical information, and citation of other studies revolving around the topic must follow. The introduction should be able to indicate why the research done in this particular article is different or how it is relevant to the discussion.

4. Materials and Methods

The Materials and Methods in the research paper explain to an individual how the study was conducted. Generally, it provides the reader with information like – the sampling strategy used, instruments, data collection methods, and analysis strategies.

This part of the information must be descriptive, precise, and in detail.

The results of an article should give specific information on what the findings are, and their value, with suitable data included.

It must be presented in a straightforward and factual manner. Numerical figures, graphs, and percentages should be included as well.

6. Discussion

Discussion of an article is also known as the ‘body’. Facts are focused on in this section. It is considered the most difficult part to write.

Discussion must be put before or after the results. This section must be able to answer questions like: is the analysis matching with the calculated data, is the conclusion valid, and does the discussion prove the required point? Discuss what the results show in this particular section.

7. Conclusion

The Conclusion tells one about the final thoughts of the author. It is a paraphrased version of the overall discussion in short.

Containing an average of 100 to 200 words, it covers all the main keywords and points. It may repeat what is already noted in the discussion. It may also provide recommendations for future research.

8. References

The reference page allows the author to accept all the sources used for gathering information. The resource should be cited properly.

Examples of citations can be found on the website online. Reference to any online source that the reader will have trouble finding or understanding should be avoided for use.

9. Acknowledgements

Acknowledgments are used to thank any persons or institutions that made the research possible. An individual can extend their gratitude towards the person or organization under this section for helping him/her get through the research paper within the stipulated time period and guiding them.

10. Appendix (if any add-ons were available) 

In some cases, an appendix in a research paper contains non-evaluative information that is not important for comprehending the research paper, such as a list of experiment encouragement, details of a secondary scanning, or programming code. This is usually found in an appendix. This is the last section of the research paper structure.

  • How to write research paper outline
  • How to write research paper

How Long Should A Research Paper Be?

The length of a research paper depends on the assignment requirements, the field of study, and the course level. In general, research papers can range from 5 to 30 pages or more, with the average length being 10-15 pages.

On the other hand, in many cases, instructors or journals may provide specific guidelines for the length of the paper, including the number of pages or word count. If such guidelines are not provided, it is important to consider the complexity of the topic and the amount of research required to address it sufficiently.

It is also important to remember that the length of a research paper should not be the primary focus. The research, analysis, and writing quality are much more important than the number of pages. A well-written, concise paper that effectively addresses the research question is often more valuable than a longer paper that is poorly organized and does not provide a clear argument.

So this means that you do not have to write a long and poorly organized paper. However, it is better to write a proper and well-written research paper.

Tips On How To Improve Your Research Paper Structure

how a research paper is structured

1. Organize 

Thoughts should be organized and focused. Ask yourself what idea you want to convey to the reader. Is there a message hidden in the paper? Is more research required?

These questions must be solved to help one to keep their focus on the goal. This is the first tip on how you can improve your research paper structure.

The paper must be as clear and simple as possible. The language should not be difficult to understand. The sentence structure must be short and simple.

Along with that, it is very important that all the data and facts are accurately presented.

The title and abstract are the first two sections of the paper that the reader will read. It depends on the reader to continue reading from here.

Thus, it is crucial for both the title and abstract to be eye-catching and effective at the same time. It must be able to summarize the entire paper for the reader.

4. Keywords

Keywords are used for the purpose of indexing. Indexing is the process of finding words easily online. Words that are specific and do not already exist in the title are ideal.

Depending on the research paper, keywords that appear in the title must be often avoided.

The results should be significant and easy to understand. Attracting readers and citations will be easier if the results are exciting enough to encourage them to elaborate on what the author has discovered.

This is the last tip on how you can improve your research paper structure.

Tools And Resources To Write A Good Research Paper Structure

Research paper outline template: A template is a helpful tool that can help you to structure your research paper efficiently. With a template, you will have a clear idea of the different sections of your paper and how they should be arranged. Several outline templates are available online, and you can use them as a guide to creating your outline.

1. Library databases 

Libraries are an excellent resource for finding academic sources. Many libraries have databases that you can access online, which contain a wide range of scholarly articles, books, and other materials that are relevant to your research. You can use these databases to find reliable sources for your paper.

2. Citation tools

Proper citation is crucial in academic writing. A citation tool can help you to format your citations correctly and avoid plagiarism. Several citation tools, such as EasyBib, Zotero, and Mendeley, are available. These tools can save you time and ensure your citations are accurate.

3. Writing software

Writing software can help you to organize your research and write your paper efficiently. Some popular writing software includes Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener. These tools have features that can help you to structure your paper, such as outlining, formatting, and citation management.

4. Grammar and spell-checking tools

You must proofread your paper to ensure it’s error-free. Grammar and spell-checking tools can help you to catch any mistakes that you have missed. Some popular tools include Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, and ProWritingAid.

5. Writing guides and manuals

Several guides and manuals are available online to help you write a good research paper. Some popular ones include The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA Handbook, and The APA Publication Manual. These guides provide detailed instructions on formatting, citation, and writing style.

These tools and resources can help you structure your research paper effectively, write it clearly, and present it professionally.

Conclusion on research paper structure

In conclusion, we have a clear insight as to what the research paper structure is. It is mainly described as the outline of the work. The research paper is written keeping nine sub-sections in mind. Without each section, the paper tends to look incomplete. Each sub-section offers a different objective for the main topic.

Most research papers usually follow the same structure. Here, we have also learned certain tips on how to improve your research paper structure. If you want to get the best research paper writing help then you get help in touch with our research paper helper .

Q1. What are the 5 parts of a research paper?

A full research paper that is in APA format reporting on experimental research will typically include the following sections: Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References.

Q2. What are the main parts of a research paper?

There are 9 main parts in a research paper:

1. Title (cover page) 2. Introduction 3. Literature review 4. Research Methodology 5. Data analysis 6. Results 7. Conclusion 8. Reference page 9. Appendix (if any add-ons were available)

If you follow this structure, you will end up with a concise, well-organized research paper.

Q3. How to write a research paper?

If you want to write a good Research Paper then here are some tips for you: 1. Choose a topic. 2. Read and keep records. 3. Form a thesis. 4. Create a mind map or outline. 5. Read again. 6. Rethink your thesis. 7. Draft the body. 8. Revise.

Q4. How Can You Understand The Research Paper Assignment?

Completing a research paper successfully usually involves completing the tasks assigned to you. Before you begin, ensure you have a proper understanding of the assignment task sheet. Here are some tips on how you can understand the research paper assignment:

1. Determine the goal, deadline, length requirements, formatting, and submission method for the assignment. 2. You can make a bulleted list of the main points you wanted in your research paper, then go back and check off completed items as you write. 3. Read it carefully, looking for any confusion you may need to clarify with your professor. 4. You can consider your timeframe and word limit very carefully. On the other hand, it is very important to be more realistic and allow enough time to research, write, and edit.

Q5. Summarize The Major Elements Of The Paper?

Here are the major elements of the research paper structure: 

1. Introduction 2. Literature Review 3. Research Methodology 4. Results 5. Discussion 6. Conclusion 7. References (or Bibliography) 8. Appendices (if applicable)

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Ref-n-Write: Scientific Research Paper Writing Software

Research Paper Structure – Main Sections and Parts of a Research Paper

PhD students are expected to write and publish research papers to validate their research work and findings. Writing your first research paper  can seem like a daunting task at the start but must be done to validate your work. If you are a beginner writer new to academic writing or a non-native English speaker then it might seem like a daunting process at inception. The best way to begin writing a research paper is to learn about the research paper structure needed in your field, as this may vary between fields. Producing a research paper structure first with various headings and subheadings will significantly simplify the writing process. In this blog, we explain the basic structure of a research paper and explain its various components. We elaborate on various parts and sections of a research paper. We also provide guidance to produce a research paper structure for your work through word cloud diagrams that illustrate various topics and sub-topics to be included under each section. We recommend you to refer to our other blogs on  academic writing tools ,   academic writing resources , and  academic phrase-bank , which are relevant to the topic discussed in this blog. 

1. Introduction

The Introduction section is one of the most important sections of a research paper. The introduction section should start with a brief outline of the topic and then explain the nature of the problem at hand and why it is crucial to resolve this issue. This section should contain a literature review that provides relevant background information about the topic. The literature review should touch upon seminal and pioneering works in the field and the most recent studies pertinent to your work. 

Research paper structure for introduction section

The  literature review  should end with a few lines about the research gap in the chosen domain. This is where you explain the lack of adequate research about your chosen topic and make a case for the need for more research. This is an excellent place to define the research question or hypothesis. The last part of the introduction should be about your work. Having established the research gap now, you have to explain how you intend to solve the problem and subsequently introduce your approach. You should provide a clear outline that includes both the primary and secondary aims/objectives of your work. You can end the section by providing how the rest of the paper is organized.  When you are working on the research paper structure use the word cloud diagrams as a guidance.

2. Material and Methods

The Materials and methods section of the research paper should include detailed information about the implementation details of your method. This should be written in such a way that it is reproducible by any person conducting research in the same field. This section should include all the technical details of the experimental setup, measurement procedure, and parameters of interest. It should also include details of how the methods were validated and tested prior to their use. It is recommended to use equations, figures, and tables to explain the workings of the method proposed. Add placeholders for figures and tables with dummy titles while working on the research paper structure.

Research paper structure for material and methods section

Suppose your methodology involves data collection and recruitment. In that case, you should provide information about the sample size, population characteristics, interview process, and recruitment methods. It should also include the details of the consenting procedure and inclusion and exclusion criteria. This section can end with various statistical methods used for data analysis and significance testing.

3. Results and Discussion

Results and Discussion section of the research paper should be the concluding part of your research paper. In the results section, you can explain your experiments’ outcome by presenting adequate scientific data to back up your conclusions. You must interpret the scientific data to your readers by highlighting the key findings of your work. You also provide information on any negative and unexpected findings that came out of your work. It is vital to present the data in an unbiased manner. You should also explain how the current results compare with previously published data from similar works in the literature. 

Research paper structure for results and discussion section

In the discussion section, you should summarize your work and explain how the research work objectives were achieved. You can highlight the benefits your work will bring to the overall scientific community and potential practical applications. You must not introduce any new information in this section; you can only discuss things that have already been mentioned in the paper. The discussion section must talk about your work’s limitations; no scientific work is perfect, and some drawbacks are expected. If there are any inconclusive results in your work, you can present your theories about what might have caused it. You have to end your paper with conclusions and future work . In conclusion, you can restate your aims and objectives and summarize your main findings, preferably in two or three lines. You should also lay out your plans for future work and explain how further research will benefit the research domain. Finally, you can also add ‘Acknowledgments’ and ‘References’ sections to the research paper structure for completion.

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  • Academic Paragraph Structure | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Academic Paragraph Structure | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Published on October 25, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on March 27, 2023.

Academic Paragraph Structure

Every piece of academic writing is structured by paragraphs and headings . The number, length and order of your paragraphs will depend on what you’re writing—but each paragraph must be:

  • Unified : all the sentences relate to one central point or idea.
  • Coherent : the sentences are logically organized and clearly connected.
  • Relevant : the paragraph supports the overall theme and purpose of the paper.

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Table of contents

Step 1: identify the paragraph’s purpose, step 2: show why the paragraph is relevant, step 3: give evidence, step 4: explain or interpret the evidence, step 5: conclude the paragraph, step 6: read through the whole paragraph, when to start a new paragraph.

First, you need to know the central idea that will organize this paragraph. If you have already made a plan or outline of your paper’s overall structure , you should already have a good idea of what each paragraph will aim to do.

You can start by drafting a sentence that sums up your main point and introduces the paragraph’s focus. This is often called a topic sentence . It should be specific enough to cover in a single paragraph, but general enough that you can develop it over several more sentences.

Although the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France.

This topic sentence:

  • Transitions from the previous paragraph (which discussed the invention of Braille).
  • Clearly identifies this paragraph’s focus (the acceptance of Braille by sighted people).
  • Relates to the paper’s overall thesis.
  • Leaves space for evidence and analysis.

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The topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is about—but why does this point matter for your overall argument? If this isn’t already clear from your first sentence, you can explain and expand on its meaning.

This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources.

  • This sentence expands on the topic and shows how it fits into the broader argument about the social acceptance of Braille.

Now you can support your point with evidence and examples. “Evidence” here doesn’t just mean empirical facts—the form it takes will depend on your discipline, topic and approach. Common types of evidence used in academic writing include:

  • Quotations from literary texts , interviews , and other primary sources .
  • Summaries , paraphrases , or quotations of secondary sources that provide information or interpretation in support of your point.
  • Qualitative or quantitative data that you have gathered or found in existing research.
  • Descriptive examples of artistic or musical works, events, or first-hand experiences.

Make sure to properly cite your sources .

Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

  • This sentence cites specific evidence from a secondary source , demonstrating sighted people’s reluctance to accept Braille.

Now you have to show the reader how this evidence adds to your point. How you do so will depend on what type of evidence you have used.

  • If you quoted a passage, give your interpretation of the quotation.
  • If you cited a statistic, tell the reader what it implies for your argument.
  • If you referred to information from a secondary source, show how it develops the idea of the paragraph.

This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods.

  • This sentence adds detail and interpretation to the evidence, arguing that this specific fact reveals something more general about social attitudes at the time.

Steps 3 and 4 can be repeated several times until your point is fully developed. Use transition words and phrases to show the connections between different sentences in the paragraph.

Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009). Access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss.

  • The evidence tells us about the changing attitude to Braille among the sighted.
  • The interpretation argues for why this change occurred as part of broader social shifts.

Finally, wrap up the paragraph by returning to your main point and showing the overall consequences of the evidence you have explored.

This particular paragraph takes the form of a historical story—giving evidence and analysis of each step towards Braille’s widespread acceptance.

It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

  •  The final sentence ends the story with the consequences of these events.

When you think you’ve fully developed your point, read through the final result to make sure each sentence follows smoothly and logically from the last and adds up to a coherent whole.

Although the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France. This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources. Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted learning Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009). This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods. Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009). Access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss. It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

Not all paragraphs will look exactly like this. Depending on what your paper aims to do, you might:

  • Bring together examples that seem very different from each other, but have one key point in common.
  • Include just one key piece of evidence (such as a quotation or statistic) and analyze it in depth over several sentences.
  • Break down a concept or category into various parts to help the reader understand it.

The introduction and conclusion paragraphs will also look different. The only universal rule is that your paragraphs must be unified , coherent and relevant . If you struggle with structuring your paragraphs, you could consider using a paper editing service for personal, in-depth feedback.

As soon as you address a new idea, argument or issue, you should start a new paragraph. To determine if your paragraph is complete, ask yourself:

  • Do all your sentences relate to the topic sentence?
  • Does each sentence make logical sense in relation to the one before it?
  • Have you included enough evidence or examples to demonstrate your point?
  • Is it clear what each piece of evidence means and why you have included it?
  • Does all the evidence fit together and tell a coherent story?

Don’t think of paragraphs as isolated units—they are part of a larger argument that should flow organically from one point to the next. Before you start a new paragraph, consider how you will transition between ideas.

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McCombes, S. (2023, March 27). Academic Paragraph Structure | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/research-paper/paragraph-structure/

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  • Published: 29 February 2024

The effectiveness, implementation, and experiences of peer support approaches for mental health: a systematic umbrella review

  • Ruth E. Cooper 1   na1 ,
  • Katherine R. K. Saunders 1   na1 ,
  • Anna Greenburgh 2 ,
  • Prisha Shah 6 ,
  • Rebecca Appleton 2 ,
  • Karen Machin 6 ,
  • Tamar Jeynes 6 ,
  • Phoebe Barnett 2 , 3 , 4 ,
  • Sophie M. Allan 2 , 5 ,
  • Jessica Griffiths 1 ,
  • Ruth Stuart 1 ,
  • Lizzie Mitchell 6 ,
  • Beverley Chipp 6 ,
  • Stephen Jeffreys 6 ,
  • Brynmor Lloyd-Evans 2 ,
  • Alan Simpson 1 , 7 &
  • Sonia Johnson 2 , 8  

BMC Medicine volume  22 , Article number:  72 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Peer support for mental health is recommended across international policy guidance and provision. Our systematic umbrella review summarises evidence on the effectiveness, implementation, and experiences of paid peer support approaches for mental health.

We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, The Campbell Collaboration, and The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2012–2022) for reviews of paid peer support interventions for mental health. The AMSTAR2 assessed quality. Results were synthesised narratively, with implementation reported using the CFIR (Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research). The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42022362099).

We included 35 reviews (426 primary studies, n  = 95–40,927 participants): systematic reviews with ( n  = 13) or without ( n  = 13) meta-analysis, or with qualitative synthesis ( n  = 3), scoping reviews ( n  = 6). Most reviews were low or critically low (97%) quality, one review was high quality. Effectiveness was investigated in 23 reviews. Results were mixed; there was some evidence from meta-analyses that peer support may improve depression symptoms (particularly perinatal depression), self-efficacy, and recovery. Factors promoting successful implementation, investigated in 9 reviews, included adequate training and supervision, a recovery-oriented workplace, strong leadership, and a supportive and trusting workplace culture with effective collaboration. Barriers included lack of time, resources and funding, and lack of recognised peer support worker (PSW) certification. Experiences of peer support were explored in 11 reviews, with 3 overarching themes: (i) what the PSW role can bring, including recovery and improved wellbeing for service users and PSWs; (ii) confusion over the PSW role, including role ambiguity and unclear boundaries; and (iii) organisational challenges and impact, including low pay, negative non-peer staff attitudes, and lack of support and training.

Conclusions

Peer support may be effective at improving some clinical outcomes, self-efficacy, and recovery. Certain populations, e.g. perinatal populations, may especially benefit from peer support. Potential strategies to successfully implement PSWs include co-production, clearly defined PSW roles, a receptive hierarchical structure and staff, appropriate PSW and staff training with clinical and/or peer supervision alongside safeguarding. Services could benefit from clear, coproduced, setting specific implementation guidelines for PSW. PSW roles tend to be poorly defined and associations between PSW intervention content and impacts need further investigation. Future research should reflect the priorities of providers/service users involved in peer support.

Peer Review reports

Peer support in mental health care is a recovery-orientated approach delivered by individuals who have lived experience of mental health difficulties (as service users, carers, parents or supporters). Peer support workers (PSWs) are employed to draw on these experiences to support mental health service users or carers of people with mental health conditions [ 1 , 2 ]. As such, PSWs are uniquely positioned to facilitate recovery through empathic engagement with service users and their support networks. The success of peer support is thought to be based in the sharing of lived experiences and mental health knowledge and through interpersonal connection [ 3 , 4 ]. Across diagnoses, peer support may promote recovery through the modelling of coping strategies, and by providing hope and an example of recovery to those dealing with mental health difficulties [ 5 ].

Peer support has been utilised across various populations and types of service, for example in services for early intervention in psychosis [ 6 ], for people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health difficulties [ 7 ], and in community interventions to reduce mental health inpatient admissions [ 8 ]. The format of peer support varies across services, for example it may involve one-to-one or group sessions, online or face-to-face delivery, unstructured open-ended conversations or more structured manualised support, or activities such as walking groups [ 9 , 10 ]. Peer support may be delivered by trained peer support staff or on a more ad hoc basis among peers [ 11 ]. Peer support for mental health takes place within mental health services in both statutory and voluntary sector settings [ 11 ]. Although PSWs may be paid or unpaid [ 6 , 12 ], paid roles have become increasingly available in mental health care settings [ 13 ]. Professionalising PSW roles as paid demonstrates the value of the role and appropriately rewards work done, should ensure formal training, supervision and management, and may help to clarify the boundaries of the role [ 14 ].

Service user networks and researchers in relevant fields have strongly advocated for provision of peer support [ 14 , 15 ], and peer support is now recognised and recommended across international mental health policy guidance, reflecting an increased understanding of the value of embedding lived experience support in formal mental health services [ 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 ]. In the UK, peer support is currently being expanded in the NHS [ 16 ].

There have been many reviews of the peer support literature separately evaluating the efficacy, implementation, and experiences of peer support from a variety of different perspectives (e.g. [ 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ]). Given the numerous and sometimes inconclusive results from existing reviews on this topic, our research group, the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit, agreed with policy makers in England to conduct an umbrella review of peer support to provide clinicians, policy makers and researchers with an overall assessment on the evidence available, comparing results between reviews, while taking the quality of these reviews into account [ 25 , 26 ]. The aim of this systematic umbrella review is to collate, synthesise and summarise the available evidence from published reviews to address the following research questions:

What is the effectiveness (e.g. clinical, social, functional) and cost-effectiveness of paid peer support approaches for mental health?

What influences the implementation of peer support approaches for mental health?

What are the experiences of peer support approaches for mental health (e.g. of acceptability) from the perspective of PSWs, healthcare practitioners, service users, carers?

This umbrella review was conducted by the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit (MHPRU), based at King’s College London and University College London, which delivers evidence to inform government and NHS policy in England, agreeing a programme of rapid research with policymakers.

Study design and protocol

We conducted a systematic umbrella review following guidance from Fusar-Poli et al. [ 27 ] and Cochrane [ 28 ]. The review is reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 1 for the PRISMA checklist) [ 29 ]. The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42022362099) [ 30 ]. One amendment was made to the protocol after registration. We amended the ‘intervention’ section to state that reviews were excluded if the majority of interventions did not meet eligibility criteria, e.g. because we found that reviews often included paid and unpaid peer support interventions and did not report results separately.

Lived experience researcher involvement

Members of the MHPRU Lived Experience Working Group (LEWG), who collectively have substantial experience of delivering or receiving peer support, contributed extensively to this review, including protocol development, study selection, data extraction, quality appraisal, data synthesis, drafting the manuscript and lived experience commentary, and attending working group meetings.

Eligibility criteria

The eligibility criteria are detailed in full in the protocol [ 30 ]. In summary, we included:

Study designs : Published, peer-reviewed systematic, scoping or realist reviews which synthesised quantitative or qualitative data (narratively or formally using, e.g. a meta-analysis or meta-synthesis) that examined outcomes or experiences relevant to our research questions.

Intervention : We defined peer support as ‘involving a person who has lived experience of mental health condition(s), or caring for those with mental health conditions, being employed to use and draw on their experiences and empathy to support service users who have mental health conditions or carers or parents of people with mental health conditions.’ Eligible peer support approaches were paid, meaning that the PSW was paid for their work, and delivered face-to-face or remotely, for people with mental health conditions or for carers of people with mental health conditions, across any mental healthcare settings. Peer support approaches were ineligible if the PSWs were not in a dedicated peer support role, if they were primarily for physical health, or automated (i.e. peer support ‘bots’ or avatars). We excluded reviews where over 50% of primary studies in the review did not meet eligibility criteria, e.g. if the majority of people delivering the interventions were unpaid.

Population : Children, young people and adults with a mental health condition (including substance use disorders), carers, paid PSWs and mental healthcare practitioners working alongside PSWs. We excluded service users with a primary diagnosis of an organic mental disorder (e.g. dementia), neurodevelopmental disorders, acquired cognitive impairment and adjustment disorders.

Outcome measures : Included reviews reported outcomes or data on at least one of the following peer support related outcomes that addressed our research questions: (i) clinical outcomes, (ii) economic or cost-effectiveness, (iii) recovery outcomes, e.g. hope, empowerment, goal-attainment, quality of life, (iv) social outcomes, (v) implementation outcomes and barriers and facilitators to implementation, (vi) experiences of delivering, receiving or working alongside peer support and (vii) theories of what works for whom in peer support.

Information sources and search strategy

We combined terms for peer support, reviews and mental health conditions using Boolean operators (AND, OR). We searched the following databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, The Campbell Collaboration and The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 2 for full search strategy). Searches were run from January 2012 to November 2022 as these reviews will include primary research published before 2012 [ 31 ]. There was no time limit for the primary papers in the included reviews. We had no language restrictions.

Selection process

Reviewers (KS, RC, JG, RS, RA, KM, PS, SA) screened titles and abstracts, and subsequently full texts. To ensure consistent application of eligibility criteria all reviewers initially independently screened the same ten titles and abstracts and discussed inclusion/exclusion. The remaining titles and abstracts were then screened. Records were double screened blind by two reviewers at both the title and abstract (94% agreement) and full text (86% agreement) stages. All disagreements were resolved through discussion with the study team.

Data extraction

Data extraction was completed in Microsoft Excel by the review team (RC, KS, KM, PS, JG, RS, PB, RA). The data used in the paper were checked by another member of the review team. The extracted data included basic information about reviews (e.g. number of included studies, number of participants, review type, aim/objectives), basic information about primary studies (e.g. references, designs), search strategy (e.g. databases searched, eligibility criteria), population (e.g. gender, age), peer support approach (e.g. peer support type and description), type of comparator, additional information (e.g. quality appraisal methods, review author conclusions), primary and secondary outcomes of systematic review or qualitative results.

Quality appraisal of included reviews

The quality of included reviews was independently assessed by reviewers (RC, KS, KM, PS, JG, RS, PB, RA) using the AMSTAR 2 (A MeaSurement Tool to Assess systematic Reviews), a 16-point tool for assessment of the methodological quality of systematic reviews [ 32 ]. We adapted the AMSTAR 2 to apply for scoping reviews and systematic reviews of qualitative data (described in full in Additional file 1 : Appendix 3). The following questions were adapted: (1) PICO criteria, (2) Protocol requirements, (8) Detail of included studies, (9) Risk of Bias requirement. Two reviewers (KS, AG) 100% double-scored reviews blind with any outstanding disagreements resolved through discussion between AG, KS, and RC. Overall ratings for each study were calculated according to guidance [ 32 ], based on 7 critical domains and 6 non-critical domains within the AMSTAR 2 tool. Studies with no or one non-critical weakness and no critical flaws were rated as high quality. Studies with more than one non-critical weakness and no critical weaknesses were rated as moderate quality. Studies with one critical flaw irrespective of non-critical weaknesses were rated as low quality, and those with more than one critical flaw irrespective of non-critical weaknesses were rated as critically low quality. The AMSTAR 2 guidance [ 32 ] states that reviews of critically low quality should not be relied on for comprehensive and accurate summaries of the literature.

Synthesis methods

Rq 1: what is the effectiveness (e.g. clinical, social, functional) and cost-effectiveness of paid peer support approaches for mental health.

Data were tabulated and summarised narratively by two researchers (KS, AG); effectiveness meta-analysis data calculated from two or more studies were tabulated separately from non-meta-analysis effectiveness outcomes. Review outcomes were similar, but not similar enough to combine meaningfully in a meta-analysis. Effect sizes (with 95% CIs and p -values) were reported along with I 2 statistic (with 95% CIs, p -values, χ 2 , and degrees of freedom) where available. We did not tabulate data for subgroup analyses.

RQ 2: What influences the implementation of peer support approaches for mental health?

Outcomes were tabulated according to the main domains in the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR) [ 33 ]. The CFIR provides a comprehensive framework, composed of 5 domains, associated with the effective implementation of interventions [ 33 ]. The 5 domains are as follows: Innovation (the ‘thing’ being implemented); Outer setting (the setting in which the inner setting exists, e.g. hospital system); Inner setting (the setting in which the innovation is implemented, e.g. hospital); Individuals (the roles and characteristics of individuals); Implementation process (the activities and strategies used to implement the innovation) [ 33 ]. Synthesis was conducted using a collaborative process involving one member of the study team (RA) and one lived experience researcher (PS).

RQ 3: What are the experiences of peer support approaches for mental health (e.g. of acceptability) from the perspective of PSWs, healthcare practitioners, service users and carers?

Experiences were synthesised narratively, by three researchers, including two lived experience researchers (TJ, KM, RC) [ 34 ]. Themes from reviews which were identified as addressing research question 3 were extracted and similar themes across the reviews were grouped together. Each group was accounted for using an existing theme from one or more of the reviews or if this was not possible a new theme was developed. Three overarching themes were identified through iterative scrutiny of the data and discussion between TJ, KM, and RC. A summary of the common themes across the reviews, grouped under the three overarching themes, was then developed, including highlighting contrasting findings.

Study selection

The search strategy identified 777 references to be screened (a further 2 papers were identified through other methods); 93 full text articles were assessed for eligibility with 57 excluded (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 4 for reasons for exclusion). Thirty-five reviews (reported in 36 papers) were included (see Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

PRISMA flow diagram [ 29 ]

Characteristics of included reviews

Review characteristics are detailed in Table  1 . Of the 35 included reviews, 13 were systematic reviews with meta-analyses, 13 were systematic reviews without meta-analyses, 3 were systematic reviews with a qualitative synthesis and 6 were scoping reviews. The individual reviews included between 95 and 40,927 participants; 6 reviews did not report the number of participants. For reviews where the population were service users, almost all were categorised as adults with mental health problems. Thirteen reviews specified that participants had severe mental illness (SMI) diagnoses [ 1 , 21 , 22 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 ], six reviews explicitly included studies with participants accessing mental health services [ 22 , 37 , 38 , 43 , 45 ] [ 46 ], three reviews were conducted in perinatal populations [ 47 , 48 , 49 ], three reviews included participants with any/common mental health conditions [ 50 , 51 , 52 ], four reviews included participants with substance use disorders [ 1 , 38 , 53 , 54 ], two reviews included participants with eating disorders [ 55 , 56 ], one included people experiencing suicidality [ 57 ] and one included articles on peer support for crisis management [ 58 ]. The samples in the remaining reviews were PSWs and various stakeholders (e.g. non-peer staff, service users) [ 23 , 24 , 34 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 ]. Most reviews included interventions involving any form of peer support, individual, group or combined, although three reviews looked at group peer support alone [ 35 , 43 , 49 ], and three reviews looked at individual peer support alone [ 1 , 40 , 45 ]. Reviews looked at peer support delivered in-person, online or over the phone, and surveyed a range of approaches including both structured and unstructured peer support (see Table  1 ). The reviews included 426 primary studies. We assessed study overlap; most primary studies ( n  = 300) were only included in one review; however, many primary studies were included twice ( n  = 72), three times ( n  = 18) to a maximum of nine times ( n  = 1) (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 5 for overlapping studies). Only 1 review reported that people with lived experience were involved in the review [ 57 ]. Only 2 reviews assessed certainty of evidence (using GRADE) [ 21 , 22 ].

Most reviews were appraised as low or critically low (97%) quality and one review was appraised as high quality. The most common weaknesses were in critical domains concerning registering protocols before commencement of the review (21 studies), justification of excluding individual studies (28 studies) and considering risk of bias when interpreting results (13 studies). Reviews without meta-analyses were not scored in the critical domains assessing meta-analytical method or publication bias. There were 13 studies with meta-analyses assessed in these two domains: two of these exhibited one critical weakness and two exhibited two critical weaknesses. As scoping reviews are intended to provide overviews of existing literature regardless of risk of bias [ 65 ], scoping reviews were not scored in the critical domain concerning risk of bias assessment techniques (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 3 for adjustments to quality appraisal for scoping and qualitative reviews). Of the 29 reviews that were eligible to be scored in this domain, 10 exhibited a critical weakness. The review eliciting high confidence was a Cochrane review [ 21 ]. No reviews were rated as moderate. AMSTAR 2 ratings are detailed in Table  1 and in full in Additional file 1 : Appendix 3.

Results of synthesis

Rq1: what is the effectiveness (e.g. clinical, social, functional) and cost-effectiveness of paid peer support approaches for mental health.

Effectiveness outcomes were reported in 23 reviews (66% of total). A wide variety of clinical, recovery and psychosocial effectiveness outcomes were reported across both meta-analysis [ 21 , 22 , 37 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 47 , 48 , 51 , 52 ] and narrative results [ 1 , 21 , 22 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 48 , 50 , 51 , 53 , 54 , 56 , 57 , 58 , 60 ]. Comparator groups also varied across the primary studies included in the reviews, including Treatment as Usual (TaU), active controls (e.g. a comparable standard treatment) and waitlist control groups.

All outcomes except for one (family or carer use of formal community support services; [ 44 ]) were service user outcomes, rather than carer, staff or PSW outcomes. Outcomes from systematic reviews with meta-analysis are reported in Tables  2 , 3 and 4 . Effectiveness results from reviews not including meta-analysis are summarised at the end of this section and reported in full in Additional file 1 : Appendix 6. Evidence was heterogenous across all outcomes and reviews, with many analyses reporting no effect. In the meta-analysis results, there was often notable heterogeneity. There was limited data on cost and cost-effectiveness, but the evidence available from three systematic reviews without meta-analyses (See Additional file 1 : Appendix 6) suggested that peer support interventions were low cost and cost-saving [ 38 , 48 , 50 ].

Results from meta-analyses

Clinical outcomes.

For depression outcomes, evidence from two reviews with meta-analyses suggested that peer support is effective in improving perinatal depression [ 47 , 48 ]. Three reviews of peer support for adults and adolescents with mental health problems including those with SMI diagnoses reported no effect on depression post-intervention [ 22 , 35 , 43 ], where two of these reviews looked at group-based peer support alone [ 35 , 43 ]. Two of these reviews reported follow-up results; one review of group peer support for adults with any mental health condition continued to find no effect at 3–6 months follow-up [ 35 ], while the other involving adults with SMI reported improvements in depression and anxiety at 6 months follow-up, despite reporting no effect at post-intervention [ 22 ]. One review [ 52 ] measured clinical recovery in adults with any mental health diagnosis, reporting improvements post-intervention and at 6–9-month follow-up, but no improvement at 12–18-month follow-up.

Most evidence regarding mental health symptom severity among adults and adolescents with mental health diagnoses or who were using mental health services suggested no effect [ 22 , 35 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 ], other than for perinatal depression as previously summarised. One review [ 40 ] of individual peer support for adults with primarily SMI diagnoses reported improvements in symptom severity, while another involving adults with SMI [ 44 ] reported symptom improvements following family-led peer support, but no improvement following individual-led peer support. Results for service use varied depending on the measure, for example, peer support was associated with reduced risk of hospitalisation [ 44 ], including after a follow-up period [ 45 ], but no effect was found regarding length of stay [ 41 , 42 ].

All reviews providing meta-analytic evidence relevant to this question were rated low or critically low quality, except from one high-quality review [ 21 ] which found no effect of peer support on patient activation between 1 and 6 months follow-up (a person’s perceived ability to manage their illness and their approach to healthcare) in adults with schizophrenia diagnoses or similar SMI.

Recovery outcomes

Of the seven reviews with meta-analyses reporting data on overall self-reported recovery, five reported improvements in recovery in adults with mental health diagnoses including SMI [ 22 , 35 , 40 , 44 , 45 ]. Two studies found effects for individual peer support interventions alone [ 40 , 45 ], and one reported an effect for group-based peer support alone [ 35 ]. Only two reviews reported no effect [ 21 , 43 ], where one included studies of adults with SMI in both individual and group-based peer support [ 21 ], and the other involved studies with adults and adolescents with any mental health problem in group-based peer support alone [ 43 ].

Three reviews reported follow-up data showing continued improvements for adults with mental health diagnoses including SMI at follow-ups of 6 months [ 22 ], 3–6 months [ 35 ] and 12–18 months [ 45 ], the former and the latter reviewing individual and group peer support, and the second focussing on group peer support alone. One further review reported no improvements at medium-term follow-up (1–6 months) [ 21 ]. One review of adults with any mental health diagnosis identified improvements in personal recovery post-intervention, but not at 6–9 or 12–18 months follow-up, and found no improvements in functional recovery post-intervention or at 12–18 months follow-up, but did report improvements at 6–9 months follow-up [ 52 ].

All reviews providing meta-analytic evidence for these outcomes were rated as critically low or low quality, except for one [ 21 ] which was rated high quality. Based on evidence from three studies, this latter review [ 21 ] found no effect of peer support on recovery in the medium term for adults with schizophrenia diagnoses or similar SMI.

Psychosocial outcomes

Evidence regarding hope or hopefulness was mixed. Four reviews with meta-analyses suggested that peer support resulted in improvements in adults with SMI [ 22 , 37 , 40 , 44 ], where one of these studies looked at individual peer support alone [ 40 ] and the rest included both individual and group peer support. However, three reviews of studies including SMI and mixed mental health diagnoses samples reported no effect [ 21 , 35 , 43 ], where two of these reviews focussed on group-based peer support alone [ 35 , 43 ]. One study [ 22 ] followed up adults with SMI and those using secondary MH services at 3–6 months and found continued improvements in hope. However, another review investigating longer-term outcomes (over 6 months) in adults with SMI found no effect [ 21 ].

Improvements in empowerment were evidenced by two reviews with meta-analyses [ 40 , 51 ] of studies involving adults with any mental health diagnosis including SMI. No effects were reported in four reviews [ 22 , 35 , 43 , 44 ]. One of the meta-analyses finding positive effects of peer support on empowerment looked at individual peer support alone [ 40 ], whereas two of the meta-analyses with no effect solely involved group-based peer support [ 35 , 43 ]. Three studies reported follow-up data. Two showed improvements at 6 months in adults with SMI [ 22 ] and at 6–12 months follow-up among adults using mental health services with any diagnoses [ 45 ]. The other showed no improvements from group-based peer support only in adults with mental health diagnoses including SMI between 3 weeks and 6 months follow-up [ 35 ].

Quality of life reportedly improved in two reviews with meta-analyses [ 37 , 44 ] of studies involving adults with SMI, while there was no evidence of improvement in one other with an SMI sample [ 22 ]. The two studies which reported follow-up data continued to find no effect [ 22 , 45 ].

There were improvements in self-efficacy in adults with any mental health problem in all three reviews with meta-analyses reporting this outcome [ 43 , 44 , 51 ]. Decreases in self-stigma and stigma-related stress in adults and adolescents with any mental health problem were found by one review with meta-analysis of group-based peer support [ 43 ]. There was no evidence for peer support improving satisfaction with care [ 22 , 41 , 42 , 44 , 45 ] or relational outcomes (including social support and network) and building relationships (both personally and with staff) [ 41 , 42 , 44 , 45 ].

All reviews providing meta-analytic evidence for these outcomes were rated as critically low or low quality, except one high-quality review [ 21 ] which found no effect of peer support on hope in adults with schizophrenia diagnoses or similar SMI in the medium or long term.

Summary of results from systematic reviews without meta-analysis

Effectiveness results from systematic reviews without meta-analyses are tabulated in full in Additional file 1 : Appendix 6. These reviews presented mixed results pertaining to clinical outcomes including depression, anxiety, eating disorder pathology, and psychosis. However, two scoping reviews reported evidence of peer support in improving suicidal ideation [ 57 , 58 ]. Evidence was deemed inconclusive regarding the impact of peer support on indicators of service use, where three reviews failed to find evidence for peer support [ 21 , 22 , 41 , 42 ], three reported mixed results [ 1 , 38 , 54 ], and one found evidence for improvements associated with peer support [ 36 ]. More consistent evidence was found indicating peer support improves recovery outcomes [ 1 , 36 , 38 , 40 , 44 , 53 ]. For most psychosocial outcomes, systematic reviews presented mixed evidence, for example different effects were found by one high-quality review for empowerment, hope and self-efficacy, depending on what measures were used [ 21 ]. Despite mixed effects being reported overall for the impact of peer support on satisfaction with care, one review cited some possible associated moderating factors such as the number of conversations had between peer supporter and recipient [ 48 ]. Evidence was marginally less mixed for relational outcomes, such as strength of interpersonal relationships and sense of community, as the majority (three) of relevant reviews found evidence in support of peer support [ 21 , 38 , 58 ], although one review found this did not persist long term [ 21 ].

Implementation was investigated in nine reviews [ 23 , 24 , 36 , 39 , 46 , 50 , 55 , 59 , 62 ]. Table 5 shows an overview of implementation outcomes by CFIR domain [ 33 ]. All reviews relevant to this research question were rated as critically low quality based on the adapted AMSTAR 2 rating scale (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 3).

Studies reported generally high acceptability and feasibility of PSW-led interventions [ 36 , 39 , 46 , 50 ]. When planning a peer-led service, co-producing the design of peer support provision with the community and stakeholders was found to be key [ 59 ].

Outer setting

The existence of national policy and funding provisions for employing and retaining PSWs facilitated PSW-led care [ 39 , 46 , 59 ], as did integration of interventions within existing healthcare systems [ 50 ]. However, barriers included power hierarchies [ 39 ], difficulties incorporating PSWs in medical mental health care models [ 24 , 39 , 46 ], interference of work with welfare benefits [ 62 ] and a lack of recognised PSW certification [ 62 ].

Inner setting

A workplace culture emphasising recovery-orientated practice [ 24 , 59 ], and organisational openness and readiness to employ PSWs [ 39 ], was important. Facilitators included strong leadership and support at the highest level [ 46 ], and flexible and understanding employers, especially in times of crisis [ 59 ]. A key facilitator was a supportive, accepting and trusting workplace culture where PSWs occupy a central position and fit in well with other staff members [ 24 ]. A trusting culture allowed the management of risk in a psychologically safe space [ 59 ]; effective communication and collaboration between PSWs and other workers facilitated this [ 24 ], while stigmatising staff attitudes were a barrier [ 62 ]. It was easier to implement PSWs in a more collaborative and less hierarchical service [ 59 ]. There were practical facilitators and barriers for PSWs also, such as access to desk space or administrative data [ 24 , 46 ], time restraints, high caseloads [ 23 , 24 ] and insufficient funding for PSW role [ 24 , 50 ].

Individuals

The professionalisation and legitimisation of the PSW role was seen as important, with associated performance standards and/or a code of ethics [ 24 ] which was linked to rigorous recruitment practices, ensuring parity in the recruitment of PSWs and other staff [ 46 ]. A further facilitator was high levels of competency among peer-counsellors when delivering interventions and having relevant skills and knowledge, e.g. mental health conditions [ 50 ]. PSWs were often required to have recovered from their mental health difficulties [ 55 ] and be able to use their coping skills and resilience to avoid potential negative impacts on their wellbeing [ 24 ]. PSWs reported a conflicted sense of identity between being a ‘peer’ with experience of mental health problems and a ‘professional’ as a barrier to their work [ 62 ]. The use of champions and implementation leaders to drive the set up and maintenance of PSW interventions was reported as a facilitator [ 46 ], as was staff willingness and ability to work with PSWs and accept them as part of the service [ 24 ].

Implementation process

Studies emphasised the importance of comprehensive training for PSWs delivered both prior to starting work and on an ongoing basis, alongside regular clinical supervision [ 24 , 46 , 50 , 55 ] supporting the management of any problems encountered [ 59 ]. PSW roles should be clearly defined [ 24 , 62 ] and training should also be delivered to other members of staff to help them work effectively with PSWs [ 46 ]. Establishing sustainable models of cost and supervision from the outset was key for the longevity of PSW [ 50 ].

Experiences of both the benefits and challenges of peer support were reported in 11 reviews [ 23 , 34 , 39 , 42 , 46 , 49 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 ] from a range of perspectives: PSWs [ 23 , 34 , 39 , 55 , 61 ], service users [ 39 , 55 , 61 ], non-peer staff [ 61 ], peer support group members [ 49 ], and mixed samples which consisted of combinations of PSWs, service users, non-peer staff, carers, mental health organisations, policy makers and peer programme developers [ 23 , 39 , 42 , 46 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 ]. In one review, it was unclear whose perspective was being presented [ 46 ], although this review only contributed to one theme. All reviews providing evidence for this research question were rated as critically low quality based on the adapted AMSTAR 2 rating scale (see Additional file 1 : Appendix 3). We identified 3 overarching themes: (i) what the PSW role can bring, (ii) confusion over the PSW role and (iii) organisational challenges and impact. Table 6 gives an overview of the overarching themes and subthemes (with more detail in Additional file 1 : Appendix 7). The following provides an overview of each overarching theme from the perspective of the different samples (i.e. PSWs, service users, mixed samples).

What the PSW role can bring

Perspective of psws.

PSWs experienced improved wellness and recovery from working in the role, reporting increased self-esteem, personal growth, and social networks [ 23 , 34 , 55 , 61 ]. They benefited in a variety of ways, e.g. the role provided a route back into employment, improving functioning and social inclusion, and allowed them to learn more about their own mental health [ 23 , 34 ]. PSWs also reported increased self-acceptance as they no longer had to hide their mental health issues [ 34 ]. The role was therefore often reported to be mutually beneficial for PSWs and service users [ 34 , 55 ]. PSWs felt it was important that they were role models for service users, being ‘the evidence of recovery’ [ 34 ]. However, working as a PSW could also have a negative impact on the PSWs’ wellbeing and recovery [ 23 , 34 ]. Reasons for this included the role reminding them of their mental health condition and the ‘sick’ label staying with them [ 23 ].

Perspective of service users

For service users, PSWs could be role models, giving them hope of recovery [ 39 , 55 , 61 ]. PSW support normalised and de-medicalised service user experiences [ 55 ]. Lack of judgement from PSWs reduced feelings of self-stigma for service users [ 55 ]. Service users felt empowered by and valued gaining experiential knowledge from PSWs, perceiving them to be more insightful than non-peer staff, and trusting their services [ 39 ]. Service users also built rapport more easily with PSWs than non-peer staff, feeling they were more approachable and had greater empathy than non-peer staff [ 39 , 61 ]. However, some service users reported that PSWs are not role models and found it challenging to view them as professionals or fully trust their knowledge, due to their lack of training and concerns about their mental health history [ 39 , 61 ].

Perspective of non-peer staff

From working with PSWs, non-peer staff developed increased empathy towards service users and a belief in recovery [ 61 ].

Perspective of peer support group members

Forming relationships in peer support groups and having their experiences validated by others was valuable for recovery [ 49 ]. However, group members could feel isolated when other members’ experiences contrasted with their own [ 49 ].

Perspective of mixed samples

PSWs were perceived to be role models, providing valuable support to service users and giving them hope of recovery [ 60 , 64 ]. Working as a PSW could enable service users to find a role in the community, beyond the identity of being a ‘patient’ [ 61 ]. PSWs could build trust-based pathways to function as a bridge between service users and non-peer staff [ 64 ]. Within teams, working with PSWs could improve recovery-oriented care and PSWs carried out various roles, such as providing psychosocial support, advocating for service users, providing insights based on their lived experiences [ 64 ]. For mental health organisations, PSW roles decreased stigma towards mental health problems and set a positive example [ 61 ]. However, there were fears that the PSWs’ mental health condition could impact the provided support, such as increased PSW absenteeism which could increase non-peer staff caseloads and concerns that service users’ and PSWs’ could experience distress due to exposure to difficult (‘triggering’) content [ 42 , 55 , 60 ]. PSWs experienced pressure due to the perception that they were pioneers, leading to expectations, e.g. failure could reduce future PSW opportunities [ 64 ]. There was also concern that PSWs lacked mental health knowledge, beyond their own experience [ 64 ].

Confusion over the PSW role

A lack of clarity about the PSW job description led PSWs to feel the role was undervalued and tokenistic and meant they felt confused in their role. This impacted their perception of competence which affected their recovery and led to uncertainty in their responsibilities with service users [ 23 , 34 ]. PSWs also found the transition from service user to PSW and knowing where to draw the line between friend and service provider to be challenging [ 23 , 61 ]. Linked to this, their dual identity as a service user and provider could be a source of stress. For example, it meant they could closely connect with service users who had similar difficulties to their own, but this could also be triggering and lead to a recurrence of the PSWs’ own mental health issues [ 34 ]. PSWs expressed varying views on disclosing their recovery story [ 34 , 39 ]. For some, sharing elements of their story was linked to their own personal recovery [ 34 ]. However, other PSWs felt fearful of disclosure, e.g. they were concerned about being labelled ‘mentally ill’ and service users not trusting them [ 39 ].

A lack of clarity on the PSW role could lead service users to view the role as informal, leading to negative perceptions of the PSW services. Perceptions of tokenism of peer support could lead to the content of the PSW intervention ‘feeling irrelevant’ [ 39 ].

PSWs and non-peer staff found the PSW role to be ambiguous, e.g. the role was not clearly defined [ 63 ] and job descriptions were ‘vague’ [ 64 ]. Although this gave flexibility to define the role [ 64 ], it also led to challenges. Some PSWs felt they were expected to develop the role over time and received insufficient training, which hampered service delivery and could result in perceptions that PSWs were tokenistic [ 42 , 63 , 64 ]. Uncertainty about the role also led to a lack of support from non-peer staff [ 63 ]. Relatedly, there was confusion for PSWs over when/with whom to disclose their lived experience [ 63 , 64 ]. Some PSWs felt vulnerable and were reluctant to disclose, but disclosure could build trust with service users, enabled PSWs to be recovery role models, and could educate non-peer staff on alternative views [ 63 , 64 ]. Disclosure was also felt to require discretion when fitting with professional relationships. However, ‘professionalisation’ of PSWs may not challenge the existing boundaries (e.g. traditional hospital-based boundaries which could make it difficult for the sharing of lived experience to be valuable), when challenging these boundaries could change culture [ 63 , 64 ]. The transition for PSWs from patient to staff was challenging, e.g. non-peer staff were concerned about the PSW becoming unwell, making PSWs feel like they are being treated like patients [ 63 , 64 ]. There were issues around boundaries, including whether PSWs should relate to service users as friends or service users [ 63 ].

Organisational challenges and impact

PSWs experienced a lack of support and training for their role, potentially related to unclear job descriptions, and insufficient supervision [ 23 , 34 ]. This meant that PSWs struggled to develop the skills for their roles, including to work with service users with more complex needs than their own experiences [ 23 ]. Although there were some contrasting views, PSWs were concerned that they received low pay which made them feel that they were not valued, and they perceived themselves to be ‘cheap labour’ [ 23 , 34 , 61 ]. Some PSWs felt accepted in their teams however others experienced negative and rejecting non-peer staff attitudes [ 23 , 34 , 61 ]. For example, PSWs reported not being invited to social events and being treated like patients [ 61 ]. Consequently, some PSWs felt excluded, that their roles were tokenistic and experienced self-stigma [ 23 , 34 ]. PSWs as part of the newer recovery model reported challenges around integrating into traditional treatment models, e.g. where doctors spent the least time with service users but held the majority of power and decision making for service users. PSWs were expected to contest the traditional treatment model in support of a recovery focus, e.g. by their presence or in some cases being openly challenging, and this clash between old and new treatment models could lead to friction [ 23 ].

There was a fear that ‘cheap labour’ provided by PSWs may lead to fewer non-peer staff positions [ 61 ].

PSWs often received low pay, which led to role dissatisfaction for PSWs, suggesting the job was tokenistic or the role was unclear [ 63 , 64 ]. One reason for low pay was due to PSWs not requiring certification (i.e. specific qualifications, which e.g. a social worker would require) [ 63 ]. Some PSWs were positive about certification but others felt it could conflict with the grassroots ethos of peer support. However, there was the view that lived experience was not solely sufficient to work in interprofessional teams [ 64 ]. Despite this, supervision and support were often not offered to PSWs leading to risks [ 60 , 64 ].

There were challenges in PSW relationships with non-peer staff which could lead to a lack of support and hostility from non-peer staff. Non-peer staff felt threatened that they may be replaced by PSWs [ 64 ], were uneasy about working with people they previously treated [ 46 ], were concerned about the effectiveness of peer support [ 39 ], and felt expectations to support PSWs, increasing their workload [ 42 ]. This undermined the role of PSWs, e.g. they were subsequently given fewer responsibilities [ 39 ]. For PSWs, they wanted to challenge stigma by taking on more responsibility but high, varying workloads could jeopardise relationships with non-peer staff and team hierarchies hindered their ability to challenge clinically dominant ways of thinking [ 64 ].

A final theme was the perception that service users should be able to choose among PSWs as service providers [ 60 ].

Summary of key findings

An overview and summary of the key findings for each research question is presented in Table  7 .

Key findings

Our umbrella review of 35 reviews explored the effectiveness, implementation and experiences of peer support for mental health.

Effectiveness was reported in 23 reviews. Many reviews reporting effectiveness data reported no effect of peer support on a range of outcomes, mirroring the findings from other reviews [ 9 , 66 ] including those focusing on other types of peer support (e.g. online peer support for young people) [ 67 ]. However, there was consistent evidence from meta-analyses that peer support may improve the clinical outcomes of perinatal depression and risk of hospitalisation of adults with severe mental illness, as well as recovery outcomes, and self-efficacy and stigma-related outcomes. Mixed meta-analytic results were found for the clinical outcomes of overall psychiatric symptoms in adults with SMI, psychosis symptoms, length of hospital stay and patient activation, and for psychosocial outcomes such as hope, empowerment, and quality of life. There was no meta-analytic evidence for improvements in relational support. Evidence from systematic reviews without meta-analysis similarly gave a mixed picture regarding psychosocial and clinical outcomes, but indicated more consistent evidence that peer support has a positive impact on recovery, suicidal ideation, and, to some degree, satisfaction with care.

Many possible sources of heterogeneity across the included reviews could contribute to the mixed findings in this study, such as low-quality methodologies, differences in the populations included, and poor specification of peer support roles or the content of interventions delivered. One important potential contributor to our mixed results is that the primary studies contributing to the included reviews often varied in the type of control groups they considered, for example studies with treatment as usual, active controls and waitlist controls were often reviewed within the same paper. As such, it was not possible to determine whether peer support is effective in comparison to certain types of care provision but not others. In a similar vein, we could not perform subgroup analysis to determine whether specific forms of peer support are more effective on certain populations as most reviews with meta-analyses involved a combination of different formats and a range of participant groups. Nevertheless, there was some indication that differences in the format of peer support may impact its effectiveness on empowerment, as the two meta-analyses involving individual peer support alone found a positive effect on empowerment, but the two looking at group-based peer support alone did not. However, further research is needed to adequately address such questions.

Although this overview of quantitative evidence does not give unequivocal support for peer support on a variety of outcomes, the mixed results must be understood not only in the context of heterogeneity of the quantitative research conducted thus far, but with regard to the qualitative evidence documenting strong support for this intervention (as discussed in more detail below). Given that the implementation of peer support in mental health services is still relatively rare and highly variable, many of the trials conducted thus far may have tested peer support in environments where it is not fully embedded in the organisation and culture. Indeed, peer support may have positive impacts on the operation of mental health services that have not been measured as quantitative outcomes in existing trials—such as a stronger culture of person-centred care. More consistent quantitative results demonstrating the benefit of peer support may increasingly emerge as it becomes better integrated in the mental health care system.

We identified several factors reported to be important for the successful implementation of peer support, which were summarised and structured using the CFIR. These factors included adequate training and supervision for PSWs, a recovery-oriented workplace structure, strong leadership and a supportive and trusting workplace culture with effective collaboration between PSWs and non-peer staff. Barriers to peer support being implemented effectively included a lack of time, resources, and appropriate funding, and a lack of recognised PSW certification. Policy, research and campaign groups have advocated implementation approaches in line with these findings, for example, ImROC (implementing Recovery through Organisational Change) [ 14 , 68 ], who support peer support implementation globally and international competence frameworks from New Zealand [ 69 , 70 ], outline recovery focus as a core principle of peer support and emphasise the importance of training and ongoing professional development; peer support practice guidelines in the USA outline the importance of and give guidelines for supervision [ 71 ]. Formalised career pathways for PSWs [ 72 ] may help to address some of the identified barriers to effective implementation of peer support work, although these are still early in their development [ 68 ].

Experiences of peer support were from a range of perspectives (e.g. PSWs, service users, non-peer staff) and were organised under three main themes. The benefits of peer support for PSWs, service users and non-peer staff were expressed in many reviews; however, there were also conflicting and challenging experiences of the role. The mental health experience of PSWs was viewed as valuable, but also subject to some stigmatising views. For PSWs, the role could improve their personal wellness and recovery, providing a route back into employment and improving functioning, and provide service users with role models of recovery. The reciprocal benefits of peer support have also been highlighted as an advantage of peer support in resources developed by NHS England [ 19 ]. However, PSWs reported the ‘sick’ label stayed with them in the role, with non-peer staff at times concerned that PSWs mental health would impact their work, and some service users reported that they found it challenging to trust PSWs knowledge due to their lack of training and mental health history. A key experience, which became the core of our second theme, was the ambiguity of the PSW job description, including lack of clarity over boundaries with service users and when to disclose PSWs’ personal experiences. This ambiguity meant that the role was flexible, but also led to the perception that it was tokenistic and left PSWs feeling confused which impacted their own recovery. IMROC recommend the prioritisation of clear roles when implementing peer support [ 68 ]. Professional accreditation can counter the view of peer support as tokenistic, e.g. the UK Peer Support Competence Framework outlined by the Royal College of Psychiatrists [ 73 ] and the Canadian Peer support Accreditation and Certification, a national standard endorsing peer support work as a valuable career, developed in 2017 by PSWs themselves [ 74 ]. The final theme ‘organisational challenges and impact’ included experiences such as PSWs receiving inadequate support, training and supervision, and receiving low pay, leaving them feeling undervalued. Some non-peer staff attitudes were also a reported issue; while some PSWs felt accepted within teams, others experienced negative and rejecting non-peer staff attitudes, such as being treated as patients and not being invited to staff social events. Organisations should prepare, structurally and culturally, for the introduction of PSWs in order to ensure PSW wellbeing and reduce the risk of absences due to sickness [ 68 , 75 ].

Strengths and limitations

We conducted a comprehensive search of several relevant databases and identified a large number of reviews for inclusion, providing the first detailed summary of review findings relating to effectiveness, implementation and experiences of peer support. We also had consistent involvement of researchers with lived experience of mental health and peer support delivery and receipt throughout the design, data screening and extraction, analysis and synthesis, and manuscript drafting for this paper, which allowed lived experience priorities and experiences to guide our approaches to data and our decision making throughout.

We aimed to focus our review on paid peer support; however, this information was underreported in the reviews, and even when reported, interventions were often grouped with peer support interventions that did not fully meet our eligibility criteria (e.g. were unpaid). We also synthesised data from studies where payment status of PSWs was ambiguous, i.e. not reported. This limits our ability to draw firm conclusions around paid peer support specifically, as a significant portion of the data synthesised was from studies investigating unpaid or voluntary peer support. Another limitation was the lack of involvement of people with lived experience in the included reviews, with involvement reported in only one review [ 57 ]. Given the service user-led origins of peer support, future reviews should ensure involvement of people with lived experience. This is addressed in more detail later in this paper. Most included reviews were appraised by the AMSTAR 2 as low or critically low (97%) quality with only one review appraised as high quality. Although the low quality of reviews is a limitation, we aimed to report an overview of all current evidence for peer support to inform policy makers and healthcare practitioners, therefore to maximise the evidence base, we synthesised the reviews scored as ‘critically low quality’. Our ratings are also in line with a prior umbrella review of peer support which rated 87% of reviews as critically low quality and the remainder as low quality, but reported outcomes from all reviews [ 66 ].

Beyond the aforementioned limitations regarding variation in studies within each review, there is also a loss of granular detail through the umbrella review process of summarising data across reviews, which themselves contain many studies which have been summarised. The person-centred nature of peer support may mean that there are meaningful outcomes for the service user which are not easily captured in standard outcome measurement tools or recognised as clinically significant. Variation in peer support roles across studies may have contributed to the contradictions in our findings for RQ3, e.g. the challenges around PSW roles being ambiguous, but also the reported benefits of a flexible role.

A strength of our review was our broad inclusion criteria, for example, for qualitative data on experiences of peer support we reported data from the perspectives of service users, non-peer staff and PSWs. Though some data was reported separately by role, there were studies where experiences were reported together, and these perspectives were difficult to disentangle. Finally, we did not conduct a formal meta-synthesis of the qualitative experiences data; therefore, some detail may have been missed.

Implications for practice

Peer support may be effective at improving some clinical outcomes, self-efficacy and recovery outcomes for some people and could augment the standard service range. Certain groups may benefit from peer support more than others; evidence was strongest for depression outcomes within perinatal populations, but extremely variable for other populations. Peer support may differ in effectiveness depending on population needs and characteristics. PSWs need adequate pay, clear role descriptions and guidelines (e.g. about boundaries and disclosure), ongoing training and supervision, and opportunities for progression. Attitudes about peer support held by non-peer staff may significantly support or impede the implementation and experience of PSWs, and non-peer staff may require training about PSW roles and how to work collaboratively with PSWs. Culture, hierarchical structure and staff acceptability of peer support impact implementation and experience of peer support—structural and cultural change may be required for peer support to succeed, e.g. ensuring a recovery-oriented care model is operating in the service.

Implications for policy

Successful implementation of PSWs in healthcare settings is likely to require a coproduction approach with clearly defined PSW roles, a receptive hierarchical structure and staff, strong leadership and appropriate training (for PSWs and staff) with clinical and/or peer supervision alongside safeguarding. Issues relating to cost, lack of time and lack of resources are key considerations for service providers aiming to implement PSW that is sustained and effective within services. Additionally, Services could benefit from clear, coproduced guidelines, outlining the steps that are most likely to lead to successful PSW implementation.

Implications for research

Future primary and secondary research could usefully explore the differences in efficacy, implementation and experiences in paid PSW over time as it becomes more established; an important distinction as there are likely to be differences in these outcomes as the role of PSW develops. Such studies could consider using more personalised outcome measures such as goal-based outcome measurement [ 76 ]. Current PSW roles are still poorly defined and PSW content, including PSW variations (such as whether PSWs should deliver structured or more loosely structured, informal interventions, or whether interventions should vary according to need and context), need further exploration. Realist investigations around what works for whom, how and in which contexts would uncover more fine-grained detail on the specific contexts and mechanisms that explain these differences. Very few reviews included in this umbrella review reported lived experience researcher leadership or involvement in the undertaking of the study. It is imperative for future research in this area to appropriately reflect the priorities of those who are directly involved in PSW, either as providers or as service users. As the number of PSWs increases and more formalised roles are created, positive impact may not be restricted to outcomes of those supported by PSWs, but also to the functioning of services at an organisational level [ 68 ]. Further research is needed to evaluate how teams function with and without PSWs in order to understand how they may impact experiences through changes at a system level [ 68 ].

Our umbrella review has summarised data from 35 reviews on the effectiveness, implementation, and experiences of peer support for mental health. Although we attempted to focus solely on paid peer support, this detail was often not reported in the reviews. While data on effectiveness was mixed, there was some evidence of improvements on outcomes including depression, particularly perinatal depression, self-efficacy, and recovery, illustrating the potential benefits of wider PSW implementation across mental health services. Good implementation of peer support depends on co-design with people with lived experience, clear job descriptions, a recovery-oriented workplace culture, strong leadership, appropriate training for PSWs and staff , and supervision for PSWs. However due to limited information on cost or cost-effectiveness, we are unable to draw conclusions around resources required to implement PSWs. Experiences of peer support were from a range of perspectives. Peer support was mutually beneficial for PSWs’ and service users’ wellbeing and recovery and PSWs became role models. However, at times PSW roles were ambiguous, this meant that the role was flexible but could also lead to confusion which could impact PSWs own recovery. Potential strategies to successfully implement peer support include that the PSW roles should be clear, PSWs should be appropriately trained and paid, as well as supported and supervised within a trusting and accepting workplace structure and culture that advocates for a recovery-oriented model of care.

Lived experience commentary, written by LM and KM

This study provides a useful summary of the available research on peer support. By providing an overarching review of 35 reviews including 426 available studies, the paper brings together the knowledge on a topic of growing importance and understanding of the experiences, effectiveness, and implementation of peer support. However, this evidence is limited to ‘paid peer support workers’ included in data from academic literature of systematic reviews.

The nature of an umbrella review means that the systematic reviews themselves are synthesised, limiting our ability to look at specific details in the primary studies, for example to look for evidence of lived experience involvement or co-authorship or demographics of participants. The papers within the review are likely to have originated from traditionally funded research enquiries, and an umbrella review potentially magnifies academic or clinical perspectives over user voices and interests. While this is a frustration in any mental-health-related topic, this is particularly concerning in relation to peer support, with its origins in our user-led history.

The roots in user-led peer support are also overlooked when limiting the studies to paid peer support work. Although they might use the same language of mutuality and reciprocity, the two feel different. We are hesitant to suggest that we would prefer the skills and expertise of our supporters to be voluntary and unpaid; we strongly believe their expertise should be valued and funded. But there is something magical about informal peer support which can be lost when it is over-policed in bureaucratic cultures. Additionally, with studies included in the review dating back to 1979, we question how relevant these studies are in informing England’s evolving peer support landscape.

A crucial area of future research is exploring what type of peer support works best for whom and in what circumstances, and how we can deliver this. Furthermore, we need to better understand how NHS cultures can be supported to value the expertise that originates in our lived experience, including the marginalised experiences which have been disproportionately represented in mental health services.

Availability of data and materials

The data used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

A MeaSurement Tool to Assess systematic Reviews

Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research

Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change

Lived Experience Working Group

Population, Intervention, Comparator group, Outcome

Peer support worker

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by the NIHR UCLH BRC.

This study is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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Ruth E. Cooper and Katherine R. K. Saunders are joint first-authors.

Authors and Affiliations

NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK

Ruth E. Cooper, Katherine R. K. Saunders, Jessica Griffiths, Ruth Stuart & Alan Simpson

NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit, Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK

Anna Greenburgh, Rebecca Appleton, Phoebe Barnett, Sophie M. Allan, Brynmor Lloyd-Evans & Sonia Johnson

Centre for Outcomes Research and Effectiveness, Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK

Phoebe Barnett

National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, UK

University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Sophie M. Allan

MHPRU Lived Experience Working Group, London, UK

Prisha Shah, Karen Machin, Tamar Jeynes, Lizzie Mitchell, Beverley Chipp & Stephen Jeffreys

Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care, London, UK

Alan Simpson

Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK

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All authors (RC, KS, AG, PS, RA, KM, TJ, PB, SA, JG, RS, LM, BC, SJ, BLE, AS, SJ) substantially contributed to the conception or design of this study. Data acquisition was undertaken by: KS, RC, JG, RS, RA, KM, PS, SA, PB. The data were synthesised and interpreted by: KS, AG, RA, PS, KM, TJ, and RC. KS and RC led on drafting the manuscript with input and/or editing by all other authors (AG, PS, RA, KM, TJ, PB, SA, JG, RS, LM, BC, SJ, BLE, AS, SJ). All authors (RC, KS, AG, PS, RA, KM, TJ, PB, SA, JG, RS, LM, BC, SJ, BLE, AS, SJ) read and approved the final manuscript.

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Twitter handles: @soniajohnson (Sonia Johnson); @cityalan (Alan Simpson); @MentalHealthPRU (Mental Health Policy Research Unit).

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KM is a Director of With-you Consultancy Ltd who provide peer support training and consultancy. All other authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Additional file 1: appendix 1..

Prisma checklist [ 29 ]. Appendix 2. Full search strategy. Appendix 3. AMSTAR2 ratings. Appendix 4. Excluded studies following full text screening, with reasons. Appendix 5. Study overlap. Appendix 6. Effectiveness of peer support outcomes: results for non-meta-analysis results. Appendix 7. Experiences of peer support (detailed themes).

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Cooper, R.E., Saunders, K.R.K., Greenburgh, A. et al. The effectiveness, implementation, and experiences of peer support approaches for mental health: a systematic umbrella review. BMC Med 22 , 72 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-024-03260-y

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Title: the era of 1-bit llms: all large language models are in 1.58 bits.

Abstract: Recent research, such as BitNet, is paving the way for a new era of 1-bit Large Language Models (LLMs). In this work, we introduce a 1-bit LLM variant, namely BitNet b1.58, in which every single parameter (or weight) of the LLM is ternary {-1, 0, 1}. It matches the full-precision (i.e., FP16 or BF16) Transformer LLM with the same model size and training tokens in terms of both perplexity and end-task performance, while being significantly more cost-effective in terms of latency, memory, throughput, and energy consumption. More profoundly, the 1.58-bit LLM defines a new scaling law and recipe for training new generations of LLMs that are both high-performance and cost-effective. Furthermore, it enables a new computation paradigm and opens the door for designing specific hardware optimized for 1-bit LLMs.

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Structured knowledge from llms improves prompt learning for visual language models.

Published February 27, 2024

By Xinyang Jiang , Senior Researcher Yubin Wang , Research Intern Dongsheng Li , Principal Research Manager Cairong Zhao , Professor

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This research paper was presented at the 38th Annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (opens in new tab) (AAAI-24), the premier forum for advancing understanding of intelligence and its implementation in machines.

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We’re seeing remarkable abilities from visual language models in transforming text descriptions into images. However, creating high-quality visuals requires crafting precise prompts that capture the relationships among the different image elements, a capability that standard prompts lack. In our paper, “ Learning Hierarchical Prompt with Structured Linguistic Knowledge for Language Models ,” presented at AAAI-24, we introduce a novel approach using large language models (LLMs) to enhance the images created by visual language models. By creating detailed graphs of image descriptions, we leverage LLMs’ linguistic knowledge to produce richer images, expanding their utility in practical applications. 

An example of three types of prompts used in VLM to recognize bird, which is  templated prompt (a photo of a bird), a natural language based prompt that descript the bird category, and a tree structured prompt highlight the key entities of birds and the corresponding attributes, such as beak, wings, etc.

Figure 1 illustrates our method for constructing a structured graph containing key details for each category, or class. These graphs contain structured information, with entities (objects, people, and concepts), attributes (characteristics), and the relationships between them. For example, when defining “water lily,” we include entities like “leaves” or “blooms”, their attributes, “round” and “white”, and then apply LLMs’ reasoning capabilities to identify how these terms relate to each other. This is shown in Figure 2.

The pipeline and instructions to autonomously generate category description and the knowledge graph with LLM. We first instruct the LLM to give a category description, and  then it is asked to parse the key entities, attributes and their relationships from the un-structured  description.

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Dr. Bichlien Nguyen and Dr. David Kwabi explore their work in flow batteries and how machine learning can help more effectively search the vast organic chemistry space to identify compounds with properties just right for storing waterpower and other renewables.

How to model structural knowledge

After identifying and structuring the relationships within the generated prompt descriptions, we implement Hierarchical Prompt Tuning (HTP), a new prompt-tuning framework that organizes content hierarchically. This approach allows the visual language model to discern the different levels of information in a prompt, ranging from specific details to broader categories and overarching themes across multiple knowledge domains, as shown in Figure 3. This facilitates the model’s understanding of the connections among these elements, improving its ability to process complex queries across various topics.

The overall framework of the proposed hierarchical prompt tuning.  Descriptions and relationship-guided graphs with class names are used as input for the frozen text encoder and the hierarchical prompted text encoder respectively.

Central to this method is a state-of-the-art relationship-guided attention module, designed to help the model identify and analyze the complex interconnections among elements within a graph. This module also understands the interactions between different entities and attributes through a cross-level self-attention mechanism. Self-attention enables the model to assess and prioritize various parts of the input data—here, the graph—according to their relevance. “Cross-level” self-attention extends this capability across various semantic layers within the graph, allowing the model to examine relationships at multiple levels of abstraction. This feature helps the model to discern the interrelations of prompts (or input commands/questions) across these various levels, helping it gain a deeper understanding of the categories or concepts.

Our findings offer valuable insights into a more effective approach to navigating and understanding complex linguistic data, improving the model’s knowledge discovery and decision-making processes. Building on these advances, we refined the traditional approach to text encoding by introducing a hierarchical, prompted text encoder, shown in Figure 4. Our aim is to improve how textual information is aligned or correlated with visual data, a necessity for vision-language models that must interpret both text and visual inputs.

Frameowork of the hierarchical prompted text encoder, where we apply three types of prompts, low-level prompts, high-level prompts, and global-level prompts for hierarchical tuning, and design a relationship-guided attention module for better modeling structure knowledge.

Looking ahead

By incorporating structured knowledge into our model training frameworks, our research lays the groundwork for more sophisticated applications. One example is enhanced image captioning, where visual language models gain the ability to describe the contents of photographs, illustrations, or any visual media with greater accuracy and depth. This improvement could significantly benefit various applications, such as assisting visually impaired users. Additionally, we envision advances in text-to-image generation, enabling visual language models to produce visual representations that are more precise, detailed, and contextually relevant based on textual descriptions.

Looking forward, we hope our research ignites a broader interest in exploring the role of structured knowledge in improving prompt tuning for both visual and language comprehension. This exploration is expected to extend the use of these models beyond basic classification tasks—where models categorize or label data—towards enabling more nuanced and accurate interactions between people and AI systems. By doing so, we pave the way for AI systems to more effectively interpret the complexities of human language.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Yubin Wang for his contributions in implementing the algorithm and executing the experiments.

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Learning hierarchical prompt with structured linguistic knowledge for vision-language models, meet the authors, xinyang jiang.

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Steering at the Frontier: Extending the Power of Prompting

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LLMLingua: Innovating LLM efficiency with prompt compression

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