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Page 1: How to …… Construct an Outline for a Research Report


Construct an Outline for a Research Report Starting any investigation should be the first step on the road to publication, to enable your peers to criticise your work, admire it, repeat it or implement the findings. Biomedical research is conventionally reported under headings often called the IMRAD structure, for Intro- duction, Methods, Results and Discussion. Articles in recent issues of your target journal will show you how closely they fit the conventional scheme. In Physio- thqapy, for example, we prefer Conclusions and Recom- mendations (for practice and further studies) separate from the Discussion. Every journal publishes guide lines for authors about its preferences and requirements, including advice and instructions on preparation of submissions, preferred length of articles, style of ref- erencing and presentation of figures and tables.

Use these guide lines to construct lists of topics under each main heading. They will help you to organise your argument, to make sure that you do not leave out any essential information and, when you write to each topic, to avoid repetition and irrelevances. They reflect the criteria our referees use to assess research reports and are appropriate to peer-reviewed scientific journals in general. Once you have written the first draft of the paper put it away for a while, then resurrect it and revise it. If possible, get advice on its readability and be prepared to rewrite it. When you have revised the paper structurally and stylistically, make sure that it complies with the guide lines of your chosen journal and prepare the final version for submission.

Introduction Why did you undertake the study? What is its purpose?

0 State the specific problem you intend to address, eg evaluation of an area of practice or a technique, revision of old ideas, etc.

0 Give two concrete examples of the problem. Choose one of them which will make the research more real and attractive to potential readers and persuade them to continue reading.

0 Give reasons why the problem is important and valid: To you. To physiotherapy. To the treatment of patients.

0 State the purpose of the study, eg to change attitudes, or to enhance understanding, or to evaluate something.

0 Explain the significance of the study. Answer the question, So what? For example, what is the potential benefit? or, what might be the consequence if it was not done? or, what is its importance clinically, educationally, etc?

0 What evidence in the literature is there to support all this? Select a small number of important papers that:

Relate specifically to the research topic. Concern previous research on the subject. Give further insight into the nature of the problem.

Treat the material analytically and critically .rather than descriptively and say as concisely as possible what is known about the subject already.

0 State the research design and say what assumptions you made in working it out.

0 List the aims of the study. 0 State the research question or questions.

0 If appropriate, state the null hypothesis and the hypothesis

Methods What did you do, who did you do it to, what data did you collect and how did you deal with it?

0 The Subjects Who were they? How many were there? How were

How typical are they? If they were assigned to groups, how was it done?

they selected?

0 Materials: Instruments and apparatus Define as precisely as possible any instruments and apparatus used to:

Generate data, eg electrotherapy equipment, test

Gather data, eg questionnaires, video cameras, audio

Record data, eg for restrospective searches of records.

Where appropriate, include a photograph or drawing. It is unnecessary to repeat published details of validated measures but include references to widely accessible journals. Questionnaires will not usually be reprinted in a journal but, unless a pilot study is being reported, evidence is needed of the steps taken to confirm that they do measure what they are intended to measure.

0 Procedure Describe in enough detail for anyone to replicate the study:

apparatus and equipment.


What you did. How you did it.

0 Analysis of Data Quantitative data: Name any statistical tests that were used, explain why each was chosen and give references for unusual tests. If a computer program was used, name it and say which version.

Qualitative data: Describe how they were interpreted and meaning was derived.

Phydothenpy, Aprll 19Q3, vol79, no 4

Page 2: How to …… Construct an Outline for a Research Report


Results What did you find or see?

0 Decide on a logical order of presentation of findings.

0 Exclude results that are not relevant to answering your research questions but do not suppress valid results that do not support your hypothesis or expected or desired answers to your research questions.

0 Present summarised and manipulated numerical data clearly in correctly titled tables and graphs.

0 Interpret graphs and tables in text and draw attention to interesting data and results.

0 Where inferential statistics are used, give the statistical decision about the hypothesis.

Write this section in such a way that it stands on its own, without the reader having to refer to other sections of the paper.

Discussion What do the findings mean?

Start where the Introduction ended.

0 Restate the research question or questions and then provide your answer or answers.

0 Distinguish between facts and speculation.

0 Concentrate on the main lines of your argument and avoid repeating the results.

0 Discuss the results with reference to the aims. Did you find what you expected?

0 Connect the findings with similar studies and under- lying theory.

0 If unexpected or contradictory results were obtained, discuss possible reasons for anomalies.

0 What key issues have emerged? Substantive (about the topic itself). Methodological (about the conduct of the study). Ethical and policy.

0 What insight do they offer about the problem under study?

0 What are the limitations of the study (eg faults in sampling and other errors of commission)

0 What further problems remain to be tackled?

Conclusions and Recommendations 0 Summarise your main findings.

0 Place them in the context of current knowledge and practice of physiotherapy

0 Make recommendations for implementation

0 Make suggestions for future studies.

Title Give your paper an interesting, concise and informative title.

Summary Generally speaking, the summary should be no longer than 100 words. It should be a concise and self- explanatory abstract of the main information in the paper, following the same structure as the paper and emphasising points in proportion to their emphasis in the paper.

Key Words Choose the most important and specific words you can find, excluding words used in the title. They will be used to index and catalogue your paper, so bear in mind potential readers who will be conducting searches of the literature.

References, Acknowledgments and Authorship Finally, compile the list of references in the form'at required by your chosen journal, carefully checking the citations in text against the list and the accuracy of each reference. Ask individuals who have provided technical help, intellectual contributions that do not justify co- authorship, financial support, and other substantial help, over and above day-to-day work, for their permission to acknowledge them by name, because readers may infer their endorsement of the contents and conclusions. Anyone who can claim intellectual ownership of any of the content should be asked if they want to be a named co-author. Individuals who have not contributed directly to the work should not be named as co-authors just because of their status or position.

h e Parry PhD MCSP DipTP

Scientific and Clinical Editor, Physiotherapy

Phydothempy, Aprlll993, vol79, no 4

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