||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (September 2012)|
The IMRAD structure is the most prominent norm for the structure of a scientific paper. IMRAD is an acronym for Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. Scientific papers are typically structured in this basic order:
- Introduction - Why was the study undertaken? What was the research question, the tested hypothesis or the purpose of the research?
- Methods - When, where, and how was the study done? What materials were used or who was included in the study groups (patients, etc.)?
- Results - What answer was found to the research question; what did the study find? Was the tested hypothesis true?
- Discussion - What might the answer infer and why does it matter? How does it fit in with what other researchers have found? What are the perspectives for future research?
This particular format of scientific writing has been adopted by a steadily increasing number of academic journals since the first half of the last century. The IMRAD structure has come to dominate academic writing in the sciences, most notably in empirical biomedicine. Although the IMRAD structure originates in the empirical sciences, it now also regularly appears in academic journals across a wide range of disciplines. Many scientific journals now not only prefer this structure, but also use the IMRaD acronym as an instructional device in the instructions to their authors, recommending the use of the four terms as main headings. For example, it is explicitly recommended in the "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (previously called the Vancouver guidelines):
The text of observational and experimental articles is usually (but not necessarily) divided into the following sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This so-called “IMRAD” structure is not an arbitrary publication format but rather a direct reflection of the process of scientific discovery. Long articles may need subheadings within some sections (especially Results and Discussion) to clarify their content. Other types of articles, such as case reports, reviews, and editorials, probably need to be formatted differently.
The IMRAD structure is also recommended for empirical studies in the 6th edition of the publication manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style). The APA publication manual is widely used by journals in the social, educational and behavioral sciences.
The IMRAD structure has proved successful because it facilitates literature review, allowing readers to navigate articles more quickly to locate material relevant to their purpose. But the neat order of IMRAD rarely corresponds to the actual sequence of events or ideas of the research presented; the IMRAD structure effectively supports a reordering that eliminates unnecessary detail, and allow the reader to assess a well-ordered and noise free presentation of the relevant and significant information. It allows the most relevant information to be presented clearly and logically to the readership, by summarizing the research process in an ideal sequence and without unnecessary detail.
The idealised sequence of the IMRAD structure has on occasion been criticised for being too rigid and simplistic. In a radio talk in 1964 the Nobel laureate Peter Medawar even criticised this instructive text structure for not giving a realistic representation of the thought processes of the writing scientist: "... the scientific paper paper may be a fraud because it misrepresents the processes of thought that accompanied or gave rise to the work that is described in the paper". Medawar's criticism was discussed at the XIXth General Assembly of the World Medical Association in 1965.
It seems that neither the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors nor Peter Medawar even considered that it may be a bit too much to ask from such a simple instruction device to carry the burden of representing the entire process of scientific discovery. They both, however, give eloquent testimony both to the importance and to the limitations of the device.
In addition to the scientific article itself a brief abstract is usually required for publication. The abstract should, however, be composed to function as an autonomous text, even if some authors and readers may think of it as an almost integral part of the article. The increasing importance of well-formed autonomous abstracts may well be a consequence of the increasing use of searchable digital abstract archives, where a well-formed abstract will dramatically increase the probability for an article to be found by its optimal readership. Consequently, there is a strong recent trend toward developing formal requirements for abstracts, most often structured on the IMRAD pattern, and often with strict additional specifications of topical content items that should be considered for inclusion in the abstract. Such abstracts are often referred to as "structured abstracts".
See also 
- Luciana B. Sollaci & Mauricio G. Pereira (July 2004). "The introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD) structure: a fifty-year survey". J Med Libr Assoc (J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 July; 92(3): 364–371) 92 (3): 364–7. PMC 442179. PMID 15243643.
- Day, RA (1989). "The Origins of the Scientific Paper: The IMRAD Format". American Medical Writers Association Journal 4 (2): 16–18. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
- Szklo, Moyses (2006). "Quality of scientific articles". Revista de Saúde Pública 40: 30–35. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
- "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication - IV.A.1.a. General Principles". International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Retrieved 2010-03-08.
- American Psychological Association (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-4338-0562-2.
- "The IMRAD Research Paper Format". Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere. Retrieved 2008-10-22.
- Burrough-Boenisch, J (1999). "International Reading Strategies for IMRD Articles". Written Communication 16 (3): 296–316. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
- Medawar, P (1964). "Is the scientific paper fraudulent?". The Saturday Review (August 1): 42–43. Retrieved 2012-11-05.
- Brain, L (1965). "Structure of the scientific paper". Br Med J (2): 868–869. Retrieved 2011-06-19.
- Editorial (1965). "Report of Editors' Conference". Br Med J (2): 870. Retrieved 2011-06-19.
- "Structured Abstract Initiative". Education Resources Information Center. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
- Ripple, AM; Mork JG, Knecht LS, Humphreys BL (2011). "A retrospective cohort study of structured abstracts in MEDLINE, 1992-2006.". J Med Libr Assoc. 99 (2): 160–3. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.99.2.009. PMC 3066587. PMID 21464855.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (16.06.2011). "Structured Abstracts".