Academic Paper Structures

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

For many instructors who teach online, academic research and writing are a part of their work load. Academic papers have their own general form and function, their general characteristics, their accepted sources for information, places where they are published, and specific parts with necessary functions to fulfill. This module addresses the prior issues in a brief way.


Takeaways

Learners will...

  • explore what an academic paper is and its general characteristics
  • consider respected sources for information for academic papers and accepted research approaches
  • consider how academic papers are used in academic domains and the larger social ecosystem
  • list general spaces where academic papers are published and differentiate between proprietary, open-source, and open-access publishing
  • consider the parts of academic papers and the functions that they fulfill


Module Pretest

1. What is an academic paper? What are typical descriptive characteristics / features of academic papers? What are typical lengths of academic papers?

2. What are typical informational sources for academic papers? Which sources are respected ones? What are gray literature sources? What are research approaches that are generally accepted?

3. How are academic papers used in academic domains and in the larger social ecosystem? What makes academic papers stand out? (What is the role of publication metrics in quantifying the impact or influence of an academic paper?)

4. Where are academic papers published? What is the rank or hierarchy of publishing sites for academic publishing? What is proprietary publishing? What is open-source publishing? What is open-access publishing? (What are ways to version academic papers?)

5. What are the typical parts of academic papers? What functions do the respective parts meet? What are ways to optimize the various parts of an academic paper? How are academic papers refined (through revision and editing)? What are the values applied to academic paper refinement? What makes for an (in)effective academic paper?

Main Contents

1. What is an academic paper? What are typical descriptive characteristics / features of academic papers? What are typical lengths of academic papers?

An academic paper is a formal piece of writing that addresses, usually, new research, meta analyses of existing research, new models or concepts, proposals for ways to advance the field, reviews of publications (like books), white papers, and other common forms.

As a unit of writing, an academic paper is focused around a particular limited topic. Academic papers tend to be fact-based and analytical. These tend to be written in the third-person point-of-view.

There are variances in length, but a common size falls between 3,000 – 10,000 words. With online publishing, though, the sizes of works can range even higher without excessive cost in paper and ink. Digital sizes are fairly negligible if audiences can be found.


2. What are typical informational sources for academic papers? Which sources are respected ones? What are gray literature sources? What are research approaches that are generally accepted?

To oversimplify, the contents of academic papers usually come from two main sources in combination: (1) the prior peer-reviewed and published research and then (2) the primary unique research (conducted by the author). The first part sets the context for the work and introduces the relevant theory, and the second part contains the novel aspects of the work (and the raison d’etre of the research paper). In traditional formal research papers, the sources that are respected have to be peer-reviewed and professionally edited and published by respectable publishers.

“Gray literature” sources refer to the less traditional and less formal sources of information. These may be contents created by those in public and private industry that have not gone through academic peer review but are published based on the internal standards of the respective entities themselves. Another form of less formal data may be information posted on the Web from social media entities. Other informal literature may be personal letters, personal notes, emails, and similar contents.

While each content domain has its own accepted research methods, generally, the following methods are respected:

  • scientific methods that control for human subjectivity;
  • statistically valid approaches;
  • empirical observations;
  • qualitative methods that control for human subjectivity (or at least acknowledge human subjectivity); and others.

In all cases, it is important to describe research methods…and the applications of professional ethics to the work. [Foundational grounds for rejection of a work for publication include problems with research method and analysis and problems with (un)ethical approaches.]


3. How are academic papers used in academic domains and in the larger social ecosystem? What makes academic papers stand out? (What is the role of publication metrics in quantifying the impact or influence of an academic paper?)

Academic papers are the main way that cutting-edge research and theorizing occurs in academic domains (along with conference presentations). Academic papers are read not only by researchers in the field but those in peripheral fields and outside of the field altogether. Insights from one area may be harnessed for uses in others; for example, physics insights are commonly harnessed for work in business and education. Some research works are read by journalists and shared more broadly through mass media and social niche media (like podcasts).

What makes academic papers stand out can be any number of factors (individually or in combination):

  • powerful insights that have broad implications in the field and beyond
  • potent new methods of research and analysis
  • the rollout of new technologies or tools
  • a well known author or authoring team
  • a well known university or professional organization, and others

Publication metrics are quantifiers that “rank” the influence or impact of a particular article (or author or publication), and these are used as short-hand in academia. (See Publication Metrics for a light summary view.)


4. Where are academic papers published? What is the rank or hierarchy of publishing sites for academic publishing? What is proprietary publishing? What is open-source publishing? What is open-access publishing? (What are ways to version academic papers?)

Most academic papers are published in academic journals and are archived in online databases (many of which are subscription-based). In the past few decades, there have been online publishers that have arisen with varying levels of editing oversight (ranging from non-reviewed to peer-reviewed).

Publishers are ranked based on a number of factors: titles, history, prestige, influence / impact, big-name authors, big-name editors, sponsoring organization, editorial boards, and other factors.

Proprietary publishers are those who tend to be traditional ones. They usually acquire all rights to every part of a publication (all text, all imagery, etc.), and the contents are copyrighted. All users have to abide by copyright laws and citation rules when using these works. Even if the author of a work wants to use some part of his / her work, he / she has to re-acquire limited rights back from the proprietary publisher for limited use. An open-source publisher is one who does not acquire restrictive copyright to the original works but which acquires limited rights to publish the work and reverts other rights back to the author. The Creative Commons licensure release is one method some use to release works in an open-source way. There are other licensure release approaches as well. Open-access publishing involves copyrighted works by proprietary companies, but with an additional fee (often borne by the authors or their sponsoring organizations), these works are made available on the Web for people to access in an open way (without a need for subscription-based access).

The contents of academic papers may be versioned in various ways: slideshows, videos, podcast presentations, and others. Having the content versioned in a variety of ways may make works more approachable from various channels.


5. What are the typical parts of academic papers? What functions do the respective parts meet? What are ways to optimize the various parts of an academic paper? How are academic papers refined (through revision and editing)? What are the values applied to academic paper refinement? What makes for an (in)effective academic paper?

A typical-format academic paper contains the following parts:

Title: a name (may include a subtitle) Abstract: a summary of the contents of the academic paper, including its main research questions and findings Key words: main terms that represent the academic paper Introduction: a lead-in to the main body of the paper Review of the literature: a summary of the relevant research literature Research method: how the research was conducted Body: the research, the analysis of the data Discussion: a study of the findings and the relevance of the findings Future research directions: suggestions for how to advance the research work here Conclusion: a basic wrap-up References: formal bibliographic citations or references to all sources referred to in the academic paper Index: a reference to all the main cutting-edge terms used in the work (for books)

Most academic papers include figures, tables, and charts. Some include live datasets.

A professional biography is often also included.

To optimize an academic paper, the following basics should be followed:

  • The writing should be tight, with wordiness and repetition edited out.
  • The proper information that belongs to a particular area should be in that particular space.
  • All main questions should be answered. Or, if not answered, the reason for the lack of an answer should be addressed.
  • The relevant aspects of the research works should be highlighted. (Sometimes, a few summary statements of key takeaways are used in place of an abstract.

A “refined” academic paper is what should emerge after sufficient peer review and revision. To understand what a refined academic paper might look like, it may help to review the “values” in a revised paper:

  • A refined academic paper offers a comprehensive review of the relevant literature.
  • The literature should be fully and accurately cited.
  • The research idea should be fairly original.
  • All research on people has to follow human subjects review guidelines and laws.
  • All research subjects should be treated ethically.
  • Credit should be given to whomever the credit is due.
  • The thinking work should follow the basic rules of logic.

An “effective” academic paper addresses the subject area accurately and contributes some new insights to the field based on solid research and solid reasoning. An “ineffective” academic paper is any paper that falls short of professional standards.

Examples

There are a number of publicly available repositories for academic papers.

How To

There are many ways to approach writing an academic paper. To try to summarize this would be too complex.

Possible Pitfalls

There are a number of risks to publishing. However, if a researcher conducts the work professionally and legally and records the work accurately, that will take him or her a good ways to avoiding pitfalls.

Module Post-Test

1. What is an academic paper? What are typical descriptive characteristics / features of academic papers? What are typical lengths of academic papers?

2. What are typical informational sources for academic papers? Which sources are respected ones? What are gray literature sources? What are research approaches that are generally accepted?

3. How are academic papers used in academic domains and in the larger social ecosystem? What makes academic papers stand out? (What is the role of publication metrics in quantifying the impact or influence of an academic paper?)

4. Where are academic papers published? What is the rank or hierarchy of publishing sites for academic publishing? What is proprietary publishing? What is open-source publishing? What is open-access publishing? (What are ways to version academic papers?)

5. What are the typical parts of academic papers? What functions do the respective parts meet? What are ways to optimize the various parts of an academic paper? How are academic papers refined (through revision and editing)? What are the values applied to academic paper refinement? What makes for an (in)effective academic paper?

References

Extra Resources