Components of a Research Report

Peer Review Process Cartoon

The six components of a research report are as follows:  An abstractintroduction, methodology, results, discussion, and references.

The Abstract

The abstract is an overview of the research study and is typically two to four paragraphs in length.  Think of it as an executive summary that distills the key elements of the remaining sections into a few sentences.

An abstract will look similar to the following:

Pubmed abstract screen

In many cases, you can determine what is interesting about a study by analyzing the abstract (see article by Noah Gray in The Huffington Post).

Introduction

The introduction provides the key question that the researcher is attempting to answer and a review of any literature that is relevant.  In addition, the researcher will provide a rationale for why the research is important and will present a hypothesis that attempts to answer the key question.  Lastly, the introduction should summarize the state of the key question following the completion of the research.  For example, are there any important issues or questions still open?

Methodology

The methodology section of the research report is arguably the most important for two reasons.  First it allows readers to evaluate the quality of the research and second, it provides the details by which another researcher may replicate and validate the findings. (1)

Typically the information in the methodology section is arranged in chronological order with the most important information at the top of each section. (2)

Ideally the description of the methodology doesn’t force you to refer to other documents; however if the author is relying on existing methods, they will be referenced.

Results

In longer research papers, the results section contains the data and perhaps a short introduction.  Typically the interpretation of the data and the analysis is reserved for the discussion section.

Discussion

The discussion section is where the results of the study are interpreted and evaluated against the existing body or research literature.  In addition, should there be any anomalies found in the results, this is where the authors will point them out.  Lastly the discussion section will attempt to connect the results to the bigger picture and show how the results might be applied. (3)

References

This section provides a list of each author and paper cited in the research report.  Any fact, idea, or direct quotation used in the report should be cited and referenced.

Types of Research Studies

Research can be classified into two categories:  Basic research, which is done in a lab or a clinical setting and applied research, which is done with real subjects in real-world situations.  (4)  And from these categories of research, we have the following general types of studies:

Animal Study:  An animal or in vivo study is a study in which animals are used as subjects.  A common use of an animal study is with a clinical trial (see below) and as a precursor to evaluating a medical intervention on humans.  However, it is critical to recognize that results from animal studies should not be extrapolated to draw conclusions on what WILL happen in humans.

Case Study:  A case study provides significant and detailed information about a single participant or a small group of participants.  “Case studies are often referred to interchangeably with ethnography, field study, and participant observation.” (5)  Unlike other studies which rely heavily on statistical analysis, the case study is often undertaken to identify areas for additional research and exploration.

Clinical Trial Study:  A clinical trial study is often used in the areas of health and medical treatments that will presumably yield a positive effect.  Typically a small group of people or animals are selected based upon the presence of a specific medical condition.  This group is used to evaluate the effectiveness of a new medication or treatment, differing dosages, new applications of existing treatments.  Due to the risk involved with many new medical treatments, the initial subjects in a clinical trial may be animals and not humans.  After positive outcomes are obtained, research then can proceed to a human study where the treatment is compared against results from the existing standard of care.

Correlational Study:   Correlational studies evaluate the relationship between variables and determine if there is a positive correlation, a negative correlation, or no correlation.  Please note, a positive correlation does not mean one thing causes another.   Correlational studies are typically used in naturalistic observations, surveys, and with archival research.  (6)

Cross-sectional Survey:  Also know as the synchronic study, a cross-sectional survey collects data at a single point in time but the questions asked of a participant may be about current and past experiences.  They are often done to evaluate some aspect of public health policy. (7)

Epidemiological Study:  Epidemiological studies evaluate the factors and associations linked to diseases.  Types of epidemiological studies include case series studies, case control studies, cohort studies, longitudinal studies, and outbreak investigations.

Epidemiological studies are often beneficial in identifying areas for a more control research evaluation; however all to often, readers of epidemiological research miscategorize links and associations as causes.  In addition, a common problem with epidemiological studies is that they rely on memory recall which can be quite unreliable.

Experimental Study:  In an experimental study, specific treatments are applied to a sample or group and the results are observed.  (8)

Literature Review:  A literature review is an exhaustive search of all of the relevant literature related to a specific research topic.

Longitudinal Study:  A specific type of epidemiological study, the longitudinal study follows subjects over a long period of time, asking a specific research question with repeated samples of data gathered across the duration of the study.  These studies are often used as the basis for specific experimental studies.  For example, the Framingham Heart Study has evaluated people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948 looking for patterns in heart disease.

Meta-analysis:  A meta-analysis is a statistical process in which the results of multiple studies evaluating a similar research objective are collected and pooled together.   They are often used to determine the effectiveness of healthcare interventions and experiments. (9)

 

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