Writing up research

Report Structure

  • Abstract
  • introduction
  • method
  • results
  • discussion

Formulating a Research Question

  • From a topic, to a guiding question
  • address specific aspects of the topic


  • topic: effects of industrial pollution on plant life
    • question: what are the effects of increased concentrations of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere on production of grain sorghum?
    • question: do increased concentrations of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere lead to significant decrease in the production of grain sorghum?

Formulating a Hypothesis

  • statement of expected result
  • state in negative way (no effect, will not affect etc), it is called the null hypothesis, which can be rejected


  • the setting
  • already studied
  • investigation needed
  • purpose of new study
  • optional justification or value of new study

The setting


  • move from general to specific statements
  • begin with generally accepted facts about a topic
  • identify one subarea within the general area which includes your topic
  • arrange ideas in logical sequence
  • use old information at the beginning of your sentences


  • mark generic noun phrases appropriately
    • if countable
      • use plural or
      • omit article or
      • use the indefinite article a or an
      • less obvious
        • if referring to living creatures or familiar machinery and equipment
          • use the definite article the
          • the integration of the computer into the society (meaning "computers in general")
          • the hummingbird can ... ("hummingbirds in general")
    • if uncountable
      • omit article
  • mark specific noun phrases appropriately
    • if assumed, shared information
      • use the definite article the
        • in the world...
    • if pointing back to old information already mentioned
      • first time a/an, now the
    • if pointing forward, made clear of the meaning in a following phrase
      • use the
      • the gas which is produced in the western state...
  • indicate old information
    • by using repeated or derived words,
    • pronouns
      • this, that
    • place old information in front, and link it to new information
    • example: "plants do photosynthesis", "while this is taking place, information..."

Review previous research


  • continue with the background information
  • assures readers that you are familiar with the important research
  • establishes your study as one link in a chain of research


  • information prominent
    • information + reference (author, year) or (number - position in the list of references)
  • author prominent
    • author + reference (date or reference number) + information


  • use a logical plan to order your citations
    • grouped by approach
      • one approach
      • another approach
      • etc
    • ordered from distant to close
    • ordered chronologically
  • use information prominent and weak author prominent citations at the beginning and at transitional points
  • use author prominent citations to report specific findings later in the stage


  • use verb tenses correctly

    • information prominent citations
      • present tense for facts
        • (topic) + (verb) + fact + reference
        • nutrient resorption is a common phenomenon in forest trees (Karamer, 1979)
    • weak author prominent: several authors
      • present perfect tense
      • authors + verb + topic + references
      • several researchers have studied the relationship between classroom adjustment and mobility (Madsen, 1980; Biggs, 1983; Randall, 1985)
      • topic + verb + authors + references
      • the physiology of annual plants has been studied by several researchers (Madsen, 1980; Biggs, 1983; Randall, 1985)
    • general statements about the level of research activity
      • present perfect tense
      • without citations
      • level + verb + topic
      • Little research has been done on topic development in ESL students' composition
    • author prominent citations: findings from specific studies
      • past tense
      • author + reference + verb of report + that + findings
      • Allington (1983) (found, showed, reported, noted, observed) that teachers allocated equal time to all groups
    • For author prominent, use the correct form of the verb in the findings, based on your attitude towards the findings
      • accepted as fact
        • use present tense in complement verb
        • author + reference + verb of report + that + findings (present)
        • Sillen (1) showed that aluminum is a good conductor of electricity
      • finding results limited to a single study
        • use past tense in complement verb
        • author + reference + verb of report + that + findings (past)
        • Abramson (1974) reported that mobile students had lower academic performance
        • Harris (7) found that 34.6kg of nitrogen were cycled internally by trees
      • findings that are tentative, suggestions from the authors
        • use modal auxiliaries in the complement, e.g. may, might, could, would
        • author + reference + verb of report(proposed, suggested, hypothesized) + that + findings (modal)
        • Van (5) proposed that aluminium may be common in diatom residues
  • use tentative verbs of report for suggestions or proposals

  • use modal auxiliaries in the complement to indicate tentative findings

    Advancing to present research

    Missing information

    • indicate that the previous literature described in the review is inadequate beacause an important aspect of the research area has been ignored by other authors
    • there is an unresolved conflict among the authors of previous studies concerning the research topic. This may be theoretical or methodological disagreement.
    • an examination of the previous literature suggests an extension of the topic, or raise a new research question not previously considered by other workers in your field

    signaling by

    • signal word + Gap (present or present perfect) + research topic
      • (however, but)
      • few studies have been done on
      • little literature is available on
      • very little is known about
      • no work has been done on