One of the most difficult aspects of writing anything is the organization of material, and research papers are no exception. This section presents some very general tips on creating a structure.
Organization can be represented as a flow chart of processes which consider a series of ever decreasing perspectives on the article:
The article's purpose was considered in the previous section. It should always be the cornerstone of the article and should be borne in mind at all points to prevent aimlessness.
Brainstorm the main ideas relevant to your article. Include within this ideas from the literature, which may be background material or which may also be used to develop hypotheses.
Having done this, look at the main themes that emerge in your notes and group them into major sections. You could try using some organizational device such as colour coding your notes, or index cards. The following questions may be important:
It is a good idea to create an outline of your paper before you start generating the text, so that you have a blueprint. This could be a very rough draft or it could be a series of notes on index cards. Either way, you should by this stage have the main headings, and the main topics within the headings, so that you know where your article is going.
Writing a paper is like stringing pearls to make a necklace. There is an optimum order for these pearls to form a paper, and some pearls are better left out.
(Kwan Choi, Editor, Review of International Economics, "How to publish in top journals")
There are a number of ways of organizing your material.
John A. Sharp, John Peters and Keith Howard refer to the "stimulus-response" pattern of writing, quoting Monroe, Meredith and Fisher's 1977 book The Science of Scientific Writing:
When you generate a question in writing, the reader will expect you to answer the question soon.
If you present a problem the reader will expect a solution or an explanation of why no solution is forthcoming.
Whether you have mentioned a cause first or an effect first, once you have mentioned one, the reader will surely expect you to mention the other.
When you make a general statement, the reader will expect to be supplied with specifics, which clarify, qualify or explain the general statement.
John A. Sharp, John Peters and Keith Howard, in The Management of a Student Research Project (Gower, 3rd ed., 2002)
If you look at Emerald articles, you will see a number of different structures, for example:
Whatever your method of organization, it needs to be logical and appropriate to your material.
By this stage you will know what your main sections are; the next task is to structure your material within the major sections. Here, the task is basically very similar to organizing material into main headings: select, and group, the main ideas within the sections. You will probably want to organize material into subheadings within the main sections: subheadings help you develop the logical flow of your material, and also act as sign posts to your reader.
Here are a couple of examples of articles which make particularly good use of headings:
Note that Emerald requires that headings be short, clearly defined and not numbered.
Lastly, check that within sections there is a smooth flow of ideas. If the purpose statement is the foundation of the article, its paragraphs are the bricks that make its construction sound. Paragraphs are described in the "Use the paragrah effectively" section of our How to... write more simply guide, and should always be concerned with the development of a topic or theme. Paragraphs should also develop and flow from one another, without too many awkward breaks in the sense, or non sequiturs with abrupt changes in topic without explanation.