How to... structure your article Part: 1

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How to... structure your article

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Article Sections

  1. What is the purpose of the paper?
  2. Ways of organizing a paper
  3. The body of the paper
  4. Writing the conclusion

What is the purpose of your paper?

"We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acic (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest."
(Francis Crick and James Watson,
introducing their seminal 1953 Nature paper on the double helix)

One of the most common faults of research papers is that they fail to communicate a sense of purpose, and how they extend the boundaries of knowledge. The most important thing that a writer can do when thinking about writing is to write a purpose statement, covering:

  • What is the significance of the paper?
  • Why is it important and original?
  • Who will be interested, who is the intended audience?
  • What next: what are the implications for practice, what are the further research questions?

The purpose statement belongs close to the start of the article, but should also be central to the article's composition. It will help you develop the article's structure, and provide a focus as you weave in salient facts and discard others. All subsequent points should be related to the development of this purpose statement.

Examples of purpose statements

The aim of this paper is to develop a holistic model of customer retention, with specific emphasis on the repurchase intentions dimension, incorporating service quality and price perceptions, customer indifference and inertia. The holistic approach in the study reported here is distinct from most past studies on this topic that focussed on a single determinant of customer retention, namely service characteristics. The hypothesized relationships are tested using data from a large-scale survey of the telecommunication industry.
(Chatura Ranaweera and Andy Neely,"Some moderating effects on the service quality-customer retention link", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 23 No. 2)

Are most leadership behaviours universal? Or, are there exceptions across country and corporate cultures? This study aims to answer these important questions. Our aim is to highlight any generalizability concerns that may arise due to American-centric researchers and their leadership theories. By taking a global perspective, researchers and managers can be more confident with their understanding of what leadership means and how leadership works in various national settings.
(Karen Boehnke, Nick Bontis, Joseph J. DiStefano and Andrea C. DiStefano, "Transformational leadership: an examination of cross-national differences and similarities", Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, Vol. 24 No. 1)

In this paper, we will critically reflect on the assumptions and assertions of the human resource-based view of the firm. The human resource-based view of the firm is limited in its unambiguous, instrumental, and rationalistic conceptualization of the relationships between the HRM practices, the HR outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and commitment, and the success of the organization. Our critique is directed towards the utilitarian and formal/technical assumptions of this view, since it reduces human beings to "human resources". In our opinion, this view represents the "standard system-control frame of reference of much management thinking" (Watson, 2002, p. 375). We argue that such a conceptual model does not do justice to the complexity of human beings and their functioning in organizational processes. In particular, the approach neglects the ambiguities, irrationalities, and emotions that characterize the usual practice in organizational change (Carr, 2001; Downing, 1997).

The purpose of this article is to sketch the outlines of a more differentiated approach towards the contribution HRM can make to organizational change, an approach which corresponds to a process-relational perspective, and one which "acknowledges the pluralistic, messy, ambiguous and inevitably conflict-ridden nature of work organizations" (Watson, 2002, p. 375). Such a conceptual model pays more attention to both the rational and instrumental considerations and the emotional needs and desires that influence processes of organizational change. We base our approach on the core elements of the relational theory of emotions (Burkitt, 1997). This view helps us in understanding the complex functioning of human beings in the processes of organizational change (see, for example, Albrow, 1992; Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995; Downing, 1997; Duncombe and Marsden, 1996; Fineman, 2000; Pedersen, 2000 ). According to the relational theory of emotions, the actions and intentions of a person do not only stem from their rationality, but they are always and inextricably bound up with the emotions he or she has. Furthermore, emotions are viewed as being both individual characteristics and features of the power-based relationships between people involved in organizational change. In particular, we will focus on emotions as elements of implicit, so-called "hegemonic", power processes, which function as subroutines in the daily practices of organizations. Hegemonic power processes may induce the organizational members to consent to prevalent organizational views and to accept their insertion into organizational practices, despite the possible disadvantages these practices might pose for them (Benschop and Doorewaard, 1998; Doorewaard and Brouns, 2003).
(Hans Doorewaard and Yvonne Benschop, "HRM and organizational change: an emotional endeavour", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 16 No. 3)

Purpose statements and thesis statements

Sometimes, you may wish to write a paper which develops a particular thesis, in which case your statement of purpose will be more a "thesis statement" – one that does not merely state coverage but which also sets out an argument.

The following is an example of a "thesis statement" from a practitioner article about the survival of high tech companies, expressed in succinct and rather journalistic fashion.

Example of a thesis statement

Our premise: only high-tech companies that align their business models with the hypercompetitive future – one in which horizontal, not vertical, business models offer strategic advantage – will succeed. Those that don't will falter.
(Vivek Kapur, John Peters and Saul Berman, "High-tech 2005: the horizontal, hypercompetitive future", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 31 No. 2)

A thesis statement should be precise, and focused enough for all related points to be considered in the article. As with a purpose statement, it should be kept in mind at all points during the writing of the article, and may well change as the writing progresses.

In many cases, a series of hypothesis statements will be developed, perhaps as a result of a literature review.

The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Maddison has useful handouts on thesis statements:

They are aimed at undergraduates, but are clearly set out.

The introduction

The purpose statement sits within the introduction: what else should of the introduction contain? The latter's purpose is not merely to set out the paper's main aims, but also to provide context: why the topic is important and what it contributes to the body of knowledge, background to the research, what the structure of the paper will be, what made you decide to research this topic/write the article?

Look at the following articles and the way that they set out their introductions and provide a context for the purpose statement.

Examples of introductions

In "HRM and organizational change: an emotional endeavour" (Hans Doorewaard and Yvonne Benschop, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 16 No. 3), the authors preface their purpose statement with a paragraph about the importance of the human-resource based view of the firm for the organization as a whole and for the field of organizational change.

Victor H. Vroom, in "Educating managers for decision making and leadership" (Management Decision, Vol. 41 No. 10), provides a particularly strong example of an article which states why the research was important to him, starting with an account of how he became interested in follower behaviour and participation as a graduate student.

"Children's visual memory of packaging" (James U. McNeal and F.Ji Mindy, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 20 No. 3) starts by reminding us how biassed consumer research is to the verbal rather than the visual, as a jumping off point for his own research.

"On the use of 'borrowed' scales in cross-national research" (Susan P. Douglas and Edwin J. Nijssen, International Marketing Review, Vol. 20 No. 6) considers the use of a research tool, and starts by describing the interest that there has been in cross-national and multi-country research, as a preface to describing the ways in which constructs and scales are transported without due consideration of equivalence.

Clyde A. Warden et al., in "Service failures away from home: benefits in intercultural service encounters" (International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 14 No. 4), provide a novel way of setting the context by quoting a service encounter from Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.

How long should the introduction be?

Opinions vary over this – some say 500-700 words, others two pages. All in all, the introduction should be long enough to develop the purpose statement and set out the background to the topic, but should not overwhelm, or be out of proportion to, the rest of the paper.

When should the introduction be written?

There is a school of thought which says that the introduction should be written last, along with the conclusion. However, the purpose statement should be the kernel of the work and should be written first, and it is also useful to set out the context of the article. It is probably wise to write the introduction first, because the introduction sets out your stall, as it were, and then revisit it as you write.