In the vast mazes of breakthrough advances, drug development, and disruptive innovation, medical progress depends on methodological scientific publishing. Publication is used to communicate findings and validate research importance, as well as the potential of a health care researcher. Given the fact that reporting the results is crucial to advance medical discovery, structuring a scientific article is one of the essential steps in health care research. Hence, with the improvement in digital health and data management, professional journals and peer-review publications have started to implement strict standards to structure medical articles. IMRaD is the most common format used in publications.
IMRaD stands for Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion, which are the standard parts of medical manuscripts. The IMRaD format is concise and professional to help researchers present their ideas in a heuristic way (Wu, 2011). It also supports reviewers in the evaluation of manuscripts and the validation of research significance. By having a clear internal structure, scientific publications foster objective and reproducible science.
Apart from IMRaD (Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion), the complete structure of an article includes Title, Authors, Keywords, Abstract, Conclusion, References, Acknowledgments, and Appendices. Display items are also a major aspect in scientific manuscripts. Note that researchers must consult the specific instructions provided by the journal of interest before the completion of their manuscript. In contrast to social sciences, for instance, publications in health care and natural sciences do not require a theoretical section.Supported by the advancements in health care and research, publication standards have changed significantly over the past centuries. The IMRaD format is a product of an evolutionary process and breakthrough discoveries. Interestingly, health sciences publication has evolved from a descriptive style similar to book chapters to a standardized format. It’s believed that Louis Pasteur influenced today’s scientific manuscripts as in 1876, he used an IMRaD structure in his classic book on fermentation (Wu, 2011).
To evaluate scientific publishing transformations, Sollaci and Pereira (2004) conducted a cross-sectional study to assess the frequency of the IMRaD usage in articles published between 1935 and 1985. The research team found the IMRaD format was partially implemented in medical writing in the 60s and became a predominant outline for scientific publications in the 80s. Now, IMRaD is a ruling norm in scientific writing and publications.
Implementing IMRaD in scientific writing has a wide range of advantages. In fact, having a clear structure and standardized framework in medical writing results in numerous benefits for both scientific writers and readers:
· The IMRaD structure allows authors to present research ideas and findings in a modular and heuristic way and contribute to the existing scientific knowledge in their field of work.
· The IMRaD format facilitates reading and knowledge acquisition. Because readers do not usually read in a linear manner, the IMRaD structure improves both skimming and scanning used to locate specific information without reading the entire article.
· With a concise internal organization, editors and reviewers can evaluate manuscripts easily and validate research findings. As explained above, medical advances rely on scientific publishing.
· IMRaD provides a clear framework and facilitates the audit. It also allows a study to be replicated and reproduced. We should note that replication is one of the fundaments in medical research.The implementation of the IMRaD format benefits the art of scientific writing. IMRaD provides the internal organization of research manuscripts, and it’s highly effective for original research work (“Structuring your manuscript”). It includes:
· Introduction: The Introduction is one of the essential parts of a manuscript as it describes the research problem of interest. This section provides relevant background information and describes the purpose of the study; including current cite reviews of conflicting results. When it comes to research aims, researchers must conduct clinical trials to fill a gap in the existing knowledge by reducing waste and increasing research value. Additionally, authors can include a few sentences about the study procedure.
· Materials and Methods: The Materials and Methods section describes the study procedure and methodologies. Note that this part should be written in the past tense. Methods and Materials should be detailed enough to facilitate reproducibility. As explained earlier, reproducible research is crucial as it’s a mark of credibility and ethical responsibility. Reproducible research is particularly relevant in big data research. Thus, the authors must present all the methods and statistical procedures employed in their study. To improve readability, different subheadings (for each methodology) can be included.
· Results: The Results section should follow a logical order, which is usually arranged in order of importance. Authors can use subheadings to separate the data. Note that this section does not include any interpretations or implications, but the study results and their statistical importance (including p values). Visuals and display items (e.g., tables, charts) can also convey vital data and facilitate readability.
· Discussion and Conclusions: The Discussion section should explain the meaning of the study results. In this section, authors should state if their findings are consistent with existing research or contrasting with previous studies. Inconclusive results and limitations are also essential in objective science as they highlight the need for additional experiments and future research. In fact, researchers should always discuss how their study expands on previous findings and contributes to existing scientific knowledge.
While IMRaD provides a logical flow and concise structure, the format does not follow the actual research process. Thus, when it comes to the writing process, experts recommend structuring manuscripts in the following order (with sections varying in length):
1. Materials and Methods: This section can be written first while conducting the experiment.
2. Results: Statistical analyses will provide a better understanding of the study impact.
3. Introduction: This section should be written after the actual experiment as it can include brief data on materials and methods.
4. Discussion: Based on the study results, research weaknesses are also a major component in the Discussion section.
5. Conclusion: It should describe the main research conclusions and their impact.
6. Title: This is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. Thus, researchers are encouraged to write down a few titles and select one to modify further.
7. Abstract: This part comes last as it should be based on all the previous sections.
However, not all journals use IMRaD (“Structuring your manuscript”). The IMRaD format, for instance, may not apply to scientific journal pieces, such as editorials and perspectives. Nevertheless, IMRaD is a predominant framework for the structure of a scientific article of the original research type; including lab reports, social sciences, and engineering. A clear internal structure improves readability, reproducibility, and medical progress.
- Although IMRaD is an essential scientific format, the truth is that many readers will only read the abstract of a manuscript. With the rapid implementation of technologies, experts have unlimited access to data, so researchers should make their work stand out. Therefore, title, abstracts, and keywords are vital in scientific writing (“Structuring your manuscript”):
- Titles: The importance of titles is eminent as headings act as introductions to research articles. Writing a good title for a manuscript can be challenging. Titles should convey the main topics and study importance. A good title must be concise and attractive at the same time. Note that too long titles are not only cumbersome but may not meet journal requirements. An example of an effective title is “Effect of Child Influenza Vaccination on Infection Rates in Rural Communities: A Randomized Trial” (“Structuring your manuscript”).
- Abstract: Abstracts are also fundamental. The abstract of a study can be defined as a summary of the study content which should not exceed 250 words. As mentioned above, some users and reviewers will only read the abstract, which can help them navigate through the research importance and findings. It should explain the research question, procedure (what was done and why), as well as major results. In fact, the abstract of a study is the most accessed section which appears in searches. An abstract that stands alone will attract readers, as well as facilitate peer review.
- Structured abstract: Structured abstracts became highly popular in the 90s. Structured abstracts are clearer and more informative compared to traditional abstracts as they provide a standard framework. This framework includes the introduction (background or aims), methods, results, and conclusions (or synthesis). Interestingly, the spatial organization of the structured abstracts is another factor that contributes to their superiority over unstructured abstracts.
- Keywords: Literature search is fundamental, especially in today’s electronic era. Thus, keywords are important to help search engines find relevant papers. Keywords should be specific and should not include words on the title. Note that different journals have different requirements for keywords by which the article can be indexed by abstracting engines. To set an example, for an article titled “Direct observation of nonlinear optics in an isolated carbon nanotube,” poor keywords are “molecule” and “optics,” while strong keywords include “single-molecule interaction” and “Kerr effect” (“Structuring your manuscript”). High rankings will increase the number of readers and citations and improve the communication of scientific findings worldwide. Note that search engine optimization is important not only in research but across a wide variety of business environments.
The IMRaD format can improve the internal structure of scientific manuscripts. At the same time, display items and visuals can also facilitate readability and peer review. In fact, display items such, as figures and tables, are the most effective way to communicate complex information and significant results. Well-designed visual items can attract readers and give a professional appearance to a manuscript. To support objective research, authors should avoid the manipulation of images and state any software processing used in the study analysis.
- Tables: Tables are among the most effective display items used to describe large amounts of data. Aspects, such as captions, categories, and font type, should be clear and readable. Most of all, display items should supplement not repeat the text.
- Figures: Figures can also convey essential information in an attractive manner. Some of the common types used in scientific writing include images, data plots, maps, and schematics. Interestingly, schematics contain drawings that the author chooses when it’s difficult to capture an image. Note that color models and resolutions may differ between online publications and publications in print.
In addition to the IMRaD framework, authors should consult the specific requirements of their target journal. Formatting the manuscript (e.g., character limits, references, conflicts of interest, consent, and permissions) can improve the submission process and the chances of success. After all, publishing the results is a key factor for medical advancement.
Given the fact that publications communicate scientific findings, scientific publishing becomes fundamental for medical progress. IMRaD, which is an abbreviation for Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and, Discussion, is the most popular framework used for the structure of a scientific journal article. Having clear standards supports the art of scientific writing, without limiting the creative process. IMRaD makes manuscripts easy to read, which improves the review process and supports reproducible science. In addition, abstracts, titles, keywords, and display items improve literature searches and research credibility.
With the increasing use of health technologies, the communication of knowledge will continue to speed up scientific progress. It’s no surprise that impact factors have become fundamental metrics in research and scientific publishing a key component in the advancement of science (Wu, 2011). Consequently, standardized production and publication standards will continue to evolve to accommodate the rapid growth in scientific research.
In the end, the IMRaD (Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and, Discussion) framework is a key component in scientific writing and medical advances and a major factor for scientific publishing success.
- Sollaci, L. & Pereira, M. (2004). The introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD) structure: a fifty-year survey. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 92 (3), p. 364-371.
- Structuring your manuscript (2019). Retrieved from https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/authorandreviewertutorials/writing-a-journal-manuscript/author-academy/10534936
- Wu, J. (2011). Improving the writing of research papers: IMRAD and beyond. Landscape Ecology, 26 (10), p. 1345-1349.