Academic Paper Format

You will notice that there is no clear academic paper format. Hence, each conference, journal or institutions have its various academic paper format. Many students (undergraduates and postgraduates) will get to write academic papers. Also, academic papers are necessary for the advancement and promotion of individuals in academia based on the present “publish or perish” model. Various governmental and non-governmental organizations also write academic papers.

Good knowledge of academic papers is therefore essential for excellent success while in school and advancement in career. A good format is usually life-saving when writing an article or piece. This post presents a format for an academic paper; majorly, based on standards used by Nigerian universities.

There are different ACADEMIC PAPER FORMATs. It all depends on the journal, conference and or institution to define what is expected.

Generally used academic paper format

  • An Abstract: This provides a summary of the paper and comes first in the arrangement while it is the last content to be written. After all, you cannot Abstract from what is not in existence.
  • Introduction: This provides a clue to what you are going to do or say in the academic paper.
  • Background Statement/Background of the Study: This is often organized from the variables the topic tends to cover.
  • Problem Statement/Statement of the Problem: Here, the rationale for the study is been stated. In some papers or conferences, this section is integrated into the background information provided which provides the exit door of the background and offers the reason or the need for such enquiry. In some cases, it will end by providing the research objectives which will lead to the research questions.
  • Research Question (If Empirical Paper): Here, the Research Questions (RQ) are been stated from the variables in the study.
  • Literature Review: This is the part that brings in what other authors or writers have to as related to the topic under investigation.
  • Methodology: This is the part that states the research method to be adopted which will define the study design, area of the study, the population of the study, the sample and sampling technique, the instrument for data collection, validity and reliability of the instruments, the instrument for data analysis, the decision rule and others depending on what is required.
  • Results: This will present the result from the analysed data and finally make your input based on your observations and possible inferences that will lead to a probable conclusion.
  • Summary/Conclusion: Here, the writers say What he has already said by concluding based on the inferences drawn from the research study. Sometimes, the Summary is separated from the Conclusion as a different subheading. When this happens, you are expected to split the content but where it is not; you are to summarise what you have done before you conclude.
  • References: This is where you provide the list of references used based on the referencing style you are expected or instructed to use (APA, MLA, Harvard, Turabian among others).
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The academic paper format as explained below is the parts almost seen in most papers and you can pick the important parts as related to your paper.



This section as the names imply introduces the main concepts and terms in the academic paper. It is usually formatted in this order

  • Background to the study or Introduction

Here the major concepts are defined. This section should be more than two pages depending on the institution’s recommendation. A first-timer can get through this section by focusing on definition along with an overview of the key concepts in the paper.

The writer has to have identified the key topics before writing this section. It is of note that this section exists to “tell the background story” behind the problem been solved by the research or academic work.

  • Problem Statement

Here the problem the research is focused on is clearly explained. The problem to be solved has to be very clear; statistics are usually helpful in this area.

  • Aims and objectives

This area presents the major focus of the research points. Some scholars differentiate aims and objectives based on the number. Aims are viewed as one while objectives are more than one.

  • Research questions

This section presents the questions the research aims to answer. As expected, the questions are punctuated appropriately with a question mark

  • Hypothesis

A hypothesis is defined as an intelligent guess. Most research or academic work is focused on a hypothesis such as an association or relationship between variables.

A hypothesis can be stated as a null or alternative hypothesis based on the institution’s requirement.

  • Delimitation

This is simply described as “marking the boundary of research work”. Research is usually conducted on a narrow area and this section clearly shows that area the research is focused on. This is to prevent the wrong generalization of research findings

  • Limitation

As the name implies, this section presents factors or things that might limit the quality of the research finding. One common limitation of questionnaire-based research is “social desirability bias”. This bias posits that people tend to paint themselves in a better picture or position than they are.

  • Operation definition of terms
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This is the definition of key terms in the research as they would be used in the research. For example, the age range for the elderly varies; some use 60 years and above and some 65 years and above. It is in this section that such controversy is clarified.


CHAPTER TWO – Academic Paper Format


This chapter presents a comprehensive and detailed description of concepts, topics and findings in the areas the research is focused on. It is more like prose or essay. However, it is made up of scientific findings and adequately referenced. It is usually very voluminous and might be up to 100 pages in a doctoral thesis.

This chapter also has a theoretical framework which is basically the ‘skeleton the research area is built on”. A theoretical framework is the theories behind all the concepts, models and operations in research work. Also, some literature reviews present the model used for the review.

Models are usually unique to the research area or discipline. Further, some literature reviews contain a short review or presentation of key details such as title, authors, date of publication, country of study, population, sample size, the instrument used, key findings, etc., of a number of similar researches in the area. The literature review helps to get a very good grasp and understanding of the research area.


CHAPTER THREE – Academic Paper Format


*** Formatting of this section widely varies

4.1.1    Population

The individuals studied in the research is explained

4.1.2    Inclusion criteria

This is a list of conditions the individuals in the population of interest must meet before they can be involved in the research

4.1.3 Exclusion criteria

This is an area or feature that disqualifies a member of the population of interest if such a feature is present in the person.

4.2. Materials

Here the materials e.g. questionnaires, instruments, etc to be used in research are presented and explained in detail

4.3.1    Sample size

The number of individuals to be involved in the research is presented based on a chosen formula

4.3.2    Sample selection

Here, the method by which these individuals are included in the study is selected and recruited is explained.

4.4       Data analysis

The statistical tools to be used to analyze the data obtained are presented in this section

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4.5       Ethical approval and data collection

The procedure involved in obtaining ethical approval and collecting data from respondents is explained clearly and in detail.




Some institutions combine both results and discussion in chapter four while some retain only results in chapter four. Therefore, formatting this should be based on the institutions’ requirements.

4.1       Results

This section presents the findings of the research work only. Only here is used to emphasize that the result section contains findings of the “authors present work” and not other works. Results are usually presented in works, descriptive statistics (mean, median, mode, frequency, percentage, percentile, charts- pie chart, area chart, bar chart, etc.), inferential statistics (chi-square, regression, one-way ANOVA, Independent T-test, Spearman correlation among others).

4.2       Discussion

This section first presents a key finding from the research work, compare and contrasts the finding with that of previous research and explains the reason for the similarities or differences.



5.1       Summary

As the name suggests, this section summarizes each chapter of the research work. Some scholars recommend summarizing each chapter in a paragraph

5.2       Conclusion

This is the part where the academic work is rounded off. Key findings are presented and the implications of the research is explained.

5.3       Recommendations

Here the writer makes “recommendations”- things that should be changed or added based on findings of the research work.


In this section, the complete list of materials or articles cited is listed. This listing and formatting are based on the required referencing style, depending on the supervisor or institutions.


Other important details for the research that are not necessary for the main body is attached here. The following are the list of items commonly in the appendix

  1. Informed consent sheet
  2. Instrument (such as a questionnaire)
  3. Ethical approval document
  4. Datasheet (containing the data obtained in the research), etc.

This is where we bring it to an end today on the Topic: Academic Paper Format. Do you have a question? You can use the comment box to drop your question and we will respond to it as soon as possible.

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