The structure of an academic text

Last changed: 26 June 2020
A man holds up a rubics cube, outside.

On this page, you get an overview of the structure scientific texts usually have. This structure is often used in bachelor and master theses, as well as in reports and scientific articles. But make sure to ask your teacher or supervisor what applies to your subject!

The most important parts of the scientific text’s structure are summarised on this page. For a more detailed description, we recommend Writingguide.se. In the SLU University Library’s modules, there are also tips on academic writing and language.

How your paper should be structured within your subject and at your department can differ from what is presented here. It is therefore important to have a dialogue with both your supervisor and other students in your study programme.   

Abstract

An abstract is a short summary of the main content of an academic paper, which is placed before the main text begins. All independent projects should include an abstract in English. The abstract should raise interest and give a brief overview of the paper’s content. The abstract should therefore be short but still contain the most important parts of the text. Therefore, remember to mention something about both aim, method, results and the conclusion.

Below the abstract you enter your keywords. These are mainly used to make it easier for others to find your paper. If you are unsure about which words to use to best describe the content in your paper you can discuss it with your supervisor. If you have any questions you can also contact the library for help.

Table of contents

The table of contents comes after the abstract. It makes it easier for the reader to orientate themselves within your paper and shows how the content is hierarchically structured. Both headings and subheadings are included in the table of contents (normally up to three heading levels). In the library’s thesis template the table of contents is automatically formatted to the standard for SLU papers. Bachelor and master theses should contain a table of contents, but for shorter papers this is rarely a requirement.  

The page numbering starts with the paper’s introduction. Content placed before the table of contents is not included.

After the table of contents, you may need to include lists for your tables and figures. Discuss with your supervisor if it is needed in your paper.

Introduction

In the introduction, you present the paper’s social and scientific background. Tell the readers why they should continue reading your text. Why is the topic current and important? Why is it interesting from your subject’s perspective? In the introduction, you also give relevant background information that the reader needs to understand your aim and research questions.

In the introduction you also introduce your paper’s most important part: aim and research questions. You should relate to these throughout your whole paper. Part of the introduction is also describing what previous research has shown within the same field and the theoretical background. In some disciplines, this is done in the first section, while in others it is done in a separate section. At the end of the introduction, you can also briefly describe the outline of the paper. 

Method

In the method section, you describe the method or methods you have used to answer the research questions presented in the introduction. What have you done? What methodological assumptions and positions have you taken? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the type of method you have chosen? You have to be able to justify the assumptions you have made. If it is relevant, you can also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of your approach in this section.

Results

In the results section of your paper you present your results. Be sure to give the results context by reminding the reader of how your aim, research questions and method connect to your results.

Discussion

The discussion is the section of the paper where you can comment on your own paper. Here you can in different ways give focus to interesting parts of your study but there are three parts that you should try to include in some form.

  • Refer to your aim and research questions, and answer and discuss the results based on these. Try to raise your study’s results to a general level – what consequences may your results have and how do your results hold up in relation to previous research?
  • Comment on your study with a critical perspective. How have your choices affected the study’s results? What could have been improved or made differently when you look back at it?
  • Give suggestions for further research. Now when we have gotten more knowledge about the world – what knowledge do we still lack?

Popular science summary

According to SLU guidelines (Utbildningshandboken), master theses should include a popular science summary in Swedish or English. Ask your supervisor on what is recommended in your field for this section.

References

For the majority of texts that you write during your education, you will need to use scientific literature to show where you have gotten the information and to support your arguments. These sources must be clearly presented in in-text references throughout your text as well as in a reference list at the end of your paper.

There are several ways to writing references both in the text and in the reference list. Different subjects have different traditions. The SLU University Library recommends the SLU Harvard style.

Page editor: ingela.wahlgren@slu.se