Outline of the Structure of Research Articles in the Social Sciences

Structure of empirical research articles in the social sciences

Why is the structure important?

You are building an article.

The structure is key.

A social scientist reading an empirical article in a social science journal expects that the article has a familiar organizational structure. The author’s job is to satisfy the audience. You can satisfy the audience by satisfying their curiosity, their love of intellectual puzzles, or their desire to understand the issue and replicate the author’s findings.

There is a standard structure. Deviations from the standard are acceptable within limits; if the author deviates, the reader must easily understand the logical flow of the structure.

In this post, I present the basic structure of a research article in the social sciences. Be sure to visit the Academic Writing page to learn how to write each section.

What is the structure of a research article in the social sciences?

The standard structural elements of a research article in the social sciences are:

I. Introduction

Cites the relevant literature, states the research topic, poses the research question and answers “So What?” Read more on how to write an introduction.

II. Theories and Hypotheses

This section contains an in-depth exposition of theories relevant to the article and clearly stated hypotheses.

III. Data and Methods

Description of data, variables and methods of social inquiry are clear enough for someone to replicate your results. Read more on how to write the data and methods section.

IV. Results

All most important parts of tables, graphs and the like are clearly interpreted and put in language that the reader recognizes. The author personally and formally addresses the hypotheses.

V. Conclusion and/or Discussion

This section has no standard form and may contain the following (not necessarily in order): summary of article (question, theory, hypotheses, data and main results); restatement of the answer to So What and the implications of your results for new theoretical or methodological directions; explanation of the weird things you found in your analyses that you didn’t expect to find; limitations of the research; suggestions for future research, including new theory or other empirical articles that should be written; practical implications and policy suggestions; and speculations. Some folks think that conclusions should not present any new information. Others think this is the place for speculations and interesting and relevant stuff that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else (like the footnotes). There isn’t even a consensus on what to call this section.

Read more on how to write the conclusion section.

And for qualitative articles…


If the empirical article is a case study (of a country, a village, and so on), a demographic, political, economic and social description of the physical or virtual place in which the objects of your study interact. Settings can be placed after theory and before methods.

And there you have it!

The structure of a research article in the social sciences starts with a title and abstract, and then has an introduction, theory (and hypotheses) section, data and methods, results, conclusion, and references. Don’t forget the acknowledgements!

And if you want to know more, read also Who is an author, and what are substantial contributions.

Joshua K. Dubrow is a PhD from The Ohio State University and a Professor of Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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