Writing an effective research paper requires proper structuring into expected sections that guide readers logically through key elements. Academic audiences expect papers to follow certain conventions. This article outlines the standard parts that comprise complete nursing research papers.

What are the Most Important Sections of a Research Paper?

Writing a research paper requires standard sections familiar to academics that logically walk readers through a stated thesis, analysis, and conclusions. Parts of a common research paper include:

Title Page / Cover Page

The title of the paper states the formal name, contributors like authors and advisors, institutional affiliation of the authors, submission specifics per publication guidelines, dates, and frequently an author note citing research funding sources. These can be done in MLA style or APA style research paper formats.

Example nursing paper title page:

Understanding New Graduate Nurse Transitions into Professional Practice: An Ethnography

Jane Smith, MSN, RN1, Judy Park, MSN, RN2

Author Affiliations:
1University of California, Nursing Department 2Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

Paper submitted to Nursing Administration Quarterly, March 2023

Funded by Cedar-Sinai Intramural Nursing Research Grant

The cover page provides quick insight into paper themes, writers, settings, and details against backdrops like university departments.


An abstract is usually pretty short – typically under 250 words maximum. Sometimes even shorter, around 150 words in length for middle school papers.

Writing the abstract comes first, before the paper’s main body. It provides an overview of the study design, how it was conducted, early findings without details, and what the preliminary results could mean in just 1-2 paragraphs.

A well-written abstract acts like a hook to grab attention quickly so a reader becomes interested enough to keep flipping pages. It presents just enough without giving everything away all at once, right at the start. Let people know if it’s worth their time to dive into the full study details or not.

A sample scientific research paper abstract:

Background: New graduate nurses often experience stressful transitions adjusting from academic to fast-paced, demanding hospital environments. This ethnography examined facilitators and barriers that shape new nurse onboarding experiences in the first years.  Methods: Researchers shadowed a cohort of 12 newly graduated nurses over one year, observing behaviors and interviewing participants and stakeholders to assess perspectives. The Critical Ethnography conceptual framework guided data gathering and interpretation.  Results: New nurses needed guided support in building technical skills and situational confidence to reduce anxiety and turnover intentions. Peer coaching and graduated responsibility models were most effective when embraced by leadership.  Conclusions: Structured mentoring, skills laboratories, and culture assimilation processes enable successful new nurse transitions into fulfilling careers requiring investments offset by retention.

The tight abstract overview gives readers insight into the ethnography’s purpose, methodology, key learnings, and resulting implications.

Introduction and Statement of the Problem

The introduction section is where you first explain the main research topic and why it is important to investigate. Provide some background details that the reader needs to know to understand the topic and questions.

Clearly state the specific research problems, questions, or ideas that your paper will focus on answering. This gives purpose and direction to readers early on.

Give a quick overview explaining how the sections later in your paper will be organized to address the research problems step-by-step. Briefly preview the structure so readers know what to expect.

Discuss whether other studies have looked at this topic and what their main findings were. Cite some existing literature as a lead-up to how your research projects expand knowledge.

Explain why this topic and research questions are worthwhile to explore. Discuss what real-world applications the investigation might have going forward. Help readers care by showing greater detail and significance.

A nursing research paper introduction example:

Demand for nurses expanding amidst shortages requires retaining newly graduated nurses during stressful transitions from academia to demanding hospital environments marked by fast decisions (Smith & Park, 2021). However, the 2018-2020 average new registered nurse (RN) turnover rate reached 38%, indicative of poor onboarding and assimilation (Nursing Solutions Inc., 2022). The financial and operational impacts of elevated attrition mandate evidence-based onboarding improvements for successful new nurse transitions to professional practice.  This ethnography examines the central research question: What cultural, emotional, and procedural facilitators and obstacles shape new nurse onboarding experiences in first years? Secondary questions probe optimal procedures supporting transition success evident in assigned mentors, staggered responsibilities, culture assimilation, and confidence building, leveraging findings to derive supportive evidence-based onboarding improvements.  Following the standard ethnography structure outlined by Schensul and LeCompte (1999), the methods and results section categorizes observations, interview responses, and data interpretation through the conceptual Critical Ethnography framework contextualizing dynamics enabling or discouraging effective novice nurse transitions.

The background frames the nursing turnover problem and motivation for the ethnography approach selected to explore transition challenges aimed at constructive improvements. Literature groundings are attached to themes later analyzed. The writing preview structure is used across paper sections as well.

Limitations of Study

Every study has some flaws in how it was designed or carried out. The limitations section discusses weaknesses in the research methods, data, or analysis that may impact overall conclusions.

Point out where accuracy could be off due to the specific approaches used to run experiments, collect data, examine variables, or logically make sense of results. Note gaps that existed.

Explain that real-world constraints like small sample sizes, limited budgets, assumptions made, and technologies available can also affect the research in good faith efforts. Perfection is never possible.

For the new nurse transition-focused ethnography paper:

Limitations include examining a small cohort sample (n=12) from one regional hospital system. Additional data gathering from expanded nurse groups and differently structured U.S. hospitals could reveal further cultural variances affecting transition patterns. Lengthier observations across years could strengthen reliability in assessing transition arc effects as well. Results may not wholly transfer across differently configured hospital systems, orientation models, or repertoire of mentor resources.

Research Methodology

The methodology section explains the specific techniques the researcher used to collect data and conduct the study. This allows readers to understand and evaluate the process.

Describe in detail what methods were chosen, qualitative or quantitative research, how measurements or data collection methods were performed, data that was collected, statistical tests, what tools were utilized, the schedule or steps followed, and why these choices support the credibility of the findings.

Don’t just share results. Show the scientific work so readers feel confident in the procedures versus just taking the researcher’s word blindly. Explain the reasonable rationale for rigorous choices.

Our example paper discusses:

Ethnography was selected by embracing immersive qualitative data gathering from enculturated participants within hospital settings through field observations, stakeholder interviews, media, and detailed note-taking (Schensul & LeCompte, 1999). This exploratory, inductive approach suits unpacking complex socialization dynamics.  A cohort of 12 newly graduated nurses beginning careers across units of a large Southern California hospital formed primary participants shadowed over one year. Meeting weekly with individuals and groups generated dialogues plus 500 pages of typed field notes. Additionally, 150 pages of transcripts resulted from 20 separate leadership stakeholder interviews regarding perceptions of existing and ideal conditions influencing transitions.  The Critical Ethnography framework (Sohng, 1996) guided the thematic qualitative data programming code, analysis, and interpretation, emphasizing participant perspectives revealing institutional, social, and ideological influences on transition phenomenon within the embedded hospital system culture.

The methodology details precise ethnography evidence collection, analysis, and interpretation methods, providing academic transparency.

Literature Review

The literature review summarizes and discusses relevant text in the paper, previous writings, and research studies that are relevant to the current topic or questions the paper will investigate.

It gives an overview of relevant background knowledge, influential thinkers’ viewpoints, important discoveries so far, ongoing debates, and places where past analysis left gaps that now call for fresh examination.

The literature review shows what has already been covered well enough and what lingering mysteries remain that can motivate exploring new directions through additional contemporary studies like the one you plan to conduct.

Writing a literature review acknowledges the vital groundwork established by earlier investigations before hoping to advance another layer of understanding through the research undertaken here and now.

Our nursing transition-focused paper discusses:

Smith & Park (2021) quantified significantly higher two-year RN turnover rates for newly graduated nurses compared to rates for experienced existing hospital nurses. Similar findings by Nursing Solutions Inc. (2022) across 650 U.S. hospitals from 2018-2020 determined average new graduate nurse turnover reached 38% in the first year of practice.  While research documents turnover issues plaguing new nurses and corresponding high hospital costs (Colosi, 2022), limited ethnographic examinations explore detailed cultural dynamics influencing transitions. Pellico et al. (2009) examined acculturation challenges but lacked perspectives linking onboarding protocols to outcomes. Kramer et al. (2013) surveyed role difficulties but did not tie findings directly to infrastructure recommendations.  This ethnography aimed to address gaps linking enculturated observational data from new nurses individually and collectively with corresponding ethnographic interviews assessing stakeholder views of existing and envisioned supportive transition programming. The goal was to derive evidence-based improvements.

Main Body of Paper/Argument

In your introduction, explain how you will break the paper into clear sections by topics or themes. These sections should group similar ideas from research together in a way that flows logically.

When writing your research paper, ensure each section discusses the main point and uses data, quotes, and examples from literature to back it up directly. Attach evidence from sources to the topic statements and arguments they prove.

As you build from section to section, highlight any overlaps in what studies or sources are saying. Synthesize them by tying together common themes that have emerged related to your topic across research.

Keep linking arguments in every section back to the key research questions or hypotheses outlined at the beginning that drive the whole paper. Check that topics tie directly to understanding those starting focus goals that will guide the writing process.

Our example structures thematically into three logical categories:

Onboarding   Experience Observations: Recurring cultural themes noted included anxiety stemming from limited clinical experience coupled with heavy burdens, discouragements from veteran nurse preceptors, and real-time pressures...  Stakeholder Perspectives on Transition Supports: Leadership staff, educators, and experienced preceptors shared across interviews advantages and disadvantages perceived regarding current unit onboarding programming strengths, gaps, and recommendations...  Synthesis:   Transition Optimization Model: The data collectively suggests an onboarding model merging graduated clinical and situational responsibilities while elevating humanistic culture supports, guidance access, and growth mindset skills building to enhance transitions...


The conclusion section restates the most important findings from the study without introducing any new data or arguments. Summarize the overall answers reached to the initial research questions outlined earlier.

Reference back to original goals or problems raised at the outset that have now been essentially addressed through cumulative analyses tied up neatly as the paper trails off.

Discuss the significance of the research and the main conclusions drawn. What insights have been uncovered, and why do they matter looking ahead? What new wisdom is available thanks to this work?

While tying up key loose ends, note remaining mysteries worthy of future examination that this current piece has brought into sharper focus but not definitively mapped fully yet despite headway.

Our nursing paper concludes:

The ethnography findings reveal new nurses face anxiety-inducing burdens as cultural assimilation obstacles thwart initial career transitions within hospitals. However, evidence shows mentor guidance access coupled with graduated responsibility programming fosters coping skills, improving retention outcomes.  This analysis positively addresses originally stated inquiries seeking factors that optimally or adversely influence productive new nurse transitions against contemporary literature gaps. The synthesized data proposes an onboarding model incorporating staged supports. Future examinations could help validate model generalizability across additional new nurse cohorts.  Overall, hospitals must evolve transition programming and care climate dimensions with empathy to enable new nurse assimilation, well-being, and career persistence as retirements accelerate contemporary shortages.

Works Cited/Bibliography

The Works Cited or Bibliography page lists out the full details of every source that the paper references, pulls quotes from, or uses data and ideas from.

By fully citing sources like articles, websites, academic books, and peer-reviewed journals, you have all the specifics another person would need to go locate those original external references themselves if they wanted to review the source content or follow up for more context.

Listing out citations proves to readers that you did large background research, provides traceability to credible sources rather than just making up information, and allows readers the option to further examine the basis of facts claimed themselves.

In scholarly papers, full attribution to earlier thinking through citations shows respect to other researchers and meets academic requirements, allowing concepts to be reliably and precisely traced back to origins.


The Appendix comes after the paper’s main sections and includes any supplementary materials, data, or explanations that are helpful additions but not critical to have within the body content itself.

Detailed charts, surveys used, secondary methodologies, expanded definitions, or other text extras can go in appendices to provide background support without overloading or disrupting the smoothness of the prime literature review, methods, findings, etc.

Think of the Appendix as a sidebar – not central but great supplemental when more context is needed. Readers can explore appendices optionally without losing the main story flow if the extra stuff is left stuck in the key meat of a paper.

The sample nursing paper above could contain:

  • Survey instruments used during nurse interviews
  • Statistical turnover figures for newly graduated nurses
  • Hospital case turnover cost calculations
  • Abbreviations and definitions
  • Charts illustrating the proposed optimal onboarding model

Structuring nursing research papers using these standardized academia-proven segments optimizes coherent flow and comprehension. Follow traditional divisions from introduction through analyzed evidence to conclusions bounded by completeness elements like the sources that are cited in the research paper and appendices for elevated credibility in academic writing.

Conclusion on The Research Paper Structure

Academic research papers use standard sections like the ones explained to carefully walk readers through complicated studies. Organizing information this way makes complex ideas and analyses easier to follow.

Introductions set the context, literature reviews show existing knowledge, methods provide credibility, data presents proof, discussions interpret meaning, and conclusions summarize key takeaways. The flow of a research paper outline feels purposeful rather than all over the place.

Formatting research papers with these textbook sections shows you how scholarly communication works. Using the norms underscores you can be trusted because you demonstrate mastery of academic standards.

Structuring papers properly, section by section makes difficult concepts more understandable. And showing you can craft reasonable flow while meeting expectations helps convince readers your smart analysis deserves belief.