Q: How could the current requirements of research papers be improved to be more useful to non-academics?

Detailed Question -

I'm currently writing a paper where my goal is to introduce a format where people can use an academic research paper to learn, rather than just for research. While my goal isn't to change the world of writing research papers, my goal is to create a style like MLA or APA - but meant to teach the average person about new ideas and new information. Thank you for your time.

1 Answer to this question

This is a very interesting scenario: a researcher writing a research paper on how to improve the format of research papers for non-researchers. We can respond to your query in several ways.


Firstly, the answer lies perhaps in your question itself: modern science and research do seem to be looking to be more useful and even more appealing to the lay person. This is evident in so many ways. Abstracts are now also visual – whether graphic or video – allowing readers to grasp the premise of the study in a snapshot. There are lay summaries, which aim to make research more accessible to the public. Individual researchers also keep experimenting and innovating with the research presentation format. In this post, the researcher talks of how she “flipped the presentation format” – to have the conclusion toward the beginning rather than toward the end of the paper – for greater impact. And to go a bit beyond, research communication is adopting various formats too, from infographics to videos to podcasts. The research paper format will keep evolving (and will need to), just the way science does.


So, in your case, as you would well know, you could begin with the needs of your audience. Answers to questions such as ‘Who is my audience?’ ‘What do they want from a research paper?’ ‘What do they not want from it?’ and ‘How do they best learn?’ would provide a direction for this new format. You would then arrive at a structure – removing or modifying existing elements and sections and including new ones – that you could then test out to give an initial form and then to make it robust.


However, we are just not sure of one aspect: how or why the new research paper format would be like the MLA or APA, which are guides for content formatting and style? You seem to be looking to create an innovative format for the structure of a research paper; therefore, I would think that your format would build upon the IMRAD structure and make it more useful for lay persons. However, we understand this is something you are exploring in your study, and shall therefore leave for you to determine.


As your query and study look like ones that will benefit from different perspectives, we hope and urge members here to respond and take the discussion forward.


Finally, do let us know the outcome of your research, as much of our work revolves around research papers. If interested, you may also share your story with us. You may do this as a guest contributor (find more information about this here) or as a researcher story (find more information about this here).


All the best with your research!