Structure of a journal article

A journal is a collection of articles on a specific subject area as selected by an editorial board. Journals are published periodically, often throughout a year. Learn about the differences between an academic journal and trade journal.

Components of a journal article

While academic journal articles will vary depending on discipline or type of research, they usually contain the following elements:


  • The title of the article should give some idea of the topic.

Author details

  • Author names will usually be listed in full under the title.
  • Author affiliations may be listed under the title or at the end of the article.
  • Conflicts of interest held by the authors or other involved parties may also be listed towards the end of an article.


  • An abstract provides an outline of what the article is about, addressing:
    • why it was written
    • how the research was conducted
    • an indication of the findings.


  • Keywords are assigned by the author or database to identify the subject of the article.


  • An introduction summarises:
    • why the research was conducted
    • the aims of the research
    • what will be covered in the article.

Literature review

  • This section provides an overview of existing research that:
    • justifies the need for the article’s own research
    • positions the article’s research within a gap in existing literature
    • introduces theories and provides context to the audience.
  • In secondary review articles, the literature review is the focus of the research instead of the background to primary research and is therefore detailed in the methodology and results sections.


  • In primary research articles, this is a detailed section describing how the research was conducted, the reasons why certain methodologies were used, and limitations of the chosen approach.
  • In secondary review articles, this section may outline the search strategy, which databases were used, and how results were analysed. It may also include the research methodology used to construct a case study.


  • This section presents the outcomes of the research and may include charts and data.


  • This section includes observations from applying the chosen methodology, interpretation and analysis of findings, and reflections on insights gained from the research.


  • This section provides a summary of the article, with particular focus on key findings and suggestions for future research.

Reference list

  • A reference list contains the details of all information sources cited in the article.
  • A bibliography additionally includes suggested further reading and information. Note that a bibliography is not the same as a reference list. Academic literature should have a reference list, although some academic books may have a bibliography as well.


  • An appendix provides supplementary details, usually regarding how the research was carried out or analysed.
  • This section may include search strategies, survey or interview questions, or full sets of results.