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The 7 Types of Academic Papers and Journal Articles


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In the vast universe of journal articles, writers are tasked with creating many different kinds of papers, all with specific purposes and audiences in mind. If you're just stepping into this fascinating world, take a minute or two to familiarize yourself with the types of papers you might need to write – understanding all of these different types can turbocharge your writing journey. While academic papers could fit into an endless list of categories, it's helpful to get started with a few common types you're likely to encounter (and write!) in the academic community.

1. Original research

You know a text is original research if the report is written by the researchers who ran the study. Written by experts for other experts, original research articles usually undergo the peer review process before submission to an academic journal.

In an original article, the authors outline their research by first presenting their hypothesis and research questions. Here they describe the purpose of their study. They detail the research methods they applied, lay out the results of their research, and present the results. Original research also includes implications and interpretations of the study to give other experts in the field new information on all of the subjects. What's really interesting about original research is that, upon reading a study, future researchers will generate ideas to build on articles with their own original research and keep the advancement of knowledge acquisition going. The possibilities are endless!

Within the category of original research, you will encounter some specific kinds of research articles. Some studies can include elements of more than one type:

  • Exploratory research
    Exploratory studies involve a kind of thought experiment and don't often include actual testing of a theory. Without the funding (and the time, technology, and commitment) to actually travel to other planets, a physicist might propose a new method to find other planets that could support life beyond Earth.
  • Constructive research
    A person undergoing constructive research builds something that will lead to new information and knowledge and solve a real-life problem. If a computer scientist creates a new algorithm and tests it out to see what it can show us, they are demonstrating constructive research.
  • Controlled experiments
    This type of research is usually conducted in a lab under controlled conditions. The benefit of isolating one aspect of a study is that it provides a clear result of an experiment without the need to discount your findings in the presence of other factors that could skew the outcome. For example, a medical researcher might use this type of study to determine how a virus responds to an antiviral drug in development.
  • Field research
    An experiment in which some, but not all, aspects can be controlled is an example of field research. For example, a study on the effects of a pesticide on outdoor flowering plants involves a few outside forces that researchers might not be able to successfully manage. A researcher could compare the plants exposed to the pesticide with a plant without pesticide exposure, but they would have little control over the seed quality, sun exposure, rain amounts, or other natural factors.
  • Natural study
    Under a natural experiment, a researcher takes a purely observational role and has little to no control over the factors involved. For example, a natural experiment could measure the effects of a free lunch program piloted in multiple schools over a period of time.
  • Cohort study
    A cohort study offers an observational study design in which researchers follow a group of individuals over time and observe common characteristics or exposure to a specific element. The researchers then examine within that cohort of people the outcomes related to a particular factor, compared to people in a similar group without that factor. For example, a study might examine the long-term health effects of smoking and identify a group of individuals who smoke. The study would look at the development of lung cancer or other diseases within that group of smokers and compare the prevalence of disease compared to a group of non-smokers.

2. Retrospective study

A retrospective study looks back through time to observe the relationship between a characteristic or level of exposure and a health outcome that arises in individuals. This type of study uses existing records and data sources for its observations. An example of a retroactive study is one that examines the connection between the use of a medication and the prevalence of a specific side effect.

3. Case study

A research case study involves an in-depth investigation of a particular individual, group, or situation with a goal to understand the effect of complex factors. A researcher performing a case study collects a variety of data on a case, including interviews, observations, and documents, and analyzes them to identify patterns, themes, and insights that can help to understand the case in greater depth.

Research case studies are often used in fields such as psychology, sociology, and education to explore complex human behaviors and experiences. Researchers in various fields can apply this type of study to investigate the effects of a particular intervention on a specific individua or group or the factors that contribute to successful outcomes in a particular setting. For example, a case study could examine a successful company known for its innovative management practices. The researcher could conduct interviews with employees and managers, review company documents and reports, and observe the company's operations to uncover the factors that contribute to its success.

Research case studies provide a rich and detailed understanding of a particular situation, which supplies the researcher with powerful tools and insights for future research.

4. Methodology study

A methodology study focuses on evaluating and improving research methods and techniques for application to a research question or field of study. This type of study can examine the validity and reliability of a particular research instrument, such as a survey or questionnaire. In such an analysis, researchers can collect data from a sample of participants using a specific research instrument and then examine the data to assess the validity and reliability of the instrument. They could also compare the results obtained with the instrument to the results obtained using other research methods.

Methodology studies advance the research field by developing more effective methodologies and improving the quality of research conducted.

5. Opinion article

An opinion article expresses the author's personal viewpoint on a topic. Unlike a research article, an opinion article is not based on objective reporting or research but offers the author's subjective analysis without the need for evidence or peer review. Opinion articles can be found in newspapers, magazines, and online publications, often written by journalists or experts in a field who want to share their views.

An example of an opinion article is an op-ed piece in a newspaper or online publication. Op-eds are typically published on the editorial page of a newspaper or magazine and are written by individuals who are not affiliated with the publication. An op-ed article might argue in favor of or against a particular policy, offer a personal reflection on a current event, or provide commentary on a controversial issue. The author would use persuasive language and evidence to support the argument and try to convince readers to adopt the same viewpoint.

Opinion articles provide individuals with a way to share their ideas with a broader audience and to contribute to public debate and discourse.

6. Review article

A review article summarizes and synthesizes existing research. The goal is to provide a comprehensive overview and identify gaps in the current knowledge to see what further research should be done. Review articles are typically published in academic journals by researchers or experts in a field. They can take the form of narrative reviews, systematic reviews, or meta-analyses.

An example of a review article is a narrative review of the literature on the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for the treatment of anxiety disorders. The author might summarize and analyze randomized controlled trials and observational studies on the use of CBT, providing an overall assessment of the effectiveness of CBT for anxiety disorders and pointing out any yet unanswered questions about its application.

7. Short report

A short report presents the findings of a particular study or investigation. Named for its brevity, it is typically shorter in length than a full research paper or report and is intended to serve as a summary of the study's main findings.

Short reports include an introduction that provides background information on the study, a summary of the research methodology, a presentation of the key findings, and a conclusion that summarizes the main implications of the study. Short reports help researchers communicate their findings in a clear and concise manner and provide a summary of key information for different audiences.


If you're dipping your toes into academic writing or scholarly publishing, you'll find a world of different paper types, each with its own style, aim, and intended readers. It might seem like a lot to take in at first, but understanding these formats can seriously boost your ability to share your research and ideas. Plus, knowing the ins and outs of these various types means you can sift through published works more effectively, picking out the best sources for your own work. At the end of the day, this rich variety of academic papers and journal articles is what keeps the conversation lively in the scientific community, helping us all to keep learning and growing.

Header image by Dom Fou.

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