Research Article Structure
The key sections typically used in research articles include (1) the introduction/background, (2) literature review, (3) methods, (4) results, (5) discussion, and (6) the conclusion. The introduction and literature review are sometimes not distinguished as separate sections. The choice of sections will also depend on the research topic and aims, and each section can introduce more subsection, but all research articles need to discuss the study aims and their hypotheses in the first section of the article. For example, a study on exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by Hembree et al. (2003) presents previous research on exposure therapy and discusses the hypotheses of the study in the introduction. A longitudinal study on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by Sciberras et al. (2013) presents the prevalence rates of ADHD and proceeds with three subsections that review studies on ADHD (behavioral outcomes, community-based studies, and predictors of developmental outcomes) while the last subsection presents the aims of the current study.
The methods section usually contains subsections that present descriptive statistics about their participants, measures taken at baseline and follow-up, and the procedures used in the study. If a study is a randomized controlled trial, it will also have to discuss the randomization strategy used (Cummings & Fristad, 2007). Larger cohort studies should also justify their large sample size for increasing transparency (Sciberras et al., 2013).
The results section presents the empirical results of the data analysis, and those results are later discussed in the context of the aims of the study. The main purpose of the discussion section is to confirm or reject the initial hypothesis, but it is also used to compare results with previous studies, recommend practical implications, and consider the strengths and limitations of the study. Finally, the researchers can summarize their findings in the conclusion, but some papers end with the discussion section (e.g. Miranda & Jesús Presentación, 2000).
In order to evaluate the quality and reliability of a study, a researcher must evaluate the study’s adherence to the scientific method. According to the scientific method, experimental research must have a purpose (i.e. solve a problem), present the current knowledge of the topic, predict the outcome of the study (i.e. develop a hypothesis), develop a study design, perform the study, record and analyze the results, and compare the hypothesis with the outcomes. Following all of those stages makes the study transparent and replicable. A study needs to be replicable so that other researchers can repeat a similar study and compare their findings. If a study does not clarify the procedures and data analysis methods used, it cannot be replicated and does not contribute to the body of knowledge on the topic investigated.
In some instances, the transparency of the study can also help a researcher identify the fallacies in the study design that could affect the generalization of the findings. For example, Miranda and Jesús Presentación (2000) divided their sample (children with ADHD) into the group with aggressive behavior and the group without aggressive behavior. However, the group without aggressive behavior is not a suitable control for the group with aggressive behavior, so the efficacy of the intervention cannot be compared between the groups. Without a proper control, it would be false to conclude that anger management improves outcomes in children with ADHD and aggressive behavior.
Research in Behavioral Sciences
Research in behavioral sciences is important because it provides empirical evidence that clarifies the relationship between various factors (e.g. social norms, cultural background, attitudes, and values) and human behavior. For example, Sciberras et al. (2013) aimed to investigate community-based factors that affect ADHD trajectories, which would clarify the relationship between social factors and the behavioral development of children with ADHD.
Research papers in behavioral sciences can also be used to develop evidence-based practices for behavioral interventions. For example, the study by Cummings and Fristad (2007) found that psychoeducational interventions could reduce the amount of medicine prescribed to children with ADHD. Another study found that self-control training complemented with anger management in aggressive children with ADHD can reduce the instances of aggressive behavior and improve treatment outcomes (Miranda & Jesús Presentación, 2000).
Basic and Applied Research
The purpose of basic research is to explore a relatively unknown topic and propose a framework for future studies or identify and map a wide scope of independent variables that produce a certain outcome. For example, the study by Sciberras et al. (2013) was designed to collect information that would allow them to identify and map factors associated with ADHD symptom severity and development in childhood. Their research will not have practical implications, but it can improve the understanding of ADHD symptom trajectories and direct future research in the field.
The purpose of applied research is to provide a solution to a specific problem, and the findings of those studies have practical implications. For example, it was considered that exposure therapy increases the drop-out rates in PTSD patients, so the systematic review by Hembree et al. (2003) compared the drop-out rates for exposure therapy and other therapies (e.g. cognitive therapy, anxiety management, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc.). The drop-out rates were consistent across all interventions, so the researchers concluded that exposure therapy is safe and can be implemented in clinical practice (Hembree et al., 2003).
Ethical issues in studies can include protection from harm, confidential data protection, deception, and failure to collect informed consent from the participants. In order to ensure that studies follow ethical regulations in research, most studies need to obtain approval from an ethics committee. For example, the study by Sciberras et al. (2013) received approval from the Human Research Ethics Committees of the Royal Children’s Hospital. The study by Hembree et al. (2003) did not require approval because it was a systematic review. However, the study by Miranda and Jesús Presentación (2000) and the study by Cummings and Fristad (2007) do not disclose whether the studies were granted approval. Those researchers also failed to disclose how informed consent was collected from the participants, and they did not discuss the mechanisms in place to protect confidential data and to protect the participants from harm.
As I go further into this course, I would like to explore the efficacy of behavioral treatments for disruptive behavior disorders (e.g. ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder). I would also like to explore how childhood-onset antisocial behaviors affect social integration during adulthood. Finally, I am interested in learning more about the clinical implications of cognitive-behavioral therapy for different psychological disorders (e.g. major depression disorder, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, etc.).
The only sources of information I would consider to explore those topics are peer-reviewed journals, such as the Psychological Bulletin, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Behavior Modification, Journal of Applied Psychology, and the Journal of Counseling Psychology. In order to obtain articles from those journals, I could use a variety of databases, such as Academic OneFile, ProQuest, EBSCO, or PsycARTICLES.
Cummings, C. M., & Fristad, M. A. (2007). Medications prescribed for children with mood disorders: effects of a family-based psychoeducation program. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 15(6), 555-562.
Hembree, E. A., Foa, E. B., Dorfan, N. M., Street, G. P., Kowalski, J., & Tu, X. (2003) Do patients drop out prematurely from exposure therapy for PTSD? Journal of Traumatic Stress, 16(6), 555–62.
Miranda, A., & Jesús Presentación, M. (2000). Efficacy of cognitive‐behavioral therapy in the treatment of children with ADHD, with and without aggressiveness. Psychology in the Schools, 37(2), 169-182.
Sciberras, E., Efron, D., Schilpzand, E. J., Anderson, V., Jongeling, B., Hazell, P., & Nicholson, J. M. (2013). The Children's Attention Project: a community-based longitudinal study of children with ADHD and non-ADHD controls. BMC Psychiatry, 13(1), 1-11. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-18