The base of the pyramid: Research articles

The research article is the most common type of scientific article in scholarly publishing. Widely regarded as the end product of the scientific search of a single or multiple individuals, research articles are expected to make a significant contribution to a scientific domain by building on previous studies and presenting original results that stem from complete research projects. Given their ubiquity in scholarly publishing and academic writing, in this blog post, we provide a practical overview of research articles primarily focusing on their parts, types, and link to the journal impact factor (JIF), which is hoped to be beneficial to junior and senior researchers alike.

Research articles: An introduction

Research Articles Journal Articles
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Categories of scientific literature

As the name suggests, research articles are part of scientific literature – but which domain do they belong to? In line with the above-presented definition, they are considered primary literature in that they are based on researchers’ own empirical data and analyses. As such, they can be easily distinguished from the other main types of scientific literature: Secondary literature (e.g., review articles) is known for synthesizing primary sources, tertiary literature (e.g., textbooks, handbooks) builds on primary and secondary sources to introduce a research domain, while gray literature includes pieces (e.g., pre-prints, post-prints) that are made available by sources other than journal and book publishers. Furthermore, research articles are different from non-scientific items included in academic journals, such as Letters to the Editors, Book Reviews, Conference reports, Society News, Editorials, Obituaries, and different types of Correction Notes.

Importance of research articles in the scientific community

Given that research articles are the primary building blocks of scientific literature, their importance within the scientific community is unquestionable. This salient role of research articles in the advancement of scientific knowledge has not always been the case throughout the history of science. As a matter of fact, it has been brought about by the advent of modern science, which places an increased emphasis on empirical evidence.

Parts of the research article

A research paper can typically be distinguished from other types of articles based on its structure. Its main parts are generally the following: introduction, theoretical background/literature review, research methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. In addition, research articles have an abstract at the beginning and a reference list at the end. They might also have an appendix, containing further information and material related to the original study. It needs to be stressed that this structure can vary according to the purpose of the study and the expectations of each research field.

Keywords and subject codes

Often research articles are equipped with keywords freely chosen by the authors. Depending on the research area, subject codes can also be linked to a research paper (such as JEL codes in economics, MSC codes in mathematics, PACS numbers in physics, and so on). Keywords and subject codes help the readers to find the relevant articles in various databases.

Distinguishing between research articles

Perhaps the most common distinction that can be made across research articles is whether they are peer-reviewed. There are different types of peer review: single-blind, double-blind, and open, which we elaborated on in an earlier blog post. While each of these has its advantages and disadvantages, what is safe to claim is that, on the whole, more prestige is attributed to peer-reviewed articles than those that have not gone through this form of quality check.

Types of research articles

What types of research articles are there?

Although research articles share certain characteristic features discussed above, they are not uniform in content and presentation style. In fact, they can be further classified into different types depending on the research purpose and the applied methods: Theoretical articles present principles, set up models, and contain computations or abstract proofs of theorems (Lapeña & Peh, 2020). Observational or experimental works, on the other hand, report on the collection and evaluation of real-life or virtual data and draw conclusions from their analysis; often testing or verifying theoretical models (Lapeña & Peh, 2020).

What works cannot be considered research articles?

It is equally important to understand what kinds of scientific works cannot be regarded as (original) research papers:

  • Abstracts of separate publications or oral presentations summarize and repeat information available elsewhere.
  • Publications of three similar types add further information, a different viewpoint or better clarification to another published work. An Addendum is typically written by the same author. The authors of Article Commentaries are normally invited by the journal editors, while Letters (to the Editors) may be submitted by any expert reader. In the latter two cases, the author of the commented paper may publish a Reply.
  • Journal editors may also invite experts to present their competing views on a certain (hot) topic and publish the resulting series of Discussion Papers.
  • Brief Reports and Rapid Communication are restricted to announcing some potentially ground-breaking research results without presenting many details. The detailed background is then spelled out in a separate research paper.
  • Case Reports are most common in medicine and the social sciences. They describe a single instance of some phenomenon (e.g., one patient with a certain disease) in some detail.
  • Dissertations are written by students to fulfill the requirements of a scientific degree. The original findings reported in a thesis are often presented in research papers, too. This is legitimate, that is, it is not meant to be self-plagiarism, provided that proper references are made.
  • The Introduction for a volume or a section of it overviews the articles in question and places them in a broader context, but rarely adds original results.
  • An Oration is a written form of a speech or an oral presentation.
  • Translations and Reprints of previously published papers obviously do not contain original research results.

The role of research articles in the journal impact factor

The JIF is an inevitable topic to discuss in connection with research articles. As we have already noted in an earlier blog post, it has a key role in the ranking of journals in that it tells us how many times a journal article is cited on average.

To calculate the JIF, the number of citations a journal received in a certain year to items published in the previous two years is divided by the number of citable items published in the preceding two years. Since citable items can only be research articles and review articles, a journal’s prestige is largely dependent on attracting research papers of the highest quality (Garfield, 1996).

Alternative names for the research article

Different journals and databases use several alternative names for the research article, which stems from the fact that it is defined rather broadly. To reiterate, it is an “article reporting on primary research.” The most common alternatives are, perhaps, Original Paper, Research Report and their various combinations. In the most prestigious indexing databases, Web of Science and Scopus, the simple name Article is used (applying more descriptive names to all other article types).

While journal editors have considerable freedom in naming the article types, strict restrictions on their coding come from the Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS) standard. It provides a set of keywords to describe both the content as well as the metadata of scientific papers in order to facilitate the regularization and optimization of data exchange among publishers, hosts, and archives. For example, whatever alternative name of the research article is preferred in a journal, JATS only allows for the {research-article} tag for its type. This prevents misinterpretations of potentially confusing names.

While today, the JATS standard is commonly recognized and used within scholarly publishing, it is not without its limitations. Perhaps its most straightforward downside is that, to each scientific article, a single article type must be attributed from a given list. It can cause a headache if, based on its content, a paper does not really fit any of the limited choices. It is not any easier when a paper can be associated with more than one article type tag as the choice can influence the journal’s JIF (see above).


At AKJournals, we currently have more than 80,000 published journal articles on offer, the overwhelming majority of which is research articles. Interested readers can read all the articles from our open access journals for free, while our transformative hybrid journals contain articles to which full access might be dependent on a subscription fee.

For our authors, Open Access (OA) publication is possible in all journals. In our platinum OA journals, all articles are published OA with no author fee. In the other journals, the authors – or their institutions – are to pay the Article Processing Charge (APC) to cover the expenses of OA publication. If they are affiliated with a member institution of the consortium EISZ, then, the corresponding authors of research articles and of review articles are exempted from the APC. We offer similar OA agreements to other interested consortia.



Garfield, E. (1996). How can impact factors be improved? BMJ, 313(7054), 411–413.

Lapeña, J. F. F., & Peh, W. C. G. (2020). Various types of scientific articles. In M. M. Shoja, A. Arynchyna, M. Loukas, A. V. D’Antoni, S. M. Buerger, M. Karl, & R. S. Tubbs (Eds.), A guide to the scientific career: Virtues, communication, research, and academic writing (pp. 351–356). Wiley.