How to structure an empirical paper

The first and most important part of any empirical research is to figure out your personal research interest, then to put its results into a thesis and then to operationalize it to turn it into hypotheses. That leads to the next step: based on what you want to achieve with your research, and upon the answers you are looking for and the effect you wish to create with your research, you have to choose the right methods—in other words, put the hypotheses into an operative form. That’s where you have to create your research design: make sure that what you do enables you to get the data you need to find the answers you are seeking, and that what you deal with will give you a universal insight and will not just fit one special case.

Collect the data you need (in whichever way you have chosen), evaluate it, then interpret it and put it down in your thesis or your report.

The structure of a thesis or a report on an empirical study normally follows a certain pattern, regardless of which method has been used. This pattern will be described below: please note that this does not constitute all the requirements of a Bachelor’s thesis, Master’s thesis or a dissertation, the exact requirements of which will be determined by the formalities of your university concerning further structuring of your thesis.

Essay Structure

The Introduction

The introduction presents the most important aspects of the study in a short form. This means you will explain your specific research interest and the basic thesis  drawn from it. You will also demonstrate the relevance of your chosen topic. Then you will sum up the main contents of the different chapters: the goal here is to give a brief overview—not to get into details, interpretations or valuations. This preface is meant to help the reader understand the structure of your depiction.

Please note that the introduction has to be complete, which means that content which is not mentioned here does not need to be in your report or thesis. This is the reason why some people prefer to write the introduction last. On the other hand, it is useful to work systematically from the start and writing the introduction first may help you to get into the right mindset for the process: if your research is elaborate (as it should be), there is no reason why you shouldn’t start writing from the very beginning. If it isn’t, you will have the opportunity to find out in due course and so be able to deal with whichever inconsistencies may appear.

The Body

The body of empirical works always includes two sections: the theoretical one and the practical one which is dedicated to all details of research design, its implementation and results. You start by explaining the most important terms and thoughts and then summarize the recent academic discourse associated with them. All of this must be in line with your research and should not be more detailed than is necessary to understand the background of your own position and why you have chosen to deal with the subject the way you did. Show that you know about the most relevant former studies and expound on their connection to your own thoughts, your hypotheses and your research design.

The transition between theory and your own empiric research is marked by the depiction of your hypotheses. In order for them to be seen either as the end of the theoretical part or as a preface to the practical part (which in its structure follows the chronological development of your research), you proceed from your hypotheses to the method that you have chosen and to both sample and design; then you introduce the material you have used and give a report on how the research was conducted.

The next step is to present the results of your research, starting with the univariate, and then continue from bivariate to multivariate (should they be included). This does not yet include the interpretation but all statistical data needed to evaluate the results of your work.

The last part of the body is dedicated to the interpretation of the results with regard to the hypotheses, so at the end you will be able to convey the insights gained from your work.


The last part of your thesis or report is meant to summarize the results of your research and relate them to the academic discourse, pointing out a way in which further studies concerning that topic should develop. In other words, the conclusion links the past (the discourse before your research) with the present (your research) to set a design for the future.

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