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Lesson Navigation IconOnline Guidelines for Academic Research and Writing

Unit Navigation IconThe academic research process

Unit Navigation IconOrganization and project management

Unit Navigation IconLiterature research and application

Unit Navigation IconWriting an academic paper

LO Navigation IconRequirements regarding academic papers

LO Navigation IconFormal structure of papers

LO Navigation IconQuotations and references

LO Navigation IconCreating a bibliography

LO Navigation IconWriting coaching

Unit Navigation IconHow do I create a good poster?

Unit Navigation IconPresentation skills

Unit Navigation IconLearning techniques and exam preparation

Unit Navigation IconBibliography

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Formal structure of papers

An academic paper focuses on scientific research processes. Such a text should be structured in a logical and reader-friendly way. Every academic paper consists of (Sedlacek 1987: 12). (Sedlacek 1987):


Logical structures will help the reader to better understand a paper's content.

1. Title page
2. Table of contents
3. Actual text (introduction, main part, conclusion)
4. Bibliography

Depending on the paper's length (article, seminar paper, master's thesis, etc.), there are additional chapters.

The arrangement and caption of a chapter serve as an orientation for the reader. Most of the time, it is the caption of a chapter that motivates the reader to go on (if the content meets the expectations). There should be a common thread through the arrangement of your chapters. It is advisable to pay specific attention to a reasoned subdivision (considering hierarchy levels: for example, avoiding the same level for ‹Social geography overview› und ‹Social geography in the 70s›) (Bänsch 1999: 12).

Additionally, you should refrain from disrupting a line of argument or separating corresponding parts by sections (guideline: approx. half a page per section). When using a decimal system arrangement, we don't recommend providing more than three decimal places (e.g. «2.2.3»). You should also avoid chapter headings or sections without any reference to their content (e.g. the caption «Main part») (Bänsch 1999: 14).

A chapter's length should more or less correspond to its importance; to strive for balance is therefore key. Dealing with the actual question will take up more space than an introduction or a historical research review, for example. It is especially important to condense the presentation of natural landscapes or historical abstracts, provided that such a presentation is relevant at all (Kraas & Stadelbauer 2000: 48).

Cover sheet

  • Title
  • Author
  • Optional: illustration or drawing


Shorter papers combine front and title page.

Title page

  • Indication of course, departement, university
  • Head and tutor
  • lndication of semester (when writing a seminar paper or bachelor's thesis)
  • Title of paper (equals its shortest summary)
  • First and last name(s), address, phone number, e-mail address of author
  • Author's number of semesters (when writing a seminar paper)
  • Deadline

Acknowledgements, foreword, motto

  • Acknowledgements = You thank people or institutions significantly contributing to a paper's presentation (in case a reference in the introduction is not enough).
  • Foreword = Establishes a relation between author and topic, e.g. expectations and fears as regards the acceptance of opinions; most of the time this is part of the introduction of academic papers.
  • Motto = Quotation, proverb, figure of speech, etc., preceding any part of a text (e.g. a chapter of a book).


Dedications are only common when writing larger texts.


  • Personalized; but not dripping with kitsch or overflowing with gratitude
  • Individual reasons for choosing the topic
  • Comments on the paper's development; thanks for help and encouragement
  • Signature including first and last name, location, and date of composition (optional: month and year only)


Seminar papers usually don't contain a preface.

Table of contents

  • Heading is «Table of Contents» (or better just «Contents») instead of «Directory»
  • Is not a chapter per se
  • Texts have to correspond to the chapters' headings
  • Visually reflects a paper's structure and arrangement (cf. fig. 11). You should avoid using too many design elements (bold, italic, indented, various fonts); the layout will then be too busy
  • Indication of page numbers
  • When writing longer papers, it is not necessary to include all title hierarchies

At the university one tends to use the decimal system arrangement. It is optional to use more than three decimal places as regards the titles' hierarchy; however, most of the time there are less than three.

Index of figures

(When writing shorter texts we recommend combining the lists of figures and tables)

  • Heading is «Figures»
  • Include the number of pages

Index of tables

  • Heading is «Tables»
  • Include the number of pages

Index of abbreviations

  • Only list unfamiliar abbreviations
  • Can also be included in a glossary


  • Unfamiliar or technical terms
  • Terms in a foreign language
  • Currency conversions
  • In alphabetic order


  • Required especially when writing articles or longer texts
  • Is often placed at the beginning
  • Serves especially as a motivation to read on
  • Includes the most important theoretical assumptions, methodic approaches, and results
  • Sometimes it is required to additionally provide a German «Zusammenfassung» or a French «Résumée».
Fig. 11: Different outlines of tables of contents. Source: Theisen (1989: 97 und 99).Fig. 11: Different outlines of tables of contents. Source: Theisen (1989: 97 und 99).


  • Is similar to a summary
  • However, it is often composed before writing the actual text
  • When planning conferences or meetings, an abstract serves as motivation to invite its author before determining the speakers' order
  • Compared to a summary, an abstract's phrasing is more vague since the actual text is still in the making
  • Describes how you plan to proceed, how the text or speech is structured, and which results can be expected
  • It is therefore necessary to know your plans before composing an abstract.


  • Thematically introducing the question posed by means of an example or occurrence
  • Indicates the importance and significance of a topic within a wider context
  • State of research
  • Justification of topic
  • Differentiation or classification of main question
  • Information on the question posed and the paper's aim
  • Phrasing of hypotheses or presumptions
  • Definition of thematical terms
  • Approach as regards the topic as well as the paper's content
  • State of source material
  • Methodological approach


Abstracts are usually submitted when applying for a conference and can be seen as an advance notice.

Main part

  • Presentation and discussion of the data already existing for each hypothesis
  • Presentation of results for each (hypo)thesis
  • The argumentations of other authors must be critically analyzed before comparing or complementing them with other arguments, if possible
  • Indication of sources via annotations or quotations
  • Annotations are also used for thoughts not directly related to the topic, only emphasizing the arguments already mentioned
  • Maintaining the relation to the question posed at the beginning


Coherence is important: Each chapter has to be related to the entire text. A common thread should be noticeable.


  • Summary of all results
  • No new ideas
  • Making results manageable (e.g. by providing instructions)
  • Indicates progress achieved while writing the paper
  • Critical annotations as regards methodology
  • Unsolved questions, academic voids
  • Outlook on future developments, further research options
  • Your own judgment and opinion


  • Heading is «Bibliography» or «Literature» instead of «Sources»
  • Works quoted or used while writing an academic paper; these have to be indicated entirely, clearly, and must be traceable without difficulty.
  • A few sources quoted frequently can be listed right after the table of contents
  • When using a lot of sources, you should differentiate between printed and unprinted sources.
  • Sources: records, letters, gray literature, maps, aerial pictures, periodicals (if examined for a longer period of time; not when just using single articles), etc. (cf. «Sources») incl. location, shelfmark, denotation
  • Literature: publications such as books or articles (sources as well)
  • In alphabetic order


  • or «Annex»
  • List of additional material of interest but going beyond the scope of the paper, for example:
    - large tables
    - major maps
    - original questionnaires
    - legal texts
    - important original texts
    - newspaper clippings, illustrations, excerpts, pictures, etc.


An appendix shouldn't be too elaborate.


  • Annotations of interest but not important enough for the main text or disturbing its run
  • Indication of sources (as an alternative to listing them within the text). This is not common in all subject areas. It is therefore advisable to ask about special requirements before beginning to write a paper.
  • Placed at the bottom of the page (reader-friendly and unproblematic when using EDP), at the end of a chapter, or at the end of your bibliography


There shouldn't be too many or extensive footnotes.

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