Engaging Students’ Knowledge of IMRAD

Chieri Noda, PhD candidate, Birkbeck, University of London

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Research articles, IMRAD, reading strategies
  • Learner English level: Advanced
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Materials: Research articles, handout
  • Activity time: 25 minutes

Learning to scan for information in research articles is an important skill for students in the field of science. Typically, a research article reading class starts with an introduction on the standard format of research articles published in major biomedical journals. This format is commonly referred to as the IMRAD, taking the initial letters of the four main sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each of these sections bears an important function in communicating scientific research (Glasman-Deal, 2010; Nair & Nair, 2014). A clear understanding of these functions is important in developing effective reading strategies. The simple activity described below enables the teacher to deepen students’ understanding of these functions, following an introduction to the IMRAD format, by engaging their critical thinking.


Step 1: Find a well-written research article on a topic relevant to your students.

Step 2: Select a sentence from each section containing elements that hint at the section it is from.

Step 3: Arrange the sentences in random order in a handout (See Appendix for an example).

Step 4: Make copies of the research article.


Step 1: After an introduction of the IMRAD format, distribute the article and handout.

Step 2: Explain that the objective of the activity is to find the sentences as quickly as possible.

Step 3: When students have finished, go over the answers and have students point out key information in the sentences that helped them find the sentences within the article.

Step 4: Supplement students’ explanations as necessary.


In a lesson I taught at a medical school, a student who had finished this activity much more quickly than the others explained her reading strategies, pointing out the pertinent information that enabled her to surmise where the sentences (See Appendix) could be found: a specific date of what the authors did meant sentence A was likely to be from the methods section, ‘limitations’ indicated B was probably from the discussion section, the mention of previous research signaled C was likely to be in the introduction section, and a report of results in a table indicated sentence D was from the Results section. Her explanation is a good example of step 3 in the procedure above. 

While locating sentences in a text is a straightforward task, finding them quickly in a full-length article requires learners to use their knowledge of the rhetorical functions of the sections in a research article. In this activity, students develop knowledge-based reading strategies using authentic research articles. Searching for complete sentences is less daunting a task than looking for answers to comprehension questions and can help build confidence in tackling research articles. The key to success with this activity is choosing sentences that contain hints about which section they are from. Ideally, the activity is repeated several times using different articles. Once learners have the hang of it, the activity can be made more challenging by mixing sentences from two different articles.


Glasman-Deal, H. (2010). Science research writing for non-native speakers of English. London: Imperial College Press.

Nair, P. K. R., & Nair, V. D. (2014). Scientific writing and communication in agriculture and natural resources. Heidelberg: Springer.


The appendix is available below.