Unit 4 Structure of abstracts

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • understand the default move patterns
  • Undertand how sequencing moves affects the reader and reviewers
  • Know when and why to use four common move patterns

Activity 1 Quick guide to rhetorical moves


Before sequencing the rhetorical moves, it is ncessary to decide which moves to include. Here are some quick-and-dirty rules of thumb to help you decide whether to include a particular move.

  1. Introduction: If you are working on a well-known problem or research area, this may not be necessary
  2. Purpose: This helps readers and reviewers understand your aim. However, if your result or product is the same as the Purpose, the Purpose may be omitted.
  3. Method: If readers will know how you got the result or created the product, this can be omitted.
  4. Result: This is only omitted in some promissory abstracts. For articles in the field of computer science, this should be included.
  5. Discussion: This is included if readers might not understand the implications of your result or product.

Activity 2 Default IMRD sequence


There is a default order of Introduction, Method, Result and Discussion. If you are unsure how to begin writing, you should follow the default order.

Guidelines and textbooks that aim to teach scientific writing and research writing advocate writing research articles following or based on the Introduction, Method, Result, Discussion (IMRD) format. Most scientific articles adher to this system although the names of each section may differ. In the abstract, however, it is possible to change the order of the moves.

Activity 3 Plethora of patterns


Although there is a popular default sequence of IMRD, in fact, there are many move patterns. In a study of 1000 scientific research abstracts (100 abstracts for each of 10 disciplines) over 200 different patterns were discovered (Blake, 2021). However, in some disciplines one pattern dominated, e.g. PMRD (Purpose, Method, Results, Discussion) was used in 99 0f the 100 medical research abstracts.


Four common move patterns are described below:
  • IMRD (Introduction, Method, Results, Dicussion): This could be considered a default pattern and so this makes a good starting point for a draft abstract
  • IPMRD (Introduction, Purpose, Method, Results, Dicussion): This is an expaned version of the default pattern with the Purpose move added. Adding the Purpose helps readers and reviewers understand the aim of the research since the hypothesis, aim or reseach question is made explicit.
  • IPMRMRD (Introduction, Purpose, Method, Results, Dicussion): This stucture is commonly used to describe the development of a product and then the testing of a product. For example, in software engineering, a novel method can be used to develop a new program, and then an established testing method is used to measure the performance of the program.
  • RM (Result, Method): This structure is often used in short research articles, e.g. four-page short papers. Due to space constraints, the most important part is placed first -- the Results. The second-most important part, the method, is then placed after the Results. For established research domains the introduction and discussion sections may not be necessary and so can be omitted.

Activity 4 Sequencing moves


There are a number of factors to consider when organizing your abstract.

  1. Use the generic default of Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion if you have no specific guidelines for your target publication or venue.
  2. What is the typical order of moves used in your target publication? Following that order should be your discipline-specific default. Only deviate from the default, when you have a good reason.
  3. Which move is particularly novel? This move is usually the Method or the Result. Starting with that move creates a strong impression.
  4. Which move is obvious to most readers of the target publication? This move may be omitted?
  5. Which moves show the novelty, significant, substance and rigour of the research? These moves should be included, and ideally as early as possible.
  6. Is the Result more important than the Method? If so, consider stating the Result before describing the Method.
  7. Is there some terminology that is essential but readers may not know. Paraphrase of explain the terms in the Introduction. To make the abstract reader-friendly, place the explanation just before the term is used for the first time.


Make sure that you know when to

  1. place the Result section first
  2. include an Introduction section
  3. repeat Method and Result sections, MRMR
  4. include a Discussion section
  5. deviate from the default linear order of IMRD