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The Hourglass Structure: Useful for Papers and Presentations

By Barbara Gastel | Oct. 29, 2016  | Research writing

Greetings again. I hope you’re doing well.

Recently I received an attractive gift. It features four hourglasses (also called sand timers). Each is for a different amount of time (1, 3, 5, or 7 minutes). And each has a different color of sand. The hourglasses are embedded on different sides of a black block.

This gift brought to mind an image sometimes used to describe the structure of a journal article or research presentation. Because this image can aid authors, I’ll discuss it now.

As noted in some AuthorAID workshops, a journal article in IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) resembles an hourglass. In other words, it begins broadly, then focuses narrowly, and then broadens again.

More specifically:

  • The introduction starts wide and then narrows down. For instance, it may first note the general importance of the subject, then summarize previous research on it, and then identify the specific question that the current research addressed.
  • The methods section and results section focus narrowly on the research being reported.
  • The discussion broadens out again. For instance, it may interpret the current findings, then relate them to other research, and then discuss their wider relevance.

An hourglass structure also tends to suit an oral or poster presentation. The hourglass may have different proportions, however, in an article and a presentation. For example, in an article a larger proportion may describe the research methods.

The hourglass image can be useful to keep in mind when trying to organize a paper or presentation. Whether literal or figurative, an hourglass can be a nice gift.

Until the next post—


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