A good research paper addresses a specific research question.The research question—or study objective or main research hypothesis—is the central organizing principle of the paper.
However, in applied domains such as quality improvement, some papers are written based on projects that were undertaken for operational reasons, and not with the primary aim of producing new knowledge.
In such cases, authors should define the main research question and design the paper around it.
The research question should be precise and not merely identify a general area of inquiry.
It can often (but not always) be expressed in terms of a possible association between X and Y in a population Z, for example ‘we examined whether providing patients about to be discharged from the hospital with written information about their medications would improve their compliance with the treatment 1 month later’.
Whatever relates to the research question belongs in the paper; the rest doesn’t.
This is perhaps obvious when the paper reports on a well planned research project.
For instance, if you measured the impact of obtaining written consent on patient satisfaction at a specialized clinic using a newly developed questionnaire, you may want to write one paper on the questionnaire development and validation, and another on the impact of the intervention.
The idea is not to split results into ‘least publishable units’, a practice that is rightly decried, but rather into ‘optimally publishable units’. The key attributes are: (i) specificity; (ii) originality or novelty; and (iii) general relevance to a broad scientific community.
Just imagine that your work will contain a perfect research, but introduction and conclusion will not have any sense.
Writing research papers does not come naturally to most of us.