Background: The scientific article in the health sciences evolved from the letter form and purely descriptive style in the seventeenth century to a very standardized structure in the twentieth century known as introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD). The pace in which this structure began to be used and when it became the most used standard of today's scientific discourse in the health sciences is not well established.
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to point out the period in time during which the IMRAD structure was definitively and widely adopted in medical scientific writing.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study, the frequency of articles written under the IMRAD structure was measured from 1935 to 1985 in a randomly selected sample of articles published in four leading journals in internal medicine: the British Medical Journal, JAMA, The Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Results: The IMRAD structure, in those journals, began to be used in the 1940s. In the 1970s, it reached 80% and, in the 1980s, was the only pattern adopted in original papers.
Conclusions: Although recommended since the beginning of the twentieth century, the IMRAD structure was adopted as a majority only in the 1970s. The influence of other disciplines and the recommendations of editors are among the facts that contributed to authors adhering to it.