How to Write a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.
Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.
Create an Outline
Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.
Organize Your Notes
When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.
Write Your Final Draft
After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.
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Making your scientific discoveries understandable to others is one of the most important things you can do as a scientist. You might come up with brilliant ideas, design clever experiments, and make groundbreaking discoveries. But if you can’t explain your work to your fellow scientists, your career won’t move forward.
Back in the early 90s, during my time at the University of California in Irvine, my research led me to a paper citation that seemed relevant to my work. I went to great lengths to get a hold of that paper, which was written in English but not by a native English speaker. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand it well enough to confirm if the cited information was accurate. I tried contacting the authors multiple times but got no response. As a result, I couldn’t reference their work in my own papers, even though it seemed relevant. Being a good writer is crucial for success in science. Speaking English fluently doesn’t necessarily mean you can write well, even for native speakers. Writing skills improve with practice and guidance. However, simply having experience or guidance won’t make you a better writer unless you put in the effort to write.
Tips to Improve your Scientific Writing
1. organize your thoughts, ideas, and actions in a logical manner.
Begin with sufficient background information to take your reader along the pathway from your observations to your hypothesis. Describe the background to appeal to a broad group of readers. Provide sufficient context to communicate the significance of your inquiry and experimental findings. Omit extraneous information so that the reader can obtain a clear picture. Group similar ideas together and state your ideas and thoughts concisely. Present ideas in a consistent manner throughout the manuscript. The most common structure of a scientific manuscript is the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) format.
2. Provide clear descriptions
Repeat complex concepts as needed, explaining them from various angles. Begin with simplicity, advancing complexity as required for comprehension. Tailor your writing to your audience’s level of expertise, whether they understand specialized terms or require prior explanations. Keep your explanations straightforward.
3. Simplify your word choices
Utilize clear, straightforward language to ensure that both students and researchers, regardless of their field or English proficiency, can easily comprehend and engage with your research.
4. Write concisely
Note that this article mentions “ concise writing ” several times. Avoid lengthy or needless descriptions and paragraphs, as nobody values them.
5. Use passive and active voice appropriately
In science writing, it is important to know when to use passive and active voice. Using active voice makes your writing more natural, direct, and engaging, and you should employ it when discussing widely accepted findings. The Introduction section should primarily employ active voice because it narrates “what is.” However, when discussing the results of a particular study, it’s advisable to use passive voice. In the Methods and Results sections, passive voice should be employed to describe what you did and what you found. In the Discussion section, a mixture of passive and active voice is acceptable, but take care not to mix the 2 together in a single sentence.
6. Select the most appropriate word
Selecting the appropriate words can be challenging. The best words accurately capture what the author is trying to convey. If a word is not sufficiently precise, use a thesaurus to replace the word or phrase with a more appropriate word. Precise words allow for specific, clear, and accurate expression. While science writing differs from literature in that it does not need to be colorful, it should not be boring.
7. Broaden your vocabulary
Use clear, specific, and concrete words. Expand your vocabulary by reading in a broad range of fields and looking up terms you don’t know.
8. Avoid filler words
Filler words are unnecessary words that are vague and meaningless or do not add to the meaning or clarity of the sentence. Consider the following examples: “ it is ”, “ it was ”, “ there is ”, and “ there has been ”, “ it is important “, “ it is hypothesized that “, “ it was predicted that “, “ there is evidence suggesting that “, “ in order to ”, and “ there is a significant relationship “. All of these phrases can be replaced with more direct and clear language. See our list of words and phrases to avoid here .
9. Read what you write
Ensure you vary sentence length to maintain reader engagement and avoid a monotonous rhythm. However, don’t create excessively long or convoluted sentences that might hinder the reader’s comprehension. To enhance readability, consider reading the manuscript aloud to yourself after taking a break or having someone else review it.
10. Optimize paragraph and sentence structure
Each paragraph should present a single unifying idea or concept. Extremely long paragraphs tend to distract or confuse readers. If longer paragraphs are necessary, alternate them with shorter paragraphs to provide balance and rhythm to your writing. A good sentence allows readers to obtain critical information with the least effort.
Poor sentence structure interferes with the flow. Keep modifiers close to the object they are modifying. Consider the following sentence: “ Systemic diseases that may affect joint function such as infection should be closely monitored. ” In this example, “such as infection” is misplaced, as it is not a joint function, but rather a systemic disease. The meaning is more clear in the revised sentence: “ Systemic diseases such as infection that may affect joint function should be closely monitored. ”
11. Use transitions to control the flow
Sentences and paragraphs should flow seamlessly. Place transitional phrases and sentences at the beginning and end of the paragraphs to help the reader move smoothly through the paper.
12. Word repetition
Avoid repetitive use of the same word or phrase; opt for a more descriptive alternative whenever possible. Ensure that you do not sacrifice precision for variability. See our science-related Word Choice list here .
13. Improve readability with consistent formatting
Although in many cases it is no longer necessary to format your manuscript for a specific journal before peer review, you should pay attention to formatting for consistency. Use the same font size throughout; format headings consistently (e.g., bolded or not bolded, all uppercase or not, italicized or not); and references should be provided in an easy-to-follow, consistent format. Use appropriate subheadings in the Materials and Methods, and Results sections to help the reader quickly navigate your paper.
14. Use parallel construction to facilitate understanding
Your hypothesis, experimental measures, and results should be presented in the same order in the Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Tables. Words or phrases joined by coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet) should have the same form.
15. Maintain consistent use of labels, abbreviations, and acronyms
Measures and variable/group names and labels should be consistent in both form and content throughout the text to avoid confusing the reader.
16. Use abbreviations and acronyms to aid the reader
Only use abbreviations/acronyms to help the reader more easily understand the paper. Follow the general rule of utilizing standard, accepted abbreviations/acronyms that appear at least 3 times in the main text of the paper. Always ask yourself, “Does this benefit me or the reader?” Exceptions might be applicable for widely-used abbreviations/acronyms where spelling them out might confuse the reader.
17. Minimize pronoun use for clarity
Make sure every pronoun is very clear, so the reader knows what it represents. In this case, being redundant may contribute to the clarity. Don’t refer to ‘this’ or ‘that’ because it makes the reader go back to the previous paragraph to see what ‘this’ or ‘that’ means. Also, limit or avoid the use of “former” and latter”.
18. Read your writing out loud
To assess the rhythm and identify repetitive words and phrases both within and between sentences and paragraphs, read your final paper aloud. Frequently, you will encounter unnecessary words that can be removed or substituted with more suitable alternatives.
Remember, your writing is your chance to show the scientific world who you are. You want to present a scholarly, clear, well-written description of your interests, ideas, results, and interpretations to encourage dialogue between scientists. Change your goal from that of simply publishing your manuscript to that of publishing an interesting manuscript that encourages discussion and citation, and inspires additional questions and hypotheses due to its fundamental clarity to the reader.
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- Int J Sports Phys Ther
- v.7(5); 2012 Oct
HOW TO WRITE A SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE
Barbara j. hoogenboom.
1 Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Robert C. Manske
2 University of Wichita, Wichita, KS, USA
Successful production of a written product for submission to a peer‐reviewed scientific journal requires substantial effort. Such an effort can be maximized by following a few simple suggestions when composing/creating the product for submission. By following some suggested guidelines and avoiding common errors, the process can be streamlined and success realized for even beginning/novice authors as they negotiate the publication process. The purpose of this invited commentary is to offer practical suggestions for achieving success when writing and submitting manuscripts to The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and other professional journals.
“The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking” Albert Einstein
Conducting scientific and clinical research is only the beginning of the scholarship of discovery. In order for the results of research to be accessible to other professionals and have a potential effect on the greater scientific community, it must be written and published. Most clinical and scientific discovery is published in peer‐reviewed journals, which are those that utilize a process by which an author's peers, or experts in the content area, evaluate the manuscript. Following this review the manuscript is recommended for publication, revision or rejection. It is the rigor of this review process that makes scientific journals the primary source of new information that impacts clinical decision‐making and practice. 1 , 2
The task of writing a scientific paper and submitting it to a journal for publication is a time‐consuming and often daunting task. 3 , 4 Barriers to effective writing include lack of experience, poor writing habits, writing anxiety, unfamiliarity with the requirements of scholarly writing, lack of confidence in writing ability, fear of failure, and resistance to feedback. 5 However, the very process of writing can be a helpful tool for promoting the process of scientific thinking, 6 , 7 and effective writing skills allow professionals to participate in broader scientific conversations. Furthermore, peer review manuscript publication systems requiring these technical writing skills can be developed and improved with practice. 8 Having an understanding of the process and structure used to produce a peer‐reviewed publication will surely improve the likelihood that a submitted manuscript will result in a successful publication.
Clear communication of the findings of research is essential to the growth and development of science 3 and professional practice. The culmination of the publication process provides not only satisfaction for the researcher and protection of intellectual property, but also the important function of dissemination of research results, new ideas, and alternate thought; which ultimately facilitates scholarly discourse. In short, publication of scientific papers is one way to advance evidence‐based practice in many disciplines, including sports physical therapy. Failure to publish important findings significantly diminishes the potential impact that those findings may have on clinical practice. 9
BASICS OF MANUSCRIPT PREPARATION & GENERAL WRITING TIPS
To begin it might be interesting to learn why reviewers accept manuscripts! Reviewers consider the following five criteria to be the most important in decisions about whether to accept manuscripts for publication: 1) the importance, timeliness, relevance, and prevalence of the problem addressed; 2) the quality of the writing style (i.e., that it is well‐written, clear, straightforward, easy to follow, and logical); 3) the study design applied (i.e., that the design was appropriate, rigorous, and comprehensive); 4) the degree to which the literature review was thoughtful, focused, and up‐to‐date; and 5) the use of a sufficiently large sample. 10 For these statements to be true there are also reasons that reviewers reject manuscripts. The following are the top five reasons for rejecting papers: 1) inappropriate, incomplete, or insufficiently described statistics; 2) over‐interpretation of results; 3) use of inappropriate, suboptimal, or insufficiently described populations or instruments; 4) small or biased samples; and 5) text that is poorly written or difficult to follow. 10 , 11 With these reasons for acceptance or rejection in mind, it is time to review basics and general writing tips to be used when performing manuscript preparation.
“Begin with the end in mind” . When you begin writing about your research, begin with a specific target journal in mind. 12 Every scientific journal should have specific lists of manuscript categories that are preferred for their readership. The IJSPT seeks to provide readership with current information to enhance the practice of sports physical therapy. Therefore the manuscript categories accepted by IJSPT include: Original research; Systematic reviews of literature; Clinical commentary and Current concept reviews; Case reports; Clinical suggestions and unique practice techniques; and Technical notes. Once a decision has been made to write a manuscript, compose an outline that complies with the requirements of the target submission journal and has each of the suggested sections. This means carefully checking the submission criteria and preparing your paper in the exact format of the journal to which you intend to submit. Be thoughtful about the distinction between content (what you are reporting) and structure (where it goes in the manuscript). Poor placement of content confuses the reader (reviewer) and may cause misinterpretation of content. 3 , 5
It may be helpful to follow the IMRaD format for writing scientific manuscripts. This acronym stands for the sections contained within the article: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each of these areas of the manuscript will be addressed in this commentary.
Many accomplished authors write their results first, followed by an introduction and discussion, in an attempt to “stay true” to their results and not stray into additional areas. Typically the last two portions to be written are the conclusion and the abstract.
The ability to accurately describe ideas, protocols/procedures, and outcomes are the pillars of scientific writing . Accurate and clear expression of your thoughts and research information should be the primary goal of scientific writing. 12 Remember that accuracy and clarity are even more important when trying to get complicated ideas across. Contain your literature review, ideas, and discussions to your topic, theme, model, review, commentary, or case. Avoid vague terminology and too much prose. Use short rather than long sentences. If jargon has to be utilized keep it to a minimum and explain the terms you do use clearly. 13
Write with a measure of formality, using scientific language and avoiding conjunctions, slang, and discipline or regionally specific nomenclature or terms (e.g. exercise nicknames). For example, replace the term “Monster walks” with “closed‐chain hip abduction with elastic resistance around the thighs”. You may later refer to the exercise as “also known as Monster walks” if you desire.
Avoid first person language and instead write using third person language. Some journals do not ascribe to this requirement, and allow first person references, however, IJSPT prefers use of third person. For example, replace “We determined that…” with “The authors determined that….”.
For novice writers, it is really helpful to seek a reading mentor that will help you pre‐read your submission. Problems such as improper use of grammar, tense, and spelling are often a cause of rejection by reviewers. Despite the content of the study these easily fixed errors suggest that the authors created the manuscript with less thought leading reviewers to think that the manuscript may also potentially have erroneous findings as well. A review from a second set of trained eyes will often catch these errors missed by the original authors. If English is not your first language, the editorial staff at IJSPT suggests that you consult with someone with the relevant expertise to give you guidance on English writing conventions, verb tense, and grammar. Excellent writing in English is hard, even for those of us for whom it is our first language!
Use figures and graphics to your advantage . ‐ Consider the use of graphic/figure representation of data and important procedures or exercises. Tables should be able to stand alone and be completely understandable at a quick glance. Understanding a table should not require careful review of the manuscript! Figures dramatically enhance the graphic appeal of a scientific paper. Many formats for graphic presentation are acceptable, including graphs, charts, tables, and pictures or videos. Photographs should be clear, free of clutter or extraneous background distractions and be taken with models wearing simple clothing. Color photographs are preferred. Digital figures (Scans or existing files as well as new photographs) must be at least 300dpi. All photographs should be provided as separate files (jpeg or tif preferred) and not be embedded in the paper. Quality and clarity of figures are essential for reproduction purposes and should be considered before taking images for the manuscript.
A video of an exercise or procedure speaks a thousand words. Please consider using short video clips as descriptive additions to your paper. They will be placed on the IJSPT website and accompany your paper. The video clips must be submitted in MPEG‐1, MPEG‐2, Quicktime (.mov), or Audio/Video Interface (.avi) formats. Maximum cumulative length of videos is 5 minutes. Each video segment may not exceed 50 MB, and each video clip must be saved as a separate file and clearly identified. Formulate descriptive figure/video and Table/chart/graph titles and place them on a figure legend document. Carefully consider placement of, naming of, and location of figures. It makes the job of the editors much easier!
Avoid Plagiarism and inadvertent lack of citations. Finally, use citations to your benefit. Cite frequently in order to avoid any plagiarism. The bottom line: If it is not your original idea, give credit where credit is due . When using direct quotations, provide not only the number of the citation, but the page where the quote was found. All citations should appear in text as a superscripted number followed by punctuation. It is the authors' responsibility to fully ensure all references are cited in completed form, in an accurate location. Please carefully follow the instructions for citations and check that all references in your reference list are cited in the paper and that all citations in the paper appear correctly in the reference list. Please go to IJSPT submission guidelines for full information on the format for citations.
Sometimes written as an afterthought, the abstract is of extreme importance as in many instances this section is what is initially previewed by readership to determine if the remainder of the article is worth reading. This is the authors opportunity to draw the reader into the study and entice them to read the rest of the article. The abstract is a summary of the article or study written in 3 rd person allowing the readers to get a quick glance of what the contents of the article include. Writing an abstract is rather challenging as being brief, accurate and concise are requisite. The headings and structure for an abstract are usually provided in the instructions for authors. In some instances, the abstract may change slightly pending content revisions required during the peer review process. Therefore it often works well to complete this portion of the manuscript last. Remember the abstract should be able to stand alone and should be as succinct as possible. 14
Introduction and Review of Literature
The introduction is one of the more difficult portions of the manuscript to write. Past studies are used to set the stage or provide the reader with information regarding the necessity of the represented project. For an introduction to work properly, the reader must feel that the research question is clear, concise, and worthy of study.
A competent introduction should include at least four key concepts: 1) significance of the topic, 2) the information gap in the available literature associated with the topic, 3) a literature review in support of the key questions, 4) subsequently developed purposes/objectives and hypotheses. 9
When constructing a review of the literature, be attentive to “sticking” or “staying true” to your topic at hand. Don't reach or include too broad of a literature review. For example, do not include extraneous information about performance or prevention if your research does not actually address those things. The literature review of a scientific paper is not an exhaustive review of all available knowledge in a given field of study. That type of thorough review should be left to review articles or textbook chapters. Throughout the introduction (and later in the discussion!) remind yourself that a paper, existing evidence, or results of a paper cannot draw conclusions, demonstrate, describe, or make judgments, only PEOPLE (authors) can. “The evidence demonstrates that” should be stated, “Smith and Jones, demonstrated that….”
Conclude your introduction with a solid statement of your purpose(s) and your hypothesis(es), as appropriate. The purpose and objectives should clearly relate to the information gap associated with the given manuscript topic discussed earlier in the introduction section. This may seem repetitive, but it actually is helpful to ensure the reader clearly sees the evolution, importance, and critical aspects of the study at hand See Table 1 for examples of well‐stated purposes.
Examples of well-stated purposes by submission type.
The methods section should clearly describe the specific design of the study and provide clear and concise description of the procedures that were performed. The purpose of sufficient detail in the methods section is so that an appropriately trained person would be able to replicate your experiments. 15 There should be complete transparency when describing the study. To assist in writing and manuscript preparation there are several checklists or guidelines that are available on the IJSPT website. The CONSORT guidelines can be used when developing and reporting a randomized controlled trial. 16 The STARD checklist was developed for designing a diagnostic accuracy study. 17 The PRISMA checklist was developed for use when performing a meta‐analyses or systematic review. 18 A clear methods section should contain the following information: 1) the population and equipment used in the study, 2) how the population and equipment were prepared and what was done during the study, 3) the protocol used, 4) the outcomes and how they were measured, 5) the methods used for data analysis. Initially a brief paragraph should explain the overall procedures and study design. Within this first paragraph there is generally a description of inclusion and exclusion criteria which help the reader understand the population used. Paragraphs that follow should describe in more detail the procedures followed for the study. A clear description of how data was gathered is also helpful. For example were data gathered prospectively or retrospectively? Who if anyone was blinded, and where and when was the actual data collected?
Although it is a good idea for the authors to have justification and a rationale for their procedures, these should be saved for inclusion into the discussion section, not to be discussed in the methods section. However, occasionally studies supporting components of the methods section such as reliability of tests, or validation of outcome measures may be included in the methods section.
The final portion of the methods section will include the statistical methods used to analyze the data. 19 This does not mean that the actual results should be discussed in the methods section, as they have an entire section of their own!
Most scientific journals support the need for all projects involving humans or animals to have up‐to‐date documentation of ethical approval. 20 The methods section should include a clear statement that the researchers have obtained approval from an appropriate institutional review board.
Results, Discussion, and Conclusions
In most journals the results section is separate from the discussion section. It is important that you clearly distinguish your results from your discussion. The results section should describe the results only. The discussion section should put those results into a broader context. Report your results neutrally, as you “found them”. Again, be thoughtful about content and structure. Think carefully about where content is placed in the overall structure of your paper. It is not appropriate to bring up additional results, not discussed in the results section, in the discussion. All results must first be described/presented and then discussed. Thus, the discussion should not simply be a repeat of the results section. Carefully discuss where your information is similar or different from other published evidence and why this might be so. What was different in methods or analysis, what was similar?
As previously stated, stick to your topic at hand, and do not overstretch your discussion! One of the major pitfalls in writing the discussion section is overstating the significance of your findings 4 or making very strong statements. For example, it is better to say: “Findings of the current study support….” or “these findings suggest…” than, “Findings of the current study prove that…” or “this means that….”. Maintain a sense of humbleness, as nothing is without question in the outcomes of any type of research, in any discipline! Use words like “possibly”, “likely” or “suggests” to soften findings. 12
Do not discuss extraneous ideas, concepts, or information not covered by your topic/paper/commentary. Be sure to carefully address all relevant results, not just the statistically significant ones or the ones that support your hypotheses. When you must resort to speculation or opinion, be certain to state that up front using phrases such as “we therefore speculate” or “in the authors' opinion”.
Remember, just as in the introduction and literature review, evidence or results cannot draw conclusions, just as previously stated, only people, scientists, researchers, and authors can!
Finish with a concise, 3‐5 sentence conclusion paragraph. This is not just a restatement of your results, rather is comprised of some final, summative statements that reflect the flow and outcomes of the entire paper. Do not include speculative statements or additional material; however, based upon your findings a statement about potential changes in clinical practice or future research opportunities can be provided here.
Writing for publication can be a challenging yet satisfying endeavor. The ability to examine, relate, and interlink evidence, as well as to provide a peer‐reviewed, disseminated product of your research labors can be rewarding. A few suggestions have been offered in this commentary that may assist the novice or the developing writer to attempt, polish, and perfect their approach to scholarly writing.
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10 Simple Steps to Writing a Scientific Paper
At any given time, Andrea Armani ’s lab at the University of Southern California has up to 15 PhD students, a couple of postdocs, nine undergrads, and an occasional high school student, all busy developing new materials for diagnostic and telecommunications devices.
When conducting scientific research, Armani believes it’s important to test a hypothesis—not prove it. She recruits students who are willing to adopt that “testing” mentality, and are excited to explore the unknown. “I want them to push themselves a little bit, push the field a little bit, and not be afraid to fail,” she says. “And, know that even if they fail, they can still learn something from it.”
Armani often coaches students through the process of writing their first scientific paper. Her 10-step formula for writing a scientific paper could be useful to anyone who has concluded a study and feels the dread of the blank page looming.
1. Write a Vision Statement
What is the key message of your paper? Be able to articulate it in one sentence, because it's a sentence you'll come back to a few times throughout the paper. Think of your paper as a press release: what would the subhead be? If you can't articulate the key discovery or accomplishment in a single sentence, then you're not ready to write a paper.
The vision statement should guide your next important decision: where are you submitting? Every journal has a different style and ordering of sections. Making this decision before you write a single word will save you a lot of time later on. Once you choose a journal, check the website for requirements with regards to formatting, length limits, and figures.
2. Don't Start at the Beginning
Logically, it makes sense to start a paper with the abstract, or, at least, the introduction. Don't. You often end up telling a completely different story than the one you thought you were going to tell. If you start with the introduction, by the time everything else is written, you will likely have to rewrite both sections.
3. Storyboard the Figures
Figures are the best place to start, because they form the backbone of your paper. Unlike you, the reader hasn't been living this research for a year or more. So, the first figure should inspire them to want to learn about your discovery.
A classic organizational approach used by writers is "storyboarding" where all figures are laid out on boards. This can be done using software like PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote. One approach is to put the vision statement on the first slide, and all of your results on subsequent slides. To start, simply include all data, without concern for order or importance. Subsequent passes can evaluate consolidation of data sets (e.g., forming panel figures) and relative importance (e.g., main text vs. supplement). The figures should be arranged in a logical order to support your hypothesis statement. Notably, this order may or may not be the order in which you took the data. If you're missing data, it should become obvious at this point.
4. Write the Methods Section
Of all the sections, the methods section is simultaneously the easiest and the most important section to write accurately. Any results in your paper should be replicable based on the methods section, so if you've developed an entirely new experimental method, write it out in excruciating detail, including setup, controls, and protocols, also manufacturers and part numbers, if appropriate. If you're building on a previous study, there's no need to repeat all of those details; that's what references are for.
One common mistake when writing a methods section is the inclusion of results. The methods section is simply a record of what you did.
The methods section is one example of where knowing the journal is important. Some journals integrate the methods section in between the introduction and the results; other journals place the methods section at the end of the article. Depending on the location of the methods section, the contents of the results and discussion section may vary slightly.
5. Write the Results and Discussion Section
In a few journals, results and discussion are separate sections. However, the trend is to merge these two sections. This section should form the bulk of your paper-by storyboarding your figures, you already have an outline!
A good place to start is to write a few paragraphs about each figure, explaining: 1. the result (this should be void of interpretation), 2. the relevance of the result to your hypothesis statement (interpretation is beginning to appear), and 3. the relevance to the field (this is completely your opinion). Whenever possible, you should be quantitative and specific, especially when comparing to prior work. Additionally, any experimental errors should be calculated and error bars should be included on experimental results along with replicate analysis.
You can use this section to help readers understand how your research fits in the context of other ongoing work and explain how your study adds to the body of knowledge. This section should smoothly transition into the conclusion.
6. Write the Conclusion
In the conclusion, summarize everything you have already written. Emphasize the most important findings from your study and restate why they matter. State what you learned and end with the most important thing you want the reader to take away from the paper-again, your vision statement. From the conclusion, a reader should be able to understand the gist of your whole study, including your results and their significance.
7. Now Write the Introduction
The introduction sets the stage for your article. If it was a fictional story, the introduction would be the exposition, where the characters, setting, time period, and main conflict are introduced.
Scientific papers follow a similar formula. The introduction gives a view of your research from 30,000 feet: it defines the problem in the context of a larger field; it reviews what other research groups have done to move forward on the problem (the literature review); and it lays out your hypothesis, which may include your expectations about what the study will contribute to the body of knowledge. The majority of your references will be located in the introduction.
8. Assemble References
The first thing that any new writer should do is pick a good electronic reference manager. There are many free ones available, but often research groups (or PIs) have a favorite one. Editing will be easier if everyone is using the same manager.
References serve multiple roles in a manuscript:
1) To enable a reader to get more detailed information on a topic that has been previously published. For example: "The device was fabricated using a standard method." You need to reference that method. One common mistake is to reference a paper that doesn't contain the protocol, resulting in readers being sent down a virtual rabbit hole in search of the protocol.
2) To support statements that are not common knowledge or may be contentious. For example: "Previous work has shown that vanilla is better than chocolate." You need a reference here. Frequently, there are several papers that could be used, and it is up to you to choose.
3) To recognize others working in the field, such as those who came before you and laid the groundwork for your work as well as more recent discoveries. The selection of these papers is where you need to be particularly conscientious. Don't get in the habit of citing the same couple of papers from the same couple of groups. New papers are published every day-literally. You need to make sure that your references include both foundational papers as well as recent works.
9. Write the Abstract
The abstract is the elevator pitch for your article. Most abstracts are 150–300 words, which translates to approximately 10–20 sentences. Like any good pitch, it should describe the importance of the field, the challenge that your research addresses, how your research solves the challenge, and its potential future impact. It should include any key quantitative metrics. It is important to remember that abstracts are included in search engine results.
10. The Title Comes Last
The title should capture the essence of the paper. If someone was interested in your topic, what phrase or keywords would they type into a search engine? Make sure those words are included in your title.
Andrea Martin Armani is an SPIE Fellow and the Ray Irani Chair in Engineering and Materials Science and Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
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3 Tips When Writing Your First Scientific Research Paper
For first-time authors, the prospect of writing their very own scientific research article may be both exciting and overwhelming. Faced with a mountain of data, notes, and other remnants of the research process, it may be difficult to figure out where and how to begin the manuscript writing process. However, if the research has been done well and the topic is appropriate for classroom submission or journal publication , authors will be off to a good start by approaching the writing process in a methodical way.
Authors can also get assistance from the various tools available online to improve their writing. One tool that is widely recommended is Trinka – world’s first AI-powered grammar checker and language enhancement tool specially designed for academic writing! With Trinka, authors can easily incorporate all the requirements of academic writing such as technical spellings, conciseness, formal tone, style guide preferences and much more.
It is always helpful to understand the objectives of scientific writing before diving into the task. Above all, scientific writing must aim for clarity , simplicity, and accuracy. These should be the touchstones or benchmarks for authors of research articles, particularly in the field of science, which has a reputation for being difficult to understand. It is a fine balance that authors of scientific writing must maintain: achieving the recognition and respect of those in their field as well as making sure their work is comprehensible to a wider audience.
Clarity – Work is unambiguous and free of extraneous detail or conjecture
Simplicity – Language and sentence and paragraph structure are easy to understand and follow without losing authority or scientific credibility
Accuracy – Data, Tables and Figures, and References and Citations are represented honestly and verifiably
Related: Ready to submit your manuscript for publication? Get it polished from our native experts and increase your chances of acceptance!
Structure of a Scientific Manuscript
New authors are, no doubt, familiar with the structure of a scientific research paper – there is a standard in academic publishing . However, writing within that structure requires a deeper understanding of the role of each section. The following was discussed in an online resource from Bates College.
- Title and Abstract – focus on drawing in the reader with clear and concise language
- Introduction – highlight the key issues of the research, providing some context for the main question or problem
- Methods and Materials – describe specific protocols for and details of the experiment/research, which should be explicit enough that the research can be duplicated
- Results and Discussion – thorough yet succinct sections, focusing on critical findings, including those that were unexpected
- References/Literature Cited – need to match references within the body of the manuscript precisely. It is best to be selective when choosing which literature to cite, avoiding the use of too many references and selecting the most current literature when appropriate.
The goal of any piece of writing is to communicate the author’s message. For authors of scientific manuscripts, academic publishing requires that they adhere to a certain structure, but the goal is the same – to communicate the author’s message or findings.
1. Achieving Clarity
Clarity in writing is achieved through the following:
A. Proper Sentence Structuring
Shorter paragraphs and sentences allow the reader to grasp concepts more easily. No one wants to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph several times, just to grasp what the author is trying to say. This is both discouraging to the reader and potentially off-putting to a journal editor. It is possible to write simple, informative sentences without sounding choppy or unsophisticated.
B. Correct Language and Grammar Usage
Proper language and grammar usage help improve the flow of the manuscript and enhance the readers’ experience. This prevents a reader’s bias against the author. No matter how excellent the research, poor language and grammar usage in manuscripts may cause the reader to question the author’s educational background and assume that the research article is somewhat less worthy of consideration. A quick check with Trinka can assist you in correcting all language and grammar errors and achieving clarity in your writing.
2. Time management
Writing manuscripts is a massively time-consuming affair. For authors who are making their first attempt at writing a research article, it will be imperative to carve out time on a daily basis to work on specific sections of the article – make a schedule and stick to it.
Scientific research and manuscript writing is bound to be complicated and detailed. Each section of the research article will require re-reading and editing . It is likely that writers will grow weary of their article before it is ready to be handed to a professor or submitted to a journal.
Thus for research paper editing , it is helpful to ask peers to review the work and offer comments and suggestions for changes. Writers always benefit from the feedback received from the peers and in the end, the manuscript is significantly improvised.
Another convenient way of proofreading research papers is Trinka. With Trinka’s Auto File Edit feature, authors can review and apply all language revisions in one go, bringing their research one step closer to publication.
A Global Endeavor
Whether writing for a university lecture or for journal submission , the academic world is no longer segmented into isolated cultures and nationalities. Even if a university classroom is filled with students with the same cultural and national background, they are being trained to move into the global community of scientists. Therefore, it is essential to consider one’s audience while drafting the article and what guidelines exist for publication.
In addition, if the authors are non-native speakers of English and are attempting to write in the language, it is important to know whether the target language is American English or British English.
Good article. For many, writing the first research paper is very difficult. To conduct research is a complex process, but it is even more difficult to write a research paper. Since writing this type of academic work requires good academic writing skills, as well as knowledge of “how to properly write a research paper”. On the Internet, many articles in which writers write about: “how to write a research paper”, “how quickly to write a research paper”, etc. I recommend using only authoritative resources. When I wrote a research paper, I used such resources – https://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/PlanResearchPaper.html . The main criterion for the quality of the written material is compliance with the standards for writing research papers in the United States.
Good article. For many, writing the first research paper is very difficult. To conduct research is a complex process, but it is even more difficult to write a research paper. Since writing this type of academic work requires good academic writing skills, as well as knowledge of “how to properly write a research paper”.
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HOW TO WRITE A GOOD SCIENTIFIC PAPER: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
Who wouldn’t like to see their scientific paper published in a good journal? Yet, putting together a manuscript for the first time might feel like a complex, challenging process. So here we break this task into simple, doable steps and share a few tips on making your writing process smooth and quick.
1. Decide on a storyline and a key message for your scientific paper
Before you jump into writing a paper, you need to think about its key message. What have you discovered? What would be the main takeaway for your paper’s audience? You should be crystal clear on this, so spend some time thinking about it.
Try to formulate your key message in one sentence. For example, “we found that X marks progenitor cells in the developing mouse brain”. Or, “we want to suggest a molecular structure of nucleic acids ”… well, you can’t pull this one off again, but you get the drill.
When you have decided on the key message, think of a storyline that will convey this message. How can you arrange your results so that they will deliver a convincing story? At this stage, it might be helpful to choose a preliminary title and write a brief outline of your research paper.
2. Understand your audience
When writing a scientific paper, you’re trying to explain your key findings to a particular audience interested in your research topic. For your paper to resonate with this audience, you need to understand who your readers are.
When outlining the key message and storyline of your paper, think about scientists who might read it: What are their scientific backgrounds and their research topics? What is their rationale for reading my paper? If your research is interdisciplinary (eg, biophysics), ask yourself: Will all potential readers understand my message? How can I adjust the storyline so that it resonates with scientists from different fields?
3. Prepare figures and tables
Once you have defined your key message and storyline, perhaps even drafted an outline, you can start preparing figures and tables. Many scientists will only read the abstract and then skip to figures and tables without reading the main text. Therefore, these visual items should look top-notch and convey your message to the audience.
How to decide if you should present your data as tables or figures? Tables work well for displaying a large amount of data that can’t be easily plotted onto a graph. Figures are ideal for presenting images, data plots, maps, or schematics and are often used to compare experimental results between different samples or against calculated/theoretical values.
When designing a figure or table, ensure that they communicate your results and look visually appealing. Both figures and tables should have a clear and concise legend or caption. Also, figures and tables must be self-explanatory and not repeat the data shared elsewhere in your paper.
4. Start with the Methods section
Once you’re finished with figures and tables, you can start writing (finally!). Although the abstract and introduction are the first sections of your manuscript, many sources, including scientific journals such as Elsevier , recommend writing them last.
We suggest you using the following writing process: Methods -> Results -> Discussion -> Conclusion -> Introduction ->Abstract
The Methods is the most straightforward section of your manuscript, where you explain how you investigated your research question and describe the protocols and methods you used. Here you need to include enough details so an interested reader can reproduce your experiment. However, if you’re using an established technique, a reference to a paper describing this method would suffice, so you don’t need to duplicate the details.
Quick tip on references: Start collecting your bibliography in advance and use reference software, such as Mendeley or Zotero .
5. Write the Results section
In the Results section, you should only include representative results essential to prove your message. You can place any other supporting data in the Supplementary materials. As this section presents your results, you are usually not expected to cite any references here.
6. Compose the Discussion
In the Discussion section, explain the importance of your results for your research field. You should not simply repeat your Results section here but rather discuss what it meant. Don’t hesitate to make strong statements if your results back them up, but avoid any statements not supported by your results.
Here you are also expected to compare your findings with other published studies in your field. If they are not consistent, suggest possible reasons explaining the difference. Also, the Discussion section should mention any inconclusive results and limitations of the study.
7. Write the Conclusion
The Conclusion can be either a separate section or the last paragraph of the Discussion, depending on the journal. Here you highlight the most important outcomes of your work and explain how they advance the field. Avoid repeating the main points of the Discussion; instead, interpret your results at a higher level of abstraction.
8. Now it’s time for the Introduction
The Introduction section justifies the motivation for your work. In this section, you state your research question/problem, review any existing knowledge in the field, and provide readers with the background information needed to understand your study.
Ensure that you cite current and relevant research papers, including studies with contradicting results. A general recommendation is to use articles no older than ten years unless it’s the first discovery in the field. You should also introduce your study aim at the end of this section.
9. Finish off with the Abstract
Now it’s time to write the abstract, which summarizes the content of your paper, allowing a reader to decide if they want to read further. Many scientists will only skim the Abstract, so it must be valuable and engaging to encourage them to read the entire paper. Typically, journals don’t allow more than 250 words for this section, so you’ll have to keep it brief.
10. Once you’ve got the first draft, keep on editing
To speed up your writing process, try to get your thoughts down the paper as quickly as possible. Don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar, style, or the exact words. You can edit or even re-write the whole section afterward. However, once you drafted the entire section (eg, Methods or Results), you need to ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and easy to read. Here are a few pointers on how to keep your style clean and easy to follow.
Check that your sentences follow a cohesive, logical flow
To connect sentences, you can use transition words, such as therefore, however, and also , but be careful not to overuse them. If two sentences are related, you can also connect them with punctuation marks, such as colons or semicolons. Importantly, ensure your sentences and paragraphs are connected in a logical order: from a general overview to specific details, from introducing a model to describing the results, etc.
Keep your writing clear and straightforward rather than stylish or fancy
The main goal of writing a scientific paper is to be understood (and accepted, published, cited!), so clarity is the key. Avoid using metaphors or similes unless you’re sure that your readers won’t misinterpret them.
Keep your sentences short and to the point
Always check your sentences for redundant words. If a word doesn’t play any role in the sentence, cut it out.
Example: The core PRC2 complex consists of a histone methyltransferase subunit EZH2, which depends on association with SUZ12 and EED and the additional association of the histone-binding proteins RBBP. Revised: The core PRC2 complex consists of a histone methyltransferase subunit EZH2, which works together with SUZ12, EED, and the histone-binding proteins RBBP.
Write with nouns and verbs – use adverbs and adjectives sparingly
“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them.” Mark Twain
Write in plain English
Use language that is clear for everyone, including non-native English speakers, by avoiding jargon words. Even if English is your first language, keep in mind that it’s not the case for many scientists. Remember that you want your paper to be understood and cited by as many scientists as possible.
Also, minimize the number of abbreviations you use, especially avoid those not typical for the field, as they will make your text hard to follow.
Use active voice whenever possible
Feel free to write the Methods in the passive voice because this section focuses on the steps taken rather than on who did it. However, we recommend using active voice in all other sections whenever you can. Writing most of your sentences in the active voice makes the text easy to read and understand.
Example: CUT&RUN typically uses fresh, unfixed samples as starting material, but there have been adjustments to the protocol that allow the use of samples cryopreserved in 10% DMSO. Revised: CUT&RUN typically uses fresh, unfixed samples as starting material, but protocol adjustments can allow the use of samples cryopreserved in 10% DMSO.
Avoid ‘ zombie nouns ’ (ie, nominalizations).
You can easily recognize them by an ending, such as -tion, -ment, -ency (implementation, agreement, tendency, etc) . Zombi nouns make sentences wordy, so when you see it – replace it with an active verb.
Our findings are in agreement with the previous studies. -> Our findings agree with previous studies. We made an assessment of … -> We assessed … Our study took many factors into consideration. -> Our study considered many factors.
Keep the subject and verb close together
Sentences are easy to read if the verb follows the subject because the readers immediately understand what is happening in the sentence. In contrast, separating the subject and verb by a lot of text might confuse the readers and force them to re-read the sentence to understand the meaning.
Example: The discovery that PRC2 loss does not lead to the global loss of H2AK119ub1 h as complicated and expanded our model. Revised: We found that PRC2 loss does not lead to the global loss of H2AK119ub1, and this discovery has complicated and expanded our model .
Wrapping it up
It’s a good practice to get regular feedback from your supervisor, other authors, and collaborators. Once you got a section draft in good shape, send it around to 1-2 colleagues. While you’ll be writing the next section, they will be providing you with valuable feedback on the previous one – win-win!
If you’ve already decided about the target journal for submission, you can always check the journal guidelines for authors (eg, for Nature , PNAS ). Also, you can check out the style of other articles from the target journals you’re planning to submit.
Finally, be prepared that getting your research paper ready for submission won’t be a fast process. You will go through several rounds of editing and get many frustrating comments (pro-tip: don’t reply to those immediately), but it will be all worth it when you finally see your paper in print or pre-print ! Then, don’t forget to tweet about your first publication . Time to celebrate and get cited!
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Scientific writer with background in biology and chemistry. Big fan of science, literature and arts.
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Writing the Scientific Paper
When you write about scientific topics to specialists in a particular scientific field, we call that scientific writing. (When you write to non-specialists about scientific topics, we call that science writing.)
The scientific paper has developed over the past three centuries into a tool to communicate the results of scientific inquiry. The main audience for scientific papers is extremely specialized. The purpose of these papers is twofold: to present information so that it is easy to retrieve, and to present enough information that the reader can duplicate the scientific study. A standard format with six main part helps readers to find expected information and analysis:
- Title--subject and what aspect of the subject was studied.
- Abstract--summary of paper: The main reason for the study, the primary results, the main conclusions
- Introduction-- why the study was undertaken
- Methods and Materials-- how the study was undertaken
- Results-- what was found
- Discussion-- why these results could be significant (what the reasons might be for the patterns found or not found)
There are many ways to approach the writing of a scientific paper, and no one way is right. Many people, however, find that drafting chunks in this order works best: Results, Discussion, Introduction, Materials & Methods, Abstract, and, finally, Title.
The title should be very limited and specific. Really, it should be a pithy summary of the article's main focus.
- "Renal disease susceptibility and hypertension are under independent genetic control in the fawn hooded rat"
- "Territory size in Lincoln's Sparrows ( Melospiza lincolnii )"
- "Replacement of deciduous first premolars and dental eruption in archaeocete whales"
- "The Radio-Frequency Single-Electron Transistor (RF-SET): A Fast and Ultrasensitive Electrometer"
This is a summary of your article. Generally between 50-100 words, it should state the goals, results, and the main conclusions of your study. You should list the parameters of your study (when and where was it conducted, if applicable; your sample size; the specific species, proteins, genes, etc., studied). Think of the process of writing the abstract as taking one or two sentences from each of your sections (an introductory sentence, a sentence stating the specific question addressed, a sentence listing your main techniques or procedures, two or three sentences describing your results, and one sentence describing your main conclusion).
Hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia are risk factors for life-threatening complications such as end-stage renal disease, coronary artery disease and stroke. Why some patients develop complications is unclear, but only susceptibility genes may be involved. To test this notion, we studied crosses involving the fawn-hooded rat, an animal model of hypertension that develops chronic renal failure. Here, we report the localization of two genes, Rf-1 and Rf-2 , responsible for about half of the genetic variation in key indices of renal impairment. In addition, we localize a gene, Bpfh-1 , responsible for about 26% of the genetic variation in blood pressure. Rf-1 strongly affects the risk of renal impairment, but has no significant effect on blood pressure. Our results show that susceptibility to a complication of hypertension is under at least partially independent genetic control from susceptibility to hypertension itself.
Brown, Donna M, A.P. Provoost, M.J. Daly, E.S. Lander, & H.J. Jacob. 1996. "Renal disease susceptibility and hypertension are under indpendent genetic control in the faun-hooded rat." Nature Genetics , 12(1):44-51.
We studied survival of 220 calves of radiocollared moose ( Alces alces ) from parturition to the end of July in southcentral Alaska from 1994 to 1997. Prior studies established that predation by brown bears ( Ursus arctos ) was the primary cause of mortality of moose calves in the region. Our objectives were to characterize vulnerability of moose calves to predation as influenced by age, date, snow depths, and previous reproductive success of the mother. We also tested the hypothesis that survival of twin moose calves was independent and identical to that of single calves. Survival of moose calves from parturition through July was 0.27 ± 0.03 SE, and their daily rate of mortality declined at a near constant rate with age in that period. Mean annual survival was 0.22 ± 0.03 SE. Previous winter's snow depths or survival of the mother's previous calf was not related to neonatal survival. Selection for early parturition was evidenced in the 4 years of study by a 6.3% increase in the hazard of death with each daily increase in parturition date. Although there was no significant difference in survival of twin and single moose calves, most twins that died disappeared together during the first 15 days after birth and independently thereafter, suggesting that predators usually killed both when encountered up to that age.
Key words: Alaska, Alces alces , calf survival, moose, Nelchina, parturition synchrony, predation
Testa, J.W., E.F. Becker, & G.R. Lee. 2000. "Temporal patterns in the survival of twin and single moose ( alces alces ) calves in southcentral Alaska." Journal of Mammalogy , 81(1):162-168.
We monitored breeding phenology and population levels of Rana yavapaiensis by use of repeated egg mass censuses and visual encounter surveys at Agua Caliente Canyon near Tucson, Arizona, from 1994 to 1996. Adult counts fluctuated erratically within each year of the study but annual means remained similar. Juvenile counts peaked during the fall recruitment season and fell to near zero by early spring. Rana yavapaiensis deposited eggs in two distinct annual episodes, one in spring (March-May) and a much smaller one in fall (September-October). Larvae from the spring deposition period completed metamorphosis in earlv summer. Over the two years of study, 96.6% of egg masses successfully produced larvae. Egg masses were deposited during periods of predictable, moderate stream flow, but not during seasonal periods when flash flooding or drought were likely to affect eggs or larvae. Breeding phenology of Rana yavapaiensis is particularly well suited for life in desert streams with natural flow regimes which include frequent flash flooding and drought at predictable times. The exotic predators of R. yavapaiensis are less able to cope with fluctuating conditions. Unaltered stream flow regimes that allow natural fluctuations in stream discharge may provide refugia for this declining ranid frog from exotic predators by excluding those exotic species that are unable to cope with brief flash flooding and habitat drying.
Sartorius, Shawn S., and Philip C. Rosen. 2000. "Breeding phenology of the lowland leopard frog ( Rana yavepaiensis )." Southwestern Naturalist , 45(3): 267-273.
The introduction is where you sketch out the background of your study, including why you have investigated the question that you have and how it relates to earlier research that has been done in the field. It may help to think of an introduction as a telescoping focus, where you begin with the broader context and gradually narrow to the specific problem addressed by the report. A typical (and very useful) construction of an introduction proceeds as follows:
"Echimyid rodents of the genus Proechimys (spiny rats) often are the most abundant and widespread lowland forest rodents throughout much of their range in the Neotropics (Eisenberg 1989). Recent studies suggested that these rodents play an important role in forest dynamics through their activities as seed predators and dispersers of seeds (Adler and Kestrell 1998; Asquith et al 1997; Forget 1991; Hoch and Adler 1997)." (Lambert and Adler, p. 70)
"Our laboratory has been involved in the analysis of the HLA class II genes and their association with autoimmune disorders such as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. As part of this work, the laboratory handles a large number of blood samples. In an effort to minimize the expense and urgency of transportation of frozen or liquid blood samples, we have designed a protocol that will preserve the integrity of lymphocyte DNA and enable the transport and storage of samples at ambient temperatures." (Torrance, MacLeod & Hache, p. 64)
"Despite the ubiquity and abundance of P. semispinosus , only two previous studies have assessed habitat use, with both showing a generalized habitat use. [brief summary of these studies]." (Lambert and Adler, p. 70)
"Although very good results have been obtained using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of DNA extracted from dried blood spots on filter paper (1,4,5,8,9), this preservation method yields limited amounts of DNA and is susceptible to contamination." (Torrance, MacLeod & Hache, p. 64)
"No attempt has been made to quantitatively describe microhabitat characteristics with which this species may be associated. Thus, specific structural features of secondary forests that may promote abundance of spiny rats remains unknown. Such information is essential to understand the role of spiny rats in Neotropical forests, particularly with regard to forest regeneration via interactions with seeds." (Lambert and Adler, p. 71)
"As an alternative, we have been investigating the use of lyophilization ("freeze-drying") of whole blood as a method to preserve sufficient amounts of genomic DNA to perform PCR and Southern Blot analysis." (Torrance, MacLeod & Hache, p. 64)
"We present an analysis of microhabitat use by P. semispinosus in tropical moist forests in central Panama." (Lambert and Adler, p. 71)
"In this report, we summarize our analysis of genomic DNA extracted from lyophilized whole blood." (Torrance, MacLeod & Hache, p. 64)
Methods and Materials
In this section you describe how you performed your study. You need to provide enough information here for the reader to duplicate your experiment. However, be reasonable about who the reader is. Assume that he or she is someone familiar with the basic practices of your field.
It's helpful to both writer and reader to organize this section chronologically: that is, describe each procedure in the order it was performed. For example, DNA-extraction, purification, amplification, assay, detection. Or, study area, study population, sampling technique, variables studied, analysis method.
Include in this section:
- study design: procedures should be listed and described, or the reader should be referred to papers that have already described the used procedure
- particular techniques used and why, if relevant
- modifications of any techniques; be sure to describe the modification
- specialized equipment, including brand-names
- temporal, spatial, and historical description of study area and studied population
- assumptions underlying the study
- statistical methods, including software programs
Example description of activity
Chromosomal DNA was denatured for the first cycle by incubating the slides in 70% deionized formamide; 2x standard saline citrate (SSC) at 70ºC for 2 min, followed by 70% ethanol at -20ºC and then 90% and 100% ethanol at room temperature, followed by air drying. (Rouwendal et al ., p. 79)
Example description of assumptions
We considered seeds left in the petri dish to be unharvested and those scattered singly on the surface of a tile to be scattered and also unharvested. We considered seeds in cheek pouches to be harvested but not cached, those stored in the nestbox to be larderhoarded, and those buried in caching sites within the arena to be scatterhoarded. (Krupa and Geluso, p. 99)
Examples of use of specialized equipment
- Oligonucleotide primers were prepared using the Applied Biosystems Model 318A (Foster City, CA) DNA Synthesizer according to the manufacturers' instructions. (Rouwendal et al ., p.78)
- We first visually reviewed the complete song sample of an individual using spectrograms produced on a Princeton Applied Research Real Time Spectrum Analyzer (model 4512). (Peters et al ., p. 937)
Example of use of a certain technique
Frogs were monitored using visual encounter transects (Crump and Scott, 1994). (Sartorius and Rosen, p. 269)
Example description of statistical analysis
We used Wilcox rank-sum tests for all comparisons of pre-experimental scores and for all comparisons of hue, saturation, and brightness scores between various groups of birds ... All P -values are two-tailed unless otherwise noted. (Brawner et al ., p. 955)
This section presents the facts--what was found in the course of this investigation. Detailed data--measurements, counts, percentages, patterns--usually appear in tables, figures, and graphs, and the text of the section draws attention to the key data and relationships among data. Three rules of thumb will help you with this section:
- present results clearly and logically
- avoid excess verbiage
- consider providing a one-sentence summary at the beginning of each paragraph if you think it will help your reader understand your data
Remember to use table and figures effectively. But don't expect these to stand alone.
Some examples of well-organized and easy-to-follow results:
- Size of the aquatic habitat at Agua Caliente Canyon varied dramatically throughout the year. The site contained three rockbound tinajas (bedrock pools) that did not dry during this study. During periods of high stream discharge seven more seasonal pools and intermittent stretches of riffle became available. Perennial and seasonal pool levels remained stable from late February through early May. Between mid-May and mid-July seasonal pools dried until they disappeared. Perennial pools shrank in surface area from a range of 30-60 m² to 3-5- M². (Sartorius and Rosen, Sept. 2000: 269)
Notice how the second sample points out what is important in the accompanying figure. It makes us aware of relationships that we may not have noticed quickly otherwise and that will be important to the discussion.
A similar test result is obtained with a primer derived from the human ß-satellite... This primer (AGTGCAGAGATATGTCACAATG-CCCC: Oligo 435) labels 6 sites in the PRINS reaction: the chromosomes 1, one pair of acrocentrics and, more weakly, the chromosomes 9 (Fig. 2a). After 10 cycles of PCR-IS, the number of sites labeled has doubled (Fig. 2b); after 20 cycles, the number of sites labeled is the same but the signals are stronger (Fig. 2c) (Rouwendal et al ., July 93:80).
Related Information: Use Tables and Figures Effectively
Do not repeat all of the information in the text that appears in a table, but do summarize it. For example, if you present a table of temperature measurements taken at various times, describe the general pattern of temperature change and refer to the table.
"The temperature of the solution increased rapidly at first, going from 50º to 80º in the first three minutes (Table 1)."
You don't want to list every single measurement in the text ("After one minute, the temperature had risen to 55º. After two minutes, it had risen to 58º," etc.). There is no hard and fast rule about when to report all measurements in the text and when to put the measurements in a table and refer to them, but use your common sense. Remember that readers have all that data in the accompanying tables and figures, so your task in this section is to highlight key data, changes, or relationships.
In this section you discuss your results. What aspect you choose to focus on depends on your results and on the main questions addressed by them. For example, if you were testing a new technique, you will want to discuss how useful this technique is: how well did it work, what are the benefits and drawbacks, etc. If you are presenting data that appear to refute or support earlier research, you will want to analyze both your own data and the earlier data--what conditions are different? how much difference is due to a change in the study design, and how much to a new property in the study subject? You may discuss the implication of your research--particularly if it has a direct bearing on a practical issue, such as conservation or public health.
This section centers on speculation . However, this does not free you to present wild and haphazard guesses. Focus your discussion around a particular question or hypothesis. Use subheadings to organize your thoughts, if necessary.
This section depends on a logical organization so readers can see the connection between your study question and your results. One typical approach is to make a list of all the ideas that you will discuss and to work out the logical relationships between them--what idea is most important? or, what point is most clearly made by your data? what ideas are subordinate to the main idea? what are the connections between ideas?
Achieving the Scientific Voice
Eight tips will help you match your style for most scientific publications.
- Develop a precise vocabulary: read the literature to become fluent, or at least familiar with, the sort of language that is standard to describe what you're trying to describe.
- Once you've labeled an activity, a condition, or a period of time, use that label consistently throughout the paper. Consistency is more important than creativity.
- Define your terms and your assumptions.
- Include all the information the reader needs to interpret your data.
- Remember, the key to all scientific discourse is that it be reproducible . Have you presented enough information clearly enough that the reader could reproduce your experiment, your research, or your investigation?
- When describing an activity, break it down into elements that can be described and labeled, and then present them in the order they occurred.
- When you use numbers, use them effectively. Don't present them so that they cause more work for the reader.
- Include details before conclusions, but only include those details you have been able to observe by the methods you have described. Do not include your feelings, attitudes, impressions, or opinions.
- Research your format and citations: do these match what have been used in current relevant journals?
- Run a spellcheck and proofread carefully. Read your paper out loud, and/ or have a friend look over it for misspelled words, missing words, etc.
Applying the Principles, Example 1
The following example needs more precise information. Look at the original and revised paragraphs to see how revising with these guidelines in mind can make the text clearer and more informative:
Before: Each male sang a definite number of songs while singing. They start with a whistle and then go from there. Each new song is always different, but made up an overall repertoire that was completed before starting over again. In 16 cases (84%), no new songs were sung after the first 20, even though we counted about 44 songs for each bird.
After: Each male used a discrete number of song types in his singing. Each song began with an introductory whistle, followed by a distinctive, complex series of fluty warbles (Fig. 1). Successive songs were always different, and five of the 19 males presented their entire song repertoire before repeating any of their song types (i.e., the first IO recorded songs revealed the entire repertoire of 10 song types). Each song type recurred in long sequences of singing, so that we could be confident that we had recorded the entire repertoire of commonly used songs by each male. For 16 of the 19 males, no new song types were encountered after the first 20 songs, even though we analyzed and average of 44 songs/male (range 30-59).
Applying the Principles, Example 2
In this set of examples, even a few changes in wording result in a more precise second version. Look at the original and revised paragraphs to see how revising with these guidelines in mind can make the text clearer and more informative:
Before: The study area was on Mt. Cain and Maquilla Peak in British Columbia, Canada. The study area is about 12,000 ha of coastal montane forest. The area is both managed and unmanaged and ranges from 600-1650m. The most common trees present are mountain hemlock ( Tsuga mertensiana ), western hemlock ( Tsuga heterophylla ), yellow cedar ( Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ), and amabilis fir ( Abies amabilis ).
After: The study took place on Mt. Cain and Maquilla Peak (50'1 3'N, 126'1 8'W), Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The study area encompassed 11,800 ha of coastal montane forest. The landscape consisted of managed and unmanaged stands of coastal montane forest, 600-1650 m in elevation. The dominant tree species included mountain hemlock ( Tsuga mertensiana ), western hemlock ( Tsuga heterophylla ), yellow cedar ( Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ), and amabilis fir ( Abies amabilis ).
Two Tips for Sentence Clarity
Although you will want to consider more detailed stylistic revisions as you become more comfortable with scientific writing, two tips can get you started:
First, the verb should follow the subject as soon as possible.
Really Hard to Read : "The smallest of the URF's (URFA6L), a 207-nucleotide (nt) reading frame overlapping out of phase the NH2- terminal portion of the adenosinetriphosphatase (ATPase) subunit 6 gene has been identified as the animal equivalent of the recently discovered yeast H+-ATPase subunit gene."
Less Hard to Read : "The smallest of the UR-F's is URFA6L, a 207-nucleotide (nt) reading frame overlapping out of phase the NH2-terminal portion of the adenosinetriphosphatase (ATPase) subunit 6 gene; it has been identified as the animal equivalent of the recently discovered yeast H+-ATPase subunit 8 gene."
Second, place familiar information first in a clause, a sentence, or a paragraph, and put the new and unfamiliar information later.
More confusing : The epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer are the three layers of the skin. A layer of dead skin cells makes up the epidermis, which forms the body's shield against the world. Blood vessels, carrying nourishment, and nerve endings, which relay information about the outside world, are found in the dermis. Sweat glands and fat cells make up the third layer, the subcutaneous layer.
Less confusing : The skin consists of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer. The epidermis is made up of dead skin cells, and forms a protective shield between the body and the world. The dermis contains the blood vessels and nerve endings that nourish the skin and make it receptive to outside stimuli. The subcutaneous layer contains the sweat glands and fat cells which perform other functions of the skin.
- Scientific Writing for Graduate Students . F. P. Woodford. Bethesda, MD: Council of Biology Editors, 1968. [A manual on the teaching of writing to graduate students--very clear and direct.]
- Scientific Style and Format . Council of Biology Editors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- "The science of scientific writing." George Gopen and Judith Swann. The American Scientist , Vol. 78, Nov.-Dec. 1990. Pp 550-558.
- "What's right about scientific writing." Alan Gross and Joseph Harmon. The Scientist , Dec. 6 1999. Pp. 20-21.
- "A Quick Fix for Figure Legends and Table Headings." Donald Kroodsma. The Auk , 117 (4): 1081-1083, 2000.
Wortman-Wunder, Emily, & Kate Kiefer. (1998). Writing the Scientific Paper. Writing@CSU . Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/resources/writing/guides/.
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Tips for improving your scientific, academic writing
Whenever someone decides to create a piece of written work there are two important questions they should answer before doing anything else.
- What is the purpose of this writing?
- Who is my target audience?
Any attempts at creating a successful bit of writing are likely to fail unless the two questions are adequately addressed.
Once you know why and for who you are creating the work, the style that you use when completing it is often a matter of choice. However, when it comes to academic writing, there is unfortunately much less wiggle room for authors. This is because academic writing should be objective and logically reach its conclusions. More than this, scientific journals have incredibly strict guidelines for submitted papers. Any deviation from the rules will result in rejection of the paper.
There are a number of things that an author can do to keep their academic submissions in the style most journals currently desire:
1. Purpose and audience
As already mentioned these are the cornerstones for any piece of writing. In scientific papers, the purpose is usually the presentation, dissemination and acceptance of experimental data and the conclusions drawn from it. Your target audience is most likely to be made up of peers working in the same area and with a similar level of knowledge. This helps you to decide the degree of detail and technical depth that you need to explain and helps focus your writing on the most important points.
The title of your paper or piece of scientific writing should be as simple and concise as possible. It needs to describe the content of your writing in as few words as possible, without being too technical. After reading the title, the reader should understand the main idea of your research.
3. Planning and structure
Before you dig into the nitty gritty of writing your paper, you should look at it from an overall perspective. Nearly all scientific papers now follow the introduction, method, results, discussion structure, but there are further considerations to make. For example:
• How will you divide up the different elements of your study within each section?
• How will you use figures to represent the results and analysis of your experiments?
Planning ahead and creating a framework for your paper will not only make the final piece more readable, but it will also help you to write it. Your ultimate goal is to structure the paper in a way that will give it the most impact.
4. Formal and impersonal
Your work will be a piece of professional writing to be read and discussed in a professional setting. Therefore, it should be written in a professional style. One method to make your writing feel more objective is to eliminate the use of personal pronouns. Using “I” and “we” distracts the reader from the fact that what you’re saying is valid no matter who is doing it.
Another rule to consider is that this piece of writing must stand on its own. It is not a discussion; the reader can’t easily ask for clarification or expansion. One particular way to remove the element of conversation from the writing is to do away with contractions. For example, don't write 'it’s', use 'it is'.
Another way to remove the conversational element is to use formal, scientific language rather than informal language. For example, ‘investigate’ rather than ‘look into’ and ‘conducted’ rather than ‘did’.
5. Concise and consistent
In academic writing, your words should be thought of as precious commodities. Do not use more words than necessary and do not repeat yourself. Be concise. Writing short sentences rather than long, potentially confusing sentences will help your writing be better understood and reduce the likelihood of anything being misinterpreted.
To maintain credibility, be consistent in your style. It may be a matter of opinion whether you should write something one way or another, but by remaining consistent, it shows that you have considered your options and made a decision. This demonstrates that you are taking the topic seriously and have made considered choices to help you communicate your point.
Always ensure you leave yourself enough time to proofread your writing. If you complete your work well before the deadline, you can proofread your writing with fresh eyes after taking a break from it for a day or two. When proofreading, check the phrasing of your sentences as well as the punctuation and overall structure of your writing. Make sure that your writing is structured logically, your sentences are concise and coherent, and the writing conveys what you are trying to say.
For a more in-depth guide on specific rules for writing formal scientific documents try this article from Dr James A. Bednar. Alternatively, read Scientifica’s 7 tips to get your first paper published for more information on writing academic papers.
Read our tips for communicating your scientific research to non-experts , for advice on writing about or presenting your research to those who aren't experts in your field.
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