Writing Scientific Papers Featured

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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: it should be a pithy summary of the article's main focus. It should be very limited and specific.
  • Abstract: The summary of paper. 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).
  • Introduction: 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:
  1. Open with two or three sentences placing your study subject in context.
  2. Follow with a description of the problem and its history, including previous research.
  3. Describe how your work addresses a gap in existing knowledge or ability (here's where you'll state why you've undertaken this study)
  1. State what information your article will address.
  • Methods and Materials: n 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

  • Results: 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. Do not repeat all of the information in the text that appears in a table, but do summarize it.

  • Discussion: 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Be as precise as possible: limit language.
    • 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.
  3. Be honest about the limitations of your knowledge or your research: give the reader enough information to come to the same conclusions that you did (or to come to different conclusions)
    • 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?
  4. When describing an activity, break it down into elements that can be described and labeled, and then present them in the order they occurred.
  5. When you use numbers, use them effectively. Don't present them so that they cause more work for the reader.
  6. 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.
  7. Research your format and citations: do these match what have been used in current relevant journals?
  8. 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.

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Read 13129 times Last modified on Last modified on octobre 17 2016

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