how to write a scientific paper example

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).

Example One

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.

Example Two

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.

Example Three

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.

Introduction

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.

Bibliography

  • 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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10 Simple Steps to Writing a Scientific Paper

Flowchart of the writing process

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.

how to write a scientific paper example

How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal

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  • Volume 36 , pages 909–913, ( 2021 )

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Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1 , we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.

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Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

Introduction

Writing a scientific paper is an important component of the research process, yet researchers often receive little formal training in scientific writing. This is especially true in low-resource settings. In this article, we explain why choosing a target journal is important, give advice about authorship, provide a basic structure for writing each section of a scientific paper, and describe common pitfalls and recommendations for each section. In the online resource 1 , we also include an annotated journal article that identifies the key elements and writing approaches that we detail here. Before you begin your research, make sure you have ethical clearance from all relevant ethical review boards.

Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process

We recommend that you select a “target journal” early in the writing process; a “target journal” is the journal to which you plan to submit your paper. Each journal has a set of core readers and you should tailor your writing to this readership. For example, if you plan to submit a manuscript about vaping during pregnancy to a pregnancy-focused journal, you will need to explain what vaping is because readers of this journal may not have a background in this topic. However, if you were to submit that same article to a tobacco journal, you would not need to provide as much background information about vaping.

Information about a journal’s core readership can be found on its website, usually in a section called “About this journal” or something similar. For example, the Journal of Cancer Education presents such information on the “Aims and Scope” page of its website, which can be found here: https://www.springer.com/journal/13187/aims-and-scope .

Peer reviewer guidelines from your target journal are an additional resource that can help you tailor your writing to the journal and provide additional advice about crafting an effective article [ 1 ]. These are not always available, but it is worth a quick web search to find out.

Identify Author Roles Early in the Process

Early in the writing process, identify authors, determine the order of authors, and discuss the responsibilities of each author. Standard author responsibilities have been identified by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [ 2 ]. To set clear expectations about each team member’s responsibilities and prevent errors in communication, we also suggest outlining more detailed roles, such as who will draft each section of the manuscript, write the abstract, submit the paper electronically, serve as corresponding author, and write the cover letter. It is best to formalize this agreement in writing after discussing it, circulating the document to the author team for approval. We suggest creating a title page on which all authors are listed in the agreed-upon order. It may be necessary to adjust authorship roles and order during the development of the paper. If a new author order is agreed upon, be sure to update the title page in the manuscript draft.

In the case where multiple papers will result from a single study, authors should discuss who will author each paper. Additionally, authors should agree on a deadline for each paper and the lead author should take responsibility for producing an initial draft by this deadline.

Structure of the Introduction Section

The introduction section should be approximately three to five paragraphs in length. Look at examples from your target journal to decide the appropriate length. This section should include the elements shown in Fig.  1 . Begin with a general context, narrowing to the specific focus of the paper. Include five main elements: why your research is important, what is already known about the topic, the “gap” or what is not yet known about the topic, why it is important to learn the new information that your research adds, and the specific research aim(s) that your paper addresses. Your research aim should address the gap you identified. Be sure to add enough background information to enable readers to understand your study. Table 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

figure 1

The main elements of the introduction section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Methods Section

The purpose of the methods section is twofold: to explain how the study was done in enough detail to enable its replication and to provide enough contextual detail to enable readers to understand and interpret the results. In general, the essential elements of a methods section are the following: a description of the setting and participants, the study design and timing, the recruitment and sampling, the data collection process, the dataset, the dependent and independent variables, the covariates, the analytic approach for each research objective, and the ethical approval. The hallmark of an exemplary methods section is the justification of why each method was used. Table 2 provides common methods section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Results Section

The focus of the results section should be associations, or lack thereof, rather than statistical tests. Two considerations should guide your writing here. First, the results should present answers to each part of the research aim. Second, return to the methods section to ensure that the analysis and variables for each result have been explained.

Begin the results section by describing the number of participants in the final sample and details such as the number who were approached to participate, the proportion who were eligible and who enrolled, and the number of participants who dropped out. The next part of the results should describe the participant characteristics. After that, you may organize your results by the aim or by putting the most exciting results first. Do not forget to report your non-significant associations. These are still findings.

Tables and figures capture the reader’s attention and efficiently communicate your main findings [ 3 ]. Each table and figure should have a clear message and should complement, rather than repeat, the text. Tables and figures should communicate all salient details necessary for a reader to understand the findings without consulting the text. Include information on comparisons and tests, as well as information about the sample and timing of the study in the title, legend, or in a footnote. Note that figures are often more visually interesting than tables, so if it is feasible to make a figure, make a figure. To avoid confusing the reader, either avoid abbreviations in tables and figures, or define them in a footnote. Note that there should not be citations in the results section and you should not interpret results here. Table 3 provides common results section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Discussion Section

Opposite the introduction section, the discussion should take the form of a right-side-up triangle beginning with interpretation of your results and moving to general implications (Fig.  2 ). This section typically begins with a restatement of the main findings, which can usually be accomplished with a few carefully-crafted sentences.

figure 2

Major elements of the discussion section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Next, interpret the meaning or explain the significance of your results, lifting the reader’s gaze from the study’s specific findings to more general applications. Then, compare these study findings with other research. Are these findings in agreement or disagreement with those from other studies? Does this study impart additional nuance to well-accepted theories? Situate your findings within the broader context of scientific literature, then explain the pathways or mechanisms that might give rise to, or explain, the results.

Journals vary in their approach to strengths and limitations sections: some are embedded paragraphs within the discussion section, while some mandate separate section headings. Keep in mind that every study has strengths and limitations. Candidly reporting yours helps readers to correctly interpret your research findings.

The next element of the discussion is a summary of the potential impacts and applications of the research. Should these results be used to optimally design an intervention? Does the work have implications for clinical protocols or public policy? These considerations will help the reader to further grasp the possible impacts of the presented work.

Finally, the discussion should conclude with specific suggestions for future work. Here, you have an opportunity to illuminate specific gaps in the literature that compel further study. Avoid the phrase “future research is necessary” because the recommendation is too general to be helpful to readers. Instead, provide substantive and specific recommendations for future studies. Table 4 provides common discussion section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines

After you select a target journal, identify the journal’s author guidelines to guide the formatting of your manuscript and references. Author guidelines will often (but not always) include instructions for titles, cover letters, and other components of a manuscript submission. Read the guidelines carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, your article will be sent back to you.

Finally, do not submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. Even if this is not explicitly stated in the author guidelines of your target journal, it is considered inappropriate and unprofessional.

Your title should invite readers to continue reading beyond the first page [ 4 , 5 ]. It should be informative and interesting. Consider describing the independent and dependent variables, the population and setting, the study design, the timing, and even the main result in your title. Because the focus of the paper can change as you write and revise, we recommend you wait until you have finished writing your paper before composing the title.

Be sure that the title is useful for potential readers searching for your topic. The keywords you select should complement those in your title to maximize the likelihood that a researcher will find your paper through a database search. Avoid using abbreviations in your title unless they are very well known, such as SNP, because it is more likely that someone will use a complete word rather than an abbreviation as a search term to help readers find your paper.

After you have written a complete draft, use the checklist (Fig. 3 ) below to guide your revisions and editing. Additional resources are available on writing the abstract and citing references [ 5 ]. When you feel that your work is ready, ask a trusted colleague or two to read the work and provide informal feedback. The box below provides a checklist that summarizes the key points offered in this article.

figure 3

Checklist for manuscript quality

Data Availability

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Brett M, Kording K (2017) Ten simple rules for structuring papers. PLoS ComputBiol. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619

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Acknowledgments

Ella August is grateful to the Sustainable Sciences Institute for mentoring her in training researchers on writing and publishing their research.

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Busse, C., August, E. How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal. J Canc Educ 36 , 909–913 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z

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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.

INTRODUCTION

“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.

CONCLUSIONS

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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Scientific Paper: What is it & How to Write it? (Steps and Format)

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A white page, and a blinking cursor: How can a blank document be so intimidating? You might hear the voice of your Ph.D. professor rumbling in your head: “Well done with the research, why don’t you put all that data together in a scientific paper so we can get it published?”

Well, it’s more challenging than it sounds!

For first-time authors, the chances of writing their own scientific research may both be overwhelming and exciting. Encountered with a mountain of notes, data, remnants of the research process, and days spent doing experiments, it may be daunting to figure out where and how to begin the process of writing a scientific paper!

The good news is, you don’t have to be a talented writer to pen-down a good scientific paper, but just have to be an organized and careful writer.

This is why we have put time and effort into creating an exceptional guide on how to write a scientific paper that will help you present your research successfully to your supervisors or publications without any clutter!

Before we begin, let’s learn about the touchstones or benchmarks of scientific writing for authors!

What is a Scientific Paper? (Definition)

A scientific paper is a manuscript that represents an original work of scientific research or study. It can be an addition to the ongoing study in a field, can be groundbreaking, or a comparative study between different approaches.

Most times, a scientific paper draws the research performed by an individual or a group of people. These papers showcase valuable analysis in fields like theoretical physics, mathematics, etc., and are routinely published in scientific journals.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide on Technical Documentation

3 Golden Rules of Scientific Writing

According to a study by lijunsun, scientists and writers have identified difficulties in communicating science to the public through typical scientific prose.

Scientists doing research

Simply put, it is important for researchers to maintain a balance between receiving respect and recognition for their research in a particular field and making sure that their work is understandable to a wider audience. The latter can be achieved through clarity, simplicity, and accuracy.

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Clarity – Research is unambiguous and free of irrelevant conjecture or detail.

Simplicity – Language, sentence, and paragraph structure are easy to comprehend and follow without losing scientific credibility or authority.

Accuracy – Data, figures, tables, references, and citations are illustrated verifiably and honestly.

Why are Scientific Papers Important?

A scientific paper is both a testing device and a teaching device.

When handled correctly, it empowers you to

  • Learn and read an assignment carefully,
  • Research the nuances of your topic,
  • Refine your focus to a strong,
  • Offer arguable thesis,
  • Select the best evidence to prove the analysis of your dissertation.

As a primary teaching device, the scientific paper in your field trains you to self-learn some rules and expectations in terms of:

  • Writing format,
  • Appropriateness of language and content,
  • Submission requirements,
  • Bibliographic styles, and much more.

As you move onward with your research, you’ll find that the scientific paper quickly becomes the educational “ coin of the realm .” Hence, it’s important to approach any scientific paper with zeal for higher learning.

Read more:  Technical Report: What is it & How to Write it? (Steps & Structure Included)

How to Write a Scientific Paper? (Steps & Format)

When you begin with writing your scientific manuscript, the first thing to consider is the format and order of sections in relation to your research or the information you want to showcase.

A scientific paper follows the  conventional format of research-based writing, which provides a deeper understanding of the purpose of each section. The structure starts with:

Step 1. Add Title in the Paper

A title should be of the fewest words possible, accurately describing the content of the paper. Try to eliminate unnecessary words such as “Investigations of …”, “A study of …”, “Observations on …”, etc.

An improperly titled scientific paper might never reach the readers for which it was intended. Hence, mention the name of the study, a particular region it was conducted in, or an element it contains in the title.

Step 2. Mention Keywords List

A keyword list offers the opportunity to add keywords, in addition to those already written in the title. Optimal use of keywords may increase the chances of interested parties to easily locate your scientific paper.

Step 3.  Add Abstract

A well-defined abstract allows the reader to identify the basic content of your paper quickly and accurately, to determine its relevance, and decide whether to read it in its entirety. The abstract briefly states the principal, scope, and objectives of the research. The abstract typically should not exceed 250 words. If you can convey the important details of the paper in 100 words, do not try to use more.

Step 4. Start with  Introduction

An introduction begins by introducing the authors and their relevant fields to the reader. A common mistake made is introducing their areas of study while not mentioning their major findings in descriptive scientific writing, enabling the reader to place the current work in context.

The ending of the introduction can be done through a statement of objectives or, with a brief statement of the principal findings. Either way, the reader must have an idea of where the paper is headed to process the development of the evidence.

Step 5. Mention Scientific  Materials and Methods Used

The primary purpose of the ‘Materials and Methods’ section is to provide enough detail for a competent worker to replicate your research and reproduce the results.

The scientific method requires your results to be reproducible, and provide a basis for the reiteration of the study by others. However, if case your material and method have been previously published in a journal, only the name of the study and a literature reference is needed.

Step 6. Write down  Results

Results display your findings, figures, and tables of your study. It represents the data, condensed, and digested with important trends that are extracted while researching. Since the results hold new knowledge that you are contributing to the world, it is important that your data is simply and clearly stated.

Step 7. Create a  Discussion Section

A discussion involves talking and answering about different aspects of the scientific paper such as: what principles have been established or reinforced; how your findings compare to the findings of others, what generalizations can be drawn, and whether there are any practical/theoretical implications of your research.

Students discussing a scientific paper

Step 8. Mention References

A list of references presented alphabetically by author’s surname, or number, based on the publication, must be provided at the end of your scientific paper. The reference list must contain all references cited in the text. Include author details such as the title of the article, year of publication, name of journal or book or volume, and page numbers with each reference

Now that you know the key elements to include in your scientific paper, it’s time to introduce you to an awesome tool that will make writing a scientific paper, a breeze!

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Bit.ai is a new-age documentation and knowledge management tool that allows researchers and teams to collaborate, share, track, and manage all knowledge and research in one place. Bit documents, unlike your standard Word Docs or Google Docs, are interactive .  This means that authors can use Bit to create interactive, media-rich scientific papers easily!

Bit.ai: Documentation tool for creating scientific papers

Thus, Bit brings together everything you need to conduct and write a comprehensive scientific paper under one roof, cutting down your efforts in half! Bit has a super easy and fun interface, making onboarding new users easier than ever!

All-in-all Bit is like Google Docs on steroids ! So, no more settling for those boring text editors when you have an excessively robust solution to walk you through!

Bit features infographic

  • Organized workspaces and folders – Bit brings all your research in one place by allowing you to organize information in workspaces and folders. Workspaces can be created around projects, studies, departments, and fields. Everyone added to a workspace can access and collaborate on its content. Inside each workspace, you can create an unlimited number of wikis and access your content library.
  • Content library –  Bit has a content library at the workspace level where you can store and share assets. You can save images, files, and content easily and can access it at any point.
  • Rich embed options – Bit.ai integrates with over 100+ web applications (Ex: YouTube, PDFs, LucidChart, Google Drive, etc.) to help you weave information in their wikis beyond just text and images.
  • Smart search – Bit has very robust search functionality that allows anyone to find information quickly. You can search for folders, files, documents, and content inside your documents across all of your workspaces.
  • Interlink documents – Bit allows authors to create unlimited documents and interlink them to create wikis that expand the knowledge base. Simply highlight the words and you have the option to create a new document.
  • Permission & sharing access – Bit supports features like document tracking, cloud upload, templates, document locking, document expiration, password protection, etc.

Our team at  bit.ai  has created a few awesome templates to make your research process more efficient. Make sure to check them out before you go, y our team might need them!

  • Case Study Template
  • Research Paper Template
  • Competitor Research Template
  • Brainstorming Template
  • SWOT Analysis Template
  • White Paper Template

Read More:  How Bit.ai Can Help You Manage Your Academic Research?

Over to You!

Scientific papers are the medium through which scientists report their work to the world. Their professional reputation is based on how these papers are acknowledged by the scientific community.

No matter how great the actual experiment is, a poorly written scientific paper may negatively affect one’s professional honor, or worse, prevent the paper from being published at all. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to learn everything about writing a scientific paper.

There is no better tool than Bit to help you save time and energy required for the whole writing process. It’s time to make a mark in the scientific community by showcasing a well-crafted scientific paper with Bit. If you want any further assistance in presenting your research, let us know by tweeting us @bit_docs. Cheers!

Further reads:

How To Write A Research Paper?

Thesis Statement: Definition, Importance, Steps & Tips!

How To Write A Case Study (With Template)

How to Write an Insane White Paper that Gets High Engagement?

how to write a scientific paper example

Request for Proposal (RFP): What is it & How to Write it? (Free Template)

9 Essential Writing Tips Every Writer Must Use!

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About Bit.ai

Bit.ai is the essential next-gen workplace and document collaboration platform. that helps teams share knowledge by connecting any type of digital content. With this intuitive, cloud-based solution, anyone can work visually and collaborate in real-time while creating internal notes, team projects, knowledge bases, client-facing content, and more.

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Writing a scientific paper.

  • Writing a lab report
  • INTRODUCTION

Writing a "good" results section

Figures and Captions in Lab Reports

"Results Checklist" from: How to Write a Good Scientific Paper. Chris A. Mack. SPIE. 2018.

Additional tips for results sections.

  • LITERATURE CITED
  • Bibliography of guides to scientific writing and presenting
  • Peer Review
  • Presentations
  • Lab Report Writing Guides on the Web

This is the core of the paper. Don't start the results sections with methods you left out of the Materials and Methods section. You need to give an overall description of the experiments and present the data you found.

  • Factual statements supported by evidence. Short and sweet without excess words
  • Present representative data rather than endlessly repetitive data
  • Discuss variables only if they had an effect (positive or negative)
  • Use meaningful statistics
  • Avoid redundancy. If it is in the tables or captions you may not need to repeat it

A short article by Dr. Brett Couch and Dr. Deena Wassenberg, Biology Program, University of Minnesota

  • Present the results of the paper, in logical order, using tables and graphs as necessary.
  • Explain the results and show how they help to answer the research questions posed in the Introduction. Evidence does not explain itself; the results must be presented and then explained. 
  • Avoid: presenting results that are never discussed;  presenting results in chronological order rather than logical order; ignoring results that do not support the conclusions; 
  • Number tables and figures separately beginning with 1 (i.e. Table 1, Table 2, Figure 1, etc.).
  • Do not attempt to evaluate the results in this section. Report only what you found; hold all discussion of the significance of the results for the Discussion section.
  • It is not necessary to describe every step of your statistical analyses. Scientists understand all about null hypotheses, rejection rules, and so forth and do not need to be reminded of them. Just say something like, "Honeybees did not use the flowers in proportion to their availability (X2 = 7.9, p<0.05, d.f.= 4, chi-square test)." Likewise, cite tables and figures without describing in detail how the data were manipulated. Explanations of this sort should appear in a legend or caption written on the same page as the figure or table.
  • You must refer in the text to each figure or table you include in your paper.
  • Tables generally should report summary-level data, such as means ± standard deviations, rather than all your raw data.  A long list of all your individual observations will mean much less than a few concise, easy-to-read tables or figures that bring out the main findings of your study.  
  • Only use a figure (graph) when the data lend themselves to a good visual representation.  Avoid using figures that show too many variables or trends at once, because they can be hard to understand.

From:  https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/guides/imrad-results-discussion

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How to Format a Scientific Paper

#scribendiinc

Written by  Joanna Kimmerly-Smith

You've done the research. You've carefully recorded your lab results and compiled a list of relevant sources. You've even written a draft of your scientific, technical, or medical paper, hoping to get published in a reputable journal. But how do you format your paper to ensure that every detail is correct? If you're a scientific researcher or co-author looking to get your research published, read on to find out how to format your paper.

While it's true that you'll eventually need to tailor your research for your target journal, which will provide specific author guidelines for formatting the paper (see, for example, author guidelines for publications by Elsevier , PLOS ONE , and  mBio ), there are some formatting rules that are useful to know for your initial draft. This article will explore some of the formatting rules that apply to all scientific writing, helping you to follow the correct order of sections ( IMRaD ), understand the requirements of each section, find resources for standard terminology and units of measurement, and prepare your scientific paper for publication.

Format Overview

The four main elements of a scientific paper can be represented by the acronym IMRaD: introduction, methods, results, and discussion. Other sections, along with a suggested length,* are listed in the table below.

* Length guidelines are taken from https://www.elsevier.com/connect/11-steps-to-structuring-a-science-paper-editors-will-take-seriously#step6 .

Now, let's go through the main sections you might have to prepare to format your paper.

On the first page of the paper, you must present the title of the paper along with the authors' names, institutional affiliations, and contact information. The corresponding author(s) (i.e., the one[s] who will be in contact with the reviewers) must be specified, usually with a footnote or an asterisk (*), and their full contact details (e.g., email address and phone number) must be provided. For example:

Dr. Clara A. Bell 1, * and Dr. Scott C. Smith 2

1 University of Areopagitica, Department of Biology, Sometown, Somecountry

2 Leviathan University, Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Sometown, Somecountry

*[email protected]

FORMATTING TIPS:

  • If you are unsure of how to classify author roles (i.e., who did what), guidelines are available online. For example, American Geophysical Union (AGU) journals now recommend using Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT), an online taxonomy for author contributions.

In this summary of your research, you must state your subject (i.e., what you did) and encapsulate the main findings and conclusions of your paper.

  • Do not add citations in an abstract (the reader might not be able to access your reference list).
  • Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations in the abstract, as the reader may not be familiar with them. Use full terms instead.

Below the abstract, include a list of key terms to help other researchers locate your study. Note that "keywords" is one word (with no space) and is followed by a colon:

Keywords : paper format, scientific writing.

  • Check whether "Keywords" should be italicized and whether each term should be capitalized.
  • Check the use of punctuation (e.g., commas versus semicolons, the use of the period at the end).
  • Some journals (e.g., IEEE ) provide a taxonomy of keywords. This aids in the classification of your research.

Introduction

This is the reader's first impression of your paper, so it should be clear and concise. Include relevant background information on your topic, using in-text citations as necessary. Report new developments in the field, and state how your research fills gaps in the existing research. Focus on the specific problem you are addressing, along with its possible solutions, and outline the limitations of your study. You can also include a research question, hypothesis, and/or objectives at the end of this section.

  • Organize your information from broad to narrow (general to particular). However, don't start too broad; keep the information relevant.
  • You can use in-text citations in this section to situate your research within the body of literature.

This is the part of your paper that explains how the research was done. You should relate your research procedures in a clear, logical order (i.e., the order in which you conducted the research) so that other researchers can reproduce your results. Simply refer to the established methods you used, but describe any procedures that are original to your study in more detail.

  • Identify the specific instruments you used in your research by including the manufacturer’s name and location in parentheses.
  • Stay consistent with the order in which information is presented (e.g., quantity, temperature, stirring speed, refrigeration period).

Now that you've explained how you gathered your research, you've got to report what you actually found. In this section, outline the main findings of your research. You need not include too many details, particularly if you are using tables and figures. While writing this section, be consistent and use the smallest number of words necessary to convey your statistics.

  • Use appendices or supplementary materials if you have too much data.
  • Use headings to help the reader follow along, particularly if your data are repetitive (but check whether your style guide allows you to use them).

In this section, you interpret your findings for the reader in relation to previous research and the literature as a whole. Present your general conclusions, including an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the research and the implications of your findings. Resolve the hypothesis and/or research question you identified in the introduction.

  • Use in-text citations to support your discussion.
  • Do not repeat the information you presented in the results or the introduction unless it is necessary for a discussion of the overall implications of the research.

This section is sometimes included in the last paragraph of the discussion. Explain how your research fits within your field of study, and identify areas for future research.

  • Keep this section short.

Acknowledgments

Write a brief paragraph giving credit to any institution responsible for funding the study (e.g., through a fellowship or grant) and any individual(s) who contributed to the manuscript (e.g., technical advisors or editors).

  • Check whether your journal uses standard identifiers for funding agencies (e.g., Elsevier's Funder Registry ).

Conflicts of Interest/Originality Statement

Some journals require a statement attesting that your research is original and that you have no conflicts of interest (i.e., ulterior motives or ways in which you could benefit from the publication of your research). This section only needs to be a sentence or two long.

Here you list citation information for each source you used (i.e., author names, date of publication, title of paper/chapter, title of journal/book, and publisher name and location). The list of references can be in alphabetical order (author–date style of citation) or in the order in which the sources are presented in the paper (numbered citations). Follow your style guide; if no guidelines are provided, choose a citation format and be consistent .

  • While doing your final proofread, ensure that the reference list entries are consistent with the in-text citations (i.e., no missing or conflicting information).
  • Many citation styles use a hanging indent and may be alphabetized. Use the styles in Microsoft Word to aid you in citation format.
  • Use EndNote , Mendeley , Zotero , RefWorks , or another similar reference manager to create, store, and utilize bibliographic information.

Appendix/Supplementary Information

In this optional section, you can present nonessential information that further clarifies a point without burdening the body of the paper. That is, if you have too much data to fit in a (relatively) short research paper, move anything that's not essential to this section.

  • Note that this section is uncommon in published papers. Before submission, check whether your journal allows for supplementary data, and don't put any essential information in this section.

Beyond IMRaD: Formatting the Details

Aside from the overall format of your paper, there are still other details to watch out for. The sections below cover how to present your terminology, equations, tables and figures, measurements, and statistics consistently based on the conventions of scientific writing.

Terminology

Stay consistent with the terms you use. Generally, short forms can be used once the full term has been introduced:

  • full terms versus acronyms (e.g., deoxyribonucleic acid versus DNA);
  • English names versus Greek letters (e.g., alpha versus α); and
  • species names versus short forms (e.g., Staphylococcus aureus versus S. aureus ).

One way to ensure consistency is to use standard scientific terminology. You can refer to the following resources, but if you're not sure which guidelines are preferred, check with your target journal.

  • For gene classification, use GeneCards , The Mouse Genome Informatics Database , and/or genenames.org .
  • For chemical nomenclature, refer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Compendium of Chemical Terminology (the Gold Book ) and the  IUPAC–IUB Combined Commission on Biochemical Nomenclature .
  • For marine species names, use the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) or the European Register of Marine Species (ERMS) .

Italics must be used correctly for scientific terminology. Here are a couple of formatting tips:

  • Species names, which are usually in Greek or Latin, are italicized (e.g., Staphylococcus aureus ).
  • Genes are italicized, but proteins aren't.

Whether in mathematical, scientific, or technical papers, equations follow a conventional format. Here are some tips for formatting your calculations:

  • Number each equation you present in the text, inserting the number in parentheses.

X + Y = 1                                                                                                                                               (1)

  • Check whether your target journal requires you to capitalize the word "Equation" or use parentheses for the equation number when you refer to equations within the text.

In Equation 1, X represents . . .

In equation (1), X represents . . .

(Note also that you should use italics for variables.)

  • Try using MathType or Equation Editor in Microsoft Word to type your equations, but use Unicode characters when typing single variables or mathematical operators (e.g., x, ≥, or ±) in running text. This makes it easier to edit your text and format your equations before publication.
  • In line with the above tip, remember to save your math equations as editable text and not as images in case changes need to be made before publication.

Tables and Figures

Do you have any tables, graphs, or images in your research? If so, you should become familiar with the rules for referring to tables and figures in your scientific paper. Some examples are presented below.

  • Capitalize the titles of specific tables and figures when you refer to them in the text (e.g., "see Table 3"; "in Figure 4").
  • In tables, stay consistent with the use of title case (i.e., Capitalizing Each Word) and sentence case (i.e., Capitalizing the first word).
  • In figure captions, stay consistent with the use of punctuation, italics, and capitalization. For example:

Figure 1. Classification of author roles.

Figure 2: taxonomy of paper keywords

Measurements

Although every journal has slightly different formatting guidelines, most agree that the gold standard for units of measurement is the International System of Units (SI) . Wherever possible, use the SI. Here are some other tips for formatting units of measurement:

  • Add spaces before units of measurement. For example, 2.5 mL not 2.5mL.
  • Be consistent with your units of measure (especially date and time). For example, 3 hours or 3 h.

When presenting statistical information, you must provide enough specific information to accurately describe the relationships among your data. Nothing is more frustrating to a reviewer than vague sentences about a variable being significant without any supporting details. The author guidelines for the journal Nature recommend that the following be included for statistical testing: the name of each statistical analysis, along with its n value; an explanation of why the test was used and what is being compared; and the specific alpha levels and P values for each test.

Angel Borja, writing for Elsevier publications, described the statistical rules for article formatting as follows:

  • Indicate the statistical tests used with all relevant parameters.
  • Use mean and standard deviation to report normally distributed data.
  • Use median and interpercentile range to report skewed data.
  • For numbers, use two significant digits unless more precision is necessary.
  • Never use percentages for very small samples.

Remember, you must be prepared to justify your findings and conclusions, and one of the best ways to do this is through factual accuracy and the acknowledgment of opposing interpretations, data, and/or points of view.

Even though you may not look forward to the process of formatting your research paper, it's important to present your findings clearly, consistently, and professionally. With the right paper format, your chances of publication increase, and your research will be more likely to make an impact in your field. Don't underestimate the details. They are the backbone of scientific writing and research.

One last tip: Before you submit your research, consider using our academic editing service for expert help with paper formatting, editing, and proofreading. We can tailor your paper to specific journal guidelines at your request.

Image source: 85Fifteen/ Unsplash.com

Let Us Format Your Paper to Your Target Journal’s Guidelines

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  • 04 December 2020
  • Correction 09 December 2020

How to write a superb literature review

Andy Tay is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Literature reviews are important resources for scientists. They provide historical context for a field while offering opinions on its future trajectory. Creating them can provide inspiration for one’s own research, as well as some practice in writing. But few scientists are trained in how to write a review — or in what constitutes an excellent one. Even picking the appropriate software to use can be an involved decision (see ‘Tools and techniques’). So Nature asked editors and working scientists with well-cited reviews for their tips.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03422-x

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Updates & Corrections

Correction 09 December 2020 : An earlier version of the tables in this article included some incorrect details about the programs Zotero, Endnote and Manubot. These have now been corrected.

Hsing, I.-M., Xu, Y. & Zhao, W. Electroanalysis 19 , 755–768 (2007).

Article   Google Scholar  

Ledesma, H. A. et al. Nature Nanotechnol. 14 , 645–657 (2019).

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Brahlek, M., Koirala, N., Bansal, N. & Oh, S. Solid State Commun. 215–216 , 54–62 (2015).

Choi, Y. & Lee, S. Y. Nature Rev. Chem . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41570-020-00221-w (2020).

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Writing an Introduction for a Scientific Paper

Dr. michelle harris, dr. janet batzli, biocore.

This section provides guidelines on how to construct a solid introduction to a scientific paper including background information, study question , biological rationale, hypothesis , and general approach . If the Introduction is done well, there should be no question in the reader’s mind why and on what basis you have posed a specific hypothesis.

Broad Question : based on an initial observation (e.g., “I see a lot of guppies close to the shore. Do guppies like living in shallow water?”). This observation of the natural world may inspire you to investigate background literature or your observation could be based on previous research by others or your own pilot study. Broad questions are not always included in your written text, but are essential for establishing the direction of your research.

Background Information : key issues, concepts, terminology, and definitions needed to understand the biological rationale for the experiment. It often includes a summary of findings from previous, relevant studies. Remember to cite references, be concise, and only include relevant information given your audience and your experimental design. Concisely summarized background information leads to the identification of specific scientific knowledge gaps that still exist. (e.g., “No studies to date have examined whether guppies do indeed spend more time in shallow water.”)

Testable Question : these questions are much more focused than the initial broad question, are specific to the knowledge gap identified, and can be addressed with data. (e.g., “Do guppies spend different amounts of time in water <1 meter deep as compared to their time in water that is >1 meter deep?”)

Biological Rationale : describes the purpose of your experiment distilling what is known and what is not known that defines the knowledge gap that you are addressing. The “BR” provides the logic for your hypothesis and experimental approach, describing the biological mechanism and assumptions that explain why your hypothesis should be true.

The biological rationale is based on your interpretation of the scientific literature, your personal observations, and the underlying assumptions you are making about how you think the system works. If you have written your biological rationale, your reader should see your hypothesis in your introduction section and say to themselves, “Of course, this hypothesis seems very logical based on the rationale presented.”

  • A thorough rationale defines your assumptions about the system that have not been revealed in scientific literature or from previous systematic observation. These assumptions drive the direction of your specific hypothesis or general predictions.
  • Defining the rationale is probably the most critical task for a writer, as it tells your reader why your research is biologically meaningful. It may help to think about the rationale as an answer to the questions— how is this investigation related to what we know, what assumptions am I making about what we don’t yet know, AND how will this experiment add to our knowledge? *There may or may not be broader implications for your study; be careful not to overstate these (see note on social justifications below).
  • Expect to spend time and mental effort on this. You may have to do considerable digging into the scientific literature to define how your experiment fits into what is already known and why it is relevant to pursue.
  • Be open to the possibility that as you work with and think about your data, you may develop a deeper, more accurate understanding of the experimental system. You may find the original rationale needs to be revised to reflect your new, more sophisticated understanding.
  • As you progress through Biocore and upper level biology courses, your rationale should become more focused and matched with the level of study e ., cellular, biochemical, or physiological mechanisms that underlie the rationale. Achieving this type of understanding takes effort, but it will lead to better communication of your science.

***Special note on avoiding social justifications: You should not overemphasize the relevance of your experiment and the possible connections to large-scale processes. Be realistic and logical —do not overgeneralize or state grand implications that are not sensible given the structure of your experimental system. Not all science is easily applied to improving the human condition. Performing an investigation just for the sake of adding to our scientific knowledge (“pure or basic science”) is just as important as applied science. In fact, basic science often provides the foundation for applied studies.

Hypothesis / Predictions : specific prediction(s) that you will test during your experiment. For manipulative experiments, the hypothesis should include the independent variable (what you manipulate), the dependent variable(s) (what you measure), the organism or system , the direction of your results, and comparison to be made.

If you are doing a systematic observation , your hypothesis presents a variable or set of variables that you predict are important for helping you characterize the system as a whole, or predict differences between components/areas of the system that help you explain how the system functions or changes over time.

Experimental Approach : Briefly gives the reader a general sense of the experiment, the type of data it will yield, and the kind of conclusions you expect to obtain from the data. Do not confuse the experimental approach with the experimental protocol . The experimental protocol consists of the detailed step-by-step procedures and techniques used during the experiment that are to be reported in the Methods and Materials section.

Some Final Tips on Writing an Introduction

  • As you progress through the Biocore sequence, for instance, from organismal level of Biocore 301/302 to the cellular level in Biocore 303/304, we expect the contents of your “Introduction” paragraphs to reflect the level of your coursework and previous writing experience. For example, in Biocore 304 (Cell Biology Lab) biological rationale should draw upon assumptions we are making about cellular and biochemical processes.
  • Be Concise yet Specific: Remember to be concise and only include relevant information given your audience and your experimental design. As you write, keep asking, “Is this necessary information or is this irrelevant detail?” For example, if you are writing a paper claiming that a certain compound is a competitive inhibitor to the enzyme alkaline phosphatase and acts by binding to the active site, you need to explain (briefly) Michaelis-Menton kinetics and the meaning and significance of Km and Vmax. This explanation is not necessary if you are reporting the dependence of enzyme activity on pH because you do not need to measure Km and Vmax to get an estimate of enzyme activity.
  • Another example: if you are writing a paper reporting an increase in Daphnia magna heart rate upon exposure to caffeine you need not describe the reproductive cycle of magna unless it is germane to your results and discussion. Be specific and concrete, especially when making introductory or summary statements.

Where Do You Discuss Pilot Studies? Many times it is important to do pilot studies to help you get familiar with your experimental system or to improve your experimental design. If your pilot study influences your biological rationale or hypothesis, you need to describe it in your Introduction. If your pilot study simply informs the logistics or techniques, but does not influence your rationale, then the description of your pilot study belongs in the Materials and Methods section.  

How will introductions be evaluated? The following is part of the rubric we will be using to evaluate your papers.

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  • How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

The discussion section contains the results and outcomes of a study. An effective discussion informs readers what can be learned from your experiment and provides context for the results.

What makes an effective discussion?

When you’re ready to write your discussion, you’ve already introduced the purpose of your study and provided an in-depth description of the methodology. The discussion informs readers about the larger implications of your study based on the results. Highlighting these implications while not overstating the findings can be challenging, especially when you’re submitting to a journal that selects articles based on novelty or potential impact. Regardless of what journal you are submitting to, the discussion section always serves the same purpose: concluding what your study results actually mean.

A successful discussion section puts your findings in context. It should include:

  • the results of your research,
  • a discussion of related research, and
  • a comparison between your results and initial hypothesis.

Tip: Not all journals share the same naming conventions.

You can apply the advice in this article to the conclusion, results or discussion sections of your manuscript.

Our Early Career Researcher community tells us that the conclusion is often considered the most difficult aspect of a manuscript to write. To help, this guide provides questions to ask yourself, a basic structure to model your discussion off of and examples from published manuscripts. 

how to write a scientific paper example

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Was my hypothesis correct?
  • If my hypothesis is partially correct or entirely different, what can be learned from the results? 
  • How do the conclusions reshape or add onto the existing knowledge in the field? What does previous research say about the topic? 
  • Why are the results important or relevant to your audience? Do they add further evidence to a scientific consensus or disprove prior studies? 
  • How can future research build on these observations? What are the key experiments that must be done? 
  • What is the “take-home” message you want your reader to leave with?

How to structure a discussion

Trying to fit a complete discussion into a single paragraph can add unnecessary stress to the writing process. If possible, you’ll want to give yourself two or three paragraphs to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of your study as a whole. Here’s one way to structure an effective discussion:

how to write a scientific paper example

Writing Tips

While the above sections can help you brainstorm and structure your discussion, there are many common mistakes that writers revert to when having difficulties with their paper. Writing a discussion can be a delicate balance between summarizing your results, providing proper context for your research and avoiding introducing new information. Remember that your paper should be both confident and honest about the results! 

What to do

  • Read the journal’s guidelines on the discussion and conclusion sections. If possible, learn about the guidelines before writing the discussion to ensure you’re writing to meet their expectations. 
  • Begin with a clear statement of the principal findings. This will reinforce the main take-away for the reader and set up the rest of the discussion. 
  • Explain why the outcomes of your study are important to the reader. Discuss the implications of your findings realistically based on previous literature, highlighting both the strengths and limitations of the research. 
  • State whether the results prove or disprove your hypothesis. If your hypothesis was disproved, what might be the reasons? 
  • Introduce new or expanded ways to think about the research question. Indicate what next steps can be taken to further pursue any unresolved questions. 
  • If dealing with a contemporary or ongoing problem, such as climate change, discuss possible consequences if the problem is avoided. 
  • Be concise. Adding unnecessary detail can distract from the main findings. 

What not to do

Don’t

  • Rewrite your abstract. Statements with “we investigated” or “we studied” generally do not belong in the discussion. 
  • Include new arguments or evidence not previously discussed. Necessary information and evidence should be introduced in the main body of the paper. 
  • Apologize. Even if your research contains significant limitations, don’t undermine your authority by including statements that doubt your methodology or execution. 
  • Shy away from speaking on limitations or negative results. Including limitations and negative results will give readers a complete understanding of the presented research. Potential limitations include sources of potential bias, threats to internal or external validity, barriers to implementing an intervention and other issues inherent to the study design. 
  • Overstate the importance of your findings. Making grand statements about how a study will fully resolve large questions can lead readers to doubt the success of the research. 

Snippets of Effective Discussions:

Consumer-based actions to reduce plastic pollution in rivers: A multi-criteria decision analysis approach

Identifying reliable indicators of fitness in polar bears

  • How to Write a Great Title
  • How to Write an Abstract
  • How to Write Your Methods
  • How to Report Statistics
  • How to Edit Your Work

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The contents of the Writing Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …

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  • How to write a lab report

How To Write A Lab Report | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

Published on May 20, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment. The main purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method by performing and evaluating a hands-on lab experiment. This type of assignment is usually shorter than a research paper .

Lab reports are commonly used in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This article focuses on how to structure and write a lab report.

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Table of contents

Structuring a lab report, introduction, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about lab reports.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but they usually contain the purpose, methods, and findings of a lab experiment .

Each section of a lab report has its own purpose.

  • Title: expresses the topic of your study
  • Abstract : summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • Introduction: establishes the context needed to understand the topic
  • Method: describes the materials and procedures used in the experiment
  • Results: reports all descriptive and inferential statistical analyses
  • Discussion: interprets and evaluates results and identifies limitations
  • Conclusion: sums up the main findings of your experiment
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA )
  • Appendices : contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

Although most lab reports contain these sections, some sections can be omitted or combined with others. For example, some lab reports contain a brief section on research aims instead of an introduction, and a separate conclusion is not always required.

If you’re not sure, it’s best to check your lab report requirements with your instructor.

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Your title provides the first impression of your lab report – effective titles communicate the topic and/or the findings of your study in specific terms.

Create a title that directly conveys the main focus or purpose of your study. It doesn’t need to be creative or thought-provoking, but it should be informative.

  • The effects of varying nitrogen levels on tomato plant height.
  • Testing the universality of the McGurk effect.
  • Comparing the viscosity of common liquids found in kitchens.

An abstract condenses a lab report into a brief overview of about 150–300 words. It should provide readers with a compact version of the research aims, the methods and materials used, the main results, and the final conclusion.

Think of it as a way of giving readers a preview of your full lab report. Write the abstract last, in the past tense, after you’ve drafted all the other sections of your report, so you’ll be able to succinctly summarize each section.

To write a lab report abstract, use these guiding questions:

  • What is the wider context of your study?
  • What research question were you trying to answer?
  • How did you perform the experiment?
  • What did your results show?
  • How did you interpret your results?
  • What is the importance of your findings?

Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for high quality plants. Tomatoes, one of the most consumed fruits worldwide, rely on nitrogen for healthy leaves and stems to grow fruit. This experiment tested whether nitrogen levels affected tomato plant height in a controlled setting. It was expected that higher levels of nitrogen fertilizer would yield taller tomato plants.

Levels of nitrogen fertilizer were varied between three groups of tomato plants. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer, while one experimental group received low levels of nitrogen fertilizer, and a second experimental group received high levels of nitrogen fertilizer. All plants were grown from seeds, and heights were measured 50 days into the experiment.

The effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were tested between groups using an ANOVA. The plants with the highest level of nitrogen fertilizer were the tallest, while the plants with low levels of nitrogen exceeded the control group plants in height. In line with expectations and previous findings, the effects of nitrogen levels on plant height were statistically significant. This study strengthens the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants.

Your lab report introduction should set the scene for your experiment. One way to write your introduction is with a funnel (an inverted triangle) structure:

  • Start with the broad, general research topic
  • Narrow your topic down your specific study focus
  • End with a clear research question

Begin by providing background information on your research topic and explaining why it’s important in a broad real-world or theoretical context. Describe relevant previous research on your topic and note how your study may confirm it or expand it, or fill a gap in the research field.

This lab experiment builds on previous research from Haque, Paul, and Sarker (2011), who demonstrated that tomato plant yield increased at higher levels of nitrogen. However, the present research focuses on plant height as a growth indicator and uses a lab-controlled setting instead.

Next, go into detail on the theoretical basis for your study and describe any directly relevant laws or equations that you’ll be using. State your main research aims and expectations by outlining your hypotheses .

Based on the importance of nitrogen for tomato plants, the primary hypothesis was that the plants with the high levels of nitrogen would grow the tallest. The secondary hypothesis was that plants with low levels of nitrogen would grow taller than plants with no nitrogen.

Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but you may need to organize it into a few paragraphs or with subheadings such as “Research Context” or “Research Aims.”

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A lab report Method section details the steps you took to gather and analyze data. Give enough detail so that others can follow or evaluate your procedures. Write this section in the past tense. If you need to include any long lists of procedural steps or materials, place them in the Appendices section but refer to them in the text here.

You should describe your experimental design, your subjects, materials, and specific procedures used for data collection and analysis.

Experimental design

Briefly note whether your experiment is a within-subjects  or between-subjects design, and describe how your sample units were assigned to conditions if relevant.

A between-subjects design with three groups of tomato plants was used. The control group did not receive any nitrogen fertilizer. The first experimental group received a low level of nitrogen fertilizer, while the second experimental group received a high level of nitrogen fertilizer.

Describe human subjects in terms of demographic characteristics, and animal or plant subjects in terms of genetic background. Note the total number of subjects as well as the number of subjects per condition or per group. You should also state how you recruited subjects for your study.

List the equipment or materials you used to gather data and state the model names for any specialized equipment.

List of materials

35 Tomato seeds

15 plant pots (15 cm tall)

Light lamps (50,000 lux)

Nitrogen fertilizer

Measuring tape

Describe your experimental settings and conditions in detail. You can provide labelled diagrams or images of the exact set-up necessary for experimental equipment. State how extraneous variables were controlled through restriction or by fixing them at a certain level (e.g., keeping the lab at room temperature).

Light levels were fixed throughout the experiment, and the plants were exposed to 12 hours of light a day. Temperature was restricted to between 23 and 25℃. The pH and carbon levels of the soil were also held constant throughout the experiment as these variables could influence plant height. The plants were grown in rooms free of insects or other pests, and they were spaced out adequately.

Your experimental procedure should describe the exact steps you took to gather data in chronological order. You’ll need to provide enough information so that someone else can replicate your procedure, but you should also be concise. Place detailed information in the appendices where appropriate.

In a lab experiment, you’ll often closely follow a lab manual to gather data. Some instructors will allow you to simply reference the manual and state whether you changed any steps based on practical considerations. Other instructors may want you to rewrite the lab manual procedures as complete sentences in coherent paragraphs, while noting any changes to the steps that you applied in practice.

If you’re performing extensive data analysis, be sure to state your planned analysis methods as well. This includes the types of tests you’ll perform and any programs or software you’ll use for calculations (if relevant).

First, tomato seeds were sown in wooden flats containing soil about 2 cm below the surface. Each seed was kept 3-5 cm apart. The flats were covered to keep the soil moist until germination. The seedlings were removed and transplanted to pots 8 days later, with a maximum of 2 plants to a pot. Each pot was watered once a day to keep the soil moist.

The nitrogen fertilizer treatment was applied to the plant pots 12 days after transplantation. The control group received no treatment, while the first experimental group received a low concentration, and the second experimental group received a high concentration. There were 5 pots in each group, and each plant pot was labelled to indicate the group the plants belonged to.

50 days after the start of the experiment, plant height was measured for all plants. A measuring tape was used to record the length of the plant from ground level to the top of the tallest leaf.

In your results section, you should report the results of any statistical analysis procedures that you undertook. You should clearly state how the results of statistical tests support or refute your initial hypotheses.

The main results to report include:

  • any descriptive statistics
  • statistical test results
  • the significance of the test results
  • estimates of standard error or confidence intervals

The mean heights of the plants in the control group, low nitrogen group, and high nitrogen groups were 20.3, 25.1, and 29.6 cm respectively. A one-way ANOVA was applied to calculate the effect of nitrogen fertilizer level on plant height. The results demonstrated statistically significant ( p = .03) height differences between groups.

Next, post-hoc tests were performed to assess the primary and secondary hypotheses. In support of the primary hypothesis, the high nitrogen group plants were significantly taller than the low nitrogen group and the control group plants. Similarly, the results supported the secondary hypothesis: the low nitrogen plants were taller than the control group plants.

These results can be reported in the text or in tables and figures. Use text for highlighting a few key results, but present large sets of numbers in tables, or show relationships between variables with graphs.

You should also include sample calculations in the Results section for complex experiments. For each sample calculation, provide a brief description of what it does and use clear symbols. Present your raw data in the Appendices section and refer to it to highlight any outliers or trends.

The Discussion section will help demonstrate your understanding of the experimental process and your critical thinking skills.

In this section, you can:

  • Interpret your results
  • Compare your findings with your expectations
  • Identify any sources of experimental error
  • Explain any unexpected results
  • Suggest possible improvements for further studies

Interpreting your results involves clarifying how your results help you answer your main research question. Report whether your results support your hypotheses.

  • Did you measure what you sought out to measure?
  • Were your analysis procedures appropriate for this type of data?

Compare your findings with other research and explain any key differences in findings.

  • Are your results in line with those from previous studies or your classmates’ results? Why or why not?

An effective Discussion section will also highlight the strengths and limitations of a study.

  • Did you have high internal validity or reliability?
  • How did you establish these aspects of your study?

When describing limitations, use specific examples. For example, if random error contributed substantially to the measurements in your study, state the particular sources of error (e.g., imprecise apparatus) and explain ways to improve them.

The results support the hypothesis that nitrogen levels affect plant height, with increasing levels producing taller plants. These statistically significant results are taken together with previous research to support the importance of nitrogen as a nutrient for tomato plant growth.

However, unlike previous studies, this study focused on plant height as an indicator of plant growth in the present experiment. Importantly, plant height may not always reflect plant health or fruit yield, so measuring other indicators would have strengthened the study findings.

Another limitation of the study is the plant height measurement technique, as the measuring tape was not suitable for plants with extreme curvature. Future studies may focus on measuring plant height in different ways.

The main strengths of this study were the controls for extraneous variables, such as pH and carbon levels of the soil. All other factors that could affect plant height were tightly controlled to isolate the effects of nitrogen levels, resulting in high internal validity for this study.

Your conclusion should be the final section of your lab report. Here, you’ll summarize the findings of your experiment, with a brief overview of the strengths and limitations, and implications of your study for further research.

Some lab reports may omit a Conclusion section because it overlaps with the Discussion section, but you should check with your instructor before doing so.

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A lab report conveys the aim, methods, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment . Lab reports are commonly assigned in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The purpose of a lab report is to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific method with a hands-on lab experiment. Course instructors will often provide you with an experimental design and procedure. Your task is to write up how you actually performed the experiment and evaluate the outcome.

In contrast, a research paper requires you to independently develop an original argument. It involves more in-depth research and interpretation of sources and data.

A lab report is usually shorter than a research paper.

The sections of a lab report can vary between scientific fields and course requirements, but it usually contains the following:

  • Abstract: summarizes your research aims, methods, results, and conclusions
  • References: list of all sources cited using a specific style (e.g. APA)
  • Appendices: contains lengthy materials, procedures, tables or figures

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

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How to write a good scientific review article

Affiliation.

  • 1 The FEBS Journal Editorial Office, Cambridge, UK.
  • PMID: 35792782
  • DOI: 10.1111/febs.16565

Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up to date with developments in a particular area of research. A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the importance of building review-writing into a scientific career cannot be overstated. In this instalment of The FEBS Journal's Words of Advice series, I provide detailed guidance on planning and writing an informative and engaging literature review.

© 2022 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

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