WRITING A SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ARTICLE
| Format for the paper | Edit your paper! | Useful books |FORMAT FOR THE PAPER
Scientific research articles provide a method for scientists to communicate with other scientists about the results of their research. A standard format is used for these articles, in which the author presents the research in an orderly, logical manner. This doesn't necessarily reflect the order in which you did or thought about the work. This format is:
| Title | Authors | Introduction | Materials and Methods | Results (with Tables and Figures) | Discussion | Acknowledgments | Literature Cited |
- Make your title specific enough to describe the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. The title should be appropriate for the intended audience.
- The title usually describes the subject matter of the article: Effect of Smoking on Academic Performance"
- Sometimes a title that summarizes the results is more effective: Students Who Smoke Get Lower Grades"
1. The person who did the work and wrote the paper is generally listed as the first author of a research paper.
2. For published articles, other people who made substantial contributions to the work are also listed as authors. Ask your mentor's permission before including his/her name as co-author.ABSTRACT
1. An abstract, or summary, is published together with a research article, giving the reader a "preview" of what's to come. Such abstracts may also be published separately in bibliographical sources, such as Biologic al Abstracts. They allow other scientists to quickly scan the large scientific literature, and decide which articles they want to read in depth. The abstract should be a little less technical than the article itself; you don't want to dissuade your potent ial audience from reading your paper.
2. Your abstract should be one paragraph, of 100-250 words, which summarizes the purpose, methods, results and conclusions of the paper.
3. It is not easy to include all this information in just a few words. Start by writing a summary that includes whatever you think is important, and then gradually prune it down to size by removing unnecessary words, while still retaini ng the necessary concepts.
3. Don't use abbreviations or citations in the abstract. It should be able to stand alone without any footnotes.INTRODUCTION
What question did you ask in your experiment? Why is it interesting? The introduction summarizes the relevant literature so that the reader will understand why you were interested in the question you asked. One to fo ur paragraphs should be enough. End with a sentence explaining the specific question you asked in this experiment.MATERIALS AND METHODS
1. How did you answer this question? There should be enough information here to allow another scientist to repeat your experiment. Look at other papers that have been published in your field to get some idea of what is included in this section.
2. If you had a complicated protocol, it may helpful to include a diagram, table or flowchart to explain the methods you used.
3. Do not put results in this section. You may, however, include preliminary results that were used to design the main experiment that you are reporting on. ("In a preliminary study, I observed the owls for one week, and found that 73 % of their locomotor activity occurred during the night, and so I conducted all subsequent experiments between 11 pm and 6 am.")
4. Mention relevant ethical considerations. If you used human subjects, did they consent to participate. If you used animals, what measures did you take to minimize pain?RESULTS
1. This is where you present the results you've gotten. Use graphs and tables if appropriate, but also summarize your main findings in the text. Do NOT discuss the results or speculate as to why something happened; t hat goes in th e Discussion.
2. You don't necessarily have to include all the data you've gotten during the semester. This isn't a diary.
3. Use appropriate methods of showing data. Don't try to manipulate the data to make it look like you did more than you actually did.
"The drug cured 1/3 of the infected mice, another 1/3 were not affected, and the third mouse got away."TABLES AND GRAPHS
1. If you present your data in a table or graph, include a title describing what's in the table ("Enzyme activity at various temperatures", not "My results".) For graphs, you should also label the x and y axes.
2. Don't use a table or graph just to be "fancy". If you can summarize the information in one sentence, then a table or graph is not necessary.DISCUSSION
1. Highlight the most significant results, but don't just repeat what you've written in the Results section. How do these results relate to the original question? Do the data support your hypothesis? Are your results consistent with what other investigators have reported? If your results were unexpected, try to explain why. Is there another way to interpret your results? What further research would be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results? How do y our results fit into the big picture?
2. End with a one-sentence summary of your conclusion, emphasizing why it is relevant.ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This section is optional. You can thank those who either helped with the experiments, or made other important contributions, such as discussing the protocol, commenting on the manuscript, or buying you pizza.REFERENCES (LITERATURE CITED)
There are several possible ways to organize this section. Here is one commonly used way:
1. In the text, cite the literature in the appropriate places:
Scarlet (1990) thought that the gene was present only in yeast, but it has since been identified in the platypus (Indigo and Mauve, 1994) and wombat (Magenta, et al., 1995).
2. In the References section list citations in alphabetical order.
Indigo, A. C., and Mauve, B. E. 1994. Queer place for qwerty: gene isolation from the platypus. Science 275, 1213-1214.
Magenta, S. T., Sepia, X., and Turquoise, U. 1995. Wombat genetics. In: Widiculous Wombats, Violet, Q., ed. New York: Columbia University Press. p 123-145.
Scarlet, S.L. 1990. Isolation of qwerty gene from S. cerevisae. Journal of Unusual Results 36, 26-31.
EDIT YOUR PAPER!!!
"In my writing, I average about ten pages a day. Unfortunately, they're all the same page."
A major part of any writing assignment consists of re-writing.
- Scientific writing must be accurate. Although writing instructors may tell you not to use the same word twice in a sentence, it's okay for scientific writing, which must be accurate. (A student who tried not to repeat the word "hamster" produced this confusing sentence: "When I put the hamster in a cage with the other animals, the little mammals began to play.")
- Make sure you say what you mean.
- Be careful with commonly confused words:
Instead of: The rats were injected with the drug. (sounds like a syringe was filled with drug and ground-up rats and both were injected together)
Write: I injected the drug into the rat.
Temperature has an effect on the reaction.
Temperature affects the reaction.
I used solutions in various concentrations. (The solutions were 5 mg/ml, 10 mg/ml, and 15 mg/ml)
I used solutions in varying concentrations. (The concentrations I used changed; sometimes they were 5 mg/ml, other times they were 15 mg/ml.)
Less food (can't count numbers of food)
Fewer animals (can count numbers of animals)
A large amount of food (can't count them)
A large number of animals (can count them)
The erythrocytes, which are in the blood, contain hemoglobin.
The erythrocytes that are in the blood contain hemoglobin. (Wrong. This sentence implies that there are erythrocytes elsewhere that don't contain hemoglobin.)
1. Write at a level that's appropriate for your audience.
"Like a pigeon, something to admire as long as it isn't over your head." Anonymous
2. Use the active voice. It's clearer and more concise than the passive voice.
Instead of: An increased appetite was manifested by the rats and an increase in body weight was measured.
Write: The rats ate more and gained weight.
3. Use the first person.
Instead of: It is thought
Write: I think
Instead of: The samples were analyzed
Write: I analyzed the samples
4. Avoid dangling participles.
"After incubating at 30 degrees C, we examined the petri plates." (You must've been pretty warm in there.)
1. Use verbs instead of abstract nouns
Instead of: take into consideration
2. Use strong verbs instead of "to be"
Instead of: The enzyme was found to be the active agent in catalyzing...
Write: The enzyme catalyzed...
3. Use short words.
"I would never use a long word where a short one would answer the purpose. I know there are professors in this country who 'ligate' arteries. Other surgeons tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well."
have sufficient enough utilize use demonstrate show assistance help terminate end
4. Use concise terms.
Instead of: Write: prior to before due to the fact that because in a considerable number of cases often the vast majority of most during the time that when in close proximity to near it has long been known that I'm too lazy to look up the reference
5. Use short sentences. A sentence made of more than 40 words should probably be rewritten as two sentences.
"The conjunction 'and' commonly serves to indicate that the writer's mind still functions even when no signs of the phenomenon are noticeable." Rudolf Virchow, 1928
Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation
1. Use a spellchecker, but be aware that they don't catch all mistakes.
"When we consider the animal as a hole,..." Student's paper
2. Your spellchecker may not recognize scientific terms. For the correct spelling, try Biotech's Life Science Dictionary or one of the technical dictionaries on the reference shelf in the Biology or Health Sciences libraries.
3. Don't, use, unnecessary, commas.
4. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
Victoria E. McMillan, Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, Bedford Books, Boston, 1997
The best. On sale for about $18 at Labyrinth Books, 112th Street. On reserve in Biology Library
Jan A. Pechenik, A Short Guide to Writing About Biology, Boston: Little, Brown, 1987
Harrison W. Ambrose, III & Katharine Peckham Ambrose, A Handbook of Biological Investigation, 4th edition, Hunter Textbooks Inc, Winston-Salem, 1987
Particularly useful if you need to use statistics to analyze your data. Copy on Reference shelf in Biology Library.
Robert S. Day, How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 4th edition, Oryx Press, Phoenix, 1994.
Earlier editions also good. A bit more advanced, intended for those writing papers for publication. Fun to read. Several copies available in Columbia libraries.
William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, New York, 1987.
Several copies available in Columbia libraries. Strunk's first edition is available on-line.
- For a broader class of literature, see Academic literature.
"STM publishing" redirects here. For Medical publishing, see Medical literature. For Technical publishing, see Technical communication.
For information about journal article databases, and abstract and indexing services, see List of academic databases and search engines.
Scientific literature comprises scholarly publications that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences, and within an academic field, often abbreviated as the literature. Academic publishing is the process of contributing the results of one's research into the literature, which often requires a peer-review process. Original scientific research published for the first time in scientific journals is called the primary literature. Patents and technical reports, for minor research results and engineering and design work (including computer software), can also be considered primary literature. Secondary sources include review articles (which summarize the findings of published studies to highlight advances and new lines of research) and books (for large projects or broad arguments, including compilations of articles). Tertiary sources might include encyclopedias and similar works intended for broad public consumption.
Types of scientific publications
Scientific literature can include the following kinds of publications:
- scientific articles published in scientific journals
- patents specialized for science and technology (for example, biological patents and chemical patents)
- books wholly written by one or a small number of co-authors
- edited volumes, where each chapter is the responsibility of a different author or set of authors, while the editor is responsible for determining the scope of the project, keeping the work on schedule, and ensuring consistency of style and content
- presentations at academic conferences, especially those organized by learned societies
- government reports such as a forensic investigation conducted by a government agency such as the NTSB
- scientific publications on the World Wide Web
- books, technical reports, pamphlets, and working papers issued by individual researchers or research organizations on their own initiative; these are sometimes organised into a series
- blogs and science forums
The significance of these different components of the literature varies between disciplines and has changed over time. As of 2006[update], peer-reviewed journal articles remain the predominant publication type, and have the highest prestige. However, journals vary enormously in their prestige and importance, and their status can influence the visibility and impact of the studies they publish. The significance of books, also called research monographs, depends on the subject. Generally books published by university presses are usually considered more prestigious than those published by commercial presses. The status of working papers and conference proceedings depends on the discipline; they are typically more important in the applied sciences. The value of publication as a preprint or scientific report on the web has in the past been low, but in some subjects, such as mathematics or high energy physics, it is now an accepted alternative.
For broader class of these articles, see Scholarly article.
See also: Types of scientific journal articles
The actual day-to-day records of scientific information are kept in research notebooks or logbooks. These are usually kept indefinitely as the basic evidence of the work, and are often kept in duplicate, signed, notarized, and archived. The purpose is to preserve the evidence for scientific priority, and in particular for priority for obtaining patents. They have also been used in scientific disputes. Since the availability of computers, the notebooks in some data-intensive fields have been kept as database records, and appropriate software is commercially available.
The work on a project is typically published as one or more technical reports, or articles. In some fields both are used, with preliminary reports, working papers, or preprints followed by a formal article. Articles are usually prepared at the end of a project, or at the end of components of a particularly large one. In preparing such an article vigorous rules for scientific writing have to be followed.
Clear communication and impact factor
See also: Impact factor and Copy editing
Often, career advancement depends upon publishing in high-impact journals, which, especially in hard and applied sciences, are usually published in English. Consequently, scientists with poor English writing skills are at a disadvantage when trying to publish in these journals, regardless of the quality of the scientific study itself. Yet many international universities require publication in these high-impact journals by both their students and faculty. One way that some international authors are beginning to overcome this problem is by contracting with freelance medical copy editors who are native speakers of English and specialize in ESL (English as a second language) editing to polish their manuscripts' English to a level that high-impact journals will accept.
Structure and style
Main article: IMRAD
A scientific article has a standardized structure, which varies only slightly in different subjects. Although the IMRAD structure emphasizes the organization of content and in scientific journal articles, each section (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) has unique conventions for scientific writing style.
Ultimately, it is not the format that is important, but what lies behind it--the content. However, several key formatting requirements need to be met:
- The title attracts readers' attention and informs them about the contents of the article. Titles are distinguished into three main types: declarative titles (state the main conclusion), descriptive titles (describe a paper's content), and interrogative titles (challenge readers with a question that is answered in the text). Some journals indicate, in their instructions to authors, the type (and length) of permitted titles.
- The names and affiliations of all authors are given. In the wake of some scientific misconduct cases, publishers often require that all co-authors know and agree on the content of the article.
- An abstract summarizes the work (in a single paragraph or in several short paragraphs) and is intended to represent the article in bibliographic databases and to furnish subject metadata for indexing services.
- The context of previous scientific investigations should be presented, by citation relevant documents in the existing literature, usually in a section called an "Introduction".
- Empirical techniques, laid out in a section usually called "Materials and Methods", should be described in such a way that a subsequent scientist, with appropriate knowledge of and experience in the relevant field, should be able to repeat the observations and know whether he or she has obtained the same result. This naturally varies between subjects, and does not apply to mathematics and related subjects.
- Similarly, the results of the investigation, in a section usually called "Results", data should be presented in tabular or graphic form (image, chart, schematic, diagram or drawing). These display elements should be accompanied by a caption and discussed in the text of the article.
- Interpretation of the meaning of the results is usually addressed in a "Discussion" or "Conclusions" section. The conclusions drawn should be based on the new empirical results while taking established knowledge into consideration, in such a way that any reader with knowledge of the field can follow the argument and confirm that the conclusions are sound. That is, acceptance of the conclusions must not depend on personal authority, rhetorical skill, or faith.
- Finally, a "References" or "Literature Cited" section lists the sources cited by the authors.
Main article: Scholarly peer review
Though peer review and the learned journal format are not themselves an essential part of scientific literature, they are both convenient ways of ensuring that the above fundamental criteria are met. They are essentially a means of quality control, a term which also encompasses other means towards the same goal.
The "quality" being referred to here is the scientific one, which consists of transparency and repeatability of the research for independent verification, the validity of the conclusions and interpretations drawn from the reported data, overall importance for advance within a given field of knowledge, novelty, and in certain fields applicability as well. The lack of peer review is what makes most technical reports and World Wide Web publications unacceptable as contributions to the literature. The relatively weak peer review often applied to books and chapters in edited books means that their status is also second-tier, unless an author's personal standing is so high that prior achievement and a continued stake in one's reputation within the scientific community signals a clear expectation of quality.
The emergence of institutional digital repositories where scholars can post their work as it is submitted to a print-based journal has taken formal peer review into a state of flux. Though publicizing a preprint online does not prevent it from being peer reviewed, it does allow an unreviewed copy to be widely circulated. On the positive side this change has led to faster dissemination of novel work within the scientific community; on the negative it has made it more difficult to discern a valid scientific contribution from the unmeritorious.
Increasing reliance on abstracting services, especially on those available electronically, means that the effective criterion for whether a publication format forms part of the established, trusted literature is whether it is covered by these services; in particular, by the specialised service for the discipline concerned such as Chemical Abstracts Service, and by the major interdisciplinary services such as those marketed by the Institute for Scientific Information.
The transfer of copyright from author to publisher, used by some journals, can be controversial because many authors want to propagate their ideas more widely and re-use their material elsewhere without the need for permission. Usually an author or authors circumvent that problem by rewriting an article and using other pictures. Some publishers may also want publicity for their journal so will approve facsimilereproduction unconditionally; other publishers are more resistant.
In terms of research publications, a number of key issues include and are not restricted to:
- Honesty. Honesty and integrity is a duty of each author and person, expert-reviewer and member of journal editorial boards.
- Review process. The peer-review process contributes to the quality control and it is an essential step to ascertain the standing and originality of the research.
- Ethical standards. Recent journal editorials presented some experience of unscrupulous activities.
- Authorship. Who may claim a right to authorship? In which order should the authors be listed?
See also: Scientific writing § History
The first recorded editorial pre-publication peer-review occurred in 1665 by the founding editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg.
Technical and scientific books were a specialty of David Van Nostrand, and his Engineering Magazine re-published contemporary scientific articles.
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