What is a scientific paper?
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to write a scientific paper. After reading the brief definition below, the article continues by presenting the typical structure, along with a few tips to consider during the writing process.
A scientific paper is a written report describing a research study. The structure typically comprises a background of the study, a description of the methodology, a presentation of the results section with a follow-up discussion providing a detailed analysis of the results, and finally, a section stating any conclusions and recommendations to researchers of future studies on the topic.
Almost all scientific papers follow a specific structure adhering to a style guide specified by the journal or publisher you are planning to submit to. In addition, the language must be appropriately academic, so avoid use of informal language and focus on writing clear academic language. As some journals prefer use of the active over the passive tense and a scholarly voice, after writing your paper, it is always worth proofreading it to ensure your statements are clear and free of awkward phrases.
Scientific papers should fulfill the following criteria:
- The paper must produce original results.
- The methodology must be written as accurately as possible to ensure that the author and other research can repeat the experiments and test the conclusions drawn.
- The paper must be published in an accredited journal relevant to the scientific community.
A solid title should hit the target with the least words possible. To do this, consider the major focus of the study and any keywords pertaining to it. Avoid any redundant words and instead focus only on the subject/research topic. A sharp, eye-catching title that makes use of the most relevant keywords boosts the paper’s visibility to other researchers looking for relevant existing literature to cross-reference with their own studies.
A list of keywords is often included at the end of an abstract. Keywords improve visibility in research indexes and databases, making it easier for researchers to locate your paper.
A good tip to use when selecting keywords is to search for papers relevant to your study. After jotting down a set of keywords and conducting a search, did your set of keywords bring up a consistent list of closely related studies? If not, go back and tailor your list by considering which words are most frequently used in conjunction with the major research topic. Try to choose words related to the data collection process and include some of the major keywords in your title.
Written in 250 words or less, an abstract is essentially a short summary of your study. Since abstracts vary between publishing bodies, it is always best to consult the desired publisher’s submission guidelines before writing one. Further, Since a researcher’s methods and aims can change at any point in the study, it is best practice to write the Abstract last. Like a movie, an abstract could be thought of as a short synopsis that reveals the plotline in its entirety.
In general, an abstract should cover the following:
- Background: the study’s necessity and its importance to the research field.
- Aims: what are the researcher’s goals? Is this the only study in the field to focus on a particular idea, theory, or concept? (i.e., did it fill a gap in the existing literature?)
- Methodology: state how the researcher gathered the data and the techniques employed to analyze the data.
- Results: What results were uncovered after collecting and analyzing the data? Include numbers, statistics, tables/figures, etc.
- Conclusions: What conclusions were drawn from the results? How are the results important?
The introduction should explain why you have decided to conduct this research study. In addition, provide any background information that places the research in context and how it relates to similar studies in the field. Researchers often state whether they found a gap in the existing literature and how the study adds to the existing body of knowledge.
Remember to include the following:
- Research problem and proposed solution
- Nature and scope of research problem
- A brief overview of the most relevant literature
- The methods used to collect the data
- A summary of the major findings of the study.
Materials and methods
When writing up a methodology, it is important to mention every step taken to conduct the data to allow other researchers to repeat the experiment. To write an effective methods section, the writing should be clear and comprehensive, describing the exact materials and instruments used, as well as the number of participants (if applicable). If possible, justify the use of specific instruments and data collection methods by citing researchers and authors who conducted similar tests and experiments. Do not leave the reader with any questions as to how to go about replicating the study and avoid any mention of any results or outcomes as this should be reserved for the results section.
Any results section must present the data in full while providing a brief description of the instruments and methods used to gather the data. The results must be factual by nature, and can be presented through graphs, tables, figures, and illustrations. Remember to label your tables and figures in chronological order, and avoid repetition; instead, present relevant and significant findings and state how the data represents the aims and motivations of the original study. If there are any variables that might have an impact on the results, they should be clearly stated.
Further, not only should the data be presented in a clear manner, but it should also be explained comprehensively. If the results are sufficiently accurate to answer your initial research questions and/or hypotheses, then state why the evidence is significant. Likewise, if the results were somehow inaccurate or fail to provide a concrete answer to the research question, then state why. Since the results section only serves to report the results obtained through a specific data collection process, include any evaluation or discussion of the results in the discussion section.
Following on from the results section above, in the discussion section, the researcher expands upon the results in greater detail. Note that this section should be concise, and not written in a long-winded, rambling manner.
A comprehensive discussion section should:
- State the significance of the data, as well as any indicative relationships.
- Point out any weaknesses, unexpected findings, lack of correlation, etc.
- State whether the results align with those obtained by other researchers.
- State any conclusions and theoretical implications, and how the results could be applied to future studies.
At the end of your paper, the references section states all the literature cited in the above sections. Any reference should have a corresponding in-text citation in the main text body. References should be presented in alphabetical order and must adhere to the style set by the target journal or research body. Common referencing styles include MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard referencing. An example of each style is presented below:
- (APA): Halstead, T. W., & Dutcher, F. R. (1987). Plants in space. Annual review of plant physiology, 38(1), 317-345.
- (MLA): Halstead, Thora W., and F. Ronald Dutcher. “Plants in space.” Annual review of plant physiology 38.1 (1987): 317-345.
- (Chicago): Halstead, Thora W., and F. Ronald Dutcher. “Plants in space.” Annual review of plant physiology 38, no. 1 (1987): 317-345.
- (Harvard): Halstead, T.W. and Dutcher, F.R., 1987. Plants in space. Annual review of plant physiology, 38(1), pp.317-345.
Following on from the References section, a series of pages known as Appendices are often added to provide any supplementary materials. This information could comprise raw data, questionnaires and participant consent forms, glossaries and abbreviations, and non-essential illustrations and tables.