Writing a Scientific Paper

Picking up on my previous post about “Writing a Research Paper“, in this post I shall look more specifically at how to write a scientific research paper. As most of the basics are covered in the aforementioned post, I recommend reading that one first, as I am only going to focus here on the various sections of a scientific paper and what each should contain.

It should be said first off that not all scientific papers use exactly the same format. Some use alternative styles or formats specifically tailored to a particular academic journal or magazine, and there can be some leeway in the layout. What I’m going to cover here is the most basic format–the kind you’re taught to write in high school or college-level courses.

0) Abstract

This is where you state your purpose for putting this study together in the first place. What questions are you attempting to answer? Is this a synthesis of previous findings in the subject area, or is it an original study of your own design? What conclusions (if any) have you reached? Such questions should be addressed here.

1) Introduction

This essentially lays out what each section of your paper is going to discuss. It may include where your study was done and what your goal was. It might be advisable here to include relevant photos or–in the case that your study was done in a remote location–maps to indicate exactly where your area of interest for this paper is.

2) Background

Here you will lay out some background on the research you’ve done. Mention some important work in the field prior to and/or leading up to your study. Why did you feel further study was needed? By the end of this section, the stage should be set for your work to be discussed.

3) Methods

List in detail the methods you used to collect and synthesize your data. Tell what tools and techniques were involved, including any software programs or machines used to help calculate and categorize your results. If conducting any kind of experiment or data collection, this section should lay out the steps in such a way that anyone who wished to repeat your work could do so given identical equipment and conditions.

4) Results

This is where you lay out what you found. Don’t analyze the data yet! Just lay out in full detail all the graphs, charts, and/or tables showing your findings. It may be tempting to discuss noticeable trends if they are present, but refrain from doing so. That is what the following section is for.

5) Discussion

This is where you provide your analysis of the data presented in the previous section. You can mention significant trends in data and suggest what this might indicate. You may also wish to mention where errors may have occurred during your data collection, and what improvements might be made overall to the methods employed.

6) Conclusion

You should end your paper by restating what, if anything, your findings suggest. If you believe your study to be inconclusive for whatever reason, here is the place to mention what areas might require future study by you or by others.

7) Follow-Up Questions

This is typically rolled up with the conclusion section, though some papers make it separate. Basically, as mentioned before, you want to list any questions your findings brought up that might be answered by further research in the area.

8) References

This is where you list all the papers, books, etc. you referenced in order to put your paper together. These can vary from maybe ten or fewer on a middle or high school report to well over a hundred in a thorough, all-encompassing study. Just be sure to list them in the correct format for the journal (or instructor) you aim to please.

That’s pretty much the basics of any scientific paper in a nutshell. The section headings might be different, of course, but all this information should be included at some point. Additionally, there are a couple of conventions you tend to follow throughout the paper to improve the quality and credibility of it. Besides avoiding obvious spelling/grammar errors, you want to avoid contractions of any kind (they sound a tad unprofessional) and make sure to caption all of your graphics or photos, explaining to the reader exactly what each is and referencing it somewhere in the text itself. Keep in mind when using color graphics that rainbow spectral patterns may not show up as well when viewed on a black-and-white screen or printout.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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