This page features HOW-TO guides for the following sections of a research article:
In this section, you should introduce your reader to the following components of your study:
You want to give your reader a background in the subject so that they can contextualize your research and understand how it fits into the larger body of work that has been done in the field.
This illustration diagrams the basic components of a research article when it is published in a journal. Getting to know the basic structure will help you when you're writing your own research article or paper and don't want to miss anything!
Image Credit: Exploratorium, https://www.exploratorium.edu/evidence/lowbandwidth/INT_science_paper.html#b
The abstract comes first in your paper, but you will probably want to write it last. Once you have gone written the whole paper, you will have a much better idea of the big picture of your research project and will be able to condense the research story into a digestible paragraph. What is the research story? Read on to find out!
The Research Story is the way you communicate to your audience "who did what under what circumstances to achieve what results?"
Your abstract should function as a mini-version of your research article and should include a summary of the research story. You should explain to your reader:
Remember, people will read your abstract first, and you want to make sure it is well-written, clear, and concise so that they are encouraged to read your entire article.
A general rule of thumb is to keep your abstract around 250 words. However, if you are writing for publication in a journal, make sure to use the established conventions for that specific journal, since they can be different.
The methods section is often written first, and it is one of the easier sections to write because it is simply a description of the materials and procedures you used when conducting your research.
This is a description of the experiment you conducted and the procedures you used in order to reach your conclusion. You need to explain:
Other scientists. When you are writing for publication in a journal, you can assume that your audience has a certain degree of expertise and you can leave out many of the small details such as safety precautions that you would normally put into a lab report in an instructional setting. Be concise.
Materials - First, describe the materials you used, if applicable.
Procedures - Then, describe the experimental methods you used.
Data Analysis Finally, discuss how you analyzed the results produced from the experiment (such as numerical methods like statistical analyses or theoretical computations).
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Abbreviations and Acronyms: Some acronyms, such as DNA, are common enough that you don't need to explain them. However, for less common acronyms, you need to define them before using them on their own in a sentence. To do this, the first time you mention the term, provide the acronym in parentheses immediately after it. Example: acetonitrile (ACN).
The word "experiment" is not often used in scientific journal articles. Rather, it is common to use "project" or "work."
Numbers: Use numerals for units of time and measure, as well as for any number greater than nine. For numbers nine and under, spell the number out.
This is where you highlight the findings of the research study. Many times, this is combined with the discussion section, because it involves presenting the results and also offering commentary on the implications of the results and further work to be done. You should be answering these questions:
There are different ways to organize your results and discussion. Choose the method that seems to make sense for your specific research context and that best illuminates your findings and clearly answers the above questions. Here are a few methods to use, adapted from a chapter in Write Like a Chemist (the book has examples and exercises that can help you practice interpreting and writing in each of these ways):
Blocked R&D: Using this structure, you would present all of your results first and then have paragraphs after discussing each result. It is important to make sure you follow the same order in both the results and discussion sections. Example: Write about result 1, then result 2, and then discuss result 1 and then result 2.
Iterative R&D: You can also choose to alternate back and forth between results and discussion. Using this method, you would write about the first result and then discuss it, and then write about the second result and discuss it, and so on.
Integrated R&D: This method is slightly harder to write and is less structured. It involves combined results and discussion sections with no clear pattern where the elements are seamlessly integrated.
This is a summary of the findings. You may wonder how this is different from an abstract. Remember that the abstract presents a concise, miniature version of the entire research story, which explains who did what under what circumstances to achieve what results. Your conclusion summarizes the findings only, explaining the implications of your research and summarizing the results and discussion. It should explain concisely the facts your research illuminated and should point to how this new knowledge impacts either people in the world or further research in that field.
Choosing a Title
Remember: when people are searching for articles, they will scan search results pages full of titles. You want your title to make sense, communicate the topic of your paper, and adequately describe the work you did so that people will go on to read the abstract and then the full article. Make sure your title has enough information so that when someone searches for articles related to your study, they will be able to find yours.
Authors are those people who "actively contributed to the overall design and execution of the experiments" (Day, 23). If you are listed as an author on a paper, you are agreeing to take full responsibility for the claims made in the article and the research performed. Only those who substantially contributed should be included.
Author names may be listed alphabetically, but more commonly the "senior author" or the person who spearheaded the research is the first author listed, followed by others in a negotiated order. Talk to your lab partners and other researchers involved with your project about this so that everyone feels comfortable with the final listing.
In general, it is best to include the first and last name of each author. Using initials can cause confusion when your article is being searched for in a database. Usually, you should not include the degree of the author (but this is not the case in medical journals). It is best to check with the journal you would like to publish with so that you can format your names according to their standards.
Day, Robert A. "How to List the Authors and Addresses." How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. Westport, CT: Oryx,1998. 22-28. Print.