How do you write a scientific paper? How is it different from writing in a literary sense? What are the important elements that characterize a scientific paper? This article provides answers to these common questions posed by students when faced with the task of writing their thesis or first scientific article.
How is Scientific Writing Different from Other Types of Writing
Writing a scientific paper is unlike the kind of writing that people do when they are writing their diaries, casual blogs, or essays on whatever topics they so desire to write about. Scientific paper writing is more focused and objective oriented, that is, each statement written has an intended purpose.
In writing a scientific paper, beating around the bush is considered a definite no-no. It’s a technical kind of writing that has some integrated logic in it. The main intention is to make clear the subject at hand and to present, analyze, discuss and highlight the important findings.
Elements of a Scientific Paper
What is the logic behind scientific paper writing? The following elements must be present in a scientific paper:
1. A scientific paper has a rationale.
What is a rationale? A rationale is simply your justification of the topic you chose. It explains why the research was performed in the first place. It is the very reason why you conducted the research.
You may ask yourself the following questions in order to compose the rationale:
- What is the issue all about? Why is it important?
- Why is there a need to conduct the study?
- How should the issue be resolved?
Think broadly first then bring the issue into focus. This will be your prelude to the next step, that is, writing the goal and objectives of the scientific paper.
2. A scientific paper has a general objective or goal and a set of objectives directed towards that goal.
If the reason for the study is well laid out, then you should be able to write the main goal and objectives of your scientific investigation. The goal provides an overview or general statement of what the research intends to achieve. The objectives should specify what are the specific items that will have to be done to meet the goal.
What is the ideal number of objectives for a research venture? Normally, two to three objectives are written in a scientific paper. These objectives must have been thoroughly met and discussed by the researcher in both the discussion and conclusions section.
Be guided that the goal broadly defines the direction of the study and brings up the main issue. The objectives provides the specific direction by which the study will have to be carried out. You will sense that you have already written the objectives correctly if you can figure out what methods will have to be done to accomplish the objectives.
3. A scientific paper has a review of literature.
A scientific paper always has a review of literature. Why is this required? Simply, the main reason is for you to be able to avoid duplicating the work of others and to have a good grasp of the subject you want to study.
You should avoid being guilty of reinventing the wheel. The term “reinventing the wheel” is usually used to denote doing something which has already been done.
According to archaeologists, the wheel was discovered way back in 8,000 B.C. (see an interesting discussion of the discovery of the wheel here.). Surely, you do not want to tell everyone that the wheel should be round, unless you find, against all odds, that a triangular wheel is better than a round wheel in transporting a load.
As a researcher, you should make sure that your work is original or that which builds upon, not duplicate, what has already been discovered or done. This is why you are required to read a great deal of literature to broaden your knowledge on a particular subject you are interested in.
Upon reading related literature and studies, you will find out gaps in knowledge. Gaps in knowledge are those areas which nobody ventured to find out. This is where you come in if you believe you can perform what’s necessary.
Of course, you have to assess your capacity in doing the task at hand. This is the reason why you need to have a good background knowledge of the discipline you are in. A biologist is not expected to do research fit for an engineer.
Read quick tips on how to write the literature review here.
4. A scientific paper has a conceptual framework.
A conceptual framework is the researcher’s guide or map in conducting the research. This framework is the culmination of the review of literature, that is, it draws out specific variables from a phenomenon, the behavior of which will be the focus of the study.
For details on how the conceptual framework is arrived at, see my previous post titled How to Make a Conceptual Framework.
5. A scientific paper has a methodology section.
The methodology section in a scientific paper describes the procedure to follow in order that the researcher will be able to adequately answer the statement of the problem or address the objectives. It explains why certain methods have to be used to provide answers to the questions posed in the early part of the scientific paper.
Methodology is different from methods because methodology refers to researcher’s justification or reason behind using a specific method. The methodology varies between disciplines and it also provides information on whether the study will be qualitative or quantitative in nature. Methods, on the other hand, refers to the specific things the researcher will do to undertake the study such as interview or focus group discussion.
There are many methodologies used in research and this will be discussed in another article. The common ones encountered are descriptive and correlation methodologies.
Descriptive research, as the root word “describe” indicates, are those which refer to studies of existing phenomena, focusing mainly on description of what is there while correlation studies involve relating variables with each other in trying to determine causality or effect.
6. A scientific paper has a results and discussion section.
The results and discussion section is that part of the scientific paper where you present your findings, the analysis that you did which includes both subjective and objective analysis, and interpretation of the findings in the light of other findings in other literature.
Subjective analysis deals more with the researcher’s judgment or expert opinion on the matter studied while objective analysis is data driven, that is, statistical analysis is used to reveal trends. Many researchers combine both approaches to see the issue in different perspectives.
7. A scientific paper has a conclusion and recommendations section.
At the end of the results and discussion section, the researcher must make his conclusion or conclusions based on the hypothesis of the study. He may either confirm or refute the hypothesis drawn out after presenting the conceptual framework.
The conclusion is just a brief restatement of the whole paper, that is, those things discussed in the methods as well as the findings.
8. A scientific paper validates its arguments using a set of reference materials.
As standard practice, of course the scientific paper should cite the references or literature review examined in the conduct of the study. Make sure that whatever you cite in your research paper is backed up by your reference material. Be meticulous enough to do so, as those who would like to cross-reference your research paper will be looking for this.
There is no hard rule on the number of references to write here but some scientific journals prescribe a limit, say a maximum of 30. You should refer to the requirements set forth in the specific journal where you intend to publish your scientific paper.
©2012 November 14 Patrick Regoniel