Writing a Scientific Research Paper


Many a budding young scientist or university student will be asked to write their first research paper. This can be challenging for someone who is just graduated from high school and has no experience writing for scientific journals. Such a person may not even feel comfortable as a writer. The challenges of writing a scientific research paper are added to the challenges of simply writing good English and putting one's thoughts on paper. If the writer is a non-native speaker of English, the process is even more complicated. The goal of this paper is to provide a very simple outline of the processes involved in writing for scientific journal.


I'm going to take a relaxed attitude towards writing this paper because I wanted to be easy to read and easy for you to digest. As you have probably already noticed, I'm using the format used in scientific research. This format varies slightly from one journal to another but is very widely used. This format is used in all kinds of science from the physical sciences and biology to social sciences and business. A scientific research paper is divided into several sections, as follows:

Title: the title should be brief and concise. It should state the topic of the paper and the location where the field work was done if that is important. I won't get long-winded about titles because you can find many examples easily.

Abstract: most journals once an abstract that goes through about four steps and answers these questions. Why is this type of research important? How was the study conducted? What were the results of the study? Why are the results important? Many readers will only read the abstract so a good abstract needs to try to draw the reader in to the article so they will read the entire article if they are interested in it or so they can move on to something that interest them more quickly. The whole idea of an abstract is to save the reader time. An abstract should be brief, in most cases. Many journals require an abstract of 100 to 250 words and many authors find it difficult to be that concise. That is exactly why journals will limit the number of words available to an author. Chinese and Japanese language journals often require an English abstract of more than 500 words. Because the main article is not in English they give the author more space to work with to describe their work in more detail to non-native speakers of English.

Introduction: many introductions I see in scientific journals papers are quite long-winded. Authors want to tell the reader wider topic is important and go into a fair amount of detail. I'll discuss more on that topic below.

Materials and methods: many new authors confuse the different sections of the paper. That's why I'm writing this paper. I want to explain what goes where. How did you do your experiment? Where was the experiment conducted? What equipment was used? What techniques did you use? The idea of a good materials and methods section is to allow your reader to repeat your work. Often, scientists will want to modify an experiment and conduct a similar experiment on a different species or in their area. If you don't carefully describe what you did then your work is not repeatable.

Results: the results, discussion, and conclusion sections of a research paper are often combined depending on the nature of the paper. In a strict sense the results are the findings. When you compared the height of two species of trees how did your data prove one was higher than the other? The results often contain the figures and tables to give the reader an idea of what you discovered.

Discussion: the discussion section tells about why the results are important and discusses various implications of the results. Sometimes, the results section will discuss problems with the methods used so that future researchers can avoid such problems.

Conclusion: the conclusion is much like the abstract, but includes a brief summary of the findings. Like the abstract, the reader may only read the abstract and the conclusion section of the paper so it should be both concise and clear to save readers time. Often the discussion and conclusions are placed in one section.

Acknowledgments: this section allows you to thank people who helped you with your research but were not authors of the paper and those who provided funding. It should be kept very brief. Some journals will require that you start all sentences in this section with the words "I thank . . . ." or perhaps "We thank. . T ."

Tables and figures: most, but not all, journals will require tables and figures to be placed at the end of the article. The table and figure legends are often listed separately from the tables and figures themselves.

Supplementary information: many journals now allow electronic submission of supplementary information to an article. This allows them to avoid the expensive cost of printing large amounts of data and information and yet allows them to make such information available via the internet.

That's the end of my introduction selected into the guts of the matter.

Methods and materials:

The topic of this paper is how to write a research paper. So in this section I'm going to describe the method I use. If you read my autobiography you can find the details of how I wrote my first scientific research paper. I knew my professor was the main editor of the Wilson's Bulletin a major ornithological journal. So when he assigned me a research paper with a specific topic I looked in that journal for an example. I was in luck. The class had spent time in the field studying a large bird roost with hundreds of thousands of black birds resting in a small area at night in Arkansas. I found a research paper on the same topic set in nearby Oklahoma. So why should I tell you this now? As a new scientist you may find good examples of research papers in the library. You need to select a topic and then decide how to write your paper. As a new writer, I found selecting a topic to be the most difficult part of writing a paper. Once I knew what I wanted to say the paper was complete. My only problem was to get the paper out of my head and onto paper.


I discussed the parts of her research paper above so I think the results section of this paper can be quite brief. We successfully outlined the basic things you need in a research paper. Now you need to sit down and produce your own results.


Writing is not as difficult as you think. The reason most people fear writing is they don't do enough of it. If you wrote like you talked which is most of the day it would be a better writer. I've considered myself a writer since high school even though I majored in biology and my writing skills improved over time. For example, it took me 40 years to begin to eliminate passive voice actively from my writing and to try to change my writing style so that I use active voice more frequently. Don't expect overnight results in learning to write or in learning a foreign language. You didn't take a one semester class in your native language to learn how to speak it. It takes more time than that. For example, in 1983, I simply decided, "I speak Spanish." I didn't say I'm going to start studying Spanish or I want to learn Spanish. I only knew a few words of Spanish but I took the attitude that for the rest of my life I would act like I speak it fluently. The attitude has also worked well with Chinese. As soon as I could say, “你好” I started saying, “I speak Chinese.” I also gave myself 20 years to master the language, starting before I reached the age of 52. By telling myself, "I speak Chinese" I removed all the fear of learning a foreign language. I didn't have to worry about whether I spoke at well, whether I was learning quickly, but whether I was saying something wrong. Like a child, I just started using the language. That's what I do on Lang-8. I write Chinese. Sometimes, I don't take time to correct everything that I write, but I don't do that in English either. My goal is to use the language fluently and not to say every word perfectly. Those who never make any mistakes, never learn a foreign language. I make mistakes. That's part of learning a language.


So there you have it. What you do with it is up to you. You speak English. I know that because you're reading this. Don't lie to me. And, more importantly, don't lie to yourself. You can do it, it will just take time. Writing a scientific article is the same way. Three-year-old children learn to speak English and Chinese but they don't learn to write scientific research papers. But many millions of people have written research papers. They get it. You can do it to.