Tips on how to write a scientific paper

Tips on how to write a scientific paper
Structure of a scientific paper
The Title appears right at the top of the paper.
The best time to think up a title is after you have written the paper. The title should
answer the question: What is the paper about? Try to be specific not general.
Membrane permeability in insects would be better rewritten as:
Amino acid activation of ion channels is locust muscle
You would be suprised how important titles really are. Remember the title is the first
thing that attracts readers to read your paper. Then try to imagine what you would want
to see in the title if you were searching for a paper on your subject.
After the title come the authors’ names. The name of the person who did the most work
usually comes first. The last name is usually the Group leader. Maybe you would like to
name your teacher as Group leader!
The Abstract comes right at the beginning of the paper, after the authors’ names. It is
generally between 100- 250 words long and provides a summary of the entire paper.
In other words:
Why did you start?
What did you do, and how?
What did you find?
What do your findings mean?
It begins with 1or 2 lines introducing the subject to the reader — the scientific
background to the problem and the question your have tried to answer.
The main part of the abstract presents your data (results) and the techniques/
methods used to obtain them.
At the end there are 1-2 lines discussing what the data mean.
Somewhere in the abstract (either at the very beginning or very end) is usually
a phrase/sentence talking about the importance of work being done, or how it
affects the world/science.
The abstract is the first thing that scientists read when they pick up a scientific paper. If
they find the abstract interesting, they will take the time to read the whole of the paper.
Remember your abstract will also be read by people who are not specialized in your
field of research. Therefore, to capture their interest, it needs to be simple and concise.
It is best to write the abstract after you have written your paper, when you have put all
the facts, and your results and discussions togther.
Tips on how to write a scientific paper
The main part of the paper is usually divided into 4 sections:
1. The Introduction describes all the background knowledge on the topic necessary
for the reader to understand the details of the research. In other words, what scientists
already know about the subject and the kinds of experiments that have already been
done to answer the question.
It usually ends with your hypothesis or at least a description of the problem that you are
trying to solve in your research.
2. Materials and Methods – a step-by-step description of the physical work that you
have done. This is written in paragraph style and does not include any results.
3. Results – a plain description of what, exactly, your results were. Discussion as to what
the results mean is NOT included here.
4. Discussion – here, the Results are discussed as to how they address your
General advice on language Style
A general rule for writing a scientific paper is — decide what the message is that you
want to get across to the reader and aim to reach that goal using the simplest language
There are style rules that scientists keep to when they write a scientific paper.
Use the present tense for generalizations and facts that are already known.
For example: Sea urchin eggs release an attractant chemical to allure sperm towards them.
The Earth moves around the Sun.
Use the first person (I or we) for what you did but don’t overdo it.
For example: I (or we) tested the hypothesis by doing experiments using A, B, and C.
As an alternative to the first person is to use the passive voice.
Note: When the active voice is used, the subject of the sentence performs an action.
Active -The girl hit the ball.
Passive -The ball was hit by the girl.
Active - Sir James Black won the Nobel Prize.
Passive - The Nobel Prize was won by...
Tips on how to write a scientific paper
Note: The passive voice is signalled by: is, was, are, being
For example: Substance X was incubated with substance B for 20 min at room
The advantage of using the passive voice is that you do not have to say who did what all
the time.
Use the past tense to present your results and discussions
For example: Our wind turbine produced 1 kW.
Word order
Some words become imprecise when they are used in the wrong place.
One of these problem words is only which can be an adjective or an adverb.
To use only correctly, put it as close as possible to the word that it qualifies.
He loved only her.
He only loved her.
Only he loved her.
Imprecise words
Some words are imprecise and they can be left out because they do not provide
important information.
For example:
Use the International System (SI) of SI units and their abbreviations.
To find out more about the SI system and the abbreviations you should use for your
measurements go to:
The base SI units are: Base quantity length mass time electric current thermodynamic temperature
amount of substance luminous intensity Name meter
second ampere kelvin mole candela 3
Tips on how to write a scientific paper
Good writing
To read some well-written articles have a look in Science or NewScientist. Science
is a peer-review journal so it contains well-written editorials and scientific papers.
NewScientist is a popular science magazine and contains articles which do not have
the typical format of a scientific paper, but they are well written and make you want to
For example: Secret to a beating heart revealed
NewScientist 13 January 2009
WHAT controls a beating heart? It seems the life-giving mechanism is simpler than we
Each beat is triggered by a surge of calcium ions that causes millions of overlapping
filaments in a heart cell to pull against each other and contract. These filaments are
made of two proteins called actin and myosin.
Actin must be "activated" before contraction can occur and it was thought that both
calcium and myosin were necessary for this step. But when Yin-Biao Sun at King's
College London and colleagues, funded by the British Heart Foundation, attached
fluorescent probes to rat versions of the proteins, calcium ions alone seemed to activate
actin (The Journal of Physiology, DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2008.164707).
A persistent abnormal heart beat causes many heart problems, so a better
understanding of how healthy beating is controlled may aid new drug development.
Tips on how to write a scientific paper
Created for the European Schools Science Symposium (ESSS 2009)
Julia Willingale-Theune
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
69117 Heidelberg
[email protected]
Tips on how to write a scientific paper
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