Source: PHDcomics. After the outline, students can prepare their first draft. Sajina and Sazhin stress that these steps are just the beginning, and students should know that they are expected to make several revisions to their draft, no matter how experienced they are.
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In fact, the more seasoned a writer they become, the more editing will be required as experienced writers think about every single sentence in order to precisely convey their meaning. However, she said that no one ever teaches them how to write well in these specific formats. Sometimes most of the time science is actually reading and writing.
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For those of us who are curious about the Universe, that cutting edge between the known and the unknown is the most exciting place to be. But getting that information out to the general public is where the trouble often arises. Teachers also play an important role to ensure they understand the importance of it and guide them to become better writers. However, effective writing can deepen understanding of the topic at hand by compelling the writer to present a coherent and logical story that is supported by previous research and new results. Clear scientific writing generally follows a specific format with key sections: an introduction to a particular topic, hypotheses to be tested, a description of methods, key results, and finally, a discussion that ties these results to our broader knowledge of the topic Day and Gastel This general format is inherent in most scientific writing and facilitates the transfer of information from author to reader if a few guidelines are followed.
While we recognize that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to scientific writing, and more experienced writers may choose to disregard our suggestions these guidelines will assist undergraduates in overcoming the initial challenges associated with writing scientific papers. This guide was inspired by Joshua Schimel's Writing Science: How to Write Papers that Get Cited and Proposals that Get Funded —an excellent book about scientific writing for graduate students and professional scientists—but designed to address undergraduate students.
While the guide was written by a group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists, the strategies and suggestions presented here are applicable across the biological sciences and other scientific disciplines. Regardless of the specific course being taught, this guide can be used as a reference when writing scientific papers, independent research projects, and laboratory reports.
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We hope that the guidelines that follow, as well as the concrete examples provided, will lead to scientific papers that are information rich, concise, and clear, while simultaneously alleviating frustration and streamlining the writing process. However, scientific writing is not an afterthought and should begin well before drafting the first outline. Successful writing starts with researching how your work fits into existing literature, crafting a compelling story, and determining how to best tailor your message to an intended audience.
It is important to decide how your research compares to other studies of its kind by familiarizing yourself with previous research on the topic. For a research article, perform a thorough literature search on a credible search engine e. Ask the following questions: What do we know about the topic? What open questions and knowledge do we not yet know? Why is this information important? This will provide critical insight into the structure and style that others have used when writing about the field and communicating ideas on this specific topic.
It will also set you up to successfully craft a compelling story, as you will begin writing with precise knowledge of how your work builds on previous research and what sets your research apart from the current published literature. In order to write effectively, you must identify your audience and decide what story you want them to learn. While this may seem obvious, writing about science as a narrative is often not done, largely because you were probably taught to remain dispassionate and impartial while communicating scientific findings.
The purpose of science writing is not explaining what you did or what you learned, but rather what you want your audience to understand. Start by asking: Who is my audience? What are their goals in reading my writing? What message do I want them to take away from my writing? There are great resources available to help science writers answer these questions Nisbet , Baron If you are interested in publishing a scientific paper, academic journal websites also provide clear journal mission statements and submission guidelines for prospective authors.
The most effective science writers are familiar with the background of their topic, have a clear story that they want to convey, and effectively craft their message to communicate that story to their audience. The Introduction sets the tone of the paper by providing relevant background information and clearly identifying the problem you plan to address.
Think of your Introduction as the beginning of a funnel: Start wide to put your research into a broad context that someone outside of the field would understand, and then narrow the scope until you reach the specific question that you are trying to answer Fig. Clearly state the wider implications of your work for the field of study, or, if relevant, any societal impacts it may have, and provide enough background information that the reader can understand your topic.
Perform a thorough sweep of the literature; however, do not parrot everything you find. Background information should only include material that is directly relevant to your research and fits into your story; it does not need to contain an entire history of the field of interest. Upon narrowing the background information presented to arrive at the specific focus of your research, clearly state the problem that your paper addresses.
The problem is also known as the knowledge gap, or a specific area of the literature that contains an unknown question or problem e. The knowledge gap tends to be a small piece of a much larger field of study. Explicitly state how your work will contribute to filling that knowledge gap. This is a crucial section of your manuscript; your discussion and conclusion should all be aimed at answering the knowledge gap that you are trying to fill. In addition, the knowledge gap will drive your hypotheses and questions that you design your experiment to answer.
Define the hypotheses you wish to address, state the approach of your experiment, and provide a 1—2 sentence overview of your experimental design, leaving the specific details for the methods section. If your methods are complicated, consider briefly explaining the reasoning behind your choice of experimental design.
Here, you may also state your system, study organism, or study site, and provide justification for why you chose this particular system for your research. Is your system, study organism, or site a good representation of a more generalized pattern? Providing a brief outline of your project will allow your Introduction to segue smoothly into your 4 section. The 4 section is arguably the most straightforward section to write; you can even begin writing it while performing your experiments to avoid forgetting any details of your experimental design.
In order to make your paper as clear as possible, organize this section into subsections with headers for each procedure you describe e. We recommend reusing these headers in your Results and Discussion to help orient your readers. The aim of the 4 section is to demonstrate that you used scientifically valid methods and provide the reader with enough information to recreate your experiment. In chronological order, clearly state the procedural steps you took, remembering to include the model numbers and specific settings of all equipment used e.
In addition to your experimental procedure, describe any statistical analyses that you performed. If you followed a procedure developed from another paper, cite the source that it came from and provide a general description of the method. There is no need to reiterate every detail, unless you deviated from the source and changed a step in your procedure.
However, it is important to provide enough information that the reader can follow your methods without referring to the original source. As you explain your experiment step by step, you may be tempted to include qualifiers where sources of error occurred e.
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However, generally wait until the Discussion to mention these subjective qualifiers and avoid discussing them in the 4 section. The Results section provides a space to present your key findings in a purely objective manner and lay the foundation for the Discussion section, where those data are subjectively interpreted. Before diving into this section, identify which graphs, tables, and data are absolutely necessary for telling your story. Then, craft a descriptive sentence or two that summarizes each result, referring to corresponding table and figure numbers.
Rather than presenting the details all at once, write a short summary about each data set. If you carried out a complicated study, we recommend dividing your results into multiple sections with clear headers following the sequence laid out in the 4 section. As you relate each finding, be as specific as possible and describe your data biologically rather than through the lens of statistics.
While statistical tests give your data credibility by allowing you to attribute observed differences to nonrandom variation, they fail to address the actual meaning of the data. Instead, translate the data into biological terms and refer to statistical results as supplemental information, or even in parenthetical clauses Schimel By focusing on the data and leaving out any interpretation of the results in this section, you will provide the reader with the tools necessary to objectively evaluate your findings.
The Discussion section usually requires the most consideration, as this is where you interpret your results. One potential strategy for writing the Discussion is to begin by explicitly stating the main finding s of your research Cals and Kotz Then, explicitly state how your experiment moved the field forward by filling that knowledge gap. After the opening paragraph of your Discussion, we suggest addressing your question and hypotheses with specific evidence from your results. If there are multiple possible interpretations of a result, clearly lay out each competing explanation.
Presenting and evaluating alternative explanations of your findings will provide clear opportunities for future research. However, be sure to keep your Discussion concrete by referring to your results to support each given interpretation.