How to write a research paper Part 1

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. — Gene Fowler

General form of a research paper

An objective of organizing a research paper is to allow people to read your work selectively. When I research a topic, I may be interested in just the methods, a specific result, the interpretation, or perhaps I just want to see a summary of the paper to determine if it is relevant to my study. To this end, many journals require the following sections, submitted in the order listed, each section to start on a new page. There are variations of course. Some journals call for a combined results and discussion, for example, or include materials and methods after the body of the paper. The well known journal Science does away with separate sections altogether, except for the abstract.

General style

To make a paper readable

  1. Print or type using a 12 point standard font, such as Times, Geneva, Bookman, Helvetica, etc.
  2. Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper with 1 inch margins, single sided
  3. Number pages consecutively
  4. Start each new section on a new page
  5. Adhere to recommended page limits


Mistakes to avoid

  1. Placing a heading at the bottom of a page with the following text on the next page (insert a page break!)
  2. Dividing a table or figure – confine each figure/table to a single page
  3. Submitting a paper with pages out of order

In all sections of your paper

  1. Use normal prose including articles (“a”, “the,” etc.)
  2. Stay focused on the research topic of the paper
  3. Use paragraphs to separate each important point (except for the abstract)
  4. Indent the first line of each paragraph
  5. Present your points in logical order
  6. Use present tense to report well accepted facts – for example, ‘the grass is green’
  7. Use past tense to describe specific results – for example, ‘When weed killer was applied, the grass was brown’
  8. Avoid informal wording, don’t address the reader directly, and don’t use jargon, slang terms, or superlatives
  9. Avoid use of superfluous pictures – include only those figures necessary to presenting results

Title Page

Select an informative title as illustrated in the examples in your writing portfolio example package. Include the name(s) and address(es) of all authors, and date submitted. “Biology lab #1” would not be an informative title, for example.

Abstract

The limitation of abstract is two hundred words or less.

General intent

An abstract is a concise single paragraph summary of completed work or work in progress. In a minute or less a reader can learn the rationale behind the study, general approach to the problem, pertinent results, and important conclusions or new questions.

Writing an abstract

Write your summary after the rest of the paper is completed. After all, how can you summarize something that is not yet written? Economy of words is important throughout any paper, but especially in an abstract. However, use complete sentences and do not sacrifice readability for brevity. You can keep it concise by wording sentences so that they serve more than one purpose. For example, “In order to learn the role of protein synthesis in early development of the sea urchin, newly fertilized embryos were pulse-labeled with tritiated leucine, to provide a time course of changes in synthetic rate, as measured by total counts per minute (cpm).” This sentence provides the overall question, methods, and type of analysis, all in one sentence. The writer can now go directly to summarizing the results.

Summarize the study, including the following elements in any abstract. Try to keep the first two items to no more than one sentence each.

  1. Purpose of the study – hypothesis, overall question, objective
  2. Model organism or system and brief description of the experiment
  3. Results, including specific data – if the results are quantitative in nature, report quantitative data; results of any statistical analysis shoud be reported
  4. Important conclusions or questions that follow from the experiment(s)

Style:

  1. Single paragraph, and concise
  2. As a summary of work done, it is always written in past tense
  3. An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer to any other part of the paper such as a figure or table
  4. Focus on summarizing results – limit background information to a sentence or two, if absolutely necessary
  5. What you report in an abstract must be consistent with what you reported in the paper
  6. Corrrect spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases, and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant figures) are just as important in an abstract as they are anywhere else

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