Andrea Armani’s laboratory at the University of Southern California is home to up to 15 PhD students and nine postdocs. There are also a few high school students who may be working in her lab. They all work together to develop new materials for diagnostic or telecommunications devices.
Armani believes that scientific research should be based on hypothesis testing, not proof. Armani recruits students who are open to testing a hypothesis and eager to discover the unknown. She says, “I want them push themselves a bit, push the field, and not be afraid of failing.” “And they should know that even if it fails, they can still learn from it.”
Armani is a frequent coach for students in the writing of their first scientific papers. Anyone who has completed a study and is worried about writing a scientific article may find the 10-step formula useful.
1. Make a vision statement
What is your key message? It’s important to be able to communicate it in one sentence. This sentence will be a key message that you’ll return to several times throughout your paper. Your paper can be thought of as a press release. What would the subhead look like? You don’t have to communicate the main discovery or achievement in one sentence if you aren’t ready to write a paper.
Your vision statement should be the guide for your next decision. Each journal is different in style and order of sections. This will save you time and help you avoid writing a single word. After you have chosen a journal, make sure to check the website for formatting requirements, length limits, figures, and other details.
2. Do not start at the beginning
Logically, it is logical to begin a paper with an abstract or at the very least the introduction. Don’t. Sometimes you end up telling a different story than you intended. You will probably have to rewrite both the introduction and the rest of the sections if you start with it.
There are some cases when you don’t know how to start at all. Then, a research paper service can come in handy. But to be aware of low-quality ones, read speedy paper review and other articles about help providers.
3. Storyboard the figures
Because they are the foundation of your paper, figures are the best place for you to begin. The reader is not living the research for more than a year, unlike you. The first figure should be enough to inspire them to read more about your discovery.
Storyboarding is a classic organization method used by writers. All figures are displayed on boards. You can do this using software such as Keynote, Prezi, and PowerPoint. You can place the vision statement on your first slide and all the results on subsequent slides. You can start by simply including all data without regard to order or importance. The next passes will allow you to evaluate the consolidation of data sets (e.g. forming panel figures), and relative importance (e.g. main text vs. supplements). To support your hypothesis statement, the figures should be presented in a logical manner. This order may differ from the one in which the data was taken. It should be obvious that you are missing data at this point.
4. Write the methods section
The methods section is the most difficult and important section of all. The methods section should guide any paper results. If you have a completely new experimental method to describe, make sure it is detailed. Include setup, controls and protocols. Manufacturers and part numbers are also important. You don’t need to duplicate any details from a previous study if you are building upon it.
A common error in writing a method section is to include results. The methods section should only be a record of your activities.
One example of a place where it is important to know the journal is in its methods section. Some journals include the methods section between the results and the introduction. Other journals place it at the end of an article. The contents of the discussion and results sections may differ depending on where they are located.
5. Write the results and discussion section
Some journals have separate sections for results and discussion. These sections are often combined, but this is becoming a trend. This section should make up the bulk of your paper. By storyboarding your figures, an outline is already in place!
It is a good idea to begin by writing a few paragraphs about each figure.
- The result (this should not be taken as an indication of intent)
- The relevance of the result to your hypothesis is starting to emerge (interpretation)
- The relevance of the field (this is entirely your opinion).
When possible, be specific and quantitative, especially when comparing with prior work. Furthermore, it is important to calculate any experimental errors and include error bars on replicate analyses.
This section can be used to explain to readers how your research fits into the larger context of ongoing work. The conclusion should flow smoothly from this section.
6. The conclusion
Summarize everything that you have written. Highlight the most important findings of your study, and explain why they are important. Describe what you have learned. Then, end the paper with your vision statement. The conclusion should allow the reader to grasp the overall theme of the study, as well as the significance of the results.
7. Now, write the introduction
Your introduction sets the scene for your article. If the story was fictional, the introduction would be the introduction. This is where the main conflict, characters, setting, time period and setting are presented.
The format for scientific papers is similar. It gives an overview of your research at 30,000 feet. This includes a description of the problem and a review of other research groups’ efforts to solve the problem (the literature search); and a hypothesis that may include your expectations regarding the contribution of the study to the body of knowledge. This is where most of your references will be found.
8. Assemble references
A good electronic reference manager is the first thing a new writer should do. Although there are many options, a lot of research groups or PIs have their preferred one. Editing will be much easier if everyone uses the same manager.
References play multiple roles in a manuscript. To allow readers to access more information about a topic previously published. Example: “The device was manufactured using a standard procedure.” It is important to refer to that method. Referring to a paper without the protocol is a common error. This can lead to readers being sent down a rabbit hole trying to find the protocol.
To support claims that may not be common knowledge or contentious. Example: “Previous research has proven that vanilla is superior to chocolate.” Here is a reference. There are many papers that can be used. It is up to the user to decide which one to use.
Recognize others who are working in the field. You must be very careful when selecting these papers. Do not cite the same papers from different groups. Every day, new papers are published. Literally. It is important to ensure that references include both recent and foundational works.
9. The abstract
Abstracts are the elevator pitch for your article. Abstracts typically contain between 150 and 300 words. This translates into approximately 10-20 sentences. It should, like a good pitch, describe the field’s importance, the problem that your research addresses, and how it solves the challenge. It should contain any important quantitative metrics. It is important that you remember abstracts are included with search engine results.
10. The title comes last
The title should sum up the essence of the paper. What keywords or phrases would someone type into a search engine if they were interested in your topic? These words should be included in the title.