How to write a research paper

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Research papers follow a specific, evolving format range. Learning how to put your data and thoughts into the format of a scientific article requires some getting used to even for an English native speaker and even more so for the majority of scientists who acquired English after childhood.

Overall structure

From broad to narrow and back - introduction, results,.. conclusions

The main text of a research paper should guide the reader from the general introduction to the specific findings and back to the broad implications. This structure can be likened to a bow tie with the introduction going from wide to narrower, the most important experimental findings being the knot at the centre, and the discussions and conclusions broadening the perspective again.

Parts of a scientific paper

Below are extracts from the American National Standard for Scientific Reports Z39.18-2005, revised version of 2005 from


"The required introduction provides readers with general information they need to understand more detailed information in the rest of the report. It introduces the subject, purpose, scope, and way the author/creator plans to develop the topic. The introduction also indicates the audience for the report: who is expected to read it and act on its recommendations or review its findings (this information may also be included in the preface). The introduction does not, however, include findings, conclusions, or recommendations."

Results and/or discussion

"A required component of the report, results and their discussion can be presented in the same or in separate sections. The results section presents the findings based on the methods. The discussion section indicates the degree of accuracy and the significance of the results of the research described. Specific values used to substantiate conclusions appear in the body. Supporting details not essential to an understanding of the results appear in an appendix. Sometimes a section, “Presentation of Results,” includes figures and tables and their captions (titles). Such figures and tables appear as close as possible following their discussion in the text. The discussion accounts for the results but does not interpret them."


"The required conclusions section interprets findings that have been substantiated in the discussion of results and discusses their implications. The section introduces no new material other than remarks based on these findings. It includes the author’s/creator’s opinions and is written to be read independently of the text. The section could include a summary of the conclusions from similar studies, a conclusion based solely on the current results, or an overall conclusion."

Criticism of style

Marie-Claude Roland, PMID 17471254:

"..scientists' communication practices—with each other and with a non-specialist audience—leave much room for improvement. The average scientific publication is almost impossible to understand for a non-specialist, even a fellow scientist. Furthermore, a lack of clarity, commitment and conciseness in scientific communication paves the way for scientific misconduct, such as fraud and plagiarism."

Frank Gannon, PMID 18311166:

"..there is nothing to stop scientists from undertaking a change of style that would make scientific papers more accessible and address the reader more directly. Or, as any good scientist would currently put it: "the possibility could be considered, taking into account various relevant factors, that a modest alteration in the mode of expression could, in due course and after a preliminary and statistically relevant trial period, be phased into the scientific discourse, such as an alteration focusing on the first person, but not exclusively, or a measured change from the passive to the active mode of writing."

See also

External links