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Scientific Writing: Sections of a Paper

Overview

Typically scientific journal articles have the following sections:

  1. Abstract

  2. Introduction

  3. Materials & Methods

  4. Results

  5. Discussion

References used:

Kotsis, S.V. and Chung, K.C. (2010) A Guide for Writing in the Scientific Forum. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 126(5):1763-71. PubMed ID: 21042135

Van Way, C.W. (2007) Writing a Scientific Paper. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 22: 663-40. PubMed ID: 1804295

What to include:

  • Usually includes 4 sections:  (corresponds with each of the paper sections) 
    • Background/Objectives: include the hypothesis
    • Methods: Briefly explain the type of study, sample/population size and description, the design, and any particular techniques for data collection and analysis
    • Results: Essential data, including statistically significant data (use # & %)
    • Conclusions: Summarize interpretations of results and explain if hypothesis was supported or rejected

Tips:

  • Be concise!
  • Emphasize the methods and results
  • Do not copy the introduction
  • Only include data that is included in the paper
  • Write the abstract last
  • Avoid jargon and ambiguity
  • Should stand-alone

Additional resources:
Fisher, W. E. (2005) Abstract Writing. Journal of Surgical Research. 128(2):162-4. PubMed ID: 16165161
Peh, W.C. and Ng, K.H. (2008) Abstract and keywords. Singapore Medical Journal. 49(9): 664-6. PubMed ID: 18830537

What to include:

  • Review the literature
    • How does your study fit into what has been done
    • Explain evidence using limited # of references
  • Discuss the problem/question
    • Why is it important
    • How does it relate to previous research
  • State hypothesis at the end

Tips:

  • Use present tense
  • Be succinct
  • Clearly state objectives
  • Explain important work done

Additional resources:
Annesley, T. M. (2010) "It was a cold and rainy night": set the scene with a good introduction. Clinical Chemistry. 56(5):708-13. PubMed ID: 20207764
Peh, W.C. and Ng, K.H. (2008) Writing the introduction. Singapore Medical Journal. 49(10):756-8. PubMed ID: 18946606 

What to include:

  • Outline the design of experiment
    • What was done
  • Describe materials or subjects
    • Include characteristics
    • Describe recruitment, participation, withdrawal, etc.
  • Describe data collected and methods used for collection
    • Type of study (RCT, cohort, case-controlled, etc.)
    • Equipment used
    • Measurements made
    • Time-line
  • Describe statistical analysis
    • Usually the final paragraph

Tips:

  • Include enough details so others can duplicate study
  • Use past tense
  • Be direct and precise
  • Include any preliminary results
  • Ask for help from a statistician to write description of statistical analysis
  • Be systematic

Additional resources:
Lallet, R. H. (2004) How to write the methods section of a research paper. Respiratory Care. 49(10): 1229-32. PubMed ID: 15447808
Ng, K.H. and Peh, W.C. (2008) Writing the materials and methods. Singapore Medical Journal. 49(11): 856-9. PubMed ID: 19037549

What to include:

  • Describe study sample demographics
  • Present the data
    • Include statistical significance and the statistical test used
    • Use tables and figures when appropriate

Tips:

  • Use past tense
  • Present in a logical sequence
  • Facts only - no citations or interpretations
  • Tables & figures 
    • Should stand alone (not need written descriptions to be understood)
    • Include title, legend, and axes labels
  • Include raw numbers with percentages
  • Watch wording
    • General phrases (significance, show trend, etc. should be used with caution)
    • Data is plural ("Our data are" is correct, "Our data is" is in-correct)

Additional resources:
Ng, K.H and Peh, W.C. (2008) Writing the results. Singapore Medical Journal. 49(12):967-9. PubMed ID: 19122944
Streiner, D.L. (2007) A shortcut to rejection: how not to write the results section of a paper. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 52(6):385-9. PubMed ID: 17696025

What to include:

  • Relate major findings to your hypothesis
    • Did you reject your null hypothesis?
  • Include a focused review of literature in relation to results
  • Interpret the results
    • Explain meaning of statistical findings
    • Explain importance/relevance 
    • Include all possible explanations
  • Discuss possible limitations of study
  • Suggest future work that could be done

Tips:

  • Use past tense to describe your study and present tense to describe established knowledge from literature
  • Don't criticize other studies, contrast it with your work
  • Don't make conclusions not supported by your results
  • Stay focused and concise
  • Include key, relevant references
  • It is considered good manners to include an acknowledgements section

Additional resources:
Annesley, T. M. (2010) The discussion section: your closing argument. Clinical Chemistry. 56(11):1671-4. PubMed ID: 20833779
Ng, K.H. and Peh, W.C. (2009) Writing the discussion. Singapore Medical Journal. 50(5):458-61. PubMed ID: 19495512

Tables & Figures:
Durbin, C. G. (2004) Effective use of tables and figures in abstracts, presentations, and papers. Respiratory Care. 49(10): 1233-7. PubMed ID: 15447809
Ng, K. H. and Peh, W.C.G. (2009) Preparing effective tables. Singapore Medical Journal. (50)2: 117-9. PubMed ID: 19296024

Statistics:
Ng, K. H. and Peh, W.C.G. (2009) Presenting the statistical results. Singapore Medical Journal. (50)1: 11-4. PubMed ID: 19224078

References:
Peh, W.C.G. and Ng, K. H. (2009) Preparing the references. Singapore Medical Journal. (50)7: 11-4. PubMed ID: 19644619

Additional Resources

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