Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks. When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper.
If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first. Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures.
Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references. In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in 2a and 2b , respectfully:.
If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in 3a. If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in 3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies. Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in 4.
This switching misleads and distracts the reader. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods. The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness [ 4 ]. The problem with 4 is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment passive voice to the point of view of the experimenter active voice.
This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime.
We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music. We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness.
Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods. The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness.
Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [ 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 ].
This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections. Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity.
This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section. For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section. If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results. That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text.
Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas , and data commentary.
For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case.
This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings.
You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper.
You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader.
However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results. If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction.
In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in 6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections.
Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers. Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i. We tested the hypothesis that there is a disruption of membrane asymmetry. In this paper we provide an argument that stem cells repopulate injured organs. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences.
Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences. Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas. So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus.
The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction. The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3. Adapted from Swales and Feak [ 11 ]. The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps.
These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic.
By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections [ 5 ].
To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach. Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction.
Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general. The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper. The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about to words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance.
For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper. Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist.
The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4.
Adapted from Swales and Feak and Hess [ 11 , 12 ]. The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section.
This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented. One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question. Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results.
Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher.
Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic.
This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist.
However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions.
This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice. Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority.
The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.
Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe. You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed.
Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess. Use the advice of Paul Silvia: The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper. The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels [ 13 ]. The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. The microstructure level includes individual words, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
The best way to approach the macrostructure revision is through the outline of the ideas in your paper. The last time you updated your outline was before writing the Introduction and the Discussion. The outline will allow you to see if the ideas of your paper are coherently structured, if your results are logically built, and if the discussion is linked to the research question in the Introduction. You will be able to see if something is missing in any of the sections or if you need to rearrange your information to make your point.
The next step is to revise each of the sections starting from the beginning. Ideally, you should limit yourself to working on small sections of about five pages at a time [ 14 ]. After these short sections, your eyes get used to your writing and your efficiency in spotting problems decreases. When reading for content and organization, you should control your urge to edit your paper for sentence structure and grammar and focus only on the flow of your ideas and logic of your presentation.
Experienced researchers tend to make almost three times the number of changes to meaning than novice writers [ 15 , 16 ]. Revising is a difficult but useful skill, which academic writers obtain with years of practice.
In contrast to the macrostructure revision, which is a linear process and is done usually through a detailed outline and by sections, microstructure revision is a non-linear process. While the goal of the macrostructure revision is to analyze your ideas and their logic, the goal of the microstructure editing is to scrutinize the form of your ideas: You do not need and are not recommended to follow the order of the paper to perform this type of revision.
You can start from the end or from different sections. You can even revise by reading sentences backward, sentence by sentence and word by word. One of the microstructure revision strategies frequently used during writing center consultations is to read the paper aloud [ 17 ].
You may read aloud to yourself, to a tape recorder, or to a colleague or friend. When reading and listening to your paper, you are more likely to notice the places where the fluency is disrupted and where you stumble because of a very long and unclear sentence or a wrong connector. Another revision strategy is to learn your common errors and to do a targeted search for them [ 13 ].
All writers have a set of problems that are specific to them, i. Create a list of these idiosyncrasies and run a search for these problems using your word processor. The same targeted search can be done to eliminate wordiness. The final strategy is working with a hard copy and a pencil. Print a double space copy with font size 14 and re-read your paper in several steps.
Try reading your paper line by line with the rest of the text covered with a piece of paper. When you are forced to see only a small portion of your writing, you are less likely to get distracted and are more likely to notice problems.
You will end up spotting more unnecessary words, wrongly worded phrases, or unparallel constructions. After you apply all these strategies, you are ready to share your writing with your friends, colleagues, and a writing advisor in the writing center.
Get as much feedback as you can, especially from non-specialists in your field. You may decide what you want to change and how after you receive the feedback and sort it in your head. Even though some researchers make the revision an endless process and can hardly stop after a 14th draft; having from five to seven drafts of your paper is a norm in the sciences. It is late at night again. You are still in your lab finishing revisions and getting ready to submit your paper.
You will submit your paper tomorrow, and regardless of the outcome, you know that you can do it. If one journal does not take your paper, you will take advantage of the feedback and resubmit again.
You will have a publication, and this is the most important achievement. What is even more important is that you have your scheduled writing time that you are going to keep for your future publications, for reading and taking notes, for writing grants, and for reviewing papers. You are not going to lose stamina this time, and you will become a productive scientist. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Yale J Biol Med. To whom all correspondence should be addressed: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License, which permits for noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any digital medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not altered in any way.
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Keep track of your sources. Write down all publication information necessary for citation: A program like Endnote can help you keep track of your sources.
Take detailed notes as you read. Paraphrase information in your own words or if you copy directly from the article or book, indicate that these are direct quotes by using quotation marks to prevent plagiarism. Be sure to keep all of your notes with the correct source. Your professor and librarians can also help you find good resources. Sorting your notes by topic will make it easier to find the information you need while writing the actual paper.
Using digitized notes allows you to easily search for specific information and quickly reorganize reference information. Keep all of your notes in a physical folder or in a digitized form on the computer.
Start to form the basic outline of your paper using the notes you have collected. Organize it in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow. Determine what information fits best under each heading or section and integrate your sources as you go.
Starting with an outline is also an easy way to get started with the writing. This dictates the structure of your paper in the following order: I ntroduction, M ethods, R esults, a nd D iscussion. Ask others to look over your outline and get feedback on the organization.
Know the audience you are writing for and adjust your style accordingly. Know the required format. Look up the guidelines and formatting requirements before you begin. Each journal or grant writing institution has different format requirements as to length and style. The length of your paper will probably be pre-determined, but aim for 10 — 20 pages unless instructed differently.
Use a standard font type and size, such as Times New Roman 12 point font. If necessary, create a cover page. Most schools require a cover page of some sort. Divide the paper into logical sections determined by the type of paper you are writing. If it is a quantitative study, it needs to include the sections mentioned above i.
If it is a qualitative study, organize your paper into main points that make sense and progress naturally. Break up information into sections and subsections and address one main point per section. Include any figures or data tables that support your main ideas.
For a quantitative study, state the methods used to obtain results. Write the conclusion and discussion. Tell the reader what you have found, why it is relevant to the field, and what future studies could be done to further this research.
Avoid repeating information that has been stated elsewhere in the paper. Clearly state and summarize the main points of your research paper.
Discuss how this research contributes to the field and why it is important. Propose future directions that build upon the research you have presented. Write the introduction after the bulk of your paper is complete so you know exactly what is necessary to include for the reader to understand your paper.
Introduce your reader to the topic of your research paper. Provide basic background information, why you are writing this paper, and what they can expect as a result of reading it. State why the problem is important to address. Discuss what is currently known and what is lacking in the field. State the objective of your paper. Keep the introduction short. An abstract summarizes the article by highlighting the main points and allows the reader to know what information your paper contains.
Write the abstract last after you have finished the paper so you can properly summarize everything you have written about. State why your conclusions are important. Be concise in your summary of the paper.
Show that you have a solid study design and a high-quality data set. Cite while you write. Citing sources is an absolute must to avoid plagiarism and give others credit for their ideas. Adding citations while you write the paper is much easier than digging through your sources at the end to determine where an idea came from.
Use these throughout your research paper as needed. Compile your reference list and add it to the end of your paper.
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