The typical scientific paper format varies depending on the subject and is typically determined by the journal publishing it.
However, there are a few standard features that most scientific papers will have in common.
Firstly, they all have an abstract and introductory paragraph that sets out the background information necessary for the reader to understand what follows.
Secondly, most scientific articles will have a method or experimental design section which outlines how the experiment was conducted and its limitations.
Thirdly, there will be results/discussion/conclusion sections that describe the findings of the research and discuss their implications for future studies.
Finally, at the end of any paper written about research involving human subjects, authors must include details of ethics approval from their institution and ethical clearance from independent assessors where appropriate.
Now then, let’s take a closer look at each of these sections.
Abstract/ Executive summary
Scientific papers vary greatly in length depending on the topic being studied and the academic discipline but they always contain an abstract that provides essential information about the topic being discussed.
The abstract should give readers an overview of the content of your paper and can usually be summarized in 150 words or less.
It should state who conducted the research, what methodology was used, and what were the major findings and conclusions drawn from this study.
There should also be a brief mention of why this work is important or relevant to other scientists working in this field and/or society as a whole.
You may find it helpful to think of the abstract as a short synopsis for those people who may not have time to read the entire paper.
For this reason, you need to make sure that you’ve included all of the most important points so that someone skimming through them won’t miss anything vital.
Scientific paper introduction
The introduction section of a scientific paper should provide readers with enough detail so that they can understand the context in which the subsequent discussion takes place.
This section should also give readers a sense of your theoretical perspective as well as summarize what you hope to achieve through your research.
There should be enough detail here so that the readers will not need to refer back to other sections when reading your paper. Additionally, this introductory paragraph is a good place to include keywords for indexing purposes.
For example, if you were writing about the role of robotics in preventing chronic diseases, your introduction might start by explaining why robots are important for people with chronic conditions.
You would then go on to summarize some of the existing research in this area before explaining why your study makes new contributions to knowledge.
Here is a list of guidelines that might help with structuring the introduction of your scientific research paper :
- Use short sentences and plenty of transition words to make your point clear
- Start with a brief statement about the research question or problem
- Outline briefly how you went about answering that question or solving that problem
- Provide some key literature citations in support of your argument
- Include in a sentence or two how the rest of the paper is structured (i.e., what follows)
- Summarize the arguments made in the following paragraphs
- Introduce any limitations on your work or speculate about what future work could be done
Literature review of a Scientific paper
This section is essentially an extension of your introduction, designed to review previous research on your topic.
In particular, it should summarize other studies in which effects you’re trying to replicate were found or not found.
If so many researchers have conducted experiments in your area and you’re now doing something similar, you might start with a brief overview of their main findings and explain how yours will contribute to that body of knowledge.
A good literature review should also identify gaps in our understanding of the issue at hand and mention any unanswered questions that you aim to address.
If you are having trouble finding sources for your literature review consider the following tips:
- Make a list of topics and find out what research has been done on them.
- Read journal articles, books, abstracts, etc.
- Seek out experts in the field to see if they know of any relevant work.
- Contact university librarians to see if they have compiled any subject lists. They will often give you access to databases such as MEDLINE & PsycINFO that allows you to search across disciplines.
- Look for research in your discipline and on closely related topics.
Materials and methods in a scientific paper
The Materials and Methods section of a scientific paper should detail what materials were used in each step of the experiment.
It should also describe exactly how these materials were used in that particular experiment, including how participants were recruited and what type of statistical analyses were performed.
Commonly used materials include animals (including rats, mice, fish, and chimpanzees), cell cultures (including HeLa cells), and human subjects.
Experiments with animals typically involve housing them under controlled conditions before exposing them to experimental stimuli such as chemicals or drugs.
Commonly used methods for scientific research include controlled laboratory experiments, longitudinal studies, and ethnographic research.
Controlled laboratory experiments are generally viewed as the most scientifically rigorous because participants can be randomly assigned to different experimental groups and researchers can control extraneous variables such as selection bias.
However, this type of design requires substantial resources and only applies to certain types of questions that lend themselves to experimentation.
In the case of a longitudinal study, data is collected at multiple points in time over a period of years. This method of research enables the researcher to investigate long-term outcomes and their relationship to early life experiences.
Ethnographic research involves the systematic observation and documentation of social customs and cultural practices within a given group or community. This approach has proven very valuable for understanding how cultures adapt and change over time.
More tips to write the methods section
- If your research methodology was an experiment, include detailed descriptions of all statistical tests performed. For example, when performing a one-way ANOVA or multiple regression analysis, including tables or figures that show exactly how your data was coded and whether or not you used random assignment to balance between groups.
- This section should include a description of the sampling process, the size of the sample, and what populations were excluded from your research.
- It is not necessary to include references for materials that you used in this section unless you want to reference articles discussing your use of specific materials. For example, if you used a specific lab technique that has been widely discussed in the literature, it might be helpful to include a few of those references.
- It is not necessary to include details about how participants were recruited or what type of statistical analyses were performed in this section. For example, it is sufficient to say that participants were drawn from the general population and leave out the detail that we contacted them using Facebook ads. This section should be descriptive rather than prescriptive. You should provide enough information to help readers understand what you did and why, but avoid excessive detail.
There are many ethical issues to consider when conducting scientific research with human subjects.
If you are working with human subjects, it is important to be aware of such issues as privacy, confidentiality, safety, and risk-benefit ratio.
You should also take into account questions about informed consent before starting your research (informed consent is a voluntary agreement given by someone who understands what they are getting into).
Other ethical issues can arise from how participants are recruited or whether they are being deceived.
For example, if you wanted to study how people respond differently on different days of the week, you might need to mislead some people so that they believe that their task has nothing to do with the day of the week.
When designing experiments involving animals, there are two general types of ethical considerations: welfare and animal rights.
Welfare involves making sure that animals have good living conditions and do not suffer unnecessarily during an experiment.
Animal rights mean ensuring that animals’ needs are met even when there may be potential negative consequences for humans.
All researchers must abide by strict guidelines regarding experimental design and the use of laboratory animals; those guidelines vary depending on what country the researcher is based in.
Many countries require an institutional review board (IRB) to approve all projects involving live vertebrates, but others permit IRBs to decide case-by-case whether a project qualifies for approval.
In all cases, researchers must adhere to guidelines related to humane treatment, safe handling and transport of animals, euthanasia procedures, and oversight by veterinarians or other qualified personnel.
In addition, the researcher’s institution must have appropriate facilities for housing and care for animals.
The results section of scientific papers should have a clear and concise description of the findings.
This section should answer the research question while remaining unbiased and objective.
Researchers often organize this section by breaking it down into subsections based on what type of statistical analyses were performed.
These subsections include demographic comparisons, raw score comparisons, and correlational findings.
The results section also includes a subsection on the limitations of the study.
This section should contain anything that may limit the applicability of your research to other situations
For example, if you found that participants who were exposed to a stressful event had higher levels of cortisol, it would be important to note that this finding may not apply to people who are not in stressful situations or do not live in a similar environment.
Follow these guidelines to structure your results section :
- Summarize the research question and provide a brief overview of the results.
- Provide a summary of your statistical analyses and how they were performed.
- Present your demographics, providing basic statistics for each variable. For example, you might include a table or figure that summarizes age distribution across both groups in your study.
- Present differences in means and standard deviations between groups, and where appropriate also discuss effect sizes and confidence intervals to give more context about what these numbers mean.
- Compare individual scores and correlations among variables.
- Be sure to explain which variables correlate with others, what their relative strengths are, and if there is any theoretical explanation for why these relationships exist.
- Provide graphs and scatterplots as needed to illustrate key points.
This section is important because it provides the reasons why the researcher came up with their conclusions.
It is typically organized chronologically, beginning with a description of prior work related to the topic and then ending with speculation about future directions for research.
When organizing this section, remember that it does not require formal citations; however, including some relevant citations can be helpful.
The discussion typically includes the following:
- A discussion of what implications your research has for theory.
- Discussion of the significance of your research, with attention to how it compares to previous studies.
- Discussion of the practical or clinical implications for your findings.
- An outline of possible future research questions in light of your findings.
A scientific paper discussion section should also include things that may affect the generalizability of your research to other settings, such as the stress level of your participants.
Conclusion and Future Recommendations
This is the last section of the scientific paper.
This section should summarize the research, what it meant for the scientific field, and make recommendations for further research.
In this section, you should explicitly address the research question, and if applicable, propose hypotheses for further research.
Remember that this is not a place to present new theories. Instead, it should be a succinct recap of what you did and your findings.
Consider including recommendations for future research in this section.
This is a good opportunity to introduce possible avenues for exploration that you didn’t have time to explore in your own research. This section could also include potential applications of the research to practice.
Finally, consider the personal impact of your research.