Let's examine the content in each section of a scientific paper, and discuss why each section may be useful to you as a reader.
TITLE. The title will help you to determine if an article is interesting or relevant for your project.
Well-written titles give a reasonably complete description of the study that was conducted, and sometimes even foreshadow the findings. Included in a title are the species studied, the kinds of experiments performed, and perhaps a brief indication of the results obtained.
ABSTRACT. Abstracts provide you with a complete, but very succinct summary of the paper.
An abstract contains brief statements of the purpose, methods, results, and conclusions of a study. Abstracts are often included in article databases, and are usually free to a large audience. Thus, they may be the most widely read portions of scientific papers.
INTRODUCTION. You will find background information and a statement of the author's hypothesis in the introduction.
An introduction usually describes the theoretical background, indicates why the work is important, states a specific research question, and poses a specific hypothesis to be tested.
METHODS. The methods section will help you determine exactly how the authors performed the experiment.
The methods describes both specific techniques and the overall experimental strategy used by the scientists. Generally, the methods section does not need to be read in detail. Refer to this section if you have a specific question about the experimental design.
RESULTS. The results section contains the data collected during experimention.
The results section is the heart of a scientific paper. In this section, much of the important information may be in the form of tables or graphs. When reading this section, do not readily accept an author's statements about the results. Rather, carefully analyze the raw data in tables and figures to draw your own conclusions.
DISCUSSION. The discussion section will explain the authors interpret their data and how they connect it to other work.
Authors often use the discussion to describe what their work suggests and how it relates to other studies. In this section, authors can anticipate and address any possible objections to their work. The discussion section is also a place where authors can suggest areas of improvement for future research.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.The acknowledgments tell you what people or institutions (in addition to the authors) contributed to the work.
In reading the acknowledgments, you can see what sources provided financial support for the study. You might want to know an industry group or the federal government funded the study.
LITERATURE CITED. This section provides the sources cited throughout the paper.
This section offers information on the range of other studies cited: Does the author cite only his or her previous studies? Are both classic and modern sources influencing this work? Does the author look to the work of scientists in other disciplines? The literature cited section is also helpful for generating a list of background reading on the topic under study.
Elements of a Research Paper
Set the stage; state the problem (introduction)
generally describe the topic and how it fits into your field of study
- Set the scene
Describe the environment and its conditions
Get permission before using personal information
- Introduce and describe the problem
Describe what you intend to show/argue and why
What is its significance?
Illustrate the problem with an interesting example
(Remember you are writing for an audience and want to capture their interest)
- Begin to define terms, concepts, vocabulary
If possible, use one authoritative source or combine definitions and footnote your sources
Later in the development of your paper, be conscious of using new terms and their definitions
- Since tasks begun well, likely have good finishes (Sophocles)
review the topic, scene, and problem with your teacher or supervisor to verify if you are on the right path
Review the Literature
What research is relevant?
How is it organized? c.f.: Writing Center/University of Wisconsin's Review of literature
Develop your Hypotheses
Your hypothesis is your proposed explanation that you will test to determine whether it is true or false
It will contain measurable variables (those that change or can be manipulated)
with results that can be compared with each other.
Avoid over-generalizing, and reference the research findings of others to support why you think this will work
C.F. National Health Museum's Writing Hypotheses: a student lesson
Give enough information so that others can follow your procedure,
and can replicate it (and hopefully come up with the same findings and conclusions as you did!)
- Describe your procedure as completely as possible so that someone can duplicate it completely
- Define your sample and its characteristics
These should be consistent throughout the test
- List the variables used
These are what change, or that you manipulate, throughout the test
- Try to anticipate criticism that affects either your internal or external validity
These might be considered "flaws"
This is descriptive and numeric data
Develop your argument based upon your findings.
While the data may read for itself, you will need to interpret
- how it validates your hypothesis
- what falls outside of validity
- how it impacts the literature you cited
- where further research is needed
Restate and summarize your findings and discussion either in order to simply complexity or to provide a summary for those who skip to it!
Verify with your teacher the proper format
A research paper is not an essay, an editorial, or a story.
All assertions of fact must be documented.
Be careful of any generalizations that you make.
Strive to be value-free in your inquiry.
Review our Guide on the Scientific Method
Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |See also:
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments
1. Kearl, Michael, The Research Paper, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, (September 17, 2004)
2. Online Writing Lab, Writing a Research Paper, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (September 17, 2004)