I am writing a biology research paper. My topic is related to organs transplantation (current issues, ethical problems etc). I have written a draft and showed it to my professor. She was satisfied with the content and research, but she told that I need to work on my writing. According to her, I didn't follow the structure, but I have no idea how am I supposed to build my research paper. Can somebody give me suggestions or recommend me articles about research paper writing?
Each writer has their own style and many of the things that pass for good writing for some, are bad writing for some others. But, if you are in a certain research field, the scientific papers always follow some kind of template.
For example, I'm a physicist. The typical paper structure (e.g. Phys. Rev. B) is:
- Introduction Formulate hypothesis in the context of current research.
- Method/Formalism Describe your methods.
- Results and Discussion Show your results and explain them.
- Conclusions State your most important results and discuss their value in the context of current research in the field.
The way I see my ideal paper is like a mathematical proof. In the introduction I discuss what others have done and what method they used to get the results directly relevant to mine, and explain why obtaining my new result is useful for the development of my subfield of physics. In other words, this is where I formulate the problem and refer to the tools (models, methods) I'm going to use to solve it.
In the second section I briefly introduce my model and method, but I only explain in detail stuff I have done beyond the current state of the art to solve my problem. Very technical things go into the appendices or supplementary information. Stuff that is known and explained well elsewhere is cited.
The third section is where the results are reported and explained. I would probably write "I measured this and got that", but not without explaining how is that agrees or contradicts previous results. I would also highlight the novelty of the result if it's new. This section is hard to write because one often has many interesting graphs and formulas, but needs to keep only the most relevant to the conclusions that are drawn. Again, interesting stuff that further supports your hypothesis, but it's technical, or you don't have space for it here, can go in the supplementary material or appendix.
The conclusion section is the most important because you explain there how is your result new, relevant and important, how it advances the field, and what future work you suggest (without giving away more than you need to).
Most papers follow this kind of model, but each publishing venue has its own, most of the time annoying, templates and standards. If you write a paper in PhyS. Rev., you have to have in mind their template, if your paper is written for Science, you better prepare a draft using their template.
For a research paper in the biological sciences, you’ll often have the following structure:
Some journals, especially the wet lab heavy ones, will have the following format:
A reason for this is that the methods can be very long, technical, and detract from the big ideas that came from the research.
For a literature review, the format is more flexible, but here’s a fairly common one:
For a meta analysis, the following structure is also common:
- Results or Interstitials
Interstitials are essentially topic dependent headers that are central and specific to the paper and area of research it explores.
Abstract A brief account of the research, methods used, results, and maybe a sentence on impact. For a literature review, a description of ‘why now?’ For example, has it been a long time since the last literature review in the field, have new tools or experimental results provided added context to historical results? This is generally around 200 words.
Introduction For an experimental paper, introduce your topic, follow it with a brief literature review of prior publications that have influenced or led you to develop your research question, then state your research question. Depending on the journal format, this can sometimes also include a brief account of the methods and core results. For a literature review, introduce your topic and provide a more thorough account of why you’re writing the literature review now.
Interstitials For a literature review, following the introduction you can usually dive into the research you reviewed. These ‘interstitials’ will be multiple sections titled in a way that explains core ideas from the research or hints at individual stages of development in the line of inquiry your covering.
Methods Generally, you can write this with the following audience in mind: a researcher who has picked up your paper and is contemplating reproducing your experiments. If you conducted any experiments, this is where you give an exhaustive, detailed account of the techniques, tools, and approach - generally without discussing rationale. If you’re writing a literature review or meta analysis you may discuss how you searched, selected, and honed in on the papers you decided to include. For example, what framework did you use for finding, selecting, and analyzing publications? That said, literature reviews often omit the methods section altogether.
Results This can be a simple account of the results you got or, if the experiments were run iteratively and sought to hone in on a very specific mechanism, an account of the logic and rationale between each experiment and the results. For a literature review this section is generally omitted, but omission is less common for a meta analysis.
Discussion For a literature review, this is where you’ll summarize, enumerate the gaps you’ve identified, and discuss future research directions. For a research paper or meta analysis, this is where you’ll discuss your results, their implications, the limitations, and propose relevant follow-up experiments.