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Writing a Scientific Paper

Discussion of how to understand and write different sections of a scientific paper. Discussions of how to write Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Data, and Discussion.

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What is an abstract?

There are as many kinds as abstracts as there are types of research papers.  The classic abstract is usually a "Informative" abstract. This kind of abstract communicates compressed information and include the purpose, methods, and scope of the article. They are usually short (250 words or less) and allow the reader to decide whether they want to read the article.

The goal is to communicate:

  • What was done?
  • Why was it done?
  • How was it done?
  • What was found?
  • What is the significance of the findings?

What is a "good" abstract?

  • Self contained. Uses 1 or more well developed paragraphs
  • Uses introduction/body/conclusion structure
  • Presents purpose, results, conclusions and recommendations in that order
  • Adds no new information
  • Is understandable to a wide audience

Techniques to write an abstract

  • Write the abstract last
  • Reread the article looking specifically for the main parts: Purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations
  • Write a first rough draft without looking at the original article
  • Edit your draft by correcting organization, improving transitions, dropping unnecessary information and words, and adding important information you left out

"Abstract Checklist" from: How to Write a Good Scientific Paper. Chris A. Mack. SPIE. 2018.

The abstract should be a concise (200 words or less), standalone summary of the paper, with 1–2 sentences on each of these topics:

  • Background: What issues led to this work? What is the environment that makes this work interesting or important?
  • Aim: What were the goals of this work? What gap is being filled?
  • Approach: What went into trying to achieve the aims (e.g., experimental method, simulation approach, theoretical approach, combinations of these, etc.)? What was actually done?
  • Results: What were the main results of the study (including numbers, if appropriate)?
  • Conclusions: What were the main conclusions? Why are the results important? Where will they lead?

The abstract should be written for the audience of this journal: do not assume too much or too little background with the topic.

Ensure that all of the information found in the abstract also can be found in the body of the paper.

Ensure that the important information of the paper is found in the abstract.

Avoid: using the first paragraph of the introduction as an abstract; citations in the abstract; acronyms (but if used, spell them out); referring to figures or tables from the body of the paper; use of the first person; use of words like “new” or “novel,” or phrases like “in this paper,” “we report,” or “will be discussed.”