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Scientific and Scholarly Writing: Parts of the paper

Parts of a Scientific Paper

Different sections are needed in different types of scientific papers (lab reports, literature reviews, systematic reviews, methods papers, research papers, etc.). Projects that overlap with the social sciences or humanities may have different requirements. Generally, however, you'll need to include:




METHODS SECTION (Materials and Methods)




What is a title What makes a good title?

Titles have two functions: to identify the main topic or the message of the paper and to attract readers.

The title will be read by many people. Only a few will read the entire paper, therefore all words in the title should be chosen with care. Too short a title is not helpful to the potential reader. Too long a title can sometimes be even less meaningful. Remember a title is not an abstract. Neither is a title a sentence.



A good title is accurate, complete, and specific. Imagine searching for your paper in PubMed. What words would you use?

• Use the fewest possible words that describe the contents of the paper.
• Avoid waste words like "Studies on", or "Investigations on".
• Use specific terms rather than general.
• Use the same key terms in the title as the paper.
• Watch your word order and syntax.
• Avoid abbreviations, jargon, and special characters.


What is an abstract? What makes a good abstract?

The abstract is a miniature version of your paper. It should present the main story and a few essential details of the paper for readers who only look at the abstract and should serve as a clear preview for readers who read your whole paper. They are usually short (250 words or less).

The goal is to communicate:

  1.  What was done?
  2.  Why was it done?
  3.  How was it done?
  4.  What was found?


A good abstract is specific and selective. Try summarizing each of the sections of your paper in a sentence two. Do the abstract last, so you know exactly what you want to write.

• Use 1 or more well developed paragraphs.
• Use introduction/body/conclusion structure.
• Present purpose, results, conclusions and recommendations in that order.
• Add no new information.
• Make it understandable to a wide audience.


What is an introduction? What makes a good introduction?

The introduction tells the reader why you are writing your paper (ie, identifies a gap in the literature) and supplies sufficient background information that the reader can understand and evaluate your project without referring to previous publications on the topic.

The goal is to communicate:

  1. The nature and scope of the problem investigated.
  2. The pertinent literature already written on the subject.
  3. The method of the investigation.
  4. The principle results of the project.
  5. The principle conclusions of the project.


A good introduction is not the same as an abstract. Where the abstract summarizes your paper, the introduction justifies your project and lets readers know what to expect.


• Keep it brief. You conducted an extensive literature review, so that you can give readers just the relevant information.
• Cite your sources using in-text citations.
• Use the present tense. Keep using the present tense for the whole paper.
• Use the same information that you use in the rest of your paper.


What is a methods section? What makes a good methods section?

Generally a methods section tells the reader how you conducted your project. Whether you need a methods section, or how thorough it needs to be depends on what kind of a project you're writing about. For example, if you are writing a review paper you may not need a methods section, but you are writing a method paper, you will need a very thorough methods section.

It is also called "Materials and Methods".

The goal is to make your project reproducible.


A good methods section gives enough detail that another scientist could reproduce or replicate your results.

• Use very specific language, similar to a recipe in a cookbook.
• If something is not standard (equipment, method, chemical compound, statistical analysis), then describe it.
• Use the past tense.
• Subheadings should follow guidelines of a style (APA, Vancouver, etc.) or journal (journals will specify these in their "for authors" section). For medical education writing, refer to the AMA Manual of Style.



What is a results section? What makes a good results section?

The results present the data or information that you gathered through your project. The narrative that you write here will point readers to your figures and tables that present your relevant data.

Keep in mind that you may be able to include more of your data in an online journal supplement or research data repository.




A good results section is not the same as the discussion. Present the facts in the results, and save the interpretation for the discussion.

• Make figures and tables clearly labelled and easy to read. If you include a figure or table, explain it here in the results section.
• Present representative data rather than endlessly repetitive data.
• Discuss variables only if they had an effect (positive or negative)
• Use meaningful statistics.
• Describe statistical analyses you ran on the data.


What is a discussion section? What makes a good discussion section?

The discussion section is the answer to the question(s) you posed in the introduction section. It is where you interpret your results. You have a lot of flexibility in this section. In addition to your main findings or conclusions, consider:

• Limitations of your project.
• Directions for future research.


A good discussion section should read very differently than the results section. You presented facts in the results section; the discussion is where you interpret the project as a whole.

• Present principles, relationships and generalizations shown by the results.
• Discuss the significance or importance of the results.
• Discuss the theoretical implications of your work as well as practical applications
• Show how your results agree or disagree with previously published works.