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CHEM 2800: Intro to Research-Chemistry

Writing A Scientific Paper

Writing a scientific research paper may seem like a daunting task, but with a little bit of practice and review of sound examples, you will be well on your way.  Such writing usually follows a standard format with simple structure that is both logical and easy to understand. This standard format is important as it reflects "the scientific method of deductive reasoning: define the problem, create a hypothesis, devise an experiment to test the hypothesis, conduct the experiment, and draw conclusions." (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 19). 

In this page, we will examine the various components of the research paper including: the titleabstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and the bibliography of works cited.

Structure of the Research Paper

The Title reflects the keywords and main concepts in your paper in a very succinct manner.  The title should be short and meaningful such that is accurate and clear to the reader. "The title serves two main purposes: to attract the potential audience and to aid retrieval and indexing. Therefore, include several keywords. The title should provide the maximum information for a computerized title search." (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 20)

The Abstract is a concise summary of the key concepts, scope, findings and conclusions of the paper and should briefly state the purpose of your research. Important note: the abstract is typically the last element written for of your research writing so as to accurately reflect the full content of the research.  " Although an abstract is not a substitute for the article itself, it must be concise, self-contained, and complete enough to appear separately in abstract publications." (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 21)

The Introduction gets right to the heart of the matter. It clearly outlines the problem/hypothesis you investigated and the compelling reason for completing the research. The introduction should review the relevant background research literature published on this topic and how it relates to your current research. According the ACS Style Guide, the introduction should "state how your work differs from or is related to the work previously published, " as well as "demonstrate the continuity from the previous work to yours." (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 22).

Now is the time for detail! The Materials and Methods (aka "Experimental") section of the research paper is a thorough explanation of the experimental procedures and processes employed in gathering data and to test your hypothesis.  Strong detail here is crucial so that other scientists may repeat and replicate your research work.  In this section, you should include a descriptive list of:

  1. Materials and apparatus used during experimentation,
  2. Type(s) of controls and how they were established, 
  3. Key processes and methods employed, and
  4. If applicable, establish where or under what conditions the study was conducted.

To ensure completeness in this section, it is best to consult the specific requirements presented within a particular style guide or review a publisher's format preferences. It should be noted that this section may also be called the "Experimental Methods" or "Theoretical Basis"  section depending the type of research conducted or publisher preferences. (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 22).

Structure of the Research Paper Continued

The Results section is a summary of the data that was collected. In this section you will:

  1. Discuss variables (independent & dependent), controls, samples sizes, etc.
  2. Summarize the statistical analysis used to understand the raw data 
  3. Utilize tables, graphs, equations and figures to appropriately display data to provide visual clarity

This section should accurately reflect the statistical treatment of the data and should serve as visual, mathematical summary of the aggregate data. Do not present the raw data.  (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 23).

The Discussion section is where you will review the results objectively and begin to define the implications of the results in light of the original purpose of the research and the current knowledge in the subject area under study. This is also the place in which you identify the limitations of the research work. "The purpose of the discussion section is to interpret and compare the results.... was the problem resolved?, what has been contributed?" (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 23). 

The Conclusion section is a complimentary partner of the discussion section and seeks to put the interpretation of the results into greater context of the original problem and includes suggestions for future research.  Be careful however, "do not repeat discussion points or include irrelevant material. Conclusions should be based on the evidence presented." (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2, p. 23-24). 

Finally, in most research work, the written article concludes with a summary of the main points of the research as well as an acknowledgement of individuals, organizations and funders critical to the success and support of the research. Be generous here, especially as this is your opportunity to thank those who helped you complete the difficult work that went into your research.

For most students, the Bibliography of References (or Works Cited) is often one of the most under attended and considered sections.  A wise student will pay considerable attention to this section and will invest significant time early in the investigative process to organize, annotate and refine this body of sources. A well attended bibliography will serve as the foundation and academic mortar which holds together your own research.  In this section of your writing, you will appropriately credit the supporting work by all  authors (scientists, researchers and organizations) whose efforts served to reinforce and inform your own work.

Make sure to pay careful attention to the specific format style required to credit authors both as in-text citations and in the concluding bibliography. "The accuracy of the references is the [publishing] author’s responsibility. Errors in references are one of the most common errors found in scientific publications and are a source of frustration to readers."  (ACS Style Guide, Chap. 2., p. 24). For further insight and detail, see the page on Creating a Bibliography (left-hand column) or visit RefWorks directly.

ACS Style Guide

Preparing Your Article to Publish