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How to write a Scientific Research Paper - A step by step guide

Drawing no boundary between science and technology, a perfect academia depends on progress. We, humans are mere mortals but our contribution towards the society becomes a key factor to save us from premature oblivion. The progress however can be of various types and some are new, updated and unique. Depending on those steps taken forward, scientific communities put their labor to judge and come to a consensus whether a particular development has a significance or not. Courtesy of our survival, although the process has shaped into different pots corresponding to their time, the framework remained the same. Pinning that, the newcomers in the field of STEM in a broader sense look for a specific way to fit into the picture.

Only results are not enough to make people know about your contribution, rather the requirement lies in documenting it into a paper, presentation or any contemporary form. I am here to give a vivid idea that might work as a guideline for you or a critical component that needs improvement, if you already have a big picture with contrasting design on how to communicate in science’s language. How to write a scientific paper? While science communication works as the foundational bridge between scientists and laymen, it is extremely necessary to send your message across for your own benefits.

first_scientific_publication
Newton's Principia: widely regarded as the first and the most influential modern scientific publication

Demand of Quality Research:

I am sure, many of you have seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind” depicting John Nash’s biography where John initially, in his college days suffered to get an original, fundamental idea to do his research. While his friends, favored by their guides could come up with various topics that were probably extensions of a previously done work. Now, this doesn’t describe a preferred idea to choose your research topics. While there is nothing wrong in extending the scopes, and writing papers on improvements, certainly the novelty of your work must not be compromised. If you strictly belong to academia or a student, “writing papers” might add a special impetus to your career. However, even if you are an industry person, a documented research work might walk you through the field of your interest and buy you benefits.

Just as it is important for you to have your paper, it is very much necessary you know your work and for you to believe in it. So, the first step for you is to acknowledge your work and know how it is different from the rest. In reality, it is very difficult to do breakthrough research and there is no harm if you read lots of papers about a topic and if something strikes you and you write something in continuum to that. But know that, your research has to be demanding, well understood and follow certain criteria to get selected in a specific journal/conference.

Interestingly, many I know, believe that writing a research paper is a very daunting task and time consuming. Although it is very true, but it is the time well invested on something that can boost your career, your contribution and give achievements in return. Lucrative enough, this should not be taken as a career enhancer tool rather used to give back to the society where you belong.

Every peer-reviewed journal has a team of editors and they specifically look for some special but generic features that should be maintained in your paper. And in the process of peer review, explained later, your cover letter is the first thing that is read by the editor-in-chief of a specific journal. As we walk through this article, we will see that each point I came across for my first paper is written and might require edits, have pitfalls or warning messages and can be done by many different ways. That’s why, I invite all to share their views, give insights and enlighten us about your experience.

getting_published
Getting published: Processes involved

Key Points to have your draft ready:

Finally, we are here and without any extra talk, let us get straight to the point, the key ingredients of a scientific paper ready to be published in a conference or a journal.

The following sections are integral to any published work:

1. A Cover Letter ( different from the manuscript )
2. Title of the paper
3. Authors affiliated
4. Abstract
5. Introduction
6. Methods Used
7. Results
8. Applications
9. Acknowledgement
10. Citations

While there is no hard and fast rules to structure these sections, I shall come to each one and give a brief ouline about whatever I acquired in the process of making one. First thing first, let us start with the cover letter.

A cover letter is a “letter to the editor” which explains why your work should be published in their journal. This is an extra piece that comes with your manuscript. No extra talk, no exaggeration, no more than one page is the mantra you should chant before writing one. Many of the editors are fond of a structured writing which is focused and dedicated to the work you have done. Importantly, your letter must not be a ditto copy-paste work from your abstract or manuscript. Neither should it be completely a technical jargon, nor should it refer to a conclusion that has no significance with the results submitted. I think, the best way to get your cover letter ready is to speak about your work to a person who is completely unaware of your work but has knowledge to comprehend your work.

Dos of Cover Letter:

1. Clearly mention the title of your manuscript and the type of paper it is. It means, whether it is a regular submission, a tutorial, a special submission.

2. What led you to do this work? If you have done something, then surely it was needed on the first stage. Talk about the necessity of your research.

3. Which content is new here? How novel is your work? What is the possible impact of your work? Explain in plain formal text.

4. How is your submitted manuscript related to the journal or conference? You should reason why the target audience of that specific journal will like to read your paper.

5. The cover letter must have all authors consent.

About the “Title of the paper”, it should contain the keywords of your research paper and should explain what your paper is all about. Some like to give a hint about the possible applications of the research whereas some emphasize on the theory. The idea is to catch the reader’s attention.

Authors’ names, given in a particular order in the paper actually don’t follow a specific order, not always. Generally, it is expected that the first author is the one who has done most of the work related to the topics and under the guidance of the senior author, mentioned in the last but it is not followed always. Many a times, it depends on the authors and their internal understanding to follow any specific order they like to provide.

contemporary_research
methodology of contemporary scientific research

Abstract – The first check point:


One of the most crucial aspects of your paper shall be always the abstract you attach with your paper. Again, this is often where you prove your paper passes for manuscript submission in less than 250 words (or lesser, sometimes more – it completely depends on the journal and conference rules). Things to remember, the abstract should not be biased, should be the gist of your full paper, adds no new information, has the stand-alone feature that can be well decrypted without reading the full paper.

This is where, authors again need to compress the technical details and take it to a level where a large audience can understand. This must summarize the purpose, methods, results and the future prospect in no more than 4-5 lines. As you can understand, you need to prove here that your full paper is worth reading.

The reason is, the abstract is the only thing that gets published in a conference proceeding, it is the only available material to read in online journals (without a paid membership or except the open journals), it is the only content that goes to a review referee to read and then sent to the specific editors for a detailed review. Not meant to freak you out, it actually decides the future of your prospective publication.

Agenda – Manuscript:

While we have already stated the pieces of the primary manuscript, the whole report is yet to get into our system. It starts with an introduction which talks about the motivation of your paper. What is the background of you research? Let people know and prepare them to get the context of your paper. Following a structured approach, the introduction should give ideas about the following:

1. Write a short background: The pre-text of your paper should be here. What happened before you chose the topic? What led you follow the topic? This is where you make people aware of the story that influenced to work on it.
2. Need: What is the need of your research? What issue have you addressed?
3. Your contribution to address the need: Mention methods, tools in one line.
4. The brief structure of the document, preferably a one liner that simply says what your paper does at the end.

As it is a scientific documentation, it generally comes with a guideline to use some specific verbs. Although the concept differs from one paper to another, from one journal to the other journal it certainly is prescribed to maintain a formal tone that signifies it is what it is.

The next part we get to see in a paper is the “Methods” section. Largest among all, it is where you impart the knowledge of your genuine work. Have you used any new methods? Have you used any instrument? Mention that with full working procedure that is required to get your results. You can mention how you improved your methods if it already existed and what are the changes that you have made to make it work for you. As it is the most technical section of your paper along with the results, it might bore the readers if it doesn’t add exactly why and what you have used.

Mention everything upfront. If you use a standard approach, tweaked a standard approach, changed some parameters of a solver, used your own algorithm, you have the sole responsibility to pass that information to the readers.

The next big section of your paper, is where you discuss the results you received. Warning! Never put too many references in the graphs or charts and make people turn pages after pages looking for the meaning. Each graph you add, you must try to make it stand-alone and less clumsy. Even, big journal papers like Nature have graphs that are extremely cluttered with color, confusing indices and information spread everywhere. A discussion must be added with all the supporting pictures, diagrams and graphs that explain your result in greater detail.

Once you are done with them, you probably add acknowledgment and references which again makes your paper true to the readers.

impact_factor

High impact journals with their corresponding impact factors

Importance of Grades and Citation:


Journals come with impact factors whereas conferences are judged with h-5 index. Many of the researchers tend to apply for the ones, qualifying better grades in this section. While they do follow a ranking system, your paper quality ranks higher, rather is supposed be impactful if many others have referred your paper. Citation is very important, not only has it enhanced one’s paper quality but also makes the referrer to stay true in terms of his work. Many organizations such as Google, Research Gate etc. also help you to promote, search, and update your research profile as you advance in your career.

The concept of Peer Review:

Peer review is a process of assessment which decides whether your research paper should be published or not. Once the preliminary check is done, the paper gets reviewed by a group of experts known as referees whose identity is kept anonymous. The group of experts then judge the paper, comment on its quality and depending on that, the editors decide whether to publish the report in the journal or should it be revised by the authors. This process is done to guarantee that the work published is free from errors and assures a high quality research work.

A standard guideline is followed to maintain the transparency. As you get exposed to the work more, it is prescribed that you be a referee. This not only evolves you into a better scientist, you become more aware of different work, approaches and become open to different work.

Collaboration and Advancement:


Approaching the coda, a scientific paper has a huge importance that you can use yourself to develop whatever you want to. The paper aspect as the stand alone feature is already described, but what more do you get? Your paper in a journal or conference builds your existence offline and online. You get collaboration requests, opportunities and foundation for your next work. Use it well, be inspired and develop history aka science!
Very useful article.

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