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How to Write a Scientific Paper

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As you know, one important method by which scientists communicate with one another is via scientific reports (also called "scientific papers"), published in professional magazines, called "journals". In a scientific report, the researcher(s) tell the reader what they did, what they found out, and what they think it all means. Scientific reports are written in a very different style from reports or papers in literature or history, so we provide you with these guidelines to approved organization, format, and style. Please notice, however, that nowhere in these guidelines do we say that a scientific report should be dry, stuffy, and difficult to read!

You, of course, are not a professional scientist (though you might choose to become one), and you are not writing your report for submission to a scientific journal. Rather, the purpose of your report is to explain what you did to your instructor, so as to have that work evaluated, but you should write the paper as if your intended audience was another undergraduate studying science. You will provide the desired amount of detail if you imagine the readers of your report to be individuals who have a little (but not a lot) of scientific background, who already know something about the general problem you have explored, but who may know very little about the details of your particular study. It might be a good idea to picture your reader to be another student in the class who worked on a different project from yours (when you have different projects in different groups) or to imagine such a person even if all groups did the same project.

Scientific report format

Print your paper double-spaced, with at least 1-inch margins, in an easy-to-read, 12-point font .

Nearly every scientific report consists of the following sections:

Title: At the top of your first page, or on its own cover page, center your title. A good title is brief but informative, and says exactly what your paper is about.

Author(s)' Names and Institution: Beneath the title, give the names of the study's authors, either alphabetically, or in some order determined by who did the most work. Follow the authors' names with the names of the institution(s) where the work was done.

Introduction: This section will begin your paper and is usually several paragraphs long. It tells your reader a number of important things that prepare her or him for the paper. Why have you done this study? What do you hope to find out? That is, what question are you asking and why do you think it is interesting? If you are testing a specific hypothesis or hypotheses, list them here. Is there any historical background to include--about other scientists who have studied similar questions and how your study is related to theirs? If so, include brief descriptions of thie earlier work and how it led you to perform your study.

Methods: This section is separated from the previous one by a title that reads "Methods". Here you should describe what you did and where and when you did it. The purpose of this section is to let other students or scientists repeat your work if they so choose. Therefore, you should describe your methods, concisely and completely, but include enough detail that a reader could re-do your study in the same way as you did (and, one hopes, obtain the same result).

If you followed a lab manual or handout, or a procedure published in a book or journal, you will sometimes find it easiest to refer to the manual for a complete description of the method, rather than to write it out again. You would do this by making a statement similar to this one: "The methods we employed were identical to those in the laboratory manual, on pages x to y, with the following exception...", or we followed the method of Lycan et al. (1994) except that...".

Since this is a description of what you did, write about it in the past tense.

Results: This section is separated from the previous one by a title that reads "Results". In this section, you should present a summary of the measurements you recorded, but you should not yet draw any conclusions about what those measurements tell you about your question. That is, at first, you should allow your readers the chance to draw their own conclusions. A possible exception to this rule is when the result of one experiment led you to construct a further experiment. For example, "Because we suspected that this variability in enzymatic activity was caused by variations in pipetting efficiency induced by lunar gravity, we conducted measurements at the time of new moons, 1/4 and 3/4 moons

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