Writing Scientific Articles: Guide For Dummies

Publishing your results is a vital step in the research lifecycle, as it allows you to get your work seen by the scientific community, and exchange your ideas globally. But writing a scientific paper is not only about creativity, but also about good structure and following some key rules. If you don’t follow these rules, your article may end up being either boring or incomplete, which means that it won’t be cited. Jeffrey Robens, Springer Nature Journal development manager, conducted an open workshop at ITMO University, where he shared some advice on how to write a good scientific article.

The four questions you have to answer in your article

Take these questions into account when thinking about the structure of the article:

  1. Why is this research important? Answer this question in the introduction to your paper.
  2. What have you done during the research? Write about this in the methodology section.
  3. What results have you achieved?
  4. How will your research contribute to the discourse in your scientific field? Here you describe how the results you have found will contribute to the further development of this research area, how it can be applied, and what further research could be conducted as a result.
Jeffrey Robens
Jeffrey Robens

How to clearly express your motivation for conducting this research

There are three basic reasons for research:

  1. to find out something new;
  2. to overcome some restrictions in physical, chemical or any other systems;
  3. to contribute to the discussion and body of knowledge on some issues.

Apart from that, you have to state the purpose of your research, that is to answer the question about which problems you want to solve and come to some conclusion. Some people think that a conclusion is just a summary of what they have written about, but it’s not that simple. A conclusion is an answer to the question you have stated in the introduction. Not answering this question is like writing a story with an open ending. People who read your article want to know what results you achieved.

Find a journal to publish your article in

Think in advance about what journal you’re going to publish your article in. Don’t submit your article to the most prestigious journal just because it is the most prestigious. Why? Because they won’t publish your article unless it fits their target audience. Publishers need their articles to get downloaded, discussed and cited, otherwise they won’t get profit. Some factors to consider when choosing a journal to submit to include:

  1. The journal’s target audience. If you’re submitting your article to a world famous journal, you have to explain why your topic is interesting. On the other hand, if only local researchers are likely to want to read your study, then a local journal would be more appropriate.
  2. The topics the journal publishes. There are certain journals that specialise in many areas, and there are some journals specialising in particular topics.
Springer Nature. Credit: meritocracy.is
Springer Nature. Credit: meritocracy.is

Submitting a manuscript to an unsuitable journal will result in editors rejecting the article. It wastes both yours and the editors’ time. Choosing a journal that matches your study is therefore very important because it makes it more likely that your manuscript will be accepted.

How to write an introduction

The most important thing is to tell the reader the purpose of your study. You also have to provide readers with the background information needed to understand your study. Make sure that you cite all the references in your paper. When describing the background, you’re writing about the existing problems in the field and choosing one particular problem that you’re going to solve in your study.

How to write about methodology

Authors often say that describing the methodology is the easiest part of the research, as you only have to describe what you’ve done. But this is not enough. You don’t only have to describe the process of the research but to demonstrate that you’re an expert in the field. How can you do that?

  1. Write about your expectations of the research and your working hypothesis.
  2. Talk about the difficulties you encountered during the research and how you addressed them. This will help other scientists not to make the same mistakes and gain your respect.
  3. Provide readers with links to databases and all other necessary information they might find useful.
Springer Nature Workshop
Springer Nature Workshop

How to describe your results

It’s important that you interpret the results of your research clearly. Don’t hesitate to write about all the implications of the results you achieved. What further applications can your results have?

You shouldn’t be afraid to describe negative results, even if it negates your hypothesis. This will also help other scientists avoid making the same mistakes again.

Springer Nature. Credit: group.springernature.com
Springer Nature. Credit: group.springernature.com

How to write a conclusion

The most important thing when writing a conclusion is to emphasize once again the importance of your research.  You should also come up with some keywords and write about the results of the study. An important thing is to write only about two key aspects. People won’t remember more anyway.

How to write a title

The title of your paper is usually the first introduction readers have to your work. Writing a good title for your manuscript can be challenging. You have to describe all your research in one sentence. Make sure that your title covers the three following aspects:

  1. conditions affecting the subject of research;
  2. what characteristics were analyzed;
  3. the subject of research.

For example, in the sentence “The effects of humidity on surface roughness of silicon dioxide”, “humidity” stands for conditions, “surface roughness” stands for characteristics, and “silicon dioxide” stands for the subject of research. So the topic of the article is clear, and there are some keywords that help readers understand what the article is about.

Tips: don’t make a title longer than 20 words. Avoid using abbreviations. Don’t use the word “new”, as it is already clear that you’re writing about some new results. Try to keep your title short and precise.

Springer Nature Workshop
Springer Nature Workshop

How to write an abstract

The abstract is what your colleagues will read first. It is your only chance to make them read the whole article. That’s why you have to prove in the abstract that your article is worth reading. Many readers will only read the abstract of your manuscript. Therefore, it has to be able to stand out. Try to make it as short and precise as possible.

How to write a good cover letter to the journal editor

Journal editors are extremely busy people and usually, have to make a decision on the suitability of a paper quickly. So it’s very important to make a good impression, and a persuasive cover letter can help you do that. In the cover letter you should:

  1. address the editor who will be assessing your manuscript by their name;
  2. include the title of your paper;
  3. clarify what type of paper it is;
  4. briefly explain in three or four sentences what was done;
  5. confirm that your article has not been published elsewhere, and all authors agree with its submission to the journal;
  6. add an expanded signature, that is, explain clearly who you are and all of your affiliations;
  7. Your cover letter shouldn’t be longer than one A4 page in 10-12 point font. Convert it into a PDF file and name it something like  “Your surname_cover letter”.

Remember that a good article in a suitable journal will not only get you citations but will also help you establish useful connections with other scientists.

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