Guidelines for writing research papers

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<ul><li><p>Articles</p><p>Guidelines for Writing Research Papers</p><p>Received for publication, April 24, 2003</p><p>Perry A. Frey</p><p>From the Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53726</p><p>The preparation of reports is as important a part of doingresearch as the actual execution of the research itself.Until the work is written up in an informative paper, theresearch is not complete. Among the reasons for this arethat research has little intrinsic value before it is dissemi-nated to the scientific community, and researchers, atleast good researchers, often subject their findings to themost critical analysis at the time they are writing them upin research papers. Unfortunately perfectly capable re-searchers frequently find it difficult to write up their work.This is often all too obvious to their readers, and when aresearchers problem with writing leads to a poorly writtenpaper that is difficult to read or understand, the effect is todiminish the impact of the research itself.It is not possible in guidelines such as these to solve all</p><p>writing problems that may be encountered. Skill in suchthings as writing style, grammar, punctuation, sentenceand paragraph structure, and so forth can be acquired onlythrough extensive practice and attentive reading. One pur-pose of these guidelines is to help smooth the way to suchpractice by discussing and perhaps eliminating the firsthurdle that confronts anyone who undertakes to write aresearch report, the problem of organization. What infor-mation goes where? This question always arises. Anotherpurpose is to give some guidance on the writing process.</p><p>ORGANIZING THE PAPER</p><p>Technical and scientific papers are organized in sectionssuch as Theory, Introduction (or Introductory Statement),Results, etc. They also include data in the form of figuresand tables, and they include detailed descriptions of theexperimentation as well as an overall discussion of thesignificance of the experimental findings. Most journalsspecify the required sections while giving some leeway forincluding additional sections such as Theory or Appendi-ces. The traditional sections may be eliminated in shortcommunications. Consult the Instructions for Authors pub-lished annually by the journal you choose before starting towrite the paper.A full research paper should consist of a Title, an AB-</p><p>STRACT (or SUMMARY), an INTRODUCTION (or INTRO-DUCTORY STATEMENT), and sections entitled EXPERI-MENTAL PROCEDURE (or MATERIALS AND METHODS),</p><p>RESULTS, and DISCUSSION. Many journals allow somelatitude in permitting additional sections as well as permit-ting RESULTS and DISCUSSION to be combined whenconvenient and appropriate. The section headings shouldnot be numbered or carry subtitles. Each section may besubdivided into subsections, which are identified by de-scriptive titles that are underlined or italicized but notnumbered. For example, subsections of MATERIALS ANDMETHODS might be Chemicals, Enzymes, Substrates, En-zymes and Coenzymes, Chromatography, Assays, etc.Subsections of RESULTS arise from the descriptions ofseveral different experiments on the same system and soforth.Each major section has a specific function that is implied</p><p>by its title. Readers have come to know what to expect ineach section, such as RESULTS, and are confused whenthe information they are seeking is not where they expectto find it.The TITLEThe title creates a first impression that</p><p>should be positive and by all means accurate. Never prom-ise anything in the title that you do not deliver in the paper.The title should be informative but not too long. It shouldconvey a general idea of what the paper is about and, ifpossible, something but not too much about the mainconclusion. Excessively detailed titles are clumsy and maynot entice readers with peripheral interests. Many titlesfound in journals today are more detailed and longer thanthey need to be because authors often wish to convey asmuch as possible about their papers to attract readers.This sometimes works, it must be admitted, but such titlesare nonetheless clumsy. And many readers may not botherto read a paper that has told them all they want to know inthe title.It is often best to wait until a paper has been written</p><p>before deciding on a title. This is because the content andsignificance of papers continue to evolve during the writingprocess, and so an authors concept of the most funda-mental meaning of the work may continue to develop whilethe writing is in progress.The INTRODUCTIONThe introductory statement in a</p><p>paper has the limited purpose of informing the readerabout the background for the work, including basic ques-tions being addressed in the research and why it would beimportant to obtain answers. The principal aims of thework should be straightforwardly stated as well as someindication of the experimental approach. The actual find-ings should be presented in later sections, although some</p><p> To whom correspondence should be addressed: Dept. ofBiochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1710 UniversityAve., Madison, WI 53726. E-mail: frey@biochem.wisc.edu.</p><p> 2003 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY EDUCATIONPrinted in U.S.A. Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 237241, 2003</p><p>This paper is available on line at http://www.bambed.org 237</p></li><li><p>authors like to give an indication of the main conclusions inthe introduction. Exhaustive reviews of the literature are tobe avoided, but literature that pertains directly to the in-troduction itself should be cited.The MATERIALS AND METHODS/EXPERIMENTAL</p><p>PROCEDUREA decision must be made early in the writ-ing whether to have a section on MATERIALS AND METH-ODS or whether there should be a more extensive sectionentitled EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE or EXPERIMEN-TAL SECTION, which should include Materials and Meth-ods as subsections. In general, if detailed newly developedexperimental protocols are to be described, one writes asection entitled EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE, EXPERI-MENTAL SECTION, or simply, EXPERIMENTAL. The sub-sections will include new procedures such as syntheticprotocols, purifications, new analytical procedures, etc. aswell as materials and methods. The protocols should bedescribed in complete detail exactly as they are actuallyperformed. This is so they can be repeated by other work-ers. This is as important a part of the paper as the RE-SULTS section.If no new experimental protocols involving preparative</p><p>or analytical procedures are to be described, the sectioncan be brief and entitled simply MATERIALS and METH-ODS. In this case, the origins of the materials used arecited as briefly as possible, e.g. the names of commercialsuppliers and whether and by what means commerciallyobtained materials were further purified. Materials pre-pared by published procedures should be identified assuch, and the appropriate literature should be cited. Sim-ilarly all general methods, e.g. analytical or chromato-graphic methods, should be described briefly, and theappropriate literature should be cited.In an EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE, it is occasionally</p><p>convenient to include a figure to illustrate specialized ap-paratus or some experimental data that relate exclusivelyto the protocol being described. When the inclusion ofsuch a figure under RESULTS is inappropriate, it is some-times reasonable to include it in the EXPERIMENTALPROCEDURE.The synthetic protocols for new compounds must be</p><p>accompanied by spectroscopic data (NMR and IR) andelemental analyses or mass spectral data as well as anyother information supporting the assigned structures.Structural characterization of new compounds is a criti-cally important part of the research. Such characterizationshould be as complete as possible and described in detail.The labeled subsections for a section entitled MATERI-</p><p>ALS and METHODS could include such things as Chemi-cals, Enzymes and Coenzymes, Chromatographic Materi-als, Rate Measurements, Assays, Chromatography, etc.The labeled subsections for a section entitled EXPERI-MENTAL PROCEDURE should include those listed aboveand such additional subsections as Synthesis of (namedcompound), Reaction of (briefly described reactants), andother newly developed or special protocols especiallywhen they are used repeatedly in experiments describedunder RESULTS or when the detailed protocols are toolong to be given in footnotes to tables or in figure legends.The RESULTSThe RESULTS section describes the</p><p>scientific findings as they relate to the basic questions set</p><p>forth in the INTRODUCTION. The experimental strategiesand rationales are explained, and the data are presentedwithout going into experimental details such as composi-tions of reaction mixtures or detailed protocols, whichhave been described in the experimental section or infootnotes to tables and in figure legends. The text of thissection should read smoothly as a direct exposition ofwhat strategies were adopted, what experiments wereperformed, what data were obtained, and what could beconcluded from the data. Data should be presented intables and figures except in cases where they can bestated simply in a few words, perhaps as two or threenumerical parameters with associated error limits. Judg-ment must be exercised, but in general when more thanthree numerical entries are involved a table is appropriate,and where quality of data is best displayed in a figure, thisshould be done. It is sometimes appropriate to useschemes such as reaction schemes or flow charts to assistin explaining experimental strategies in the text of theRESULTS.The tables with associated footnotes and the figures</p><p>with associated legends should be interpretable withoutreference to the text. The footnotes and legends shouldcontain enough information to transmit a clear picture ofwhat was done in the experiment so that the data givencan be interpreted without referring to the text. This en-ables readers to make their own interpretations beforereading yours. It also simplifies your references to tablesand figures in the text because the entries can be cited andtheir meaning discussed without the need to go into detailsabout exactly how the experiments were carried out. Therule is that experimental details belong in the experimentalsection or in footnotes to tables and legends to figures, notin the text.Inasmuch as several related experiments are generally</p><p>described under RESULTS, the section is divided intosubsections, each of which is given a descriptive titleabout one column line long on a typical journal page. Suchsubsections may be entitled Purification of (an enzyme ornatural product), Synthesis of (some compound, e.g. anenzyme inhibitor), Kinetics of the reaction of (named sub-stances), pH dependence of (some process), Inactivationof (etc.). Each subsection describes an experiment or se-ries of experiments with a common theme, generally meth-odological, and reference is made to the relevant tablesand figures in which the data are set forth. The conclusionsbased on the experimental results are, whenever possible,clearly stated at or near the end of each subsection.The DISCUSSIONThe DISCUSSION provides an over-</p><p>all correlation of the significance of the findings presentedunder RESULTS. This correlation is generally bimodal. It isfirst an integration of the conclusions from the subsectionsof the RESULTS, leading to overall conclusions about thequestions and problems defined in the INTRODUCTION.This part of the discussion is narrowly limited to the con-text of the problems defined and experiments described.The research is then further discussed with reference to</p><p>the field as a whole. When the conclusions have a signif-icant bearing on questions of current interest, this is in-cluded in the last part of the DISCUSSION. In this subsec-tion the related findings of other workers can be compared</p><p>238 BAMBED, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 237241, 2003</p></li><li><p>and correlated with those in the manuscript, and any ad-ditional conclusions or new questions that arise from thisprocess should be stated. Any new directions that may beindicated for the field may also be projected in this section.The ABSTRACT or SUMMARYThe paper should be</p><p>summarized in a short ABSTRACT or SUMMARY. This isusually the last section to be written but the first section tobe read. It may be the only section that is read by readerswho have only a passing interest. For this reason thissection is easily as important a section as any other.The ABSTRACT or SUMMARY should describe con-</p><p>cisely the experiments that were done, the results thatwere obtained, and the main conclusions that were drawnin the paper. As such, it is a brief statement of the RE-SULTS together with that part of the DISCUSSION that isconcerned with the main conclusions. Any broader or longrange impact of the work in the field should not be men-tioned in the abstract unless the impact is decisive andunusually important. Similarly experimental details shouldnot be included except when they are themselves highlyoriginal and broadly applicable in the field as a whole. Inthe latter case, such experimental procedures may beindependently publishable as the main focus of a separatepaper in a journal devoted to methods.The ABSTRACT or SUMMARY should be no longer than</p><p>about 200 words. The important thing is to transmit to thereader as efficiently as possible the essential facts uncov-ered in the work and the main conclusions drawn fromthose facts. For nearly all papers this can be done in about200 words.</p><p>WRITING THE PAPER</p><p>The actual writing process can be a significant hurdle formany people even once they have understood what kindsof information are to go into the various sections. The mostdifficult part of writing often is making a start, getting thefirst sentence on paper. Again organization can be veryhelpful. In the preceding sections the overall organizationof the paper was discussed, including major sections andsubsections. It is important in the writing process to rec-ognize, however, that there is, or should be, an underlyingorganization in each subsection and in each paragraph ofthe paper. Organization is also the key to composing use-ful, informative tables and graphic illustrations for figures.An organized approach facilitates the writing process byhelping the writer to get started and then to write effi-ciently. Once begun, the writing process can be self-sus-taining, especially when the writer maintains an organizedapproach.A good way to get started on a section is to prepare a</p><p>written outline. This should be a detailed plan specifyingthe subsections (titles too) and their contents, what dataare to be included, and whether they will be presented infigures or tables, etc. The outline defines the section orchapter in terms of how its components, i.e. subsections,data, and text, interact and support one another. It simpli-fies the writing process by defining the conceptual frame-work for the section or chapter. One then completes thework essentially by filling out the outline with expositoryprose.Outlines...</p></li></ul>

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