Writing For Research: Part 1¶
Writing is possibly the hardest part of research, it’s incredibly easy to put off and can seem very much like it takes away from more important parts of writing, but it’s possibly the most important part, as if it’s not documented, it never happened.
Lab notebooks have a large amount of historical significance in terms of verification of ideas and patent proofing, though from our perspective, it allows for replication, can prevent fraud and is vital for keeping track of experimental details
The notebooks contain four primary sections:
- Aim of each experiment
- Methods - how it was done, in detail with accurate measurements and logical thought processes
- Results - what was found out, including pasted in documents - may be combined with methods
- Discussions/conclusions - in light of the aim, what’s your next plan?
In Comparison to a Research Publication¶
The aim will likely not have much background information, the methods are going to include every detail, including mistakes, and alterations, the results will have all the raw data (probably not well presented) and the discussion/conclusions will likely be brief and will likely not have considerations to wider literature.
- Must be a hardcover book, with consecutively numbered pages with tamper evident bindings
- All entries must be made in ink, with all corrections being a strikethrough
- Every age must be dated
- The experiments can refer to previous pages, e.g. for methodology
- They must remain the property of the institution, not the individual
- Must be stored safely for at least 5 years (25 years for patents)
Up until 2013, the US patent system worked on the ‘first to invent’ principle, however now it uses the ‘first to file’ system.
The notebooks thus were used as legal evidence and had to adhere to certain protocols. These included; every page had to be signed and dated on the day, with any pasted figure being signed and dated across the edge. The notebooks also had to be witnessed by an impartial researcher, with the expertise to understand the experiment.
They are typically 200-250 word summaries that may be for conference proceedings, research publications, etc. The requesting body may have specific instructions about how the abstract is to be written, though in general, it should be concise and accurate, whilst aiming to attract an audience. These are typically the only thing published in conference proceedings.
The MUST be precise and stay within the claims of the experiment
An abstract can be considered a condensed version of a paper, consisting of:
- Background - 2-3 sentences on what is and isn’t known, leading to this study
- Methods - second longest section, presenting how the research was performed
- Results - most important section, clearly presenting the major findings, briefly but precisely, and linking to the methods
- Conclusions - brief but most impactful, must be honest and will include
- Primary take home findings (essential)
- Additional findings of importance (optional)
- Broader implications of the research (preferable)
The process of writing, which may not be reflective of the process of the experiment is to:
- Define the problem
- Create a hypothesis
- Devise an experiment to test the hypothesis
- Conduct the experiments
- Draw conclusions
Research itself often doesn’t happen this smoothly, but the paper should present a smooth story that’s based on the research findings, rather than to present the experiment in chronological order.
It may be useful to ask yourself some questions, such as:
- What is the function or purpose of this paper? - you might need to redefine the experiment
- Are you describing original and significant results?
- Is your paper making an original contribution to the scientific literature?
- Is your paper of broad interest? (is it suitable for a broad interest journal)
- Who is the intended audience? (feeds into the breadth of the research)
- Which journal will be best to publish in? What’s the impact factor?
Once you’ve figured out the journal, it’s time to read the “instructions for authors” page and start writing.
The structure is (typically) as follows:
- Should be short, precise and catchy, with keywords that researchers specific to the field will recognise
- Allows the readers to see if they’re interested in reading the paper by summarising why you’re conducting the research, how you conducted it and what you found
- Explores the knowledge that already exists about the subject, while focusing down into a small unexplored point of research
- Is the justification for why the experiment was performed and serves to define the issue at hand
- In here, it’s important to review the literature and often pull on the historical development of the technique or principle for story development
- This is an important space to point out issues, gaps and conflicts in the research, as this becomes the justification for your research.
- It all builds to the specific hypothesis and experimental design of this particular experiment
- Should be precise, unambiguous, past tense, short sentences, with present tense only being used for statements of fact
Materials and methods (could come after discussion in some journals)¶
- Should provide enough details to be able to replicate the study and identify sources of error
- Must include chemical names, suppliers, equipment names and model numbers
- The experimental design should be clearly stated, along with any controls, treatments, variables and replicates
- Standard procedures do not to be explained, though any deviations should be noted
- The section should also include statistical analysis and any graphical processing techniques
- Your key results should be presented in a clear and logical sequence, explaining why each experiment was done, avoiding reiterating the methods
- The results should be described here, but not discussed and should include the use of figures, tables and schemes
- Title and legends are required for each for each table and figure, with sufficient information to understand the data, without discussion
- Passive, past tense language has historically been used, though active past tense is becoming more prolific
- Briefly summarises the results, without regurgitating them
- This space is mostly for interpreting your results in light of other research in the field.
- Should state whether or not the hypothesis was rejected or accepted based on your findings, and whether or not they’re in agreeance with the literature
- No new results should be introduced here
- It should be demonstrated that you’ve read and understood all the relevant papers to the experiment and should suggest future research
- Recognise the work that others have contributed, who may not be considered co-authors
- May be contributing ideas, training for equipment, or providing you materials
- May also include people who reviewed the draft manuscript
- Acknowledge the funding bodies that have supported the research
- Ensure that appropriate literature is referenced, citing original sources and trying to avoid review papers
- Citations should happen at relevant places in text
- All references must have a citation and all citations must be referenced
- Specific referencing styles will differ based on the journal