How to Write a Scientific Paper
Your scientific paper will contain at least nine sections: (1) Title page, (2) Table of Contents, (3) Summary, (4) Introduction, (5) Experiment, (6) Discussion, (7) Conclusions, (8) Credits, and (9) References. But cheer up; only two of these sections are very long!
THE TITLE IS THE BEGINNING.
You have already picked a good title for your project. Use the same one for your paper. Center the title near the middle of the page.
THE TABLE OF CONTENT FOLLOWS THE TITLE PAGE
The table of contents is written after your paper is complete and all pages are numbered.
THE SUMMARY IS AN OVERVIEW
As strange as it might seem, the first part of your paper is the part you write last. Your summary (abstract) is an extremely short section. It contains clear, brief statements which summarize: (a) the problem or questions you are studying, (b) the hypothesis, (c) the action that you took in your investigation, (d) the results of your experiments, and (e) your most important conclusions based on the results of your work.
THE INTRODUCTION TELLS WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO.
The first part of the Introduction tells the reader your understanding of the subject when you started the project. Next, you might want to tell how you became interested in your project, or describe any "common knowledge" or "old wives' tales" you want to prove or disprove. Tell some items that you found as you studied about your subject, such as: historical and scientific background, similar experiments already done by other people, and any contradictions or unanswered questions you may have found. Wrap up this section with a few precise statements that: (1) describe exactly what you want to prove or disprove, (2) tell why this proof should be done, and (3) detail the information that you need to obtain from your experiment so you can answer your question. As you clearly can see, the time to write the initial version of the introduction is while you are planning and starting your project.
THE EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE TELLS HOW YOU DID YOUR EXPERIMENT
The experimental procedure gives all the details of how the experiment was conducted. It is so precise that someone could repeat your work without additional communication with you! Apparatus constructed should be photographed and discussed. Sketches and diagrams are very useful.
Answer questions that apply to your project, such as:
- What was measured and how?
- For which variables were data collected?
- How was your control experiment run?
- What chemicals, plants, or animals were used?
- How or where were your supplies mixed, made, or grown?
- What equipment was used or built? If laboratory equipment is used, it should be described, its function discussed, and manufacturer and model number given.
THE DISCUSSION TALKS ABOUT YOUR DATA
The discussion of your project is the heart of your paper. It usually contains several subsections. Begin by presenting all of your observations and data, in both the as-collected and processed forms. Discuss how and why your data was processed. Explain anything you assumed to process the data. Tables, charts, and graphs are very helpful. All graphics should be placed in the paper near the paragraphs in which they are discussed. An area needing extra attention is the labeling of graphs, charts, diagrams, and tables. Each must have its own descriptive title. All columns, axes, and data must be labeled clearly and identified.
Make comparisons with theoretical values, published data, commonly held beliefs and/or expected results. Your conclusions and implications should flow smoothly and logically from your data. Be thorough. Let your readers know exactly what you did. Let them follow your train of thought.
A complete paper will include a discussion of possible errors. How did the data vary between repeated observations of similar events? How were your results affected by uncontrolled events? What are sources of possible error and how large were these errors? What would you do differently if you were to repeat this project? What other experiments remain to be conducted?
The results and conclusions from your experiments should appear smoothly and logically throughout this discussion of your data, your method, your comparisons, and your errors.
THE CONCLUSION IS A SUMMARY OF YOUR RESULTS
The conclusion restates briefly the findings and results detailed in your discussions. No new topics or speculations are to be mentioned unless they were first justified back in the discussion. Remember that these conclusions are based on your work and experiments, not drawn from news articles and textbooks.
GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
The last two sections of your paper give credit to other people for their work and assistance. First, a list of credits recognizes the aid given to you by people, businesses, and institutions. Second, a bibliography or list of references recognizes the information taken from the work and writings of other people. There are standard forms of references. See your English teacher for help.
THE FIRST-CLASS LOOK
Carefully put together your first draft. Check for correct spelling. Since you are familiar with your project, it is easy to leave out important details. Let your teacher and another adult read your paper. If they have trouble understanding your paper, maybe you left something out. Subheadings help the reader follow the flow of the paper. Type the final draft with double-spaced lines. If you cannot type, get help from someone who can. Use one-inch margins all around. Add your tables and graphs, and number all pages except the title page. Complete the Table of Contents. You may want to add a cover to protect your pages. Then have your paper proofread a final time, take a deep breath and smile. You’ve done a fantastic job!