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Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf
Physicist on the Rampage
Physicist on the Rampage

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Basic Structure of a Research Paper

Most journals have their own templates and style, but usually those aren't too far off from this.

1. Title and Abstract
It has to be concise, informative, and engaging.
It has to contain the four big Ws:
- what's your context (field, area, specialty)?
- what was done?
- what are the results?
- why is this important & new & oh so great?
And it has to work on its own.
This is your paper's advertising that entices readers to spend their time on it.
If I have to read your paper to understand its abstract, you are doing it wrong!
If what you promise in your abstract doesn't show up in the discussion, you are doing it wrong (plus: it's false advertising!)

2. Introduction
It has to include
- context in which your work has to be considered
- works published by others in the field(s) concerning your work
- information to have on your samples
- information about the methods used (state of the art, related experiments, other fields / areas where these methods are useful).
This gives the reader the tools to understand and appreciate your work, even if he/she is not from your field. It also provides your reader with references to further delve into the field. This is the part of the paper that usually takes the most work, because it provides the building blocks for all the rest.
If you have to add a gazillion references about previously known facts of your method or your samples to your discussion, you are doing it wrong!

3. Materials & Methods (Experimental Section)
It has to include everything that another researcher needs to reproduce your work:
- experimental setup as used for the experiment and its properties
- materials used (precise quantities, source of purchase: company, city, country given) and their properties as relevant for the experiment
- analytics (algorithms, settings, etc.) and procedures used for data analysis etc.

It does not have to include:
- replaceable / marginal details.
for example, you used a filter to block the laser beam from reaching the detector. That a filter with such-and-such properties was used (and possibly where it was placed in the experimental setup) is important. That it was put in a filter holder fixed with imperial screws on a post of such-and-such circumference on an optical table that sadly wasn't air-cushioned on Thursday... is not important for reproducing the experiment.
- how you decided to do the experiment like this (and not like that)
state the facts, nothing more.
Why you did it like this, is not important. Nobody cares for
- because it was available
- because I couldn't think of another way
- because it was the first idea that worked
- because there wasn't more time / money / whatever...
Really, just stop whining!
- the chronology of your measurement / experiment
(aside from time-critical aspects such as reaction times or the order of procedural steps).
Simply: If I can sum up your experimental section along the line of "Dear Diary Journal-of-my-Choice, today our spectrometer settings appeared a bit off, but we persevered and in the end got a spectrum that seems to be a-okay...", you are doing it wrong!

4. Results & Discussion
This is where you present your results and discuss them. Figures are numbered in order of appearance. Figure captions have to be understandable without delving into the text.
Note that it's important to focus on your work and your results here. You compare your results with what's previously been published in this regard, you also have to explain based on your sample, your setup, etc. all the important features seen in these results and what they say (or may say, if you cannot be sure) about your sample or your setup.
Always start with your results / measurements and compare them with the literature. You reference what you discuss, not what you measured
"As can be seen in... This conforms well with the findings of XY regarding..." is fine, but if it goes "Paper XY proved that's the case, so my measurements say that's also the case", you are doing it wrong!
Important: as already indicated by the section title "& Discussion": the discussion is not optional. If you just state your results and don't bother to put them in context, you are basically asking your readers to (a) do your work (which they won't) and (b) are basically saying "just believe me!" (and that's not science)!

5. Conclusion
This complements Title & Abstract and also has to be concise and informative. Think of it as the "Take Home message" from your paper (or like a single sheet hand-out you get at the end of a lecture). It sums up the important results of your paper.
All points mentioned in the conclusion have to have been discussed.
Frankly, if you state something in the conclusion that wasn't discussed, it's not in the paper!
At best, your readers would be confused thinking they'd missed it, at worst, your reviewers will be pissed!

Good luck.

And if you need help writing that: here's a How To Write A Paper post detailing just that.

#tipsandtricks #science #scientificwriting #scientificpaper
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StarTrek science & technology - the human factor.
#startrek #humor
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Gulper Eels.
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Just reading this title I think of the last season of Game of Thrones and how well Giant Walls worked there...
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"It is no stranger for an atheist to live virtuously than it is strange for a Christian to live criminally. We see the latter sort of monster all the time, so why should we think the former is impossible?" Pierre Bayle (1647-1706)
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