Science papers, the kind you find in professional journals, are usually write-ups of experiments, or other formal investigations. They follow a set structure, based on the standard architecture of experiments themselves.
Science articles, by contrast, in magazines, are more relaxed versions of science papers, with much more discussion of the wider importance of a particular investigation, or group of investigations, and what makes them so interesting.
There's more than one way to do an article. (Your editor chooses which way.) For papers, however, there is only one formula, with no real variation. I'll lay this out for you here, without going into the philosophy of scientific inquiry--I'll assume you know why experiments are designed the way they are. (If you don't know, and you want to, send me an e-mail about it.)
Here are the sections.
The Effect of X on Y
G. Doctor and K. Researcher
From the Department of Planetary Sciences,
Gudger College, and
the Department of Rocketry, University
[First comes an 'abstract', the paper written in miniature - it's actually the last thing you write. Justify the right margin for this little section.]
Background: Say the known scientific mechanism you're dealing with. Next, say what aspect of it is not yet understood. Suggest your mental model that could explain that not-understood aspect. Hypothesize that if you're right, then if you do X you'll get Y.
Objective (or 'Aim'): 'To assess whether... [say your hypothesis].'
Method (sometimes 'Method and Materials', sometimes 'Procedure'): 'In a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study, 8 patients (21-35 years) each received [whatever it was]. Assessment was at baseline and at 14 days after treatment.' You can add a word here about how you managed the statistics.
Results: 'Assessment at 14 days post-treatment showed a significant... [lay it out very briefly].'
Conclusion: 'We show for the first time that [X has an effect on Y].'
[Now you start the paper itself.]
BACKGROUND (sometimes called INTRODUCTION)
Say what's known about the big thing you're investigating. List all the relevant studies.
Say what's missing from all the studies so far.
Say what you set out to do, and what you expected to happen, which is to say, lay out your hypothesis. It's a good idea to lay out the null hypothesis too. E-mail me if you want this defined.
METHOD (sometimes called other things, remember)
Design: First describe the study's design, i.e., whether it's double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, or whatever.
Participants: Then describe the group you involved. Say things like this: 'We included 8 patients (6 women, 2 men: age range 21-35 years: mean ± SD; 29 ± 6 years). All patients had presented the same condition. None of the patients had any other medical conditions, or were on any medications that could affect their response to the treatment.'
Materials: List everything you used, even questionnaires and handouts. (Blank specimen copies of these can go at the very end of the article, as appendices.)
Procedure: Write out EXACTLY what you did--in such detail that anyone can reduplicate your experiment. This must be childishly explicit.
Data (or Data Analysis): Say how you crunch your numbers. There needs to be a measure of centralizing tendency, and a measure of dispersal. After that, studies differ. Most of us just ask statisticians what we're supposed to do.
Results: Lay out the raw data. You can do this in text, but you should also include some tabulation. After that, you can interpret with graphs, though some people like to leave these for the next section, which is what you conclude from your results. Graphs are specialised. Make sure you know the definitions of 'bar chart' and 'histogram' (they're not the same, even if they look alike). Don't use scattergrams (sometimes called 'scattergraphs')--they're for correlation studies, not controlled experiments. Pie charts are only for percentage shares of things, as a rule.
Conclusion: Your verdict, expressed in terms of whether your results can or cannot support your hypothesis. Keep this short.
Discussion: This is the longest and most entertaining section. It's where you quibble with your own study. You point out all the weaknesses in your sampling strategy, your management of variables, your choice of control group strategy, and so on. The idea is to qualify your answer, so that no one else can. This leads naturally into the last paragraph, where you normally say that 'future studies should consider...' (whatever you left out or did wrong).
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