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How to write a scientific paper: A step-by-step guide from an IIT professor

How to write a scientific paper: A step-by-step guide from an IIT professor


  1.  A research paper contains critical analysis and interpretation of the research findings
  2.  It compares the proposed approach with other existing methods and explains trends with proper scientific justifications

Writing a scientific article from scratch may appear a scary task to young researchers. But the process can be simplified by good groundwork while preparing and executing the research project. Based on these preparations, a systematic approach to writing paves the way for a compelling research story.

Here are some tips to help you write a top scientific article.

Get familiar with unfamiliarity

Scientific research and subsequent publication should start with good literature search, which will be helpful in providing a stronger background and the best methodology. It will also help you detect knowledge gaps, avoid duplication, and take a thorough look at the terminologies and keywords in your field.

Learn how to identify key points and arguments quickly without reading every word in a paper. Also, it is important to single out significant points that are necessary for your article. This can be done by reading a variety of review articles, books, published theses, or even through discussions with experts who can explain the topic in depth.

Get into it

Make a rough sketch of your research paper before you start to write. It should consist of a heading, sub-headings, important points, and figures/tables/schemes that you will illustrate later.

Writing a scientific article need not follow a specific order from the very beginning. The most convenient way to write a scientific article is by framing some major sections like references, results (figures and tables), methods, discussion, introduction, conclusion, abstract, keywords, and, of course, the title. Once the first draft is ready, these sections can be rearranged to the journal’s required order.

Get going

As you start writing, do not be a perfectionist. Do not worry about finding better words, using the best grammar, or crafting an excellent title. In the beginning, simply focus on writing down bullet points, statements, sentences, doubts, questions and arguments. Instead of pausing at specific points to make the article perfect, it is always better to keep going forward.

If you quote something verbatim from another paper, always use quotation marks and cite the source. Getting ideas by reading various sources is a common practice. But stating ideas in your own way and citing their sources for appropriate credit will help you avoid plagiarism.

Get involved

Based on the outline of your article, formulate a thesis statement that is clear, arguable and precise. It becomes easier if you break it down into questions that your paper will answer. You can, for instance, describe the main objectives and methodologies adopted to achieve the claims.

It is also useful to figure out how it would be better to compare your findings with the already existing ones and how beneficial they would seem to the scientific community. Minimise the text and include a number of figures/tables/schemes/charts to corroborate your research.

Get into the swing

Scientific writing is based on the scholar’s original research on a particular topic. A research paper contains critical analysis and interpretation of the research findings; it compares the proposed approach with other existing methods and explains trends with proper scientific justifications. It also suggests the best methodologies and how to bridge major knowledge gaps. Cost economics, identification of unbeaten tracks and promising paths for further developments for better understanding of the topic chosen are the other aspects of a scientific research paper.

Even if it is not possible to address all the points, you need to consider as many as possible.

Get it done

Excellent research must be followed by a scientifically convincing argument. Determine who your audience would be and how to convey your argument to them in the best possible manner. Write in a straightforward and clear way, without any grammar or syntax error. Do not include any information that is not absolutely necessary to support your argument.

Get the picture

A scientific article is structured like an hourglass—it starts with a broad topic and general background. It then gets narrowed down to the thesis statement, providing very specific details, evidence, and arguments.

The discussion part provides a detailed interpretation of the topic, connecting the study back to the existing literature and explaining how the current study fills a knowledge gap. Finally, the article gets broader again by explaining its significance in the related field and provides recommendations for future research.

Last but not least

Writing a scientific paper on a specific research problem should always focus on four questions.

  • Why did you do it?
  • How did you do it?
  • What did you exactly do?
  • Why does your research matter?

Ponder these questions even before you start writing and make a rough draft of the probable answers. This will help you organise your thoughts and get you in the groove.

Dr Ramesh Laxminarayan Gardas is Professor in the Department of Chemistry, IIT Madras, and is the co-author of 3 editorials, 4 patents, 6 book chapters, 7 conference proceedings and more than 170 research papers.

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