Scientific research must begin with a defined research question, which results in a well designed research protocol that plans the overall approach. This foundation should lead to a set of data from which the manuscript can be constructed. Manuscripts submitted to journals for consideration for publication typically have the following components.
A reasonable approach to writing a scientific manuscript may be the following. First write the Methods section, largely derived from your initial research protocol, and perhaps during the experimental phase of the work itself so that all details are included. Construct all of the figures and tables that contain the data included in the work, and then write the Results section. Depending upon the type of study, there may be some iteration in the presentation of the data and writing of the text. Reconsider the scientific questions the manuscript will address, again referring to your research protocol, and then write the Introduction. Next, use the Introduction and Results to guide the writing of the Discussion. Summarize everything in an Abstract, and then condense and refocus the Abstract into a Conclusions section. Below is a brief discussion of each of the sections. These are only suggestions on how a scientific manuscript may be written. Other strategies may also be used, but clarity should be the guiding principle. In general, the purpose of a scientific manuscript is to construct a clearly written document that describes a question and then logically presents an answer to this question that is based upon theoretical or experimental results.
A scientific manuscript is meant to convey technical information to the reader. Therefore, it is generally designed to be a straightforward presentation and discussion. Paragraphs and sentences should be simply constructed. One point of view that supports this concept is that the scientific aspect of the manuscript may be challenging enough for the reader to comprehend, therefore the text itself should support the endeavor to convey the scientific information, rather than acting to further obscure the concepts and results.
A title page should be included. State the title of the manuscript, which should be short and simple, as well as authors and author affiliations. Indicate the journal to which the manuscript is being submitted. Provide approximately 5 key words, as well as a short title (sometimes referred to as a running title) for the manuscript. Finally, provide complete contact information for the corresponding author.
The abstract is typically a single paragraph. The abstract should be considered as an independent document, so that the abstract does not rely upon any material in the body of the report and, similarly, the body of the report does not rely upon any material in the abstract. The first sentence should clearly state the objective of the experiment. If the experiment is based upon a hypothesis, which is greatly preferred, the hypothesis should be stated and followed with statements describing its basis and evaluation. The subsequent sentences describe how the investigation was carried out. The following sentences describe, with as much precision as possible without being verbose, the results of the experiment. The final sentences describe the significance of the results and the impact of this work on the general field of study.
The introduction requires a short review of the literature pertaining to the research topic. The introduction is then best constructed as a descriptive funnel, starting with broad topics and slowly focusing on the work at hand. Perhaps three to four paragraphs are needed. One approach may be to start with one or two paragraphs that introduce the reader to the general field of study. The subsequent paragraphs then describe how an aspect of this field could be improved. The final paragraph is critical. It clearly states, most likely in the first sentence of the paragraph, what experimental question will be answered by the present study. The hypothesis is then stated. Next, briefly describe the approach that was taken to test the hypothesis. Finally, a summary sentence may be added stating how the answer of your question will contribute to the overall field of study.
This section should be a straightforward description of the methods used in your study. Each method should be described in a separate section. Begin, in a single section, with a statement of the materials used in the study, indicating the vendor and vendor contact information for each material. This information is critical so that readers have the capability to repeat the work in their own institutions. Next describe, in separate sections, each key procedure and technique used in the study. Keep explanations brief and concise. If a specific experimental design is utilized, describe this design in the second section of the Methods, after the materials section. Similarly, if a theoretical or modeling component is utilized, it should also be incorporated in the initial portion of the Methods. Finally, remember to describe the statistical analysis methods that were utilized to analyze the results, most likely in the final section of the Methods section. Although it is typically not recommended, the use of the passive voice is probably appropriate in the Methods section.
The Results section presents the experimental data to the reader, and is not a place for discussion or interpretation of the data. The data itself should be presented in tables and figures (see below). Introduce each group of tables and figures in a separate paragraph where the overall trends and data points of particular interest are noted. You may want to indicate the placement of a particular table or figure in the text. For experimental studies, key statistics such as the number of samples (n), the index of dispersion (SD, SEM), and the index of central tendency (mean, median or mode) must be stated. Include any statistical analysis that was performed, and make sure to indicate specific statistical data, such as p-values. Note that each table and figure in the paper must be referred to in the Results section. Be succinct.
The discussion section, often the most difficult to write, should be relatively easy if the previous suggestions have been followed. In particular, look to the last paragraph of the introduction. If the work has characterized a phenomenon by studying specific effects, use the results to describe each effect in separate paragraphs. If the work has presented a hypothesis, use the results to construct a logical argument that supports or rejects your hypothesis. If the work has identified three main objectives for the work, use the results to address each of these objectives. A well-defined study that is described in the Introduction, along with supporting results that are presented in the Results section, should ease the construction of the Discussion section.
Begin the Discussion section with a brief paragraph that again gives an overview to the work. Summarize the most important findings and, if applicable, accept or reject the proposed hypothesis. Next, identify the most interesting, significant, remarkable findings that were presented in the Results section, and contrast these findings in light of other studies reported in the literature. It is often informative if a discussion of the potential weaknesses of the interpretation is also included. Finally, at the end of the Discussion section, consider the other works in the literature that address this topic and how this work contributes to the overall field of study.
Again, first introduce the work and then briefly state the major results. Then state the major points of the discussion. Finally, end with a statement of how this work contributes to the overall field of study.