Tips for scientific article writing

Tips for scientific article writing

Throughout this semester, I have learned how to write scientific papers. This post is the summary of what I have learned, and a bit skewed since I am interested in computer systems research field. The most of materials are borrowed from the professor Fallon’s handouts and the textbook1)Robert Weissberg and Suzanne Buker, “Writing up research.”.

Introduction section

The goal of this chapter is dragging attention of readers, and eventually makes them feel the problem of the paper is important and interesting. Introduction should start with general ideas that is familiar with the readers and ends with a specific problem that the paper is addressing. Five-stage writing is suggested for the goal.

  1. First stage:
    General statement(s) about a field of research to provide the reader with a setting for the problem to be reported.
  2. Second stage:
    More specific statements about the aspects of the problem already studied by other researchers.
  3. Third stage:
    Statement(s) that indicate the need for more investigation.
  4. Fourth stage:
    Very specific statement(s) giving the purpose/objectives of the writer’s study.
  5. Fifth stage:
    Optional statement(s) that give a value or justification for carrying out the study.

In the case of the first stage,

  1. Begin with accepted statements of fact related to general area.
  2. Within the general area, identify one subarea.
  3. Indicate a specific topic.

Noun phrases

Classification Form
General Uncountable  Ø
Countable  a/an (singular)
-s (plural)
Specific  the (add -s if plural)

The definite article is generally used to show that the noun is unique, that it has a unique referent. This is in true in many different cases:

  1. The noun has a special adjective or modifier: tallest, fastest, first, last, maximum, etc.
  2. The noun is special in that it refers to some unique time or place: the 21st century, the USA.
  3. The noun is generic, referring to an entire species or type: the tiger, the human body.
  4. The noun has been previously mentioned.
  5. The noun has a following modifier that restricts its meaning: the theory or relativity, the principles of thermodynamics.
  6. The noun has a unique referent due to shared knowledge between the writer and reader.
  7. The uniqueness of the noun is implied.

For number 7, the author can use the definite article to imply that there is only one of something.

Verb tense

Classification Tense
Citation Prominence Author Several authors Present perfect
Finding from specific studies Past
Tentative findings Past
Information Reporting facts Present
General statements Level of research activity Present perfect
Attitude towards findings Accepted as fact Past
Introduction Research orientation Past
Report orientation Present or future
Description Samples Past
Populations Present
Conventional material Present
Specially designed or modified material Past
Results Locating the figure Present
Presenting the findings Past
Commenting on the results Present

Modal auxiliaries

WILL no doubt about the future
WOULD no doubt about the future, assuming certain conditions
SHOULD reasonable expectation about the future
MAY some doubt about the future
COULD more doubt about the future
Use Auxiliaries
able / capable can, could
possible / optional may, could, might
probable / likely should, ought to
virtually certain must, have to
advisable should, ought to
necessary need to, must, have to


Passive/active voice

The passive voice is conventionally used to describe procedure in order to depersonalize the information.
Example) For reasons related to personal safety, the test facility was constructed (by us) in a remote area 4 miles from the main road.

Choice of the active or passive voice should place old information near the beginning of the sentence and new information at the end.
Example) The four reactors we tested in the work reported here all contained a platinum catalyst (ACTIVE). Each reactor-catalyst configuration will be described separately (PASSIVE). The quartz reactors were manufactured by the Wm. A. Sales company of Wheeling Illinois (PASSIVE).


From the coarse grained point of view, two types of abstracts exist.

  1. Basic form
    1. Some background information
    2. The principal activity (or purpose) of the study and its scope
    3. Some information about the methodology used in the study
    4. The most important results of the study
    5. A statement of conclusion or recommendation.
  2. Concise form
    1. Purpose and method of the study
    2. Results
    3. Conclusions and recommendations



Verb tense (in detail)

  • Citations

    Information prominent: reporting facts
    Topic Verb (present) Fact Reference
    Nutrient resorption is a common phenomenon in forest trees (Kramer, 1979).

    Weak author prominent: several authors
    Authors Verb (present perfect) Topic Reference
    Several researchers have studied the relationship between classroom adjustment and mobility (3, 7, 13).

    General statements: level of research activity
    Level Verb (present perfect) Topic
    Little research has been done on topic development in ESL student's composition.

    Author prominent: findings from specific studies
    Author Reference Verb of report (past) THAT Findings
    Allington (1983) found that teachers allocated equal time to all groups.

    Attitude towards findings: accepted as fact
    Author Reference number or date Verb of report THAT Findings (present)
    Sillen (1) showed that aluminum in seawater is regulated by a thermodynamic balance.

    Author prominent: tentative findings
    Author Reference number Verb of report THAT Tentative findings (modal auxiliary + verb)
    Van Bennekom (5) proposed that aluminum may be common in diatom residues.
  • Introduction

    Research orientation
    Research orientation Main verb (past) Research question
    The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of computer-assisted instruction on the computer literacy of fifth grade children.

    Report orientation
    Report orientation Main verb (present or future) Research question
    This paper describes the result of surveys conducted in Honduras to determine the distribution of manatees in that country.
    This thesis will deal with the implementation and operation of an automatic measurement system appropriate for classroom and laboratory demonstrations.
  • Description

    Describing samples: past tense verbs
    Sample Main verb (past) Description
    The boys were between the ages of 7 and 13.

    Describing populations: present tense verbs
    Population Main verb (present) Description
    All students who apply for admission to the American University of Cairo take the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency.

    Describing conventional material: present tense verbs
    Conventional material Main verb (present) Description
    The Auditory Test for Language Comprehension (Carrow, 1968) permits the assessment of oral language comprehension of English and Spanish.

    Describing specially designed or modified material: past tense verbs
    Modified material Main verb (past) Description
    For the testing program this collector was protected form weather by an outer window of .10 mm tedlar.

References   [ + ]

1. Robert Weissberg and Suzanne Buker, “Writing up research.”

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