How to Write a Scientific Journal Article

Theresa Sommerhauser
The general purpose of scientific journal writing is to communicate research findings clearly, briefly, and objectively.

Where your article gets published can play an important role on how big of an impact your research makes in your field. When possible submit to the journal related to your field with the highest impact factor. The impact factor is determined by how often articles in the journal get cited. It is best to do plenty of research on journals in your field before submitting your article for publication to ensure that it is a good fit for the topic. Make sure to have plenty of coworkers proof read the article for grammatical errors before sending it in to be considered. All articles go through a thorough peer-review process in which each article is critically reviewed for errors and accuracy by peers in the discipline before it can be accepted for publication. Too many grammatical errors could result in your article being rejected by the journal.

 In order to communicate new scientific findings as clear, brief, and objective, scientists use a writing style that is formatted in likeness to the scientific method. The primary goal of the scientific method is to determine an objective truth; therefore, the goal of scientific writing is to communicate the experimentally proven truth as effectively as possible. In order to do this, scientists heavily rely on logos and inductive reasoning to support their argument - or scientifically speaking, a hypothesis.

How to Choose a Title

Choosing a good title is important to journal articles. A title needs to use only key words that tell the reader both the independent and dependent variables in the study. For example: “Neuromuscular control adaptations in elite athletes: the case of top level karateka.” By keeping the title as brief and clear as possible your readers know exactly who and what was researched.

Following the title, the contributing authors of the article should be listed. Always put the lead author (typically the person who came up with the experimental design) first, followed by the other contributors and ending with senior author (i.e. the person who is in charge of the lab where the experiment was conducted). 

How to Structure your Article

In order to achieve publication in a journal, an article needs to include 6 parts: an abstract, introduction, materials and methods section, results sections, discussion, and conclusion. As well as a section for references.

Each section needs to include specific information:

The Abstract

The abstract is simply a summary of the most important information and should be able to represent the entire article on its own. Begin the abstract with a statement of the purpose of the research, followed by a brief discussion of both the techniques and results. End with the paper’s primary conclusion. Think brief and clear. Use as few words as possible throughout the entire paper, while remaining clear and organized. 

The Introduction

The Introduction needs to be as brief as possible, while including only information relevant to this specific incidence of research. Provide an explanation of similar research done on this topic and a reason for which the topic needed revisited or looked at in a different way. Give explanations of any jargon or abbreviations used elsewhere in the article, so that readers do not have to look it up. Make sure to cite and explain theories or basic research that the hypothesis was based or founded on. Most importantly, clearly and concisely state your hypothesis.

The Materials and Methods Section

The methods section needs to be specific enough to be replicated. This is simply a step by step instruction of what you did and how you did it. Include specific amounts of any variables. This section should account for the participants (or subjects), the different variables measured, what tools and methods were used to conduct the experiment, as well as how the data was processed. Often times the methods section is broken down into subtitles of subjects, apparatus, stimuli, and procedures. Remember to write in the past tense and write in a passive voice. Do not say “I or We.” Instead speak as though the object that is being manipulated can perform the action without any help. For example, “The beaker was filled with 20 mL of solution,” is preferable to “We filled the beaker with 20 mL of solution.”

The Results Section

The results section should also always be written in the past tense. This section represents relevant information that was discovered through experiments performed in the methods section. Your results need to be clear and easy to follow. Most journal articles utilize brief texts, tables, and graphs to organize their findings. Different journals prefer different formats regarding the results section. Look at several articles that the journal you are interested in has published. Make sure to label all tables and graphs in a way that highlights the key information. 

The Discussion

The discussion section is where you interpret the data obtained in the results section and give support to whether your hypothesis was supported or not. Make sure to be clear about what data you are referencing and critique whether it was the best method of determination or not. Remember to be clear, brief, and objective. Include ANY relevant findings from the research, not just the ones that support the hypothesis.

The Conclusion

The conclusion restates the experiment’s objective and hypothesis. Also, restate the overall outcome that was first introduced in the discussion session.  This should be the briefest section of the entire article due to that it is simply restating the purpose and findings of the research, which are conveniently already located in the introduction and discussion sections. 

The References

The Reference section should include citations of all the contributors of knowledge to your research. Throughout the article always use a number as a superscript or in parenthesis when you include research from another person. This number should correlate to the number next to the person or persons name(s) in the reference section. If your research uses a well-known theory, or is built on previous basic research, it is only necessary to cite one source. For instance, if your research uses an equation to determine an outcome, cite the one place that gave you the idea to use that equation. Most journal articles use many referencesdue to that nearly all research done today was brought about in response to someone else’s research. List the authors in alphabetical order by the first author. Some journals may use different formats, so be sure to look at several articles published in the journal you are submitting the article to and model their style and format.

Click on the link below for a more in depth look into the genre of scientific writing.
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