Writing your first (second? third?) paper

By Ivan Rosa de Siqueira: The concept of a “good” paper is obviously variable, yet, scientific writing overall relies on a number of common, basic roots.

writing from a blank slate

The concept of a “good” paper is obviously variable. Perspectives may change a lot from field to field, or even between people/groups working in the same field but tackling problems with different approaches (experimental, computational, theoretical, etc.). Yet, scientific writing overall relies on a number of common, basic roots. Here, I try to summarize the structure of a nice research article, from conceptualization and design to actual writing, based on my experience at Rice over the past five years. I’m doing my PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and my research group does both fundamental and applied science; therefore, I believe this outline is generally applicable to most areas in STEM. 

Start with claims.

  • What did you find/discover? What did you explain?
  • What did you understand from your research?
  • What did you develop (method, device, invention, etc.) to find/understand that?

Answer the following questions.

  • Why is your work important? Why is it interesting?
  • What are the implications?

These are the core of the paper. Make sure you will have references to support your claims and guide you towards your answers. Importantly, highlight the novelty of your findings and how they will contribute to the literature; your writing needs to make your work attractive. 

Map the information into figures, plots, tables, etc.

  • How can you support your claims and explain your answers?
  • How can you bring the reader along with your discussion?

Start writing

  • Provide sufficient background to set up the problem and make the reader interested.
  • Describe your methods.
  • Explain and discuss your results.
  • Conclude, summarize, and put into perspective.

Most people will be primarily looking at your paper because of the title and abstract; these need to deliver the central information concisely and properly. Describe the methods in detail so others can reproduce what you did; however, avoid excessive repetition of things you learned from previous works. Explain your results and discuss the novelty you are bringing to the literature. Finish with a brief summary of your findings and put your work into perspective so others can keep developing the field.

About the author: Ivan is originally from Rio de Janeiro, but spent most of his adult life in Brasília. He received his BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Brasília and PUC-Rio, respectively. Since 2017, Ivan has been a Ph.D. student in the CHBE Department under Dr. Matteo Pasquali. Ivan has been actively involved with the "global" BRASA through mentorship programs, outreach, and leadership activities.