Scientific reports and articles writing is done according to certain canons developed by many generations of scientists. Traditions in this case are necessary so that different people understand each other without additional efforts. The stricter the requirements for terminology, language, a form of presentation of the material, design, the less the reader is distracted by secondary details, the faster he will be able to understand the main essence of the work. To neglect these traditions is to be inadequate in the eyes of the community.
Any reports and articles writing pursues simultaneously two goals:
- To convey the main ideas of the author to a wide audience so that non-specialists in this narrow topic can understand the main ideas, spending a minimum of time;
- Present a detailed presentation of the results obtained so that a small number of narrow specialists could understand, double-check, develop, and apply them.
Where to begin on reports and articles writing
Let’s say you solved a problem – built a model, proved a theorem, performed a computational experiment, and got results. How to start writing a report, how to overcome the barrier of entry?
- Formulate and write down the objectives of your research. You will probably have to use technical terms that your fellow student does not know. Let’s say you explain your work to him while walking together from the university to the nearest transport. There is no paper or pen, no blackboard, no presentation, you can only talk. Explain the key concepts, explain where the problem came from and what the problem was. So you wrote the introduction.
- Write down a structural plan for the entire article, with all sections and subsections.
- Start writing the section that seems to you the most simple and clear. Usually, this is a section of concepts and notations.
- So you are overclocked. Then the matter will go by itself. Add sections in the order you like. A scientific article is not a detective story, it does not have to be written in a row.
- Whenever things get stuck, consult with your supervisor.
Typical structure of scientific reports and articles writing
To learn how to write scientific articles, you need to understand how people read them. It turns out that most scientists read the annotation, the conclusion and (just like children) look at the pictures, trying to quickly draw some conclusions from the graphs and captions under them. Only if the article seems worthwhile to spend time on it, they start reading it. But most still don’t read beyond the introduction.
Hence, important practical conclusions:
- In the annotation and conclusion, you need to write the most important thing that you want to convey to the widest possible audience;
- The article must have a graph that most clearly shows the most important result you received;
- Each graph together with the caption should be a visual and self-sufficient message of the scientific result;
- in the course of the research, you must constantly think about how you will present each of your results.
Scientific reports and articles writing an annotation
A brief description of the research topic and the main result, in one paragraph of 5-15 lines, without formulas, without literature references, without highly specialized terms.
Purpose of the annotation: to outline in general terms what the work is about. After reading the annotation for a minute, a non-specialist in a given narrow topic should understand whether this work is interesting to him and whether it is worth reading further.
The abstract is collected last by lightly modifying the key phrases (the most important and well-formulated) from the introduction and conclusion.
Introduction of scientific reports and articles writing
The introduction explains where this problem arises and why it is so important to solve it. At the informal level, a minimum of terms is introduced, which is necessary to understand the problem statement. A brief analysis of the sources of information (literary review) is given: how this problem was solved so far, what is the disadvantage of these solutions, and what is new by the author. Research objectives are formulated. At the end of the introduction, a summary of the work is given in sections; at the same time, it is noted which approaches, methods, algorithms are proposed by the author for the first time. When the key sections are mentioned, the main results and the most important conclusions are summarized.
Purpose of the introduction: to give a fairly complete picture of the study performed and the results obtained, understandable to a wide range of specialists. Most readers will read the introduction and, perhaps, the conclusion. In the introduction, the author solves a complex optimization problem: how to communicate only the most important things, spending a minimum of the reader’s time, and so that the maximum of readers understands what is at stake.
It is better to write the introduction at the end since, in the course of work, a rethinking of the problem statement usually occurs. If you write the introduction when the work is not yet ready, the task becomes doubly complicated. In the end, it usually comes to the understanding that everything turned out not at all as planned at the beginning, and the original version of the introduction will still have to be rewritten. By the way, such “losses” should be treated calmly – in good work, almost every paragraph is repeatedly reworked beyond recognition.
Definitions and notation of scientific reports and articles writing
Formal problem statement. For known concepts, it is advisable to adhere to standard notation. Common terms are introduced by the word “called”. The terms invented by the author himself are introduced by the words “we will name” or “we will call”. This section usually ends with a formal statement of the problem.
It is from this section that you should start writing an article.
Known results of scientific reports and articles writing
Listed are the approaches, methods, facts on which this work is essentially based, but which may not be known to a wide range of readers. Here literature references are required. Theorems are only formulated, but not proved.
Objectives of this section. First, to make the article self-sufficient – to give the necessary minimum of information to those readers who are not very well versed in the topic, but want to get to know this particular work better. Second, to facilitate the comparison of the results obtained by the author with those previously known.
How to understand what designations should be introduced, and what well-known results to mention, especially if this is the first scientific article in your life?
Criterion: if this is a bachelor’s dissertation, then the text should be written so that any student who studied at another department could understand everything.
New approaches and results
One or several sections are the main results obtained by the author. Actually, for the sake of their publication, the entire text is written. The theorems are presented with proofs.
The applied problem, the parameters of the analyzed data (for example, how many objects, how many features, and what types they are), the parameters of the experiment (for example, how the sliding control was performed) are described. The experimental results are presented in the form of tables and graphs. Explains the exact meaning of all symbols in graphs, rows, and columns in tables. Conclusions are given: to what extent do the experimental results agree with the theory? Have you achieved the desired result? Are there any facts that have not found an explanation and which cannot be attributed to a “dirty” experiment?
The idea here helps to demonstrate that the proposed theory works in practice; show the boundaries of its applicability; tell about new experimental facts. Purely theoretical works may not contain this section (it does not work, well, it is not necessary – but the theory is beautiful). By the way, theorists have the right not to guess where to whom and when their theories will be useful.
Discussions and conclusions on scientific reports and articles writing
The main differences between the proposed methods and those known previously. What are its advantages? What are the limits of their applicability? What problems were solved and what remained open? What new tasks have emerged?
Conclusion or main results
In qualification papers, the last section is needed to concisely list the main results obtained personally by the author. The results are, in particular:
- A new approach to …
- A new method has been developed … allowing …
- Several theorems have been proved, confirming (refuting) that …
- It has been shown experimentally that …
This section is to prove the author’s qualifications. Even a cursory glance at the conclusion should be enough to make it clear: the author was able to solve an urgent, difficult, previously unsolved problem, the solutions proposed by the author are justified and verified.
In reviews, it is expressed approximately in the following words: “the work meets all the requirements for [bachelor’s, master’s, diploma, candidate’s – delete unnecessary] dissertations; the author is worthy of being awarded the title [bachelor, master, etc.]
It is considered bad form:
- Refer to the works of only one or two authors (for example, yourself or your boss);
- Cite too few works;
- Only refer to very old work;
- Refer to works that the author has never seen;
- Do not refer to anything at all.
Ten principles of clear communication
To learn how to write scientific texts well, one must constantly read other people’s scientific texts. At the same time, think about the following questions: Do I really understand everything? If something is not clear, then why is my knowledge not enough or is it written badly? If it is badly written, then what exactly and what the author should have done for me to understand him. With such thoughtful reading, you will soon develop your own techniques for clarity.
The direct path is the shortest
Always use the minimum set of tools (concepts, designations, explanations), sufficient to be understood. Isn’t it beautiful general words, but completely non-specific. How can you use this recommendation in practice? One of the possible technologies is as follows:
Think about the main point you are going to convey to the reader. Don’t start from afar, just write it right away. Now think about why you might not be understood if you say so straight away. Your colleague, with whom you did this work, will probably understand. But an unfamiliar reader must first explain all the concepts you used, formulate a problem, explain why it needs to be solved, etc. All this will have to be written before the main idea.
The main thing is not to “beat around the bush” and not write too much! Write only what, without which the main idea cannot be explained.
This principle of thinking over the presentation applies both to the article as a whole and any of its parts, up to individual sentences. This is how, from end to beginning, with constant care for the potential reader, the structure of the future article appears.
Try to get to the disclosure of the main idea in the shortest way. How this path will be found – from end to beginning, from beginning to end, or from the middle – is ultimately not so important, it’s a matter of taste.
Reader’s time is a valuable resource
The standard of the unclear presentation will be considered “official language” – dry, boring, difficult to understand, but at the same time formally absolutely correct (no doubt, there are examples of even more terrible presentation; however, the problem of how to make the best out of good is discussed here).
Brevity is the soul of wit
Keep your phrases short. Each phrase should contain exactly one thought. In a Russian phrase (by the way, as in English), the most important word, the significance of which I would like to emphasize, is put last. Pay attention to the position of the words “especially” and “last” in the previous phrase. Is it clear now what is meant?
Text containing formulas should remain generally comprehensible if you read it by simply skipping all formulas. This means that each formula should be accompanied by a commentary explaining its meaningful meaning, or explaining what it is interesting for, or why it will be needed in the future.
The author must make sure that his text is understandable to both categories of readers, that is, it reaches the widest possible layers of the professional community.
Simplicity and consistency of notation
The notation system should be simple (not overloaded) and not change during the presentation.
Balance formal and informal
Formal presentation (hypotheses, definitions, lemmas, theorems, consequences, remarks) should be interspersed with informal explanations, interpretations, remarks, examples that appeal to intuition and common sense. However, this should be formalized in such a way that the reader immediately understands: “This is where the proofs ended and the interpretations began”. In English-language articles, it is customary to insert a Discussion section at this point.
The main ideas of the text should be generally understood if the evidence is skipped entirely. If an important idea is hidden inside the proof, then its discussion should be taken outside the proof. In this case, it is better to split the proof into lemmas.
The presentation of the main part should be structured, that is, divided into blocks (paragraphs, sections). Each block must solve a more or less isolated problem. At the beginning of the block, it should be announced why it is being solved, and why it is being solved that way. To answer the question “why”, one must recall the overall goal of the entire study. To answer the question “why so”, it is necessary to review the literature.
Each section, regardless of level and volume, is built according to the same scenario. In the beginning, the statement of the problem and its role in the entire study (or in the encompassing section) are explained informally. The conclusion informally explains what happened and how to interpret it. If the result is improved in the following sections, this is worth mentioning. The middle part can be entirely formal.
- An important principle: the presentation as a whole should be clear if the middle parts in all sections are omitted entirely.
The logical sequence of presentation
Each next phase should logically follow directly from the previous one (or several previous ones). Too hard? Then at least 95% of the phrases. Following the linear logic of presentation is an order of magnitude less tiring than jumping from topic to topic. An abrupt change of topic should be formalized explicitly as a new paragraph, section, subsection.
Any term or designation must be introduced before first use, even if it is in general use. This seems to be obvious, but due to inexperience, it is difficult to keep track of every squiggle, especially when the text is reworked many times.
Read Seven Times, Send Once
In fact, seven times is not enough. Usually, a student writing his first term paper or article is not aware of how many mistakes will be made due to inattention. In almost every phrase! It’s okay, people tend to be wrong. Many people also tend not to notice their own mistakes. Therefore, the stage of careful reading should never be skipped.