How to write a research paper

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Dr. Guido David hosted his annual research paper writing seminar yesterday. I was supposed to attend last year but I was uninformed of the schedule for some reason. Fortunately I was able to create my thesis paper simply by observing the format of several thesis papers of graduates and with some guidance from him. Being a professor who produces scientific papers for a living, he insists that years of experience merits him enough credibility to give a lecture on it, haha. Anyway, for the benefit of students who weren’t able to attend the seminar, and for those who want to have a general idea of the research paper writing process, here are the main points of his talk (made 1000% more fun with some writing humor and my go-to gallery of academic woes, PhD Comics).

RESEARCH PAPER FORMATS

  • Thesis/dissertation
  • Research proposal
  • Journal publication
  • Conference proceedings

Thesis/Dissertation

  • In full detail: in-depth literature review, definitions & description of all formulas, even basic ones used in the study
  • Around 40-100 pages, self-contained (built with necessary background, so that even lay-academics can grasp it)

Research Proposal

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  • Proposal for research funding
  • Includes only the most important parts (problem statement, objectives, clearly-outlined methodology, significance, etc)
  • The investigator must prove that he/she knows how to approach the problem and has a clear plan (i.e., the research grant will not be wasted). Preliminary results are helpful.
  • Contains brief related literature review (what has already been done about the problem/using the method) -> put everything very related or similar to your work
  • Required for masters and dissertation

(Scientific) Research Paper

  • New results. Publication-worthy. Content/findings must be strong enough
  • Concisely written. Well-known results/technologies/models should not be explained. Even derivations may skip details.
  • Usually 5-10 pages, sometimes more (for full research paper)

Conference Proceedings

  • Same parts as research paper
  • Not as strong/in-depth. Meant for laypersons in the field

TYPICAL RESEARCH PAPER LAYOUT

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Results & Discussion
  • Conclusion

Title

  • Concise, describes research well enough, distinguishes it from other studies/papers on the same topic
  • Title is specific enough (which model is used, the exact problem being solved)

Abstract

  • The searchable part/quick description of the paper, 200-300 word limit
  • Includes:
    • Brief introduction of concepts (1-2 sentences)
    • Short overview of methodology
    • Summary of major results
  • If topic is obscure/not well known, terms must be defined

Introduction

  • Defines the problem, significance of the study, scope & delimitation
  • Background of the study: brief review of relevant literature to highlight the distinguishing features of the present study. usually just 1-2 paragraphs on relevant lit.
  • Necessary terminology is defined
  • Significance: from a scientific standpoint (you’re contributing new knowledge), not necessarily in terms of societal contributiondone.png
  • Scope: limitations of the paper, restrictions of the models, assumptions
  • Theoretical framework: methods/theorems that are fairly well known (but not well known enough to be excluded)

Methodology

  • Defines steps/approach to solving the problem
  • Most applicable to empirical/experimental studies
  • May use equations/theorems that lead to your main problem
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Results and Discussion

  • Include most important results
  • Graphs, plots, figures, tables are the preferred way of presenting multiple data
  • Highlight findings that are new or surprising. Discuss in sufficient detail.
  • If thesis: you can put as much non-redundant results as possible
  • Captions: under figure, above table

Conclusion/Summary

  • Repeat most important parts of the study. Include significant findings, pioneering techniques or methods
  • Highlight limitations & future work (extensions)

Bibliography

  • Avoid Wikipedia & other online references not based on publications (no accountability or authorship, could’ve been edited by anyone)
  • References should be in the prescribed format (APA, MLA, etc.)
  • Refer to books and articles from research journals. Unpublished research articles/personal communication may be included too if based on a relatively new topic

Extended Abstract

  • Condensed thesis as guide for the examiner, with preliminary results (deadline usually on defense week)
  • Intro usually not in past tense. Result is never in future tense.

THESIS WRITING TIPS

 

Before anything else, here’s a useful infographic I found about plagiarism. Pretty scary. D:

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 Anti-Plagiarism

  • Never copy-paste. Quoted phrases that are cited are acceptable but usually not used in scientific papers
  • Paraphrasing other papers without citation is considered plagiarismselfplagiarism.jpg
  • Do not plagiarize even your own work (self-plagiarism)
  • Safest way to go is to always cite sources
  • Tip: read something, put it down, write from memory and own understanding (your writing will formulate itself!)

Writing Flow

  • Don’t start with introduction. It will give you writer’s block.
    writing
  • Start w/ methodology (try to connect the equations and theorems used ) & results (numerical results, plots, derivations, etc) first.
  • Write in a very factual and formal way.
  • A boring way of writing is okay. It’s not a crime, lol
  • Keep tense consistent.
    • Scientific papers: usually all in past.
    • Thesis: intro & method in present, results & conclusion in past (his general approach)
    • Intro & methodology could be in future
  • After methodology & results, write the intro. Since there are already results, you should have a better idea on which objectives & significance you want to emphasize in the study.
  • Define relevant terms that aren’t general knowledge in the field
  • Review of related literature should be short. Stick to the most relevant references.
  • Write the conclusion. highlight important results. by describing the limitations, you already propose how the study can be extended.
  • Write the abstract last. Compress entire paper in one paragraph, should be readable from layman’s perspective
  • Doesn’t necessarily present results, just mention that the paper was successful was successful in obtaining results.
  • No citations & related lit. No equations.

English

  • Spell-check it, have it proofread
  • Note: not explaining well/writing well could be grounds for rejection of paper
  • Write formally. No shortcuts (&, etc) and abbreviations/acronyms should be defined
  • Numbers 1 to 10 must be written in words, unless numerical value is being highlighted
  • Concise but clear and factual. remove unnecessary lines, words, or redundancies.
  • Avoid vague words that serve no purpose (e.g.: The process was quite fast. The thing that was most relevant…)

FOR JOURNAL SUBMISSIONS

 

Choosing a journal for publication

  • If high quality work, try high quality journals (known in the field)
  • Index of journals: Scopus, Thomson Reuters, etc
  • Local: Matimyas, Phil. Journal of Sciences(?), Phil. Computing Journal(?), etc
  • Multidisciplinary work: choose where the work will be more appreciated (e.g.: for math finance work, submit to applied math journals)
  • Try the journals where the papers you referred to were published

Condensing Thesis to Journal format

  • Include very main result. Choose representative values for multiple similar data
  • Ask adviser to help you remove inessential stuff (most likely what I’m going to do, haha)
  • Paraphrase your own writing!

Citations

  • 20-40 is a good number for research papers. (thesis papers usually around 10)
  • Shows that the author did their homework and are very familiar with the topic
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    How NOT to write a research paper

     

I’ll work on transforming my own thesis into a journal submission soon. I hope I’m ready! XD

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