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Guidelines for preparing a scientific paper for publication

 

 

1.      Preliminary

Choose a project based on contemporary science. This could come from application needs or problems in current basic research whether experimental or theoretical. Do not try to re-invent the wheel! (This is not uncommon, many are attempting to publish papers on work that was exhaustively researched many years ago). Unless you are writing a review article, your work must make an original contribution to science or technology. Hence you must have researched the literature and know what is going on. If it is not original, do not write a paper.

2.      Introduction

Start with a well-referenced background to your specialism and use this to introduce the reasons for the work you are about to describe in the paper. Say why this paper is going to contribute to an advance in science or technology. Address your writing to a reasonably well-educated and scientifically trained reader, but who may not necessarily be a specialist in the field. Do not write at undergraduate or school level, but at the same time do not assume your reader has been working in your lab for years and knows all the jargon.

3.      Experimental

Experimental techniques must be described adequately. There should be enough information (possibly also from referenced literature), for the reader to set your equipment up and repeat the experiment, this is the basis of science! You cannot publish your work and hide it at the same time (many actually try to do this). Nowadays researchers commonly use ‘black-boxes,’ (metaphorical term), it is not an excuse for not knowing what is going on inside, how it affects the results and what the limitations of the equipment are with respect to accuracy and meaning of results. If it is not a ‘black-box’ and maybe you have built the apparatus yourself, the reader will want to know exactly what is going on, there is no substitute for a good diagram! Key dimensions, electrodes’ position, shape, electrical and gas services, everything that is relevant and could affect the results should be there clearly in schematic form. Maybe this is published already, in which case make the reference, but the key components must be summarised in the text. Define symbols (many do not bother, were they not reprimanded in high-school for leaving them out?) Special measuring equipment may also need a diagram and/or description and a statement of limitations of measurement, (every real set of measurements has errors and variations from run to run – how many researchers repeat a run? And repeat it again? If they did they might be in for a nasty surprise and find ten runs would be needed with statistical analysis!!).  Readers need to be aware of these things, and this should also be referred to in Results and Discussion as appropriate.

4.      Results

This may combined with Discussion, which is often appropriate for short papers and where space is limited. Usually it is better for the reader (and the writer, when logically developing his thoughts), to have separate results and discussion sections.

I f necessary break the Results into sub-sections (electrical, optical, surface analysis etc) and number. Space limitations may prevent this (in Vacuum, this uses a lot of space), but separate paragraphs can always be used. Use Tables and Graphs which must be accurate, clearly labelled and easy to read. Photographs and images should be marked and labelled to show boundaries, salient features. All this is very easy with today’s computers.

Give a brief description of each result as shown on graphs, tables etc. bringing out significant points. Fig.x shows… etc..

5.      Discussion

Use numbered sub-sections if appropriate.

The starting point for Discussion is the Results and not a pre-conceived idea about some physical process. You have to ask what the Results really mean, and be aware of the limitations of measurement and analysis. If you have used an outside service (and that might mean collaboration in a distant part of the world), then be aware that if that service, which often needs to be capable of complex interpretation, is faulty,  then the whole exercise is a waste of time!). State the limitations of measurement, and pay attention to errors, it is scientific to state these things, not a fault. (we were taught at school (yes, as teenagers!) to record errors for every parameter and assess the cumulative effect). Results can be positive or negative (i.e. no conclusion found); do not psychologically bias the results, the only good results are honest results. Develop a logical argument from the results. The results (and other peoples’ results) are the facts you have to work  with, develop your arguments from these using quantitative reasoning wherever possible. Argue the detail, and use the most up-to-date literature where possible for values of physical parameters and other information. It is better to make a rough quantitative estimate to assess your process than make a vague generalisation (or worse, make a statement of fact about what is happening with phrases like “it is well-known that…. It is obvious that….The results show that x is caused by y…..” Do not use these phrases, at best they sound silly. Use “.. It is suggested that…The results suggest that…. We can tentatively hypothesise that…x may be attributed to the action of y….”). Compare the results and/or their interpretation with the literature. Assess what has been achieved, and it may be negative or even new things may have been discovered which were not originally anticipated. Its worth making a brief statement where the results could be applied (if this relevant).

6.      Conclusions

Very simple, just summarise the most important conclusions from the paper! Think whether the objectives set out in the Introduction were met? (They do not have to be, this is science, not a management exercise). Anything new? Conclusions can be positive or negative. Say in a few sentences, but please do not include items of Discussion in the Conclusions.  Write the concluding section bearing in mind it may (after the Abstract) be the only part that is read by many members of the scientific community. It should relate to the significance of the work in the outside world and be specific enough to be useful. Avoid generalisations (e.g. “…useful to the semi-conducting/optical/aerospace industry..”).

7.      Abstract

Best written last. It must summarise the whole paper. It will go out to the World and these days very likely be picked up in Google. Your scientific reputation (and  that of your colleagues and Institution) could be at stake. Give the reasons for the work in context, techniques used, measurements and analysis, results and conclusions. The Abstract must be short and concise.
 
 
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