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How to review a paper

How to Start Your Science Research Paper

❶Cupcake Experiment Modeling Knock-out. White, The Elements of Style , 3rd ed.

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How does the writing process work? How can you fit your writing into a daily schedule packed with experiments? What section should you start with?

What distinguishes a good research paper from a bad one? How should you revise your paper? These and many other questions buzz in your head and keep you stressed. As a result, you procrastinate. In this paper, I will discuss the issues related to the writing process of a scientific paper. Specifically, I will focus on the best approaches to start a scientific paper, tips for writing each section, and the best revision strategies. Whether you have written papers or you are struggling with your first, starting the process is the most difficult part unless you have a rigid writing schedule.

It is a very difficult process of intense concentration and brain work. In his book How to Write a Lot: Just as with any type of hard work, you will not succeed unless you practice regularly. If you have not done physical exercises for a year, only regular workouts can get you into good shape again. Choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments. When figuring out which blocks of time will be set for writing, you should select the time that works best for this type of work.

For many people, mornings are more productive. One Yale University graduate student spent a semester writing from 8 a. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she accomplished without even interrupting her regular lab hours. In addition, doing the hardest task first thing in the morning contributes to the sense of accomplishment during the rest of the day. This positive feeling spills over into our work and life and has a very positive effect on our overall attitude.

Now that you have scheduled time, you need to decide how to start writing. The best strategy is to start with an outline. This will not be an outline that you are used to, with Roman numerals for each section and neat parallel listing of topic sentences and supporting points.

This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help generate ideas and formulate hypotheses.

Following the advice of George M. Use Table 1 as a starting point for your outline. Include your visuals figures, tables, formulas, equations, and algorithms , and list your findings. These will constitute the first level of your outline, which will eventually expand as you elaborate. The next stage is to add context and structure. Here you will group all your ideas into sections: This step will help add coherence to your work and sift your ideas.

Now that you have expanded your outline, you are ready for the next step: Many universities have a writing center where graduate students can schedule individual consultations and receive assistance with their paper drafts. Getting feedback during early stages of your draft can save a lot of time. Talking through ideas allows people to conceptualize and organize thoughts to find their direction without wasting time on unnecessary writing.

Outlining is the most effective way of communicating your ideas and exchanging thoughts. Moreover, it is also the best stage to decide to which publication you will submit the paper.

Many people come up with three choices and discuss them with their mentors and colleagues. Having a list of journal priorities can help you quickly resubmit your paper if your paper is rejected. After you get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to, the process of real writing begins. Copy your outline into a separate file and expand on each of the points, adding data and elaborating on the details.

When you create the first draft, do not succumb to the temptation of editing. Do not slow down to choose a better word or better phrase; do not halt to improve your sentence structure. Pour your ideas into the paper and leave revision and editing for later. Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks.

When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper. If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first.

Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures. Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references.

In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in 2a and 2b , respectfully:.

If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in 3a. If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in 3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies. Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in 4.

This switching misleads and distracts the reader. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods.

The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness [ 4 ]. The problem with 4 is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment passive voice to the point of view of the experimenter active voice.

This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music.

We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness. Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales SI Methods.

The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness. Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [ 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections.

Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity. This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section. For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section. If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results.

That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text. Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas , and data commentary.

For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case.

This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings. You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper. You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader.

However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results.

If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction. In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in 6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections. Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers.

Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences. Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences. Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas.

So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus. The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction.

The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3. Adapted from Swales and Feak [ 11 ]. The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps. These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic.

By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections [ 5 ].

To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach. Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction. Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general.

The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper. The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about to words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance. For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper.

Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist. The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4.

Adapted from Swales and Feak and Hess [ 11 , 12 ]. The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section. This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented.

One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question.

Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results. Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher. Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic.

This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist. However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions. This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice.

Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority. The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.

Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe.

You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed. Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess.

Use the advice of Paul Silvia: The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper. The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels [ 13 ]. The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. This is done all the time, to varying degrees. I want statements of fact, not opinion or speculation, backed up by data.

Most journals don't have special instructions, so I just read the paper, usually starting with the Abstract, looking at the figures, and then reading the paper in a linear fashion. There are a few aspects that I make sure to address, though I cover a lot more ground as well. First, I consider how the question being addressed fits into the current status of our knowledge.

Second, I ponder how well the work that was conducted actually addresses the central question posed in the paper. In my field, authors are under pressure to broadly sell their work, and it's my job as a reviewer to address the validity of such claims.

Third, I make sure that the design of the methods and analyses are appropriate. First, I read a printed version to get an overall impression. What is the paper about? How is it structured? I also pay attention to the schemes and figures; if they are well designed and organized, then in most cases the entire paper has also been carefully thought out. When diving in deeper, first I try to assess whether all the important papers are cited in the references, as that also often correlates with the quality of the manuscript itself.

Then, right in the Introduction, you can often recognize whether the authors considered the full context of their topic. It is also very important that the authors guide you through the whole article and explain every table, every figure, and every scheme.

As I go along, I use a highlighter and other pens, so the manuscript is usually colorful after I read it. Besides that, I make notes on an extra sheet.

I first familiarize myself with the manuscript and read relevant snippets of the literature to make sure that the manuscript is coherent with the larger scientific domain. Then I scrutinize it section by section, noting if there are any missing links in the story and if certain points are under- or overrepresented. I print out the paper, as I find it easier to make comments on the printed pages than on an electronic reader.

At this first stage, I try to be as open-minded as I can. Does the theoretical argument make sense? Does it contribute to our knowledge, or is it old wine in new bottles?

Is there an angle the authors have overlooked? This often requires doing some background reading, sometimes including some of the cited literature, about the theory presented in the manuscript.

I then delve into the Methods and Results sections. Are the methods suitable to investigate the research question and test the hypotheses? Would there have been a better way to test these hypotheses or to analyze these results? Is the statistical analysis sound and justified? Could I replicate the results using the information in the Methods and the description of the analysis?

I even selectively check individual numbers to see whether they are statistically plausible. I also carefully look at the explanation of the results and whether the conclusions the authors draw are justified and connected with the broader argument made in the paper. If there are any aspects of the manuscript that I am not familiar with, I try to read up on those topics or consult other colleagues. I spend a fair amount of time looking at the figures.

In addition to considering their overall quality, sometimes figures raise questions about the methods used to collect or analyze the data, or they fail to support a finding reported in the paper and warrant further clarification.

Conclusions that are overstated or out of sync with the findings will adversely impact my review and recommendations. I generally read on the computer and start with the Abstract to get an initial impression. Then I read the paper as a whole, thoroughly and from beginning to end, taking notes as I read. For me, the first question is this: Is the research sound? And secondly, how can it be improved? Basically, I am looking to see if the research question is well motivated; if the data are sound; if the analyses are technically correct; and, most importantly, if the findings support the claims made in the paper.

The main aspects I consider are the novelty of the article and its impact on the field. I always ask myself what makes this paper relevant and what new advance or contribution the paper represents.

Then I follow a routine that will help me evaluate this. I also consider whether the article contains a good Introduction and description of the state of the art, as that indirectly shows whether the authors have a good knowledge of the field.

Second, I pay attention to the results and whether they have been compared with other similar published studies. Third, I consider whether the results or the proposed methodology have some potential broader applicability or relevance, because in my opinion this is important. Finally, I evaluate whether the methodology used is appropriate.

If the authors have presented a new tool or software, I will test it in detail. Using a copy of the manuscript that I first marked up with any questions that I had, I write a brief summary of what the paper is about and what I feel about its solidity.

Then I run through the specific points I raised in my summary in more detail, in the order they appeared in the paper, providing page and paragraph numbers for most.

Finally comes a list of really minor stuff, which I try to keep to a minimum. If I feel there is some good material in the paper but it needs a lot of work, I will write a pretty long and specific review pointing out what the authors need to do. If the paper has horrendous difficulties or a confused concept, I will specify that but will not do a lot of work to try to suggest fixes for every flaw. I never use value judgments or value-laden adjectives. Hopefully, this will be used to make the manuscript better rather than to shame anyone.

I also try to cite a specific factual reason or some evidence for any major criticisms or suggestions that I make. After all, even though you were selected as an expert, for each review the editor has to decide how much they believe in your assessment.

I use annotations that I made in the PDF to start writing my review; that way I never forget to mention something that occurred to me while reading the paper.

Unless the journal uses a structured review format, I usually begin my review with a general statement of my understanding of the paper and what it claims, followed by a paragraph offering an overall assessment. Then I make specific comments on each section, listing the major questions or concerns.

Depending on how much time I have, I sometimes also end with a section of minor comments. I try to be as constructive as possible. A review is primarily for the benefit of the editor, to help them reach a decision about whether to publish or not, but I try to make my reviews useful for the authors as well. I always write my reviews as though I am talking to the scientists in person. I try hard to avoid rude or disparaging remarks. The review process is brutal enough scientifically without reviewers making it worse.

Since obtaining tenure, I always sign my reviews. I believe it improves the transparency of the review process, and it also helps me police the quality of my own assessments by making me personally accountable. After I have finished reading the manuscript, I let it sink in for a day or so and then I try to decide which aspects really matter. This helps me to distinguish between major and minor issues and also to group them thematically as I draft my review.

My reviews usually start out with a short summary and a highlight of the strengths of the manuscript before briefly listing the weaknesses that I believe should be addressed. I try to link any criticism I have either to a page number or a quotation from the manuscript to ensure that my argument is understood. I try to be constructive by suggesting ways to improve the problematic aspects, if that is possible, and also try to hit a calm and friendly but also neutral and objective tone.

This is not always easy, especially if I discover what I think is a serious flaw in the manuscript. I try to write my reviews in a tone and form that I could put my name to, even though reviews in my field are usually double-blind and not signed. I'm aiming to provide a comprehensive interpretation of the quality of the paper that will be of use to both the editor and the authors. I think a lot of reviewers approach a paper with the philosophy that they are there to identify flaws.

But I only mention flaws if they matter, and I will make sure the review is constructive. I used to sign most of my reviews, but I don't do that anymore.

If you make a practice of signing reviews, then over the years, many of your colleagues will have received reviews with your name on them. Even if you are focused on writing quality reviews and being fair and collegial, it's inevitable that some colleagues will be less than appreciative about the content of the reviews. And if you identify a paper that you think has a substantial error that is not easily fixed, then the authors of this paper will find it hard to not hold a grudge. I've known too many junior scientists who have been burned from signing their reviews early on in their careers.

So now, I only sign my reviews so as to be fully transparent on the rare occasions when I suggest that the authors cite papers of mine, which I only do when my work will remedy factual errors or correct the claim that something has never been addressed before.

My review begins with a paragraph summarizing the paper. Then I have bullet points for major comments and for minor comments. Minor comments may include flagging the mislabeling of a figure in the text or a misspelling that changes the meaning of a common term. Overall, I try to make comments that would make the paper stronger. My tone is very formal, scientific, and in third person. I'm critiquing the work, not the authors. If there is a major flaw or concern, I try to be honest and back it up with evidence.

I start by making a bullet point list of the main strengths and weaknesses of the paper and then flesh out the review with details. I often refer back to my annotated version of the online paper.

I usually differentiate between major and minor criticisms and word them as directly and concisely as possible. When I recommend revisions, I try to give clear, detailed feedback to guide the authors. Even if a manuscript is rejected for publication, most authors can benefit from suggestions. I try to stick to the facts, so my writing tone tends toward neutral. Before submitting a review, I ask myself whether I would be comfortable if my identity as a reviewer was known to the authors.

My reviews tend to take the form of a summary of the arguments in the paper, followed by a summary of my reactions and then a series of the specific points that I wanted to raise. If I find the paper especially interesting and even if I am going to recommend rejection , I tend to give a more detailed review because I want to encourage the authors to develop the paper or, maybe, to do a new paper along the lines suggested in the review.

My tone is one of trying to be constructive and helpful even though, of course, the authors might not agree with that characterization. I try to act as a neutral, curious reader who wants to understand every detail. If there are things I struggle with, I will suggest that the authors revise parts of their paper to make it more solid or broadly accessible. I want to give them honest feedback of the same type that I hope to receive when I submit a paper.

I start with a brief summary of the results and conclusions as a way to show that I have understood the paper and have a general opinion. I always comment on the form of the paper, highlighting whether it is well written, has correct grammar, and follows a correct structure.

Then, I divide the review in two sections with bullet points, first listing the most critical aspects that the authors must address to better demonstrate the quality and novelty of the paper and then more minor points such as misspelling and figure format. When you deliver criticism, your comments should be honest but always respectful and accompanied with suggestions to improve the manuscript.

I make a decision after drafting my review. I usually sit on the review for a day and then reread it to be sure it is balanced and fair before deciding anything. I only make a recommendation to accept, revise, or reject if the journal specifically requests one.

The decision is made by the editor, and my job as a reviewer is to provide a nuanced and detailed report on the paper to support the editor. The decision comes along during reading and making notes. If there are serious mistakes or missing parts, then I do not recommend publication. I usually write down all the things that I noticed, good and bad, so my decision does not influence the content and length of my review.

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DISCLAIMER: This article is not written by Stanley Milgram, but is intended as an example of a psychology research paper that someone might have written after conducting the first Milgram-study. It's presented here for educational purposes. Normally you would use double spacing in the paper. EXAMPLE OF A RESEARCH PAPER. - Chaitanya Giri, postdoctoral research fellow at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo I print out the paper, as I find it easier to make .

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format for the paper Scientific research articles provide a method for scientists to communicate with other scientists about the results of their research. A standard format is used for these articles, in which the author presents the research in . Citation lists can help you decide why the paper may be most relevant to you by giving you a first impression of how colleagues that do similar research as you do may have used the paper.