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Scientific Writing Workshop for MADURA

Resources, tips, and techniques for writing a scientific abstract or paper.

Getting Started with Scientific Writing

The most important thing as you start writing is to simply get it down - get your first draft done.  It is in the editing that you can revise it to better reflect the typical scientific article.  There is no need for the added pressure of getting it right and perfect in the first draft.  The hard part is simply getting the thoughts together and into a form you can work with.  It is much easier to edit then to create.  Just be sure to build in the time to do the edits.

The aim of your writing is to get that idea or the information about your research out of your head and into a digital or analog format AND to communicate it clearly to others.  "it is essential that scientific writing is clear, succinct, and direct."  

There are guidelines from publishers, from authors who are encouraging beginning writers, and your professor will have some specifics for you. We call out some tips below about the typical sections of a scientific article, but before we do that - here are some tips & reminders to get you started:

  • Keep in mind your audience so you can best tell the story of your research AND communicate complex information or new ideas clearly
  • Practice
  • Find published articles on your topic that you can use as a model of how to phrase your research
  • Use formal language - no colloquialisms
  • Use active voice most of the time
  • Keep the writing tome direct - use succinct expressions without a lot of extra useless words
  • Don't be satisfied with your first draft  --  get feedback and revise.
  • How you speak and how you write should be different.  You need to have a speaking voice (informal tone) and a writing voice (more formal tone but not convoluted). 

The Voice of Science

Formal language that is direct, concise, and clear is the language of science.  Don't let the formal tone confuse you into thinking that the sentence structure has to be needlessly wordy or convoluted. 

Here's the obvious advice:  Avoid the informal language that you use for email, texting, social media, blogs, or even the casual language used in your lab manuals.


The Structure of a Science Manuscript

Articles in the health sciences often follow a very specific format, especially when reporting out the results of an experiment.  The best way to know how to structure your abstract or manuscript is to check the conference's, the publisher's, or your professor's requirements.

Abstract of a Paper 

Usually a single paragraph or if a structured abstract is required, the paragraph will be divided into sections that mirror the main paper.  It is often less than 500 words. It should provide the Why, How, & What of your project.  

  • Why:  provide the reason why the research was conducted (a brief background for context and the principle objectives of your study)
  • How:  provide brief details of how it was conducted (methods)
  • What:  state the most important results of the study and what you might conclude from them.

It should be able to stand on its own as a summary of the research, but leave the figures and references for the main part of the paper. 


What about Abstracts for a Conference Poster?

Your project will be an abstract for a conference poster which can be a very condensed version of a science manuscript or a stand-alone item.  It is a concise summary of the research project, often with the same sections as a full paper.  Word limits for the poster proposal may force you to make choices about what to say and the key results & conclusions on which to focus.

Be sure to check the requirements for the abstract at the conference or publisher's website.

While not the only way to structure a paper, in general - for a paper or a poster -  you will have sections similar to the following:


This is where you provide the context for the research topic and give the reader enough background details that they can understand the rest of your paper.  The details in the introduction build to your your experimental question.  Along the way there, describe what is know and possibly identify what is not know.  The background provides some history of this topic but it does not need to be a comprehensive history.  

  • Present the problem to be addressed
  • Clearly state your hypothesis
  • Why is this issue important
  • How does it relate to the other research in this field 
  • Define any important concepts being consider as well as any important terms

Methods & Materials

A hallmark of good research and good writing of that work is that the experiment is reproducible.  Provide enough details about the techniques and materials used with an eye to balancing those details that are universally known (i.e. PCR).  The language in this section is always past tense as it is a record of what you did.  This is a guide book for the reader to understanding your experiments and allows them to decide if your conclusions about the data are justified.

  • Use past tense tone in this section
  • Thoroughly describe the method (& materials) used
  • Describe briefly why these methods were used
  • Document materials used
  • Mention any software used


What is not Included

  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • Interpretations


The key here is to be objective about the results using descriptive text, figures, charts, or tables.  The images you create should concisely display pertinent data and minimize the need to present the numbers in the narrative.  Do not describe every aspect of your data - instead focus on those results that are key to the story your your research.  It is vital that this section is well organizes and that the critical results are distilled well.

  • Detail the results of the research
  • Use figures, charts, or table to best display data
  • Focus the narrative on the key results


What is not Included Here

  • Interpretations of the data
  • Conclusions about your work

Discussion/Conclusion  (usually combined into one section, but sometimes separate)

This is where you interpret the results usually within the context of what is known in the field.  Start this section summarizing what you identify as you most important result along with your best conclusions based on those findings.  Address any limitations of the research as well as any anomalies or errors.

  • Restate the problem being addressed
  • Summarize how the results addressed the problem
  • What is the possible impact of your work
  • Suggest future areas of research


Not always used, but this is where you thank those who have helped you with the research, such as your mentor. If you worked with a special group to do your research, you might thank them.  Also, this is where you mention if your work was tied to any grant funds.


List all of the articles or books used throughout the paper.  Most of the time, you will use articles from scholarly journals, but a few books, or other types of sources are needed too.  The format of both the in-text citations and the list in the bibliography can vary from journal to journal or even vary within a specific publisher.  Always, be sure to check for the required format.  In research, as the ancient saying goes you are "standing on the shoulder of giants."  References are how you show that.  Save yourself time and frustration and get familiar with citation management tools such as Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, etc.

  • Ensure every item used in the paper is in the list at the end.
  • Format - make sure you use the required format
  • Use a citation management tool

Resources to Explore More about Writing


Advice from Journals