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BSCI 1510L Literature and Stats Guide: 1 What is a scientific paper?

Introduction to Biological Sciences lab, first semester

1 What is a scientific paper?

Scientific papers (also known as a "journal articles") are a special type of written work that have particular characteristics:

  • They are usually published in a periodical called a journal whose purpose is to publish this kind of work.  Generally, journals differ greatly from general interest writing on scientific topics such as magazine articles and science news (e.g. those in National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, etc.) although some journals also have a section devoted to general interest writing.  Occasionally scientific papers are compiled in book form but this is not the norm.
  • They are peer reviewed.  That means that the paper has been subjected to the scrutiny of several experts in the field who verify the quality of the writing and the accuracy of the analysis and conclusions drawn by the authors. 
  • They are citable.  This means that: the content is stable, the journal is readily available in libraries and (usually) through the Web, and there are standardized methods of identifying a particular article.  Thus an author can refer to a paper with confidence that a reader can easily look up that reference at any point in the future.
  • They include citations.  This means that the paper frequently makes reference to previous publications that are relevant to the work being discussed.  All cited works are listed in a reference section at the end of the paper.  Footnotes at the bottom of each pager are not used to make citations. 
  • The general outline/flow is as follows
    • Title
    • Author(s)
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Methods
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • References/Literature cited
  • They follow a standardized style of writing and data presentation.
  • Over the next four weeks of lab, you will be examining some published work on a topic.  We will analyze parts of these papers each week, such as examining the results between the papers. After that, you will be given a sample paper to critique/revise.  By Mid-semester, you will have seen enough of "how to write" in science and will write your own formal journal-style paper.  There are quite a few details to learn but they are NOT challenging and are no different in complexity than when you learned the rules to reading and writing.  Thus, you should really pay attention to these details early on and not have to worry about cramming them in all at once later on.