Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Writing scientific papers: first steps, building momentum and what’s missing

Writing scientific papers from the ground up is not an easy task. At least for most of us. You have results from your surveys, experiments, numerical or physical modeling, and now you want to share the knowledge you gained through a paper. Where do you start? How do you start organizing? What will you write first? It all starts with why.

writing scientific papers answer questions and raising new ones

Writing a paper is always a challenge to me. Not because I don’t have experience writing, but instead I feel I need a better method for doing it. However, I recognize that if we don’t know why we’ve done the research in the first place, writing anything about it will be much harder. Thus, it all starts with WHY.

After you’re clear on why the research, all comes down to how you did it and what were the results. What you write depends on analysis, interpretation and new knowledge you may develop from the results. But how you organize all this and write it can be challenging.

Writing scientific papers: First things

Once I’ve heard without conclusions, there’s no paper. Thus, conclusions should be the first thing to do when writing scientific papers. However, most of us probably start by the results. That’s where the juice is, so to speak. Thus, we should spend a considerable time working on the results. Drawing plots, looking for trends in data, checking the important terms in our model, refining our simulations. Once it’s done, time to build momentum…

Building momentum

After analyzing the results, interpret them and explicit the new knowledge developed from that interpretation, we may write or revise the conclusions. Only them can we invest on the introduction. And I mean really invest…

When I review scientific papers, the most difficult section and where I feel authors fail the most (me included) is this first section of your paper. It is a section to build momentum in the reader’s mind. You have to introduce him to the topic in a compelling and appealing way.

Most introductions say Author1 et al did this… Author2 et al. did that … and so on. Why focus on the authors? It is not the work of other authors that drive yours and builds momentum. It is the research topic it self. How do we understand the topic? How is this topic approached in past research? What questions remain? And then, what is your contribution to advance the knowledge on this topic…

What’s missing?

But I feel something missing from most papers, including mine and I’ve been thinking about it.

Raising new questions more often.

The answer you provide with your research is important. Beyond doubt. But ignorance, what’s ahead and the questions raised by the research performed is what drives science forward.

We’re too often concerned about giving all the answers when questions are the most exciting thing stimulating further research.


Question: what do you think about raising questions at the end of our papers more often?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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