The section headings (Abstract, Introduction, etc.) should be centered and the body of each section should follow immediately below the heading. Do not begin each section on a new page. If one section ends part of the way down the page, the next section heading follows immediately on the same page.
One important general rule to keep in mind is that a scientific paper is a report about something that has been done in the past. Most of the paper should be written in the PAST TENSE (was, were). The present tense (is, are) is used when stating generalizations or conclusions. The present tense is most often used in the Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion sections of papers. The paper should read as a narrative in which the author describes what was done and what results were obtained from that work.
Every scientific paper must have a self-explanatory title. By reading the title, the work being reported should be clear to the reader without having to read the paper itself. The title, "A Biology Lab Report", tells the reader nothing. An example of a good, self-explanatory title would be: "The Effects of Light and Temperature on the Growth of Populations of the Bacterium, Escherichia coli ". This title reports exactly what the researcher has done by stating three things:
If the title had been only "Effects of Light and Temperature on Escherichia coli ", the reader would have to guess which parameters were measured. (That is, were the effects on reproduction, survival, dry weight or something else?) If the title had been "Effect of Environmental Factors on Growth of Escherichia coli ", the reader would not know which environmental factors were manipulated. If the title had been "Effects of Light and Temperature on the Growth of an Organism", then the reader would not know which organism was studied. In any of the above cases, the reader would be forced to read more of the paper to understand what the researcher had done.
Exceptions do occur: If several factors were manipulated, all of them do not have to be listed. Instead, "Effects of Several Environmental Factors on Growth of Populations ofEscherichia coli " (if more than two or three factors were manipulated) would be appropriate. The same applies if more than two or three organisms were studied. For example, "Effects of Light and Temperature on the Growth of Four Species of Bacteria" would be correct. The researcher would then include the names of the bacteria in the Materials and Methods section of the paper.
The abstract section in a scientific paper is a concise digest of the content of the paper. An abstract is more than a summary. A summary is a brief restatement of preceding text that is intended to orient a reader who has studied the preceding text. An abstract is intended to be self-explanatory without reference to the paper, but is not a substitute for the paper.
The abstract should present, in about 250 words, the purpose of the paper, general materials and methods (including, if any, the scientific and common names of organisms), summarized results, and the major conclusions. Do not include any information that is not contained in the body of the paper. Exclude detailed descriptions of organisms, materials and methods. Tables or figures, references to tables or figures, or references to literature cited usually are not included in this section. The abstract is usually written last. An easy way to write the abstract is to extract the most important points from each section of the paper and then use those points to construct a brief description of your study.
The Introduction is the statement of the problem that you investigated. It should give readers enough information to appreciate your specific objectives within a larger theoretical framework. After placing your work in a broader context, you should state the specific question(s) to be answered. This section may also include background information about the problem such as a summary of any research that has been done on the problem in the past and how the present experiment will help to clarify or expand the knowledge in this general area. All background information gathered from other sources must, of course, be appropriately cited. (Proper citation of references will be described later.)
A helpful strategy in this section is to go from the general, theoretical framework to your specific question. However, do not make the Introduction too broad. Remember that you are writing for classmates who have knowledge similar to yours. Present only the most relevant ideas and get quickly to the point of the paper. For examples, see the Appendix.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
This section explains how and, where relevant, when the experiment was done. The researcher describes the experimental design, the apparatus, methods of gathering data and type of control. If any work was done in a natural habitat, the worker describes the study area, states its location and explains when the work was done. If specimens were collected for study, where and when that material was collected are stated. The general rule to remember is that the Materials and Methods section should be detailed and clear enough so that any reader knowledgeable in basic scientific techniques could duplicate the study if she/he wished to do so. For examples, see the Appendix.
DO NOT write this section as though it were directions in a laboratory exercise book. Instead of writing:
Simply describe how the experiment was done:
Also, DO NOT LIST the equipment used in the experiment. The materials that were used in the research are simply mentioned in the narrative as the experimental procedure is described in detail. If well-known methods were used without changes, simply name the methods (e.g., standard microscopic techniques; standard spectrophotometric techniques). If modified standard techniques were used, describe the changes.
Here the researcher presents summarized data for inspection using narrative text and, where appropriate, tables and figures to display summarized data. Only the results are presented. No interpretation of the data or conclusions about what the data might mean are given in this section. Data assembled in tables and/or figures should supplement the text and present the data in an easily understandable form. Do not present raw data! If tables and/or figures are used, they must be accompanied by narrative text. Do not repeat extensively in the text the data you have presented in tables and figures. But, do not restrict yourself to passing comments either. (For example, only stating that "Results are shown in Table 1." is not appropriate.) The text describes the data presented in the tables and figures and calls attention to the important data that the researcher will discuss in the Discussion section and will use to support Conclusions. (Rules to follow when constructing and presenting figures and tables are presented in a later section of this guide.)
Here, the researcher interprets the data in terms of any patterns that were observed, any relationships among experimental variables that are important and any correlations between variables that are discernible. The author should include any explanations of how the results differed from those hypothesized, or how the results were either different from or similar to those of any related experiments performed by other researchers. Remember that experiments do not always need to show major differences or trends to be important. "Negative" results also need to be explained and may represent something important--perhaps a new or changed focus for your research.
A useful strategy in discussing your experiment is to relate your specific results back to the broad theoretical context presented in the Introduction. Since your Introduction went from the general to a specific question, going from the specific back to the general will help to tie your ideas and arguments together.
This section simply states what the researcher thinks the data mean, and, as such, should relate directly back to the problem/question stated in the introduction. This section should not offer any reasons for those particular conclusions--these should have been presented in the Discussion section. By looking at only the Introduction and Conclusions sections, a reader should have a good idea of what the researcher has investigated and discovered even though the specific details of how the work was done would not be known.
In this section you should give credit to people who have helped you with the research or with writing the paper. If your work has been supported by a grant, you would also give credit for that in this section.
This section lists, in alphabetical order by author, all published information that was referred to anywhere in the text of the paper. It provides the readers with the information needed should they want to refer to the original literature on the general problem. Note that the Literature Cited section includes only those references that were actually mentioned (cited) in the paper. Any other information that the researcher may have read about the problem but did not mention in the paper is not included in this section. This is why the section is called "Literature Cited" instead of "References" or "Bibliography".
The system of citing reference material in scientific journals varies with the particular journal. The method that you will follow is the "author-date" system. Listed below are several examples of how citations should be presented in the text of your paper. The name(s) of the author(s) and year of publication are included in the body of the text. Sentence structure determines the placement of the parentheses.
Human beings are quite amazing, but we certainly are not the strongest animals; we do not have fur that would protect us from the cold nor do we have wings to escape from a predator or fly down to catch a prey. Furthermore, we are susceptible to various types of lethal and infectious diseases. Yet, we have managed to survive as a species for thousands of years. This has only been possible because of humankind's possession of immense brain power. Our brains have enabled us to imagine several life-changing ideas, such as Watson, Crick, and Rosalind Franklin's discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Their discovery has empowered scientists of today to continue performing research on the cell to cure the most deadly diseases of our century. This is a prime example of how science can drastically change the world for the betterment of society. To further enhance our legacy, as humans living in the only known habitable world, we can encourage interest and participation in science by creating more hands-on scientific opportunities for the public.
Early intervention is critical in increasing the amount of participation in science. On a personal account, in elementary school, I remember learning about natural disasters from a lengthy textbook. While this classic method informed me about essential scientific terms, ideas, and theories, the book was not as powerful of an experience as the scientific experiment I conducted with my 5th grade class. We made a clay volcano by utilizing baking soda, vinegar, and soap. Bubbly, vivid, and full of energy, it was quite an explosion. Having attended a low-income school, due to budget cuts, our class only had the opportunity to actively participate in just one experiment. I wish that the curriculum was designed so that we would have the maximum amount of hands-on experiences in the subject. Today, elementary schools can aim to do this, to encourage children to participate in and conduct experiments at school so that their curiosity is sparked. If more hands-on opportunities are provided in the class, the students would feel a deeper connection and interest with not only science, but most other subjects as well. Another instance in which early intervention would increase children's interest in the science field is taking them to places such as the Exploratorium and Academy of Sciences. The Exploratorium, a hands-on museum packed with interactive scientific activities, is the perfect place to encourage active participation in science. Whenever I visit the museum, I constantly notice several groups of children surrounding a particular exhibit, and asking numerous questions about how their shadows are colored or why the model tornado spins in a certain direction.
Educating individuals of all ages the true essence of science, and granting learners the opportunities to pursue a career in the field would motivate them to increase their level of participation. Science is not just about memorizing chemistry or physics formulas or even following other individuals' experimental procedures. It is also about you finding evidence to support your own theory, asking your own questions, developing your very own scientific process along the way, and discovering the unknown, and, ultimately, your very own answers. Teachers must give students the tools and background knowledge to build their experiments; however, from that point onwards, students must take the initiative to perform the research and develop a procedure. Additionally, to encourage participation in science, the community can create science-related opportunities for the younger generation, and empower them to make a difference. Whether it be volunteering at a local elementary school to teach children topics about science or interning at a state-of-the-art biomedical laboratory, no opportunity is small or less rewarding. Furthermore, on a personal account, my Health Science teacher had reserved a fieldtrip to the then new UCSF Sandler Neuroscience center. Last year, when my classmates and I visited this research facility, we were astonished by the new forms of technology and science taking place at the institute. Part of our trip included the opportunity to travel inside an animated brain by utilizing highly-developed goggles. It seemed completely surreal. The entire experience was extremely inspirational, and, for the first time, I saw myself pursuing a career in the science field.
As a result of the trip to the organization and past science classes, I applied to a summer internship program at the Gladstone Institutes, UCSF. This program is geared towards providing research opportunities to low income, underserved minorities to further diversify the future science field. Through an extensive application process, I was granted the privilege to perform research on HIV using live, infected immune cells. Although the research I conducted was a roller coaster ride, it has taught me that when performing research you often fail and continue to, but then you reach that turning point, and it is that successful moment which becomes the highlight of the rewarding experience. Safe to say, the internship changed the course of my life. Seeing that I could be a part of this community and having mentors who were women deepened my passion and interest for the subject.
In conclusion, to increase participation and interest in the science field, active learners must be given the opportunity, but also take initiative for themselves, to discover what science means to them, and how it impacts their daily lives. Science has the potential to create a more efficient and healthy society, but it is in the hands of future generations to uncover hidden puzzles, cures, and innovations.