Writing a scientific manuscript
March 17, 2015 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I've done all the analysis for my thesis, but how do I write a scientific manuscript?

I'm a graduate student in epi, and I need to turn in a scientific manuscript for my thesis. I come from a humanities background, and have no problem writing anything more narrative - essays or editorials or things like memos or project reports. I am, however, totally stuck on writing my thesis. I have picked a target journal, figured out what the particulars are (length, etc), and done a ton of statistical analysis. Now I have no idea how to write anything but the Methods section (which is fairly clear-cut).

What's the equivalent of a 5-paragraph essay (or "umbrella topic sentence") for a Results section? How do I structure my paragraphs, particularly in Results and Discussion? I've read a ton of similar articles (lit review done), but I am totally stuck on my own. Is there a template?

My advisor is not much help, so I turn to you.
posted by quadrilaterals to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Read several articles in recent issues of your target journal. Do not read for content, exactly, but read for structure. Identify what the common elements and presentation order are in the Results and Discussion sections. You will probably find some variation - as you write your paper, you may discover that while you started out following the presentation in paper A, the presentation in paper B may suit you better, or you may come up with your own variant.

Just to get you started on your version 0 draft, take the Results and Discussion section of a paper you thought was particularly clear and well-presented, and just substitute in your own results and discussion in the order presented in that paper. And then revise away!
posted by needled at 9:15 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you've picked a target journal, look at the articles published in that journal. Also look for articles on PubMed that analyze similar data in similar ways.

Consider those as templates. You'll be surprised at how straight forward it is, compared to writing in the humanities.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:16 AM on March 17, 2015

Below is one of the best paper-writing books I've ever read. It goes down to the detail of using specific phrases to signal which type of information is coming next, and all of the writing, from title and abstract to conclusion, becomes very simple formulas. It's not for your field, but you might be able to skim it and then have a much better eye for extracting the patterns in your own field.

posted by zeek321 at 9:37 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I give this paper to the students in my lab, and they say it's helpful. It's aimed at chemists, but certainly holds true for my biophysics/biomedical papers.
posted by overhauser at 9:55 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your advisor is a dumb-ass.

When I was in graduate school, the department met now and then on a social basis, e.g. welcoming a guest speaker from out of town. At such an occasion, you could strike up conversation with any of the faculty, and ask how they advise their students.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:03 PM on March 17, 2015

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