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2.3: Scientific Papers

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    This section discusses what peer review is and how scientific papers are structured.

    Peer Review

    Scientists must share their findings for other researchers to expand and build upon their discoveries. For this reason, an important aspect of a scientist’s work is disseminating results and communicating with peers. Scientists can share results by presenting them at a scientific meeting or conference, but this approach can reach only the limited few who are present. Instead, most scientists present their results in peer-reviewed articles that are published in scientific journals (figure \(\PageIndex{a}\)). Peer-reviewed articles are scientific papers that are reviewed, usually anonymously by a scientist’s colleagues, or peers. These colleagues are qualified individuals, often experts in the same research area, who judge whether or not the scientist’s work is suitable for publication. Peer reviewers assess experimental design, statistical analysis, presentation of data, and whether conclusions fit the results. The process of peer review helps to ensure that the research described in a scientific paper is original, significant, logical, ethical, and thorough. Scientists publish their work so other scientists can reproduce their experiments under similar or different conditions to expand on the findings. The experimental results must be consistent with the findings of other scientists.

    Two scientific journals titled "Natur". Once is green with stars on the cover, and the other is dark blue with a meandering yellow line.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): The findings of scientific studies are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Image by free svg (public domain).

    As you review scientific information, whether in an academic setting or as part of your day-to-day life, it is important to think about the credibility of that information. You might ask yourself: has this scientific information been through the rigorous process of peer review? Are the conclusions based on available data and accepted by the larger scientific community? Scientists are inherently skeptical, especially if conclusions are not supported by evidence (and you should be too).

    Structure of Scientific Papers

    Scientific papers are usually divided into several sections (not necessarily in this order).

    Summary or Abstract

    This section includes only the essence of the other sections. It should be as brief as possible, telling the reader what the goal of the experiment was, what was found, and the significance of the findings. The abstract is often placed at the beginning of the paper rather than at its end.


    This section of the paper describes the scientific question or problem that was the subject of the investigation. The introduction also includes references to earlier reports of these and other scientists that have served as the foundation for the present work. Finally, the introduction states the hypothesis.

    Materials and Methods

    Here are precisely described the materials used (e.g., strains of organism, source of the reagents) and all the methods followed. The goal of this section is to give all the details necessary for workers in other laboratories to be able to repeat the experiments exactly. When many complex procedures are involved, it is acceptable to refer to earlier papers describing these methods in greater detail.


    Here the authors report what happened in their experiments. This report is usually supplemented with graphs, tables, and photographs.


    Here the authors point out what they think is the significance of their findings. This is the place to show that the results are compatible with certain hypotheses and less compatible, or even incompatible, with others. If the results contradict the results of similar experiments in other laboratories, the discrepancies are noted here, and an attempt may be made to reconcile the differences.


    In this brief but important section, the authors give credit to those who have assisted them in the work. These usually include technicians (who may have actually performed most of the experiments!) and other scientists who donated materials for the experiments and/or gave advice about them.


    This section gives a careful listing of all earlier scientific work referred to in the main body of the paper. Most of the references are to other scientific papers. Each reference should provide enough information so that another person can locate the document. This means that each reference should include the name(s) of the author(s), the journal or book in which the report appears, and the year of publication. In the case of scientific journals, the volume number in which the paper appears and the page number on which the paper begins should be included. A digital object identifier (DOI) or url is often included. The full title of the article is often included as well, although some citation styles omit the title from the reference.


    Modified by Melissa Ha from the following sources:

    This page titled 2.3: Scientific Papers is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .