Why a Scientific Format?
The scientific format may seem confusing for the beginning science writer due to its rigid structure
which is so different from writing in the humanities. One reason for using this format is that it is a
means of efficiently communicating scientific findings to the broad community of scientists in a
uniform manner. Another reason, perhaps more important than the first, is that this format allows
the paper to be read at several different levels. For example, many people skim Titles to find out
what information is available on a subject. Others may read only titles and Abstracts. Those wanting
to go deeper may look at the tables and figures in the Results, and so on. The take home point here is
that the scientific format helps to insure that at whatever level a person reads your paper (beyond
title skimming), they will likely get the key results and conclusions.
The Sections of the Paper
Most journal-style scientific papers are subdivided into the following sections: Title, Abstract,
Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Literature Cited (or references), which parallel the
experimental process. This is the system we will use. The sections appear in a journal style paper in
the following prescribed order:
Experimental finding? Title
What did I do in a nutshell? Abstract
What is the problem? Introduction
How did I solve the problem? Materials and Methods
What did I find out? Results
What does it mean? Discussion
Whose work did I refer to? Literature Cited
Main Section Headings: Each main section of the paper begins with a heading which should be
capitalized, centered at the beginning of the section, and double spaced from the lines above and
below. Do not underline the section heading OR put a colon at the end.
Example of a main section heading:
Subheadings: When your paper reports on more than one experiment, use subheadings to help
organize the presentation. Subheadings should be capitalized (first letter in each word), left justified,
and either bold italics OR underlined.
Example of a subheading:
Effects of Light Intensity on the Rate of Electron Transport
Title, Authors’ Names, and Institutional Affiliations
- Function: Your paper should begin with a Title that succinctly describes the contents of the paper.
Use descriptive words that you would associate strongly with the content of your paper: the
molecule studied, the organism used or studied, the treatment, the location of a field site, the
response measured, etc.A majority ofreaders will find your paper via electronic database searches
and those search engines key on words found in the title.
The title should be centered at the top of page 1 (DO NOT use a title page – it is a waste of
paper for our purposes); the title is NOT underlined or italicized.
The authors’ names (PI or primary author first) and institutional affiliation are double-spaced
from and centered below the title. When more than two authors, the names are separated by
commas except for the last which is separated from the previous name by the word “and”.
Ducks Over-Winterin Colorado Barley Fields in Response to
Increased Daily Mean Temperature
Ima Mallard, Ura Drake, and Woodruff Ducque
Department of Wildlife Biology, University of Colorado – Boulder
The title is not a section, but it is necessary and important. The title should be short and
unambiguous, yet be an adequate description of the work. A general rule-of-thumb is that the title
should contain the key words describing the work presented. Remember that the title becomes the
basis for most on-line computer searches – if your title is insufficient, few people will find or read your
paper. For example, in a paper reporting on an experiment involving dosing mice with the sex
hormone estrogen and watching for a certain kind of courtship behavior, a poor title would be:
Why? It is very general, and could be referring to any of a number of mouse behaviors. A better title
The Effects of Estrogen on the Nose-Twitch Courtship Behavior in Mice
Why? Because the key words identify a specific behavior, a modifying agent, and the experimental
organism. If possible, give the key result of the study in the title, as seen in the first example.
Similarly, the above title could be restated as:
Estrogen Stimulates Intensity of Nose-Twitch Courtship Behavior in Mice
- Function: An abstract summarizes, in one or two paragraphs (usually), the major aspects of
the entire paperin the following prescribed sequence:
The question(s) you investigated (or purpose), (from Introduction)
o State the purpose very clearly in the first or second sentence.
The experimental design and methods used, (from Methods)
o Clearly express the basic design of the study.
o Name or briefly describe the basic methodology used without going into excessive
detail-be sure to indicate the key techniques used.
The major findings including key quantitative results, or trends (from Results)
o Report those results which answer the questions you were asking
o Identify trends, relative change or differences, etc.
A brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions. (from Discussion)
o Clearly state the implications of the answers your results gave you.
Whereas the Title can only make the simplest statement about the content of your article, the
Abstract allows you to elaborate more on each major aspect of the paper. The length of your
Abstract should be kept to about 200-300 words maximum (a typical standard length for journals.)
Limit your statements concerning each segment of the paper (i.e. purpose, methods, results, etc.) to
two or three sentences, if possible. The Abstract helps readers decide whether they want to read the
rest of the paper, or it may be the only part they can obtain via electronic literature searches or in
published abstracts. Therefore, enough key information (e.g., summary results, observations, trends,
etc.) must be included to make the Abstract useful to someone who may to reference your work.
How do you know when you have enough information in your Abstract? A simple rule-of-thumb is
to imagine that you are another researcher doing a study similar to the one you are reporting. If
your Abstract was the only part of the paper you could access, would you be happy with the
information presented there?
- Style: The Abstract is ONLYtext. Use the active voice when possible, but much of it may require
passive constructions. Write your Abstract using concise, but complete, sentences, and get to the
point quickly. Use past tense. Maximum length should be 200-300 words, usually in a single
The Abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
Lengthy background information,
References to other literature,
Elliptical (i.e., ending with …) or incomplete sentences,
Abbreviations or terms that may be confusing to readers,
Any sort of illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
- Strategy: Although it is the first section of your paper, the Abstract, by definition, must be written
last since it will summarize the paper. To begin composing your Abstract, take whole sentences or
key phrases from each section and put them in a sequence which summarizes the paper. Then set
about revising or adding words to make it all cohesive and clear. As you become more proficient you
will most likely compose the Abstract from scratch.
- Check your work: Once you have the completed abstract, check to make sure that the information
in the abstract completely agrees with what is written in the paper. Confirm that all the information
appearing the abstract actually appears in the body of the paper.
- Function: The function of the Introduction is to:
Establish the context of the work being reported. This is accomplished by discussing the
relevant primary research literature (with citations/references) and summarizing our
current understanding of the problem you are investigating;
State the purpose of the work in the form of the hypothesis, question, or problem you
Briefly explain your rationale and approach and, whenever possible, the possible outcomes
your study can reveal.
Quite literally, the Introduction must answer the questions, “What was I studying? Why was it an
important question? What did we know about it before I did this study? How will this study advance
- Style: Use the active voice as much as possible. Some use of first person is okay, but do not overdo
- Structure: The structure of the Introduction can be thought of as an inverted triangle- the broadest
part at the top representing the most general information and focusing down to the specific problem
you studied. Organize the information to present the more general aspects of the topic early in the
Introduction, then narrow toward the more specific topical information that provides context, finally
arriving at your statement of purpose and rationale. A good way to get on track is to sketch out the
Introduction backwards; start with the specific purpose and then decide what is the scientific context
in which you are asking the question(s)that your study addresses. Once the scientific context is
decided, then you’ll have a good sense of what level and type of general information with which the
Introduction should begin.
Here is how the information should flow in your Introduction:
Begin your Introduction by clearly identifying the subject area of interest. Do this by using
key words from your Title in the first few sentences of the Introduction to get it focused
directly on topic at the appropriate level. This insures that you get to the primary subject
matter quickly without losing focus, or discussing information that is too general. For
example, in the mouse behavior paper, the words hormones and behavior would likely
appear within the first one or two sentences of the Introduction.
Establish the context by providing a brief and balanced review of the pertinent published
literature that is available on the subject. The key is to summarize (for the reader) what we
knew about the specific problem before you did your experiments or studies. This is
accomplished with a general review of the primary research literature (with citations) but
should not include very specific, lengthy explanations that you will probably discuss in greater
detail later in the Discussion. The judgment of what is general or specific is difficult at first, but
with practice and reading of the scientific literature you will develop e firmer sense of your
audience. In the mouse behavior paper, for example, you would begin the Introduction at the
level of mating behavior in general, then quickly focus to mouse mating behaviors, and then
hormonal regulation of behavior. Lead the reader to your statement of purpose/hypothesis
by focusing your literature review from the more general context (the big picture e.g.,
hormonal modulation of behaviors) to the more specific topic of interest to you (e.g.,
role/effects ofreproductive hormones, especially estrogen, in modulating specific sexual
What literature should you look for in your review of what we know about the problem?
Focus your efforts on the primary research journals – the journals that publish original
research articles. Although you may read some general background references
(encyclopedias, textbooks, lab manuals, style manuals, etc.) to get yourself acquainted with
the subject area, do not cite these, because they contain information that is considered
fundamental or “common” knowledge within the discipline. Cite, instead, articles that
reported specific results relevant to your study. Learn, as soon as possible, how to find the
primary literature (research journals) and review articles rather than depending on reference
books. The articles listed in the Literature Cited of relevant papers you find are a good starting
point to move backwards in a line of inquiry. Most academic libraries support the Citation
Index – an index which is useful for tracking a line of inquiry forward in time. Some of the
newer search engines will actually send you alerts of new papers that cite particular articles of
interest to you. Review articles are particularly useful because they summarize all the research
done on a narrow subject area over a brief period of time (a year to a few years in most cases).
Be sure to clearly state the purpose and /or hypothesis that you investigated. When
you are first learning to write in this format it is okay, and actually preferable, to use a pat
statement like, “The purpose of this study was to….” or “We investigated three possible
mechanisms to explain the … (1) blah, blah..(2) etc. It is most usual to place the statement of
purpose near the end of the Introduction, often as the topic sentence of the final paragraph.
It is not necessary (or even desirable) to use the words “hypothesis” or”null hypothesis”,
since these are usually implicit if you clearly state your purpose and expectations.
Provide a clear statement of the rationale for your approach to the problem studied. For
example: State briefly how you approached the problem (e.g., you studied oxidative
respiration pathways in isolated mitochondria of cauliflower). This will usually follow your
statement of purpose in the last paragraph of the Introduction. Why did you choose this kind
of experiment or experimental design? What are the scientific merits of this particular model
system? What advantages does it conferin answering the particular question(s) you are
posing? Do not discuss here the actual techniques or protocols used in your study (this will be
done in the Materials and Methods); your readers will be quite familiar with the usual
techniques and approaches used in yourfield. If you are using a novel (new, revolutionary,
and never used before) technique or methodology, the merits of the new technique/method
versus the previously used methods should be presented in the Introduction.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
This section is called Methods or Methods and Materials.
- Function: In this section you explain clearly how you carried out your study in the following
general structure and organization (details follow below):
The organism(s) studied (plant, animal, human, etc.) and their pre-experiment handling
and care, and when and where the study was carried out (only if location and time are
important factors); note that the term “subject” is used ONLY for human studies.
The experimental or sampling design (i.e., how the experiment or study was structured. For
example, controls,treatments, the variable(s) measured,how many sampleswere collected,
The protocol for collecting data, i.e., how the experimental procedures were carried out.
How the data were analyzed (qualitative analyses and/or statistical procedures used).
Organize your presentation so your reader will understand the logical flow of the experiment(s);
subheadings work well forthis purpose. Each experiment or procedure should be presented as a unit,
even if it was broken up over time. The experimental design and procedure are sometimes most
efficiently presented as an integrated unit, because otherwise it would be difficult to split them up. In
general, provide enough quantitative detail (how much, how long, when, etc.) about your
experimental protocol such that other scientists could reproduce your experiments.You should also
indicate the statistical procedures used to analyze your results, including the probability level at
whichyou determined significance (usually at 0.05 probability).
- Style: The style in this section should read as if you were verbally describing the conduct of the
experiment. You may use the active voice to a certain extent, although this section requires more
use of third person, passive constructions than others. Avoid use of the first person in this section.
Remember to use the past tense throughout – the work being reported is done, and was performed
in the past, not the future. The Methods section is not a step-by-step, directive, protocol as you
might see in your lab manual.
Describe the organism(s) used in the study. This includes giving the source (supplier or where and
how collected), size (weight, length, etc), how they were handled before the experiment, what they
were fed, etc. In genetics studies include the strains or genetic stocks used. For some studies, age is
Describe your experimental design clearly. Be sure to include the hypotheses you tested, controls,
treatments, variables measured, how many replicates you had, what you actually measured, what
form the data take, etc. Always identify treatments by the variable or treatment name, NOT by an
ambiguous, generic name or number (e.g., use “2.5% NaCl”rather than “test 1”.) When your paper
includes more than one experiment, you should use subheadings to help organize your
presentation by experiment.
Describe the protocol for your study in sufficient detail that other scientists could repeat your work
to verify your findings. Foremost in your description should be the “quantitative” aspects of your
study – the masses, volumes, incubation times, concentrations, etc., that another scientist needs in
order to duplicate your experiment. When using standard lab or field methods and instrumentation, it
is not always necessary to explain the procedures (e.g., serial dilution) or equipment used (e.g.,
autopipetter) since other scientists will likely be familiar with them already. You may want to identify
certain types of equipment by vendor name and brand or category (e.g., ultracentrifuge vs.
prepcentrifuge), particularly if they are not commonly found in most labs. It is appropriate to report,
parenthetically, the source (vendor) and catalog number for reagents used, e.g., “….poly-L-lysine
(Sigma #1309).” When using a method described in another published source, you can save time and
words by providing the relevant citation to the source. Always make sure to describe any
modifications you have made of a standard or published method.
Describe how the data were summarized and analyzed. Here you will indicate what types of data
summaries and analyses were employed to answer each of the questions or hypotheses tested.
The information should include:
How the data were summarized (Means, percent, etc) and how you are reporting measures
of variability (SD,SEM, etc)
O This lets you avoid having to repeatedly indicate you are using mean ± SD.
Data transformation (e.g., to normalize or equalize variances)
Statistical tests used with reference to the particular questions they address, e.g.,
“A Paired t-test was used to compare mean flight duration before and
after applying stabilizers to the glider’s wings.”
“One wayANOVA was used to compare mean weight gain in weight-matched
calves fed the three different rations.”
Any other numerical or graphical techniques used to analyze the data.
Here is some additional advice on particular problems common to new scientific writers.
Problem: The Methods section is prone to being wordy or overly detailed.
Avoid repeatedly using a single sentence to relate a single action; this results in very lengthy,
wordy passages.Arelated sequence of actions can be combined into one sentence to
improve clarity and readability:
Problematic Example: This is a very long and wordy description of a common, simple
procedure. It is characterized by single actions per sentence and lots of unnecessary details.
“The petri dish was placed on the turntable. The lid was then raised slightly. An
inoculating loop was used to transfer culture to the agar surface. The turntable was
rotated 90 degrees by hand. The loop was moved lightly back and forth over the agar
to spread the culture. The bacteria were then incubated at 37 C for 24 hr.”
Improved Example: Same steps and actions, but all the important information is given in a
single, concise sentence. Note that superfluous detail and otherwise obvious information has
been deleted while important missing information was added.
“Each plate was placed on a turntable and streaked at opposing angles with fresh
overnight E. coli culture using an inoculating loop. The bacteria were then incubated at
37 C for 24 hr.”
Best:Here the author assumes the reader has basic knowledgeof microbiologicaltechniques
and has deleted other superfluous information. The two sentences have been combined
because they are relatedactions.
“Each plate was streaked with fresh overnight E. coli culture and incubated at
37 C for 24 hr.”
Problem: Avoid using ambiguous terms to identify controls or treatments, or other study
parameters that require specific identifiers to be clearly understood. Designators such as
Tube 1, Tube 2, or Site 1 and Site 2 are completely meaningless out of context and difficult to
follow in context.
Problematic example: In this example the reader will have no clue as to what the various
tubes represent without having to constantly refer back to some previous point in the
“A Spec 20 was used to measure A600 of Tubes 1, 2, and 3 immediately after
chloroplasts were added (Time 0) and every 2 min. thereafter until the DCIP was
completely reduced. Tube 4’s A600 was measured only at Time 0 and at the end of the
Improved example: Notice how the substitution of treatment and control identifiers clarifies
the passage both in the context of the paper, and if taken out of context.
“ASpec 20 was used to measureA600 of the reaction mixtures exposed to light
intensities of 1500, 750, and 350 uE/m2/sec immediately after chloroplasts were
added(Time 0) and every2 min.thereafter until theDCIP was completely reduced.The
A600 of the no-light control was measured only at Time 0 and at the end of the
- Function: The function of the Results section is to objectively present your key results, without
interpretation, in an orderly and logical sequence using both text and illustrative materials (Tables
and Figures). The results section always begins with text, reporting the key results and referring to
yourfigures and tables as you proceed.Summaries of the statistical analyses may appear eitherin
the text (usually parenthetically) or in the relevant Tables or Figures (in the legend or as footnotes to
theTableorFigure).TheResults sectionshouldbeorganizedaroundTablesand/orFigures that
should be sequenced to present your key findings in a logical order. The text of the Results section
should be crafted to follow this sequence and highlight the evidence needed to answer the
questions/hypotheses you investigated. Important negative results should be reported, too. Authors
usually write the text of the results section based upon the sequence of Tables and Figures.
- Style: Write the text of the Results section concisely and objectively. The passive voice will likely
dominate here, but use the active voice as much as possible. Use the past tense. Avoid repetitive
paragraph structures. Do not interpret the data here. The transition into interpretive language can be
a slippery slope. Considerthe following two examples:
This example highlights the trend/difference that the author wants the reader to focus:
“The duration of exposure to running water had a pronounced effect on cumulative seed
germination percentages (Fig. 2).Seeds exposed to the 2-day treatment had the highest
cumulative germination (84%), 1.25 times that of the 12-h or 5-day groups and 4 times that of
In contrast, this example strays subtly into interpretation by referring to optimality (a
conceptual model) and tying the observed result to that idea:
“The results of the germination experiment (Fig. 2) suggest that the optimal time for runningwater treatment is 2 days. This group showed the highest cumulative germination (84%), with
longer (5 d) or shorter (12 h) exposures producing smaller gains in germination when
compared to the control group.”
Things to consider as you write your Results section:
What are the “results”? When you pose a testable hypothesis that can be answered experimentally,
or ask a question that can be answered by collecting samples, you accumulate observations about
those organisms or phenomena. Those observations are then analyzed to yield an answerto the
question. In general, the answer is the “key result”.
The above statements apply regardless of the complexity of the analysis you employ. So, in an
introductory course your analysis may consist of visual inspection of figures and simple calculations
of means and standard deviations; in a later course you may be expected to apply and interpret a
variety of statistical tests. You instructor will tell you the level of analysis that is expected.
For example, suppose you asked the question,”Is the average height of male students the same as
female students in a pool of randomly selected Biology majors?” You would first collect height data
from large random samples of male and female students. You would then calculate the descriptive
statistics forthose samples (mean, SD, n,range, etc) and plot these numbers. In a course where
statistical tests are not employed, you would visually inspect these plots. Suppose you found that
male Biology majors are, on average, 12.5 cm taller than female majors; this is the answer to the
Notice that the outcome of a statistical analysis is not a key result, but rather an analytical
tool that helps us understand what is our key result.
Organize the results section based on the sequence of Table and Figures you’ll include. Prepare the
Tables and Figures as soon as all the data are analyzed and arrange them in the sequence that best
presents your findings in a logical way. A good strategy is to note, on a draft of each Table or Figure,
the one or two key results you want to address in the text portion of the Results. Simple rules to
follow related to Tables and Figures:
Tables and Figures are assigned numbers separately and in the sequence that you will refer to
them from the text.
o The first Table you refer to is Table 1, the next Table 2 and so forth.
o Similarly, the first Figure is Figure 1, the next Figure 2, etc.
Each Table or Figure must include a brief description of the results being presented and other
o Table legends go above the Table; tables are read from top to bottom.
o Figure legends go below the figure; figures are usually viewed from bottom to top.
When referring to a Figure from the text, “Figure”is abbreviated as Fig., for example,
Fig. 1. Table is never abbreviated, e.g., Table 1.
The body of the Results section is a text-based presentation of the key findings which includes
references to each of the Tables and Figures. The text should guide the reader through your results
stressing the key results which provide the answers to the question(s) investigated. A major function
of the text is to provide clarifying information. You must refer to each Table and/or Figure
individually and in sequence, and clearly indicate forthe readerthe key results that each conveys.
Key results depend on your questions; they might include obvious trends, important differences,
similarities, correlations, maximums, minimums, etc.
Some problems to avoid:
Do not reiterate each value from a Figure or Table – only the key result or trends that each
Do not present the same data in both a Table and Figure – this is considered redundant and a
waste of space and energy. Decide which format best shows the result and go with it.
Do not report raw data values when they can be summarized as means, percents, etc.
Statistical test summaries (test name, p-value) are usually reported parenthetically in conjunction
with the biological results they support. Always report your results with parenthetical reference to
the statistical conclusion that supports your finding (if statistical tests are being used in your course).
This parenthetical reference should include the statistical test used and the level of significance (test
statistic and DF are optional). For example, if you found that the mean height of male Biology majors
was significantly larger than that of female Biology majors, you might report this result (in blue) and
your statistical conclusion (shown in red) as follows:
“Males (180.5 ± 5.1 cm; n=34) averaged 12.5 cm taller than females (168 ± 7.6 cm; n=34) in
the AY 1995 pool of Biology majors (two-sample t-test, t = 5.78, 33 d.f., p < 0.001).”
If the summary statistics are shown in a figure, the sentence above need not report them specifically,
but must include a reference to the figure where they may be seen:
“Males averaged 12.5 cm taller than females in the AY 1995 pool of Biology majors (twosample t-test, t = 5.78, 33 d.f., p < 0.001; Fig. 1).”
Note that the report of the key result (shown in blue) would be identical in a paper written for a
course in which statistical testing is not employed – the section shown in red would simply not appear
except reference to the figure.
Avoid devoting whole sentences to report a statistical outcome alone.
Two notes about the use of the word significant(ly).
o In scientific studies, the use of this word implies that a statistical test was employed to
make a decision about the data; in this case the test indicated a larger difference in
mean heights than you would expect to get by chance alone. Limit the use of the word
“significant” to this purpose only.
o If your parenthetical statistical information includes a p-value that is significant, it is
unnecessary (and redundant) to use the word “significant” in the body of the sentence
(see example above).
Present the results of your experiment(s) in a sequence that will logically support (or provide
evidence against) the hypothesis, or answer the question, stated in the Introduction. For example,
in reporting a study of the effect of an experimental diet on the skeletal mass of the rat, consider first
giving the data on skeletal mass for the rats fed the control diet and then give the data for the rats fed
the experimental diet.
Report negative results – they are important! If you did not get the anticipated results, it may mean
your hypothesis was incorrect and needs to be reformulated, or perhaps you have stumbled onto
something unexpected that warrants further study. Moreover, the absence of an effect may be very
telling in many situations. In any case, your results may be of importance to others even though they
did not support your hypothesis. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that results contrary to what you
expected are necessarily “bad data”. If you carried out the work well, they are simply your results
and need interpretation. Many important discoveries can be traced to “bad data”.
Always enter the appropriate units when reporting data or summary statistics.
For an individual value you would write, “…the mean length was 10 m”, or, “the maximum
time was 140 min.”
When including a measure of variability, place the unit after the error value, e.g., “…was 10 ±
Likewise place the unit after the last in a series of numbers all having the same unit. For
example: “lengths of 5, 10, 15, and 20 m”, or “no differences were observed after 2, 4, 6, or 8
min. of incubation”.
- Function: The function of the Discussion is to interpret your results in light of what was already
known about the subject of the investigation, and to explain our new understanding of the problem
after taking your results into consideration. The Discussion will always connect to the Introduction by
way of the question(s) or hypotheses you posed and the literature you cited, but it does not simply
repeat or rearrange the Introduction. Instead, it tells how your study has moved us forward from the
place you left us at the end of the Introduction.
Fundamental questions to answer here include:
Do your results provide answers to your testable hypotheses? If so, how do you interpret your
Do your findings agree with what others have shown? If not, do they suggest an alternative
explanation or perhaps an unforeseen design flaw in your experiment (or theirs?)
Given your conclusions, what is our new understanding of the problem you investigated and
outlined in the Introduction?
If warranted, what would be the next step in your study, e.g., what experiments would you do
- Style: Use the active voice whenever possible in this section. Watch out for wordy phrases; be
concise and make your points clearly. Use of the first person is okay, but too much use of the first
person may actually distract the reader from the main points.
- Approach: Organize the Discussion to address each of the experiments or studies for which you
presentedresults;discusseach inthesame sequence aspresentedintheResults,providing your
interpretation of what they mean in the larger context of the problem. Do not waste entire
sentences restating your results; if you need to remind the reader of the result to be discussed, use
“bridge sentences” that relate the result to the interpretation:
“The slow response of the lead-exposed neurons relative to controls suggests
You will necessarily make reference to the findings of others in order to support your
interpretations. Use subheadings, if need be, to help organize your presentation. Be wary of
mistaking the reiteration of a result for an interpretation, and make sure that no new results are
presented here that rightly belong in the results.
You must relate your work to the findings of other studies – including previous studies you may
have done and those of other investigators. As stated previously, you may find crucial information
in someone else’s study that helps you interpret your own data, or perhaps you will be able to
reinterpret others’ findings in light of yours. In either case you should discuss reasons for
similarities and differences between yours and others’ findings. Consider how the results of other
studies may be combined with yours to derive a new or perhaps better substantiated
understanding of the problem. Be sure to state the conclusions that can be drawn from your
results in light of these considerations. You may also choose to briefly mention further studies you
would do to clarify your working hypotheses. Make sure to reference any outside sources as
shown in the Introduction section.
Do not introduce new results in the Discussion. Although you might occasionally include in this
section tables and figures which help explain something you are discussing, they must not contain
new data (from your study) that should have been presented earlier. They might be flow
diagrams, accumulation of data from the literature, or something that shows how one type of
data leads to or correlates with another, etc. For example, if you were studying a membranebound transport channel and you discovered a new bit of information about its mechanism, you
might present a diagram showing how your findings helps to explain the channel’s mechanism.
- Function: The Literature Cited section gives an alphabetical listing (by first author’s last name) of
the references that you actually cited in the body of your paper.
NOTE: Do not label this section “Bibliography”. Abibliography contains references that you may have
read but have not specifically cited in the text. Bibliography sections are found in books and other
literary writing, but not scientific journal-style papers.
Modified 9/14/2014 for Neurolab Methods at UTD by Dr. McWilliams…Used with Permission Department of Biology, Bates
College, Lewiston, ME 04240