A Brief Guide to how to Write a STEM Paper

By Thomas P.
November 18, 2020 · 4 minute read

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So, you’ve come to your conclusion! You’re done with your project! But, not really; because if you don’t communicate your results well enough, your results will never get through to the STEM community! When you communicate your results, you will either write a lab report or a scientific article/paper. The two are similar, but not the same. This article will help in writing both of these. 

What is the difference between a lab report and a research paper? 

The main difference between a lab report and a research paper is that lab reports are typically directed towards a teacher, classmate, or professor, while a research paper is directed towards the STEM community in general. Thus, to a certain extent, lab reports are more preliminary as well as briefer than research papers, especially if they are not peer-reviewed.

The Title -

The title of your paper should be concise, yet descriptive of the experiment you conducted and/or the conclusion you came to. When coming up with a title for your paper, consider the implications of search engines. For example, if your paper is about how “Y effects X”, then people searching about “Y”, “X”, or the “Effects of Y” will see your article. When choosing a title it is important to know your audience; for example, if you want a researcher of “X” to read your paper, you might want to have as many keywords that researchers of “X” search for. 

The Abstract - 

The Abstract of your paper is much similar to the introduction of an essay in English class. Much of the time, readers will only read the abstract of the article. This is why the abstract can only have the key points of what you wrote. It is best to write the abstract of your paper last because it will usually contain the results and conclusions of your paper and study. Writing it first will result in the abstract being incomplete.

When writing your abstract consider:

  1. What do I want my reader to know about this paper if they just want to get a general idea of it?
  • This should include the following: the most crucial results that were found in the study, a summary of the implications of the results, and the most crucial conclusions you came to.
  1. Keep it brief - your abstract usually should not be longer than 250 - 300 words (which is about a paragraph long). This word count is not set in stone, though. 
  2. Your abstract is NOT your introduction! If you have other background information that you wish to give the reader, do so in the next section.

The Introduction - 

The Introduction is usually where you will provide some background information on your study area or the problem you are examining. Although it is important to consider your audience, it is not a bad idea to offer some context as to what the issue is you are researching for clarification purposes. This is where you will cite any precursor research done in years past, using literature that can be found. 

Your introduction should contain the purpose of your research. It should also state why your study is important (similar to what was done in the abstract, but in more detail). Make sure to connect the purpose of your research to the previous literature so that it is evident what contributions you made to your field of research.

Methods and Materials -

In this section, you’ll need to provide the steps that other researchers can replicate if they were to recreate your experiment.  First, create a list that has specific amounts of every item used in the experiment. For example, if you are conducting an experiment that would test whether a plant grows faster when next to music, you might have this list of materials:

  1. 5 sunflowers grown in a home garden
  2. 1 Clay Flower pot
  3. 1 speaker for playing music capable of playing 60 decibels. 

Next, in your methods section, you will have to identify the steps the reader will have to take to replicate the experiment. When you state your steps, you will have to be very specific as to what you did; if you leave any step out, your reader will not be able to replicate your experiment. If you are not sure whether your plan is specific enough, consider recreating your experiment using your own steps.

Results -

In this section, you are going to want to explain your findings in word form, as well as using pictures to guide the reader. Explain your most important findings in this section, and leave other more trivial findings for the reader to see in the accompanying figures (which should be labeled “Figure N” [where N is the number]). 

Mistakes that could be made in this section include:

  • Overstating or restating findings already presented.
  • Explaining the significance of the findings (which should be left to the next section).
  • Attempting to elaborate on trivial findings.

Discussion/Conclusion - 

This section should reflect upon your findings and how they either tied into your hypothesis or how your initial hypothesis was incorrect. Here, you should discuss the limitations of your experiment; for example, using the sunflower experiment above, not all plants may be affected by music as much or little as sunflower. It is also necessary to restate the implications and importance of your findings (as it was done in the introduction). Your contributions here should be evident in the subsection on the implications of the study. 

Your discussion section should also invite other researchers to replicate your study. Here are some questions you might want to answer in this portion of your paper:

  • Why are your principal findings significant?
  • Explain why you might have obtained the results of your experiment. 
  • What are the possible limitations of this experiment?
  • How could this experiment be improved in the future by you or other researchers? 

Sources:

https://www.ndsu.edu/fileadmin/cfwriters/Graduate_Student_Writing_Resources/Lab_Reports_and_Scientific_Papers.doc#:~:text=Lab%20Reports%20and%20Scientific%20Papers&text=Lab%20reports%20and%20scientific%20papers%20document%20the%20results,experimentation%20and%20communicate%20its%20significance.&text=The%20major%20difference%20between%20lab,typically%20a%20teacher%20and%20classmates. (File Download, a very useful)

http://www.fefonline.org/s/materials/RK.pdf

https://guides.libraries.indiana.edu/c.php?g=992698&p=7182656

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7004368/ (Example article)

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-write-an-abstract-2794845#:~:text=An%20abstract%20should%20be%20between,so%20be%20sure%20to%20ask.

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/research_papers/where_do_i_begin.html 

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About The Author

Thomas is a high school student at Eastside High.

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