1. You will save time
Before and during the experimental work, a thorough literature research is essential. Identify the most relevant publications for your own projects from the beginning on to use them for the introduction of your article or communication.
2. You will stay focused
If you use the method described below, you will be able to use your project’s outline as orientation to maintain emphasis on the key questions you meant to target.
3. You will read research articles with different eyes
In composing a research project, other scientific articles can have two uses: as well as their content it is useful to focus on their structure, the use of language and relevant keywords. What makes a good scientific text? You will be more aware of all that when keeping your own manuscript in mind.
4. You will avoid the “fear of the blank page”
The beginning of the writing process is probably the hardest part. If you already prepared the structure of your manuscript, collected ideas and references for the introduction, phrased the key finding of your study and wrote the experimental section while conducting the research, you will have a much easier start.
When is the best moment to start the writing process?
According to the essay “Whitesides' Group: Writing a Paper’”, by Prof. George M. Whitesides, it is useful to work with an outline to plan and conduct both your research and the corresponding paper from the project’s beginning. To fulfill this function, an outline is structured like a research article – with an introduction, the results and discussion, and conclusions – and will be updated throughout the course of the project. As it contains the main questions you want to answer throughout your research, you will be able to use the outline as a tool to continuously analyze the progress and the focus of your work.
In a “brainstorming” session, you can create an outline by writing down all your ideas, questions and hypotheses in any order on an empty piece of paper. Afterwards, you transfer all to another piece of paper using the structure described below.
Structure and contents of an outline
“If you clearly understand the purpose and form of a paper, it can be immensely useful to you in organizing and conducting your research.” For Whiteside, the purpose of a paper is not only to serve as an archive, but also as a tool for planning and conducting research. Thus, he recommends creating an outline that is already structured like a scientific article:
At the beginning this will necessarily be a working title; you should try to formulate the key goal of your research here (we will provide you with tips for creating an article’s title in a later edition).
You will leave this section empty at the beginning; you will learn more about writing an abstract later.
At the beginning, you use this part of the outline to define the objective of your work and why it is important; based on the literature research you conducted beforehand, you formulate the background and fundamentals of your research; whenever you find a relevant study, you should add it and its key findings to this section.
Results and Discussion
In here, you should add the major points you plan to target in your project. This could look as follows:
Synthesis of the monomers
In the course of conducting your research, you add all your results into the respective parts of this section. You will most likely find out that some of the original plans need to be adapted due to unexpected findings; use the results and discussions section as a tool to constantly summarize, analyze and, if necessary, update your key goals of your project.
For the outline, you can condense your conclusions to short phrases; compare them to the key objectives you framed in the introduction – do they match or need reformulation?
You will save a lot of time at the end of your thesis or project if you ensure you write down all experimental findings from the beginning on.
Herein, we outlined one of many ways to successfully conduct your research and the writing process. In the next editions of our “Tips on Scientific Publishing”, we will give a more detailed look at the different sections of a scientific article.
We highly recommend reading the short essay by Prof. Whiteside (freely available):
Whitesides, G. (2004), Whitesides' Group: Writing a Paper. Adv. Mater., 16: 1375-1377. DOI: 10.1002/adma.200400767
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