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Science Writing

What is a primary research article? 

If you're writing an empirical article (also known as a primary research article) then you're doing original, typically experimental, research -- you are creating new knowledge and will have original findings. These primary research articles will always have a methodology section where you describe how you conducted your study. It will typically be structured like this: 

  • Introduction

  • Methodology

  • Results

  • Discussion

  • Conclusion

How to Write a Primary Research Article

The introduction will include: 

  • A review of the literature (background on your topic & what other research has been done)
  • The question this study will be answering, and why it's important
  • Your approach to answering the question, and your hypothesis

Things to avoid: 

  • Excessive length
  • Leaving out the justification for the study

The methods section is where you detail the materials and experimental approaches that you used in your study. It should be detailed, particularly if the method you're using is novel. A general guideline is that you want to include enough detail so that other researchers could replicate your experiment. When writing it, you should arrange everything chronologically and can use subsections where appropriate. 

Things to avoid: 

  • Switching tenses (it should be in past tense)
  • Insufficient detail
  • Omitting the purpose of the experiment

The results section will include data and your interpretation of the data (but it won't tie it in to the overall literature or bigger implications -- that's what the discussion section is for). You should include your main findings, any other important findings, and your control results. Most data should be in figures or tables, with the text being used to summarize and explain the data. The results section should be organized in a logical way -- for instance, from most important to least important findings. 

Things to Avoid: 

  • Inexact language ("significance" means something very particular in science)
  • Including irrelevant data 
  • Excessive detail (don't include results from anything not discussed in the methods section)

The discussion section will answer your research question by stating and interpreting your findings, including their relevance, meaning, and context. You should tie in elements from your earlier literature review to explain what is new and impactful about your work. The discussion section is also where you can talk about possible limitations of your study and suggest future work that can be done. It should be organized in a way that moves from specific to broad, introducing your particular findings first and then moving to a more general perspective. 

Things to avoid: 

  • Restating your results section
  • Making conclusions outside of the scope of your findings 
  • Criticizing other studies

The conclusion may be the last paragraph of the discussion section, or it can be pulled out into its own section. Either way it should be about a paragraph in length and should recap the most important results and significance of your findings. 

Things to Avoid: 

  • Introducing large ideas not already covered in the paper 
  • Excessive length -- conclusion should be brief 

Instruction & Research Librarian

Alexandra Flores's picture
Alexandra Flores