Writing a scientific paper
Adapted from Caput college
hypermedia, VU, Amsterdam given by Jacco van Ossenbruggen and Anton EliŽns.
Writing a good scientific paper is hard, especially if English
is not your native language. The best advice: imitate good
writing. This is a small list of frequently made errors.
Make sure your paper contains at least:
- A title
- The name and affiliation of the author (including your student number)
- An abstract
- An introduction
- If appropriate, a section about related work of other researchers
After reading the abstract, the reader should know
what the problem is you are solving.
After reading the introduction, the reader should know the
backgrounds of the problem, and the way the paper is
structured: "In the next section we discuss ... after which we
provide ... Additionally, we ... and finally, we ..."
Even if you are really famous, readers are not interested in
Wrong: "I think MS-DOS is
a bad operating system"
MS-DOS operating system is not suited for our applications
because it lacks the following features: ... etc"
Do not force the reader to share your ideas:
Wrong: "... because we all know MS-DOS is
a good operating system"
Your paper should give an objective analysis of the topics
discussed, not an advertisement for a particular kind of
technology. If you provide a list of a system's advantages,
you also need to add a list of disadvantages.
Cite your sources where ever it is possible:
Wrong: "Most people think MS-DOS is a bad
Better: "Research done
by X [reference to X's work] suggests that 90% of all MS-DOS
users are suicidal"
Be careful with reproducing figures or tables, since it is
often a copyright infringement. Make sure the reader knows
from which sources you copied them.
Avoid copying large pieces of text. It is often better to
summarize the text in your own words, indicating the
relationship with other sections in your paper. If you have
to reuse larger parts of the text, use statements such as:
"The following section is based on [ref]".
Bad spelling does not encourage your reader to read your
material. Use spelling checkers and let someone else (a native
speaker if possible) read your paper before submission. Be
consequent in your use of American or British English.
How formal the text of a scientific paper should be is a
matter of taste. However, it is certainly more formal that a
personal letter, and far more formal that an e-mail to one of
Abbreviations such as "I'll" instead of "I will" or "can't"
instead of "cannot" are generally frowned upon, especially in
British English. Use apostrophes only for possessives: "The
user's mental model". Note: "It's" is an abbreviation of "It
is", so do not use it. The pronominal possessives its, hers,
theirs, yours and ours have no apostrophe.
Omit needless words:
|This is a subject that ||This subject
|The reason why is that ||because
|in spite the fact that ||though
|The fact that I claimed||my claim
A positive statement in the active voice is more concise than
its negative, passive counterpart. (A negative, passive
statement is considered to be not as concise as its positive,
Never use exclamation marks!
Never use ellipsis...
You may use the word "I" once in a while, but do not make your
article into a personal statement. "We" may be used even if
you are the only author.
Use a consequent style for your headers. Tip: Skim through
your paper by reading only the headings.