It’s hard to critique our own writing, because we’ve been staring at the results and the text for a long time, and we know what we mean. We’re often too close to see logical gaps. Readers aren’t in the same position, though, and the point of a paper is to have them understand. Based on my previous posts on research questions and answers, here is a checklist to tell if overall, your paper is likely to make sense to readers and express a clear message about your work.
In your Abstract:
- Look at the first 2-3 sentences. Do these express a gap in our knowledge, and why it is important?
- Is there a sentence that expresses your specific research question? Rewrite this in the form of a question (ie. starting with a word like do, what, when, where, how, or why and ending with a ? ).
- Is there one sentence that expresses your main conclusion? Underline this. (Hint: It should be in the last few sentences.)
- Look at the question you have just written and the sentence you underlined. Does your question match your answer?
In your Introduction:
- Does your introduction clearly explain the gap in your research field that your paper will fill and why this is important?
- Is there a sentence that expresses your specific research question? Rewrite this in the form of a question as for the abstract, above. Is this exactly the same question as your abstract?
- Look at the last paragraph of your introduction. Does this express your main conclusion or answer?
- Look at the question you have just written and your main conclusion in the last paragraph. Does your question match your answer?
In your Results:
- Write one sentence that states the conclusion for each experiment or figure. Do all of these contribute to answering the question you’ve set up in the introduction?
In your Discussion:
- Look at the first paragraph of your discussion. Does this summarize the evidence for your main conclusion? Is there one sentence in this paragraph that expresses this conclusion?
Going through this checklist can reveal logical inconsistencies. It will reveal whether your research question (as you’ve presented it) really addresses the gap in the field you’ve described, whether the results you’ve included really help answer your research question, and whether you express your main conclusion clearly at each phase. A paper that does these things will have an overall argument that makes sense and is supported by the results: that’s what readers need!
Patricia Gongal works with researchers to improve the structure, clarity, flow, and style of their scientific writing, and has lots of opinions about science and academia.