Reporting Scientific Work

Science is a communal activity.

Only as new facts and hypotheses are taken up by the entire community of interested scientists do these facts and hypotheses become part of science.

Therefore, one of the major responsibilities of scientists is to see that their work is reported to all those who might be interested.

Often this is done by word of mouth when scientists of similar interests gather together at meetings. But to be assured of a permanent place in the scientific edifice, the work is reported in a paper submitted to a scientific journal.

In most cases, the paper will not be accepted for publication until it has been approved by several knowledgeable scientists from other laboratories who serve as referees. Often they will suggest editorial changes in the paper or even additional experiments that should be done before the paper is accepted for publication.

Papers in biology are usually divided into several sections (not necessarily in this order).

Summary or abstract.

This section includes only the essence of the other sections. It should be as brief as possible, telling the reader what the goal of the experiment was, what was found, and the significance of the findings. The abstract is often placed at the beginning of the paper rather than at its end. [View an example.]


This section of the paper describes the scientific question or problem that was the subject of the investigation. The introduction also includes references to earlier reports of these and other scientists that have served as the foundation for the present work.


Here the authors report what happened in their experiments. This report is usually supplemented with graphs, tables, and photographs.


Here the authors point out what they think is the significance of their findings. This is the place to show that the results are compatible with certain hypotheses and less compatible, or even incompatible, with others. If the results contradict the results of similar experiments in other laboratories, the discrepancies are noted here, and an attempt may be made to reconcile the differences.

Materials and Methods.

Here are precisely described the materials used (e.g., strains of organism, source of the reagents) and all the methods followed. The goal of this section is to give all the details necessary for workers in other laboratories to be able to repeat the experiments exactly. When many complex procedures are involved, it is acceptable to refer to earlier papers describing these methods in greater detail.


In this brief but important section, the authors give credit to those who have assisted them in the work. These usually include technicians (who may have actually performed most of the experiments!) and other scientists who donated materials for the experiments and/or gave advice about them.


This section gives a careful listing of all earlier scientific work referred to in the main body of the paper. Most of the references are to other scientific papers. Each reference should provide enough information so that another person can locate the document. This means that each reference should include the name(s) of the author(s), the journal or book in which the report appears, and the year of publication. In the case of scientific journals, the volume number in which the paper appears and the page number on which the paper begins should be included. Sometimes the full title is given as well, although scientific papers often have such long titles that this is omitted from the reference.

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7 April 2011