Series – ‘How to Write a Scientific Article’ – Part II
Rohini Belsare, M.A., M.Ed
Advisor, Publications, Dr. M. L. Dhawale Memorial Trust
Address for correspondence: Email: email@example.com
How to cite this article:
Belsare RM. How to write a scientific article – Part 2. Journal of Integrated Standardized Homoeopathy (JISH) 2018; 01(02):
Received on: December 07, 2018
Accepted for Publication: December 21, 2018
Part II – Logic and Organization of Contents
- Organizing the Paper
- Tools of Organization – Logic
- Tools of Organization – Filters of Relevance and Verbosity
- Tools of Organization – Language
- Planning the Paper
In the last Part, we have seen the general needs of scientific writing and examined the role of the title in bringing exactitude to the presentation. We also wondered whether, at the planning stage itself, it is possible to put down the points at a general level and to broadly assign how much space each point should occupy. How does this become possible? Through organizing the contents of the Paper. What do we mean by ‘organizing the Paper’?
We will develop this theme through the example of the topic ‘The Unprejudiced Observer’.
Organizing the Paper
A topic belongs to an area of knowledge, which is further linked with a general area of knowledge. In the case of ‘The Unprejudiced Observer in Homoeopathic Practice’, the topic belongs to the area of Homoeopathic Philosophy, which belongs to two broad areas of knowledge, which are Homoeopathy and Philosophy. Right at the beginning we need to define where we will place our topic. This is so for almost all the topics. We need to choose our area – our ‘field of operation’ so to say – so that we can go ahead in thinking through.
The next step is to put down all the points which occur to us, and to organize them. When we organize our thoughts, our expression gets organized. How do we go about it?
Tools of Organization – Logic
As we are aware, the basic processes of logic are –
- Analysis – Synthesis – Verification and
- Deduction and Induction
In the first triad, analysis lets us analyze anything into its constituent factors, the process of synthesis lets us bring together various congruent factors and create a new entity, and the process of verification lets us check the veracity or truth of whatever we are examining. Thus, together, they let us break down something into its constituents, examine them, put them together into a whole entity and then check if we have done the right thing or we have erred on the way. In the case of ‘the Unprejudiced Observer in Homoeopathic Practice’, we break down the title into ‘Unprejudiced’ (the other side of prejudiced) – its meaning, its importance. Then we come to the Observer and we discuss the importance of observation, and the observer, at a general level and at the level of Homoeopathic Practice. We examine the nature of Homoeopathy and of Homoeopathic medical practice, to understand its need of observation skills.
In Synthesis, we have to bring together all these elements and make a congruent (meaningful) whole. For example, in ‘Unprejudiced Observer’ we open the Pandora’s Box of prejudices and then how do we cope with it? Here the process of synthesis comes to our help. We start grouping prejudices in various classes, for example ‘racial prejudice’, ‘social prejudice’ etc. This allows the analysis to become meaningful and we can move ahead.
And in Verification, we check whether what we are saying is true for the field. This we do through case illustrations.
In deductive logic or deductive thinking, we go from a general to a specific (or many specifics). In other words, we establish a logical relationship between a general and a specific example. (What comes to mind is – 1. Nobody is perfect; 2. I am a Nobody; 3. Therefore I am perfect. – A lighter chain of argument, but logically complete!).
In inductive logic or inductive reasoning, on the other hand, we go from specific to general. There is usually a quantum leap here, a leap to an upper level of abstraction. When Kent says, “complaints of the eye in a Sulphur patient”, after enumerating a list of eye symptoms in Sulphur, he is going from the concrete examples to a generalization that sticks in the mind because of its simplicity and fundamental soundness. That is inductive reasoning for you!
What has this to do with writing? Well may you ask! Logic deals with the argument – its adequacy, chain of thought, its conceptual grid, and its ‘tightness’. The three processes of analysis, synthesis and verification, together, tighten our thinking, reducing or eliminating all loose thought. They do so by allowing us to reach the basics and to examine how they are linked. They allow us to remove all irrelevant data and issues, and to express our argument neatly. Deductive and inductive thinking allow us to examine the chain of thought, climb the ladder of abstraction, and establish causal links. Just by putting ‘hence’ or ‘therefore’ between two statements does not make it logical, it has to be logical!
Tools of Organization – Filters of Relevance & Verbosity
When we think through any topic, a lot of extensions in terms of concepts or data occur to us. Not all of them are relevant to our total presentation. In an illustrative case of the unprejudiced observer, for example, there may be a lot of data which is relevant to the case analysis, but not to the angle we are presenting, that of observation, unprejudiced or otherwise. Some of this data can easily creep into our Paper. When we apply the filter of relevance, asking ourselves whether what we are writing is relevant to the topic (and not to the case alone) we are able to remove all irrelevant data, making the Paper neater to read.
Verbosity takes place usually when the author / speaker is not sure about the accuracy or adequacy of his expression. He does not feel that he has expressed all that he means. But in writing, we have the facility of reading what we have written and correcting it! When we apply the filter of verbosity, all excess words remain above, and only the finer, more accurate expressions, pass through!
Simply put, we can compress our writing, avoiding duplication and not meandering through or moving about writing things just because they sound good.
Tools of Organization – Language
The language we use is a very powerful tool. We can use it to express ourselves adequately and precisely. We need to master its basics, and we need to keep on reading and writing, so that our vocabulary improves. More of this in a later part.
Planning the Paper
A scientific Paper should have these parts –
- Abstract (less than 200 words)
- Key words
- Aims & Objectives
- Review of literature
- Design of the Study
- Materials & Methods
- Observations & Results (with tables & data)
This covers the study / research adequately. There are various protocols, often expressed as checklists, depending on the Journal to which you are submitting your Paper. We will take two examples as illustrations. We can see that the STROBE checklist is much more concisely expressed1 whereas the MOOSE checklist2 goes into much greater detail, giving the points to be covered in detail. But the basic disciplined approach is the same.
STROBE (Strengthening the reporting of observational studies in epidemiology) is a journal with a number of checklists (checklist of items that should be included in reports of observational studies), one of which is for cohort, case-control and cross-sectional studies. The headings are –
Title and abstract
- Background / rationale
- Study Design
- Data sources / measurement
- Study Size
- Quantitative variables
- Statistical analysis
- Descriptive data
- Outcome data
- Main results
- Key results
Other information – Funding
The other example is of the MOOSE (Meta-analyses Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology) Checklist (A reporting checklist for Authors, Editors and Reviewers of Meta-analyses of OBSERVATIONAL Studies). The headings are –
I-Reporting of Background
- Problem definition,
- Hypothesis statement,
- Description of study outcome(s),
- Type of exposure or intervention used,
- Type of study design used,
- Study population
II-Reporting of search strategy –
- Qualification of searchers (e.g. librarians and investigators,)
- Search strategy (including time period included in the synthesis and keywords),
- Effort to include all available studies, including contact with authors,
- Databases and registries searched,
- Search software used, name and version, including special features used (e.g. explosion),
- Use of hand searching (e.g. reference lists of obtained articles),
- List of citations located and those excluded, including justification,
- Method for addressing articles published in languages other than English,
- Method of handling abstracts and unpublished articles,
- Description of any contact with authors
III- Reporting of methods –
- Description of relevance or appropriateness of studies assembled for assessing the hypothesis to be tested
- Rationale for the selection and coding of the data (e.g. sound clinical principles or convenience)
- Description of how data were classified and coded (e.g. multiple raters, blinding and interrater reliability)
- Assessment of confounding (e.g. comparability of cases and controls in studies where appropriate)
- Assessment of study quality, including blinding of study assessors; stratification or regression on possible predictors of study results
- Assessment of heterogeneity
- Description of statistical methods (e.g. complete description of fixed or random effects models, Justification of whether the chosen models account for predictors of study results, dose-response models, or cumulative data analysis) in sufficient detail to be replicated
- Provision of appropriate tables or graphics.
IV- Reporting of results –
- Table giving descriptive information for each study included,
- Results of sensitivity testing (e.g. sub-group analysis),
- Indication of statistical uncertainty of findings
V- Reporting of discussion –
- Quantitative assessment of bias (e.g. publication bias)
- Justification for exclusion (e.g. exclusion of non-English-language citations)
- Assessment of quality of included studies
VI- Reporting of conclusions –
- Consideration of alternative explanations for observed results,
- Generalization of the conclusions (i.e., appropriate for the data presented and within the domain of the literature review,
- Guidelines for future research,
- Disclosure of funding source
One can easily know more about these protocols by going to Google Search. The reader is advised to do so for any specific queries.
One can start the effort of planning a paper by putting down all the points one wants to cover in the Paper. Then take a hard look at these – they are the contents of our Paper – do they cover the ground adequately? And are all of them necessary? Also, do the points create a connected whole?
The depth of the Paper is also determined by the length of the Paper! Usually we know the length beforehand. Since we are writing on work that we have done /observed, we also know the relative importance and the need of elaborate explanations for each point. When we link both these factors together, we are able to plan the length to be allotted to each point. This will also determine the weightage of each point.
Now start writing. Use the protocol / checklist as a guidance system for your presentation. Put the points clearly, organize the relevant data and examples around them. Then go to the next point which has evolved out of the first, and do the same. Before you know it, your paper will be ready!
In this Part we have seen how we can organize a Paper by thinking logically. But we are doing scientific writing, usually on the basis of some supportive study or research. We need to analyze our data statistically and present it suitably. In the next Paper we will discuss the presentation of supportive statistical analysis.
- Vandenbroucke JP, von Elm E, Altman DG, Gøtzsche PC, Mulrow CD, Pocock SJ, Poole C, Schlesselman JJ, Egger M; STROBE initiative. Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE): explanation and elaboration. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Oct 16;147(8):W163-94.
- Stroup DF, Berlin JA, Morton SC, Olkin I, Williamson GD. MOOSE guidelines for meta-analyses and systematic reviews of observational studies. JAMA. 2000;283:2008-12.