Different types of scientific papers
Scholarly articles are published in print and in online scholarly journals, and are reviewed by experts in a process known as a peer review before they are published. They are written for other scholars or experts. There are several different types of scholarly publications, which vary by discipline. Not all journals publish every type of scholarly article.
One type of scholarly article is a perspective or opinion article where an expert in the field provides an opinion or perspective on some aspect of the research. Rather than offering a comprehensive review of research, in these articles the author offers their opinion or perspective on a concept, or multiple concepts, from the research. These are often written by more seasoned researchers and tend to be short, usually about 2,000 words. Book reviews are published in many academic journals and their purpose is to provide a review into recently published scholarly books. These are a great way for early-career researchers to hone their academic writing skills.
In medicine and other types of clinical practice, like clinical psychology, clinical case studies are common. These publications describe details of real cases that involve patients and are typically chosen for publication because they contribute something to existing knowledge in the field. This type of paper can include a discussion of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of a disease or disorder. Clinical trial papers are also typical in the field of medicine and describe methods and results of controlled studies usually undertaken with large patient groups that have been randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. For example, for a new vaccine there would be a randomised clinical trial where patients would be randomly placed into two groups: one receiving the vaccine and one receiving a placebo. The study would then examine the results on a number of measures for those two groups.
Research review articles provide a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing research on a specific topic. Examples are meta-analyses and literature reviews. Authors of these articles meticulously report on existing research through summarising and analysing, comparing, identifying common themes and gaps in the knowledge base, and providing directions for future research. Unlike original research papers, these are considered secondary research because the author is discussing other researchers’ work. You may not be at the stage where you are writing a research review article, especially earlier in your career. Publishers and journals often look to seasoned researchers to write these articles because their experience lends itself to a more sophisticated analysis and interpretation of the work that has been done on this topic. These are great articles to find when you are conducting your own research review and are writing your paper. They identify common findings and gaps and can point the reader to a whole wealth of different articles on a topic of interest to them. Research review articles typically are long, ranging anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 words. Many disciplines publish these review articles, or chapters, in a published handbook. And they are often created by multiple authors writing collaboratively. For early-career researchers this can be a great opportunity to collaboratively write with more seasoned researchers.
Original research papers, or empirical articles, report on original research, as the name suggests. They are usually detailed studies that report research you have conducted that is original. These are classified as primary literature. Generally, these academic articles will include a hypothesis, the context, methods, results and an interpretation or discussion of those results. These publications are typically long, ranging anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 words and may extend to 12,000 words for some journals.
Because original research articles weigh heavily when decisions are made about retention, tenure and promotion, it is very important to write and publish these types of papers, especially as an early-career researcher. These types of articles require a significant investment of time; understanding the structure of these papers is very important. They follow a typical structure, including:
- The title, which summarises the main idea or ideas of your study. A good title contains the fewest possible words needed to adequately describe the content and/or purpose of your research paper.
- An abstract, which should be a very short, clear and concise summary of the entire paper. An abstract should include enough detail so the reader will know whether or not they wish to read the paper. It should reveal both the purpose and conclusions of the paper.
- The main text, which includes an introduction, background, research questions and hypothesis, methods, results and discussion. This section guides the reader through what the problem or research question was, how you conducted the study, how you analysed the data, what you found and what it means.
- Supplementary materials.
Strategies to successfully write different types of scientific papers
There are several steps you can take as an academic to prepare yourself for success with publishing any of these types of papers.
- Regularly reading journal articles in your area is invaluable.
- Co-authoring papers with colleagues is another way you can gain experience of the academic writing process without having to travel that journey alone.
- Seeking opportunities to write with more seasoned researchers and benefit from their mentoring is a great way to hone your academic writing skills.
- Another opportunity you should take up is serving as a peer reviewer for a journal and experiencing the review process so you can see how different types of articles are reviewed.
Although you might think that writing a research review article, for example, is an easier task than writing an original research paper, this doesn’t tend to be true. Reviewers and editors hold a very high standard for research review papers and expect them to offer some new contribution in how they present and interpret the review of the research. They are not looking for a summary of the research as much as a critical analysis.
Understanding how different types of papers are written and how they are reviewed will help you decide which type of paper you can publish and add to your CV.
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