How to write a compelling scientific paper

Person sat in front of a laptop writing a scientific paperWriting a scientific paper is a key part of any researcher’s life as they look to tell the world about their brilliant ideas. 

However, just because the ideas may be great, that does not automatically mean the paper will be a must-read too. 

This is where King’s Health Partners can help. We’ve gathered tips and tricks from experts in the field and collated them below. 

Planning your paper 

It’s important to plan your paper before you begin writing. Science journal Nature says your paper should have three sections:  

  1. context – your introduction; 
  2. content – your results;   
  3. conclusion – your discussion.  

Prof John Sumpter, in a blog for Brunel University London, says the key to success is thinking carefully about the structure of your paper before starting to write. Consider what should go in, and what should be discarded, to tell your story.  

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the government’s major funder of research, advises submitters to check that their work is original. For papers submitted to the NIHR, at least one of the authors must be affiliated with the NIHR or receive funding from the body. 

Take care to choose a title that communicates the core message of your paper. The NIHR says this should be ‘concise and specific’ that clearly reflects the content of the article.   

Also, consider your audience and the aim of your paper. Karen L McKee, a scientist and author in the US, says you should ask how your work moves the field forward – does it have a practical application? Resolve a controversy? Reveal a mechanism? Fill a gap in knowledge? Authors need to have a good overview of their topic and know how their work fits in. 

Writing your paper 

Both Nature and the NIHR stress the need to keep the language in the paper simple, with the clear purpose to convey information. Every claim should be backed up by facts, and there should be a main and clear thread that ties in with the paper title. As Nature says, always aim to distil your message down ‘into the simplest sentence possible’. 

Prof Sumpter says that good scientists write in simple, clear language because they want to communicate with as many people as possible. He adds to bear in mind that readers of the paper may be from all over the world and not have English as a first language.  

In terms of the introduction the Academic Skills Centre at the University of Sheffield says you should think of it like a funnel – start broad and then focus down on the specifics of your research. Any methods you describe should be easy to reproduce by other academics and researchers.   

When it comes to the results it will be necessary to present data and numbers in the report to reinforce your research. The University of Sheffield says you should consider the best way to present your data clearly, and the best format.  

For the conclusion, Nature recommends a couple of sentences at the end that set out your plans for future research. 

What to do when you’ve finished your paper 

Karen L McKee says that once you’ve done the initial draft you will need to ‘revise, revise, revise’. It is likely there will need to be several revisions before the paper can be submitted. Check for grammatical errors and consider how the documents reads. 

Make sure to get pre-submission reviews from your peers and take on board the advice, particularly if more than one person is saying the same thing. Before submitting do a final proof-read and check all the formatting.  

Due to your preparation before starting you will have a good idea of your intended audience and where you want to submit your paper. The body will likely have guides on how best to submit, make sure to read these and adhere to any recommendations. 


References and resources: 

Nature – how to write a first-class paper 

Nature – toolkit: how to write a great paper 

NIHR Open Research – submit your research 

Video: how to write a scientific paper from start to finish with Karen L McKee 

Video: how to write a scientific paper with Greg Martin