Scientific journals are open access publications that explore new research and share new discoveries among scientists in a wide range of disciplines. A given journal can investigate a broad range of topics (such as in Nature) or be highly specific to one area of study (such as in Radiation Effects and Defects of Solids). Most journals publish a variety of article types including review articles, letters, research articles, editorials, and more. In order to maintain high standards and ensure the quality and validity of the information being published, all journals have strict rules for writing and formatting articles and subject all submissions to a rigorous review process.


Audience and purpose


The primary purpose of an experimental journal article is to share the results of a study, whether it was a specific year-long undertaking or a decade-long project by your lab. It is also important to offer interpretations of your results, since you are one of the most knowledgeable scientists in your specific area of study, and to provide information about how you obtained your results so that someone else can repeat or modify your experiments. The specific purpose of each section of a journal article (see “Organization,” below) therefore changes as you progress through a paper. (See individual journal article sections under this tab.)


The intended audience of a paper is more variable and depends on the journal in question. The readers of a journal like Science or Nature, though mostly scientists, are from many different scientific backgrounds. This means that most of them will have little more than surface-level knowledge of a given study topic. Readers of a more targeted-audience journal like Wound Repair and Regeneration, on the other hand, are probably already familiar with more in-depth concepts addressed in its papers.

This means that the level of detail you use, the amount of explanation you need to include and your language will depend greatly on which journal publishes your paper. There is no formula for determining exactly what this should look like in your paper, but it can help to familiarize yourself with your intended audience and then to keep this audience in mind as you write.


Reflective questions to help you address your audience
  • Who will most likely be reading my paper?
  • What experience in this field do they probably have?
  • What do they probably already know about my topic?
    What might they know?
  • What parts of my study will they not be familiar with?
  • Which important terms might they already be familiar with?
    Which terms do I need to define for them?


When writing a paper for a class, your audience is of course mainly your professor and also possibly your classmates. But both your professor and your classmates have an unusually high level of specific knowledge for your study, since they are probably working on it with you. It is usually a good idea to imagine a broader audience than just these two groups so that you can practice addressing a real-world audience. As always, check with your instructor before beginning an assignment to assess how broad or narrow of an audience they would like you to address.



Style and conventions


Scientific style and conventions are covered in depth throughout the “Essentials” part of this site.

In journal articles, however, the following general principles apply:

  • Be as concise as possible without sacrificing formality.
  • Avoid excessive use of “we” and avoid “I” altogether.
  • Use visuals, such as graphs, illustrations, or maps, when they more clearly and concisely convey information.
  • Cite relevant literature to support your claims throughout. The exception to this is that most journals prefer no citations in the abstract.
  • Use hedging to show restraint in your arguments.





Research articles are divided into sections that parallel the experimental process in order to help readers gather various degrees of information from the paper. Most often, these sections in an experimental article are the:

Literature Cited

although the Results and Discussion sections are often combined and a Conclusions section may optionally be added afterwards. Some of these main sections usually include numerous subsections.

When constructed well, these sections allow readers to easily find what information is most useful to them. For example, someone wanting to replicate an experimental procedure can find it clearly set off from the rest of the paper in a subsection of the Methods sections, or someone wanting to compare their data to another’s can quickly check a table in the Results section.


The broad organization of a journal article follows a rough hourglass shape that illustrates the scope of each section of the paper.


As you can see, your paper starts and ends with broader concepts, while you provide more specific information in the middle. This means that at the beginning of your introduction, for example, you might talk about the general field of research your study is a part of, while at the end of your intro you will talk about the specifics of your project; then, your methods section will be highly specific about the details of your experiments.


Note that the order of the sections is not the same as the order in which you write them. You certainly can’t write the discussion before you’ve written the results, but the introduction and title should also be written near the end of the process so that you already have a good idea of what topics you definitely need to introduce and also which ideas are most important to and relevant to your study.


Common order in which to write sections of your paper

  1. Methods. You can write your methods section as you go, so that it is essentially done by the time you even get your results!

  2. Results. You can start writing your results as you get them, although a completed section won’t be possible until your project is complete.

  3. Discussion. It can be helpful to start noting some discussion points as you work through your results, but because many of your results might connect to one another, don’t expect to be able to write completed chunks of your discussion section until your results are complete, even if you plan on writing a combined “Results & Discussion” section.

  4. Introduction. You won’t know each concept that you need to introduce until the rest of the main body of your paper is complete. As you will learn on our page about the Discussion, points you make should connect back to ideas you introduced at the beginning of the paper, too, so your discussion should be mostly complete before attempting to construct your intro.

  5. Abstract, Title, and Acknowledgements. It doesn’t particularly matter the order in which you write these, as long as you write them all near the end of the process so that your paper contains all  of your important ideas.

  6. Literature cited. It is good practice to insert your literature cited at the very end of each draft you make. We say “insert” because you should absolutely be constructing one as you go, but because editing and revising can change the order or use of each reference, putting your works cited into your document too early will just force you to replace or rearrange it repeatedly.