Understanding How Scientific Papers Are Structured


It took a while for me to get a real understanding of what math is about.

I also did not understand the reasons behind the structure of scientific papers. When putting in the work for University, I was following the patterns I saw. Applying them mechanically, imitating what I saw.

I was missing a deeper understanding. I only understood it years later, when reading about a fictional conversation.

What Made If Click

The book was Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. In one of the scenes, one of the main characters asks a fictious Alan Turing a question over the phone.

The response he gets is structured to the extreme. With headings and subheadings, complete with letters and numbers to order them.

The structure was laying out a story, that made a complex topic understandable. From conveying how the problem got recognized, why it is an interesting problem, how to approach it, what was tried, and what the outlook is.

Does this list read similar to the structure of a scientific paper to you as well?

Everything You Need To Get A Thorough Understanding

Scientific papers are structured the way they are to convey, among others, a deeper understanding of the subject they are written about.

You get an overview, an introduction to the situation and why it matters, a bit of background and what else is happening, what progress on the topic was made, results of those inquiries, and an analysis of the results.

Finally, there is a conclusion to sum up what you just witnessed. Followed by lots of references everywhere, to back up the things being stated.

Everything is geared towards giving the reader everything they need to build a thorough understanding. And to be able to judge the work critically.

The content of a paper is supposed to be complete. Providing the reader with all the facts is able to follow the arguments made. To build an understanding.

It’s beautiful, really.

What’s to learn here?

First of all, something about myself. There is a pattern of missing to notice that I don’t understand. Following formula/recipes without questioning how they came to pass.

Apart from that, I see that there is enjoyment in seeing the reasons behind design decisions. It could be fun to see what other things and concepts I rely on, and look for reasons why they are the way they are. Finding out what other answers might be.

And of course, the structure of papers and explanations around complex topics follows a structure. Visiting necessary elements that are helpful for understanding.

I hope that this article was useful to you, and that it could contribute to your personal understanding of scientific publications!

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