I currently have a job doing research, but since writing was not a part of my education curriculum (I studied engineering and mathematics) no one really taught me how to write these sorts of papers, and the papers I have written for review by my superiors have been criticized broadly for being poorly written, with the main criticisms being unfocused writing, and poorly structured writing.

Other than just "write a lot of bad stuff and figure it out", are there any books/resources on writing scientific research papers?

Edit: I have discovered Scientific Writing: A Reader And Writer's Guide : A Reader and Writer's and it has been MASSIVELY helpful.

3 Answers 3


Yeah, I've heard that one often before. Unfortunately many natural sciences seem not to educate their students in the craft of writing papers, despite the fact that it will be a large and essential part of every natural scientists job, later on.

As a psychologist, I'm lucky. Learning how to write – and read! – papers was a fundamental part of my education, and I find it quite easy to do today.

But I cannot quite believe that your university offers no support for struggling students or researchers at all! My university (Tübingen) offers many courses, a help desk, writing nights, and so on for students from all faculties. These are organised by the university library or what is here called the "general studies" department. Maybe look around outside of your own field and see what there might be at your uni.

As an introduction, I'd like to recommend to you a short and fun to read article by psychologist Daryl J. Bem, "Writing the Empirical Journal Article". It is written for psychologists, but much of it applies to other natural sciences as well. You will easily find it online for free.

A highly praised classic about academic writing is Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. While psychologists follow the APA Publication Manual, Turabian's guide is based on the Chicago Manual of Style, but her guidelines apply to academic writers of all styles, and the formatting rules are easily "translated" into another system.

There are many how-to-books on academic writing, you can look in any online bookstore and compare the ratings and reviews. What I would do, though, is search specifically for a book that explains writing in your field, as that will address some of the specifics of your field that aren't covered in more general books like that of Turabian.

I'm unfamiliar with those books (if there are any), therefore I recommend that you go to either a Maths or engineering forum and ask there for recommendations.

But in the end there is no way around the fact that you will indeed have to write a lot to get better at writing. No how-to-book can save you from that.


I don't know of any books.

However, you can learn the way my PhD advisor learned, and (coached by him) the way I learned.

Read published academic papers! Your university should be able to give you access to some places to get those. And you have to know how to find them anyway, if you intend to publish, to search for papers before you.

You can also use Google Scholar, there are many papers available for free.

Read papers in your discipline.

Pay particular attention to the structure of the paper. How long the intro is (a few hundred words), what they talk about, their "teasers" for what they found out.

Look at their sectioning, the various pieces of the paper, the order that things are introduced, the sorts of things they discuss. My papers have five major sections, always. Ending with "Future Work", a very short blurb about where we go from here or what we intend to do.

You learn to write publishable papers by reading published papers, but not for the content: For analysis of structure. Depending on your discipline, that is how your journals pretty much expect to see something new introduced, described, analyzed, the experiments you tried (just the ones that worked), the results you got, etc.

For a few weeks there, I was reading 3 or 4 papers a day, and taking notes on the form, the headings, how they did graphs, ways to present findings, etc.

I kind of baked all that and came up with a very similar style of paper, including how much space to devote to each thing. We had about a 20 page limit, and that can be spent very fast, you really have to work on getting to the point fast without being too cryptic. But again, the examples can help.

Try to stick to recently published examples, the last 10 years or so. Some early papers tend to ramble on a bit, or the opposite, the text can contain names of theorems and procedures without any references at all; they expected readers to know them by heart. Or go look them up on their own. Back when people typed their papers on manual typewriters. We still do that, I may talk about a binary search without any references to it. But you want to strike the modern balance of that, not the 1956 norm.


I've heard good things about Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword. It's from an academic that's also a writer, which is a point in its favor (most academics can't actually write, in my experience). And The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth is useful for integrating research clearly and effectively. Rewriting by Joseph Harris is excellent for researching in general, since it shows how to build on other texts.

Other than that, just get a few books on regular writing, since most of those skills are transferable (ex. writing clearly, proper organization, etc.) Classics like The Elements of Style by E.B. White are well regarded and easy to follow. Good writing is good writing everywhere.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.