Reading and Writing Scientific Manuscripts
By Adam Landsman, DPM, PhD, FACFAS
The purpose of a scientific study manuscript is twofold: convey information
and convince the reader that the information presented is accurate. For
researchers and clinicians, sorting through the vast array of available
literature and incorporating the most accurate information into one’s practice
is a paramount concern.
A scientific study’s Abstract section is the synopsis of the methods,
data and critical results of the study. The abstract is a fine tool for keeping
abreast of the latest developments. However, many readers are looking for more
detailed information, and will turn to the body of the study manuscript.
The Introduction creates context by discussing existing literature and
identifying areas of conflict or gaps in knowledge. Typically, the introduction
ends with a statement of the hypothesis. As a general rule, papers with a formal
statement of the hypothesis are better organized, more scientifically sound and
easier to understand.
The Materials and Methods section of the scientific study manuscript
is worth close scrutiny. It should be written in such a way that someone picking
up the manuscript could duplicate the work performed in the study. Detail should
be sufficient to give the reader a clear understanding of the protocols used by
Many times, close examination will reveal flaws intrinsic to the study. True,
all studies are flawed in some way, but not all flaws are created equal. Are
they so substantial as to invalidate the conclusions of the study? So, while the
Materials and Methods section may not be the most compelling part, it is usually
the most revealing.
The Results section consists of a clear statement of facts, with
statistically meaningful statements that support the findings.
The Discussion section is where interpretation of the data takes
place. Here, the authors reveal:
- Their take on the study’s shortcomings
- Any discrepancies from their anticipated findings
- A comparison of their findings to those of other investigators.
A well-written Discussion sorts through much of the potentially
contradictory data, attempting to either resolve or explain them.
The Conclusions section is a summary of the study’s most critical
points. Some authors use the Conclusions section to set the stage for their next
scientific study. Since the limitations of the existing study were identified in
the Discussion, the Conclusions section identifies remedies for these
The history of medicine is littered with “revolutionary” new procedures that
eventually fell into disfavor. A cursory examination of the original data on
these subjects usually shows that the “definitive conclusions” were more
anecdotal in nature than anything else. The lesson: When reading manuscripts, be
sure to maintain a critical eye.