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 the study.

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 shortcomings.

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.