Number. 24 © CDTL 2003
How to Write Undergraduate Technical Papers
Professor C.M. Wang
Department of Civil Engineering / CDTL Affiliate

A good research paper is one that is clearly, precisely and attractively written such that the reader is not only enticed to read it, but can also easily understand the contents. Here are some guidelines when writing different sections of a scientific research paper:

Title: Make the title short, attention grabbing, and above all, reflect the central theme of the paper. It should not claim generality when the paper is specific in nature.

Abstract: People make a decision to read or not to read the rest of the paper based on the abstract. So summarise concisely the main claims (and secondary claims, if any) of the paper and the conclusions drawn from the study. Limit the number of claims to prevent confusing the reader as to what the key message of the paper is. Reserve other major claims for future papers. Do not include references, figures and equations in this section.

Introduction: Describe briefly the importance of the area of study. State what is so special about your paper (e.g. explain how your work fills an important lacuna in existing knowledge or provides new methods for solving difficult problems). Provide the background of the current work (e.g. review existing literature or give an overview/history of the problem).

Problem Definition: Define the problem/topic studied, explain basic terminology, and establish clearly both the objectives and hypothesis/assumptions of your paper.

Theoretical Formulation, Materials and Methods: Present the theoretical formulations and assumptions plainly. List comprehensively all materials and methodology used so that readers are able to reproduce your study. For experimental studies, do not describe everything through a diary of events; instead, reorganise details into a coherent account. Use more efficient and accurate methods, rather than outdated techniques. Give credit to other people’s work through references: furnish details of concepts discussed and/or refer to sources.

Results: Tabulate results, but withhold the inferences for the ‘Discussion’ section. As papers with tabulated results will be useful for comparative purposes, compose tables well with proper headings for rows and columns. If possible, use attractive figures, graphs and other diagrammatic representations to illustrate data clearly—well-designed figures make the paper come alive. Common faults in research papers include inappropriate usage of tables and figures that confuse readers, display of wrong statistical tests, and/or lack of sound statistical analyses.

Discussion: Examiners/reviewers will be more at ease if they are convinced that your results are valid. So provide adequate and convincing arguments, mathematical proofs, examples, equations, statistics, patterns/trends, opinions and ideas beyond the collection of tabulated and graphed numbers. Make comparisons with previous researchers’ results (if any). Suggest applications for your work. Propose future work, but be frank and realistic about what needs to be done as a continuation.

Conclusion: Summarise/highlight and stress main ideas and contributions.

Acknowledgements: Give credit to persons and organisations for any technical help you received while completing the study. Also acknowledge any copyrighted material for which you have permission to use.

References: Give complete information on references.

Appendices: Insert, as appendices, information that is not provided in the main text (e.g. questionnaires and software used)

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