Writing your first paper: Step Three: Title, Affiliations, and Abstract
This article is part of a series on writing your first research paper. I am hoping to use this material for a new student handbook when I start my faculty position, so any thoughts, comments, hysterical rejoinders are most welcome.
How should I format my paper?
Okay so you finally have enough data, you know where you want to submit the paper, you have the story mapped out, and you are ready to write. The next step is to figure out how to format your paper. As a first step you should go to the website of the publisher and print out the instructions for authors. Several journals may allow for more than one type of article, for example a short communication or a longer report. Once you have identified the publisher requirements, you should immediately format your word processor to match those requirements. (e.g., font, margins, font-size).
Different journals have different styles. For example, Science and Nature tend to omit the methods section, having this data at the end of the article in really tiny print or as footnotes placed amongst the references. In this series, I will step through the style for "the typical journal," but it is important to find out the specific requirements for the journal to which you wish to submit. I find it extremely helpful to print a couple sample articles to get the general idea of organization.
Selecting a Title:
Once you have the formatting figured out, you are ready for selecting a title. The title should be concise, but should include the relevant information plus any buzz words that might attract attention to your article. For example compare "A Novel Technique for Creating Ice Cream" with "Ice Cream in the Deep Freeze: Liquid Nitrogen as a Freezing Medium for Reduced Ice Cream Freezing Times." The first title is vague. I know that the paper is on ice cream and that they have a new technique, but I know little else. Also, the word novel is not a good choice for a title. If you work isn't novel, you shouldn't be publishing it. In fact, some journals (JACS?) have banned the word from titles. The second title has a catchy beginning that draws the reader in and provides a "sexy" element. The second part of the title explains what the novel technique is and why it is better than the normal technique. A lot more information is contained here than in the first title. Now compare these with, "Ice Cream Produced Using Liquid Nitrogen as a Freezing Medium with Enhanced Taste, Texture, and Shorter Freezing Time." This title is okay. It is a little long, probably contains too much information, and doesn't grab the reader.
Authors and Affiliations
The authors should be listed with the primary graduate student (and author) first and the primary advisor last. Other graduate students should be listed after the first author in order of greatest contribution. Other professors/collaborators should be listed from the end in order of greatest contribution.
All affiliations should be outlined for each individual. Include both department and center affiliations. Additionally, one author, usually the last author, should be designated as the corresponding author. For this person, contact information including address, email, and phone number should be listed.
Far more people will read your abstract than will ever read your paper. The abstract is THE most important part of your paper. Because of this, I usually right it last. I find that as I put the paper together sometimes I see connections and impacts that I didn't envision at the beginning of writing.
The abstract is a summary of your paper. It should be concise, usually between 100-250 words. The first 2-3 sentences should describe what you did, and if not obvious why this problem is worth investigating. The next 2-3 sentences should provide the details summarizing your results. The next 2-3 sentences should describe why it is important and how it compares to the work of others. The final 2-3 sentences should describe how this work might be used in the future and its broader implications.
To reduce ice cream freezing times, we examined liquid nitrogen as a freezing medium for vanilla ice cream. The taste, texture, and freezing time were compared with that of ice cream made using a traditional hand crank ice cream machine, a modern electrical machine, and a commercial ice cream machine. Liquid nitrogen ice cream was produced in 1/100th the time of traditional methods with texture superior to that made on an electrical machine (30% reduction in air content), and statistically equal to that of the hand crank and commercial machines (p < 0.05). This technique may greatly impact the ice cream community by providing superior product in a fraction of the time normally required. Existing equipement can be easily modified to use this new technique, allowing rapid commercial adoption at a low cost.