Scientific papers are important and we encourage people to read the original source – but they can be boring. In fact, even our description of a paper seems dry and academic so I tried to come up with a new way to describe it. What if we used the parts of a movie to help understand the parts of a scientific article?
Thanks to Tanya for the discussion on twitter for valuable film-making insights making this analogy useful!
The parts of a paper are often presented as:
- Abstract – a short summary
- Introduction – background information and definition of the problem
- Materials and Methods – what was done
- Results – what did the authors observe, measure, find out?
- Discussion – what do the results mean? Interpretation and impact
- References – whose work was mentioned?
- Appendices or Supplemental materials (optional) – extra information
- Acknowledgements (optional) – who helped out?
I presented the above to the high school students of Future Science Leaders and there wasn’t a great reaction. “Yeah, we heard this in class” and “boring-est way to talk about science” were two replies. By the way, we chuckled over the first part of this quote:
Scientific papers are written in a style that is exceedingly clear and concise. Their purpose is to inform an audience of other scientists about an important issue and to document the particular approach they used to investigate that issue.
Source: How to write Scientific Papers
The students were quick to point out the papers are hard to read – and in another post, I’ll talk about how we tried to read scientific papers for the first time.
Parts of a paper in Movie Terms
Abstract = movie trailer
The trailers give you the high points and some trailers give a full synopsis – especially Nicholas Cage movies (example). But sometimes the trailers are misleading (e.g. the only funny parts are in the trailer) and that is similar for abstracts. You should read the whole thing to make sure that your understanding of the paper is complete.
Introduction = back story
If you are an expert in a field, you can often skim (or skip?) the background. Similarly in movie sequels, you often don’t need the backstory of a character. In first Batman movie, you want to know about his parents and reason for fighting crime but in second and third sequels, you often just want to get to the action.
Materials and Methods
This is how you did the work. In movie terms, your methods are your script and shot list and the materials are cast, crew, set, props, cameras, etc. Remember, this should have enough detail to recreate the experiment.
Results and Discussion = Movie
This is the new information. In our parts of a paper above, we separated these areas but some journals do put them together. Discussions often provide new theories and provide explanations and broader context. In our movie example, this is hopefully done within the movie itself. I’d thought about having the discussion separate with movie reviews as the counterpart but paper discussions are done by the same authors so should be included together where results/discussion done by same people.
Acknowledgements = Credits
Just like credits, acknowledgements can give a glimpse into the number of people needed to do the work – but may be overlooked.
Appendices/Supplemental Materials = DVD Extras
The extras that can enhance your movie viewing like the Director’s commentary are similar to extra data and figures that may be relegated to the appendices/supplemental materials.
Order of authors = director, crew and producer
In biomedical research, the first author wrote the paper (director). The authors listed after the first author contributed to the work and writing (crew). The last author is generally the head of the lab and the person who holds the grants (producer).
Editorials = movie reviews
Sometimes a paper prompts an editorial or other response and that is similar to a movie review.
I’m sure that this can go further – are citations like box office? – but I’ll stop there. What I like about this analogy is that it shows the collaborative nature of science while relating something ‘boring’ to something that can be glamorous.
So, does it work for you? What is missing?