The structure of a scientific paper

The first paper we will be reading is:  Bishai, D. 2000. Can population growth rule out reincarnation? A model of circular migration. J.Sci. Explor. 14:411-420.
click to download the pdf.

To make them easier to use, although not necessarily easier to read, scientific papers are divided into distinct sections.

Bishai (2000) is written in the standard scientific format, but is more accessible that the "typical" paper.   We will analyze it step by step.


Title & Abstract - the 'hook':  The purpose of a paper's title and abstract is to attract the attention of those interested in the topic.

Currently, there are thousands of journals and hundreds of thousands of papers published per year. It would be nearly impossible to sort through all of these papers manually, so scientists rely on a number of short cuts.

The first is to scan journals with a history of publishing "significant" papers.


The second is to use the National Institutes of Health (NIH) /National Library of Medicine PubMed search engine. CLICK for

  • Use pubmed to find a paper on reincarnation.  Is it scientific?   

The INTRODUCTION provides the reader with a context, a frame of reference. It introduces the subject as a whole and the specific aspect that the author is interested in.

It tells us what the authors did and why, and describes the problem(s) the authosr are trying to understand. It may also try to convince us that these problems are important.


In the Materials and Methods section, the author describes how (exactly) experiments or observations were carried out. This includes the source of the reagents used (something that does not apply to the reincarnation paper).

In theory, the information in the materials and methods section should be sufficient to enable the reader to recreate the experiment


In the RESULTS section, experiments are described and the data obtained from them are illustrated with Figures and Tables.

Typically the data obtained in one experiment leads to questions that must be addressed by further experiments. So when are we done with experiments?  Basically when there is enough data to come to a solid and novel conclusion. How much data is that?  that depends upon the field at any particular moment.

Generally, a professional scientist has a pretty good idea when the experiments described in the results section are complete.  But in a practical sense it is the editor and their reviewers that make that decision. If they are not satisfied, the manuscript will not be published.


The purpose of the DISCUSSION is to summarize the results and draw logical conclusions from them. The author may speculate somewhat and suggest how their results combine with those reported by others.

They may make predictions about new phenomena that should be observed under specific conditions, and provide an explanation for past observations.

If you have read the introduction or already know the field of study, the methods and the results, you should be able to write your own discussion.

  • Is this paper based on ideas with testable implications? 
  • What is missing (from either the paper or the world) for it to be scientific?
  • How might you use post-life experiences to address the question of whether reincarnation occurs?  

Use Wikipedia | revised 20 November 2010