Curated by UCL

Writing a research article

Audience

Essentially, you will have to address two different audiences at once to do a good job for ENGins. First think of a general technical audience (we’ll call it G) consisting of people from very different disciplines: if you are an electrical engineer, it may be useful to think of a reader who is a microbiologist. If you are a chemist, think of a computer scientist. Second, consider the subset of readers within your general discipline (we’ll call this D): other electrical engineers or chemists. Remember, they’re not specialists in your particular area, but they know the basics of your field.

Language/Tone

We want you to use a much more conversational style than you would be appropriate for a journal or conference paper: maybe just a little more formal than a blog. Try to use the first person when writing about your opinions or your own work. Refer to people by their full names on first mention (Albert Einstein, not A. Einstein), and you can use their last names thereafter. Try to use the active voice (Einstein showed that) rather than the passive (it was shown) for most of the article. Switching back and forth is fine, but keep the balance on the active side. Also, don’t worry too much about your English: we’ll fix that. Just make sure that you’re as clear as you can be about the technical side of what you’re saying.

Finally, try not to hype up your own work. You’re doing a public service here, and people will appreciate you for it. They’ll want to like your work as a result. They will trust you more, and be more likely to value your contribution, if you don’t oversell it.

Structure

Headline (<10 words, G)

Writing a headline is difficult, and we’ll help. A good headline describes the goal of the research and hints at the substance. If you have to overrun, do: we’ll help trim it down later.

Summary for idiots (100 words, G)

This describes (for the simple-minded) how the research is helping to reach the goal of the headline: the simplest explanation of the scientific/engineering problem being solved, a hint at your approach to solving it, the likely application(s) and — if it’s not completely obvious — why this is important. You should also describe (simply) the progress that has been made. If it’s a review article (you’re looking at several approaches, not just your own), identify the most important ones.

Introduction (300 words, G)

Identify a problem in the real world that could be solved or made better if the research you are doing is successful. (If you are writing a review, this problem should be applicable for all the research you plan to cover). If there are lots of such problems, pick one that is both easy to understand and important. Now write a paragraph that explains this problem. How do things work now? What kind of improvements are needed, and why? Why isn’t it easy to make these improvements? Are there particular obstacles that have prevented progress? This will set you up so that you can talk about the solutions to these problems in the next section.

Main body (G/D)

  • If you’re writing a review (800 words): Go through each of the pieces of research (from the last year or two) that you think have the potential to solve the problem you discuss. Spend about a paragraph (100 words) on each one, or two or three if you want to discuss variations on a theme. As you move from one piece of research to the next, try to say something (just half a sentence is enough) about any notable similarities/differences between one approach and the next.
  • If you’re only writing about your own work (300 words): Start out by talking briefly about competing technologies/approaches and why you think they’re not idea. Then go into your approach.

Make sure you start out explaining each area to a general technical audience. Towards the end of the paragraph(s) on a particular approach, you can get more technical if you like. But your explanations should always be understandable within your wider discipline, not just your specific area.

Discussion (200 words, D)

Give us some analysis about the factors that make the various approaches more or less likely to succeed (focusing on yours if you’re not writing a review). Are they practical? Are they compatible with the other technologies/approaches that are important in the field? Do some fit better with some application niches and some with others?

Note that you can combine the review and discussion sections if you like: pay more attention to the balance of description/discussion than to the sequence.

Prognosis/Conclusion (G)

As a result of the research you’ve described, what’s likely to change, and in what timescale? What work needs to be done in order to bring this approach (these approaches) to fruition? What problems do you foresee? If you had to bet on the success of one approach or technology, which would it be and why? Keep this to 100 words for a single piece of research, 200 for a review.

Image/Figure caption(s) (100 words, G)

Your image/figure will probably be placed near the top of the article, so you should make sure to explain what’s going on in a way that someone who has not yet read the article can understand. Make sure to include any figure credits at the end and, if it’s already been published elsewhere, the details of where.

References (probably 3-15)

Include at least one reference, and no more than three, from each group you mention in detail (so max 3 if you’re just writing about your own work). Even if you don’t use LaTeX, your bibliography management software will be able to export your references in BibTeX format, and that’s what we’ll use. The full details concerning how to submit references can be found here. If you’re stuck on this, contact us and we’ll help you out!

Images

We really would like at least one image to go with your article: probably either a really good explanatory diagram or an interesting picture: up to three is a possibility. We trust you to know what makes a good image/figure! However, you should make sure there are no issues relating to copyright.

If you created a figure and submitted it to a journal, then it is possible that you signed away copyright. We may still be able to use it under fair use/fair dealing laws because we don’t charge for use of figures, but please let us know if this might be an issue.

More importantly, make sure that it’s clear if the figure you used was not originated by you. In this case we may need to get permission to publish (or republish) it.