Writing and Fractals

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Last time I mentioned that the four main parts of a scientific article are Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusions.  This is all fine and dandy when you’re writing a 12-20 page paper, but what if you’re writing something longer like a thesis?

I like to think of writing longer papers in terms of fractals.  As you might know, fractals are self-similar which means that the look the same (or nearly the same) at every scale.  So if we take take a pattern like thisand then repeat the same pattern on every segment like this, we get this Now let’s label each segment of the first figure with the parts of a scientific paperIn reality, the Methods and Results sections are longer than the Introduction and Conclusions, but this is just illustrative.  But the important thing to know is that you can just work on one segment at a time.  And you don’t need to write them in the order.

So, how do we draw the diagram if we are working on a longer paper?  For some departments at Baylor like Chemistry and Geology, usually the dissertations are comprised of a series of shorter journal articles.  In that case, the diagram would look like this The longer segments are chapters or articles about each experiment.  Within each chapter are the four basic parts of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusions.  But just like before, you shouldn’t just sit down and write your thesis from beginning to end.  You can work on each segment separately.

For senior theses, usually it’s best to keep the basic structure but to incorporate the different experiments into each section like this So within each section each experiment is talked about.  The important thing here is to make sure you keep all the sections parallel with each other.  In other words, once you decide an order to your experiments, make sure you always write about them in the same order regardless of which chapter you’re in.  But once again, work on each segment separately:  it breaks down a large paper into smaller tasks which are less daunting to complete.

Now if you have a really complicated paper, you can always subdivide your sections into subsections and sub-subsections.  Just make sure to keep everything as self-similar and parallel as possible.

About Christina Chan-Park

Christina Chan-Park is currently the Science Librarian at Baylor University. She received her PhD in Geophysics from the University of British Columbia, MS in Information Science from the University of North Texas along with a Graduate Academic Certificate in Digital Curation and Data Management, MPA from the University of Houston, MS in Geophysics from Stanford University, and AB in Geology from Princeton University. She was previously a Visiting Assistant Professor and Program Director at the University of Houston a post-doctoral researcher at The Ohio State University. Like most librarians, she enjoys reading. But more than anything else she enjoys seeing other people succeed and helping them achieve their goals.
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One Response to Writing and Fractals

  1. Pingback: Organizing Data in your Paper | STEM Access blog

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