How Write an Engineering Article/Paper for Journals

How Write an Engineering Article/Paper for Journals

How write an engineering article in Journals

How to write an engineering research paper | Guide and Hints

Despite that all of us know about papers and articles which are published in many journals, but in fact, we cannot write an article with perfect structure and readable content. Engineers are good at work but when they want to write a paper, they cannot transfer their knowledge and experiences in their career into a well-structured article to be published. In this article we will explain how.

Engineers versus Researchers in Engineering

Engineering is largely considered to be an application-oriented field. As a result, the theory behind the application is given lesser importance and, often, authors in the field of engineering find it difficult to write a research paper for publication. The primary difference lies in the approach – the act of applying a theory versus that of studying or explaining it.

The engineering field is not typically known for its literary style or its compelling prose, in large measure because engineering is better known as an applied field with experiment and measurements than a theoretical one. Most engineering students expect to spend their time working with mathematical equations and applying these equations to discover engineering solutions rather than researching term papers. But engineering is a discipline with an academic component, and research is an essential element of its academic aspect. In short, if you’re a student in an engineering program, you need to be able to write a great research paper just as much as you need to be able to solve complex mathematical problems. And make experiments.

It is essential to acknowledge the difference between “engineers” and “academic researchers.” Engineers are industry professionals who excel at implementing or applying new engineering technologies, while researchers are capable of making new discoveries and producing high-quality publication-worthy communications. An academic manuscript should include “theory” and “research” to indicate a deep study of the subject. Understanding both these elements will help authors draft high-quality engineering-related manuscripts.

Guide to Establish an Engineering Research Paper

– Plan your research early

Many students who are less comfortable with research paper writing tend to wait to research as they write, but this creates problems. First, it means that you are wasting time going back and revising for each new piece of information rather than starting with a complete understanding of your topic. Second, it also means that you will be scrambling to research as you write, costing you time through inefficiency and redundancy. Instead, the better choice is to start your research process as quickly as possible in order to give yourself time to analyze and digest what you are reading and to develop original ideas about what the research has to say about your topic. Separating the research process form the writing process will help you to develop stronger ideas and prepare for the writing process, making the actual writing of your paper that much faster and more efficient.

– Use only the most current research

While there are some cases where historical articles can be important for understanding the development of an idea, you will want to use current research to support your analysis. Current research keeps you abreast of the latest information in your field. This is especially important because of the changing nature of engineering. New information and new approaches can render older ways of doing things obsolete. You want to ensure that your paper is the strongest it can be, which means that you need to stay current to ensure your paper is on the cutting edge.

  • First, considering the rapid pace of technological advancement, their data may become irrelevant with time.
  • Second, researchers may need to conduct multiple experiments to finalize their results and data. This poses the risk of data being lost or irretrievable after some time.
  • Finally, the conditions in which you conduct research influence result interpretation to a great extent, and if you don’t sort your research results on time, you may not remember the prevailing conditions well enough for sound interpretation.

– Select data by quality, not by quantity

Many engineering students rightly value numbers and data because this is the raw material used in engineering. However, a research paper is a little different from other types of engineering work. In a research paper, you should focus on high quality data, not simply the volume of data you can pack into your paper. In a research paper, focusing on the best and most important information is paramount. Extraneous information, redundant data, or irrelevant data don’t make a manuscript stronger, even if they make it longer. They are a distraction and can undercut the power of your main points.

  • First, remember that it is sufficient to include the data (or image) that represents the key argument of your research findings.
  • Second, the data you choose to include should support and explain your research results.
  • Third, present data that can help describe the process and mechanism of your study or experiment.

– Discuss the theory, not just the results

Because engineering is an applied discipline, many students minimize or ignore theory in favor of discussing results. While results are important, in a research paper it is also essential to talk about the methodology and theory used to obtain those results. By explaining the background of a theory and the underpinnings that demonstrate why it is true, you show the reader that you know what you are talking about and have considered the strengths and weaknesses of the approach you have used to obtaining your results. It also shows that you have an understanding of the conventions and requirements of academic writing.

  • Read up on existing literature on your topic and refer to it at relevant points within the text. This will not only help you stay updated about the latest literature in your field but will also ensure that your contribution is of value to the field.
  • Propose your own hypothesis, and show how your data substantiates it. This is the most useful presentation strategy and is what is expected from a high-impact paper.
  • Discuss all possible explanations and interpretations for your data and zero-in on the most reasonable one.

– Remember to explain your hypothesis

When you have explained the theories behind your work, you will need to tell the reader what your paper will investigate and what you hope to demonstrate or prove. Outlining the hypothesis is important to make sure that the audience understands why you have chosen to present specific data, and what it all means.

– Cite the most current literature available

The field of engineering evolves at a rapid pace, with some revolutionary discoveries being published every year. Therefore, it is important that your literature cited is current and relevant and not outdated. This will create a good impression on journal editors, peer reviewers, and readers too.

Before Starting to Write

Before you start to write, you should spend some time thinking about the article content. At this stage, you should write down ideas in a free form, creating a general outline for the paper.

  • What is the message of the paper?
  • What is the new result or contribution that you want to describe?
  • What do you want to convince people of?

If you have not already done so, you should conduct a thorough literature search to identify those important contributions that are related to your work. As you are ready to submit your article, it is always helpful to do one more search; including articles that were published just as you submit your paper will show that you are aware of the current work going on in your field (Russel & Morrison 2003).

As you get ready to write, try to summarize these initial ideas into concrete bullets that will eventually become paragraphs. Start to organize these bullets into a logical structure and develop them in the form of key sentences. If the outline is convincing, then the article will be successful. Likewise, a weak outline cannot be saved by any good writing skills.

Steps to write the paper

Literature review is the first step in writing a paper. The method which we are following for this is:

1. Search for as many papers related to the subject

2. Make a list of all the papers we have collected in a single document containing following information:

  1. Title of paper
  2. Journal name, year
  3. Author name
  4. Abstracts

3. Go through all the abstracts and remove those papers which are not relevant.

Finally, have at least 15 to 20 papers as references. Read the full text of these selected abstracts. If we found less than 15 papers on the subject, then we can get other articles which these 15 papers have cited. This method helps us save time navigating through the scores of articles and journals in the internet. We then conduct the experiments as per the standards and mention the conditions under which the experiments are conducted in our paper, we do not forget the instruments or material used in the experiment. We should follow the format given in the journal. Each journal has its own format, so it is important to know the format of the journal you are submitting to.

The Main Headings Followed by Most Journals

a. Abstract: This is a summary of our paper including the significant points in our paper such as a new theory or a result of an experiment etc.

b. Introduction: This is a summary of research that have been done by other researchers and the motivation behind the paper. It should highlight the significance of your work. This can be resumed in a table.

c. Experimental details: Here, we explain the methodology for conducting the experiments along with a photograph of the setup as a proof. The conditions of experiments and the standard of testing followed should be mentioned.

d. Results and discussion: Here we present the results obtained by the experiments we have conducted in a tabular or graphical form. A good practice is to follow each result with a paragraph explaining the inference we have made of the preceding result.

e. Conclusion and perspectives: we conclude the paper by highlighting the contribution you have made through this paper (Additionally, you may put an ‘Acknowledgment’ section in your paper and thank the suppliers, faculty etc. who have provided external support to your work. It is not required to thank your family and friends here!)

Structure and Function of the Article: What to Write

In formulating the outline, it is important to know that most engineering or science journal articles have a well-accepted general format. Each of the following sections are included, usually also in this order, though specific articles may disguise them under different section titles that relate closer to the actual contents of each section. These sections are

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Summary and Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Each part serves a different purpose and has a narrowly defined content and purpose. Understanding how each section functions together with the whole will help the author minimize overlap and repetition.

1. The Abstract

The abstract is a single paragraph that precedes the article and summarizes the content. The abstract reduces the whole paper to a single paragraph. Many times, the abstract will be published by itself in an index to the article and often only the words in the abstract can be searched using library databases; hence, the abstract is a critical element of the research paper. It contains a general introduction to the topic, outlines the major results, and summarizes the conclusions. It is shorter than the summary and conclusions section of the main paper and is less of an outline than the closing paragraph of the introduction. Often, the abstract does not require citations; some journals discourage use of mathematical symbols. The guideline for a good abstract is:

The abstract should inform the reader in a succinct manner as to what the article is about and what the major contributions are that are discussed.

The abstract is more general than the conclusions section and can have a staccato literary style.

The following are two examples of well-written abstracts:

  • “Fishes swim by flapping their tail and other fins. Other sea creatures, such as squid and salps, eject fluid intermittently as a jet. We discuss the fluid mechanics behind these propulsion mechanisms and show that these animals produce optimal vortex rings, which give the maximum thrust for a given energy input. We show that fishes optimize both their steady swimming efficiency and their ability to accelerate and turn by producing an individual optimal ring with each flap of the tail or fin. Salps produce vortex rings directly by ejecting a volume of fluid through a rear orifice, and these are also optimal. An important implication of this paper is that the repetition of vortex production is not necessary for an individual vortex to have the ‘optimal characteristics.” (Linden & Turner 2004).
  • “Aquatic plants convert mean kinetic energy into turbulent kinetic energy at the scale of the plant stems and branches. This energy transfer, linked to wake generation, affects vegetative drag and turbulence intensity. Drawing on this physical link, a model is developed to describe the drag, turbulence and diffusion for flow through emergent vegetation which for the first time captures the relevant underlying physics, and covers the natural range of vegetation density and stem Reynolds numbers. The model is supported by laboratory and field observations. In addition, this work extends the cylinder-based model for vegetative resistance by including the dependence of the drag coefficient, CD, on the stem population density, and introduces the importance of mechanical diffusion in vegetated flows.” (Nepf 1999).

Both abstracts tell the reader what to expect, summarize what the important contribution is, and entice the reader to look further. Neither abstract gives detailed quantitative results. This level of detail lets the reader know what to expect without overwhelming him with details, derivations, or sophisticated results—the reader is equipped to safely set the article aside or delve deeper to uncover the details.

2. The Introduction

The introduction is perhaps the most important sections in a research article. Nearly every reader will at least skim through the introduction. The introduction is also written with the strictest requirements in terms of organization.

* Paragraph 1

The first paragraph should follow the inverted triangle principle: start with a broad statement and become more detailed until finally identifying the specific problem that the paper addresses. The purpose of the first paragraph is to interest the reader in the paper, to clearly identify for the reader what the paper will address, and to quickly bring the reader to the edge of knowledge in the field the paper addresses (Russel & Morrison 2003). The paragraph should end with the general problem addressed by the paper. To have the greatest impact, the first sentence should be broad in scope and should attract the reader’s attention. Here are five opening sentences from the issue of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics:

  • “Turbulence is not a universal state of nature, but there are similar forms of eddy motion, and mixing processes with similar statistical properties for a variety of turbulent flows within a particular ‘type.” (Hanazaki & Hunt 2004).
  • “There is a long-standing interest in flow over isolated topography, such as seamounts, with regard to both theoretical and practical issues.” (Nycander & Lacasce 2004).
  • “Breaking waves at the sea surface promote vigorous mixing of momentum, energy, and scalars, and thus are a key process in upper-ocean dynamics and air-sea interaction.” (Sullivan et al. 2004).
  • “We investigate a family of exact solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations that describe the steady flow of a rivulet down an incline.” (Perazzo & Gratton 2004).
  • “Granular flow exhibits a variety of dynamical phenomena, which have been attracting research interest for many years (for reviews, see e.g. Savage 1984 and Jaeger, Nagel & Behringer 1996).” (Mitarai & Nakanishi 2004).

Clearly, there is a wide variety of levels of detail, but each statement, except for the fourth example, follows the rule of thumb outlined above

Start with an attention-getting broad statement that establishes a general topic for the article

The next sentences of the introduction narrow the topic. These sentences often contain citations to other work and build up to a specific lack of knowledge that culminates in the problem statement. This section can vary in length from one to many sentences, but the general goal is to educate the reader about an important gap in knowledge that the paper will address (Russel & Morrison 2003). Here are three good examples of a complete introductory paragraph: the first is short, the second contains no citations, and the third is longer. The problem statement in each paragraph has also been italicized.

  • “There is a long-standing interest in flow over isolated topography, such as seamounts, with regard to both theoretical and practical issues. Trapped flows are often observed over seamounts, and these flows evidently affect the distribution and concentration of subsurface fauna, filter feeders and the like (e.g. Genin, Noble & Lonsdale 1989 and references therein). These flows are often so intense that they alter the ambient vorticity and, as such, can modify the allowable frequencies of internal waves. This in turn may affect wave breaking (Kunze & Toole 1997 and references therein).” (Nycander & Lacasce 2004), emphasis added.
  • “Observations of swimming fishes and other organisms such as salps reveal a series of vortex rings forming behind the animals, which play an important part in their mechanisms of propulsion. Fishes produce these vortices by an undulatory motion of the body and tail, controlling the periodic shedding of vorticity into the wake, and salps form them more directly, by ejecting fluid backwards through an orifice. In both cases the vortices roll up into three-dimensional (3D) ring-like structures. For fishes, the important question is what frequency and amplitude of the undulatory motion provide the most efficient propulsion? A similar question faces the oarsman of a gondola. For efficient motion, should the oar be moved slowly at large amplitude or quickly with a smaller amplitude? Here, we discuss this question, not in terms of a periodic motion, but by considering each flap of the tail or fin as a single event. This may be repeated periodically during steady swimming, but may be aperiodic during a turn or other manoeuvre. For other organisms using a jet for propulsion, the question is how long a jet provides the optimal efficiency.” (Linden & Turner 2004), emphasis added.
  • “Granular flow exhibits a variety of dynamical phenomena, which have been attracting research interest for many years (for reviews, see e.g. Savage 1984 and Jaeger, Nagel & Behringer 1996). Its complex behavior can be seen even in a simple situation like the gravitational flow on a slope. When the inclination angle is large and the slope is rough, a rapid and relatively low-density flow is realized, and the interaction between grains is dominated by inelastic collisions. On the other hand, when the inclination angle is small, the flow becomes dense and slow, and the frictional interaction plays an important role (Savage 1984; Mitarai & Nakanishi 2003). The comprehensive rheology of the granular flow has not been fully understood yet, except for the rapid collisional flow regime, where hydrodynamic models have been developed with constitutive relations based on the kinetic theory of inelastic hard spheres (Jenkins & Savage 1983; Campbell 1990; Lun et al. 1984; Goldhirsh 2003); it has been demonstrated that some quantitative agreement can be achieved for the steady flow by introducing the spinning motion of each grain (Mitarai, Hayakawa & Nakanishi 2002). The steady granular flow, however, turns out to be unstable in various ways, and shows rich phenomena.” (Mitarai & Nakanishi 2004), emphasis added.

In each case there is reference to broader knowledge beyond the scope of the actual article. This knowledge is narrowed to a specific problem, or gap, in the understanding of the subject. As a result, each example illustrates our next rule-of-thumb (adapted from Russel & Morrison (2003)):

Narrow the topic in successive sentences that outline the state of the art and introduce a gap in knowledge

Each paragraph also contains a statement of the main problem addressed by the article. The second example has a specific problem statement, though it is expanded in the final sentence. The other two paragraphs have somewhat more open-ended problem statements. This statement is not always the final sentence; however, any statements that follow the problem statement serve to make it more specific or further justify its importance. Our final rule for the introductory paragraph follows:

End the introductory paragraph with a general statement of the problem and optional supporting/specifying statements

By following this procedure, the introductory paragraph will serve its purpose of attracting the reader, identifying the context of the problem, and specifying the general direction of the article. After reading this paragraph, the reader should be able to safely set aside the article if he concludes that the topic is not applicable to his area of research. Hence, the statement of the problem should be specific enough for the reader to anticipate the kinds of results that will be reported. Writing in this way, your article will be read by more people and not overlooked by your colleagues in the field.

* Middle paragraphs

Following the introductory paragraph is a series of paragraphs that traditionally function as a literature review (McNown 1996b). The extent of this section varies somewhat by journal and by topic, but generally follows a specific format. The beginning of the literature review should cite the most important historical contributions that build the foundation to the topic the paper will extend (Russel & Morrison 2003). The goal is not to cite everything, as in a review article, but to cite the seminal contributions that directly lead to the problem the article addresses. The remaining paragraphs should focus on the state-of-the-art knowledge base and the significant differences between what has already been published and the new contribution that your article is presenting. Together, these paragraphs give another guiding principle:

The literature review identifies the seminal historical contributions, outlines the state of knowledge, and justifies the novelty of the article’s contribution

The literature review should be based on refereed journal articles to the extent possible. Conference proceedings can be referenced where they never resulted in journal publications; web sites can be referenced where they present unique, multi-media-oriented content. Keep in mind that non-refereed material does not bolster an argument. Hence, the literature review gives credit to our predecessors and justifies the need and novelty of the article’s contribution.

* Final paragraph

The introduction ends with the “road-map” paragraph. This paragraph outlines the remaining sections of the paper. It can either give a general outline of the contribution, or a specific, section-by-section breakdown of the remaining article. Here are two examples illustrating these two possibilities:

  • “In addition to the theory, we present results from numerical simulations. These are done in order to examine whether the predicted stable flows can arise naturally as a result of the time-dependent evolution. As the initial condition, we use various non-stationary vortices near or on top of a seamount. We also revisit two-dimensional turbulence over a bump. The simulations are broadly supportive of the theoretical predictions, although time-dependence can produce exotic and interesting final states.” (Nycander & Lacasce 2004).
  • “Section 2 introduces models for drag, turbulence, and diffusivity for flow through emergent vegetation. Laboratory and field experiments described in section 3 provide observations which support these models. The comparison of model prediction and experimental observation is given in section 4. Finally, the models are used to compare the mean flow, turbulence intensity, and diffusivity in vegetated and unvegetated regions (section 5).” (Nepf 1999).

This paragraph serves two important functions. First, it puts the complete contribution of the article in the context of the previous contributions, thereby, emphasizing novelty and the extent of the new contribution. Second, it guides the expert reader, who may want to skip sections of your article, to the sections that interest him. Thus, we have our final principle for the Introduction:

End the introduction by outlining for the reader the specific contribution of the article and tell the reader the overall organization

This paragraph will also help you organize your logic: if this paragraph is unclear, the rest of the paper will be built on a weak foundation.

3. The Methods

The methods sections often come disguised with other article specific section titles, but serve a unified purpose: to detail the methods used in an objective manner without introduction of interpretation or opinion (van Wagenen 1990). The methods sections should tell the reader clearly how the results were obtained. They should be specific. They should also make adequate reference to accepted methods and identify differences. The governing principle is as follows:

Describe all of the techniques used to obtain the results in a separate, objective Methods section

In the case of a paper that develops both an analytical model and laboratory results, it is common to write separate methods sections for each. At the conclusion of the methods sections, the reader should be able to form an educated opinion about the quality of the results to be presented in the remaining sections (van Wagenen 1990).

Here are five examples of the titles of the methods sections in some of the papers referenced above:

  • “2. Model Development; 2.1 Draft Model for Emergent Vegetation, 2.2 Turbulence Intensity within Emergent Vegetation, 2.3 Diffusion within Emergent Vegetation. 3. Methods; 3.1 Laboratory Experiments, 3.2 Field Experiments.” (Nepf 1999).
  • “Gravitational Convection; The main assumptions.” (Morton et al. 1956).
  • “2. Classification of 2-D coherent structures in shallow flows. 3. Methods of investigation.” (Jirka 2001).
  • “2. Theory of Vortex Ring Formation” (Linden & Turner 2004).
  • “2. Theory; 2.1. Conservation laws and variational principle, 2.2. Flat topography or circular seamount, 2.3. Irregular seamount, 2.4. Comparison with the theory of Carnevale & Frederiksen.” (Nycander & Lacasce 2004).

One thing to notice is that subsections should only be used when there will be more than one subsection; a subsection implies that the material should be classified into more than one group.

4. The Results

The results section and the following discussion section allow the most flexibility in terms of organization and content. In general, the pure, unbiased results should be presented first without interpretation (van Wagenen 1990). These results should present the raw data or the results after applying the techniques outlined in the methods section. The results are simply results; they do not draw conclusions. Often the results are combined with the discussion section, which does make interpretations and suggest implications. When these are presented in one section, there should be a clear distinction between a result and discussion. This could be done by paragraphing, by section headings, or by careful writing within a single paragraph. The main purpose of the results section, however, is to provide the data from your study so that other researchers can draw their own conclusions and understand fully the basis for your conclusions.

A common format for the results section is to present a series of figures and to describe the figures in detail through the text. A good results section presents clear figures with efficient text. The figures should support the assertions in the paper or illustrate the new insights. Where applicable, results should be illustrated in terms of non-dimensional variables. These characteristics lead to our principle for results sections:

Results should be clear, convincing, and general and should be free from interpretations or opinions

Whether together with the discussion or in their own section, results need to be communicated objectively.

5. The Discussion

The discussion section is where the article interprets the results to reach its major conclusions. This is also where the author’s opinion enters the picture (Van Wagenen 1990)—the discussion is where the argument is made. Often writers will combine the discussion and results sections so that they can avoid repetition and so that they can give their conclusions parallel with the results. This is acceptable if there maintains a clear distinction between facts and opinion. Most scientific papers, however, require the results and discussion to be in separate sections.

A common feature of the discussion section is comparison between measured and modeled data or comparison among various modeling methods.

  • How do the results compare with earlier work?
  • What is new and significant?

Another common element in a discussion section applies the results obtained to solve a specific engineering or scientific problem. Some journals, notably the Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, even require a separate applications section for this purpose. The main feature of the discussion section can be summarized as follows:

Discussion sections interpret the results to reach the main conclusions of the article

The discussion section is the main impact section where the researcher has the most freedom to tout the implications of his research. A word of warning, though: never make an assertion of which you are not 100% sure—do not open the door for a negative review or the eventual rejection of your article. As a rule, it is better to be conservative. Most of the experts reading your article will draw their own conclusions anyhow. This section allows you to highlight the conclusions you think are important.

6. The Summary and Conclusions

The final section of the paper does not introduce any new information or insights: it merely summarizes and concludes. This section is longer than the abstract and generally includes more specific conclusions. It is often more quantitative than the abstract, however, listing equations or citations should not be necessary (McNown 1996a). The summary and conclusions section also has a more fluid literary style than the abstract.

A good format for this section is to write it in two paragraphs. The first paragraph summarizes various sections of the article. The second paragraph draws the important conclusions. The summary paragraph is different than that at the end of the introduction section. Here, the summary paragraph draws on the fact that the reader knows all of the new results presented in the article. It then summarizes what the important results where. The conclusion paragraph identifies the significant conclusions. McNown (1996a) suggests two possible formats for this second paragraph:

  1. Organize based on logical flow for points that are interconnected
  2. Organize based on merit, where the most important items appear first

It is important to remember that this paragraph should not present new information. It may combine parts of the article to underscore an important conclusion, but it cannot present information that could not be gleaned from the other sections. A third, optional, paragraph may identify future research directions that flow naturally from the article.

The guiding principle for the summary and conclusions section may be formulated as follows:

The summary and conclusions section tells the reader what has already been read and draws the important conclusions—keep it short and make it as specific as possible

If the reader wants to know specifically what aspects of a problem your paper will address, he will often read the introduction and then the summary and conclusions section. Hence, it is important that all of the significant findings are summarized and united in the significant conclusions. Follow these guidelines and your papers will have maximum impact and receive the most positive reviews that your work warrants.

7. The Acknowledgments

The acknowledgments are given at the end of the research paper and should at a minimum name the sources of funding that contributed to the article. You may also recognize other people who contributed to the article or data contained in the article, but at a level of effort that does not justify their inclusion as authors.

There is a growing trend to also acknowledge the contributions of the reviewers. This is a controversial issue. Since acknowledgment sections cannot be referenced or listed on a curriculum vitae, this seems only a means of getting the reviewers to agree with a revision and accept the paper. I would suggest that if the reviewer’s comments are great enough that they substantially changed the paper, the reviewer might be invited as an author; a flowery acknowledgment seems unjustified, given that every article is presumed to have benefited from reviewer comments.

8. The References

All reference works cited in the paper must appear in a list of references that follow the formatting requirements of the journal in which the article is to be published. You may not include references that were not cited. Refereed journal articles, research monographs, and books are preferred over less stable or reliable sources, such as personal communications, unrefereed conference proceedings, or website addresses.



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