April 2019 Limerick Project

Literature Searches

“In searching for texts antiquarian
Or modern, seek first the librarians!
Their counsels are wise:
Research skills exercise,
While you formulate arguments clarion.”  

The April 11 limerick, written as part of National Library Week 2019, has been interestingly challenging to write about.  “Libraries and librarians are wonderful” is hardly a mysterious theme!

Since there’s not nearly as much need for translation as with some of my previous poems, I’ve opted to discuss the process of writing a scientific research article and how that can benefit from the insights of a librarian.  A chemist encounters several types of writing tasks in a career, many of which involve communicating regarding research. That communication can take place many ways; one medium is an informational piece of writing that reports on recent experiments, commonly called a journal article, research article, or scientific paper.

“In searching for texts antiquarian/ Or modern, seek first the librarians!/ Their counsels are wise:/ Research skills exercise…”
After its detailed title, a journal article typically begins with a short summary called an “Abstract,” summing up the article’s main findings; the abstract helps a reader to determine if diving into the full article would be beneficial.  Interestingly, it’s often the section written last, since it distills the article’s key points.  

The “Introduction” of the journal article (sometimes called the “Theory” section) then provides background information: what’s already been done in this area?  One aspect of writing journal articles thus involves reporting on a literature search: reviewing other scientists’ writings on the same topics, available in databases of previously published journal articles (“searching the texts antiquarian or modern”), and explaining how the new work compares to or contrasts with previously completed research.   

Librarians provide wonderful resources in navigating dense scientific literature; any author would benefit from talking with them, as a first step in the writing process. Searching for and reading journal articles can both be challenging tasks, but this type of writing follows a common format, and understanding that format can be useful.                  

“While you formulate arguments clarion.” 
The remainder of the journal article is where the chemist presents the new research, explaining what was done in the experiment (typically labeling this section as “Materials and Methods” or “Experimental Details”), the findings that were obtained (“Data and Results”), and the implications of those findings (“Discussion”).  Names can differ for all of these sections, but some common labels are presented in parentheses. These latter parts of the article constitute the author’s new contribution, ideally presented clearly, as an “argument clarion.”