8.1 Structure and coherence - 8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

8.1 Structure and coherence
8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

Structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking are all inter-related and key to writing long texts successfully.

✵ In developing a piece of scientific writing, whether it be an essay, a report, a research review or a research paper, you are required to develop an argument supported by critical thinking and logical reasoning.

✵ If your argument is to be easily understood, then it must be clearly structured and coherent.

Every argument, like every text, is unique. However, looking at examples of how other writers have thought their ideas through and put down thoughts on the page can help you to develop the awareness and skills to form clearly structured, coherent, well-reasoned arguments which display your ability to think critically, i.e. to assess and question the facts and ideas you encounter in your research, and to reason logically.

8.1 Structure and coherence

It is important that a long piece of writing has a clear structure, usually indicated through headings and sub-headings. These should serve to guide the reader visually and conceptually through the text in a logical, coherent manner.

A long text such as an essay or research review will have the following basic structure:

Possible contents



an opening statement which gains the reader’s interest background information/context (with reference to the literature) question to be addressed and its relevance definitions of key terms

outline of the purpose and focus of the essay, and the essay structure, i.e. how you will answer the question

Main body

response to the question divided into sections and/or paragraphs, the content and organisation of which reflect the development of your analysis and reasoning


reference back to initial question

concise restatement of your argument and the conclusion you have reached through careful reasoning

a note of any limitations to your work

a suggestion for further work in the area


a detailed list of all the sources you have referred to 9.1

You will be required to produce long texts which have a more specified structure, such as a research report, for which you are required to perform your own scientific investigations. This will have the following structure:


Possible contents

Title page

title, subtitle, name, other required details

Contents page

the basic structure of the paper with page numbers for each section


a concise summary of the research and results, together with their significance


background information/context definition of key terms

analysis of the current literature with specific reference to the gap in the current knowledge or the problem that your research addresses articulation of the exact research question to be investigated (i.e. the question you seek to answer through a particular method of inquiry), its relevance, and the rationale behind it

outline of the report structure

Methods/Materials and methods

a detailed account of the procedure you followed in order to obtain your results, given in such a way that it could be replicated by others


a detailed scientific analysis of the outcomes of your research/experiment


a discussion of the reasons for your results, together with their meaning and significance


(might be included in the discussion section)

reference back to initial research question concise restatement of your findings and your argument, and of the conclusion you have reached through careful reasoniang a note of any limitations to your study

a suggestion for further research work in the area


a detailed list of all the sources you have referred to 9.1


data related to the investigation

Many of the research papers you read in scientific journals will follow a similar basic structure of:







However, you will find acceptable variation across journals. Make a mental note of the structure of the journal articles you read.

Explorative Task

You are going to read some extracts from a research paper in a journal of chemical engineering.

1) Before you read, match these words from the text with their definitions (using a dictionary where necessary):


i) application

a) soak something with a substance

ii) raw material

b) the total area of an object’s surface

iii) surface area

c) a basic material from which other things are made

iv) impregnate

d) the practical use of a material, technology, etc.

v) grind

e) something that is produced when you are making something else

vi) by-product

f) existing in large amounts

vii) abundant

g) make a substance into a powder using a hard surface


i) pore

a) a substance used to increase the rate of a chemical reaction

ii) activated carbon

b) one of many small openings on a solid substance

iii) leach

c) extract soluble components from a solid using a solvent (a liquid that dissolves a substance)

iv) catalyst

d) carbon that has been processed so that it is full of small pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions

v) residue

e) the protective layer surrounding a cereal seed

vi) bran

f) something that remains after a substance has been removed

2) Use the language or parts in bold to match the following extracts from the research paper entitled

Characteristics of Activated Carbons Derived from Deoiled Rice Bran Residues

(Niticharoenwong et al., 2013)

to the following sections (it isn’t necessary to understand all the very technical terms):

Abstract; Introduction; Materials and Methods; Results and Discussion; Conclusion

a) First, deoiled rice was treated with concentrated sulphuric acid (weight ratio of 1:1), at 150°C for 24 h. After cooling, the material was ground. The excess acid present on the material was leached out by washing with sodium bicarbonate solution (1% w/v) until neutral. The resulting material was then washed with distilled water. After drying at 110°C for 24 h, the treated material was impregnated with H2PO4 or ZnCl2. at 1:1 (w/w), and then dried at 110°C for another 24 h.

b) The research focuses on investigation of the characteristics of activated carbons derived from deoiled bran residues, a major by-product of the rice bran oil industry. The preparation of activated carbon consists of two steps; the first step is the pre-carbonised acid leaching (H2SO4) process and the second step is chemical activation using H2PO4 or ZnCl2 as an activating agent for the development of micropores. The effects of preparation parameters including the types of activating agent (H2PO4 and ZnCl2) and temperature of activation were studied.

c) Activated carbon is a well-known material with various applications on an industrial scale. For example, it is used for the purification of gases (Guo and Lua, 2002), the removal of organic pollutants from water (Zhou et al., 2009), the removal of heavy metal from wastewater (Daifullah et al., 2003; Montanher et al., 2005; Singh et al., 2005), and as a catalyst or catalyst support (Bedia et al., 2010; Gu et al., 2010). Activated carbons that are currently commercially available are expensive, however. Therefore, the search for alternative low-cost bio-based materials, as well as the appropriate processes for the preparation of activated carbons from these abundant resources, has become necessary (Guo and Lua, 2002; Maite et al., 2007).

d) Table III shows the BET surface areas of activated carbons prepared from H2PO4 and ZnCl2 activation observed at different activation temperatures. For H2PO4 activation, the BET surface area slightly increases when the activation temperature increases from 400° to 700°C. This was possibly because of a violent gasification reaction that may cause a part of the micropore structure to be destroyed by pores collapsing or combining (Oh and Park, 2002)

e) This study reports the preparation of activated carbon from deoiled rice bran residues using H2PO4 and ZnCl2 as chemical activating agents. ZnCl2 activation produces an activated carbon with higher surface area than H2PO4 produces. The maximum surface area of 1404 m2/g was obtained for ZnCl2 activation at the activation temperature of 400o C, while the maximum surface area of the material activated with H2PO4 was 1187 m2/g obtained at the activation temperature of 500oC. Both H2PO4- and ZnCl2-activated carbons were found to exhibit a combination of mostly microporous and partly mesoporous structures. The results from this study demonstrated that deoiled rice bran residues can be a promising abundant, low-cost material for the preparation of activated carbons. These activated carbons can be used as catalyst supports due to their remarkably high surface areas.

3) Which extracts use a) the present tense b) the past tense?

4) What do you notice about the verbs in the Methods section?

5) Underline the expressions in the Methods section which indicate sequence.

6) Which expressions in the Results and Discussion section:

refer directly to results/data

discuss results

7) Which phrase in the Conclusion introduces a summary of results?

8) Underline words in the Conclusion which indicate similarities and differences in the results for the two methods?

9) What is the function of the last two sentences in the Introduction and Conclusion?

10) Highlight all the precise measurements provided.

9.5 for more information on presenting measurements in science

Note how consistent tense use, the clear sequencing of information and analysis, and the use of the common organisational structures and phrases associated with each section in a research report make the texts easy to follow despite the complexity of the science.

See Academic Phrasebank http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/ for more structures and phrases commonly used in Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusion sections.

There are other text types which you may be required to produce, such as lab reports or research proposals. The nature and structure of these will differ in some respects according to the subject and the institution, so always follow the particular guidelines you are given.

8.1.1 Focus on Introductions and Conclusions

Whatever the structure of your text, it should be clearly set out at the beginning and signposted throughout. In longer texts such as dissertations, the Introduction should tie in with the Contents page, and the Conclusion should refer back to the Introduction.

The three things should frame your essay and help give it coherence.

Explorative Task

You are going to look at the beginning of a technical report written by a student at the University of Manchester.

1) Read the introduction to the report and use it to help you complete the list of contents which precedes it using the following headings and sub-headings:

The Effects of Surface Treatments and Coatings

The Mechanism of Fatigue

Final Fracture

Surface Roughness

Fatigue Crack Propagation

A Comparison of the Effect of Different Types of Coating on the Fatigue Life of Carbon Steel


1) Introduction

2) _____________________

2.1 Fatigue Crack Initiation

2.2 __________________

2.3 __________________

3) Source and Prevention of Fatigue

3.1 __________________

3.2 Residual Stresses

3.3 __________________

4) Conclusion

5) References

1. Introduction

Fatigue, the tendency of a material, such as metal, to break after being subjected to cyclic loading, has been the subject of research for more than 150 years. It was Wohler who first discovered that metallic parts could continue to work for a long time if they were subjected to a constant load below their yield point, but that parts could fail if they were subjected to a cyclic load, even if it was below the yield point of the material [1]. Over the course of the 20th century, many fatigue failures were recorded. However, fatigue was considered to be a puzzling phenomenon because the damage could not be seen, and the only indicator of the problem was a hidden crack. A complete solution to the problem of fatigue has not yet been discovered [1].

The process of fatigue failure can be divided into three stages: crack initiation, crack propagation, and then rapid fracture, which leads to failure [2]. The fatigue crack is more likely to initiate at the surface of the material because of surface roughness or marks left during the manufacturing process. These act as stress concentration points. Therefore, surface treatment, such as surface polishing, is very important to prevent or delay fatigue failure [3]. In addition, metals exposed to corrosive environments may also be treated with coatings, which may affect fatigue behaviour.

The objective of this project is to examine the process of fatigue failure in carbon steel, with a view to assessing the role of coatings in combatting this problem. It will begin by outlining the mechanism of fatigue. It will then discuss the source of fatigue, and ways of preventing it, with particular focus on the use of coatings.

2) Highlight the parts of the text which contain:

an opening statement


definitions of key terms

the rationale behind the investigation

the purpose of the project

an outline of the project structure

3) Does the Introduction prepare the reader for what is to come?

4) How might the Conclusion to this project begin?

The Conclusion should refer back directly to the Introduction, e.g.

✵ The objective of this project was to examine the process of fatigue failure in carbon steel, and to assess the effects of coatings on fatigue behaviour.

Notice the use of the past tense.

It should then summarise the findings and the argument, e.g.

✵ The evidence shows/suggests that …

✵ It was found that …

✵ It can be concluded that …

It should then mention the significance or implications of the findings, e.g.

✵ The findings are significant in that they …

✵ The implications of these findings are that …

It may then indicate any limitations to the current study and suggest areas worthy of further research, e.g.

✵ The scope of this study was limited to …

✵ This study focused on …

✵ x would benefit from further study.

✵ Further study on x may reveal/establish/confirm …

8.1.2 Describing methodology


1) Complete the text from the Methodology section of a paper with the correct form of the verbs below, taking care to consider which of them need to be passive:

focus; spend; have; release; feed; observe

The observations via infrared thermography a) _______on the elephant group at the Vienna Zoo, Austria. Ts (skin temperature) of four adult female elephants and two juvenile elephants b) _______. The keepers c) _______direct contact with the group for approximately 1.5 h per day. The elephants d) _______the night unchained in the indoor enclosure within the family and e) _______to their outdoor enclosure for approximately 4 h during the day. The elephants f) _______ with hay, branches, carrots and apples.

(Weissenbock et al., 2010: 182)

2) Complete the sentences with the correct preposition.

a) The solution was heated ______ 150°C.

b) The environment was kept ______ a steady temperature ______ 18°C.

c) The glass was treated ______ corrosive acids to produce a matt finish.

d) The elephants were enclosed ______ 1pm and 4pm.

e) The patients attended physical therapy from 11am _______ 1pm each day.

3) Put the words in order to make sentences describing methodology.

a) material/the/cut/was/into/strips/2 cm

b) the/cooling/was/mixed/after/solution/with/10 ml/water/of

c) months/the/installed/system/was/alarm/throughout/the/and/building/then/monitored six/for

d) corrosion/to/prevent/metal/the/was/with/a/coating/treated

e) conducted/post-natal/were/using/surveys/email/groups/and/focus

Study Box: Common structures in methods sections

To do X, Y was done.

Y was done to do X.

X was done (by) using Y.

After/Before ______ ing, X was done.

Prior to X, Y was done.

8.1.3 Describing and discussing results


1) Complete these sentences from the results and discussions sections of a paper entitled

Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review

(Dangour et al., 2009)

with the phrases provided:

several strengths; were significantly higher (x 2); beyond the scope of; found no evidence of; it is unlikely that; are comparable; there is no evidence to support


a) Analysis of satisfactory-quality crop studies _______ a difference in 8 of the 11 nutrient categories.

b) Nitrogen contents _______ in conventionally produced crops, and contents of phosphorus and titratable acidity _______ in organically produced crops.


c) The analysis presented suggests that organically and conventionally produced foods _______ in their nutrient content.

d) _______ consumption of these nutrients at the concentrations reported in organic foods in this study provide any health benefit.

e) This review had _______, such as its systematic and exhaustive nature, its broad inclusion criteria, and its methodological rigor.

f) The potential for any benefits to public health […] warrant further systematic review, but [this] was _______ the current report.

g) One broad conclusion to draw from this review is that _______ the selection of organically produced foodstuffs over conventionally produced foodstuffs to increase the intake of specific nutrients or nutritionally relevant substances.

2) Which of the above sentences make reference to the following?

specific findings based on data

general findings

the implications of the findings

the strengths of the study

limitations of the study

the need for further research

9.3 for common phrases when referring to tables and figures