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. In my opinion, 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 and “theory” and “research” to indicate a deep study of the subject. Understanding both these elements will help authors draft high-quality engineering-related manuscripts.
Here are four crucial pointers researchers should bear in mind while writing engineering papers:
1. Sort your research results as early as possible.
Not all engineering researchers are adept at handling research results. Over the years, I have come across many cases in which researchers procrastinate analyzing and sorting their research results for as long as a couple of years, until they really “need to.” This might prove to be risky for several reasons. 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.
2. Focus on the quality of data presented, not the quantity.
The most common and incorrect assumption authors have with regard to writing an engineering paper is that having a large amount of data is all they need and that the longer their manuscript is the better. I have often reviewed such manuscripts that are almost overloaded with data that may not always be relevant to the topic. Data only constitutes one part of research; in fact, an engineering manuscript does not require a large amount of data. So, what kind of data should authors include in an engineering paper? 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. If, after following these three guidelines, you have additional data that may seem promising to you, exclude it. The key is to only show readers data that is directly related to the key message of your manuscript. The more information you include the more you are likely to confuse your readers.
3. Explain the theory behind the data.
This is related to the difference I highlighted earlier – engineers apply research, researchers or authors explain the theory behind the application. Most authors of engineering papers assume that their readers would be more interested in the “results” than in “how or why the results were arrived at.” However, an academic manuscript should delve into the aspect of scientific enquiry and should display a certain level of scholarship instead of simply presenting data. The key lies in extracting the “secret” behind your data. You can do this in several ways:
(a) 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.
(b) 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.
(c) Discuss all possible explanations and interpretations for your data and zero-in on the most reasonable one.
4. 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’s 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.