Lecture Notes — How to Write a Great Research Paper

Xinyu Zhang
5 min readJan 3, 2021

Recently, I have watched a lecture on youtube about the practice of writing a good research paper. I find this video very useful; here I briefly summarize the lecture in this post.

Why Write Papers
How to Write a Paper
⠀⠀⠀ General Principle
⠀⠀⠀ Recommended Structure
⠀⠀⠀ Abstract
⠀⠀⠀ Introduction
⠀⠀⠀ Body
⠀⠀⠀ Related Work
⠀⠀⠀ Conclusion and Future Work
Other Tips

Why Write Papers

Paper communicates ideas. Writing is to convey a useful and reusable idea to your audience.

Writing is not to impress others or just describe what you have done.

Some brilliant quotes from the lecture:

If you keep your brilliant ideas to yourself and you don’t tell anybody, you might as well not have them.

Communication is the part of very fabric of doing science.

The lecturer also admitted that some work could have a delayed utility, which means the usefulness is not clear at the moment but is proven afterward. But he suggested that it’s a high-risk strategy for a PhD student to only rely on that kind of research.

How to Write a Paper

General Principle

First, write your paper with one major idea, but not with many small ideas.

If you don’t have ideas of what your paper talk about, you audience will neither.

Second, start to write early.

Writing is a good way to find out what you are talking about.

Paper is a forcing function to tell you what you do next.

As you write the paper, it will be clear to you, what you don’t yet finish and understand.

Third, don’t be afraid that your idea is too simple.

You will learn what your idea really means through writing. Writing is how you develop your idea in the first place.

Start the idea that is simple, but it usually ramifies and becomes something that is way too complex, and then you have to make things simple.

Do not think that you will have a world-changing idea, but focus on unimportant ideas.

Fourth, engage your readers at the beginning because they will not read from start to the end.

Recommended Structure


Don’t write a long abstract and repeat them in the introduction.


Remember we have to engage readers at the beginning, so we have to invest more in this section, where we

  1. Describe our problem
  2. State our contributions

Keep the introduction within the first page, to save the physical load of turning a page.

Combine abstract description, and a concrete example is a good way to get readers engaged.
Don’t write too over-ambitious and confusing words like the first example.

Make sure your problem is hot enough to be intriguing and easy enough to be solvable.

Use your list of contributions to drive your paper by forward references.

If a section does not appear in the references in the contribution, then it is questionable why.

Don’t put your related work right after the introduction.

Put related work after the body of your paper, and make forward references to them where it makes sense in the narratives.


To keep readers hooked, the paper has to be easy to follow.

Introduce the problem and idea using EXAMPLES, and only then present the general case and details.

Then, convey the idea and capture the intuition.

Intuition is primary, they will get something useful even they go away with only the intuition.

Don’t throw all the details and terminologies all at once, it will sent readers to sleep. And don’t recapitulate the journey of your discovery, that is not interesting to readers.

Put examples and intuitions first, but you must have details to support them.

Related Work

Don’t try to make your work look good by making others look bad.

Credit is not like money, credit is love. The more you share, the more you have.

Don’t feel compelled to make your work superior in any dimensions. Point out the limitation, that is good science.

Conclusion and Future Work

Readers are tired, don’t write them a research proposal here

Other Tips

Let your readers tell you where they get lost. Then you can explain to them and record what you say and write them into the paper.

Tell the expert that “I have done some work, where I describe your work in the related work section, and I want your feedback”. He might be your reviewer, if he slaps you now, it’s way better than slapping you as a reviewer.

Treat every review like gold dust. Be truly grateful for criticism as well as praise.

If you get rejected, put reviews aside and read them after a week with a peaceful mind, and try to think how could you rewrite the paper so that the reviewers will not make the mistake to reject your paper. It is really warm.


In this post, I briefly summarize a lecture name “How to write a great research paper” from youtube. I guess it is cool to be a researcher.

I hope this post to be useful to you. See you soon :D