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In my research paper I used the phrase "this paper" to refer to the one I am writing and sometimes I write "the [other] paper" to refer to some other paper. The editor replaced "paper" with "study".

(Edit: The editor is not from a publisher. It is a service that checks my punctuation and spelling, before I submit my paper for peer-review.)

I thought that "study" refers to research in which one "goes out into the world, collects data and draws conclusions from that". That is NOT what I am doing, because I am writing a math paper. My main contribution is the theory not the experiments, which are case studies of my methods. (See what I did there? In the experiments section I do indeed use the word "study".) So, what I opted in for now is, to call other people work "literature" and my own work "this work".

Is the word "paper" bad style in scientific writing? I could also use the word "article" if that is better.

I understand that "research" refers to the entire body of publications on a topic, while "study" only refers to a single publication. But then again I could also say, "other's research [11]", while citing a specific paper, right?

When should I use which word:

  • paper,
  • study,
  • article,
  • literature,
  • research,
  • publication,
  • work?
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  • 1
    In general usage, study doesn't require going out into the world and collecting data; it commonly refers to the opposite, i.e. sitting in a room and reading a book. If you think "study" means something different in mathematics, then you might be better off asking a roomful of mathematicians on the relevant stackexchange. Regardless, the word you should use is what the editor tells you to; they may well want to keep style consistent across all papers/studies.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 10, 2021 at 16:17
  • @StuartF: The editor is not from a publisher. It is a service that checks my punctuation and spelling, before I submit my paper for peer-review.
    – Make42
    Oct 10, 2021 at 17:24
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    What term do other papers in your field use?
    – jimm101
    Oct 10, 2021 at 23:19
  • @jimm101: I have seen "paper", "literature", "research", and "work". I have not seen "article". I am not sure about "study" and "publication".
    – Make42
    Oct 11, 2021 at 21:16

3 Answers 3

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This is rather subtle, and to some extent a matter of style, personal preference, and practice in the scientific field. However, I would argue that there is a rationale basis for a choice between two sets of terms. My own choice would depend on which of the following I wished to place the emphasis on:

  • The actual published account — in which case paper, publication, article (or perhaps literature) would be appropriate.
  • The data presented, its analysis and interpretation — in which case study, work or investigation (not research) would be appropriate.

As a biological scientist, in general reference to other publications I would use the latter:

In previous work we showed that…

A previous study demonstrated that…

It is what was done that I regard as important, and, in my opinion, referring to the vehicle by which it was communicated takes the reader one (unnecessary) step away from this.

Occasionally, where the focus is on a famous publication, several papers, a particular aspect of a paper, or perhaps a theoretical paper (dealing with ideas, rather than work) I would write:

In their historic Nature paper, X and Y argued…

In a series of articles published in the early ’70s, Z and coworkers demonstrated…

In a recent report it was claimed that…

We have made a thorough survey of the literature, but have been unable to find…

So, although I imagine that ‘paper’ was not incorrect in the preliminary document mentioned in the question, I would suggest that the above is the rationale for preferring ‘study’, and that in this respect the editor was doing a good job.

Postscript

The poster asks some additional questions about specific terms, whereas this answer tries to point out the general rationale. However, for the record, I would say that:

  • Study and work can both be used to describe the contents of a single publication. Examples in which both study and work would seem appropriate are research performed to compare things (e.g. plants) or out what happens in a system disturbed in a particular way (e.g. hormone treatment). Research to determine a nucleic acid sequence or the structure of a protein (e.g. covid virus and its spike protein) would generally be described as work and not a study.
  • Research is not widely used as it is taken for granted that a scientific publication is of research, unless it is labelled as a review or hypothesis. You might use it in a general context, e.g. ”there has been little research into this topic”.
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  • It is indeed true that study puts focus on 'what was done', while paper puts focus on the vehicle of communicating it. The difference between 'what was done' and writing about it is, however, more pronounced in empirical sciences than in purely theoretical fields, such as mathematics (which is the OP's field). Proving a mathematical theorem or defending a philosophical thesis is inseparable from writing down the proof/argument.
    – jsw29
    Mar 10 at 16:43
  • @jsw29 — I must admit that I somehow missed the fact that the poster was in maths, and my answer not directly applicable to his field. As answers on SE are intended to address the question rather than the person, I thought I’d let it stand, especially as he seemed to be hoping he could use one word regardless, rather than having to weigh the situation. Difficult, as with any writing in English if it is not your native language and your expertise is in other fields. Bad enough writing and rewriting drafts of one’s own papers when you’ve been doing it for years.
    – David
    Mar 10 at 17:23
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Use whichever word is reasonably specific and concise.

Style guides like APA generally don't suggest a preference between paper and study. Nor do genre-specific writing guides. For instance, in Angelika Hofmann's book Scientific Writing and Communication (2nd ed., 2014), she does not refer to this kind of usage directly, and her examples include both paper and study:

To determine the mechanism for the direct effect of contrast media on heart muscle mechanics, we carried out the study on heart muscles isolated from cats. (p.48)

It is one of the goals of this paper to assess the limitations of the models used (p.73; this is an exercise where the point is to rewrite using first person, e.g., "Our paper assesses the limitations of the models used.")

In this study, we show that a sequential scheme of phosphoryation and dephosphorylation can generate circadian oscillations. (p. 224)

I've also seen words like work used in similar ways, like this excerpt from Leslie Ann Roldan and Mary-Lou Pardue's book Writing in Biology: A Brief Guide (2016):

Our work contributes towards a greater understanding of metastasis, and draws our closer to the goal of mediating therapeutic intervention for this complex process (p.75)

In terms of IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) organization, references to our study, paper, or work will most likely happen in the introduction (bringing up the research question) or discussion (describing what the study does in general). Such global statements would be unexpected in a literature review, methods section, or results section. For non-IMRaD scientific writing, the introduction or conclusion would be the most likely spot for saying this study/paper/work or similar uses.

So in your case, if paper makes more sense to you given your context, use it.

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  • Your examples are good, and saved me the work of finding real ones myself, but your conclusion, in my opinion, misses the underlying logic and comes to a conclusion that is at odds with most of the examples. And what makes most sense to the poster may not be best practice until he has had his ideas on the subject clarified. Sorry to beat my own drum — I imagine it is considered bad practice.
    – David
    Mar 10 at 9:39
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Your usage is correct in the scientific community. Your editor may have excellent English but less experience with reading scientific publications, which have their own jargon and expressions.

I would stick with paper for all of the reasons you noted.

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  • Thanks! Can you comment on the usage of those other words that I mentioned?
    – Make42
    Oct 10, 2021 at 11:45
  • This is just an opinion. On this list we require opinions to be supported with examples, references or logic.
    – David
    Mar 10 at 9:40
  • Given that the OP's question is prompted by the feedback received from the editor, an answer that explains the limited role of editors with no subject-matter expertise is precisely what the OP needed. An inherently plausible and to-the-point answer does not need a great deal of elaboration.
    – jsw29
    Mar 10 at 16:26

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