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How to write and structure a journal article
Sharing your research data can be hugely beneficial to your career , as well as to the scholarly community and wider society. But before you do so, there are some important ethical considerations to remember.
What are the rules and guidance you should follow, when you begin to think about how to write and structure a journal article? Ruth First Prize winner Steven Rogers, PhD said the first thing is to be passionate about what you write.
Steven Nabieu Rogers, Ruth First Prize winner.
Let’s go through some of the best advice that will help you pinpoint the features of a journal article, and how to structure it into a compelling research paper.
Planning for your article
When planning to write your article, make sure it has a central message that you want to get across. This could be a novel aspect of methodology that you have in your PhD study, a new theory, or an interesting modification you have made to theory or a novel set of findings.
2018 NARST Award winner Marissa Rollnick advised that you should decide what this central focus is, then create a paper outline bearing in mind the need to:
Get familiar with the journal you want to submit to
It is a good idea to choose your target journal before you start to write your paper. Then you can tailor your writing to the journal’s requirements and readership, to increase your chances of acceptance.
When selecting your journal think about audience, purposes, what to write about and why. Decide the kind of article to write. Is it a report, position paper, critique or review? What makes your argument or research interesting? How might the paper add value to the field?
If you need more guidance on how to choose a journal, here is our guide to narrow your focus.
Once you’ve chosen your target journal, take the time to read a selection of articles already published – particularly focus on those that are relevant to your own research.
This can help you get an understanding of what the editors may be looking for, then you can guide your writing efforts.
The Think. Check. Submit. initiative provides tools to help you evaluate whether the journal you’re planning to send your work to is trustworthy.
The journal’s aims and scope is also an important resource to refer back to as you write your paper – use it to make sure your article aligns with what the journal is trying to accomplish.
Keep your message focused
The next thing you need to consider when writing your article is your target audience. Are you writing for a more general audience or is your audience experts in the same field as you? The journal you have chosen will give you more information on the type of audience that will read your work.
When you know your audience, focus on your main message to keep the attention of your readers. A lack of focus is a common problem and can get in the way of effective communication.
Stick to the point. The strongest journal articles usually have one point to make. They make that point powerfully, back it up with evidence, and position it within the field.
How to format and structure a journal article
The format and structure of a journal article is just as important as the content itself, it helps to clearly guide the reader through.
How do I format a journal article?
Individual journals will have their own specific formatting requirements, which you can find in the instructions for authors.
You can save time on formatting by downloading a template from our library of templates to apply to your article text. These templates are accepted by many of our journals. Also, a large number of our journals now offer format-free submission, which allows you to submit your paper without formatting your manuscript to meet that journal’s specific requirements.
General structure for writing an academic journal article
The title of your article is one of the first indicators readers will get of your research and concepts. It should be concise, accurate, and informative. You should include your most relevant keywords in your title, but avoid including abbreviations and formulae.
Keywords are an essential part of producing a journal article. When writing a journal article you must select keywords that you would like your article to rank for.
The purpose of your abstract is to express the key points of your research, clearly and concisely. An abstract must always be well considered, as it is the primary element of your work that readers will come across.
An abstract should be a short paragraph (around 300 words) that summarizes the findings of your journal article. Ordinarily an abstract will be comprised of:
Acknowledgements can appear to be a small aspect of your journal article, however it is still important. This is where you acknowledge the individuals who do not qualify for co-authorship, but contributed to your article intellectually, financially, or in some other manner.
When you acknowledge someone in your academic texts, it gives you more integrity as a writer as it shows that you are not claiming other academic’s ideas as your own intellectual property. It can also aid your readers in their own research journeys.
An introduction is a pivotal part of the article writing process. An introduction not only introduces your topic and your stance on the topic, but it also (situates/contextualizes) your argument in the broader academic field.
The main body is where your main arguments and your evidence are located. Each paragraph will encapsulate a different notion and there will be clear linking between each paragraph.
Your conclusion should be an interpretation of your results, where you summarize all of the concepts that you introduced in the main body of the text in order of most to least important. No new concepts are to be introduced in this section.
References and citations
References and citations should be well balanced, current and relevant. Although every field is different, you should aim to cite references that are not more than 10 years old if possible. The studies you cite should be strongly related to your research question.
Clarity is key
Make your writing accessible by using clear language. Writing that is easy to read, is easier to understand too.
You may want to write for a global audience – to have your research reach the widest readership. Make sure you write in a way that will be understood by any reader regardless of their field or whether English is their first language.
Write your journal article with confidence, to give your reader certainty in your research. Make sure that you’ve described your methodology and approach; whilst it may seem obvious to you, it may not to your reader. And don’t forget to explain acronyms when they first appear.
Engage your audience. Go back to thinking about your audience; are they experts in your field who will easily follow technical language, or are they a lay audience who need the ideas presented in a simpler way?
Be aware of other literature in your field, and reference it
Make sure to tell your reader how your article relates to key work that’s already published. This doesn’t mean you have to review every piece of previous relevant literature, but show how you are building on previous work to avoid accidental plagiarism.
When you reference something, fully understand its relevance to your research so you can make it clear for your reader. Keep in mind that recent references highlight awareness of all the current developments in the literature that you are building on. This doesn’t mean you can’t include older references, just make sure it is clear why you’ve chosen to.
How old can my references be?
Grasian Mkodzongi, Ruth First Prize Winner
Top tips to get you started
Communicate your unique point of view to stand out. You may be building on a concept already in existence, but you still need to have something new to say. Make sure you say it convincingly, and fully understand and reference what has gone before.
Professor Len Barton, Founding Editor of Disability and Society
Now you know the features of a journal article and how to construct it. This video is an extra resource to use with this guide to help you know what to think about before you write your journal article.
Expert help for your manuscript
Taylor & Francis Editing Services offers a full range of pre-submission manuscript preparation services to help you improve the quality of your manuscript and submit with confidence.
- Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
- Apply to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
- Give to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Twenty steps to writing a research article.
Article reproduced with permission from Beth A. Fischer and Michael J. Zigmond, Survival Skills and Ethics Program, University of Pittsburgh
THE PROCESS OF MOVING FROM IDEA to published manuscript can be a daunting one. Here we break that process into a series of steps designed make this essential task more manageable. Our list has been modified and expanded from a list provided by the Council of Biological Editors, 1968. If 20 steps are too many to manage, focus on the 13 steps that we have marked with an asterisk (*) – these cannot be skipped!
1. Determine the authors . When designing a research project, we recommend preparing an initial list and order of authors. Such a list authors should be based on established guidelines and should make explicit the estimated contribution of each individual to the project. We recommend that every research group establish and make known to its members the criteria for authorship on papers resulting from the work to be conducted. In so doing, the group may wish to make use of existing guidelines; see our essay on “Components of a Research Article.”
A list of authors will ensure that all individuals to be involved in the project understand at the outset whether or not they can expect to be an author and, if so, what their contribution is to be. It should be viewed as a tentative list, as the final version should reflect actual contributions to the work. (Also, there may be more than one list as it might be anticipated that more than one paper will derive from a given project.)
2. Start writing before the experiments are complete. Start writing while you are still doing the experiments. Writing often evokes new ideas: you may realize that there are additional experiments to run or additional controls that you need to add. If you wait until you are done in the lab, have dismantled the equipment, and possibly moved on to another position, you will not have the opportunity to test these ideas.
3. Decide it is time to publish . It is time to publish when your findings represent a complete story (or at least a complete chapter), one that will make a significant contribution to the scientific literature. Simply collecting a given amount of data is not adequate.
4. Draft a title & abstract . Drafting a working title and an abstract helps define the contents of the paper, identifying which experiments you will publish in this paper, and which studies you will save for inclusion in another paper. (See our Components of a Research Article on the preparation of these two items.)
*5. (Re)examine the list of authors . When you have now determined which experiments will be included in this paper you must select the authors and the order in which they will appear. If you have followed our advice to this point, you already have such a list. Reevaluate it based on the contributions that were made to those experiments and the additional contributions that will be made through the preparation of the manuscript. If a list already exists, make adjustments to ensure compliance with your guidelines. Of course, any changes should be done with caution and tact.
6. Determine the basic forma t. There are three basic formats for peer-reviewed research articles:
• Full-length research articles : These articles contain a comprehensive investigation of the subject matter and are viewed as the standard format. It uses the “IMRAD” format: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. (See “Components of a Research Article.”)
• Short (or brief) communications : While not as comprehensive in scope as full-length research articles, these papers also make a significant contribution to the literature. Their length will be set by the journal but is usually 3500 words or less and will contain up to 2 tables and figures. Unlike full papers, methods, results, and discussions may be combined into a single section.
• Rapid communications : These articles quickly disseminate particularly “hot” findings, usually in a brief communication format. Articles that have immediate implications for public health would be appropriate for such a format, as might findings in a highly competitive and quickly moving field.
7. Select the journal . There are several factors to consider when choosing a journal. It is unlikely that one journal will have all the features you are looking for, so you may have to compromise. However, there is one essential feature you should not compromise on – manuscripts must be peer reviewed for publication if they are to be considered research articles .
Language : English has become the dominant form for international scientific communication. Thus, if you are interested in communicating your results widely to the international scientific community, then it is essential to publish in English. If, on the other hand, you wish to communicate to a more localized community (e.g., physicians in a particular geographical area), you might chose a journal that permits another language.
Focus : What type of research does the journal publish? Is its focus broad or narrow? Which disciplines are represented? What is the journal’s orientation – for example, is it clinical or basic, theoretical or applied?
Indexing : Is the journal indexed in the major electronic databases such as Medline, Biological Abstracts, Chemical Abstracts, or Current Contents?
Availability : Is the journal broadly available? Is there an online version of the journal? Are papers provided in PDF format?
Reputation : Although it can be rather subjective, there are several ways to gauge the reputation of a journal. Ask colleagues which journals they respect. Look at recent articles and judge their importance. Check the members of the editorial board and determine if they are leaders in their fields. Determine the journal’s impact factor (an annual measure of the extent to which articles in a given journal are cited. How selective is the journal in accepting papers for publication? Note, however, these ratings can be artificially inflated in journals that publish review articles, which tend to be cited more than research articles. See www.isinet.com ). Try to find out the acceptance rate of the journal.
Format : Do you like the appearance of published articles – the format, typeface, and style used in citing references? If relevant, does the journal publish short and/or rapid communications?
Figures : Do figures published in the journal have the resolution that you need? Time to Print: Using the “date submitted” and a “date accepted” that are published on the article, along with the date of the issue, you can estimate the length of the review process as well as the time from acceptance to publication in print.
Charges : Some journals bill the author for page charges, a cost per final printed page. Most journals have a separate charge for color plates. This may be as much as $1000 per color plate. Many journals will waive page charges if this presents a financial hardship for the author; color plate charges are less-readily waived and would at least require evidence that the color is essential to the presentation of the data (e.g., to show a double-labeled cell).
Once you decide on a journal, obtain and read that journal’s instructions to authors. This document describes the format for your article and provides information on how to submit your manuscript. You can usually obtain a copy of the journal’s instructions to authors on its Web site or in the first issue of a new volume.
8. Stock the sections of your paper. As you think about your paper, store relevant material in folders marked Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This will save time and avoid frustration when the writing begins. Stored items might include figures, references, and ideas.
*9. Construct the tables, figures, and legends . Yes, create figures and tables before the writing begins! The entire paper should be organized around the data you will present. By preparing the tables and figures (and their legends and appropriate statistical analyses), you will be certain of your results before you worry too much about their interpretation. You also may be able to determine if you have all the data you need. Note: except under unusual circumstance, you may not include any data that you have already published. (See “Components of a Research Paper.”)
*10. Outline the paper . An outline is like a road map. An outline details how you will get from here to there, and helps ensure that you take the most direct and logical route. Do not start writing without it! If you have coauthors, you may wish to get feedback from them before you proceed to the actual writing phase. And if you have “stocked” your sections (Step 8), those files should be useful here and in the writing that follows.
*11. Write the first draft . Write the first draft of the entire manuscript. If you are writing with coauthors, you may wish to assign different aspects of the manuscript to different authors. This can save time, allow more individuals to feel that are making substantive contributions to the writing process, and ensure the best use of expertise. However, it also can lead to a mixture of styles. Thus, if you take this approach, be certain that the final product is carefully edited to provide a single voice. “Components of a Research Article” discusses what goes into each section of the manuscript. For a more extensive presentation of this and many other aspects of preparing a paper, see Day (1998). At this point, do not worry about it being intelligible. That comes later.
Some people recommend that you begin your writing with the Introduction and continue through in order each section of the paper. This can help ensure flow. However, others suggest that you start wherever you wish – anything to get rid of that blank screen or piece of paper. Whatever your approach, heed the advice of Charles Sides (1991): “If you try to write and edit at the same time, you will do neither well.” And because editing is often a lot easier than writing, push through this step as quickly as possible. If you are taking much more than two full days, you have probably paused to edit!
*12. Revise the manuscript . This step involves three major tasks, each to be carried out in the order given:
Make major alterations : Fill in gaps, correct flaws in logic, restructure the document to present the material in the most logical order.
Polish the style : Refine the text, then correct grammar and spelling.
Format the document : Make your manuscript attractive and easy to read. It is important to do the tasks in the stated order. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending a lot of time revising material that you later delete.
*13. Check the references . Ensure that the citations are correct and complete. Do one last literature search to make certain that you are up to date. (See “Components of Research Article” on the matter of reference selection.)
*14. Write the final title and abstract . Many changes are made during the editing process. Make certain that your title and abstract match the final version of your article.
*15. Reread the journal's Instructions to Authors. Review the details of how the manuscript is to be formatted and submitted. Revise where necessary.
*16. Prepare the final illustrations . Ensure that your tables, figures, and figure legends are complete, clear, self-contained, and in the format required by the journal. Do not allow any chance for misunderstanding.
*17. Get feedback on your manuscript and then revise your manuscript again . Getting feedback is one of the most important things that you can do to improve your article. First, be sure your co-authors have had a chance to read and comment on the draft. Then, when it is ready, give the manuscript to some colleagues. Indicate when you would like to receive their comments, and what levels of information you would like (e.g., comments on the science, logic, language, and/or style). After you get their comments, revise your manuscript to address their concerns.
Do not submit your manuscript until you feel it is ready for publication. Once it is accepted, further changes in your manuscript will be difficult and may also be costly.
*18. Submit the manuscript to the editor . Follow the Instructions to Authors to determine what items you need to submit, how to submit them, and to whom you should send them. Note that some journals permit (or even require) a “pre-review,”i.e., a letter indicating the content of the article so that the editors can determine whether they will accept the manuscript for a full review. At this point you may wish to list possible reviewers (or individuals to be avoided). If necessary, contact the editor to be sure that the manuscript was received. And if after a month you have not received a response concerning the acceptability of your manuscript for publication you may wish to contact the editor about this, too.
*19. Deal with reviewers' comments . Most manuscripts are not accepted on the first submission. However, you may well be invited to resubmit a revised manuscript. If you choose to do so, you will need to respond to the reviewer comments. Do this with tact. Answer every concern of the reviewers, and indicate where the corresponding changes were made in the manuscript if they were, indeed, made. You do not need to make all of the changes that the reviewer recommended, but you do need to provide a convincing rationale for any changes that you did not make. When you resubmit the manuscript, indicate in your cover letter that this is a revised version. An alternative is to submit the manuscript to another journal. However, if you do so, it may still be best to take the reviewer comments into consideration. Even if you feel that the reviewers have misunderstood something in your paper, others might do the same. Of course, if you submit to another journal you probably will need to modify the format. And please note: You may not submit your manuscript to more than one journal at a time!
*20. Check the proofs . Once the manuscript is accepted and prepared for print, the publisher will send the corresponding author page proofs of the article. This may be accompanied by a list of queries, such as missing information regarding a reference. The proofs may be sent via e-mail or as hard copy. If there is a chance that you will be away when the proofs arrive, have a plan for making certain that they are received and you are notified. You may only have 24–48 hr to return the proofs. Carefully correct any typos and factual errors. And read the manuscript for clarity – this is your last chance!
However, try to limit changes to editorial queries plus minor modifications. If you think anything more major is required, you must first get permission from the journal editor and be prepared for additional costs and publication delays.
20+. Celebrate! As Robert Day says in How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper (1998), “The goal of scientific research is publication…. A scientific experiment, no matter how spectacular the results, is not complete until the results are published.” Your experiment – at least one phase of it – is now complete. Enjoy the moment!
For a more complete set of references on writing, see the web site ( www.survival.pitt.edu ).
Council of Biology Editors, Committee on Graduate Training in Scientific Writing (1968) Scientific Writing for Graduate Students: A Manual on the Teaching of Scientific Writing. New York: Rockefeller University Press. (This was subsequently revised, see Woodford below.)
Day, R.A.(1998) How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 5th Edition. Phoenix: Oryx Press. Fischer, B.A., Zigmond, M.J.(2004) Components of a Research Article. www.survival.pitt.edu .
Institute for Scientific Information. www.isinet.com Sides, C.(1991) How to Write and Present Technical Information. USA: Oryx Press.
Woodford, F.P.(1999) How to Teach Scientific Communication. Reston, VA: Council of Biology Editors.
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How to Write a Journal Article
Writing and publishing journal articles is essential if you wish to pursue an academic career. Today, academic careers are publication-dependent; developing a high-quality publication record is a vital part of developing your academic credentials, your visibility among your discipline peers and your viability as a researcher.
This article will pinpoint the features of a journal article that are normally found in the humanities and social sciences. It will also examine some planning and writing strategies that will enable you to produce an article that is publication-ready. For those of you who prefer to learn by watching videos, we've prepared one on how to write your first journal article and you can watch it on Capstone Editing's YouTube channel .
The ‘preamble’ elements of a journal article
Title and subtitle.
The title should indicate the article’s topic or theme to readers, and a subtitle can extend or clarify the title. Many titles follow the format ‘Suggestive, Creative Title: Descriptive Subtitle’ (Hayot 2014, ch. 18); for example:
Chadwick, AM 2012, ‘Routine Magic, Mundane Ritual: Towards a Unified Notion of Depositional Practice’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology , vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 283–315.
In this type of title, the more suggestive first part of the title can indicate the author’s theoretical approach and something about how traditional (or not) this approach is. It is important that the subtitle gives readers some indication of the article’s objective or major theme.
Other titles may use a format that includes an abstract and a concrete noun:
Hansen, HL 2011, ‘ Multiperspectivism in the Novels of the Spanish Civil War’, Orbis Litterarum, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 148–166.
This more straightforward approach contains enough information through the words chosen (‘multiperspectivism’, ‘novels’, ‘Spanish Civil War’) so that readers can immediately identify if the article is pertinent to them, in both content and theoretical approach.
Along with a title that grabs readers’ attention and indicates the article’s theme or objective, a well-written abstract is essential. The abstract is what readers and other researchers will look at first to determine if your article is worth reading. It is worth spending time on a succinct, ‘punchy’ and relevant abstract that will clarify exactly what you are arguing or proposing. Abstract writing is a particular skill that requires practice and complete familiarity with your argument and article content. You will most likely need to review and rewrite your abstract after you have finished writing the article.
Most journals will ask you to select five to seven keywords that can be used in search engines. These are the words that students, researchers and other readers will use to search for information over the internet through Google or similar resources, library websites or the journal’s own website.
You should provide a brief acknowledgement of any financial, academic or other support you have received in relation to producing your article. You can also thank the peer reviewers here (once your article has been accepted for publication).
Writing the article
Writing a journal article is not unlike writing an essay or thesis chapter. The same basic rules of academic writing apply. By planning what and how you will write, and how you will incorporate data/evidence, your article is more likely to be cohesive, well organised and well written.
Even if you are developing an article from an existing essay or thesis chapter, spending some time on planning is essential. Some authors like to begin with a ‘mind map’. A mind map contains a central theme, argument or premise. The writer will then create ‘branches’ extending from the central theme. These may be topics or subthemes that are included in the final article. If they are substantial, they may constitute a new article. Mind maps operate like brainstorming sessions, in which you allow a free flow of ideas from your mind, through your pen or keyboard to paper or screen. These ideas can then be organised into logical patterns of related subthemes and you can then begin assembling evidence (research, references and quotations) to support the arguments under each theme.
Figure 1: A simple mind map for essay writing
A plan can be as simple as a list of subheadings with notes and supporting information, from which you will construct and write the paragraphs of your article. Using the minor themes from your thesis can also enable you to develop several articles on topics you were unable to develop more fully in the thesis.
Once you have developed a detailed plan for your article, the writing can begin. A journal article is normally written for an already informed audience. While the rules of clear writing and exposition still apply, you can safely assume that people who read your article in a journal are familiar with the terminology, methodologies and theoretical positions of your discipline. This means that you can ‘jump right in’ to a topic, stating your position or argument immediately and strongly.
This guide assumes you have already completed your research and thus amassed a large number of notes, thoughts and more or less developed ideas, along with detailed and appropriate citations to support your contentions, relevant and appropriate quotations, data or other forms of evidence that you have collected, images you may wish to include, and any other material relevant to your article. This is the raw material you will, using your plan, write up into a publishable journal article. Now we will look at a few important aspects of writing that you should consider.
Grammar, spelling and punctuation
For a guideline to standard and acceptable grammar, you may like to consult resources such as the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers , an Australian government publication that covers aspects of writing, editing and publishing in Australia. It is very important that you review whether the journal you are submitting to uses American or British spelling and punctuation conventions, as these can differ significantly. Reviewing and editing your own work to ensure grammatical consistency prior to submission is essential: this should be considered part of your writing practice and approached accordingly. Be on the lookout for instances of mixed tenses (especially the present and past tenses), clumsy sentences with too many clauses, the incorrect use of common punctuation marks such as apostrophes and commas, or the overuse of capitalisation (avoid capitalising the names of theories and job titles in particular). Ensure your spelling is consistent by using the ‘Find’ tab to search for easily misspelt words, especially regarding British/American conventions. Vary your sentence lengths and structure to maintain your readers’ interest. Some academic work falls into the trap of using sentences that are too long or complicated, or using a less-familiar or longer word when a simple one will do.
Tone and register
Tone and register refer to the style and ‘voice’ of your writing. In most academic contexts, your writing style should err on the formal side (unless you are submitting to a journal that promotes innovative or creative approaches to writing). Avoid contractions, colloquial, gender-specific (unless relevant), racist or offensive language. However, within the constraints of formal academic language, it is important that you develop your own style and ‘voice’. Read the authors that you admire the most, both for their research and for their writing. Note what you like about their writing style. While academic writing needs to communicate clearly, it can also be vibrant and elegant. In addition, it should be compelling, understandable and effective. Remember that articles are reader-centred (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 15), so your objective should always be to engage the reader with your language. As stated above, most readers of your article will be familiar with your discipline; nevertheless, it is better to avoid overloading readers with discipline-specific jargon.
The major elements of an article
The introduction’s importance may seem obvious, but all writers can benefit from a reminder of the importance and centrality of good introductions to an academic journal article. The introduction does just that: introduces your topic, theme or research question, outlines your general theoretical or methodological approach and places your article within the context of a larger academic debate or field. Here you can expand on your title and subtitle, making your contentions explicit and clarifying the data or evidence you have used. Some humanities or social science articles will include a brief literature review in the introduction; a social science writer may also include an explicit research aim or objective (this is less common in the humanities). As with the abstract, it is sometimes more beneficial to write the introduction after you have written the main body.
The main body is where you present, in appropriate detail, your main arguments, themes and contentions, all thoroughly grounded in evidence, close analysis and clear, compelling writing.
With both the humanities and social sciences, the paragraph is an article’s main organising principle. Each paragraph should contain one main theme and be of at least four or five sentences, and a logical flow should exist between and among your paragraphs. Humanities articles will often not use the more obvious subheadings common to the social sciences, such as ‘Data Collection’, ‘Analysis’ or ‘Results’. While humanities articles are less subject to these subheading conventions, the effective use of subheadings can clarify and identify your ideas and enable readers to navigate easily through the text (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 19). While an article should not contain the explicit signposting expected in undergraduate essays or even graduate research theses, it is still useful to use transitions and opening sentences to indicate what each paragraph’s main theme is, and how it fits into the overarching theme of your article.
By focusing on one main original idea or contention in your article and making explicit statements about your article’s contribution to the existing scholarship, you will grab the attention of journal publishers, and hopefully peer reviewers and subsequent readers. If you have information that is not directly related to your main argument but is still important, use footnotes or endnotes (depending on the journal’s own style). Use direct quotations strategically and judiciously and translate foreign-language quotations if your article is written for an English-language journal.
The conclusion is not just a summary of what has preceded it. A (good) conclusion will complete or make whole your article’s arguments and analysis by referring to what you have written. It will include a summing up of your main contention, but it will also offer and clarify to your reader a new way of looking at the theme or problem you have been discussing. As Eric Hayot notes, ‘a good ending is also a beginning’ (Hayot 2014, p. 107): good endings open new pathways for both readers and writers of academic work. The conclusion can be the most difficult section of an article to write; as such, it is likely to consume relatively more of your time than even the introduction. It is important to finish strongly; however, you should resist the temptation to make unfounded, sweeping or radical claims in your conclusion.
References and citations
It goes without saying that referencing and citations should be done thoroughly and correctly. If you are undertaking or have completed your thesis, you will be familiar with when to use citations and how to construct your reference list/bibliography. In general, it is best to be citation-rich for journal articles. Each journal will use a specific referencing style—either one of the main styles in common use (APA, Chicago, MLA) or a modified version of their own. Refer to the journal author guidelines for more information on this issue.
It is vital that you follow the style and referencing requirements for your chosen journal to the letter.
Remember that many journals will require you to obtain permissions for any images you may wish to use, including payment of fees to whichever institution holds the copyright.
- Australian Government Printing Service 2002, Style Manual for Editors, Writers and Printers , 6th edn, Snooks & Co.
- Hayot, E 2014, Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities , Columbia University Press, New York.
- Soule, DPJ, Whiteley, L & McIntosh, S (eds) 2007, Writing for Scholarly Journals: Publishing in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences , eSharp, http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_41223_en.pdf
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Update: In response to your feedback, we have reinstated the original text so you can see how it was revised. – July 11, 2019
How to prepare a manuscript for international journals — Part 2
In this monthly series, Dr. Angel Borja draws on his extensive background as an author, reviewer and editor to give advice on preparing the manuscript (author's view), the evaluation process (reviewer's view) and what there is to hate or love in a paper (editor's view).
This article is the second in the series. The first article was: " Six things to do before writing your manuscript ."
Learn more about publishing at Elsevier
An article begins with the Title, Abstract and Keywords.
The article text follows the IMRAD format , which responds to the questions below:
- I ntroduction: What did you/others do? Why did you do it?
- M ethods: How did you do it?
- R esults: What did you find?
- D iscussion: What does it all mean?
The main text is followed by the Conclusion, Acknowledgements, References and Supporting Materials.
While this is the published structure, however, we often use a different order when writing.
Steps to organizing your manuscript
- Prepare the figures and tables .
- Write the Methods .
- Write up the Results .
- Write the Discussion . Finalize the Results and Discussion before writing the introduction. This is because, if the discussion is insufficient, how can you objectively demonstrate the scientific significance of your work in the introduction?
- Write a clear Conclusion .
- Write a compelling introduction .
- Write the Abstract .
- Compose a concise and descriptive Title .
- Select Keywords for indexing.
- Write the Acknowledgements .
- Write up the References .
Next, I'll review each step in more detail. But before you set out to write a paper, there are two important things you should do that will set the groundwork for the entire process.
- The topic to be studied should be the first issue to be solved. Define your hypothesis and objectives (These will go in the Introduction.)
- Review the literature related to the topic and select some papers (about 30) that can be cited in your paper (These will be listed in the References.)
Finally, keep in mind that each publisher has its own style guidelines and preferences, so always consult the publisher's Guide for Authors.
Step 1: Prepare the figures and tables
Remember that "a figure is worth a thousand words." Hence, illustrations, including figures and tables, are the most efficient way to present your results. Your data are the driving force of the paper, so your illustrations are critical!
How do you decide between presenting your data as tables or figures? Generally, tables give the actual experimental results, while figures are often used for comparisons of experimental results with those of previous works, or with calculated/theoretical values (Figure 1).
Whatever your choice is, no illustrations should duplicate the information described elsewhere in the manuscript.
Another important factor: figure and table legends must be self-explanatory (Figure 2).
When presenting your tables and figures, appearances count! To this end:
- Avoid crowded plots (Figure 3), using only three or four data sets per figure; use well-selected scales.
- Think about appropriate axis label size
- Include clear symbols and data sets that are easy to distinguish.
- Never include long boring tables (e.g., chemical compositions of emulsion systems or lists of species and abundances). You can include them as supplementary material.
If you are using photographs, each must have a scale marker, or scale bar, of professional quality in one corner.
In photographs and figures, use color only when necessary when submitting to a print publication. If different line styles can clarify the meaning, never use colors or other thrilling effects or you will be charged with expensive fees. Of course, this does not apply to online journals. For many journals, you can submit duplicate figures: one in color for the online version of the journal and pdfs, and another in black and white for the hardcopy journal (Figure 4).
Another common problem is the misuse of lines and histograms. Lines joining data only can be used when presenting time series or consecutive samples data (e.g., in a transect from coast to offshore in Figure 5). However, when there is no connection between samples or there is not a gradient, you must use histograms (Figure 5).
Sometimes, fonts are too small for the journal. You must take this into account, or they may be illegible to readers (Figure 6).
Finally, you must pay attention to the use of decimals, lines, etc. (Figure 7)
Step 2: Write the Methods
This section responds to the question of how the problem was studied. If your paper is proposing a new method, you need to include detailed information so a knowledgeable reader can reproduce the experiment.
However, do not repeat the details of established methods; use References and Supporting Materials to indicate the previously published procedures. Broad summaries or key references are sufficient.
Reviewers will criticize incomplete or incorrect methods descriptions and may recommend rejection, because this section is critical in the process of reproducing your investigation. In this way, all chemicals must be identified. Do not use proprietary, unidentifiable compounds.
To this end, it's important to use standard systems for numbers and nomenclature. For example:
- For chemicals, use the conventions of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the official recommendations of the IUPAC–IUB Combined Commission on Biochemical Nomenclature .
- For species, use accepted taxonomical nomenclature ( WoRMS: World Register of Marine Species , ERMS: European Register of Marine Species ), and write them always in italics.
- For units of measurement, follow the International System of Units (SI).
Present proper control experiments and statistics used, again to make the experiment of investigation repeatable.
List the methods in the same order they will appear in the Results section, in the logical order in which you did the research:
- Description of the site
- Description of the surveys or experiments done, giving information on dates, etc.
- Description of the laboratory methods, including separation or treatment of samples, analytical methods, following the order of waters, sediments and biomonitors. If you have worked with different biodiversity components start from the simplest (i.e. microbes) to the more complex (i.e. mammals)
- Description of the statistical methods used (including confidence levels, etc.)
In this section, avoid adding comments, results, and discussion, which is a common error.
Length of the manuscript
Again, look at the journal's Guide for Authors, but an ideal length for a manuscript is 25 to 40 pages, double spaced, including essential data only. Here are some general guidelines:
- Title: Short and informative
- Abstract: 1 paragraph (<250 words)
- Introduction: 1.5-2 pages
- Methods: 2-3 pages
- Results: 6-8 pages
- Discussion: 4-6 pages
- Conclusion: 1 paragraph
- Figures: 6-8 (one per page)
- Tables: 1-3 (one per page)
- References: 20-50 papers (2-4 pages)
Step 3: Write up the Results
This section responds to the question "What have you found?" Hence, only representative results from your research should be presented. The results should be essential for discussion.
However, remember that most journals offer the possibility of adding Supporting Materials, so use them freely for data of secondary importance. In this way, do not attempt to "hide" data in the hope of saving it for a later paper. You may lose evidence to reinforce your conclusion. If data are too abundant, you can use those supplementary materials.
Use sub-headings to keep results of the same type together, which is easier to review and read. Number these sub-sections for the convenience of internal cross-referencing, but always taking into account the publisher's Guide for Authors.
For the data, decide on a logical order that tells a clear story and makes it and easy to understand. Generally, this will be in the same order as presented in the methods section.
An important issue is that you must not include references in this section; you are presenting your results, so you cannot refer to others here. If you refer to others, is because you are discussing your results, and this must be included in the Discussion section.
- Indicate the statistical tests used with all relevant parameters: e.g., mean and standard deviation (SD): 44% (±3); median and interpercentile range: 7 years (4.5 to 9.5 years).
- Use mean and standard deviation to report normally distributed data.
- Use median and interpercentile range to report skewed data.
- For numbers, use two significant digits unless more precision is necessary (2.08, not 2.07856444).
- Never use percentages for very small samples e.g., "one out of two" should not be replaced by 50%.
Step 4: Write the Discussion
Here you must respond to what the results mean. Probably it is the easiest section to write, but the hardest section to get right. This is because it is the most important section of your article. Here you get the chance to sell your data. Take into account that a huge numbers of manuscripts are rejected because the Discussion is weak.
You need to make the Discussion corresponding to the Results, but do not reiterate the results. Here you need to compare the published results by your colleagues with yours (using some of the references included in the Introduction). Never ignore work in disagreement with yours, in turn, you must confront it and convince the reader that you are correct or better.
Take into account the following tips:
1. Avoid statements that go beyond what the results can support.
2. Avoid unspecific expressions such as "higher temperature", "at a lower rate", "highly significant". Quantitative descriptions are always preferred (35ºC, 0.5%, p<0.001, respectively).
3. Avoid sudden introduction of new terms or ideas; you must present everything in the introduction, to be confronted with your results here.
4. Speculations on possible interpretations are allowed, but these should be rooted in fact, rather than imagination. To achieve good interpretations think about:
- How do these results relate to the original question or objectives outlined in the Introduction section?
- Do the data support your hypothesis?
- Are your results consistent with what other investigators have reported?
- Discuss weaknesses and discrepancies. If your results were unexpected, try to explain why
- Is there another way to interpret your results?
- What further research would be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results?
- Explain what is new without exaggerating
5. Revision of Results and Discussion is not just paper work. You may do further experiments, derivations, or simulations. Sometimes you cannot clarify your idea in words because some critical items have not been studied substantially.
Step 5: Write a clear Conclusion
This section shows how the work advances the field from the present state of knowledge. In some journals, it's a separate section; in others, it's the last paragraph of the Discussion section. Whatever the case, without a clear conclusion section, reviewers and readers will find it difficult to judge your work and whether it merits publication in the journal.
A common error in this section is repeating the abstract, or just listing experimental results. Trivial statements of your results are unacceptable in this section.
You should provide a clear scientific justification for your work in this section, and indicate uses and extensions if appropriate. Moreover, you can suggest future experiments and point out those that are underway.
You can propose present global and specific conclusions, in relation to the objectives included in the introduction
Step 6: Write a compelling Introduction
This is your opportunity to convince readers that you clearly know why your work is useful.
A good introduction should answer the following questions:
- What is the problem to be solved?
- Are there any existing solutions?
- Which is the best?
- What is its main limitation?
- What do you hope to achieve?
Editors like to see that you have provided a perspective consistent with the nature of the journal. You need to introduce the main scientific publications on which your work is based, citing a couple of original and important works, including recent review articles.
However, editors hate improper citations of too many references irrelevant to the work, or inappropriate judgments on your own achievements. They will think you have no sense of purpose.
Here are some additional tips for the introduction:
- Never use more words than necessary (be concise and to-the-point). Don't make this section into a history lesson. Long introductions put readers off.
- We all know that you are keen to present your new data. But do not forget that you need to give the whole picture at first.
- The introduction must be organized from the global to the particular point of view, guiding the readers to your objectives when writing this paper.
- State the purpose of the paper and research strategy adopted to answer the question, but do not mix introduction with results, discussion and conclusion. Always keep them separate to ensure that the manuscript flows logically from one section to the next.
- Hypothesis and objectives must be clearly remarked at the end of the introduction.
- Expressions such as "novel," "first time," "first ever," and "paradigm-changing" are not preferred. Use them sparingly.
Step 7: Write the Abstract
The abstract tells prospective readers what you did and what the important findings in your research were. Together with the title, it's the advertisement of your article. Make it interesting and easily understood without reading the whole article. Avoid using jargon, uncommon abbreviations and references.
You must be accurate, using the words that convey the precise meaning of your research. The abstract provides a short description of the perspective and purpose of your paper. It gives key results but minimizes experimental details. It is very important to remind that the abstract offers a short description of the interpretation/conclusion in the last sentence.
A clear abstract will strongly influence whether or not your work is further considered.
However, the abstracts must be keep as brief as possible. Just check the 'Guide for authors' of the journal, but normally they have less than 250 words. Here's a good example on a short abstract .
In an abstract, the two whats are essential. Here's an example from an article I co-authored in Ecological Indicators :
- What has been done? "In recent years, several benthic biotic indices have been proposed to be used as ecological indicators in estuarine and coastal waters. One such indicator, the AMBI (AZTI Marine Biotic Index), was designed to establish the ecological quality of European coasts. The AMBI has been used also for the determination of the ecological quality status within the context of the European Water Framework Directive. In this contribution, 38 different applications including six new case studies (hypoxia processes, sand extraction, oil platform impacts, engineering works, dredging and fish aquaculture) are presented."
- What are the main findings? "The results show the response of the benthic communities to different disturbance sources in a simple way. Those communities act as ecological indicators of the 'health' of the system, indicating clearly the gradient associated with the disturbance."
Step 8: Compose a concise and descriptive title
The title must explain what the paper is broadly about. It is your first (and probably only) opportunity to attract the reader's attention. In this way, remember that the first readers are the Editor and the referees. Also, readers are the potential authors who will cite your article, so the first impression is powerful!
We are all flooded by publications, and readers don't have time to read all scientific production. They must be selective, and this selection often comes from the title.
Reviewers will check whether the title is specific and whether it reflects the content of the manuscript. Editors hate titles that make no sense or fail to represent the subject matter adequately. Hence, keep the title informative and concise (clear, descriptive, and not too long). You must avoid technical jargon and abbreviations, if possible. This is because you need to attract a readership as large as possible. Dedicate some time to think about the title and discuss it with your co-authors.
Here you can see some examples of original titles, and how they were changed after reviews and comments to them:
- Original title: Preliminary observations on the effect of salinity on benthic community distribution within a estuarine system, in the North Sea
- Revised title: Effect of salinity on benthic distribution within the Scheldt estuary (North Sea)
- Comments: Long title distracts readers. Remove all redundancies such as "studies on," "the nature of," etc. Never use expressions such as "preliminary." Be precise.
- Original title: Action of antibiotics on bacteria
- Revised title: Inhibition of growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by streptomycin
- Comments: Titles should be specific. Think about "how will I search for this piece of information" when you design the title.
- Original title: Fabrication of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers displaying optical and electrical properties via electrospinning carbon
- Revised title: Electrospinning of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers with optical and electrical properties
- Comments: "English needs help. The title is nonsense. All materials have properties of all varieties. You could examine my hair for its electrical and optical properties! You MUST be specific. I haven't read the paper but I suspect there is something special about these properties, otherwise why would you be reporting them?" – the Editor-in-Chief.
Try to avoid this kind of response!
Step 9: Select keywords for indexing
Keywords are used for indexing your paper. They are the label of your manuscript. It is true that now they are less used by journals because you can search the whole text. However, when looking for keywords, avoid words with a broad meaning and words already included in the title.
Some journals require that the keywords are not those from the journal name, because it is implicit that the topic is that. For example, the journal Soil Biology & Biochemistry requires that the word "soil" not be selected as a keyword.
Only abbreviations firmly established in the field are eligible (e.g., TOC, CTD), avoiding those which are not broadly used (e.g., EBA, MMI).
Again, check the Guide for Authors and look at the number of keywords admitted, label, definitions, thesaurus, range, and other special requests.
Step 10: Write the Acknowledgements
Here, you can thank people who have contributed to the manuscript but not to the extent where that would justify authorship. For example, here you can include technical help and assistance with writing and proofreading. Probably, the most important thing is to thank your funding agency or the agency giving you a grant or fellowship.
In the case of European projects, do not forget to include the grant number or reference. Also, some institutes include the number of publications of the organization, e.g., "This is publication number 657 from AZTI-Tecnalia."
Step 11: Write up the References
Typically, there are more mistakes in the references than in any other part of the manuscript. It is one of the most annoying problems, and causes great headaches among editors. Now, it is easier since to avoid these problem, because there are many available tools.
In the text, you must cite all the scientific publications on which your work is based. But do not over-inflate the manuscript with too many references – it doesn't make a better manuscript! Avoid excessive self-citations and excessive citations of publications from the same region.
Minimize personal communications, do not include unpublished observations, manuscripts submitted but not yet accepted for publication, publications that are not peer reviewed, grey literature, or articles not published in English.
As I have mentioned, you will find the most authoritative information for each journal’s policy on citations when you consult the journal's Guide for Authors. In general, you should minimize personal communications, and be mindful as to how you include unpublished observations. These will be necessary for some disciplines, but consider whether they strengthen or weaken your paper. You might also consider articles published on research networks prior to publication, but consider balancing these citations with citations of peer-reviewed research. When citing research in languages other than English, be aware of the possibility that not everyone in the review process will speak the language of the cited paper and that it may be helpful to find a translation where possible.
You can use any software, such as EndNote or Mendeley , to format and include your references in the paper. Most journals have now the possibility to download small files with the format of the references, allowing you to change it automatically. Also, Elsevier's Your Paper Your Way program waves strict formatting requirements for the initial submission of a manuscript as long as it contains all the essential elements being presented here.
Make the reference list and the in-text citation conform strictly to the style given in the Guide for Authors. Remember that presentation of the references in the correct format is the responsibility of the author, not the editor. Checking the format is normally a large job for the editors. Make their work easier and they will appreciate the effort.
Finally, check the following:
- Spelling of author names
- Year of publications
- Usages of "et al."
- Whether all references are included
In my next article, I will give tips for writing the manuscript, authorship, and how to write a compelling cover letter. Stay tuned!
References and Acknowledgements
I have based this paper on the materials distributed to the attendees of many courses. It is inspired by many Guides for Authors of Elsevier journals. Some of this information is also featured in Elsevier's Publishing Connect tutorials . In addition, I have consulted several web pages: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/ , www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/writing/index.html.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Christiane Barranguet , Executive Publisher of Aquatic Sciences at Elsevier, for her continuous support. And I would like to thank Dr. Alison Bert , Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier Connect; without her assistance, this series would have been impossible to complete.
Angel Borja, PhD
Dr. Angel Borja is Head of Projects at AZTI-Tecnalia , a research center in the Basque Country in Spain specializing in marine research and food technologies. Formerly he was also Head of the Department of Oceanography and Head of the Marine Management Area. His main topic of investigation is marine ecology, and has published more than 270 contributions, from which 150 are in over 40 peer-reviewed journals, through his long career of 32 years of research. During this time he has investigated in multiple topics and ecosystem components, having an ample and multidisciplinary view of marine research.
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How To Write a Journal Article
Posted by Rene Tetzner | Sep 6, 2021 | Paper Writing Advice | 0 |
How To Write a Journal Article for Publication in Twelve Essential Steps Original articles intended for publication are the most common means of disseminating the processes, results and implications of advanced research, so it is imperative that academics and scientists who wish to publish and share their work know how to write a journal article successfully. Although there are significant variations in manuscript requirements among disciplines and publishers, the writing tips I present below apply to most scholarly articles and journals across a wide range of research fields and specialisations.
Step 1: The first question to ask yourself as you begin drafting your paper or searching for a journal to publish it is what type of article will be appropriate for the material you wish to communicate. Original research, for instance, is usually reported in an original research article, whereas an evaluation of published scholarship on a topic would be written as a review article. Choosing the right type of article before you start is essential.
Step 2: Either before or after you draft your article, you will need to learn about periodicals in the field and choose one as your target journal. The scope, aims and concerns published on the journal’s website should be appropriate for your research, and the journal must publish the kind of paper necessary to communicate all important aspects of your work.
Step 3: Once you have decided on the journal to which you will be submitting your article, you should study the journal’s guidelines for authors. In some cases these will provide a great deal of information about how to write a journal article for publication; in others very little help will be offered. Either way, the guidelines must be followed with care as you prepare your article, so pay close attention to details, examples and restrictions.
Step 4: With the journal’s guidelines and your research notes by your side (or at least firmly in mind), you are ready to outline the structure and content of your article. A scientific research article is likely to use a predictable structure of introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion and conclusions, but other fields and types of paper might offer greater freedom. Structure should never be neglected, however, since clear and logical organisation increases accessibility and reader comprehension.
Step 5: Preparing tables, figures, appendices and other supplementary materials before you actually start drafting the paper is an excellent strategy when you are struggling with how to write a journal article. The production of these tools for readers can help an author analyse and interpret findings more effectively, and writing the main text with these tools in hand tends to reduce unnecessary repetition of information.
Step 6: For many academics and scientists, starting to draft the text is the most difficult part of writing an article for publication. Beginning can be rendered easier by writing the separate sections not in the order in which they will ultimately appear, but in an order that better reflects the research process. The methods can therefore be described first, with the report of results, the discussion and the conclusions following. Once you know the contents of these parts, the introduction, background, abstract and list of references can be added.
Step 7: Be sure to take the time to assess your methods, analyse your results and interpret your findings thoroughly. Reporting what you did and what you discovered is not enough for a research paper intended for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. You will also need to tell your audience what your research means, why it is innovative and how it might be productively used by future researchers and practitioners.
Step 8: Remember as you work out how to write a journal article that there is simply no substitute for excellent writing. Scholarly prose must be both clear and correct to communicate research processes and results effectively, and the style must be both formal and appropriate for your discipline or area of specialisation. Reading published articles in your field and especially in your target journal will give you a good idea of the kind of writing you will need to submit.
Step 9: Proofread, edit and revise your draft repeatedly until you have eliminated all errors of fact, language and typing. Too many authors neglect this time-consuming aspect of how to write a journal article and suffer the consequences in the form of rejections and revision requests. As the person who knows your research better than anyone else, you are the person to ensure that your article intended for publication does that research justice.
Step 10: Recruit mentors, colleagues and friends to read your article and offer feedback. Researchers who work in your field and have successfully published their own academic or scientific writing will be able to comment constructively on research content and presentation. If English grammar, tricky references or other challenges of language and formatting prove problematic, a professional proofreader or editor can help.
Step 11: After reader feedback has been considered and the final revisions are complete, submit your manuscript exactly as the journal’s instructions indicate. Submission via an online form is an efficient and common method, but even if the journal’s preferences seem outdated, they must be observed. Unless the guidelines suggest that a cover letter to the journal editor would be unwelcome, be sure to include one to introduce your research and article in an engaging way.
Step 12: Finally, it is likely that your thoughts will be with your manuscript after you have submitted it and even that a host of ideas for further refinements will pop into your mind the instant the article is beyond your grasp. Take advantage of this impulse as you await a response by jotting your ideas down. If a request for revisions arrives from the editor, your notes are likely to prove incredibly helpful.
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Demystifying the Journal Article
Victoria Reyes breaks down the structure of a well-conceived scholarly piece and provides tips to help you get your research published.
Graduate school is professionalization into the academy . One of the most important parts of professionalization is being able to publish your research. I was lucky enough to be in a department that had a yearlong seminar dedicated to just that: conducting research and writing a publishable paper prior to starting the dissertation.
But that was just the first step. Much of what I’ve learned about publishing comes from submitting papers to journals, incorporating reviewer comments, workshopping papers and having conversations with colleagues and mentors.
In this essay, I’ll break down and demystify the format of an article for a general journal. Note that I’m a sociologist, so my insights are field-specific. So, too, must I acknowledge that journals, particularly specialty ones, may have their own style of writing, so the articles you read in them may not follow the format I’ll lay out below. One of the things you should always do before submitting a paper is read articles published by the journal to which you are submitting to get a sense of the conversations being had in its pages and to find a model for your own work.
Despite such idiosyncrasies, knowing a few things about the purposes and format of a journal article will help you get published. You should understand the function of each section and write accordingly.
Introduction. The purpose of this section is threefold. First, you want to trace previous work on the subject and set up the problem. Second, you need to identify how your paper addresses that problem. That is key: explaining what you do to address the gaps of literature or problem of the paper. Finally, you should note the broader contributions and implications of the piece. I like to think that the contributions of a paper can be theoretical, empirical and/or policy relevant, although often the papers published in top journals have all three.
Theoretical framework. This is commonly referred to as a literature review, but I don’t like the term because it implies that you are just doing a passive review of what others have said about your topic. Reviewing previous work is necessary but not sufficient. The purpose of this section goes beyond an accounting of what others have done.
One way to understand the purpose of the theoretical framework is to see it as leading your reader through gaps in the literature that your paper addresses. See the theme? It’s specific to what you are doing in the paper. It also includes information that your reader needs to know in order to understand your argument.
For example, you should incorporate any relevant foundational texts. One of the things you see in general journals is that the theoretical framework is often divided into two sections, precisely because general journals want papers that speak to multiple audiences. So one section of your theoretical framework can deal with one set of literature, while the next section deals with another. Part of your contribution can be uniting and filling in the gaps in both sets.
The theoretical framework often gets a bad reputation in the peer-review process, because reviewer comments often make suggestions regarding the theoretical framing of a manuscript. But I see the framework of a paper to be one of its most central parts. If we view research as a conversation, then the framework signals who you are in conversation with -- that is, the relevant audience and broader contributions of your work.
Sometimes a case-study section that gives background information on your specific case follows the theoretical framework. For example, for a 2015 City and Community article, I created a section dedicated just to explaining the history of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the Philippines, because it was background that my readers needed to understand the data but not part of my results.
Data and methods. This section answers the question “How do you know what you know?” That can be further broken down into three parts:
- On what kind of information or material are you basing your findings (e.g., interviews, statistics, documents)?
- How did you find that information, or where did it come from (e.g., U.S. Census, National Archives, fieldwork)?
- How did you analyze that information? That is, what software or analytic strategies did you use to come up with your findings?
Results. This section contains the meat of the paper, where you present the findings from your work, and you should keep two points in mind. First, make sure that your results speak to the theoretical and empirical questions that your paper raises in the front half -- in other words, that your paper is cohesive throughout. Second, and particularly for qualitative papers, organize your results analytically or thematically -- not, for example, in chronological order or according to some other simple accounting. You should be thoughtful about how to present your results to get the most out of your findings. (For some reason, academics like the number three, so you will often see three main results in a given paper.)
Discussion or conclusion. You may also find a combined discussion and conclusion at the end of the paper. What are the differences between a discussion and a conclusion? That can vary by author or paper, and it depends on how you’ve written up your results section. One way you can think about it is that the discussion section allows you to step back from the results section and reflect on the broader story or themes of your results and how they tie together. If you see a discussion section this way, then you can think about a conclusion as addressing three things: 1) summarizing what you did in the paper, including its main findings, 2) acknowledging the limitations of your work and 3) proposing steps for future research that builds on what you’ve done in the paper.
These tips will not guarantee you publication in a given journal. Your paper’s research question, data and methods, findings, and broader significance need to be original, clear and well integrated in discussions in the field. In addition, you also still have to do your due diligence about where to send your paper, including which journal is a good fit, the specific format of its articles and the types of conversations that are within its pages. Nevertheless, the tips I’ve provided can serve as a foundation from which to start to understand and break down the sometimes-mystifying format of a published journal article.
Victoria Reyes is a sociologist whose work examines how culture shapes global inequality. She is a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside.
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How to Write a Journal Article: Tips and Tools
If you’ve trained as a scientist, you know that part of the learning curve involves figuring out how to write a scientific paper. Unfortunately, few scientists receive explicit instruction in writing papers—researchers by definition are expected to know how to write.
When you’re a grad student, your supervisor is there to guide you through the paper publication process, as it’s in their best interests to have you publish the outcome of your research with them. Once you become an independent scientist, however—whether that’s in academia, industry, or at an NGO—writing research papers can be a frustrating and lonely experience.
There are many online resources and excellent books designed to provide writing advice to scientists. The difficulty as an early career researcher lies in making the time to learn how to write a good paper while also teaching yourself R stats and maybe a bit of Bayesian statistical methods, coming up with new pedagogical approaches to engage your students—or figuring out how to manage a work team, applying for a shrinking pot of grant funds, starting up a lab orgetting familiar with a new job.
This post distills the process of writing a paper into the key steps, and provides links to additional resources available. The goal is to give you a good head start on writing your next scientific paper, while providing specific places to find more detailed advice.
Before You Start Writing
The key to writing a successful research article begins well before you even put pen to paper.
While you’re doing background reading about your research area, it can be useful to save journal articles in a reference management system such as Mendeley, Zotero, or Endnote. This will help you keep track of all the papers related to your research, and make it a lot easier to create reference lists for future research papers. Secondly, you want to ensure that the design of your research project includes a well-defined research goal and series of objectives, as this forms the foundation of your research paper. Thirdly, a good paper requires that you maintain excellent notes of the materials you used and the methods you applied to answer your research question, so that readers can replicate your experiment if they so choose. Finally, many scientists suggest that you only start writing once you’ve completed all of your analysis, and have created a series of key plots and tables that best support your research goal and objectives. This will give you a strong narrative to follow in outlining your results and developing your discussion.
Once you have these aspects together, you should be ready to sit down and write.
Research Paper Structure
A typical research paper is divided into nine sections: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Materials & Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, Acknowledgements, and References. If you do fieldwork, you may have an additional Study Site section between the Introduction and Materials & Methods sections.
Title & Abstract
Scientists read the title and abstract to decide whether or not they will delve into an entire paper—so you want to make sure to grab them right away! The key is to write these after the paper is completed. That way you can come up with a catchy title, and structure the abstract as a mini-paper, with the research question and context, the key results and the new things those results tell us, how it compares with other research, and a conclusion for further work.
This section is all about placing your work into the broader research context, and then narrowing your focus to identify specifically what you plan to do in the paper: i.e., your research goals and objectives.
Materials & Methods
You want to provide enough detail that someone else could replicate the study if need be, and outline your rationale for that approach. Lay out what you did step by step, from the beginning to end of your experiment. Include not only how and why you collected data, but also how and why you applied specific analysis techniques. It can sometimes be hard to determine how much information is too much information; a good piece of advice is to put in more than you need, as you can always pare it down later.
As Ivan Valiela says in his book, Doing Science , this section tells the reader “the facts revealed by your work.” For example, a colleague is currently working on a paper that includes these subheadings in the Methods section: experimental design, logging history, environmental monitoring, and data analysis. The results section outlines observed weather and snowpack conditions (based on the environmental monitoring), and describes changes in streamflow with logging quantified by applying specific data analyses to the streamflow data (part of the environmental monitoring), in relation to the specific experimental design.
The discussion is where you pull your results together into a coherent story, and put that story in context by referring back to your own results and to other peoples’ research. By the end of the discussion, you should have addressed the goals and objectives you outlined in your introduction.
The conclusion ties up the paper by reiterating the research question, restating the significant results and the story they tell, and identifying any areas for further research.
Acknowledgements & References
Always be sure to recognize the contributions of others to your research, whether they’re assistants, funding agencies, or colleagues who helped you talk through different aspects of your work. As for the references—this is where the reference management system we talked about previously comes in, as it should make it relatively easy to create your reference list.
Don’t assume you have to write the paper in order from start to finish. You may find it easier—as many scientists do—to start with the Results section, referring to your tables and figures to explain what’s happening. Others may find it easier to start with the Methods section, writing out what they did and why. Still others may start with the Introduction, as it helps them mentally set the stage for what they need to write next.
Don’t wait for the perfect sentences to arrive in your mind before you start typing. Remember, everyone writes a crappy first draft , but it gives you something to work with on the path to writing your final paper.
I also recommend that scientists who struggle with writing—and even those who don’t—hire a professional scientific editor. While some researchers may think this is “cheating” or an admission of failure, it’s similar in scope to hiring yourself out as a consultant in a particular research field. You can hire an editors for anything from just proofreading, to improving overall paper structure, to working at the intermediate scale of improving paper wording and flow. Whatever services you need, there’s an editor out there who is trained to provide them. Additional resources
Over on the LSE Impact Blog, Patrick Dunleavy explains why the title of your paper is so important—and gives advice on how to come up with the best title possible.
This post by Pat Thomson (also on the LSE Impact Blog focuses) specifically on writing an introduction. She reiterates the point above that a good introduction will make people want to keep reading your paper, and shows you how to get there.
This post over at Methods Blog provides an ‘Alternative Guide to Authors’ by detailing what you should include in each paper section. I particularly like their SUCCES acronym, which provides general principles of how to get your message across to the reader. The last S stands for ‘story’—just as we’ve described above.
Over on Dynamic Ecology, Brian McGill has an excellent post that goes beyond the standard paper outline to identify the five key paragraphs in a paper: the first and last paragraphs of the introduction, the first and last paragraphs of the discussion, and the abstract. If you’re having trouble getting the sections of your paper to flow together, McGill has some good advice for you.
If you’re having problems writing paragraphs, then this post from Writing For Research is for you. They talk about the six things that usually go wrong in writing paragraphs—such as starting with a reference to another paper, or writing paragraphs that are too short or too long. Luckily, they also provide advice on how to fix these problems.
Doing Science , by Ivan Valiela, has an excellent chapter on Communicating Scientific Information: The Scientific Paper. He advocates for starting with the Results section when writing a paper, and provides prudent advice on dealing with all other paper sections.
Just this month, Canadian scientist (and FACETS editorial board member!) Stephen Heard released The Scientist’s Guide to Writing —loads of great writing advice for both new and experienced scientists. Watch this blog for an upcoming book review!
Finally, if you’re trying to figure out how best to visualize your results, I recommend any book by Edward Tufte (e.g., The Visual Display of Quantitative Information , or Envisioning Information ). He’s a master of data visualization, and can help you come up with new ways to show your data that make writing the Results section a breeze.
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Wendy Laura Belcher
Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: a guide to academic publishing success (second edition).
University of Chicago Press, June 2019. ISBN-13: 978-0226499918
Want to Buy It?
You can buy the workbook at various online sites, including the University of Chicago Press or Powell’s Bookstore or Amazon , and some bookstores.
Need the Workbook Forms or Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test?
The writing workbook requires you to write information and answers in various boxes and forms in the book. If you want to preserve your book without marks, however, you can use the Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks Forms , which have been posted as pdfs to enable you to use them repeatedly. They are listed according to which chapter each appears in. I also have posted there instructions for the Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test for Chapter 11. There is one update for using the test in Windows 10: you must look for “Record Macros” not “Create Macros” in the fifth step on page 325.
Looking for Translations?
The first edition of the writing workbook was translated into three languages; new translations will be coming for the second edition so far–Spanish, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese:
Want to Teach with It?
Many use the writing workbook to teach courses and workshops for graduate students and faculty. If you would like to learn more about how to do this, see How to Teach a Journal Article Writing Class . There, you will find a form to fill out to request a syllabus.
Selected Reviews of the Workbook
“Top 10 List of the Best Books to Help you Get in and Stay in Graduate School” —Jody Kolter, Sigma Tau Delta: International English Honor Society
“The one book I would most recommend to inexperienced academic authors in the humanities or social sciences who seriously wish to see their scholarly work in print.” —Steven E. Gump, Review in Journal of Scholarly Publishing
“Thorough …, practical …, specific …, coherent …, logical …, highly recommended.” —M. Burright, Review in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Librarie s
“Offers a fresh approach, … presented in an easy and accessible style, … of help to anyone wishing to publish in academic journals … If you proceed through the workbook, chapter by chapter, you will have an article that can be sent for publication by the end of 12 weeks.” — British Journal of Midwifery
Reader Comments on the Workbook
“This is by far the best book I have read on the subject of academic writing. There are many such texts out there that are of high quality, but this one proves itself a level above. All aspects of writing, ranging from psychological difficulties one can meet to work organization to how to formulate an argument, are covered. PhD students as well as college and university professors will benefit from it when comes the time to write academic documents, articles, conference papers, and books. It is written in plain language, it is funny, there are a ton of useful practical tips based on real experiences, and it gives you a sense of belonging to a community. I believe this book will become a classic, and staple in its field, that can be used in many areas of study.” —Caroline Dufour, York University, Amazon Review
“Your workbook for writing journal articles is revolutionizing the way younger scholars perceive academic publishing and radically transforming their level of access to it (and consequently to the profession).” —Email from reader to author
Description of the Workbook
Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is a revolutionary approach to enabling academic authors to overcome their anxieties and produce the publications that are essential to succeeding in their fields. Each week, readers learn a particular feature of strong articles and work on revising theirs accordingly. At the end of twelve weeks, they send their article to a journal. This invaluable resource is the only guide that focuses specifically on publishing humanities and social science journal articles.
- Has a proven record of helping graduate students and professors get published : This workbook, developed over a decade of teaching scholarly writers in a range of disciplines at UCLA and around the world, has already helped hundreds to publish their articles in peer-reviewed journals.
- Demystifies the academic publishing process : This workbook is based on actual research about faculty productivity and peer review, students’ writing triumphs and failures, as well as the author’s experiences as a journal editor and award-winning author.
- Proceeds step by manageable step : Within the context of clear deadlines, the workbook provides the instruction, exercises, and structure needed to revise a classroom essay, conference paper, dissertation chapter, master’s thesis, or unfinished draft into a journal article and send it to a suitable journal.
- Targets the biggest writing challenges : This workbook focuses squarely on the most difficult tasks facing scholarly writers, such as getting motivated, making an argument, and creating a logical whole.
Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks can be used individually or in groups, and is particularly appropriate for graduate student professional development courses, junior faculty orientation workshops, post-doc groups, and journal article writing courses.
Wendy Laura Belcher is professor of African literature at Princeton University in the Department of Comparative Literature and Center for African American Studies. She has taught journal article writing workshops in North America, Europe, and Africa.
Table of Contents
Preface to the Second Edition
INTRODUCTION: Using This Workbook The workbook’s goals, field-tested nature, pragmatic emphasis, radical audience, revision focus, and disciplines. General instructions : Using the print or electronic version. Completing tasks. Following disciplinary tracks and stage pathways. Using the workbook according to your temperament; by yourself; in a writing group; with a writing partner; with coauthors; or to teach a class or workshop. Some publishing terms and processes: What is a journal? What is an article? What processes do journal articles go through? Giving feedback to author
WEEK 1: Designing Your Plan for Writing Instruction : Understanding feelings about writing. Keys to positive writing experiences: successful academic writers write; read; make writing social; persist despite rejection; and pursue their passions. Your tasks: Designing a plan for submitting your article in twelve weeks. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, designing your writing schedule. Day 3, selecting a paper for revision. Day 4, rereading your paper to identify revision tasks. Day 5, setting up your writing site, citation software, and file backup system; addressing coauthorship; and reading a journal article.
WEEK 2: Advancing Your Argument Instruction : Myths about publishable journal articles: being profoundly theoretical, packed with ideas, and entirely original. What gets published and why: how publishable articles pair evidence and approaches. What gets rejected and why: perfectly acceptable articles and those with no argument. Understanding and making arguments: what is an argument; how do you know whether you have one; how do you make strong arguments; and how do you write an argument-driven article? Your tasks : Organizing your article around your argument. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, testing out your argument. Day 3, reviewing your article for argument. Days 4–5, revising your article around your argument.
WEEK 3: Abstracting Your Article Instruction : Abstracts as a tool for success. Ingredients of a good abstract: good SciQua and HumInt abstracts. Your tasks: Crafting an effective abstract. Day 1, talking your way to clarity about your article. Day 2, reading others’ abstracts and drafting your own. Day 3, reading strong articles in your field. Day 4, reading articles to cite in your article. Day 5, getting feedback on and revising your abstract.
WEEK 4: Selecting a Journal Instruction: Good news about journals. The importance of picking the right journal. Types of academic journals: nonrecommended, debatable, and preferred publishing outlets. Your tasks: Finding suitable academic journals. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, searching for journals. Days 3–4, evaluating academic journals. Day 5, reading relevant journals and writing query letters.
WEEK 5: Refining Your Works Cited Instruction : Reading scholarly texts. Types of scholarly texts: primary, original, or exhibit sources; scholarly or secondary literature; and derivative or tertiary documents. Advice for scholars at resource-poor institutions. Strategies for citing your reading: common mistakes in citing texts; establishing your “citation values”; avoiding improper borrowing; good citation habits; and post-borrowing solutions. Strategies for getting reading done: reading theoretical literature; related literature; and original, primary, or exhibit literature. Strategies for writing your related-literature review: what’s your entry point; what is a related-literature review; and how do you write a methodological- or theoretical-literature review? Your tasks : Writing about others’ research. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, evaluating your current Works Cited list. Day 3, identifying and reading any additional works. Day 4, identifying your entry point into the related literature. Day 5, writing or revising your related-literature review.
WEEK 6: Crafting Your Claims for Significance Instruction : On the difference between arguments and claims for significance. What is a claim for significance: types of claims; examples of claims; making claims; and the “So What?” exercise. Types of feedback: what to do (and not do) when giving and receiving feedback. Your tasks : Claiming significance. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, exchanging writing and doing the “So What?” exercise. Day 3, writing and inserting your claims for significance. Days 4–5, revising your article according to feedback received.
WEEK 7: Analyzing Your Evidence Instruction : Analyzing evidence. Types of evidence: textual; qualitative; quantitative; and experimental. Your tasks: Revising your evidence. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, highlighting and analyzing your evidence. Day 3, analyzing the quality, relevance, and placement of your evidence. Day 4, analyzing your interpretation of your evidence. Day 5, collecting additional evidence.
WEEK 8: Presenting Your Evidence Instruction : Presenting evidence in SciQua articles, in HumInt articles, and in illustrations; obtaining image or text permissions. Your tasks: Revising your presentation of evidence. Day 1, reading the workbook. Days 2–4, revising your presentation of evidence. Day 5, checking your presentation of evidence by section.
WEEK 9: Strengthening Your Structure Instruction : On the importance of structure. Article-structuring principles: macrostructure and microstructure; structural building blocks; rhetorical orders of structure; structure signals; and common genres’ structures. Types of journal article macrostructures: SciQua; HumInt; disciplinary; and synaptic macrostructure. Types of pre- and postdraft outlining. Your tasks: Revising your structure. Day 1, reading the workbook. Day 2, outlining someone else’s published article. Day 3, making a postdraft outline of your article. Days 4–5, restructuring your article.
WEEK 10: Opening and Concluding Your Article Instruction : On the importance of openings: fashioning your title; molding your introduction; and choosing your name. On the importance of conclusions. Your tasks: Finalizing your opening and conclusion. Day 1, reading the workbook and revising your title. Day 2, molding your introduction. Day 3, molding your introduction and choosing your name. Day 4, revising your abstract and author order. Day 5, constructing your conclusion.
WEEK 11: Editing Your Sentences Instruction : The nature of microrevising. The Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test and its principles: reduce lists; strengthen verbs; clarify pronouns; decrease prepositions; and cut unnecessary words. Your tasks : Editing your article. Day 1, Reading the workbook and running the Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test. Days 2–5, revising your article using the Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test.
WEEK 12: Sending Your Article! Instruction: On the importance of finishing. Following journal submission guidelines: understanding the journal’s style manual; implementing the journal’s documentation, punctuation, and spelling style; collecting journal submission information; and writing a submission cover letter. What to do after sending. Your tasks: Getting your submission ready. Day 1, identifying what remains to be done. Day 2, putting your article in the journal’s style. Days 3–4, wrapping up any remaining issues. Day 5, send and celebrate!
WEEK X: Revising and Resubmitting Your Article Instruction and tasks: Navigating the review process. Receiving the journal’s decision: tracking the journal’s time to decision; emotionally managing and interpreting the journal’s decision. Responding to the journal’s decision: responding to a journal’s decision to reject your article or to a revise-and-resubmit notice; setting up for revising your article; revising your article; drafting your revision cover letter; and resubmitting your article. After the journal publishes your article: bringing attention to your article and reviewing someone else’s article.
WEEK 0: Writing Your Article from Scratch Instruction and tasks: Writing your article from scratch without an idea: setting up, getting an idea, testing your idea, collecting evidence for your idea, drafting your article, and revising your article using the workbook. Writing your article from scratch with an idea.
List of References Index
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How to Write and Publish a Research Paper in 7 Steps
What comes next after you're done with your research? Publishing the results in a journal of course! We tell you how to present your work in the best way possible.
This post is part of a series, which serves to provide hands-on information and resources for authors and editors.
Things have gotten busy in scholarly publishing: These days, a new article gets published in the 50,000 most important peer-reviewed journals every few seconds, while each one takes on average 40 minutes to read. Hundreds of thousands of papers reach the desks of editors and reviewers worldwide each year and 50% of all submissions end up rejected at some stage.
In a nutshell: there is a lot of competition, and the people who decide upon the fate of your manuscript are short on time and overworked. But there are ways to make their lives a little easier and improve your own chances of getting your work published!
Well, it may seem obvious, but before submitting an academic paper, always make sure that it is an excellent reflection of the research you have done and that you present it in the most professional way possible. Incomplete or poorly presented manuscripts can create a great deal of frustration and annoyance for editors who probably won’t even bother wasting the time of the reviewers!
This post will discuss 7 steps to the successful publication of your research paper:
- Check whether your research is publication-ready
- Choose an article type
- Choose a journal
- Construct your paper
- Decide the order of authors
- Check and double-check
- Submit your paper
1. Check Whether Your Research Is Publication-Ready
Should you publish your research at all?
If your work holds academic value – of course – a well-written scholarly article could open doors to your research community. However, if you are not yet sure, whether your research is ready for publication, here are some key questions to ask yourself depending on your field of expertise:
- Have you done or found something new and interesting? Something unique?
- Is the work directly related to a current hot topic?
- Have you checked the latest results or research in the field?
- Have you provided solutions to any difficult problems?
- Have the findings been verified?
- Have the appropriate controls been performed if required?
- Are your findings comprehensive?
If the answers to all relevant questions are “yes”, you need to prepare a good, strong manuscript. Remember, a research paper is only useful if it is clearly understood, reproducible and if it is read and used .
2. Choose An Article Type
The first step is to determine which type of paper is most appropriate for your work and what you want to achieve. The following list contains the most important, usually peer-reviewed article types in the natural sciences:
Full original research papers disseminate completed research findings. On average this type of paper is 8-10 pages long, contains five figures, and 25-30 references. Full original research papers are an important part of the process when developing your career.
Review papers present a critical synthesis of a specific research topic. These papers are usually much longer than original papers and will contain numerous references. More often than not, they will be commissioned by journal editors. Reviews present an excellent way to solidify your research career.
Letters, Rapid or Short Communications are often published for the quick and early communication of significant and original advances. They are much shorter than full articles and usually limited in length by the journal. Journals specifically dedicated to short communications or letters are also published in some fields. In these the authors can present short preliminary findings before developing a full-length paper.
3. Choose a Journal
Are you looking for the right place to publish your paper? Find out here whether a De Gruyter journal might be the right fit.
Submit to journals that you already read, that you have a good feel for. If you do so, you will have a better appreciation of both its culture and the requirements of the editors and reviewers.
Other factors to consider are:
- The specific subject area
- The aims and scope of the journal
- The type of manuscript you have written
- The significance of your work
- The reputation of the journal
- The reputation of the editors within the community
- The editorial/review and production speeds of the journal
- The community served by the journal
- The coverage and distribution
- The accessibility ( open access vs. closed access)
4. Construct Your Paper
Each element of a paper has its purpose, so you should make these sections easy to index and search.
Don’t forget that requirements can differ highly per publication, so always make sure to apply a journal’s specific instructions – or guide – for authors to your manuscript, even to the first draft (text layout, paper citation, nomenclature, figures and table, etc.) It will save you time, and the editor’s.
Also, even in these days of Internet-based publishing, space is still at a premium, so be as concise as possible. As a good journalist would say: “Never use three words when one will do!”
Let’s look at the typical structure of a full research paper, but bear in mind certain subject disciplines may have their own specific requirements so check the instructions for authors on the journal’s home page.
4.1 The Title
It’s important to use the title to tell the reader what your paper is all about! You want to attract their attention, a bit like a newspaper headline does. Be specific and to the point. Keep it informative and concise, and avoid jargon and abbreviations (unless they are universally recognized like DNA, for example).
4.2 The Abstract
This could be termed as the “advertisement” for your article. Make it interesting and easily understood without the reader having to read the whole article. Be accurate and specific, and keep it as brief and concise as possible. Some journals (particularly in the medical fields) will ask you to structure the abstract in distinct, labeled sections, which makes it even more accessible.
A clear abstract will influence whether or not your work is considered and whether an editor should invest more time on it or send it for review.
Keywords are used by abstracting and indexing services, such as PubMed and Web of Science. They are the labels of your manuscript, which make it ‘searchable’ online by other researchers.
Include words or phrases (usually 4-8) that are closely related to your topic but not “too niche” for anyone to find them. Make sure to only use established abbreviations. Think about what scientific terms and its variations your potential readers are likely to use and search for. You can also do a test run of your selected keywords in one of the common academic search engines. Do similar articles to your own appear? Yes? Then that’s a good sign.
This first part of the main text should introduce the problem, as well as any existing solutions you are aware of and the main limitations. Also, state what you hope to achieve with your research.
Do not confuse the introduction with the results, discussion or conclusion.
Every research article should include a detailed Methods section (also referred to as “Materials and Methods”) to provide the reader with enough information to be able to judge whether the study is valid and reproducible.
Include detailed information so that a knowledgeable reader can reproduce the experiment. However, use references and supplementary materials to indicate previously published procedures.
In this section, you will present the essential or primary results of your study. To display them in a comprehensible way, you should use subheadings as well as illustrations such as figures, graphs, tables and photos, as appropriate.
Here you should tell your readers what the results mean .
Do state how the results relate to the study’s aims and hypotheses and how the findings relate to those of other studies. Explain all possible interpretations of your findings and the study’s limitations.
Do not make “grand statements” that are not supported by the data. Also, do not introduce any new results or terms. Moreover, do not ignore work that conflicts or disagrees with your findings. Instead …
Be brave! Address conflicting study results and convince the reader you are the one who is correct.
Your conclusion isn’t just a summary of what you’ve already written. It should take your paper one step further and answer any unresolved questions.
Sum up what you have shown in your study and indicate possible applications and extensions. The main question your conclusion should answer is: What do my results mean for the research field and my community?
4.9 Acknowledgments and Ethical Statements
It is extremely important to acknowledge anyone who has helped you with your paper, including researchers who supplied materials or reagents (e.g. vectors or antibodies); and anyone who helped with the writing or English, or offered critical comments about the content.
Learn more about academic integrity in our blog post “Scholarly Publication Ethics: 4 Common Mistakes You Want To Avoid” .
Remember to state why people have been acknowledged and ask their permission . Ensure that you acknowledge sources of funding, including any grant or reference numbers.
Furthermore, if you have worked with animals or humans, you need to include information about the ethical approval of your study and, if applicable, whether informed consent was given. Also, state whether you have any competing interests regarding the study (e.g. because of financial or personal relationships.)
The end is in sight, but don’t relax just yet!
De facto, there are often more mistakes in the references than in any other part of the manuscript. It is also one of the most annoying and time-consuming problems for editors.
Remember to cite the main scientific publications on which your work is based. But do not inflate the manuscript with too many references. Avoid excessive – and especially unnecessary – self-citations. Also, avoid excessive citations of publications from the same institute or region.
5. Decide the Order of Authors
In the sciences, the most common way to order the names of the authors is by relative contribution.
Generally, the first author conducts and/or supervises the data analysis and the proper presentation and interpretation of the results. They put the paper together and usually submit the paper to the journal.
Co-authors make intellectual contributions to the data analysis and contribute to data interpretation. They review each paper draft. All of them must be able to present the paper and its results, as well as to defend the implications and discuss study limitations.
Do not leave out authors who should be included or add “gift authors”, i.e. authors who did not contribute significantly.
6. Check and Double-Check
As a final step before submission, ask colleagues to read your work and be constructively critical .
Make sure that the paper is appropriate for the journal – take a last look at their aims and scope. Check if all of the requirements in the instructions for authors are met.
Ensure that the cited literature is balanced. Are the aims, purpose and significance of the results clear?
Conduct a final check for language, either by a native English speaker or an editing service.
7. Submit Your Paper
When you and your co-authors have double-, triple-, quadruple-checked the manuscript: submit it via e-mail or online submission system. Along with your manuscript, submit a cover letter, which highlights the reasons why your paper would appeal to the journal and which ensures that you have received approval of all authors for submission.
It is up to the editors and the peer-reviewers now to provide you with their (ideally constructive and helpful) comments and feedback. Time to take a breather!
If the paper gets rejected, do not despair – it happens to literally everybody. If the journal suggests major or minor revisions, take the chance to provide a thorough response and make improvements as you see fit. If the paper gets accepted, congrats!
It’s now time to get writing and share your hard work – good luck!
If you are interested, check out this related blog post
[Title Image by Nick Morrison via Unsplash]
David Sleeman works as Senior Journals Manager in the field of Physical Sciences at De Gruyter.
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How to Write a Successful Journal Article
- DESCRIPTION young man writing a journal article
- SOURCE seksan Mongkhonkhamsao / Moment / Getty Images
Are you wondering how to write a journal article? If your goal is to get your work published in an academic journal, you’ll need to start by posing an interesting research question and conducting a well-designed research study that is both reliable and valid. Next, you’ll need to present the results in a well-written article. Sharing unique information is what academic article writing is all about.
Creating Content for a Journal Article
Writing a successful academic journal article requires quite a bit of work before you actually start writing, as you’ll need to conduct original research to write about.
1. Define the Study
Academic journals publish the results of research studies, so you’ll need to select a topic of interest to academic professionals within your field of study. Start by posing an interesting research question and hypothesis, then design a research study to help you investigate the question. Be sure your study is unique, as journals are not likely to publish articles that don’t contribute new knowledge to the field.
2. Determine Authors
Before you dive into the study, it’s important to know whether you will be the sole researcher or author or if you will work as part of a team. If there will be multiple authors, each person should ideally be involved from the very beginning.
If you are a graduate student, consider asking a professor to be involved as a contributor. You may also want to ask a classmate (or a few classmates) who share common interests to co-author. If there are multiple authors, the entire process of conducting research and writing the article should be a collaborative effort.
3. Conduct the Study
Every study involves gathering data to analyze. You may need to submit an academic research proposal before you get started. The nature of your research question and/or hypothesis will determine how you go about analyzing data. Once you have the results, you can look for trends and interesting results to focus on as the content for your journal article.
Writing Steps for an Academic Journal
Once you have interesting data appropriate for submission to an academic journal for publication in the form of an article, that is the appropriate time to begin writing a journal article.
1. Identify Your Target Journal
Since each journal has specific requirements for submissions, consider which publications are most likely to be interested in publishing an article on the topic of your study. Once you have a shortlist of journals, review their submission guidelines very closely so you can narrow down to the one you will submit to first.
It is not acceptable to submit the same article to more than one academic journal at the same time. Instead, you’ll need to submit to your first choice and wait to hear back from them before submitting elsewhere.
2. Consider the Audience
Once you have selected a journal for your initial submission, consider who the publication’s audience is. Review past copies of the journal to get an idea of what they publish.
If subscribers are members of a certain professional organization, research that organization to get a sense of members’ primary interests and the tone of what they publish. Anything you can do to improve your understanding of the audience will help you improve your chances of writing a piece that will be accepted by the publication.
3. Follow All Manuscript Requirements
Each journal has specific manuscript requirements, which you should be able to find on the publication’s website. Follow them precisely. The most well-written article that reveals fascinating results will be rejected if the author(s) fail to adhere to the publiciation’s manuscript requirements. Typical manuscript requirements include:
- word length (minimum and maximum)
- specific sections that must be included
- specific citation and formatting style required by the publication
- formatting guidelines, such as font size, acceptable fonts, margin requirements, heading designations, use of special formatting (such as bold, italics, underlining)
4. Make a Template With Required Sections
To be sure that you’re including all of the sections that the journal you’re targeting requires, consider creating a template to use before you start writing. The items included in your template should be specific to the publication you’re submitting to. It can serve as a fill-in outline as you start building out the document. Examples of common journal article section requirements include:
- research question
- theoretical framework
- literature review
- research methodology
- data collection procedures
- data analysis techniques
- implications for further research
- works cited
Chances are that you’ll only need to include some of the sections listed here. It is possible that you’ll need to add other sections. Check your template against the journal’s published requirements.
5. Write the Article
After completing the extensive preliminary work described above, you’ll have all of the information you need to begin writing a successful journal article. Follow best practices for writing a research paper , tailoring your approach to the journal’s audience.
- Use a formal tone appropriate for academic writing .
- Use precise language.
- Cite sources for all assertions.
- Clearly explain the research methodology.
- Specify any dependent or independent variables investigated in the study
- Present the results clearly and concisely.
- Use graphs, charts and tables to illustrate key results.
- Ensure that all information, citations and data are accurate.
- Specify what any acronyms stand for before using in the text.
- Verify that the research question is clearly answered in the body of the article.
- Specifically state whether evidence was found to support the hypothesis or not.
- Report only conclusions supported by data.
- Make sure that suggestions for further study logically follow from the results.
6. Seek Peer Review
Since academic journals are peer reviewed, consider better positioning yourself for success by asking knowledgeable colleagues to review your article before submitting it to the journal you have selected. If you are a graduate student, consider asking your classmates to review. If you are an industry or academic professional, seek input from colleagues. You may even want to contract with a company that offers peer review services to provide feedback.
7. Finalize the Manuscript
Assuming you request input from peers, incorporate any relevant feedback you received into your manuscript. Further proofread and edit the document, checking the content and writing style as well as correcting any typographical or grammatical errors. You may want to have one or two other people proofread your work as well. Also verify that the document is consistent with the publication’s manuscript requirements.
Submitting an Article to an Academic Journal
When it’s time to submit your paper, review the publication’s submission guidelines and make sure you are following them exactly.
- Academic journals typically specify things like where and how to submit an article and what should be included with it.
- If the journal’s guidelines specify a preferred approach to submission versus alternate acceptable methods, opt for what is preferred if at all possible.
- Note any restrictions, such as what you need to receive from the publication or how much time needs to go by without contact for you to be able to submit to another journal.
If your article is accepted, congratulations are in order. If your first choice journal doesn’t accept your manuscript, take any feedback you receive into account and submit to the next journal on your list of preferred publications. Be sure to adjust the article to meet the new publication’s manuscript requirements and submission guidelines.
Be Prepared to Become Published
A lot of work goes into academic article writing. It’s not a simple matter of sitting down and writing an essay or literature review. This type of writing requires original research conducted for the purpose of advancing the body of knowledge in a particular field of study.
By properly planning, conducting original research that reveals interesting results, and carefully writing up the results in article form, you’ll be on your way to becoming the author of a published journal article. Before you get started, review these tips on academic writing to make sure that the best practices are fresh in your mind. Further expand your skills by exploring helpful tips for writing an abstract .
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