How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal
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- Published: 30 April 2020
- volume 36 , pages 909–913 ( 2021 )
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- Ella August ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5151-1036 1 , 2
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Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1 , we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.
Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.
Writing a scientific paper is an important component of the research process, yet researchers often receive little formal training in scientific writing. This is especially true in low-resource settings. In this article, we explain why choosing a target journal is important, give advice about authorship, provide a basic structure for writing each section of a scientific paper, and describe common pitfalls and recommendations for each section. In the online resource 1 , we also include an annotated journal article that identifies the key elements and writing approaches that we detail here. Before you begin your research, make sure you have ethical clearance from all relevant ethical review boards.
Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process
We recommend that you select a “target journal” early in the writing process; a “target journal” is the journal to which you plan to submit your paper. Each journal has a set of core readers and you should tailor your writing to this readership. For example, if you plan to submit a manuscript about vaping during pregnancy to a pregnancy-focused journal, you will need to explain what vaping is because readers of this journal may not have a background in this topic. However, if you were to submit that same article to a tobacco journal, you would not need to provide as much background information about vaping.
Information about a journal’s core readership can be found on its website, usually in a section called “About this journal” or something similar. For example, the Journal of Cancer Education presents such information on the “Aims and Scope” page of its website, which can be found here: https://www.springer.com/journal/13187/aims-and-scope .
Peer reviewer guidelines from your target journal are an additional resource that can help you tailor your writing to the journal and provide additional advice about crafting an effective article [ 1 ]. These are not always available, but it is worth a quick web search to find out.
Identify Author Roles Early in the Process
Early in the writing process, identify authors, determine the order of authors, and discuss the responsibilities of each author. Standard author responsibilities have been identified by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [ 2 ]. To set clear expectations about each team member’s responsibilities and prevent errors in communication, we also suggest outlining more detailed roles, such as who will draft each section of the manuscript, write the abstract, submit the paper electronically, serve as corresponding author, and write the cover letter. It is best to formalize this agreement in writing after discussing it, circulating the document to the author team for approval. We suggest creating a title page on which all authors are listed in the agreed-upon order. It may be necessary to adjust authorship roles and order during the development of the paper. If a new author order is agreed upon, be sure to update the title page in the manuscript draft.
In the case where multiple papers will result from a single study, authors should discuss who will author each paper. Additionally, authors should agree on a deadline for each paper and the lead author should take responsibility for producing an initial draft by this deadline.
Structure of the Introduction Section
The introduction section should be approximately three to five paragraphs in length. Look at examples from your target journal to decide the appropriate length. This section should include the elements shown in Fig. 1 . Begin with a general context, narrowing to the specific focus of the paper. Include five main elements: why your research is important, what is already known about the topic, the “gap” or what is not yet known about the topic, why it is important to learn the new information that your research adds, and the specific research aim(s) that your paper addresses. Your research aim should address the gap you identified. Be sure to add enough background information to enable readers to understand your study. Table 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
The main elements of the introduction section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap
The purpose of the methods section is twofold: to explain how the study was done in enough detail to enable its replication and to provide enough contextual detail to enable readers to understand and interpret the results. In general, the essential elements of a methods section are the following: a description of the setting and participants, the study design and timing, the recruitment and sampling, the data collection process, the dataset, the dependent and independent variables, the covariates, the analytic approach for each research objective, and the ethical approval. The hallmark of an exemplary methods section is the justification of why each method was used. Table 2 provides common methods section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
The focus of the results section should be associations, or lack thereof, rather than statistical tests. Two considerations should guide your writing here. First, the results should present answers to each part of the research aim. Second, return to the methods section to ensure that the analysis and variables for each result have been explained.
Begin the results section by describing the number of participants in the final sample and details such as the number who were approached to participate, the proportion who were eligible and who enrolled, and the number of participants who dropped out. The next part of the results should describe the participant characteristics. After that, you may organize your results by the aim or by putting the most exciting results first. Do not forget to report your non-significant associations. These are still findings.
Tables and figures capture the reader’s attention and efficiently communicate your main findings [ 3 ]. Each table and figure should have a clear message and should complement, rather than repeat, the text. Tables and figures should communicate all salient details necessary for a reader to understand the findings without consulting the text. Include information on comparisons and tests, as well as information about the sample and timing of the study in the title, legend, or in a footnote. Note that figures are often more visually interesting than tables, so if it is feasible to make a figure, make a figure. To avoid confusing the reader, either avoid abbreviations in tables and figures, or define them in a footnote. Note that there should not be citations in the results section and you should not interpret results here. Table 3 provides common results section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
Opposite the introduction section, the discussion should take the form of a right-side-up triangle beginning with interpretation of your results and moving to general implications (Fig. 2 ). This section typically begins with a restatement of the main findings, which can usually be accomplished with a few carefully-crafted sentences.
Major elements of the discussion section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap
Next, interpret the meaning or explain the significance of your results, lifting the reader’s gaze from the study’s specific findings to more general applications. Then, compare these study findings with other research. Are these findings in agreement or disagreement with those from other studies? Does this study impart additional nuance to well-accepted theories? Situate your findings within the broader context of scientific literature, then explain the pathways or mechanisms that might give rise to, or explain, the results.
Journals vary in their approach to strengths and limitations sections: some are embedded paragraphs within the discussion section, while some mandate separate section headings. Keep in mind that every study has strengths and limitations. Candidly reporting yours helps readers to correctly interpret your research findings.
The next element of the discussion is a summary of the potential impacts and applications of the research. Should these results be used to optimally design an intervention? Does the work have implications for clinical protocols or public policy? These considerations will help the reader to further grasp the possible impacts of the presented work.
Finally, the discussion should conclude with specific suggestions for future work. Here, you have an opportunity to illuminate specific gaps in the literature that compel further study. Avoid the phrase “future research is necessary” because the recommendation is too general to be helpful to readers. Instead, provide substantive and specific recommendations for future studies. Table 4 provides common discussion section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines
After you select a target journal, identify the journal’s author guidelines to guide the formatting of your manuscript and references. Author guidelines will often (but not always) include instructions for titles, cover letters, and other components of a manuscript submission. Read the guidelines carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, your article will be sent back to you.
Finally, do not submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. Even if this is not explicitly stated in the author guidelines of your target journal, it is considered inappropriate and unprofessional.
Your title should invite readers to continue reading beyond the first page [ 4 , 5 ]. It should be informative and interesting. Consider describing the independent and dependent variables, the population and setting, the study design, the timing, and even the main result in your title. Because the focus of the paper can change as you write and revise, we recommend you wait until you have finished writing your paper before composing the title.
Be sure that the title is useful for potential readers searching for your topic. The keywords you select should complement those in your title to maximize the likelihood that a researcher will find your paper through a database search. Avoid using abbreviations in your title unless they are very well known, such as SNP, because it is more likely that someone will use a complete word rather than an abbreviation as a search term to help readers find your paper.
After you have written a complete draft, use the checklist (Fig. 3 ) below to guide your revisions and editing. Additional resources are available on writing the abstract and citing references [ 5 ]. When you feel that your work is ready, ask a trusted colleague or two to read the work and provide informal feedback. The box below provides a checklist that summarizes the key points offered in this article.
Checklist for manuscript quality
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Ella August is grateful to the Sustainable Sciences Institute for mentoring her in training researchers on writing and publishing their research.
Authors and affiliations.
Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, 135 Dauer Dr, 27599, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Clara Busse & Ella August
Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-2029, USA
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Correspondence to Ella August .
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Busse, C., August, E. How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal. J Canc Educ 36 , 909–913 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z
Published : 30 April 2020
Issue Date : October 2021
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Peer Review
The formula for writing a peer review is an organized process, but it’s easy to do when you follow a few simple steps. Writing a well-structured peer review can help maintain the quality and integrity of the research published in your field. According to Publons, the peer-review process “teaches you how to review a manuscript, spot common flaws in research papers, and improve your own chances of being a successful published author.” Listed below are four key steps to writing a quality peer review.
1. Read the manuscript in its entirety
It is important to read the manuscript through to make sure you are a good fit to assess the research. Also, the first read through is significant because this is when you develop your first impression of the article. Should a reviewer suspect plagiarism of any kind, s/he should contact the journal office at [email protected] .
2. Re-read the manuscript and take notes
After the first read through, you can now go back over the manuscript in more detail. For example, you should ask the following questions about the article to develop useful comments and critiques of the research and presentation of the material:
- Is this research appropriate for the journal?
- Does the content have archival value?
- Is this research important to the field?
- Does the introduction clearly explain motivation?
- Is the manuscript clear and balanced?
- Is the author a source of new information?
- Does the paper stay focused on its subject?
- Are the ideas and methods presented worthwhile, new, or creative?
- Does the paper evaluate the strengths and limitations of the work described?
- Is the impact of the results clearly stated?
- Is the paper free from personalities and bias?
- Is the work of others adequately cited?
- Are the tables and figures clear, relevant, and correct?
- Does the author demonstrate knowledge of basic composition skills, including word choice, sentence structure, paragraph development, grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
Please see SAE’s Reviewer Rubric/Guidelines for a complete list of judgment questions and scoring criteria that will be helpful in determining your recommendation for the paper.
3. Write a clear and constructive review
Comments are mandatory for a peer review . The best way to structure your review is to:
- Open your review with the most important comments—a summarization of the research and your impression of the research.
- Make sure to include feedback on the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of the manuscript. Examples and explanations of those should consume most of the review. Provide details of what the authors need to do to improve the paper. Point out both minor and major flaws and offer solutions.
- End the review with any additional remarks or suggestions.
There can be various ways to write your review with the structure listed above.
Example of comprehensive review
Writing a bad review for a paper not only frustrates the author but also allows for criticism of the peer-review process. It is important to be fair and give the review the time it deserves. While the comments below may be true, examples are needed to support the claims. What makes the paper of low archival value? What makes the paper great? In addition, there are no comments for suggestions to improve the manuscript, except for improving the grammar in the first example.
Examples of bad reviews:
- Many grammatical issues. Paper should be corrected for grammar and punctuation. Very interesting and timely subject.
- This paper does not have a high archival value; should be rejected.
- Great paper; recommend acceptance.
4. Make a recommendation
The last step for a peer reviewer is making a recommendation of either accept, reject, revise, or transfer. Be sure that your recommendation reflects your review. A recommendation of acceptance upon first review is rare and only to be used if there is no room for improvement.
Additional Reviewer Resources
- Example Review
- Advice and Resources for Reviewers from Publons
- Peer Review Resources from Sense about Science
For questions regarding SAE’s peer-review process or if you would like to be a reviewer, please contact [email protected] .
For questions on how to review in Editorial Manager®, please see Editorial Manager® Guide for Reviewers .
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How to Write a Peer Review
When you write a peer review for a manuscript, what should you include in your comments? What should you leave out? And how should the review be formatted?
This guide provides quick tips for writing and organizing your reviewer report.
Use an outline for your reviewer report so it’s easy for the editors and author to follow. This will also help you keep your comments organized.
Think about structuring your review like an inverted pyramid. Put the most important information at the top, followed by details and examples in the center, and any additional points at the very bottom.
Here’s how your outline might look:
1. Summary of the research and your overall impression
In your own words, summarize what the manuscript claims to report. This shows the editor how you interpreted the manuscript and will highlight any major differences in perspective between you and the other reviewers. Give an overview of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Think about this as your “take-home” message for the editors. End this section with your recommended course of action.
2. Discussion of specific areas for improvement
It’s helpful to divide this section into two parts: one for major issues and one for minor issues. Within each section, you can talk about the biggest issues first or go systematically figure-by-figure or claim-by-claim. Number each item so that your points are easy to follow (this will also make it easier for the authors to respond to each point). Refer to specific lines, pages, sections, or figure and table numbers so the authors (and editors) know exactly what you’re talking about.
Major vs. minor issues
What’s the difference between a major and minor issue? Major issues should consist of the essential points the authors need to address before the manuscript can proceed. Make sure you focus on what is fundamental for the current study . In other words, it’s not helpful to recommend additional work that would be considered the “next step” in the study. Minor issues are still important but typically will not affect the overall conclusions of the manuscript. Here are some examples of what would might go in the “minor” category:
- Missing references (but depending on what is missing, this could also be a major issue)
- Technical clarifications (e.g., the authors should clarify how a reagent works)
- Data presentation (e.g., the authors should present p-values differently)
- Typos, spelling, grammar, and phrasing issues
3. Any other points
Confidential comments for the editors.
Some journals have a space for reviewers to enter confidential comments about the manuscript. Use this space to mention concerns about the submission that you’d want the editors to consider before sharing your feedback with the authors, such as concerns about ethical guidelines or language quality. Any serious issues should be raised directly and immediately with the journal as well.
This section is also where you will disclose any potentially competing interests, and mention whether you’re willing to look at a revised version of the manuscript.
Do not use this space to critique the manuscript, since comments entered here will not be passed along to the authors. If you’re not sure what should go in the confidential comments, read the reviewer instructions or check with the journal first before submitting your review. If you are reviewing for a journal that does not offer a space for confidential comments, consider writing to the editorial office directly with your concerns.
Get this outline in a template
Giving feedback is hard. Giving effective feedback can be even more challenging. Remember that your ultimate goal is to discuss what the authors would need to do in order to qualify for publication. The point is not to nitpick every piece of the manuscript. Your focus should be on providing constructive and critical feedback that the authors can use to improve their study.
If you’ve ever had your own work reviewed, you already know that it’s not always easy to receive feedback. Follow the golden rule: Write the type of review you’d want to receive if you were the author. Even if you decide not to identify yourself in the review, you should write comments that you would be comfortable signing your name to.
In your comments, use phrases like “ the authors’ discussion of X” instead of “ your discussion of X .” This will depersonalize the feedback and keep the focus on the manuscript instead of the authors.
General guidelines for effective feedback
- Justify your recommendation with concrete evidence and specific examples.
- Be specific so the authors know what they need to do to improve.
- Be thorough. This might be the only time you read the manuscript.
- Be professional and respectful. The authors will be reading these comments too.
- Remember to say what you liked about the manuscript!
- Recommend additional experiments or unnecessary elements that are out of scope for the study or for the journal criteria.
- Tell the authors exactly how to revise their manuscript—you don’t need to do their work for them.
- Use the review to promote your own research or hypotheses.
- Focus on typos and grammar. If the manuscript needs significant editing for language and writing quality, just mention this in your comments.
- Submit your review without proofreading it and checking everything one more time.
Before and After: Sample Reviewer Comments
Keeping in mind the guidelines above, how do you put your thoughts into words? Here are some sample “before” and “after” reviewer comments
“The authors appear to have no idea what they are talking about. I don’t think they have read any of the literature on this topic.”
“The study fails to address how the findings relate to previous research in this area. The authors should rewrite their Introduction and Discussion to reference the related literature, especially recently published work such as Darwin et al.”
“The writing is so bad, it is practically unreadable. I could barely bring myself to finish it.”
“While the study appears to be sound, the language is unclear, making it difficult to follow. I advise the authors work with a writing coach or copyeditor to improve the flow and readability of the text.”
“It’s obvious that this type of experiment should have been included. I have no idea why the authors didn’t use it. This is a big mistake.”
“The authors are off to a good start, however, this study requires additional experiments, particularly [type of experiment]. Alternatively, the authors should include more information that clarifies and justifies their choice of methods.”
Suggested Language for Tricky Situations
You might find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure how to explain the problem or provide feedback in a constructive and respectful way. Here is some suggested language for common issues you might experience.
What you think : The manuscript is fatally flawed. What you could say: “The study does not appear to be sound” or “the authors have missed something crucial”.
What you think : You don’t completely understand the manuscript. What you could say : “The authors should clarify the following sections to avoid confusion…”
What you think : The technical details don’t make sense. What you could say : “The technical details should be expanded and clarified to ensure that readers understand exactly what the researchers studied.”
What you think: The writing is terrible. What you could say : “The authors should revise the language to improve readability.”
What you think : The authors have over-interpreted the findings. What you could say : “The authors aim to demonstrate [XYZ], however, the data does not fully support this conclusion. Specifically…”
What does a good review look like?
Check out the peer review examples at F1000 Research to see how other reviewers write up their reports and give constructive feedback to authors.
Time to Submit the Review!
Be sure you turn in your report on time. Need an extension? Tell the journal so that they know what to expect. If you need a lot of extra time, the journal might need to contact other reviewers or notify the author about the delay.
Tip: Building a relationship with an editor
You’ll be more likely to be asked to review again if you provide high-quality feedback and if you turn in the review on time. Especially if it’s your first review for a journal, it’s important to show that you are reliable. Prove yourself once and you’ll get asked to review again!
- Getting started as a reviewer
- Responding to an invitation
- Reading a manuscript
- Writing a peer review
The contents of the Peer Review Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …
The contents of the Writing Center are also available as a live, interactive training session, complete with slides, talking points, and activities. …
There’s a lot to consider when deciding where to submit your work. Learn how to choose a journal that will help your study reach its audience, while reflecting your values as a researcher…
How to write a scientific paper for peer-reviewed journals
All of the modules in this workshop speak to our aspirations to contribute to science and to have a role in the scientific life of our own particular field. In large part, this role comes through being published in peer-reviewed journals (Savva, 2007). A career in science is largely built on the (perceived) quality of publications that a researcher (or a team of researchers) offers his or her colleagues. If these publications are numerous and of high quality, they lead to research funding and employment. To gauge the contribution of a researcher to science, fellow researchers may consciously or unconsciously compute the number of worthwhile publications that a colleague has produced in relation to the number of years she has published. The greater speed of release for journal articles when compared with books, typically months versus years, means that those who wish to influence their field of study need to publish in peer-reviewed journals in order to communicate quickly their research results.
This article offers the novice author a step-by-step guide to prepare a paper for publication. Annotated bibliographies and references listed at the end suggest further readings worth consulting about specific problems. The article begins with the proviso that good paper written by a graduate student or a junior investigator may be highly praised by faculty and colleagues and yet fall short of being publishable. Indeed, editors regularly receive poor papers that are accompanied by a letter from a graduate student saying that his or her professor recommended submission. Yet praise from a professor or colleagues does not set aside the need for the novice author to scrutinize every aspect of her text to see that it conforms with the demands of a scientific article.
This article offers suggestions on how to use the style guide for the journal of your choice, explains how to use a publication manual, and offers step-by-step guidance on the writing process itself. It also offers advice about working with colleagues, writing strategies, and how to maximize the worth of your paper for your selected journal.
This article is written for the reader who has completed several years of post-graduate education and has completed a research project that she wants to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, but is unsure of some of the basic steps in preparing the paper for submission.
We assume here that the reader is already competent in all areas of writing a scientific paper. This article aims to fine tune competence in writing, not to teach the basics of science. At the other end of the continuum, a researcher whose papers are already often accepted in the journals of her choice will likely find little of interest here.
A successful publishing career means writing for a highly specific scientific audience and it takes most authors years to discover how to do this in a way that results in a high percentage of accepted papers. An early decision is whether to work alone or with colleagues. To acquire these skills you can work alone, in isolation from colleagues, and hope to learn from rejection letters and from harsh peer reviews. Or, you can build an informal team of fellow scientists who are both critical and supportive and who will read and comment on your papers. This is often a quicker, more efficient, and more stimulating path. If you are new to a centre or department and you want to sort out quickly who will be supportive of your aims versus who may be less than helpful (i.e., those who have reputations for being always harshly critical, for promising and then failing to read and critique papers), ask people you trust this question: "If you were writing on my topic of __________ whom would you trust to critique in a helpful way?" A novice author can learn much from established authors by passing them drafts for their assessment and their recommendations for getting published.
Writing a scientific paper for a peer-reviewed journal can be as creative an act as writing the great Suomi novel, but less constrained than composing iambic pentameters. Some people write beautifully and effortlessly while others feel like they are sweating out each word. But over time authors with both writing styles make successful contributions to science.
This article presents one way to write such a paper; it is not the only way, of course, but it does offer the advantage of a clear step-by-step method that helps you to plan ahead. If you follow these steps, you will finish with a paper worth submitting to the journal of your choice. At the end of this article we also present an annotated bibliography describing other approaches to preparing scientific papers for peer review.
Being methodical, let's start with a checklist and begin with all of these items handy within arm's reach.
CHECK THE STYLE GUIDE FOR YOUR JOURNAL OF CHOICE
Each journal has its own specific style configuration and to be accepted by a journal you must write to its requirements, not those of another style format and not to your own personal preferences. To do this, have all information on all of the parameters required for the one journal that you have (initially) chosen. Many journals offer a one-page style guide. But even the minimal style guides for undergraduate papers typically run to many pages, so clearly a lot will have been left out of a one-page summary. Contemplate that the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002, pp. 3-76) has seventy-three pages on style alone. Much can be said for simply sitting down and reading these seventy-three pages for a quick and complete overview of essential topics that are left out of most brief style guides. Read these APA paragraphs and you will emerge an enlightened initiate knowing what topics to be sensitive to even if you must use a different style guide than this manual.
Alongside the official parameters given by your journal of choice, you may also have calculated or astutely teased out other style parameters that will affect your paper, such as the preferred length of the paper and its abstract; gender-neutral or other styles of preferred language; the maximum number, length, and style of footnotes or endnotes; and the maximum size of tables.
A brief warning about tables and figures: journals may not specify the size limits on tables and figures yet these have a huge effect on what information you can include in them and how you organize your writing. Beginning researchers have a tendency to send wider, longer, and less interesting tables than seasoned researchers. To create tables that will fit the page in those cases where the journal gives no guidance, (a) estimate the typeface in the table when compared to the textual typeface, and (b) build model "trial" tables (one row, the number of columns needed, longest possible data lines per table cell) that fit the page like tables in the journal and within the journal's required page margins. Then build your tables. This alone may save you from immediate rejection or the work of rewriting the text and reorganizing the table. If you have tables that require more than one page, check the journal to see if it publishes tables of that size or check with the editor. Editors have horror stories of good papers that arrive with huge tables that could never fit on a page. (The tricks authors use to accomplish this include tiny typefaces, margins of less than a centimetre, formatting rows that run off of the edge of the page, and carrying on for several pages with landscape orientation with a journal that does not accept that format. Don't consider any of these as you will only infuriate the editor.)
Check the style guide for requirements governing the presentation of figures and make sure that they fit within the journal's page parameters and technical requirements. There is a danger in looking to old copies of a journal to assess table and figure design. Find a current copy for up-to-date formatting. If you cannot get a current copy on-line or at a university library, write to the editor explaining the situation and the editor — surely pleased at your concern — will likely send a sample copy. Figures are often easily sized by click-and-drag formatting to fit a given space within the correct margins.
Box 5.1 THE IMPORTANCE OF JOURNAL GUIDELINES
Editors agree that far too many authors ignore the crucial step of reading and following the journal's submission guidelines. Ask yourself, "Am I 100% confident that I've followed every one of even the smallest details in the journal's guidelines?" If your silent answer to yourself is "Hmmm, certainly yes, probably 90% or 95%," then your next step is to accept that this is not good enough: go back and fix those few items so that they are correct.
Read and follow the journal's instructions.
DO A THOROUGH LITERATURE REVIEW
The literature review is a crucial portion of your paper. Many beginning researchers have problems with the scope and structure of the literature review. By studying examples of good literature reviews you can improve your understanding of current standards. Wikipedia offers an introduction to the basic points of literature reviews at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature_review . Kathy Teghtsoonian offers a useful didactic example explaining alternatives in a review of the literature on smoking at http://web.uvic.ca/spp/documents/litreview.pdf . An example of a thorough literature review paper that serves as a model for shorter reviews within a paper, with exemplary background, definitions of terms and variables, treatment conditions, and results, is this paper on quasi-compulsory drug treatment in Germany by Wolfgang Heckmann, Viktoria Kerschl, and Elfriede Steffan published by the European Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Kent: http://tiny.cc/KNeKC. (But avoid the one-sentence paragraphs frequent in this otherwise fine review; most editors and reviewers hate them and complain about even one or two.) Cochrane Group reviews also deserve your attention. Not only may a review from the Cochrane Group spark improvements in your research, but reading a collection of reviews can also help you to develop a model for your work. See http://www.health.qld.gov.au/phs/documents/cphun/32103.pdf .
Peer reviewers will be much more familiar with the literature than you are, and so your literature review needs to read as informed and critical, not naïve and accepting of all that is cited.
One way to improve your literature review is with a step-by-step approach. Have these materials handy:
- All of the relevant literature needed to establish the theory and/or hypothesis that you will examine. (It will help to outline your paper and to see what background or literature reviews you need for each section.)
- All relevant literature for each of the measures that you have used (the initial paper describing each measure, crucial papers describing challenges, alterations, refinements, including statistics on validity, reliability, and all other relevant attributes).
- All of the data needed for your Methods, Procedures, and Results sections. A good way to assess if you need more literature for a given section is to ask yourself, "If I were challenged to support why I chose this [measure, method, statistic], what literature supports my choice?"
If you are writing about qualitative research (QR) for a journal that publishes little of your specialty, be sure to have the latest work on rigor in QR and link it solidly to your work, for the probability is high for a rough ride from reviewers who know little about QR and may be more biased than they realize. ("I have seen a few good qualitative papers; but very few," they tell me.)
WRITING STEP #1
Contact your chosen journal with a draft title and abstract, ask if your paper is of interest and relevant to the journal's mandate, and ask any awkward questions (…flexibility on paper length? average time for peer review time?). Now is the time to learn if your paper is acceptable to this journal, not after you have spent days writing a paper to a specific format when that journal is unlikely to accept it. If the answer is favourable, you are ready to start writing. If the response is unfavourable, look for another journal. Alternatively, you might consider asking knowledgeable colleagues what journal(s) they feel are the best choice(s) for your paper.
WRITING STEP #2
Now settle down to write for colleagues and your posterity your unique contribution to science. Here are a few specific guidelines for each section of your paper:
Title: You should know the overall writing style of your chosen journal well enough to know intuitively what is a suitable title for your paper. If in doubt, (a) read the 'Table of contents' of several issues to get a feel for their style of titles, and (b) make up a couple of possible titles and ask for reactions from colleagues who know this journal well.
Mistakes to avoid: Trendy and cute titles soon look trivial and dated. An editor may allow such a title (especially if rushed), but years from now it will look embarrassing in your CV as reviewers read it to evaluate if you deserve research funding.
Abstract: The abstract summarizes how you carried out your research and what you learned. Even if you don't use the structured abstract (Objective, Methods (or) Design, Sample, Results, and Conclusion) it can serve as a guide to a succinct unstructured abstract. As an example of structured abstracts, the British Medical Journal requires structured abstracts within a sound framework: objectives, design, setting, participants, interventions, main outcome measures, results, and conclusions.
Mistakes to avoid: Don't go beyond what is established in your paper: offer no nonsignificant results, no speculation. Don't use telegraphic style (i.e., omitting articles and other parts of speech to achieve brevity) unless allowed by the journal. Don't go over the abstract size limit set by the journal.
Introduction: A good introduction tells the reader why the paper is important in terms of the problems to be investigated, the context for the research question, what place this research question has in understanding the topic, and what is original about the endeavour.
Mistakes to avoid:
At no point should the volume of loosely related information make the reader feel lost and wonder, "Why is all of this information here?" Avoid archaic arguments that have been resolved or that are not pertinent to your paper, even though you may have spent months researching these and you have a fascinating solution to the debate. Avoid formulaic first lines; a sentence like "Cancer is a major public health problem and has increased greatly in the last two decades" Opening sentences like this can make the editor's eyes glaze.
Box 5.2 THE IMPORTANCE OF ORIGINALITY
A frequent mistake made by beginning researchers is to not make clear to the editor and reader what is the original contribution of a paper. It is easy to forget that scientific journals exist mainly to publish original knowledge. Describe the originality of your research analyses in your initial letter to the editor to see if she is interested in your paper, so that if it later appears on her desk she will remember it for the innovative understanding that it offers. For the reader's benefit, your original contribution(s) should be clear from the Title (if possible), mentioned in the Abstract, and described in the Introduction and in the Discussion (and/or Conclusion).
Literature review: The literature section of a dissertation is an entire chapter. For a paper it should briefly summarize only the most important references that lead directly to understanding the importance of this paper in addressing crucial questions in the sciences and this specific research process. For detailed guidance on which papers to cite, check the article in this EASE series entitled, "Use and Abuse of Citations." When completed, compare your draft with the literature reviews in your journal of choice.
Mistakes to avoid: If several authors have been involved in writing the literature review then it is likely too long and detailed, for each author adds what she knows are essential works.
Method: After a reader has gone through this section she should know the research methods in such detail that she could replicate the study in full with another sample.
One way to check the completeness of this section is to have a colleague read it and ask her to verify if she could carry out this research project wholly from the Methods section. If there are previously released papers using the same methods (whether yours or others, and especially if described in more detail) then you should cite these. This may allow you to shorten the Method section.
Mistakes to avoid: If some aspect of your methods is suboptimal it is better to mention it here with the comment "see the Limitations section" and then be straightforward in the limitations section. Don't try to hide or disguise poor methods; reviewers will pounce on them. If your research involves randomized control trials, editors may refer you to the Consort Statement promoting high standards and uniform methods: http://www.consort-statement.org/
Results: Here you describe the outcome(s) from your research. Double-check that each novel finding to be discussed has already been reported here.
Mistakes to avoid: This section especially lends itself either to over-writing (excessive detail beyond what is needed for analysis, excessive weight given to non-significant results) or to under-writing (cursory attention to important aspects and variables). A mistake to avoid here is opening the Results section with a description of the sample and the analyses that are more relevant to the Methods, such as the validity of your measures. Start your results section with the main findings. Beginning researchers often take up too much of their paper with non-significant results; be ready to drop a result which colleagues or reviewers suggest is unimportant, even though it seems like a wondrous and magical thing to you.
Discussion and or Conclusion(s): Describe how your specific results fit into the world of science in this particular field of study. You may address issues raised in the literature review, you may address policy issues, or you may raise new questions that are either unaddressed or rarely addressed by others.
Mistakes to avoid: A little speculation is allowed, but limit it and ask your supportive colleagues what they think. Restrict your discussion of your future research plans to a line or two. Some authors like to end with the trite conclusion "More research is needed." It always is. If you wish to write in this vein, be as specific and creative as possible in tracing what original work needs to be done and what interesting hypotheses it will test.
Limitations: Describe in brief detail the suboptimal aspects of your research. This new trend has come with demand for more transparency in research publishing. Junior authors are often afraid that being open about the limitations of their research will create prejudice against a paper. Nonsense! Senior researchers (i.e., editors and reviewers) will see flaws in your work that you will likely not see. Reviewers and the editor ask only that you acknowledge limitations. To do so is not a sign of weakness in you or your approach, but much to the contrary; it shows that you are on top of what are best practices, and you are a person who sees the need for better methods (as opposed to those who stumble along pleased with their inadequate work). In short, simple, and unapologetic language, describe the shortcomings that kept your work from being optimal. Some journals allow an author to note limitations throughout the text (i.e., not as a ubheading towards the end of the paper); you may wish to check to see if your journal of choice allows or prefers this alternative.
Mistakes to avoid: Don't be ingratiating (i.e., don't apologize, don't promise to avoid these mistakes in the future, don't offer excuses), for this creates the impression of servility. You are not groveling; you are only signaling to your peers that you know what is better practice in research.
References: It is easy to forget that the function of references is to allow any reader to retrace the evidence that you cite. Electronic sources that close down and unavailable conference papers and reports threaten this openness. You should be totally fluent in the minute details of proper reference style for your chosen journal. Too many errors tell the editor that an author has been careless and this suggests carelessness perhaps elsewhere, too.
Mistakes to avoid: Verify if translation of foreign language titles is required. If it is, translate foreign language titles even in the first version you send to the editor.
Appendices: If your journal of choice seems not to have published appendices, then check with the editor to see if they are allowed. Appendices represent an excellent solution to the problem of presenting background information (legislation, policy statements, questionnaires and measures, speeches, protocols) that is too long for the body of the paper. They are also easy for a reader to skip: a blessing. In e-publishing, some journals allow appendix materials such as video files, sound, and URL access that are difficult or impossible to include in print journals, as well as more traditional materials. NOTE: Such data may not have peer review status if not evaluated by the reviewers.
Mistakes to avoid: Omit appendices that you feel are relevant to the paper but that colleagues feel are not linked.
WRITING STEP #3
You have written this first version early enough to allow you to circulate it to several colleagues whom you can trust to read and offer prompt and fair critiques. Once you have their feedback, consider if their assessments warrant rewriting before submitting it to your chosen journal.
WRITING STEP #4
Submit your paper to the editor. Bon voyage on this first step in becoming a contributor to the world of science!
WRITING STEP #5
Your paper has been accepted for review (whether minimal or extensive) and has come back with the reviewers' and the editor's comments. This would be a good time to consult another article in this series, which describes referees' reports and how to respond to them. If you decide the referees' criticisms are too severe for you to answer, then write the editor and tell her so along with your precise reasons for not revising your paper. This accomplishes several good things to your benefit: (a) it labels you as someone who takes editing a journal seriously, who knows her goals, and doesn't let work slide, (b) it signals to the editor how serious the criticisms were and may lead her to discuss options with you, and (c) she will remember you as someone who didn't leave her hanging and wondering if that paper was ever coming back.
If you decide to revise your paper you have several choices. Authors should not see themselves as helpless in front of their reviewers. To reassure them of their rights, at our journal we offer this paste-in text sent to even experienced researchers so that they all know what their rights are in the face of reviewers' comments. A reviewer's comments are not orders that have to be carried out. To the contrary, for each point that a reviewer has made an author has these three options:
i) discuss/debate/refute a reviewer's comment(s), or
ii) rewrite the text in response to a comment(s), or
iii) a combination of these so that an author both discusses/debates/refutes a reviewer's comment(s) and rewrites to accommodate some comments by a reviewer. In many of the articles that you see in print, there are several points that are just as the author intended because she debated and defended her approach as written. As editor, I sometimes very much give the author the benefit of the doubt.
The last point in answering the reviewers' comments is practical, but often overlooked.
Be crystal clear in accounting for how you responded to each point made by each reviewer. An efficient way to do this is to follow each reviewer's comment with an explanation of how you respond and to key this up in a contrasting and easily read colour (dark blue or dark green are good choices).
If your paper is rejected then carefully read the critiques and see if you feel that submitting it to another journal seems a wise step. If so, be sure to format it thoroughly to that journal's style and revise it in response to the reviewers' criticisms.
WRITING STEP #6
Once your paper is accepted you may have little more involvement until the editor or publisher sends you the proofs to check. When the proofs arrive and you see how the nuances of your careful writing style have been altered, it is easy to feel lonely and unappreciated. But please respect that copyeditors know well what is more readable and credible to the target audience. If you have a hard time deciding on whether to accept a change or not, a criterion is to ask yourself "Has my meaning been respected or has it been changed?" If it has been respected, then let it be as edited and trust the copyeditor. In a year when you read your paper once again you will usually see the wisdom of the copyeditor's changes.
When your first paper is published you will have made a contribution to your field of science and to the public arena where the dialectics between what is, what could be, and what will be, are in struggle. A proverb: some Inuit say that a man can only be as good a hunter as his wife's sewing will let him be. In the sciences the effectiveness of our research, treatment methods, policies, and advocacy can only be as good as the literature that we publish.
The author is grateful for invaluable contributions from Susan Savva, Ian Stolerman, Kerstin Stenius, Sheila Lacroix, Thomas Babor, Gerhard Bühringer, and Jean O'Reilly.
Below I present a number of annotated bibliographies. If they don't contain a work specific to your needs or the books are unavailable, try searching your local university or professional library using search terms such as scientific writing or publication manual in the 'title' or 'subject' window.
Yet another technique is to find the library classification codes at your nearest university for books on writing psychology and biomedical science (for example, at the University of Toronto they are mostly among the Dewey decimal codes T11 and R119) and then to peruse the shelves in those sections looking for books that didn't come up in your title or subject search. Some would call this a strategy of desperation, but half of the books in the annotated bibliographies below were found this way.
Some advice about choosing works (books, papers, Web sites) to help you to be a better scientific author: many of the books that I found are written in what I call an exhortatory style in which the title offers to improve your skills and then the text consists in telling you to do something, but without effective teaching. Some, in effect, exhorted "Write clearer!" but had nothing to help the reader select unclear writing and step-by-step guides for how to make it clearly written. Choose works that you can see will be of help to you and whose approach makes sense, not those that promise but don't resonate with your understanding.
To find relevant Web sites try searching on an exact phrase (perhaps scientific writing ) and then in the 'all of the words' window (where articles and conjunctions are not needed) narrow the search with specifics, perhaps, avoiding passive or using semi-colons or any writing area in which you would like to improve.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SCIENTIFIC WRITING: BASIC PROBLEMS OF WRITING STYLE AND MOTIVATION
Strunk, W., & White, E.B. (2000). The elements of style . (4th ed.) London: Allyn and Bacon. Still one of the best and shortest writing guides, easily read and absorbed. Those learning English find its clarity and brevity helpful.
Rogers, S.M. (2007). Mastering scientific and medical writing: A self-help guide . N.Y.: Springer. A compact guide with exercises as solved problems; good for overcoming specific writing handicaps.
Alley, M. (1996). The craft of scientific writing . (3rd ed.) N.Y.: Springer. Lengthy chapters on building competence and curing shortcomings.
Silvia, P.J. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. This breezy guide is especially good for authors who realize that their writing style needs improvement, or who have been told that a component of their paper (abstract, introduction, method, results, analysis, discussion, conclusion) misses the point of what it should communicate. Journal papers have 23 pages of coverage in this book.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SCIENTIFIC WRITING: FOCUSING ON STANDARDS FOR SCIENTIFIC PAPERS AND SPECIFIC SCIENTIFIC AREAS
Huth, E.J. (1990). How to write and publish papers in the medical sciences . (2nd ed.) London: Williams and Wilkins. This compact work offers practical advice on how to make decisions about what to write and what to leave out for both novice and experienced researchers. A highly readable source.
Gustavii, B. (2003). How to write and illustrate a scientific paper . Cambridge University, UK: The Cambridge Press. This work is oriented to the biological and medical sciences. It is the clearest and most succinct work that I found among all such works at our local university. A marvel of clarity and utility. It is also full of relevant URLs for up-to-date information.
Miller, J.E. (2005). The Chicago guide to writing about multi-variate analysis . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This work shows how specific are the aids available to scientific authors. The book is a mini-course in writing about numbers, i.e., statistical analysis.
How to Write a Thorough Peer Review Report
As a peer reviewer, your job is to uphold the quality of published science by ensuring that academic papers are accurate and clearly articulated. Young scientists eager to publish their hard work will appreciate the quality feedback to help them improve their manuscript. Therefore, to be a good peer reviewer you need to be an expert in your field, be fair to the author and journal, meet deadlines, be honest in your opinion, and kind in your criticism.
How to Evaluate a Manuscript as a Peer Reviewer
Before you accept to peer review a manuscript, ensure that you:
- are familiar with the field and the methods used in the paper.
- have no conflicts of interest.
- have the time to review the paper within the given timelines.
Once you have accepted to peer review, the next step is to evaluate the manuscript. To evaluate the manuscript as a peer reviewer, experienced reviewers recommend you read the paper three times. Give yourself time to think about the research in between each reading.
This is a quick overview of the paper. Is the manuscript publishable in the specified journal? Write a summary of the paper including the paper’s main research question and whether this question was answered. Furthermore, were the methods appropriate to address the question. If you feel the paper is unpublishable at this point, then there is no need to review it any further. Reject the paper and give your reasons. These may include discredited methods used in the paper, disagreement with the conclusion, or unreadable grammar.
Read the paper in detail and note down your comments, both positive and negative for each section. Here you will assess whether the author has addressed each section appropriately . Questions you should ask:
- Is the research novel?
- Was the necessary background and relevance clearly articulated?
- Was the research question appropriately addressed?
- Are the results (including figures) easy to understand and interpret?
- Were other considerations omitted?
- Were key papers in the field referenced?
Assess the flow, grammar, headings, references, and general organization of the paper. If the journal has their own copy-editors, then focus on the science since any grammar issues will be dealt with by the publisher.
How to Format a Peer Review Report
The format of the peer review report will vary depending on the journal’s requirements – any reviewing instructions can be checked on the journal’s website before you start. Number your comments for easy reference. A common peer review report has the following format:
Briefly describe the main research question and conclusion, as well as the relevance to the journal. Give its overall strengths and quality as well as any major weaknesses. Start with your positive comments.
These could be flawed research, previously published research, major grammar corrections, insufficient evidence for their conclusions, or ethical issues.
These include minor corrections such as ambiguous meanings, errors in references, minor factual errors, and suggested modifications to tables and figures.
Give your recommendation with reasons.
Be the Author’s Friend
Keep in mind that not all research is perfect and often a paper may have minor flaws in the data. Your expertise in the field and methodology will make you aware of what kind of imperfections are common and acceptable.
Although the paper will have answered some questions, more questions may be exposed that can be answered in subsequent research. This is how the field of science grows and knowledge is built.
Help the author publish their work and if it is not suitable for the journal, then recommend they submit to a more appropriate journal. Keep your comments constructive and offer helpful suggestions. Avoid bias and unreasonable demands.
Being asked to peer review your first article may be daunting. Do you have any other suggestions for peer reviewers?
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How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal
- 1 Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, 135 Dauer Dr, 27599, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.
- 2 Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, 135 Dauer Dr, 27599, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. [email protected].
- 3 Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-2029, USA. [email protected].
- PMID: 32356250
- PMCID: PMC8520870
- DOI: 10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z
Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1, we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.
Keywords: Manuscripts; Publishing; Scientific writing.
© 2020. The Author(s).
Writing a Research Paper for an Academic Journal: A Five-step Recipe for Perfection
The answer to writing the perfect research paper is as simple as following a step-by-step recipe. Here we bring to you a recipe for effortlessly planning, writing, and publishing your paper as a peer reviewed journal article.
Updated on March 15, 2022
As a young researcher, getting your paper published as a journal article is a huge milestone; but producing it may seem like climbing a mountain compared to, perhaps, the theses, essays, or conference papers you have produced in the past.
You may feel overwhelmed with the thought of carrying innumerable equipment and may feel incapable of completing the task. But, in reality, the answer to writing the perfect research paper is as simple as following a recipe with step-by-step instructions.
In this blog, I aim to bring to you the recipe for effortlessly planning, writing, and publishing your paper as a peer reviewed journal article. I will give you the essential information, key points, and resources to keep in mind before you begin the writing process for your research papers.
Secret ingredient 1: Make notes before you begin the writing process
Because I want you to benefit from this article on a personal level, I am going to give away my secret ingredient for producing a good research paper right at the beginning. The one thing that helps me write literally anything is — cue the drum rolls — making notes.
Yes, making notes is the best way to remember and store all that information, which is definitely going to help you throughout the process of writing your paper. So, please pick up a pen and start making notes for writing your research paper.
Step 1. Choose the right research topic
Although it is important to be passionate and curious about your research article topic, it is not enough. Sometimes the sheer excitement of having an idea may take away your ability to focus on and question the novelty, credibility, and potential impact of your research topic.
On the contrary, the first thing that you should do when you write a journal paper is question the novelty, credibility, and potential impact of your research question.
It is also important to remember that your research, along with the aforementioned points, must be original and relevant: It must benefit and interest the scientific community.
All you have to do is perform a thorough literature search in your research field and have a look at what is currently going on in the field of your topic of interest. This step in academic writing is not as daunting as it may seem and, in fact, is quite beneficial for the following reasons:
- You can determine what is already known about the research topic and the gaps that exist.
- You can determine the credibility and novelty of your research question by comparing it with previously published papers.
- If your research question has already been studied or answered before your first draft, you first save a substantial amount of time by avoiding rejections from journals at a much later stage; and second, you can study and aim to bridge the gaps of previous studies, perhaps, by using a different methodology or a bigger sample size.
So, carefully read as much as you can about what has already been published in your field of research; and when you are doing so, make sure that you make lots of relevant notes as you go along in the process. Remember, your study does not necessarily have to be groundbreaking, but it should definitely extend previous knowledge or refute existing statements on the topic.
Secret ingredient 2: Use a thematic approach while drafting your manuscript
For instance, if you are writing about the association between the level of breast cancer awareness and socioeconomic status, open a new Word or Notes file and create subheadings such as “breast cancer awareness in low- and middle-income countries,” “reasons for lack of awareness,” or “ways to increase awareness.”
Under these subheadings, make notes of the information that you think may be suitable to be included in your paper as you carry out your literature review. Ensure that you make a draft reference list so that you don't miss out on the references.
Step 2: Know your audience
Finding your research topic is not synonymous with communicating it, it is merely a step, albeit an important one; however, there are other crucial steps that follow. One of which is identifying your target audience.
Now that you know what your topic of interest is, you need to ask yourself “Who am I trying to benefit with my research?” A general mistake is assuming that your reader knows everything about your research topic. Drafting a peer reviewed journal article often means that your work may reach a wide and varied audience.
Therefore, it is a good idea to ponder over who you want to reach and why, rather than simply delivering chunks of information, facts, and statistics. Along with considering the above factors, evaluate your reader's level of education, expertise, and scientific field as this may help you design and write your manuscript, tailoring it specifically for your target audience.
Here are a few points that you must consider after you have identified your target audience:
- Shortlist a few target journals: The aims and scope of the journal usually mention their audience. This may help you know your readers and visualize them as you write your manuscript. This will further help you include just the right amount of background and details.
- View your manuscript from the reader's perspective: Try to think about what they might already know or what they would like more details on.
- Include the appropriate amount of jargon: Ensure that your article text is familiar to your target audience and use the correct terminology to make your content more relatable for readers - and journal editors as your paper goes through the peer review process.
- Keep your readers engaged: Write with an aim to fill a knowledge gap or add purpose and value to your reader's intellect. Your manuscript does not necessarily have to be complex, write with a simple yet profound tone, layer (or sub-divide) simple points and build complexity as you go along, rather than stating dry facts.
- Be specific: It is easy to get carried away and forget the essence of your study. Make sure that you stick to your topic and be as specific as you can to your research topic and audience.
Secret ingredient 3: Clearly define your key terms and key concepts
Do not assume that your audience will know your research topic as well as you do, provide compelling details where it is due. This can be tricky. Using the example from “Secret ingredient 2,” you may not need to define breast cancer while writing about breast cancer awareness. However, while talking about the benefits of awareness, such as early presentation of the disease, it is important to explain these benefits, for instance, in terms of superior survival rates.
Step 3: Structure your research paper with care
After determining the topic of your research and your target audience, your overflowing ideas and information need to be structured in a format generally accepted by journals.
Most academic journals conventionally accept original research articles in the following format: Abstract, followed by the Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections, also known as the IMRaD, which is a brilliant way of structuring a research paper outline in a simplified and layered format. In brief, these sections comprise the following information:
In closed-access journals, readers have access to the abstract/summary for them to decide if they wish to purchase the research paper. It's an extremely important representative of the entire manuscript.
All information provided in the abstract must be present in the manuscript, it should include a stand-alone summary of the research, the main findings, the abbreviations should be defined separately in this section, and this section should be clear, decluttered, and concise.
This section should begin with a background of the study topic, i.e., what is already known, moving on to the knowledge gaps that exist, and finally, end with how the present study aims to fill these gaps, or any hypotheses that the authors may have proposed.
This section describes, with compelling details, the procedures that were followed to answer the research question.
The ultimate factor to consider while producing the methods section is reproducibility; this section should be detailed enough for other researchers to reproduce your study and validate your results. It should include ethical information (ethical board approval, informed consent, etc.) and must be written in the past tense.
This section typically presents the findings of the study, with no explanations or interpretations. Here, the findings are simply stated alongside figures or tables mentioned in the text in the correct sequential order. Because you are describing what you found, this section is also written in the past tense.
Discussion and conclusion
This section begins with a summary of your findings and is meant for you to interpret your results, compare them with previously published papers, and elaborate on whether your findings are comparable or contradictory to previous literature.
This section also contains the strengths and limitations of your study, and the latter can be used to suggest future research. End this section with a conclusion paragraph, briefly summarizing and highlighting the main findings and novelty of your study.
Step 4: Cite credible research sources
Now that you know who and what you are writing for, it's time to begin the writing process for your research paper. Another crucial factor that determines the quality of your manuscript is the detailed information within. The introduction and discussion sections, which make a massive portion of the manuscript, majorly rely on external sources of information that have already been published.
Therefore, it is absolutely indispensable to extract and cite these statements from appropriate, credible, recent, and relevant literature to support your claims. Here are a few pointers to consider while choosing the right sources:
Cite academic journals
These are the best sources to refer to while writing your research paper, because most articles submitted to top journals are rejected, resulting in high-quality articles being filtered-out. In particular, peer reviewed articles are of the highest quality because they undergo a rigorous process of editorial review, along with revisions until they are judged to be satisfactory.
But not just any book, ideally, the credibility of a book can be judged by whether it is published by an academic publisher, is written by multiple authors who are experts in the field of interest, and is carefully reviewed by multiple editors. It can be beneficial to review the background of the author(s) and check their previous publications.
Cite an official online source
Although it may be difficult to judge the trustworthiness of web content, a few factors may help determine its accuracy. These include demographic data obtained from government websites (.gov), educational resources (.edu), websites that cite other pertinent and trustworthy sources, content meant for education and not product promotion, unbiased sources, or sources with backlinks that are up to date. It is best to avoid referring to online sources such as blogs and Wikipedia.
Do not cite the following sources
While citing sources, you should steer clear from encyclopedias, citing review articles instead of directly citing the original work, referring to sources that you have not read, citing research papers solely from one country (be extensively diverse), anything that is not backed up by evidence, and material with considerable grammatical errors.
Although these sources are generally most appropriate and valid, it is your job to critically read and carefully evaluate all sources prior to citing them.
Step 5: Pick the correct journal
Selecting the correct journal is one of the most crucial steps toward getting published, as it not only determines the weightage of your research but also of your career as a researcher. The journals in which you choose to publish your research are part of your portfolio; it directly or indirectly determines many factors, such as funding, professional advancement, and future collaborations.
The best thing you can do for your work is to pick a peer-reviewed journal. Not only will your paper be polished to the highest quality for editors, but you will also be able to address certain gaps that you may have missed out.
Besides, it always helps to have another perspective, and what better than to have it from an experienced peer?
A common mistake that researchers tend to make is leave the task of choosing the target journal after they have written their paper.
Now, I understand that due to certain factors, it can be challenging to decide what journal you want to publish in before you start drafting your paper, therefore, the best time to make this decision is while you are working on writing your manuscript. Having a target journal in mind while writing your paper has a great deal of benefits.
- As the most basic benefit, you can know beforehand if your study meets the aims and scope of your desired journal. It will ensure you're not wasting valuable time for editors or yourself.
- While drafting your manuscript, you could keep in mind the requirements of your target journal, such as the word limit for the main article text and abstract, the maximum number of figures or tables that are allowed, or perhaps, the maximum number of references that you may include.
- Also, if you choose to submit to an open-access journal, you have ample amount of time to figure out the funding.
- Another major benefit is that, as mentioned in the previous section, the aims and scope of the journal will give you a fair idea on your target audience and will help you draft your manuscript appropriately.
It is definitely easier to know that your target journal requires the text to be within 3,500 words than spending weeks writing a manuscript that is around, say, 5,000 words, and then spending a substantial amount of time decluttering. Now, while not all journals have very specific requirements, it always helps to short-list a few journals, if not concretely choose one to publish your paper in.
AJE also offers journal recommendation services if you need professional help with finding a target journal.
Secret ingredient 4: Follow the journal guidelines
Perfectly written manuscripts may get rejected by the journal on account of not adhering to their formatting requirements. You can find the author guidelines/instructions on the home page of every journal. Ensure that as you write your manuscript, you follow the journal guidelines such as the word limit, British or American English, formatting references, line spacing, line/page numbering, and so on.
Our ultimate aim is to instill confidence in young researchers like you and help you become independent as you write and communicate your research. With the help of these easy steps and secret ingredients, you are now ready to prepare your flavorful manuscript and serve your research to editors and ultimately the journal readers with a side of impact and a dash of success.
Lubaina Koti, BS
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- CAREER COLUMN
- 08 October 2018
How to write a thorough peer review
- Mathew Stiller-Reeve 0
Mathew Stiller-Reeve is a climate researcher at NORCE/Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway, the leader of SciSnack.com, and a thematic editor at Geoscience Communication .
You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar
Scientists do not receive enough peer-review training. To improve this situation, a small group of editors and I developed a peer-review workflow to guide reviewers in delivering useful and thorough analyses that can really help authors to improve their papers.
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