Successful production of a written product for submission to a peer‐reviewed scientific journal requires substantial effort. Such an effort can be maximized by following a few simple suggestions when composing/creating the product for submission. By following some suggested guidelines and avoiding common errors, the process can be streamlined and success realized for even beginning/novice authors as they negotiate the publication process. The purpose of this invited commentary is to offer practical suggestions for achieving success when writing and submitting manuscripts to The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and other professional journals.
Keywords: Journal submission, scientific writing, strategies and tips
“The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking”
Conducting scientific and clinical research is only the beginning of the scholarship of discovery. In order for the results of research to be accessible to other professionals and have a potential effect on the greater scientific community, it must be written and published. Most clinical and scientific discovery is published in peer‐reviewed journals, which are those that utilize a process by which an author's peers, or experts in the content area, evaluate the manuscript. Following this review the manuscript is recommended for publication, revision or rejection. It is the rigor of this review process that makes scientific journals the primary source of new information that impacts clinical decision‐making and practice.1,2
The task of writing a scientific paper and submitting it to a journal for publication is a time‐consuming and often daunting task.3,4 Barriers to effective writing include lack of experience, poor writing habits, writing anxiety, unfamiliarity with the requirements of scholarly writing, lack of confidence in writing ability, fear of failure, and resistance to feedback.5 However, the very process of writing can be a helpful tool for promoting the process of scientific thinking,6,7 and effective writing skills allow professionals to participate in broader scientific conversations. Furthermore, peer review manuscript publication systems requiring these technical writing skills can be developed and improved with practice.8 Having an understanding of the process and structure used to produce a peer‐reviewed publication will surely improve the likelihood that a submitted manuscript will result in a successful publication.
Clear communication of the findings of research is essential to the growth and development of science3 and professional practice. The culmination of the publication process provides not only satisfaction for the researcher and protection of intellectual property, but also the important function of dissemination of research results, new ideas, and alternate thought; which ultimately facilitates scholarly discourse. In short, publication of scientific papers is one way to advance evidence‐based practice in many disciplines, including sports physical therapy. Failure to publish important findings significantly diminishes the potential impact that those findings may have on clinical practice.9
BASICS OF MANUSCRIPT PREPARATION & GENERAL WRITING TIPS
To begin it might be interesting to learn why reviewers accept manuscripts! Reviewers consider the following five criteria to be the most important in decisions about whether to accept manuscripts for publication: 1) the importance, timeliness, relevance, and prevalence of the problem addressed; 2) the quality of the writing style (i.e., that it is well‐written, clear, straightforward, easy to follow, and logical); 3) the study design applied (i.e., that the design was appropriate, rigorous, and comprehensive); 4) the degree to which the literature review was thoughtful, focused, and up‐to‐date; and 5) the use of a sufficiently large sample.10 For these statements to be true there are also reasons that reviewers reject manuscripts. The following are the top five reasons for rejecting papers: 1) inappropriate, incomplete, or insufficiently described statistics; 2) over‐interpretation of results; 3) use of inappropriate, suboptimal, or insufficiently described populations or instruments; 4) small or biased samples; and 5) text that is poorly written or difficult to follow.10,11 With these reasons for acceptance or rejection in mind, it is time to review basics and general writing tips to be used when performing manuscript preparation.
“Begin with the end in mind”. When you begin writing about your research, begin with a specific target journal in mind.12 Every scientific journal should have specific lists of manuscript categories that are preferred for their readership. The IJSPT seeks to provide readership with current information to enhance the practice of sports physical therapy. Therefore the manuscript categories accepted by IJSPT include: Original research; Systematic reviews of literature; Clinical commentary and Current concept reviews; Case reports; Clinical suggestions and unique practice techniques; and Technical notes. Once a decision has been made to write a manuscript, compose an outline that complies with the requirements of the target submission journal and has each of the suggested sections. This means carefully checking the submission criteria and preparing your paper in the exact format of the journal to which you intend to submit. Be thoughtful about the distinction between content (what you are reporting) and structure (where it goes in the manuscript). Poor placement of content confuses the reader (reviewer) and may cause misinterpretation of content.3,5
It may be helpful to follow the IMRaD format for writing scientific manuscripts. This acronym stands for the sections contained within the article: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each of these areas of the manuscript will be addressed in this commentary.
Many accomplished authors write their results first, followed by an introduction and discussion, in an attempt to “stay true” to their results and not stray into additional areas. Typically the last two portions to be written are the conclusion and the abstract.
The ability to accurately describe ideas, protocols/procedures, and outcomes are the pillars of scientific writing. Accurate and clear expression of your thoughts and research information should be the primary goal of scientific writing.12 Remember that accuracy and clarity are even more important when trying to get complicated ideas across. Contain your literature review, ideas, and discussions to your topic, theme, model, review, commentary, or case. Avoid vague terminology and too much prose. Use short rather than long sentences. If jargon has to be utilized keep it to a minimum and explain the terms you do use clearly.13
Write with a measure of formality, using scientific language and avoiding conjunctions, slang, and discipline or regionally specific nomenclature or terms (e.g. exercise nicknames). For example, replace the term “Monster walks” with “closed‐chain hip abduction with elastic resistance around the thighs”. You may later refer to the exercise as “also known as Monster walks” if you desire.
Avoid first person language and instead write using third person language. Some journals do not ascribe to this requirement, and allow first person references, however, IJSPT prefers use of third person. For example, replace “We determined that…” with “The authors determined that….”.
For novice writers, it is really helpful to seek a reading mentor that will help you pre‐read your submission. Problems such as improper use of grammar, tense, and spelling are often a cause of rejection by reviewers. Despite the content of the study these easily fixed errors suggest that the authors created the manuscript with less thought leading reviewers to think that the manuscript may also potentially have erroneous findings as well. A review from a second set of trained eyes will often catch these errors missed by the original authors. If English is not your first language, the editorial staff at IJSPT suggests that you consult with someone with the relevant expertise to give you guidance on English writing conventions, verb tense, and grammar. Excellent writing in English is hard, even for those of us for whom it is our first language!
Use figures and graphics to your advantage. ‐Consider the use of graphic/figure representation of data and important procedures or exercises. Tables should be able to stand alone and be completely understandable at a quick glance. Understanding a table should not require careful review of the manuscript! Figures dramatically enhance the graphic appeal of a scientific paper. Many formats for graphic presentation are acceptable, including graphs, charts, tables, and pictures or videos. Photographs should be clear, free of clutter or extraneous background distractions and be taken with models wearing simple clothing. Color photographs are preferred. Digital figures (Scans or existing files as well as new photographs) must be at least 300dpi. All photographs should be provided as separate files (jpeg or tif preferred) and not be embedded in the paper. Quality and clarity of figures are essential for reproduction purposes and should be considered before taking images for the manuscript.
A video of an exercise or procedure speaks a thousand words. Please consider using short video clips as descriptive additions to your paper. They will be placed on the IJSPT website and accompany your paper. The video clips must be submitted in MPEG‐1, MPEG‐2, Quicktime (.mov), or Audio/Video Interface (.avi) formats. Maximum cumulative length of videos is 5 minutes. Each video segment may not exceed 50 MB, and each video clip must be saved as a separate file and clearly identified. Formulate descriptive figure/video and Table/chart/graph titles and place them on a figure legend document. Carefully consider placement of, naming of, and location of figures. It makes the job of the editors much easier!
Avoid Plagiarism and inadvertent lack of citations. Finally, use citations to your benefit. Cite frequently in order to avoid any plagiarism. The bottom line: If it is not your original idea, give credit where credit is due. When using direct quotations, provide not only the number of the citation, but the page where the quote was found. All citations should appear in text as a superscripted number followed by punctuation. It is the authors' responsibility to fully ensure all references are cited in completed form, in an accurate location. Please carefully follow the instructions for citations and check that all references in your reference list are cited in the paper and that all citations in the paper appear correctly in the reference list. Please go to IJSPT submission guidelines for full information on the format for citations.
Sometimes written as an afterthought, the abstract is of extreme importance as in many instances this section is what is initially previewed by readership to determine if the remainder of the article is worth reading. This is the authors opportunity to draw the reader into the study and entice them to read the rest of the article. The abstract is a summary of the article or study written in 3rd person allowing the readers to get a quick glance of what the contents of the article include. Writing an abstract is rather challenging as being brief, accurate and concise are requisite. The headings and structure for an abstract are usually provided in the instructions for authors. In some instances, the abstract may change slightly pending content revisions required during the peer review process. Therefore it often works well to complete this portion of the manuscript last. Remember the abstract should be able to stand alone and should be as succinct as possible.14
Introduction and Review of Literature
The introduction is one of the more difficult portions of the manuscript to write. Past studies are used to set the stage or provide the reader with information regarding the necessity of the represented project. For an introduction to work properly, the reader must feel that the research question is clear, concise, and worthy of study.
A competent introduction should include at least four key concepts: 1) significance of the topic, 2) the information gap in the available literature associated with the topic, 3) a literature review in support of the key questions, 4) subsequently developed purposes/objectives and hypotheses.9
When constructing a review of the literature, be attentive to “sticking” or “staying true” to your topic at hand. Don't reach or include too broad of a literature review. For example, do not include extraneous information about performance or prevention if your research does not actually address those things. The literature review of a scientific paper is not an exhaustive review of all available knowledge in a given field of study. That type of thorough review should be left to review articles or textbook chapters. Throughout the introduction (and later in the discussion!) remind yourself that a paper, existing evidence, or results of a paper cannot draw conclusions, demonstrate, describe, or make judgments, only PEOPLE (authors) can. “The evidence demonstrates that” should be stated, “Smith and Jones, demonstrated that….”
Conclude your introduction with a solid statement of your purpose(s) and your hypothesis(es), as appropriate. The purpose and objectives should clearly relate to the information gap associated with the given manuscript topic discussed earlier in the introduction section. This may seem repetitive, but it actually is helpful to ensure the reader clearly sees the evolution, importance, and critical aspects of the study at hand See Table 1 for examples of well‐stated purposes.
Examples of well-stated purposes by submission type.
The methods section should clearly describe the specific design of the study and provide clear and concise description of the procedures that were performed. The purpose of sufficient detail in the methods section is so that an appropriately trained person would be able to replicate your experiments.15 There should be complete transparency when describing the study. To assist in writing and manuscript preparation there are several checklists or guidelines that are available on the IJSPT website. The CONSORT guidelines can be used when developing and reporting a randomized controlled trial.16 The STARD checklist was developed for designing a diagnostic accuracy study.17 The PRISMA checklist was developed for use when performing a meta‐analyses or systematic review.18 A clear methods section should contain the following information: 1) the population and equipment used in the study, 2) how the population and equipment were prepared and what was done during the study, 3) the protocol used, 4) the outcomes and how they were measured, 5) the methods used for data analysis. Initially a brief paragraph should explain the overall procedures and study design. Within this first paragraph there is generally a description of inclusion and exclusion criteria which help the reader understand the population used. Paragraphs that follow should describe in more detail the procedures followed for the study. A clear description of how data was gathered is also helpful. For example were data gathered prospectively or retrospectively? Who if anyone was blinded, and where and when was the actual data collected?
Although it is a good idea for the authors to have justification and a rationale for their procedures, these should be saved for inclusion into the discussion section, not to be discussed in the methods section. However, occasionally studies supporting components of the methods section such as reliability of tests, or validation of outcome measures may be included in the methods section.
The final portion of the methods section will include the statistical methods used to analyze the data.19 This does not mean that the actual results should be discussed in the methods section, as they have an entire section of their own!
Most scientific journals support the need for all projects involving humans or animals to have up‐to‐date documentation of ethical approval.20 The methods section should include a clear statement that the researchers have obtained approval from an appropriate institutional review board.
Results, Discussion, and Conclusions
In most journals the results section is separate from the discussion section. It is important that you clearly distinguish your results from your discussion. The results section should describe the results only. The discussion section should put those results into a broader context. Report your results neutrally, as you “found them”. Again, be thoughtful about content and structure. Think carefully about where content is placed in the overall structure of your paper. It is not appropriate to bring up additional results, not discussed in the results section, in the discussion. All results must first be described/presented and then discussed. Thus, the discussion should not simply be a repeat of the results section. Carefully discuss where your information is similar or different from other published evidence and why this might be so. What was different in methods or analysis, what was similar?
As previously stated, stick to your topic at hand, and do not overstretch your discussion! One of the major pitfalls in writing the discussion section is overstating the significance of your findings4 or making very strong statements. For example, it is better to say: “Findings of the current study support….” or “these findings suggest…” than, “Findings of the current study prove that…” or “this means that….”. Maintain a sense of humbleness, as nothing is without question in the outcomes of any type of research, in any discipline! Use words like “possibly”, “likely” or “suggests” to soften findings.12
Do not discuss extraneous ideas, concepts, or information not covered by your topic/paper/commentary. Be sure to carefully address all relevant results, not just the statistically significant ones or the ones that support your hypotheses. When you must resort to speculation or opinion, be certain to state that up front using phrases such as “we therefore speculate” or “in the authors' opinion”.
Remember, just as in the introduction and literature review, evidence or results cannot draw conclusions, just as previously stated, only people, scientists, researchers, and authors can!
Finish with a concise, 3‐5 sentence conclusion paragraph. This is not just a restatement of your results, rather is comprised of some final, summative statements that reflect the flow and outcomes of the entire paper. Do not include speculative statements or additional material; however, based upon your findings a statement about potential changes in clinical practice or future research opportunities can be provided here.
Writing for publication can be a challenging yet satisfying endeavor. The ability to examine, relate, and interlink evidence, as well as to provide a peer‐reviewed, disseminated product of your research labors can be rewarding. A few suggestions have been offered in this commentary that may assist the novice or the developing writer to attempt, polish, and perfect their approach to scholarly writing.
1. Nahata MC. Tips for writing and publishing an article. Ann Pharmaco. 2008;42:273‐277 [PubMed]
2. Dixon N. Writing for publication: A guide for new authors. Int J Qual Health Care. 2001;13:417‐421 [PubMed]
3. Shah J, Shah A, Pietrobon R. Scientific writing of novice researchers: What difficulties and encouragements do they encounter?Acad Med. 2009;84(4):511‐516 [PubMed]
4. Cetin S, Hackam DJ. An approach to the writing of a scientific manscript. J Surg Res. 2005;128:165‐167 [PubMed]
5. Witt PA. Writing for publication: Rationale, process, and pitfalls. J Park Recreation Admin. 1995;13:1‐9
6. Keys CW. Revitalizing instruction in scientific genres: Connecting knowledge production with writing to learn in science. Sci Educ. 1999;83:115‐130
7. Gopen G, Swan J. The science of scientific writing. Am Sci. 1990;78:550‐558
8. Newell R. Writing academic papers: A guide for prospective authors. Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 2001;17:110‐116 [PubMed]
9. Cook C, Brismee JM, Courtney C, Hancock M, May S. Publishing a scientific manuscript on manual therapy. J Man Manip Ther. 2009;17(3):141‐147 [PMC free article][PubMed]
10. Bordage G. Reasons reviewers reject and accept manuscripts: The strengths and weaknesses in medical education reports. Acad Med. 2001;76:889‐896 [PubMed]
11. Pierson DJ. The top 10 reasons why manuscripts are not accepted for publication. Respir Care. 2004;49:1246‐12512 [PubMed]
12. Eriksson P, Altermann W, Catuneanu O. Editorial: Some general advice for writing a scientific paper. J African Earth Sci. 2005;41:285‐288
13. Scientific writing 101. Editorial. Nature Structural Molecular Bio. 2010;17(2):139 [PubMed]
14. Moreira A, Haahtela T. How to write a scientific paper‐and win the game scientists play!Pneumologia. 2011;17(3):146‐149 [PubMed]
15. Lin P, Kuo Y. A guide to write a scientific paper for new writers. Microsurgery. 2012;32:80‐85 [PubMed]
16. Moher D, Schultz KR<, Altman DG. CONSORT GROUP (Consolidatied Standards of Reporting Trials). The CONSORT statement: Revised recommendations for improving the quality of reports of parallel‐group randomized controlled trials. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:657‐662 [PubMed]
17. Bossuyt PM, Reitsma JB, Bruns DE, et al. Towards complete and accurate reporting of studies of diagnostic accuracy: The STARD Initiative. Ann Int Med. 2003;138:40‐44 [PubMed]
18. Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG. The PRISMA Group (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta‐analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Med6(6): e1000097.doi:10.1371/journal.pmed1000097. [PMC free article][PubMed]
19. Van Way CW. Writing a scientific paper. Nutr Clin Pract. 2007; 22:636‐640 [PubMed]
20. Kallet RH. How to write the methods section of a research paper. Respir Care. 2004;49:1229‐1232 [PubMed]
11 steps to structuring a science paper editors will take seriously
A seasoned editor gives advice to get your work published in an international journal
By Angel Borja, PhD Posted on 24 June 2014
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."[divider]
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.
Dr. Borja is the Editor of several journals, including Frontiers in Marine Ecosystem Ecology, Revista de Investigación Marina, Elsevier's Journal of Sea Research and Continental Shelf Research. In addition, he is a member of the editorial boards of Elsevier's Marine Pollution Bulletin, Ecological Indicators and Ocean & Coastal Management.
Read more about his work on ResearchGate, ORCID and LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter (@AngelBorjaYerro).
When you organize your manuscript, the first thing to consider is that the order of sections will be very different than the order of items on you checklist.
An article begins with the Title, Abstract and Keywords.
The article text follows the IMRAD format, which responds to the questions below:
- Introduction: What did you/others do? Why did you do it?
- Methods: How did you do it?
- Results: What did you find?
- Discussion: 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.[divider]
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.
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)
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:
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.[divider]
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.
- 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%.
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.[divider]
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.[divider]
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.[divider]
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! [divider]
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. [divider]
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."[divider]
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.
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![divider]
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