Writing research paper for publication

Writing a model research paper: A roadmap

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Introduction

Publishing in biomedical journals is considered as a scholarly activity and merits academic credit.[1,2] The issue of publications has come to forefront ever since the Medical Council of India (MCI) has mandated two research publications in certain indexed journals for each step of promotion of medical faculty.[3,4,5,6,7] This has led to many medical teachers who are due for promotion trying to achieve their publications’ target. Publication is essentially writing up a report of a research study in a “particular” format for a “particular” scientific journal. In general, one should try to publish in an easily accessible, widely read, and prestigious indexed journal. Regularly reading and analyzing research articles in one’s own specialty in various journals helps in learning how to write manuscripts.[8] Mentoring by successful and seasoned authors can ease the task of publications for the beginners.[1,4] In addition, attending research methodology and writing workshops/trainings in medical writing helps beginners in learning the ABCs of writing medical manuscripts.[4,5,9] Improvement in institutional support and infrastructure can improve research output and aid in improving the quality of publications.[4,5] This editorial attempts to offer useful tips for the prospective authors to get their research papers published in eminent peer-reviewed journals (which have a high standing in the academic field) with a greater success rate.

Preparing the Manuscript

The basic IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) structure is maintained by all journals while publishing original research.[2,9,10,11] The draft of the manuscript consists of the title page (including the acknowledgments and disclosures), abstract and keywords, main text (introduction, methods, results, and discussion), references, tables and figures, and the legends to figures.[1,2,9,12]

Title page

The title page gives the title, names of all the authors, author affiliations (and highest degree), institution where the work was done, author emails, author contributions, funding/support for the research, conflicts of interest, the name and address/contact of the corresponding author, short title/running head, word counts of text and abstract, the number of tables and figures, and the acknowledgments. The title page is submitted as a separate file to prevent identifying the authors and institution (by the reviewers and editorial board members) during the review process.

Title of the research paper

Since the research paper’s “title” is the first one to be read (in the table of contents of a journal), it needs to be attractive.[1,13] It needs to provoke curiosity and it should accurately convey what the paper is about.[1,10,13] At the same time, it needs to be simple, concise, and easily understood without jargon.[13] This exercise should preferably be done at the end of drafting the paper. Some journals mandate that the study design (randomized, crossover, observational) should be included in the title itself.

Criteria for authorship

Authorship is the “currency” of academic life and it should be conferred with great responsibility.[2,13] Only those who have made substantial scientific contribution (doing the research as well as writing the paper) qualify to be authors.[1,2,13,14] The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has expressed that all four of the following criteria should be satisfied to qualify for authorship:[2]

Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work

Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

All the individuals who meet the first criterion should have the opportunity to participate in the review, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript so that they qualify for authorship and get the credit for their contribution.[2] Thus, the ICMJE criteria should not be used for disqualifying colleagues from authorship by denying them opportunity to meet criteria 2 and 3.[2] Accountability is not only for the part of the work that an individual author has done, but also every author should be able to identify which co-author(s) are responsible for specific other parts of the work.[2] In addition, every author should be assured of the contributions of the co-authors.[2] The above principles apply to both the primary draft and all the subsequent revisions that the paper would undergo. Authorship is the responsibility of all authors, and “gift authorships” as well as “ghost authors” are ethically incorrect.[10,13,15] The author order should be decided early in the course of the research itself.[1,2,13] One cannot delete or add an author after submission of the paper.[1,2] Editors would find this practice disappointing and will insist on appropriate explanation.[1,2] Many journals now publish the exact contribution that each author has made to the research (and writing) and ask to state the “guarantor” for the study.[1,2,13,15] The “guarantor” is usually the principal investigator of the research study.

Corresponding author

The corresponding author (who need not be the guarantor) is primarily responsible for submission, coordinating the revision(s), fulfilling the administrative requirements (conflict of interest forms, copyright forms, and preserving ethics permission) as well as coordinating the postpublication queries.[2] A middle-cadre faculty/investigator with experience in publishing should take up this responsibility as a nascent author may not know how to effectively deal with editors and reviewers while the senior author may not have the necessary time to spare. Needless to say that conflict of interests (financial/commercial supports, grants, personal relations/rivalries, academic competition) need to be declared by every author (on the title page).[1,2] The important role that the corresponding author plays in the publication process has been duly recognized in the recent Government of India (MCI) gazette amendment notification (dated June 5, 2017 – No. MCI-12 (1)/2017-Med. Misc./115698), which states that only the first author or the corresponding author will get the credit of a research publication for the purpose of promotion.[16]

Acknowledgments

Other members of the research team who have helped in doing the study but who do not satisfy all the four authorship criteria are the ones who need to be acknowledged. These include financial support, departmental chair, administrative support, help in technical/language editing, material help, writing assistance, and help in proofreading.[1,2,13,15] The acknowledgment has to be done in a separate paragraph specifying the role of the acknowledged person with written permission from the person to be acknowledged.[2] Some journals place the acknowledgments’ section after the main text (i.e., just before the references) in the final published paper. Not mentioning the people who qualify to be acknowledged would be ethically incorrect.

The abstract

The abstract is a concise and accurate summary (of about 250 words) of the paper.[1,2,10,13] It is an independent (stand-alone) and structured summary (background, aims, methods, results, and conclusions) which is read carefully by the editors to choose the reviewers.[2,13] It would be included in all abstracting services (where the journal is listed) and helps readers browse and often decide on whether they wish to read the contents of the paper.[10,13] The abstract is the second most common part read after the “title” and needs to reflect the content of the article accurately without any disagreement with the text (especially after a revision).[2,13] The keywords (three to ten key words or short phrases that capture the main topic) follow the abstract and should be terms mentioned in the Medical Subject Headings list (https://meshb.nlm.nih.gov/search).

The introduction

The introduction should be brief (up to 150 words) and consists of the rationale for the study, adequate background information (context to allow a reader to understand and evaluate need for the study without referring to previous published work), and should state the research question and the aims.[1,2,10,11,14] This section needs to be concise and not unduly elaborate.

The methods

The methods section needs to answer three questions – What has been done? How was it done? and What did the authors look for? It should be organized in a meaningful way to provide sufficient details for the work to be replicated by other interested researchers. The methods section consists of ethical aspects (permission from ethics committee and institutional review board, consent, and assent), description of the study setting, participants, design, treatments/procedures/interventions, end points, and outcomes.[1,2,10,11,14] The statistical methods employed for various variables and the software package used should also be mentioned here.[1,2,10] The authors should preferably get this section checked by a biostatistician to ensure that it accurately describes the statistics used in their paper. In addition, the authors should have ensured that their study is registered in the Clinical Trials Registry-India (CTRI) [www.ctri.nic.in] before enrolling the first patient.[17] The CTRI website states that “today, any researcher who plans to conduct a trial involving human participants, of any intervention such as drugs, surgical procedures, preventive measures, lifestyle modifications, devices, educational or behavioral treatment, rehabilitation strategies as well as trials being conducted in the purview of the Department of AYUSH (http://indianmedicine.nic.in/), is expected to register the trial in the CTRI before enrollment of the first participant.”[17]

The results

The results section essentially answers the question – What did the authors find? Hence, the results section consists of answers to all points raised in methods, results for all end points (in a logical sequence), reporting of actual P values with the 95% confidence intervals, accounting for all observations as well as using tables and figures judiciously.[1,2,10,11] The authors should not include any new parameters that are not mentioned in the methods section and must avoid nontechnical uses of statistical terms (such as random, correlate, significant, and sample).[1,2,10,11] Most journals provide facility for uploading of supplementary files if the results are vast or lengthy.[2] These supplementary files undergo the review process and may be “e-published” on the website of the journal (instead of the print journal).[2] The authors should note that precise facts are best mentioned in the text section and in tables. However, graphs and illustrations (wherever indicated) should be included as they arouse interest and create a unique impact.

The discussion

The discussion section is used to put the study results into proper perspective. Hence, in this section, one should state the meaning of the main findings in text form without mentioning the details of the actual numbers or percentages or P values (as these have already been stated in the results), harp on the new and important aspects of the study, compare with previous similar research, explore plausible explanations for conflicting results, discuss the practical implications, and clearly state the limitations and biases in the study.[1,2,10,11,14] Finally, the authors should mention the main conclusion of their study (briefly). This is followed by a short paragraph wherein the authors can explore the generalizability of their findings, give a take-home message, and suggest directions for further research.[1,2,11] A re-review of literature may be required if the original review of literature was done some time ago to include recent publications as references.[9] The authors should write the discussion in their own language after interpreting the earlier papers so that even accidental “plagiarism” is prevented. Authors should check their final manuscript on iThenticate ® (or any other similar software before submission) and must ensure that their manuscript’s “similarity index” does not cross the upper limit of 20%.[18] In case the similarity index crosses 20%, it is possible that an editor may find this unacceptable and reject the manuscript.[18] Some free websites which an author can use to check the similarity index of their manuscript (to avoid plagiarism) include – Plagiarisma (http://plagiarisma.net/), Small Seo Tools (http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker/), Glatt Plagiarism Services (http://test2.plagiarism.com/index.html or http://www.plagiarism.com/), Duplichecker (https://www.duplichecker.com/), and Search Engine Reports.net (https://searchenginereports.net/plagiarism-checker).

The references

The references’ section comes next. The authors should ensure to conform to the style of the journal (Vancouver or Harvard or other styles of referencing) and cite pertinent references (those that support or contradict the study conclusions/experience).[1,2,19] It is advisable that most of the references are recent (usually from the past 5 years). One should always stick to the guidelines advocated/restrictions imposed by the journal and double check the references with the full-text articles (as the references need to be accurate and complete).[1,2,19] The authors need to ensure that all references are cited in the main text.[9,19] The references should be written accurately as they get quoted in the manuscript and their numbering can be finalized later. Carelessly written references create a very poor impression of the manuscript with the journal editors and reviewers.

Tables and artwork

All the tables and figures (photographs/illustrations/images/graphs/charts) should be numbered consecutively, identified in the main text (results’ section), have a title/legend, and should be understood independently (i.e., without referring to the main text).[1,2] One should not duplicate the data mentioned in the text again in the figures or tables.[2,11] The authors should be very careful regarding the quality (size, clarity, pixels, and format – jpeg/bmp/tiff) of the photographs, images/graphs/charts, and illustrations (the “artwork”) and these files need to be separately uploaded for most journals.[1,2,10,14] The authors need to remove all patient-identifying information and take a written consent from the patient for publishing photographs or videos (irrespective of whether the identity of the patient is revealed or not).[2,9] The authors also need to stick to the limits on the number of figures (imposed by the journal), and explanatory notes are to be placed as “legends” at the end of the manuscript.

Adhering to the instructions to authors

All the above guidelines and the necessary subtle/individual variations are given in the “instructions to authors” issued by the respective journals.[2,10,11,14] They include scope of the journal, types of manuscripts published, specific requirements regarding authorship and referencing style, details of artwork and images/photographs/illustrations, word counts, review process, and the charges for pages, extra tables and extra figures.[2,14] All nonstandard short forms need to be identified in full form in the main text before reusing them in the manuscript.[1,2,9,14] All borrowed materials should be accompanied with the line of credit to the copyright holder, a signed consent from the copyright holder (to use/modify their material) has to be kept ready, and the consent should be uploaded to the journal manuscript submission website (whenever it is asked for).[2,9]

The writing order

A logical writing order for a research paper for most of the authors would be to first write the methods and results, followed by the introduction and discussion, and finally the abstract and the title.[1,13,14] The authors should retain all the original electronic files for future reference and preserve the primary data files and analysis for at least 10 years after the publication.[2,9]

Conclusions

The authors should remember that editors are looking for high-quality research publications with new knowledge relevant to the scope of their journal.[9,12] Editors require clear and concise information in a logical sequence (avoiding repetitions) in their own “journal style” with correct use of English grammar and spellings.[1] Detailed guidelines for reporting are available such as the CONSORT for randomized trials, STARD for studies of diagnostic accuracy, STROBE for observational studies, and CARE for case reports, and all these are available at http://www.equator-network.org/ [EQUATOR = Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research]. The ICMJE (www.icmje.org) gives periodic updated recommendations for authors, editors, and reviewers involved in publication work with the objective to review the best practice and ethical standards in conducting and reporting of research in medical journals, which need to be regularly read.[2] These recommendations should be used along with the individual journal’s “instruction to authors” for writing a good paper.[2] In our experience, authors who submit a technically perfect paper for publication stand a better chance with the reviewers to get a favorable recommendation. A carelessly drafted manuscript is more likely to generate an unfavorable recommendation after peer review.

References

1. Brumback RA. Success at publishing in biomedical journals: Hints from a journal editor. J Child Neurol. 2009; 24 :370–8. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

2. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals [Updated December 2016] [Last accessed on 2017 May 24]. Available from: http://www.icmje.org/icmje-recommendations.pdf .

3. Bavdekar SB, Tullu MS. Research publications for academic career advancement: An idea whose time has come. But is this the right way? J Postgrad Med. 2016; 62 :1–3. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

4. Asokan N, Shaji KS. Methods to enhance capacity of medical teachers for research publications. Indian J Public Health. 2016; 60 :154–8. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

5. Bavdekar SB, Tullu MS. Success in publishing: The answer lies in training and improving research infrastructure. J Postgrad Med. 2016; 62 :139. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

6. Bandewar SV, Pai SA. Regressive trend: MCI’s approach to assessment of medical teachers’ performance. Indian J Med Ethics. 2015; 12 :192–5. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

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8. Bourne PE. Ten simple rules for getting published. PLoS Comput Biol. 2005; 1 :e57. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

9. Taylor RB. Medical Writing: A Guide for Clinicians, Educators and Researchers. 2nd ed. New York: Springer; 2011. [Google Scholar]

10. Parsell G, Bligh J. AMEE Guide No.17: Writing for journal publication. Med Teach. 1999; 21 :457–68. [Google Scholar]

11. Hall GM, editor. How to Write a Paper. 3rd ed. New Delhi: Byword Viva Publishers Private Limited; 2004. Structure of a scientific paper; pp. 1–5. [Google Scholar]

12. Van De Putte L, Smith G. The role of the editor. In: Hall GM, editor. How to Write a Paper. 3rd ed. New Delhi: Byword Viva Publishers Private Limited; 2004. pp. 99–113. [Google Scholar]

13. Moss F. Titles, abstracts, and authors. In: Hall GM, editor. How to Write a Paper. 3rd ed. New Delhi: Byword Viva Publishers Private Limited; 2004. pp. 42–50. [Google Scholar]

14. Baron TH. ABC’s of writing medical papers in English. Korean J Radiol. 2012; 13 (Suppl 1):S1–11. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

15. Das SK. Authors and contributors in scientific and medical publications. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2016; 31 :1–2. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

16. The Gazette of India. Medical Council of India (Amendment Notification dated 5 th June 2017; No. MCI-12(1)/2017-Med.Misc./115698) [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 24]. Available from: http://www.mciindia.org/Rules-and-Regulation/Gazette%20Notifications%20-%20Amendments/TEQ-08062017.pdf .

17. Clinical Trials Registry – India (National Institute of Medical Statistics, Indian Council of Medical Research) [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 24]. Available from: http://www.ctri.nic.in/Clinicaltrials/login.php .

18. Chung S, Lee J, Lee Y, Park HY, Kim D. Characteristics of the similarity index in a Korean medical journal. Korean J Anesthesiol. 2017; 70 :327–34. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

19. Bavdekar SB. Enhance the value of a research paper: Choosing the right references and writing them accurately. J Assoc Physicians India. 2016; 64 :66–70. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Articles from Journal of Postgraduate Medicine are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer — Medknow Publications

Basic Steps in the Research Process

The following steps outline a simple and effective strategy for writing a research paper. Depending on your familiarity with the topic and the challenges you encounter along the way, you may need to rearrange these steps.

Step 1: Identify and develop your topic

Selecting a topic can be the most challenging part of a research assignment. Since this is the very first step in writing a paper, it is vital that it be done correctly. Here are some tips for selecting a topic:

  1. Select a topic within the parameters set by the assignment. Many times your instructor will give you clear guidelines as to what you can and cannot write about. Failure to work within these guidelines may result in your proposed paper being deemed unacceptable by your instructor.
  2. Select a topic of personal interest to you and learn more about it. The research for and writing of a paper will be more enjoyable if you are writing about something that you find interesting.
  3. Select a topic for which you can find a manageable amount of information. Do a preliminary search of information sources to determine whether existing sources will meet your needs. If you find too much information, you may need to narrow your topic; if you find too little, you may need to broaden your topic.
  4. Be original. Your instructor reads hundreds of research papers every year, and many of them are on the same topics (topics in the news at the time, controversial issues, subjects for which there is ample and easily accessed information). Stand out from your classmates by selecting an interesting and off-the-beaten-path topic.
  5. Still can’t come up with a topic to write about? See your instructor for advice.

Once you have identified your topic, it may help to state it as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the epidemic of obesity in the American population, you might pose the question “What are the causes of obesity in America ?” By posing your subject as a question you can more easily identify the main concepts or keywords to be used in your research.

Step 2 : Do a preliminary search for information

Before beginning your research in earnest, do a preliminary search to determine whether there is enough information out there for your needs and to set the context of your research. Look up your keywords in the appropriate titles in the library’s Reference collection (such as encyclopedias and dictionaries) and in other sources such as our catalog of books, periodical databases, and Internet search engines. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings. You may find it necessary to adjust the focus of your topic in light of the resources available to you.

Step 3: Locate materials

With the direction of your research now clear to you, you can begin locating material on your topic. There are a number of places you can look for information:

If you are looking for books, do a subject search in the Alephcatalog. A Keyword search can be performed if the subject search doesn’t yield enough information. Print or write down the citation information (author, title,etc.) and the location (call number and collection) of the item(s). Note the circulation status. When you locate the book on the shelf, look at the books located nearby; similar items are always shelved in the same area. The Aleph catalog also indexes the library’s audio-visual holdings.

Use the library’s electronic periodical databases to find magazine and newspaper articles. Choose the databases and formats best suited to your particular topic; ask at the librarian at the Reference Desk if you need help figuring out which database best meets your needs. Many of the articles in the databases are available in full-text format.

Use search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) and subject directories to locate materials on the Internet. Check the Internet Resources section of the NHCC Library web site for helpful subject links.

Step 4: Evaluate your sources

See the CARS Checklist for Information Quality for tips on evaluating the authority and quality of the information you have located. Your instructor expects that you will provide credible, truthful, and reliable information and you have every right to expect that the sources you use are providing the same. This step is especially important when using Internet resources, many of which are regarded as less than reliable.

Step 5: Make notes

Consult the resources you have chosen and note the information that will be useful in your paper. Be sure to document all the sources you consult, even if you there is a chance you may not use that particular source. The author, title, publisher, URL, and other information will be needed later when creating a bibliography.

Step 6: Write your paper

Begin by organizing the information you have collected. The next step is the rough draft, wherein you get your ideas on paper in an unfinished fashion. This step will help you organize your ideas and determine the form your final paper will take. After this, you will revise the draft as many times as you think necessary to create a final product to turn in to your instructor.

Step 7: Cite your sources properly

Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources.

Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes: it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references. The MLA and the APA Styles are two popular citation formats.

Failure to cite your sources properly is plagiarism. Plagiarism is avoidable!

Step 8: Proofread

The final step in the process is to proofread the paper you have created. Read through the text and check for any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Make sure the sources you used are cited properly. Make sure the message that you want to get across to the reader has been thoroughly stated.

Writing for Publication

Part 1 What Makes a Paper Publishable? (6:17)

Let’s begin thinking about what makes a paper publishable by looking at a hypothetical paper, “Guppies Love Cheerios.” Even with a set of valid, novel, and statistically significant findings, research isn’t necessarily publishable. The work also needs to contribute to the human knowledge base in a meaningful way, and it always helps to relate the work in an interesting and compelling storyline.

Part 2 Common Reasons Articles are Rejected (or Accepted)(9:55)

An article can be rejected for eight basic reasons, according to Dr. Peter Thrower, editor-in-chief of Carbon:

  • technical reasons (e.g., plagiarism, or not following the journal’s Instructions for Authors).
  • improper content for the journal’s readership.
  • incomplete work.
  • procedural or statistical analysis flaws.
  • Unjustified conclusions
  • Incremental or insignificant work
  • Incomprehensibility
  • Marginally interesting to editors or readership

According to Elizabeth Zwaaf of Elsevier, there are also eight basic reasons your work would be accepted for publication, one of which is that your article tells a good story. Part 3 explains what is meant by that.

Part 3 How To Tell A Good “Story” In Your Article (10:00)

The “research story” of a publishable article is true, credible, and interesting. It should have a beginning, middle, and end, where each part leads the reader to keep reading. A conceptual framework for this kind of story looks like an hourglass. The top funnel sets the context of the research and identifies gaps in the knowledge that validates the purpose and questions of the work described in the new publication. With these concepts in mind, what advice could you offer to the author of “Guppies Love Cheerios?”

Part 4 Strategies for Selecting Journals for Submission (11:33)

Begin selecting an appropriate venue for a new article by taking inventory of journals cited by the papers you reference in your work. Instructions to Authors usually include Aim and Scope of the journal. Consider the following as well: the type of article you’ve written, the target audience, the types of papers each journal publishes, typical time from submission to publication, the “impact factor” of the journal, and publication models and costs to authors. Be wary of “fake journals” that solicit submissions and publish without valid peer review.

Part 5 The Writing Process – Prewriting and Abstract (11:37)

Start writing by following the Instructions for Authors for the journal you’ve selected. Writing and formatting your paper properly now will save a lot of time later. Another time-saving strategy is to use RefWorks (available free to UNL personnel) or another reference manager to track your resources, format your citations; many of these resources also provide tips on assigning authorship, and writing titles, keywords, abstracts, and cover letters.

Part 6 How Will You Write The Cover Letter? (4:44)

A good way to organize your thoughts—and tell your research story—is as follows:

  • address your general topic to provide your readers context for your work;
  • describe a problem circumscribed by the topic at hand and explain why it’s important;
  • present your solution to the problem; and
  • explain the attendant benefits of your findings with respect to the described problem.

This approach is especially helpful in writing a submission letter to the editor of the journal. In addition, be sure to follow the journal’s Instructions to Authors to prepare your letter.

Part 7 The Scholarly Publication Process (4:08)

Submitting your manuscript to your chosen journal will be relatively straightforward if you’re prepared according to the suggestions in this seminar and the Instructions to Authors. You’ll almost certainly submit your materials online. Clicking Submit will set in motion a review process with one of the following results. Your manuscript will be

  • accepted as-is for publication (not likely, but it’s possible);
  • accepted, with revisions;
  • rejected, with chance to resubmit; or
  • rejected.

What you do now as the author is the subject of the next video.

Part 8 Dealing Effectively With Reviewers’ Reports (8:12)

You’ve heard back from the editor and your reviewers have suggested some revisions. It happens to everyone, so it’s best to address the suggestions objectively and respond effectively. This video provides some ways to do that.

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How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal

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Abstract

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.

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Introduction

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 ​ Table1 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

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The main elements of the introduction section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Research Paper: The Process

The goal of a research paper is to bring together different views, evidence, and facts about a topic from books, articles, and interviews, then interpret the information into your own writing. It’s about a relationship between you, other writers, and your teacher/audience.

A research paper will show two things: what you know or learned about a certain topic, and what other people know about the same topic. Often you make a judgment, or just explain complex ideas to the reader. The length of the research paper depends on your teacher’s guidelines. It’s always a good idea to keep your teacher in mind while writing your paper because the teacher is your audience.

There are three stages for doing a research paper. These stages are:

While most people start with prewriting, the three stages of the writing process overlap. Writing is not the kind of process where you have to finish step one before moving on to step two, and so on. Your job is to make your ideas as clear as possible for the reader, and that means you might have to go back and forth between the prewriting, writing and revising stages several times before submitting the paper.

Thinking about a topic

The first thing you should do when starting your research paper is to think of a topic. Try to pick a topic that interests you and your teacher — interesting topics are easier to write about than boring topics! Make sure that your topic is not too hard to research, and that there is enough material on the topic. Talk to as many people as possible about your topic, especially your teacher. You’ll be surprised at the ideas you’ll get from talking about your topic. Be sure to always discuss potential topics with your teacher.

Places you can find a topic: newspapers, magazines, ALADIN, television news, the World Wide Web, and even in the index of a textbook!

Narrowing down your topic

As you think about your topic and start reading, you should begin thinking about a possible thesis statement (a sentence or two explaining your opinion about the topic). One technique is to ask yourself one important question about your topic, and as you find your answer, the thesis can develop from that. Some other techniques you may use to narrow your topic are: jot lists; preliminary outlines; listing possible thesis statements; listing questions; and/or making a concept map. It also may be helpful to have a friend ask you questions about your topic.

For help on developing your thesis statement, see the English Center Guide to Developing a Thesis Statement.

Discovery/Reading about your topic

You need to find information that helps you support your thesis. There are different places you can find this information: books, articles, people (interviews), and the World Wide Web.

As you gather the information or ideas you need, you need to make sure that you take notes and write down where and who you got the information from. This is called “citing your sources.” If you write your paper using information from other writers and do not cite the sources, you are committing plagiarism. If you plagiarize, you can get an “F” on your paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of school.

CITING SOURCES

There are three major different formats for citing sources. They are: the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Psychology Association (APA), and the Chicago Turabian style. Always ask your teacher which format to use. For more information on these styles, see our other handouts!

ORGANIZING INFORMATION

After you’ve thought, read, and taken notes on your topic, you may want to revise your thesis because a good thesis will help you develop a plan for writing your paper. One way you can do this is to brainstorm — think about everything you know about your topic, and put it down on paper. Once you have it all written down, you can look it over and decide if you should change your thesis statement or not.

If you already developed a preliminary map or outline, now is the time to go back and revise it. If you haven’t developed a map or outline yet, now is the time to do it. The outline or concept map should help you organize how you want to present information to your readers. The clearer your outline or map, the easier it will be for you to write the paper. Be sure that each part of your outline supports your thesis. If it does not, you may want to change/revise your thesis statement again.

A research paper follows a standard compositional (essay) format. It has a title, introduction, body and conclusion. Some people like to start their research papers with a title and introduction, while others wait until they’ve already started the body of the paper before developing a title and introduction. See this link for more information about writing introductions and conclusions.

Some techniques that may help you with writing your paper are:

  • start by writing your thesis statement
  • use a free writing technique (What I really mean is. )
  • follow your outline or map
  • pretend you are writing a letter to a friend, and tell them what you know about your topic
  • follow your topic notecards

If you’re having difficulties thinking of what to write about next, you can look back at your notes that you have from when you were brainstorming for your topic.

The last (but not least) step is revising. When you are revising, look over your paper and make changes in weak areas. The different areas to look for mistakes include: content– too much detail, or too little detail; organization/structure (which is the order in which you write information about your topic); grammar; punctuation; capitalization; word choice; and citations.

It probably is best if you focus on the “big picture” first. The “big picture” means organization (paragraph order), and content (ideas and points) of the paper. It also might help to go through your paper paragraph by paragraph and see if the main idea of each paragraph relates to the thesis. Be sure to keep an eye out for any repeated information (one of the most common mistakes made by students is having two or more paragraphs with the same information). Often good writers combine several paragraphs into one so they do not repeat information.

Revision Guidelines

  • The audience understands your paper.
  • The sentences are clear and complete.
  • All paragraphs relate to the thesis.
  • Each paragraph explains its purpose clearly.
  • You do not repeat large blocks of information in two or more different paragraphs.
  • The information in your paper is accurate.
  • A friend or classmate has read through your paper and offered suggestions.

After you are satisfied with the content and structure of the paper, you then can focus on common errors like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, typos, and word choice.

Proofreading Guidelines

  • Subjects and verbs agree.
  • Verb tenses are consistent.
  • Pronouns agree with the subjects they substitute.
  • Word choices are clear.
  • Capitalization is correct.
  • Spelling is correct.
  • Punctuation is correct.
  • References are cited properly.

For more information on proofreading, see the English Center Punctuation and Grammar Review.

After writing the paper, it might help if you put it aside and do not look at it for a day or two. When you look at your paper again, you will see it with new eyes and notice mistakes you didn’t before. It’s a really good idea to ask someone else to read your paper before you submit it to your teacher. Good writers often get feedback and revise their paper several times before submitting it to the teacher.

Source: “Process of Writing a Research Paper,” by Ellen Beck and Rachel Mingo with contributions from Jules Nelson Hill and Vivion Smith, is based on the previous version by Dawn Taylor, Sharon Quintero, Robert Rich, Robert McDonald, and Katherine Eckhart.

How to write a research paper without grammatical errors

Every research paper is immensely important to the career progression of most academics. It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to conduct research, which makes the final output very valuable. Researchers are under constant pressure to publish research papers. ‘Publish or perish’ is a reality in academia that pushes researchers to publish papers regularly. Grammatical errors in research manuscripts are blemishes that can delay the publication process unnecessarily. Employing a service to check English grammar for your manuscript can save time and effort that can be used to do experiments or write grants. A professional English grammar checker would thoroughly check your document and ensure an error-free manuscript ready for submission.

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Here, we discuss some common grammatical errors that plague manuscripts and authors can avoid them.

Accurate article usage is extremely important for clarity and readability. Authors who are not comfortable with English tend to use articles incorrectly often. It is important to understand the difference between indefinite articles (‘a’ and ‘an’) and the definite article (‘the’). One should know when to use which article. The definite article, “the”, is used to refer to somebody or something that is the only, normal, or obvious one of their kind such as body parts, countries, and decades. For example, The President of the United States of America, The 1980s, The heart was harvested from the animal). “The” is also used before superlatives and ordinal adjective such as “the fastest”, “the highest”, “the first of its kind”, “the third replicate”

An indefinite article, “a/an”, is used to refer to somebody or something that is not unique but rather just one among many. For example, “A student of medicine” or “An apple from New Zealand”.

Essential information used to define a noun should be preceded by “that”, whereas “which/who” precedes additional information that is not necessary to define the noun. A comma always precedes the use of “which/who” in this context. For example, “The patients that were admitted on Monday were administered the drug.” The sentence means that only the patients admitted on Monday were administered the drug. “The patients, who were admitted on Monday, were administered the drug.” Here, the sentence means that the patients were administered the drug and they just happened to be admitted on Monday.

Always check the guidelines of your target journal. Some journals prefer the use of American English and others prefer British English. Many spellings, formats, and conventions vary between American and British English. Although document creation software such as MS Word give you the option to choose an English convention, employing the services of a native English speaking editor is the best way to ensure that your manuscripts conforms to all the guidelines of the target journal.

The best way to avoid typographical errors and awkward sentences is to proofread your manuscript thoroughly before submission. Print out your document and proofread each sentence with a pencil in your hand. Errors in sentence construction can be spotted easily by reading the manuscript backwards, one sentence at a time. Although the spell-check tool built into MS Word also functions as an English sentence corrector, it is not reliable, especially if your manuscript contains a lot of scientific language. Reading out the entire manuscript aloud can also help you identify incorrect placement of punctuation.

Using comma, periods, colons, semi-colons, quotations, and parentheses accurately is an important skill to have. It requires years of study and practice in English to punctuate sentences perfectly. Consult an experienced editor whenever you are doubtful about the use of punctuation in your manuscript.

Researchers should always prioritize their experiments and the science. Instead of spending time and effort becoming an expert in English, find a trusted English editing service that can provide you subject-specific editors. This will save you time and effort that you can spend in the lab or with your family.

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How To Write a Research Paper Step by Step

How To Write a Research Paper Step by Step

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How To Write a Research Paper Step by Step
This step-by-step guide to how to write a successful academic or scientific research paper outlines the steps that must be taken when writing about advanced research for formal publication, conference presentation, university credit, online sharing and other means of professional dissemination. Beginning with the development of an engaging and relevant research topic and one or more research questions or hypotheses, authors are advised to follow eight essential steps to meet requirements and prepare a well-written and carefully organised research paper that clearly communicates with readers.

The arrangement of the steps as I present them here will prove effective for most research papers in the arts and sciences, but it is important to remember that there can be considerable overlap among these steps, and the order in which they are completed may vary depending on the topic and the author’s approach to research and writing. The different aspects of a research paper tend to develop gradually as the planning and writing process advances, with work on one step frequently affecting work on earlier as well as later steps. A flexible approach to the writing process that accommodates the unique nature of the current research and the positive role of reflection and revision will enable the best use of this step-by-step guide.

Eight Essential Steps for Writing an Excellent Research Paper
STEP 1: Choosing and Developing the Research Topic
An interesting and relevant research topic is an absolute necessity for a successful academic or scientific research paper. There will always be trendy or fashionable topics that prove, at least for a fleeting moment, interesting to an extremely wide audience, but most advanced research is reported primarily for rather specific groups of readers, such as fellow researchers within a discipline and professional practitioners. Those targeted or ideal readers should therefore be anticipated and kept firmly in mind to inspire the development and refinement of a robust topic that will demand original research and help the author generate valuable new knowledge.

The topic of a research paper should also fit, in both focus and range, the intended venue, so learning about the goals and objectives of the peer-reviewed journal, scholarly website, professional conference or other destination for a research paper is vital. Remember as you work that the most engaging and promising research topics are not usually finalised in a moment, a day or even a week. Alterations and refinements are often motivated by writing about the new research as well as by reading about the similar work of fellow researchers, and even careful rereading of one’s own fully drafted paper can lead to significant and productive shifts in a research topic.

STEP 2: Designing Research Questions and Hypotheses
An excellent way to focus the report and discussion of original research is to design one or more research questions or hypotheses that can be answered or tested via the current research and the author’s interpretation of its findings. Research questions and hypotheses can help the researcher as well as his or her readers understand the purpose and value of the research. Designing them early, presenting them clearly in the paper’s introductory material and returning to answer and discuss them after the results have been reported provide a solid thread on which to weave a focussed and logical argument.

It is essential to give considerable thought to the nature and wording of research questions and hypotheses in relation to the research methods employed, ensuring in all cases that any questions can in fact be answered and any hypotheses tested through the chosen methods. For this reason research questions and hypotheses are often designed in conjunction with the research methods for a project. For some types of papers research questions and hypotheses are mandatory. Even if they are not, however, they can usually be included in any type of research paper and are especially useful writing tools, enabling the author to address a research problem and future readers to understand it in clear and constructive ways.

STEP 3: Preparing a Working Outline of the Research Paper
Although some successful academic and scientific authors claim never to bother with outlines for their research papers, many others would never proceed without a carefully designed outline. A working outline offers the author, particularly an author new to writing about research, an excellent way in which to plan the content and structure of a research paper that will meet the many requirements usually associated with reporting advanced research in a professional and publishable manner. Obviously, whatever sections, subsections and other elements are needed to report and discuss the current research should be incorporated along with notes about the contents of these parts, but so too should the preferences indicated by a publisher’s guidelines for authors, a website’s instructions for contributors’ posts, a conference organiser’s rules for presenters or an instructor’s template for course papers.

For some papers the guidelines and requirements will be detailed and extensive; for others they will be brief or vague or virtually nonexistent. The trick in all cases is to discover the relevant guidelines and observe them with as much precision and consistency as possible as you plan a paper that also presents your work as clearly and concisely as possible. The length of a paper, its structure and the documentation style of its references are often determined by guidelines, so keep an eye open for details about these aspects of the paper in particular. Although preparing a detailed outline that includes internal headings and subheadings as well as notes about what each part of the paper should contain and achieve can be time consuming, such an outline can also serve as a working template for drafting the paper itself and thereby significantly increase the efficiency of the writing process.

STEP 4: Creating Tables, Figures and Other Support Documents
Another strategy for rendering the writing of a research paper a more efficient and successful process is to assign certain information to tables, figures, appendices and other visual and support documents before beginning to draft the paper itself. Research results that consist of complex numerical data, detailed descriptions of research methods or in-depth case studies are examples of the kind of information that can effectively be presented in these visual and support documents. Such elements should be carefully designed to communicate their contents as clearly as possible, and consistency of design across elements of the same kind or those serving a similar purpose is advisable to enable comparative analysis.

If the visual and support documents for a research paper are designed and created before the main text is drafted, unnecessary repetition of information can be more easily avoided. In addition, arranging complicated information in the visual formats of tables and figures can help the researcher as well as future readers detect and better understand important patterns and trends in the results. This can, in turn, significantly enhance the interpretation and discussion of the findings, particularly when an author is dealing with complex data. Furthermore, separating helpful but not strictly necessary details from the running text of a paper and placing them in appendices or archives can make them more readily digestible while streamlining the main argument and rendering the research paper as a whole more appealing to general as well as specialist audiences.

STEP 5: Drafting the Research Paper Section by Section
With a working outline and an early version of the tables, figures and other support documents in hand, the process of drafting the main text of the research paper can begin. Because every necessary part and detail of the paper must ultimately be completed and included in the right place, the outline should always be followed with care, ensuring that each section and element is drafted in some form on the first attempt, including any required preliminary and final material.

While every part of the paper should be drafted, however, the bits and pieces need not be drafted in the order in which they will finally appear for readers. A more practical approach may be to work at the first draft in whatever order proves easiest, starting, for instance, with the description of methods or the report of results, following those with drafts of the discussion and conclusion, and finishing at the beginning with background or introductory material. The title, abstract, keywords and other preliminary and final matter such as acknowledgements, image credits and professional declarations can be added at any time, but some of them – the abstract and acknowledgements, for instance – will be best written after all parts of the main text are drafted.

Each and every element of the research paper should be carefully written to achieve its specific purposes, whether those may be increasing accessibility and attracting potential readers or analysing and discussing research results. Language that is specific and precise in explaining facts and ideas is advisable for a research paper, and it is always essential to write well, using a concise and formal style, complete sentences and accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation to ensure clear and professional communication of all aspects of the research.

STEP 6: Adding Scholarly Citations and References
Among the many aspects of an academic or scientific research paper that must never be neglected are the citations and references that acknowledge the work, publications and ideas of other authors and researchers. These should, of course, be included among the various parts of the research paper drafted in Step 5, but it is so very important to acknowledge sources, give credit where credit is due and generally tie one’s own research and its implications into the broader network of original research and advancing knowledge that I consider the addition of in-text citations and complete bibliographical references as a separate step here.

Many scholarly authors add the in-text citations, at least in a rough or cursory form, as they draft each section of the paper. Although this approach may not be strictly necessary, it is an extremely effective way to ensure that all the necessary citations are present and to avoid the dangers of unintentional plagiarism and embarrassing errors. These in-text citations can then be checked and finalised when the complete bibliographical references are listed at the end of the paper. As a general rule, every source cited should appear in the list of references and every source in that list should be cited in the text. Since most disciplines, publishers and instructors have stylistic preferences for scholarly references, guidelines must always be consulted, and correct and thorough information in the right style and order must be provided for every source used.

STEP 7: Proofreading, Editing and Refining the Paper
It is a very rare and exceptional first draft of an academic or scientific research paper that ends up published by a reputable journal or awarded with a top-notch grade. Successful research papers are, generally speaking, papers that have been carefully written, revised, edited, proofread and often revised and edited all over again by their authors. Such careful attention and reflection enable the improvement of language and style, the clarification of content and structure, the refinement of argument and interpretation, the correction of errors and confusing information, and the development of logical transitions between the various sections and elements of the paper.

Numerical data, tables and figures, bibliographical references and any information that is repeated in different places in the paper are among those aspects that usually require special checks to ensure accuracy and consistency. If language problems prevent clear communication, the help of a professional proofreader or editor may be advisable, and asking a trusted mentor or colleague, particularly one who has successfully published research similar to your own, to read and comment on the paper is also an excellent idea. Remember, however, that this strategy will prove most useful to authors who are willing to receive the feedback in a constructive manner and seriously consider alterations and improvements.

STEP 8: Sharing or Submitting the Research Paper Appropriately
Having dedicated so much time and effort to planning, drafting and perfecting a research paper, an academic or scientific author might be thought mad indeed to submit the paper to a potential publisher in any other manner than that required to ensure the best possible reception. Yet too any researchers come to the end of the writing process only to neglect submission requirements and generate a less than desirable initial response. This disappointment can easily be prevented by checking the guidelines or instructions carefully and submitting, for example, a perfectly formatted paper of the right length to a journal editor and accompanying it with a well-written and informative cover letter.

Never forget the importance of providing exactly what is wanted and expected. The organisers of a conference do not want a fifteen-minute paper that runs on for half an hour and the creators of a website do not want blogs formatted in ways that simply do not work on their site. The paper you provide must be appropriate for the venue, and professionalism should be maintained in this and other ways when working to publish and otherwise share advanced research. A professional perspective can be especially challenging to maintain when faced with less than positive comments from editors, peer reviewers and other early readers with strong opinions, so remember that achieving some degree of objectivity and focussing on producing the best research paper possible can be immensely helpful approaches.

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