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How To Write A Research Paper

Step-By-Step Tutorial With Examples + FREE Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | March 2024

For many students, crafting a strong research paper from scratch can feel like a daunting task – and rightly so! In this post, we’ll unpack what a research paper is, what it needs to do , and how to write one – in three easy steps. 🙂 

Overview: Writing A Research Paper

What (exactly) is a research paper.

  • How to write a research paper
  • Stage 1 : Topic & literature search
  • Stage 2 : Structure & outline
  • Stage 3 : Iterative writing
  • Key takeaways

Let’s start by asking the most important question, “ What is a research paper? ”.

Simply put, a research paper is a scholarly written work where the writer (that’s you!) answers a specific question (this is called a research question ) through evidence-based arguments . Evidence-based is the keyword here. In other words, a research paper is different from an essay or other writing assignments that draw from the writer’s personal opinions or experiences. With a research paper, it’s all about building your arguments based on evidence (we’ll talk more about that evidence a little later).

Now, it’s worth noting that there are many different types of research papers , including analytical papers (the type I just described), argumentative papers, and interpretative papers. Here, we’ll focus on analytical papers , as these are some of the most common – but if you’re keen to learn about other types of research papers, be sure to check out the rest of the blog .

With that basic foundation laid, let’s get down to business and look at how to write a research paper .

Research Paper Template

Overview: The 3-Stage Process

While there are, of course, many potential approaches you can take to write a research paper, there are typically three stages to the writing process. So, in this tutorial, we’ll present a straightforward three-step process that we use when working with students at Grad Coach.

These three steps are:

  • Finding a research topic and reviewing the existing literature
  • Developing a provisional structure and outline for your paper, and
  • Writing up your initial draft and then refining it iteratively

Let’s dig into each of these.

Need a helping hand?

scientific writing of research paper

Step 1: Find a topic and review the literature

As we mentioned earlier, in a research paper, you, as the researcher, will try to answer a question . More specifically, that’s called a research question , and it sets the direction of your entire paper. What’s important to understand though is that you’ll need to answer that research question with the help of high-quality sources – for example, journal articles, government reports, case studies, and so on. We’ll circle back to this in a minute.

The first stage of the research process is deciding on what your research question will be and then reviewing the existing literature (in other words, past studies and papers) to see what they say about that specific research question. In some cases, your professor may provide you with a predetermined research question (or set of questions). However, in many cases, you’ll need to find your own research question within a certain topic area.

Finding a strong research question hinges on identifying a meaningful research gap – in other words, an area that’s lacking in existing research. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if you wanna learn more, check out the plain-language explainer video below.

Once you’ve figured out which question (or questions) you’ll attempt to answer in your research paper, you’ll need to do a deep dive into the existing literature – this is called a “ literature search ”. Again, there are many ways to go about this, but your most likely starting point will be Google Scholar .

If you’re new to Google Scholar, think of it as Google for the academic world. You can start by simply entering a few different keywords that are relevant to your research question and it will then present a host of articles for you to review. What you want to pay close attention to here is the number of citations for each paper – the more citations a paper has, the more credible it is (generally speaking – there are some exceptions, of course).

how to use google scholar

Ideally, what you’re looking for are well-cited papers that are highly relevant to your topic. That said, keep in mind that citations are a cumulative metric , so older papers will often have more citations than newer papers – just because they’ve been around for longer. So, don’t fixate on this metric in isolation – relevance and recency are also very important.

Beyond Google Scholar, you’ll also definitely want to check out academic databases and aggregators such as Science Direct, PubMed, JStor and so on. These will often overlap with the results that you find in Google Scholar, but they can also reveal some hidden gems – so, be sure to check them out.

Once you’ve worked your way through all the literature, you’ll want to catalogue all this information in some sort of spreadsheet so that you can easily recall who said what, when and within what context. If you’d like, we’ve got a free literature spreadsheet that helps you do exactly that.

Don’t fixate on an article’s citation count in isolation - relevance (to your research question) and recency are also very important.

Step 2: Develop a structure and outline

With your research question pinned down and your literature digested and catalogued, it’s time to move on to planning your actual research paper .

It might sound obvious, but it’s really important to have some sort of rough outline in place before you start writing your paper. So often, we see students eagerly rushing into the writing phase, only to land up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on in multiple

Now, the secret here is to not get caught up in the fine details . Realistically, all you need at this stage is a bullet-point list that describes (in broad strokes) what you’ll discuss and in what order. It’s also useful to remember that you’re not glued to this outline – in all likelihood, you’ll chop and change some sections once you start writing, and that’s perfectly okay. What’s important is that you have some sort of roadmap in place from the start.

You need to have a rough outline in place before you start writing your paper - or you’ll end up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on.

At this stage you might be wondering, “ But how should I structure my research paper? ”. Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, but in general, a research paper will consist of a few relatively standardised components:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology

Let’s take a look at each of these.

First up is the introduction section . As the name suggests, the purpose of the introduction is to set the scene for your research paper. There are usually (at least) four ingredients that go into this section – these are the background to the topic, the research problem and resultant research question , and the justification or rationale. If you’re interested, the video below unpacks the introduction section in more detail. 

The next section of your research paper will typically be your literature review . Remember all that literature you worked through earlier? Well, this is where you’ll present your interpretation of all that content . You’ll do this by writing about recent trends, developments, and arguments within the literature – but more specifically, those that are relevant to your research question . The literature review can oftentimes seem a little daunting, even to seasoned researchers, so be sure to check out our extensive collection of literature review content here .

With the introduction and lit review out of the way, the next section of your paper is the research methodology . In a nutshell, the methodology section should describe to your reader what you did (beyond just reviewing the existing literature) to answer your research question. For example, what data did you collect, how did you collect that data, how did you analyse that data and so on? For each choice, you’ll also need to justify why you chose to do it that way, and what the strengths and weaknesses of your approach were.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that for some research papers, this aspect of the project may be a lot simpler . For example, you may only need to draw on secondary sources (in other words, existing data sets). In some cases, you may just be asked to draw your conclusions from the literature search itself (in other words, there may be no data analysis at all). But, if you are required to collect and analyse data, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to the methodology section. The video below provides an example of what the methodology section might look like.

By this stage of your paper, you will have explained what your research question is, what the existing literature has to say about that question, and how you analysed additional data to try to answer your question. So, the natural next step is to present your analysis of that data . This section is usually called the “results” or “analysis” section and this is where you’ll showcase your findings.

Depending on your school’s requirements, you may need to present and interpret the data in one section – or you might split the presentation and the interpretation into two sections. In the latter case, your “results” section will just describe the data, and the “discussion” is where you’ll interpret that data and explicitly link your analysis back to your research question. If you’re not sure which approach to take, check in with your professor or take a look at past papers to see what the norms are for your programme.

Alright – once you’ve presented and discussed your results, it’s time to wrap it up . This usually takes the form of the “ conclusion ” section. In the conclusion, you’ll need to highlight the key takeaways from your study and close the loop by explicitly answering your research question. Again, the exact requirements here will vary depending on your programme (and you may not even need a conclusion section at all) – so be sure to check with your professor if you’re unsure.

Step 3: Write and refine

Finally, it’s time to get writing. All too often though, students hit a brick wall right about here… So, how do you avoid this happening to you?

Well, there’s a lot to be said when it comes to writing a research paper (or any sort of academic piece), but we’ll share three practical tips to help you get started.

First and foremost , it’s essential to approach your writing as an iterative process. In other words, you need to start with a really messy first draft and then polish it over multiple rounds of editing. Don’t waste your time trying to write a perfect research paper in one go. Instead, take the pressure off yourself by adopting an iterative approach.

Secondly , it’s important to always lean towards critical writing , rather than descriptive writing. What does this mean? Well, at the simplest level, descriptive writing focuses on the “ what ”, while critical writing digs into the “ so what ” – in other words, the implications . If you’re not familiar with these two types of writing, don’t worry! You can find a plain-language explanation here.

Last but not least, you’ll need to get your referencing right. Specifically, you’ll need to provide credible, correctly formatted citations for the statements you make. We see students making referencing mistakes all the time and it costs them dearly. The good news is that you can easily avoid this by using a simple reference manager . If you don’t have one, check out our video about Mendeley, an easy (and free) reference management tool that you can start using today.

Recap: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. To recap, the three steps to writing a high-quality research paper are:

  • To choose a research question and review the literature
  • To plan your paper structure and draft an outline
  • To take an iterative approach to writing, focusing on critical writing and strong referencing

Remember, this is just a b ig-picture overview of the research paper development process and there’s a lot more nuance to unpack. So, be sure to grab a copy of our free research paper template to learn more about how to write a research paper.

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

  • Open access
  • Published: 30 April 2020
  • Volume 36 , pages 909–913, ( 2021 )

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scientific writing of research paper

  • Clara Busse   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0178-1000 1 &
  • Ella August   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5151-1036 1 , 2  

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Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1 , we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.

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Writing a scientific paper is an important component of the research process, yet researchers often receive little formal training in scientific writing. This is especially true in low-resource settings. In this article, we explain why choosing a target journal is important, give advice about authorship, provide a basic structure for writing each section of a scientific paper, and describe common pitfalls and recommendations for each section. In the online resource 1 , we also include an annotated journal article that identifies the key elements and writing approaches that we detail here. Before you begin your research, make sure you have ethical clearance from all relevant ethical review boards.

Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process

We recommend that you select a “target journal” early in the writing process; a “target journal” is the journal to which you plan to submit your paper. Each journal has a set of core readers and you should tailor your writing to this readership. For example, if you plan to submit a manuscript about vaping during pregnancy to a pregnancy-focused journal, you will need to explain what vaping is because readers of this journal may not have a background in this topic. However, if you were to submit that same article to a tobacco journal, you would not need to provide as much background information about vaping.

Information about a journal’s core readership can be found on its website, usually in a section called “About this journal” or something similar. For example, the Journal of Cancer Education presents such information on the “Aims and Scope” page of its website, which can be found here: https://www.springer.com/journal/13187/aims-and-scope .

Peer reviewer guidelines from your target journal are an additional resource that can help you tailor your writing to the journal and provide additional advice about crafting an effective article [ 1 ]. These are not always available, but it is worth a quick web search to find out.

Identify Author Roles Early in the Process

Early in the writing process, identify authors, determine the order of authors, and discuss the responsibilities of each author. Standard author responsibilities have been identified by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [ 2 ]. To set clear expectations about each team member’s responsibilities and prevent errors in communication, we also suggest outlining more detailed roles, such as who will draft each section of the manuscript, write the abstract, submit the paper electronically, serve as corresponding author, and write the cover letter. It is best to formalize this agreement in writing after discussing it, circulating the document to the author team for approval. We suggest creating a title page on which all authors are listed in the agreed-upon order. It may be necessary to adjust authorship roles and order during the development of the paper. If a new author order is agreed upon, be sure to update the title page in the manuscript draft.

In the case where multiple papers will result from a single study, authors should discuss who will author each paper. Additionally, authors should agree on a deadline for each paper and the lead author should take responsibility for producing an initial draft by this deadline.

Structure of the Introduction Section

The introduction section should be approximately three to five paragraphs in length. Look at examples from your target journal to decide the appropriate length. This section should include the elements shown in Fig.  1 . Begin with a general context, narrowing to the specific focus of the paper. Include five main elements: why your research is important, what is already known about the topic, the “gap” or what is not yet known about the topic, why it is important to learn the new information that your research adds, and the specific research aim(s) that your paper addresses. Your research aim should address the gap you identified. Be sure to add enough background information to enable readers to understand your study. Table 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

figure 1

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

Methods Section

The purpose of the methods section is twofold: to explain how the study was done in enough detail to enable its replication and to provide enough contextual detail to enable readers to understand and interpret the results. In general, the essential elements of a methods section are the following: a description of the setting and participants, the study design and timing, the recruitment and sampling, the data collection process, the dataset, the dependent and independent variables, the covariates, the analytic approach for each research objective, and the ethical approval. The hallmark of an exemplary methods section is the justification of why each method was used. Table 2 provides common methods section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Results Section

The focus of the results section should be associations, or lack thereof, rather than statistical tests. Two considerations should guide your writing here. First, the results should present answers to each part of the research aim. Second, return to the methods section to ensure that the analysis and variables for each result have been explained.

Begin the results section by describing the number of participants in the final sample and details such as the number who were approached to participate, the proportion who were eligible and who enrolled, and the number of participants who dropped out. The next part of the results should describe the participant characteristics. After that, you may organize your results by the aim or by putting the most exciting results first. Do not forget to report your non-significant associations. These are still findings.

Tables and figures capture the reader’s attention and efficiently communicate your main findings [ 3 ]. Each table and figure should have a clear message and should complement, rather than repeat, the text. Tables and figures should communicate all salient details necessary for a reader to understand the findings without consulting the text. Include information on comparisons and tests, as well as information about the sample and timing of the study in the title, legend, or in a footnote. Note that figures are often more visually interesting than tables, so if it is feasible to make a figure, make a figure. To avoid confusing the reader, either avoid abbreviations in tables and figures, or define them in a footnote. Note that there should not be citations in the results section and you should not interpret results here. Table 3 provides common results section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Discussion Section

Opposite the introduction section, the discussion should take the form of a right-side-up triangle beginning with interpretation of your results and moving to general implications (Fig.  2 ). This section typically begins with a restatement of the main findings, which can usually be accomplished with a few carefully-crafted sentences.

figure 2

Major elements of the discussion section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Next, interpret the meaning or explain the significance of your results, lifting the reader’s gaze from the study’s specific findings to more general applications. Then, compare these study findings with other research. Are these findings in agreement or disagreement with those from other studies? Does this study impart additional nuance to well-accepted theories? Situate your findings within the broader context of scientific literature, then explain the pathways or mechanisms that might give rise to, or explain, the results.

Journals vary in their approach to strengths and limitations sections: some are embedded paragraphs within the discussion section, while some mandate separate section headings. Keep in mind that every study has strengths and limitations. Candidly reporting yours helps readers to correctly interpret your research findings.

The next element of the discussion is a summary of the potential impacts and applications of the research. Should these results be used to optimally design an intervention? Does the work have implications for clinical protocols or public policy? These considerations will help the reader to further grasp the possible impacts of the presented work.

Finally, the discussion should conclude with specific suggestions for future work. Here, you have an opportunity to illuminate specific gaps in the literature that compel further study. Avoid the phrase “future research is necessary” because the recommendation is too general to be helpful to readers. Instead, provide substantive and specific recommendations for future studies. Table 4 provides common discussion section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines

After you select a target journal, identify the journal’s author guidelines to guide the formatting of your manuscript and references. Author guidelines will often (but not always) include instructions for titles, cover letters, and other components of a manuscript submission. Read the guidelines carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, your article will be sent back to you.

Finally, do not submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. Even if this is not explicitly stated in the author guidelines of your target journal, it is considered inappropriate and unprofessional.

Your title should invite readers to continue reading beyond the first page [ 4 , 5 ]. It should be informative and interesting. Consider describing the independent and dependent variables, the population and setting, the study design, the timing, and even the main result in your title. Because the focus of the paper can change as you write and revise, we recommend you wait until you have finished writing your paper before composing the title.

Be sure that the title is useful for potential readers searching for your topic. The keywords you select should complement those in your title to maximize the likelihood that a researcher will find your paper through a database search. Avoid using abbreviations in your title unless they are very well known, such as SNP, because it is more likely that someone will use a complete word rather than an abbreviation as a search term to help readers find your paper.

After you have written a complete draft, use the checklist (Fig. 3 ) below to guide your revisions and editing. Additional resources are available on writing the abstract and citing references [ 5 ]. When you feel that your work is ready, ask a trusted colleague or two to read the work and provide informal feedback. The box below provides a checklist that summarizes the key points offered in this article.

figure 3

Checklist for manuscript quality

Data Availability

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Vetto JT (2014) Short and sweet: a short course on concise medical writing. J Cancer Educ 29(1):194–195

Brett M, Kording K (2017) Ten simple rules for structuring papers. PLoS ComputBiol. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619

Lang TA (2017) Writing a better research article. J Public Health Emerg. https://doi.org/10.21037/jphe.2017.11.06

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Ella August is grateful to the Sustainable Sciences Institute for mentoring her in training researchers on writing and publishing their research.

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Busse, C., August, E. How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal. J Canc Educ 36 , 909–913 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z

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Effective Writing

To construct sentences that reflect your ideas, focus these sentences appropriately. Express one idea per sentence. Use your current topic — that is, what you are writing about — as the grammatical subject of your sentence (see Verbs: Choosing between active and passive voice ). When writing a complex sentence (a sentence that includes several clauses), place the main idea in the main clause rather than a subordinate clause. In particular, focus on the phenomenon at hand, not on the fact that you observed it.

Constructing your sentences logically is a good start, but it may not be enough. To ensure they are readable, make sure your sentences do not tax readers' short-term memory by obliging these readers to remember long pieces of text before knowing what to do with them. In other words, keep together what goes together. Then, work on conciseness: See whether you can replace long phrases with shorter ones or eliminate words without loss of clarity or accuracy.

The following screens cover the drafting process in more detail. Specifically, they discuss how to use verbs effectively and how to take care of your text's mechanics.

Shutterstock. Much of the strength of a clause comes from its verb. Therefore, to express your ideas accurately, choose an appropriate verb and use it well. In particular, use it in the right tense, choose carefully between active and passive voice, and avoid dangling verb forms.

Verbs are for describing actions, states, or occurrences. To give a clause its full strength and keep it short, do not bury the action, state, or occurrence in a noun (typically combined with a weak verb), as in "The catalyst produced a significant increase in conversion rate." Instead write, "The catalyst increased the conversion rate significantly." The examples below show how an action, state, or occurrence can be moved from a noun back to a verb.

Using the right tense

In your scientific paper, use verb tenses (past, present, and future) exactly as you would in ordinary writing. Use the past tense to report what happened in the past: what you did, what someone reported, what happened in an experiment, and so on. Use the present tense to express general truths, such as conclusions (drawn by you or by others) and atemporal facts (including information about what the paper does or covers). Reserve the future tense for perspectives: what you will do in the coming months or years. Typically, most of your sentences will be in the past tense, some will be in the present tense, and very few, if any, will be in the future tense.

Work done We collected blood samples from . . . Groves et al. determined the growth rate of . . . Consequently, astronomers decided to rename . . . Work reported Jankowsky reported a similar growth rate . . . In 2009, Chu published an alternative method to . . . Irarrázaval observed the opposite behavior in . . . Observations The mice in Group A developed , on average, twice as much . . . The number of defects increased sharply . . . The conversion rate was close to 95% . . .

Present tense

General truths Microbes in the human gut have a profound influence on . . . The Reynolds number provides a measure of . . . Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease . . . Atemporal facts This paper presents the results of . . . Section 3.1 explains the difference between . . . Behbood's 1969 paper provides a framework for . . .

Future tense

Perspectives In a follow-up experiment, we will study the role of . . . The influence of temperature will be the object of future research . . .

Note the difference in scope between a statement in the past tense and the same statement in the present tense: "The temperature increased linearly over time" refers to a specific experiment, whereas "The temperature increases linearly over time" generalizes the experimental observation, suggesting that the temperature always increases linearly over time in such circumstances.

In complex sentences, you may have to combine two different tenses — for example, "In 1905, Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light is constant . . . . " In this sentence, postulated refers to something that happened in the past (in 1905) and is therefore in the past tense, whereas is expresses a general truth and is in the present tense.

Choosing between active and passive voice

In English, verbs can express an action in one of two voices. The active voice focuses on the agent: "John measured the temperature." (Here, the agent — John — is the grammatical subject of the sentence.) In contrast, the passive voice focuses on the object that is acted upon: "The temperature was measured by John." (Here, the temperature, not John, is the grammatical subject of the sentence.)

To choose between active and passive voice, consider above all what you are discussing (your topic) and place it in the subject position. For example, should you write "The preprocessor sorts the two arrays" or "The two arrays are sorted by the preprocessor"? If you are discussing the preprocessor, the first sentence is the better option. In contrast, if you are discussing the arrays, the second sentence is better. If you are unsure what you are discussing, consider the surrounding sentences: Are they about the preprocessor or the two arrays?

The desire to be objective in scientific writing has led to an overuse of the passive voice, often accompanied by the exclusion of agents: "The temperature was measured " (with the verb at the end of the sentence). Admittedly, the agent is often irrelevant: No matter who measured the temperature, we would expect its value to be the same. However, a systematic preference for the passive voice is by no means optimal, for at least two reasons.

For one, sentences written in the passive voice are often less interesting or more difficult to read than those written in the active voice. A verb in the active voice does not require a person as the agent; an inanimate object is often appropriate. For example, the rather uninteresting sentence "The temperature was measured . . . " may be replaced by the more interesting "The measured temperature of 253°C suggests a secondary reaction in . . . ." In the second sentence, the subject is still temperature (so the focus remains the same), but the verb suggests is in the active voice. Similarly, the hard-to-read sentence "In this section, a discussion of the influence of the recirculating-water temperature on the conversion rate of . . . is presented " (long subject, verb at the end) can be turned into "This section discusses the influence of . . . . " The subject is now section , which is what this sentence is really about, yet the focus on the discussion has been maintained through the active-voice verb discusses .

As a second argument against a systematic preference for the passive voice, readers sometimes need people to be mentioned. A sentence such as "The temperature is believed to be the cause for . . . " is ambiguous. Readers will want to know who believes this — the authors of the paper, or the scientific community as a whole? To clarify the sentence, use the active voice and set the appropriate people as the subject, in either the third or the first person, as in the examples below.

Biologists believe the temperature to be . . . Keustermans et al. (1997) believe the temperature to be . . . The authors believe the temperature to be . . . We believe the temperature to be . . .

Avoiding dangling verb forms

A verb form needs a subject, either expressed or implied. When the verb is in a non-finite form, such as an infinitive ( to do ) or a participle ( doing ), its subject is implied to be the subject of the clause, or sometimes the closest noun phrase. In such cases, construct your sentences carefully to avoid suggesting nonsense. Consider the following two examples.

To dissect its brain, the affected fly was mounted on a . . . After aging for 72 hours at 50°C, we observed a shift in . . .

Here, the first sentence implies that the affected fly dissected its own brain, and the second implies that the authors of the paper needed to age for 72 hours at 50°C in order to observe the shift. To restore the intended meaning while keeping the infinitive to dissect or the participle aging , change the subject of each sentence as appropriate:

To dissect its brain, we mounted the affected fly on a . . . After aging for 72 hours at 50°C, the samples exhibited a shift in . . .

Alternatively, you can change or remove the infinitive or participle to restore the intended meaning:

To have its brain dissected , the affected fly was mounted on a . . . After the samples aged for 72 hours at 50°C, we observed a shift in . . .

In communication, every detail counts. Although your focus should be on conveying your message through an appropriate structure at all levels, you should also save some time to attend to the more mechanical aspects of writing in English, such as using abbreviations, writing numbers, capitalizing words, using hyphens when needed, and punctuating your text correctly.

Using abbreviations

Beware of overusing abbreviations, especially acronyms — such as GNP for gold nanoparticles . Abbreviations help keep a text concise, but they can also render it cryptic. Many acronyms also have several possible extensions ( GNP also stands for gross national product ).

Write acronyms (and only acronyms) in all uppercase ( GNP , not gnp ).

Introduce acronyms systematically the first time they are used in a document. First write the full expression, then provide the acronym in parentheses. In the full expression, and unless the journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention, capitalize the letters that form the acronym: "we prepared Gold NanoParticles (GNP) by . . . " These capitals help readers quickly recognize what the acronym designates.

  • Do not use capitals in the full expression when you are not introducing an acronym: "we prepared gold nanoparticles by… "
  • As a more general rule, use first what readers know or can understand best, then put in parentheses what may be new to them. If the acronym is better known than the full expression, as may be the case for techniques such as SEM or projects such as FALCON, consider placing the acronym first: "The FALCON (Fission-Activated Laser Concept) program at…"
  • In the rare case that an acronym is commonly known, you might not need to introduce it. One example is DNA in the life sciences. When in doubt, however, introduce the acronym.

In papers, consider the abstract as a stand-alone document. Therefore, if you use an acronym in both the abstract and the corresponding full paper, introduce that acronym twice: the first time you use it in the abstract and the first time you use it in the full paper. However, if you find that you use an acronym only once or twice after introducing it in your abstract, the benefit of it is limited — consider avoiding the acronym and using the full expression each time (unless you think some readers know the acronym better than the full expression).

Writing numbers

In general, write single-digit numbers (zero to nine) in words, as in three hours , and multidigit numbers (10 and above) in numerals, as in 24 hours . This rule has many exceptions, but most of them are reasonably intuitive, as shown hereafter.

Use numerals for numbers from zero to nine

  • when using them with abbreviated units ( 3 mV );
  • in dates and times ( 3 October , 3 pm );
  • to identify figures and other items ( Figure 3 );
  • for consistency when these numbers are mixed with larger numbers ( series of 3, 7, and 24 experiments ).

Use words for numbers above 10 if these numbers come at the beginning of a sentence or heading ("Two thousand eight was a challenging year for . . . "). As an alternative, rephrase the sentence to avoid this issue altogether ("The year 2008 was challenging for . . . " ) .

Capitalizing words

Capitals are often overused. In English, use initial capitals

  • at beginnings: the start of a sentence, of a heading, etc.;
  • for proper nouns, including nouns describing groups (compare physics and the Physics Department );
  • for items identified by their number (compare in the next figure and in Figure 2 ), unless the journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention;
  • for specific words: names of days ( Monday ) and months ( April ), adjectives of nationality ( Algerian ), etc.

In contrast, do not use initial capitals for common nouns: Resist the temptation to glorify a concept, technique, or compound with capitals. For example, write finite-element method (not Finite-Element Method ), mass spectrometry (not Mass Spectrometry ), carbon dioxide (not Carbon Dioxide ), and so on, unless you are introducing an acronym (see Mechanics: Using abbreviations ).

Using hyphens

Punctuating text.

Punctuation has many rules in English; here are three that are often a challenge for non-native speakers.

As a rule, insert a comma between the subject of the main clause and whatever comes in front of it, no matter how short, as in "Surprisingly, the temperature did not increase." This comma is not always required, but it often helps and never hurts the meaning of a sentence, so it is good practice.

In series of three or more items, separate items with commas ( red, white, and blue ; yesterday, today, or tomorrow ). Do not use a comma for a series of two items ( black and white ).

In displayed lists, use the same punctuation as you would in normal text (but consider dropping the and ).

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How to Write a High-Quality Conference Paper

Conference Papers

Presenting and submitting conference papers at seminars and academic conferences is a crucial part of academic life, especially for early-career researchers. These events offer attending scholars and researchers a great opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and perspectives on their work. Therefore, when organizers issue a call for submission of conference papers, researchers must try to participate by submitting their papers. When published, these conference proceedings go on to serve as essential academic and research resources for students and early-career researchers.   

Table of Contents

  • Why are conference papers important?  
  • Difference between conference papers and journal papers  

Research methodology

Findings/ results.

  • Writing a high-quality conference paper  

Why are conference papers important?

Conferences offer an excellent opportunity for researchers to share their work with wider audiences through conference papers, receive feedback, and network with other researchers. They also serve as a stepping stone to publishing in peer-reviewed journals, as they allow researchers to refine their ideas and receive insights from peers and mentors before submitting a manuscript for publication. Additionally, presenting research at conferences can not only help establish one’s credibility and reputation as a thought leader in a particular field. Still, it can also lead to new collaborations, exciting research opportunities, and even job offers or promotions.  

Difference between conference papers and journal papers

Compared to journal papers, conference papers are usually short and aim to present initial findings and analysis of ongoing research. Journal papers, on the other hand, tend to be longer and more detailed and are screened through a peer-review process. Depending on the type of presentation that you are going to give at the conference or depending on your specific role, conference papers can be customized as respondent (speaker and respondent roll out presentations), panel (a few speakers speak for a designated period with a discussant), poster (visual presentation), roundtable (few speakers speak with time limits) and workshops (scope for a detailed presentation).   

Tips on writing a conference paper

Writing an impactful conference paper requires a careful blend of good research and clarity in writing. To be accepted on submission, researchers must ensure that they follow the specific guidelines laid out by organizers. A typical conference paper usually begins with a title page, followed by the abstract, an examination of the research problem, the methodology followed and the principal conclusions. It must include the following elements:  

This page should provide the title of the conference paper, your name and credentials, the institution you are working with, and the date of submission. It must also succinctly convey the crux of your research study.  

An essential component of the conference paper, this section must provide a brief synopsis that includes the aims and objectives of your study, methodology, research findings and principal conclusions. Ensure that the length of the abstract is in accordance with the guidelines provided by the conference committee.  

This section is important for conference organizers to assess your paper, and therefore, it must be presented clearly, concisely, and accurately.  

The main findings should be clearly stated, drawing on evidence-based conclusions. Tables and figures are recommended as they help convey complex data more effectively.   

Ensure that you accurately list references to the work you have cited. Most conference organizers have specific formats for citations and references, so do check before submitting your conference paper.  

Writing a high-quality conference paper

  • Focus on the audience profile: When writing a conference paper, it is essential to keep the audience in mind. This will help you write your paper in a more engaging and impactful way. Experts suggest keeping in mind both the broader research questions that are sought to be addressed in the conference and the fundamental issues in the primary or related field of study – this will go a long way in helping you link your research to these aspects and consequently, enable you to connect more effectively with audiences.  
  • Keep your writing structured and organized. It is essential to organize conference papers logically and convincingly. Focus on the key aspects of your study, and provide solid examples and illustrations to strengthen your argument and make it more attractive to those present.  
  • Reading aloud : Experts suggest reading your conference paper aloud several times. This technique helps you identify possible errors in language and grammar and brings clarity to your ideas and presentation.  
  • Conference guidelines: It is important to ensure that you follow the guidelines, structure, format, and length requested by conference organizers. This helps ensure that your conference paper is accepted upon submission without too many changes and alterations. 

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Scientific writing

A guide to publishing scientific research in the health sciences.

1 Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Branch, Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, ON

2 School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

4 Injury Prevention Research Center, Shantou University Medical College, Shantou, China

Effective communication of scientific research is critical to advancing science and optimizing the impact of one’s professional work. This article provides a guide on preparing scientific manuscripts for publication in the health sciences. It is geared to health professionals who are starting to report their findings in peer-reviewed journals or who would like to refresh their knowledge in this area. It identifies five key steps. First, adopt best practices in scientific publications, including collaborative writing and ethical reporting. Second, strategically position your manuscript before you start to write. This is done by identifying your target audience, choosing three to five journals that reach your target audience and then learning about the journal requirements. Third, create the first draft of your manuscript by developing a logical, concise and compelling storyline based on the journal requirements and the established structure for scientific manuscripts. Fourth, refine the manuscript by coordinating the input from your co-authors and applying good composition and clear writing principles. The final version of the manuscript needs to meet editorial requirements and be approved by all authors prior to submission. Fifth, once submitted, be prepared for revision. Rejection is common; if you receive feedback, consider revising the paper before submitting it to another journal. If the journal is interested, address all the requested revisions. Scientific articles that have high impact are not only good science; they are also highly readable and the result of a collective and often synergistic effort.


The publication of the findings of scientific research is important for two reasons. First, the progression of science depends on the publication of research findings in the peer-reviewed literature. Second, the publication of research is important for career development. The old dictum “publish or perish” suggests the critical role publishing research has, especially for those in academia. The newer version, “publish and flourish”, suggests that publishing solid scientific research is good for individual researchers and good for the scientific community. With good research, there is the potential for everyone to be better off.

The publication of scientific work is not easy. There are many books on how to write a scientific article ( 1 - 5 ); however, the level of detail may be overwhelming and there is a tendency to focus more on the technical aspects, such as the structure of a scientific manuscript and what to include in each section, and less on the process aspects, such as what constitutes authorship and how to choose the most appropriate journal. There is a need for a basic overview for those who would like to start publishing or refresh their knowledge in this area. The objective of this article is to provide health professionals with an overview on how to prepare manuscripts for publication.

Adopt best practices in scientific publications

Anyone who would like to author scientific publications should know about these two best practices before they begin: work collaboratively and observe ethical reporting practices.

Practice collaborative writing

Research and scientific publishing are collective enterprises that call for collaboration as a best practice. Research usually involves a research team. New research projects build on previous research done by others. It involves input from peers on both protocol development before the research is done, as well as the review of manuscripts once the research is completed. The Cochrane Collaboration is one important example of this ( 6 ). To optimize the success of your research team, cultivate strong interpersonal skills and choose your collaborators wisely. Areas to consider when you are choosing with whom to work include such things as collaborator availability, similar research interests, track record and personal suitability.

Given that a scientific publication is meant to contribute to knowledge, a good research question is essential, as is identifying the optimal scientific method to answer that question and observing ethical practices in the conduct of your research.

Once these items have been addressed, what do you need to know before you start to write?

Observe ethical reporting practices

The ethics of scientific publications can be summarized by two best practices: complete and accurate reporting and appropriate attribution of everyone’s contributions ( 7 ).

Ensure complete and accurate reporting

Unethical scientific publication practices include incomplete reporting, the reporting of fraudulent data, plagiarism, duplicate publication and overlapping publications. Some people consider failure to publish the results of clinical trials as unethical ( 8 ), as it can create bias in the published record. Incomplete reporting can include selective reporting of findings or not reporting at all. It is important to report negative data, or any unexpected finding.

Falsification or fabrication of data is the most obvious breach of research ethics. One example is the fraudulent study linking autism to vaccine ( 9 ), which caused untold harm by undermining public confidence in routine childhood vaccines.

Plagiarism must be carefully avoided. Incorporating others’ ideas or research results into any manuscript you write needs to be done with appropriate referencing. Journal editors routinely check manuscripts with antiplagiarism software before determining a manuscript’s appropriateness for peer review. Free software programs are available for authors to check for inadvertent duplication of content such as CopyScape, DupliChecker, Plagiarisma, Plagium, Search Engine Reports, SEOTools, Site Liner and Unplag.

Duplicate publication is publishing an article that is the same or overlaps substantially with another article by the author or publisher ( 8 ). It is considered redundant, and may result in double-counting of data. This is to be distinguished from co-publication, which is when the same article is published in more than one journal at approximately the same time to increase reach to different disciplines ( 8 ). It meets specific criteria and is done with complete transparency.

Overlapping publication is a variant of duplicate publication. It typically occurs with multi-centre trials and is characterized by publications from single centres, several centres as well as all centres. This is considered unethical as it can lead to double-counting and distorts the perception of the weight of the evidence ( 10 ). It may be appropriate to have more than one publication come from a multi-centre trial, but this is usually to address secondary outcomes. Secondary publications should cite the primary analysis and all publications of trials should identify the trial registration number ( 8 ).

Give appropriate attribution

It is important to acknowledge the work of everyone who contributed to a scientific publication. Central to ethical publication is appropriate authorship. A best practice is to identify the role of each author. Authorship has been defined by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) as those who meet all of the following four criteria: substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work or to the acquisition, analysis or interpretation of data for the work; drafting the initial manuscript or revising it critically for important intellectual content; final approval of the version to be published; and 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 ( 11 ).

Of note, the collection of data or the development of software for a study are not criteria for authorship, nor is securing research funding; however, these are important contributions that should be acknowledged—either in the Acknowledgements section or, if there is one, in the Contributors section. It is best practice to ensure everyone mentioned in an Acknowledgements or Contributors section is aware he/she has been identified, and is in agreement with being identified. Contractors paid to perform parts of a study (e.g., laboratory testing, software development or drafting the manuscript) are often, by definition, not authors but still merit being identified in the Acknowledgements or Contributors section.

Some unethical practices in authorship include guest authorship and ghost authorship. Guest authorship is including someone as an author who does not meet the ICMJE criteria and ghost authorship is excluding someone as an author who does meet the ICMJE criteria. Basically, ethical attribution is all about transparency.

There can be a lot of debate on the sequencing of authors. The ordering of authors differs by discipline ( 12 ). In the health sciences, the first author has the most weight; the final author also carries weight as this is often the principal or most senior investigator. In contrast, in economics, authors are usually listed alphabetically, implying equal contribution to the research work. It is useful to discuss authorship early in the manuscript planning process, and then again near the completion of the manuscript. This discussion should include an assessment of authorship against the ICMJE criteria and consideration of authorship sequence, which may change over time if there were changes in the level of input from what was originally planned.

Position your manuscript

Once your research is completed, you need to identify appropriate journals for publication. Not every manuscript can or should be published in a prestigious, high-impact journal. People can waste a lot of time and effort sending manuscripts to journals that will promptly send back a polite rejection letter, or will keep it for several months before declining it, based on the peer review. So how do you choose which journal to submit to? Discuss with your co-researchers or peers: Who is the target audience? Who will want to know about this research? What is the best journal to reach that audience? And what are those journals’ specific requirements for manuscript submissions?

Identify your target audience

Before writing up results of your study, think about your potential readers. Are your research findings most appropriate for a general readership or a specialty group? This affects the choice of journal for submission, and the writing style you adopt for the manuscript.

Choose three to five journals

Based on your target readership, develop a list of three to five journals, and then order by journal impact factor. The impact factor is the average number of citations per article published in that journal, based on the performance in the previous two years ( 13 ). Submit your manuscript to one journal at a time, starting from the top of the list. If you receive a rejection letter from your “Plan A” journal, you have a ready “Plan B” journal to submit to right away. This avoids having the rejected manuscript languish on your desk.

Learn about the journal requirements

Every journal has instructions for authors that are listed online. These instructions describe the types of articles that the journal publishes and provides specific advice about format, word length, as well as what needs to be included in a cover letter at the time of submission. Consult some past issues of the targeted journals to see examples of the different types of articles that are published.

Create the first draft

Now that you have identified your target audience, what journal you are targeting first, and what its requirements are, you are ready to create the first draft. To begin you want to develop a high-level summary that establishes a logical, compelling storyline that follows the established structure for a scientific manuscript. Then, before you start to write the text, check for any reporting guides for the type of study you have done to ensure you address any specific reporting requirements.

There is a common misconception that scientific publications are simply dispassionate reports of the methods and results of research. But consider this: There are more than 30,000 biomedical journals ( 14 ). We are living in an age of information overload, so people become very selective in what they read and ask themselves “Is this important for me to read?” The objective reporting of research findings is necessary, but not sufficient. Effective authors will also provide an appropriate context and present their work in such a way that readers find it interesting and easy to understand. The sections that follow identify several ways to best present the context, data and implications of your work.

Develop a compelling storyline

The use of the term storyline here does not mean you endeavour to entertain the reader. It is how you “present your case” in the court of scientific opinion. It maps on to the basic structure of scientific articles and includes the rationale for the study, the research question, how that question was addressed, what was found and why these findings are important ( 3 ). After working for months (and sometimes years) on a research project, it is easy to get lost in the details. Establishing a clear, logical underlying structure to your scientific manuscript from the outset not only helps to avoid going off on tangents, it also vastly increases its readability. The abstract is an excellent place to set out the storyline of your manuscript. You want to respond to the questions: What is this research about? (background and objective); What did you do to answer your research question? (methods); What did you find? (results); and What are the implications and next steps? (discussion and conclusion). Then, much like establishing the theme, each section is developed in the manuscript. A well-written abstract gives readers a “road map”; after reading it they will know what you will be covering in the article.

One way to strengthen the logic of your manuscript is to use the same terms and the same sequencing of information in each section. For example, if your research objective was to assess acceptability and adherence to a treatment regimen, what you do not want to do is describe the willingness to start a treatment in the Introduction, note how you measured compliance and adherence in the Methods and then describe how many people followed the treatment regime after agreeing to start it in the Results. If your research objective is to assess acceptability and adherence, define acceptability and then adherence in the Introduction, identify how you measured acceptance and then adherence in the Methods, and describe your findings for acceptance and then adherence in the Results. When you use the same terms in the same sequence in the Introduction, Methods and Results sections, it is much easier for the reader to quickly grasp what you did and what was found.

In addition, there are several writing techniques that help make your manuscript more compelling to engage the reader. The first is to have “a hook”, or interesting start that draws the reader in. Titles can be a hook; for example, a recent article from the New England Journal of Medicine was entitled: “The Other Victims of the Opioid Epidemic” ( 15 ). It might catch your attention, as you immediately ask yourself “Who are the victims and who are the other victims?” A compelling title may pose a question that motivates people to read the article: “Can scientists and policymakers work together?” ( 16 ). Readers are also engaged by the first sentence of the abstract; for example: “The emergence and prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasing cause of death worldwide, resulting in a global call to action.” ( 17 ). This is a good first sentence as it gives a sense of urgency and makes the reader curious about what the call to action is. One must be careful to not sensationalize, but when there is an urgent health issue, it is important to describe why we need to be aware of it and change what we do if necessary.

Check for reporting guides

As a final step before starting to write the manuscript in full, check if there are specific reporting requirements for the type of research you have done; for example, if you have done an experimental study, you will need to mention research ethics board approval and informed consent ( 18 ). If you have done a systematic review, include a flow diagram of the included and excluded studies ( 19 ). Some journals provide author checklists to identify what is important to include in different sections for different types of studies ( 20 , 21 ). The Equator Network (Enhancing the Quality and Transparency of Health Research) brings together a number of reporting guidelines and is a useful resource ( 22 ).

Use the IMRAD approach

When you start to write the text, use the classic structure of a scientific article: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion, which is often referred to by the acronym IMRAD. But, rather than writing down everything you know that relates to your study, use each section strategically to tell the story of your research.

A good Introduction section has the structure of an inverted triangle. This means that you start with a broad topic, and then narrow down the readers’ focus in logical steps until you arrive at your research question. This can be facilitated by answering the following questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • Why is it important?
  • What do we know to date?
  • What are the gaps in our knowledge?
  • What is the research question that will address this gap?
  • What was the objective of the research?

At this point, the reader will want to know “So what happened?” and they will keep reading. The summary of the literature is done in the present tense, as it represents generally accepted facts and principles. Define all abbreviations on first use but use only commonly-accepted ones. Too many abbreviations decrease readability. The introduction is described in the present tense (as it describes established facts).

The Methods section describes how the study was conducted. It is important to explain how the methods address the research objective. Give enough detail so that others can duplicate your study, if needed, to confirm that your results are consistent and reliable. It is useful to have subtitles. For a clinical trial, for example, this could include study population, intervention, outcome measures and analysis. Avoid the temptation to provide results in the Methods section. For example, the sampling methodology belongs to the Methods section, the response rate of the study belongs in the Results section. The Methods section is described in the past tense (as it describes what you did).

The Results section describes what was found in the study (in the same sequence of information established in the Introduction and the Methods sections). Avoid the temptation to discuss or analyze results in the Results section. For example, you can state: “there were more men than women in this study”, but exploring the reason for this belongs in the Discussion section. Results are described in the past tense (as they describe what you found).

Many readers find the Discussion section to be the most interesting part of the article. The first sentence is an opportunity to summarize the most important findings of your study; for example: “Surveillance data from four Nordic countries suggested that at least 25% of gonorrhea infections were related to travel” ( 23 ). Interpret your findings in light of possible biases or sources of errors. Then it is important to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of your study; compare it to other studies with similar or different findings, consider the implications and identify the next steps. The Discussion section is an opportunity to situate your findings within the larger body of knowledge and to consider what is needed to further advance scientific understanding. The discussion is described in past, present or future tense depending on context.

Develop tables and figures to highlight key findings

There are two best practices to consider when creating tables and figures. First, to address the classic evidence-based medicine question—Are these results applicable to my patient population?—you need to describe your study population ( 24 ). The first table in a clinical study, for example, often compares the demographic characteristics of the research subjects to what is known about the study population. This helps readers assess how representative the study sample was. Second, use tables and figures to highlight your key findings. Resist the temptation to present all the data you have in tables and figures which may overwhelm the reader. You want to keep the focus on the study objective and the answer to your research question.

Tables are useful to present large quantities of data and figures are preferred to show trends over time. Titles of tables and figures should be able to “stand alone”; i.e., they are self-explanatory and complete. To be complete, include the study population, type of data presented and dates of the study. In tables, ensure each column has a heading. Make sure all data is validated and that all research subjects are accounted for (i.e., the percentages add up to 100%). Further resources on preparation of tables and figures are available ( 25 , 26 ). See Table 1 for some highlights of the “Dos and Don’ts” when writing scientific manuscripts.

Refine the manuscript

Most manuscripts are a team effort, so once a manuscript has been drafted, it then needs to be circulated for input by all the co-authors. Consider your own internal peer review process and then refine the manuscript for clarity before submitting it to a peer-reviewed journal. If your first language is not English, consider having the manuscript copy-edited before you submit it to a journal.

Circulate to co-authors and peers

Each research team works out their own way of writing and revising. Usually the first author develops the first draft, and then sends to other authors to provide comments (usually using the tracked changes function). The first author will then incorporate comments and produce a second draft for a second round of comments. This process continues until all authors agree on the structure and wording of the manuscript. It is also possible to have different authors draft different sections of the manuscript, once there has been consensus on the storyline and the structure. A common challenge with circulating drafts of a manuscript is version control. You may want to have only one author working on a draft at a time. If there is simultaneous feedback from multiple authors, they should all be sent to the first author by a set due date. You may also want to conduct your own internal peer review process. After being steeped in a project for months and a manuscript for weeks, it is easy to lose perspective. An unblinded internal peer review may help strengthen your manuscript before undergoing the blind external peer review that is conducted by the editorial office of scientific journals.

Apply clear writing principles

The hallmark of good scientific writing is precision and clarity ( 5 ). Based on the classic, The Elements of Style , here are some tips that will help bring clarity to your writing ( 27 ). Check the first sentence of each paragraph. These should signal to the reader the progression of the logic of your manuscript and introduce what the paragraph contains. When appropriate, use the active voice. To say “We developed a protocol” is more engaging than the passive voice: “A protocol was developed”. Edit out needless words, such as “as noted above”. When possible, use parallel construction or the repetition of a grammatical form within a sentence. For example, the phrase “Children aged 4–6 years should be given vaccine A; the administration of vaccine B is advised for those who are 13–18 years old” can be made clearer using parallel construction: “Children aged 4–6 years should be given vaccine A; adolescents aged 13–18 should be given vaccine B”. Make definitive assertions; arouse interest of the reader by reporting the details that matter. In addition, you do not want to be overly complex; resources are available to help describe things in plain language ( 28 ).

Submit and be ready to revise

Once all the authors sign off on the final version, submit to your journal of choice with a short cover letter noting that your manuscript has not been published previously and is not under consideration by any other journal. It is also useful to identify why your manuscript is relevant to the journal’s readership. This may influence the editor’s decision on whether to send your manuscript for external peer review.

Once the manuscript is submitted, brace yourself for a number of possible responses. You may receive a polite rejection letter. Or the Editor may have comments on the manuscript that need to be addressed before it is peer-reviewed. If this is the case, it is good to address these promptly. Another possibility is that the manuscript is peer-reviewed and then declined. There are two reasons why you should carefully consider all the peer-reviewer comments, even though the journal is not interested in your manuscript. First, this is free advice, often from top-notch experts in the field, so why not use it to improve your success rate with another journal? Second, only a limited number of researchers participate in the journal peer review process. When you submit to a second journal, what you do not want to hear back is “I was the peer reviewer of this manuscript for another journal, and I see that none of my previous comments were considered by the authors”. If you do decide to revise the manuscript to address reviewer comments, do not forget to review the instructions for authors for the new journal and reformat as necessary. Finally, after peer-review has been completed, you may receive a tentative acceptance letter from the editor, accompanied by a request for minor revisions. Or you could receive a “reject and resubmit” letter, which means that extensive revisions are needed. In either case, it indicates an interest in a revised manuscript.

Requested revisions are usually discussed jointly among the co-authors until there is consensus on how to address them. Making the revisions can either be allocated among the authors, or coordinated through one person. Usually once the revisions are underway, they do not seem as formidable as they first appeared, and the manuscript ends up being stronger and clearer as a result. Once revised, do a final check of the abstract to ensure it still reflects the revised text. Again, sign-off is needed from all the authors before submitting the revised manuscript to the journal.

To advance science, research needs to be published. To optimize the chances of your research getting published and having an impact, it is important to demonstrate objectivity, and present your work in a way that is interesting and compelling. To do this you need clarity, logic and the use of rhetorical techniques to engage the reader in your research. This includes positioning your manuscript to reach your target audience, developing a logical, compelling storyline within the confines of the IMRAD structure, having an effective iterative approach among your co-authors to develop the manuscript and being ready to complete revisions to meet journal requirements.

Effective scientific writing rarely comes from innate talent. Writing is a skill that needs to be honed over one’s professional career. Cultivate an interest in what makes good writing. As you read other peoples’ work, ask yourself what makes some articles easier to read than others. Consider becoming a peer-reviewer for scientific journals to assess the manuscripts of others.

It is thoroughly satisfying to publish compelling research that influences people and makes a contribution to science. This is most often achieved through the synergy of collaboration with others and having a common goal of advancing the collective progression of science.

Authors’ statement

Both authors worked on the conception and design together, PH developed the first draft, both contributed to multiple drafts and signed off on the final version. Dr. Patricia Huston is the Editor-in-Chief of CCDR and recused herself from taking any editorial decisions on this manuscript. Decisions were taken by the Editorial Fellow, Toju Ogunremi, with the support of the Editorial Board member, Dr. Michel Deilgat.


Our thanks to Andrea Currie and Katie Rutledge-Taylor who developed the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Field Epidemiology writing curriculum. We had a number of interesting discussions on the art and science of scientific writing that informed this work, including the concept of the inverted triangle for the structure of an effective introduction.

Conflict of Interest: None.

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AI-assisted writing is quietly booming in academic journals—here's why that's OK

by Julian Koplin, The Conversation

AI-assisted writing is quietly booming in academic journals—here's why that's OK

If you search Google Scholar for the phrase " as an AI language model ," you'll find plenty of AI research literature and also some rather suspicious results. For example, one paper on agricultural technology says,

"As an AI language model, I don't have direct access to current research articles or studies. However, I can provide you with an overview of some recent trends and advancements …"

Obvious gaffes like this aren't the only signs that researchers are increasingly turning to generative AI tools when writing up their research. A recent study examined the frequency of certain words in academic writing (such as "commendable," "meticulously" and "intricate"), and found they became far more common after the launch of ChatGPT—so much so that 1% of all journal articles published in 2023 may have contained AI-generated text.

(Why do AI models overuse these words? There is speculation it's because they are more common in English as spoken in Nigeria, where key elements of model training often occur.)

The aforementioned study also looks at preliminary data from 2024, which indicates that AI writing assistance is only becoming more common. Is this a crisis for modern scholarship, or a boon for academic productivity?

Who should take credit for AI writing?

Many people are worried by the use of AI in academic papers. Indeed, the practice has been described as " contaminating " scholarly literature.

Some argue that using AI output amounts to plagiarism. If your ideas are copy-pasted from ChatGPT, it is questionable whether you really deserve credit for them.

But there are important differences between "plagiarizing" text authored by humans and text authored by AI. Those who plagiarize humans' work receive credit for ideas that ought to have gone to the original author.

By contrast, it is debatable whether AI systems like ChatGPT can have ideas, let alone deserve credit for them. An AI tool is more like your phone's autocomplete function than a human researcher.

The question of bias

Another worry is that AI outputs might be biased in ways that could seep into the scholarly record. Infamously, older language models tended to portray people who are female, black and/or gay in distinctly unflattering ways, compared with people who are male, white and/or straight.

This kind of bias is less pronounced in the current version of ChatGPT.

However, other studies have found a different kind of bias in ChatGPT and other large language models : a tendency to reflect a left-liberal political ideology.

Any such bias could subtly distort scholarly writing produced using these tools.

The hallucination problem

The most serious worry relates to a well-known limitation of generative AI systems: that they often make serious mistakes.

For example, when I asked ChatGPT-4 to generate an ASCII image of a mushroom, it provided me with the following output.

AI-assisted writing is quietly booming in academic journals—here's why that's OK

It then confidently told me I could use this image of a "mushroom" for my own purposes.

These kinds of overconfident mistakes have been referred to as "AI hallucinations" and " AI bullshit ." While it is easy to spot that the above ASCII image looks nothing like a mushroom (and quite a bit like a snail), it may be much harder to identify any mistakes ChatGPT makes when surveying scientific literature or describing the state of a philosophical debate.

Unlike (most) humans, AI systems are fundamentally unconcerned with the truth of what they say. If used carelessly, their hallucinations could corrupt the scholarly record.

Should AI-produced text be banned?

One response to the rise of text generators has been to ban them outright. For example, Science—one of the world's most influential academic journals—disallows any use of AI-generated text .

I see two problems with this approach.

The first problem is a practical one: current tools for detecting AI-generated text are highly unreliable. This includes the detector created by ChatGPT's own developers, which was taken offline after it was found to have only a 26% accuracy rate (and a 9% false positive rate ). Humans also make mistakes when assessing whether something was written by AI.

It is also possible to circumvent AI text detectors. Online communities are actively exploring how to prompt ChatGPT in ways that allow the user to evade detection. Human users can also superficially rewrite AI outputs, effectively scrubbing away the traces of AI (like its overuse of the words "commendable," "meticulously" and "intricate").

The second problem is that banning generative AI outright prevents us from realizing these technologies' benefits. Used well, generative AI can boost academic productivity by streamlining the writing process. In this way, it could help further human knowledge. Ideally, we should try to reap these benefits while avoiding the problems.

The problem is poor quality control, not AI

The most serious problem with AI is the risk of introducing unnoticed errors, leading to sloppy scholarship. Instead of banning AI, we should try to ensure that mistaken, implausible or biased claims cannot make it onto the academic record.

After all, humans can also produce writing with serious errors, and mechanisms such as peer review often fail to prevent its publication.

We need to get better at ensuring academic papers are free from serious mistakes, regardless of whether these mistakes are caused by careless use of AI or sloppy human scholarship. Not only is this more achievable than policing AI usage, it will improve the standards of academic research as a whole.

This would be (as ChatGPT might say) a commendable and meticulously intricate solution.

Provided by The Conversation

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