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How to write and structure a journal article
Sharing your research data can be hugely beneficial to your career , as well as to the scholarly community and wider society. But before you do so, there are some important ethical considerations to remember.
What are the rules and guidance you should follow, when you begin to think about how to write and structure a journal article? Ruth First Prize winner Steven Rogers, PhD said the first thing is to be passionate about what you write.
Steven Nabieu Rogers, Ruth First Prize winner.
Let’s go through some of the best advice that will help you pinpoint the features of a journal article, and how to structure it into a compelling research paper.
Planning for your article
When planning to write your article, make sure it has a central message that you want to get across. This could be a novel aspect of methodology that you have in your PhD study, a new theory, or an interesting modification you have made to theory or a novel set of findings.
2018 NARST Award winner Marissa Rollnick advised that you should decide what this central focus is, then create a paper outline bearing in mind the need to:
Isolate a manageable size
Create a coherent story/argument
Make the argument self-standing
Target the journal readership
Change the writing conventions from that used in your thesis
Get familiar with the journal you want to submit to
It is a good idea to choose your target journal before you start to write your paper. Then you can tailor your writing to the journal’s requirements and readership, to increase your chances of acceptance.
When selecting your journal think about audience, purposes, what to write about and why. Decide the kind of article to write. Is it a report, position paper, critique or review? What makes your argument or research interesting? How might the paper add value to the field?
If you need more guidance on how to choose a journal, here is our guide to narrow your focus.
Once you’ve chosen your target journal, take the time to read a selection of articles already published – particularly focus on those that are relevant to your own research.
This can help you get an understanding of what the editors may be looking for, then you can guide your writing efforts.
The Think. Check. Submit. initiative provides tools to help you evaluate whether the journal you’re planning to send your work to is trustworthy.
The journal’s aims and scope is also an important resource to refer back to as you write your paper – use it to make sure your article aligns with what the journal is trying to accomplish.
Keep your message focused
The next thing you need to consider when writing your article is your target audience. Are you writing for a more general audience or is your audience experts in the same field as you? The journal you have chosen will give you more information on the type of audience that will read your work.
When you know your audience, focus on your main message to keep the attention of your readers. A lack of focus is a common problem and can get in the way of effective communication.
Stick to the point. The strongest journal articles usually have one point to make. They make that point powerfully, back it up with evidence, and position it within the field.
How to format and structure a journal article
The format and structure of a journal article is just as important as the content itself, it helps to clearly guide the reader through.
How do I format a journal article?
Individual journals will have their own specific formatting requirements, which you can find in the instructions for authors.
You can save time on formatting by downloading a template from our library of templates to apply to your article text. These templates are accepted by many of our journals. Also, a large number of our journals now offer format-free submission, which allows you to submit your paper without formatting your manuscript to meet that journal’s specific requirements.
General structure for writing an academic journal article
The title of your article is one of the first indicators readers will get of your research and concepts. It should be concise, accurate, and informative. You should include your most relevant keywords in your title, but avoid including abbreviations and formulae.
Keywords are an essential part of producing a journal article. When writing a journal article you must select keywords that you would like your article to rank for.
Keywords help potential readers to discover your article when conducting research using search engines.
The purpose of your abstract is to express the key points of your research, clearly and concisely. An abstract must always be well considered, as it is the primary element of your work that readers will come across.
An abstract should be a short paragraph (around 300 words) that summarizes the findings of your journal article. Ordinarily an abstract will be comprised of:
What your research is about
What methods have been used
What your main findings are
Acknowledgements can appear to be a small aspect of your journal article, however it is still important. This is where you acknowledge the individuals who do not qualify for co-authorship, but contributed to your article intellectually, financially, or in some other manner.
When you acknowledge someone in your academic texts, it gives you more integrity as a writer as it shows that you are not claiming other academic’s ideas as your own intellectual property. It can also aid your readers in their own research journeys.
An introduction is a pivotal part of the article writing process. An introduction not only introduces your topic and your stance on the topic, but it also (situates/contextualizes) your argument in the broader academic field.
The main body is where your main arguments and your evidence are located. Each paragraph will encapsulate a different notion and there will be clear linking between each paragraph.
Your conclusion should be an interpretation of your results, where you summarize all of the concepts that you introduced in the main body of the text in order of most to least important. No new concepts are to be introduced in this section.
References and citations
References and citations should be well balanced, current and relevant. Although every field is different, you should aim to cite references that are not more than 10 years old if possible. The studies you cite should be strongly related to your research question.
Clarity is key
Make your writing accessible by using clear language. Writing that is easy to read, is easier to understand too.
You may want to write for a global audience – to have your research reach the widest readership. Make sure you write in a way that will be understood by any reader regardless of their field or whether English is their first language.
Write your journal article with confidence, to give your reader certainty in your research. Make sure that you’ve described your methodology and approach; whilst it may seem obvious to you, it may not to your reader. And don’t forget to explain acronyms when they first appear.
Engage your audience. Go back to thinking about your audience; are they experts in your field who will easily follow technical language, or are they a lay audience who need the ideas presented in a simpler way?
Be aware of other literature in your field, and reference it
Make sure to tell your reader how your article relates to key work that’s already published. This doesn’t mean you have to review every piece of previous relevant literature, but show how you are building on previous work to avoid accidental plagiarism.
When you reference something, fully understand its relevance to your research so you can make it clear for your reader. Keep in mind that recent references highlight awareness of all the current developments in the literature that you are building on. This doesn’t mean you can’t include older references, just make sure it is clear why you’ve chosen to.
How old can my references be?
Your literature review should take into consideration the current state of the literature.
There is no specific timeline to consider. But note that your subject area may be a factor. Your colleagues may also be able to guide your decision.
Grasian Mkodzongi, Ruth First Prize Winner
Top tips to get you started
Communicate your unique point of view to stand out. You may be building on a concept already in existence, but you still need to have something new to say. Make sure you say it convincingly, and fully understand and reference what has gone before.
Professor Len Barton, Founding Editor of Disability and Society
Now you know the features of a journal article and how to construct it. This video is an extra resource to use with this guide to help you know what to think about before you write your journal article.
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Writing a Research Paper for an Academic Journal: A Five-step Recipe for Perfection
The answer to writing the perfect research paper is as simple as following a step-by-step recipe. Here we bring to you a recipe for effortlessly planning, writing, and publishing your paper as a peer reviewed journal article.
Updated on March 15, 2022
As a young researcher, getting your paper published as a journal article is a huge milestone; but producing it may seem like climbing a mountain compared to, perhaps, the theses, essays, or conference papers you have produced in the past.
You may feel overwhelmed with the thought of carrying innumerable equipment and may feel incapable of completing the task. But, in reality, the answer to writing the perfect research paper is as simple as following a recipe with step-by-step instructions.
In this blog, I aim to bring to you the recipe for effortlessly planning, writing, and publishing your paper as a peer reviewed journal article. I will give you the essential information, key points, and resources to keep in mind before you begin the writing process for your research papers.
Secret ingredient 1: Make notes before you begin the writing process
Because I want you to benefit from this article on a personal level, I am going to give away my secret ingredient for producing a good research paper right at the beginning. The one thing that helps me write literally anything is — cue the drum rolls — making notes.
Yes, making notes is the best way to remember and store all that information, which is definitely going to help you throughout the process of writing your paper. So, please pick up a pen and start making notes for writing your research paper.
Step 1. Choose the right research topic
Although it is important to be passionate and curious about your research article topic, it is not enough. Sometimes the sheer excitement of having an idea may take away your ability to focus on and question the novelty, credibility, and potential impact of your research topic.
On the contrary, the first thing that you should do when you write a journal paper is question the novelty, credibility, and potential impact of your research question.
It is also important to remember that your research, along with the aforementioned points, must be original and relevant: It must benefit and interest the scientific community.
All you have to do is perform a thorough literature search in your research field and have a look at what is currently going on in the field of your topic of interest. This step in academic writing is not as daunting as it may seem and, in fact, is quite beneficial for the following reasons:
- You can determine what is already known about the research topic and the gaps that exist.
- You can determine the credibility and novelty of your research question by comparing it with previously published papers.
- If your research question has already been studied or answered before your first draft, you first save a substantial amount of time by avoiding rejections from journals at a much later stage; and second, you can study and aim to bridge the gaps of previous studies, perhaps, by using a different methodology or a bigger sample size.
So, carefully read as much as you can about what has already been published in your field of research; and when you are doing so, make sure that you make lots of relevant notes as you go along in the process. Remember, your study does not necessarily have to be groundbreaking, but it should definitely extend previous knowledge or refute existing statements on the topic.
Secret ingredient 2: Use a thematic approach while drafting your manuscript
For instance, if you are writing about the association between the level of breast cancer awareness and socioeconomic status, open a new Word or Notes file and create subheadings such as “breast cancer awareness in low- and middle-income countries,” “reasons for lack of awareness,” or “ways to increase awareness.”
Under these subheadings, make notes of the information that you think may be suitable to be included in your paper as you carry out your literature review. Ensure that you make a draft reference list so that you don't miss out on the references.
Step 2: Know your audience
Finding your research topic is not synonymous with communicating it, it is merely a step, albeit an important one; however, there are other crucial steps that follow. One of which is identifying your target audience.
Now that you know what your topic of interest is, you need to ask yourself “Who am I trying to benefit with my research?” A general mistake is assuming that your reader knows everything about your research topic. Drafting a peer reviewed journal article often means that your work may reach a wide and varied audience.
Therefore, it is a good idea to ponder over who you want to reach and why, rather than simply delivering chunks of information, facts, and statistics. Along with considering the above factors, evaluate your reader's level of education, expertise, and scientific field as this may help you design and write your manuscript, tailoring it specifically for your target audience.
Here are a few points that you must consider after you have identified your target audience:
- Shortlist a few target journals: The aims and scope of the journal usually mention their audience. This may help you know your readers and visualize them as you write your manuscript. This will further help you include just the right amount of background and details.
- View your manuscript from the reader's perspective: Try to think about what they might already know or what they would like more details on.
- Include the appropriate amount of jargon: Ensure that your article text is familiar to your target audience and use the correct terminology to make your content more relatable for readers - and journal editors as your paper goes through the peer review process.
- Keep your readers engaged: Write with an aim to fill a knowledge gap or add purpose and value to your reader's intellect. Your manuscript does not necessarily have to be complex, write with a simple yet profound tone, layer (or sub-divide) simple points and build complexity as you go along, rather than stating dry facts.
- Be specific: It is easy to get carried away and forget the essence of your study. Make sure that you stick to your topic and be as specific as you can to your research topic and audience.
Secret ingredient 3: Clearly define your key terms and key concepts
Do not assume that your audience will know your research topic as well as you do, provide compelling details where it is due. This can be tricky. Using the example from “Secret ingredient 2,” you may not need to define breast cancer while writing about breast cancer awareness. However, while talking about the benefits of awareness, such as early presentation of the disease, it is important to explain these benefits, for instance, in terms of superior survival rates.
Step 3: Structure your research paper with care
After determining the topic of your research and your target audience, your overflowing ideas and information need to be structured in a format generally accepted by journals.
Most academic journals conventionally accept original research articles in the following format: Abstract, followed by the Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections, also known as the IMRaD, which is a brilliant way of structuring a research paper outline in a simplified and layered format. In brief, these sections comprise the following information:
In closed-access journals, readers have access to the abstract/summary for them to decide if they wish to purchase the research paper. It's an extremely important representative of the entire manuscript.
All information provided in the abstract must be present in the manuscript, it should include a stand-alone summary of the research, the main findings, the abbreviations should be defined separately in this section, and this section should be clear, decluttered, and concise.
This section should begin with a background of the study topic, i.e., what is already known, moving on to the knowledge gaps that exist, and finally, end with how the present study aims to fill these gaps, or any hypotheses that the authors may have proposed.
This section describes, with compelling details, the procedures that were followed to answer the research question.
The ultimate factor to consider while producing the methods section is reproducibility; this section should be detailed enough for other researchers to reproduce your study and validate your results. It should include ethical information (ethical board approval, informed consent, etc.) and must be written in the past tense.
This section typically presents the findings of the study, with no explanations or interpretations. Here, the findings are simply stated alongside figures or tables mentioned in the text in the correct sequential order. Because you are describing what you found, this section is also written in the past tense.
Discussion and conclusion
This section begins with a summary of your findings and is meant for you to interpret your results, compare them with previously published papers, and elaborate on whether your findings are comparable or contradictory to previous literature.
This section also contains the strengths and limitations of your study, and the latter can be used to suggest future research. End this section with a conclusion paragraph, briefly summarizing and highlighting the main findings and novelty of your study.
Step 4: Cite credible research sources
Now that you know who and what you are writing for, it's time to begin the writing process for your research paper. Another crucial factor that determines the quality of your manuscript is the detailed information within. The introduction and discussion sections, which make a massive portion of the manuscript, majorly rely on external sources of information that have already been published.
Therefore, it is absolutely indispensable to extract and cite these statements from appropriate, credible, recent, and relevant literature to support your claims. Here are a few pointers to consider while choosing the right sources:
Cite academic journals
These are the best sources to refer to while writing your research paper, because most articles submitted to top journals are rejected, resulting in high-quality articles being filtered-out. In particular, peer reviewed articles are of the highest quality because they undergo a rigorous process of editorial review, along with revisions until they are judged to be satisfactory.
But not just any book, ideally, the credibility of a book can be judged by whether it is published by an academic publisher, is written by multiple authors who are experts in the field of interest, and is carefully reviewed by multiple editors. It can be beneficial to review the background of the author(s) and check their previous publications.
Cite an official online source
Although it may be difficult to judge the trustworthiness of web content, a few factors may help determine its accuracy. These include demographic data obtained from government websites (.gov), educational resources (.edu), websites that cite other pertinent and trustworthy sources, content meant for education and not product promotion, unbiased sources, or sources with backlinks that are up to date. It is best to avoid referring to online sources such as blogs and Wikipedia.
Do not cite the following sources
While citing sources, you should steer clear from encyclopedias, citing review articles instead of directly citing the original work, referring to sources that you have not read, citing research papers solely from one country (be extensively diverse), anything that is not backed up by evidence, and material with considerable grammatical errors.
Although these sources are generally most appropriate and valid, it is your job to critically read and carefully evaluate all sources prior to citing them.
Step 5: Pick the correct journal
Selecting the correct journal is one of the most crucial steps toward getting published, as it not only determines the weightage of your research but also of your career as a researcher. The journals in which you choose to publish your research are part of your portfolio; it directly or indirectly determines many factors, such as funding, professional advancement, and future collaborations.
The best thing you can do for your work is to pick a peer-reviewed journal. Not only will your paper be polished to the highest quality for editors, but you will also be able to address certain gaps that you may have missed out.
Besides, it always helps to have another perspective, and what better than to have it from an experienced peer?
A common mistake that researchers tend to make is leave the task of choosing the target journal after they have written their paper.
Now, I understand that due to certain factors, it can be challenging to decide what journal you want to publish in before you start drafting your paper, therefore, the best time to make this decision is while you are working on writing your manuscript. Having a target journal in mind while writing your paper has a great deal of benefits.
- As the most basic benefit, you can know beforehand if your study meets the aims and scope of your desired journal. It will ensure you're not wasting valuable time for editors or yourself.
- While drafting your manuscript, you could keep in mind the requirements of your target journal, such as the word limit for the main article text and abstract, the maximum number of figures or tables that are allowed, or perhaps, the maximum number of references that you may include.
- Also, if you choose to submit to an open-access journal, you have ample amount of time to figure out the funding.
- Another major benefit is that, as mentioned in the previous section, the aims and scope of the journal will give you a fair idea on your target audience and will help you draft your manuscript appropriately.
It is definitely easier to know that your target journal requires the text to be within 3,500 words than spending weeks writing a manuscript that is around, say, 5,000 words, and then spending a substantial amount of time decluttering. Now, while not all journals have very specific requirements, it always helps to short-list a few journals, if not concretely choose one to publish your paper in.
AJE also offers journal recommendation services if you need professional help with finding a target journal.
Secret ingredient 4: Follow the journal guidelines
Perfectly written manuscripts may get rejected by the journal on account of not adhering to their formatting requirements. You can find the author guidelines/instructions on the home page of every journal. Ensure that as you write your manuscript, you follow the journal guidelines such as the word limit, British or American English, formatting references, line spacing, line/page numbering, and so on.
Our ultimate aim is to instill confidence in young researchers like you and help you become independent as you write and communicate your research. With the help of these easy steps and secret ingredients, you are now ready to prepare your flavorful manuscript and serve your research to editors and ultimately the journal readers with a side of impact and a dash of success.
Lubaina Koti, BS
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Primacy of the research question, structure of the paper, writing a research article: advice to beginners.
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Thomas V. Perneger, Patricia M. Hudelson, Writing a research article: advice to beginners, International Journal for Quality in Health Care , Volume 16, Issue 3, June 2004, Pages 191–192, https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzh053
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Writing research papers does not come naturally to most of us. The typical research paper is a highly codified rhetorical form [ 1 , 2 ]. Knowledge of the rules—some explicit, others implied—goes a long way toward writing a paper that will get accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.
A good research paper addresses a specific research question. The research question—or study objective or main research hypothesis—is the central organizing principle of the paper. Whatever relates to the research question belongs in the paper; the rest doesn’t. This is perhaps obvious when the paper reports on a well planned research project. However, in applied domains such as quality improvement, some papers are written based on projects that were undertaken for operational reasons, and not with the primary aim of producing new knowledge. In such cases, authors should define the main research question a posteriori and design the paper around it.
Generally, only one main research question should be addressed in a paper (secondary but related questions are allowed). If a project allows you to explore several distinct research questions, write several papers. For instance, if you measured the impact of obtaining written consent on patient satisfaction at a specialized clinic using a newly developed questionnaire, you may want to write one paper on the questionnaire development and validation, and another on the impact of the intervention. The idea is not to split results into ‘least publishable units’, a practice that is rightly decried, but rather into ‘optimally publishable units’.
What is a good research question? The key attributes are: (i) specificity; (ii) originality or novelty; and (iii) general relevance to a broad scientific community. The research question should be precise and not merely identify a general area of inquiry. It can often (but not always) be expressed in terms of a possible association between X and Y in a population Z, for example ‘we examined whether providing patients about to be discharged from the hospital with written information about their medications would improve their compliance with the treatment 1 month later’. A study does not necessarily have to break completely new ground, but it should extend previous knowledge in a useful way, or alternatively refute existing knowledge. Finally, the question should be of interest to others who work in the same scientific area. The latter requirement is more challenging for those who work in applied science than for basic scientists. While it may safely be assumed that the human genome is the same worldwide, whether the results of a local quality improvement project have wider relevance requires careful consideration and argument.
Once the research question is clearly defined, writing the paper becomes considerably easier. The paper will ask the question, then answer it. The key to successful scientific writing is getting the structure of the paper right. The basic structure of a typical research paper is the sequence of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (sometimes abbreviated as IMRAD). Each section addresses a different objective. The authors state: (i) the problem they intend to address—in other terms, the research question—in the Introduction; (ii) what they did to answer the question in the Methods section; (iii) what they observed in the Results section; and (iv) what they think the results mean in the Discussion.
In turn, each basic section addresses several topics, and may be divided into subsections (Table 1 ). In the Introduction, the authors should explain the rationale and background to the study. What is the research question, and why is it important to ask it? While it is neither necessary nor desirable to provide a full-blown review of the literature as a prelude to the study, it is helpful to situate the study within some larger field of enquiry. The research question should always be spelled out, and not merely left for the reader to guess.
Typical structure of a research paper
The Methods section should provide the readers with sufficient detail about the study methods to be able to reproduce the study if so desired. Thus, this section should be specific, concrete, technical, and fairly detailed. The study setting, the sampling strategy used, instruments, data collection methods, and analysis strategies should be described. In the case of qualitative research studies, it is also useful to tell the reader which research tradition the study utilizes and to link the choice of methodological strategies with the research goals [ 3 ].
The Results section is typically fairly straightforward and factual. All results that relate to the research question should be given in detail, including simple counts and percentages. Resist the temptation to demonstrate analytic ability and the richness of the dataset by providing numerous tables of non-essential results.
The Discussion section allows the most freedom. This is why the Discussion is the most difficult to write, and is often the weakest part of a paper. Structured Discussion sections have been proposed by some journal editors [ 4 ]. While strict adherence to such rules may not be necessary, following a plan such as that proposed in Table 1 may help the novice writer stay on track.
References should be used wisely. Key assertions should be referenced, as well as the methods and instruments used. However, unless the paper is a comprehensive review of a topic, there is no need to be exhaustive. Also, references to unpublished work, to documents in the grey literature (technical reports), or to any source that the reader will have difficulty finding or understanding should be avoided.
Having the structure of the paper in place is a good start. However, there are many details that have to be attended to while writing. An obvious recommendation is to read, and follow, the instructions to authors published by the journal (typically found on the journal’s website). Another concerns non-native writers of English: do have a native speaker edit the manuscript. A paper usually goes through several drafts before it is submitted. When revising a paper, it is useful to keep an eye out for the most common mistakes (Table 2 ). If you avoid all those, your paper should be in good shape.
Common mistakes seen in manuscripts submitted to this journal
Huth EJ . How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences , 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1990 .
Browner WS . Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research . Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999 .
Devers KJ , Frankel RM. Getting qualitative research published. Educ Health 2001 ; 14 : 109 –117.
Docherty M , Smith R. The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. Br Med J 1999 ; 318 : 1224 –1225.
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How to Write and Publish a Research Paper in 7 Steps
What comes next after you're done with your research? Publishing the results in a journal of course! We tell you how to present your work in the best way possible.
This post is part of a series, which serves to provide hands-on information and resources for authors and editors.
Things have gotten busy in scholarly publishing: These days, a new article gets published in the 50,000 most important peer-reviewed journals every few seconds, while each one takes on average 40 minutes to read. Hundreds of thousands of papers reach the desks of editors and reviewers worldwide each year and 50% of all submissions end up rejected at some stage.
In a nutshell: there is a lot of competition, and the people who decide upon the fate of your manuscript are short on time and overworked. But there are ways to make their lives a little easier and improve your own chances of getting your work published!
Well, it may seem obvious, but before submitting an academic paper, always make sure that it is an excellent reflection of the research you have done and that you present it in the most professional way possible. Incomplete or poorly presented manuscripts can create a great deal of frustration and annoyance for editors who probably won’t even bother wasting the time of the reviewers!
This post will discuss 7 steps to the successful publication of your research paper:
- Check whether your research is publication-ready
- Choose an article type
- Choose a journal
- Construct your paper
- Decide the order of authors
- Check and double-check
- Submit your paper
1. Check Whether Your Research Is Publication-Ready
Should you publish your research at all?
If your work holds academic value – of course – a well-written scholarly article could open doors to your research community. However, if you are not yet sure, whether your research is ready for publication, here are some key questions to ask yourself depending on your field of expertise:
- Have you done or found something new and interesting? Something unique?
- Is the work directly related to a current hot topic?
- Have you checked the latest results or research in the field?
- Have you provided solutions to any difficult problems?
- Have the findings been verified?
- Have the appropriate controls been performed if required?
- Are your findings comprehensive?
If the answers to all relevant questions are “yes”, you need to prepare a good, strong manuscript. Remember, a research paper is only useful if it is clearly understood, reproducible and if it is read and used .
2. Choose An Article Type
The first step is to determine which type of paper is most appropriate for your work and what you want to achieve. The following list contains the most important, usually peer-reviewed article types in the natural sciences:
Full original research papers disseminate completed research findings. On average this type of paper is 8-10 pages long, contains five figures, and 25-30 references. Full original research papers are an important part of the process when developing your career.
Review papers present a critical synthesis of a specific research topic. These papers are usually much longer than original papers and will contain numerous references. More often than not, they will be commissioned by journal editors. Reviews present an excellent way to solidify your research career.
Letters, Rapid or Short Communications are often published for the quick and early communication of significant and original advances. They are much shorter than full articles and usually limited in length by the journal. Journals specifically dedicated to short communications or letters are also published in some fields. In these the authors can present short preliminary findings before developing a full-length paper.
3. Choose a Journal
Are you looking for the right place to publish your paper? Find out here whether a De Gruyter journal might be the right fit.
Submit to journals that you already read, that you have a good feel for. If you do so, you will have a better appreciation of both its culture and the requirements of the editors and reviewers.
Other factors to consider are:
- The specific subject area
- The aims and scope of the journal
- The type of manuscript you have written
- The significance of your work
- The reputation of the journal
- The reputation of the editors within the community
- The editorial/review and production speeds of the journal
- The community served by the journal
- The coverage and distribution
- The accessibility ( open access vs. closed access)
4. Construct Your Paper
Each element of a paper has its purpose, so you should make these sections easy to index and search.
Don’t forget that requirements can differ highly per publication, so always make sure to apply a journal’s specific instructions – or guide – for authors to your manuscript, even to the first draft (text layout, paper citation, nomenclature, figures and table, etc.) It will save you time, and the editor’s.
Also, even in these days of Internet-based publishing, space is still at a premium, so be as concise as possible. As a good journalist would say: “Never use three words when one will do!”
Let’s look at the typical structure of a full research paper, but bear in mind certain subject disciplines may have their own specific requirements so check the instructions for authors on the journal’s home page.
4.1 The Title
It’s important to use the title to tell the reader what your paper is all about! You want to attract their attention, a bit like a newspaper headline does. Be specific and to the point. Keep it informative and concise, and avoid jargon and abbreviations (unless they are universally recognized like DNA, for example).
4.2 The Abstract
This could be termed as the “advertisement” for your article. Make it interesting and easily understood without the reader having to read the whole article. Be accurate and specific, and keep it as brief and concise as possible. Some journals (particularly in the medical fields) will ask you to structure the abstract in distinct, labeled sections, which makes it even more accessible.
A clear abstract will influence whether or not your work is considered and whether an editor should invest more time on it or send it for review.
Keywords are used by abstracting and indexing services, such as PubMed and Web of Science. They are the labels of your manuscript, which make it “searchable” online by other researchers.
Include words or phrases (usually 4-8) that are closely related to your topic but not “too niche” for anyone to find them. Make sure to only use established abbreviations. Think about what scientific terms and its variations your potential readers are likely to use and search for. You can also do a test run of your selected keywords in one of the common academic search engines. Do similar articles to your own appear? Yes? Then that’s a good sign.
This first part of the main text should introduce the problem, as well as any existing solutions you are aware of and the main limitations. Also, state what you hope to achieve with your research.
Do not confuse the introduction with the results, discussion or conclusion.
Every research article should include a detailed Methods section (also referred to as “Materials and Methods”) to provide the reader with enough information to be able to judge whether the study is valid and reproducible.
Include detailed information so that a knowledgeable reader can reproduce the experiment. However, use references and supplementary materials to indicate previously published procedures.
In this section, you will present the essential or primary results of your study. To display them in a comprehensible way, you should use subheadings as well as illustrations such as figures, graphs, tables and photos, as appropriate.
Here you should tell your readers what the results mean .
Do state how the results relate to the study’s aims and hypotheses and how the findings relate to those of other studies. Explain all possible interpretations of your findings and the study’s limitations.
Do not make “grand statements” that are not supported by the data. Also, do not introduce any new results or terms. Moreover, do not ignore work that conflicts or disagrees with your findings. Instead …
Be brave! Address conflicting study results and convince the reader you are the one who is correct.
Your conclusion isn’t just a summary of what you’ve already written. It should take your paper one step further and answer any unresolved questions.
Sum up what you have shown in your study and indicate possible applications and extensions. The main question your conclusion should answer is: What do my results mean for the research field and my community?
4.9 Acknowledgments and Ethical Statements
It is extremely important to acknowledge anyone who has helped you with your paper, including researchers who supplied materials or reagents (e.g. vectors or antibodies); and anyone who helped with the writing or English, or offered critical comments about the content.
Learn more about academic integrity in our blog post “Scholarly Publication Ethics: 4 Common Mistakes You Want To Avoid” .
Remember to state why people have been acknowledged and ask their permission . Ensure that you acknowledge sources of funding, including any grant or reference numbers.
Furthermore, if you have worked with animals or humans, you need to include information about the ethical approval of your study and, if applicable, whether informed consent was given. Also, state whether you have any competing interests regarding the study (e.g. because of financial or personal relationships.)
The end is in sight, but don’t relax just yet!
De facto, there are often more mistakes in the references than in any other part of the manuscript. It is also one of the most annoying and time-consuming problems for editors.
Remember to cite the main scientific publications on which your work is based. But do not inflate the manuscript with too many references. Avoid excessive – and especially unnecessary – self-citations. Also, avoid excessive citations of publications from the same institute or region.
5. Decide the Order of Authors
In the sciences, the most common way to order the names of the authors is by relative contribution.
Generally, the first author conducts and/or supervises the data analysis and the proper presentation and interpretation of the results. They put the paper together and usually submit the paper to the journal.
Co-authors make intellectual contributions to the data analysis and contribute to data interpretation. They review each paper draft. All of them must be able to present the paper and its results, as well as to defend the implications and discuss study limitations.
Do not leave out authors who should be included or add “gift authors”, i.e. authors who did not contribute significantly.
6. Check and Double-Check
As a final step before submission, ask colleagues to read your work and be constructively critical .
Make sure that the paper is appropriate for the journal – take a last look at their aims and scope. Check if all of the requirements in the instructions for authors are met.
Ensure that the cited literature is balanced. Are the aims, purpose and significance of the results clear?
Conduct a final check for language, either by a native English speaker or an editing service.
7. Submit Your Paper
When you and your co-authors have double-, triple-, quadruple-checked the manuscript: submit it via e-mail or online submission system. Along with your manuscript, submit a cover letter, which highlights the reasons why your paper would appeal to the journal and which ensures that you have received approval of all authors for submission.
It is up to the editors and the peer-reviewers now to provide you with their (ideally constructive and helpful) comments and feedback. Time to take a breather!
If the paper gets rejected, do not despair – it happens to literally everybody. If the journal suggests major or minor revisions, take the chance to provide a thorough response and make improvements as you see fit. If the paper gets accepted, congrats!
It’s now time to get writing and share your hard work – good luck!
If you are interested, check out this related blog post
[Title Image by Nick Morrison via Unsplash]
David Sleeman worked as Senior Journals Manager in the field of Physical Sciences at De Gruyter.
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Anatomy of a Scholarly Article
TIP: When possible, keep your research question(s) in mind when reading scholarly articles. It will help you to focus your reading.
Title : Generally are straightforward and describe what the article is about. Titles often include relevant key words.
Abstract : A summary of the author(s)'s research findings and tells what to expect when you read the full article. It is often a good idea to read the abstract first, in order to determine if you should even bother reading the whole article.
Discussion and Conclusion : Read these after the Abstract (even though they come at the end of the article). These sections can help you see if this article will meet your research needs. If you don’t think that it will, set it aside.
Introduction : Describes the topic or problem researched. The authors will present the thesis of their argument or the goal of their research.
Literature Review : May be included in the introduction or as its own separate section. Here you see where the author(s) enter the conversation on this topic. That is to say, what related research has come before, and how do they hope to advance the discussion with their current research?
Methods : This section explains how the study worked. In this section, you often learn who and how many participated in the study and what they were asked to do. You will need to think critically about the methods and whether or not they make sense given the research question.
Results : Here you will often find numbers and tables. If you aren't an expert at statistics this section may be difficult to grasp. However you should attempt to understand if the results seem reasonable given the methods.
Works Cited (also be called References or Bibliography ): This section comprises the author(s)’s sources. Always be sure to scroll through them. Good research usually cites many different kinds of sources (books, journal articles, etc.). As you read the Works Cited page, be sure to look for sources that look like they will help you to answer your own research question.
Adapted from http://library.hunter.cuny.edu/research-toolkit/how-do-i-read-stuff/anatomy-of-a-scholarly-article
A research journal is a periodical that contains articles written by experts in a particular field of study who report the results of research in that field. The articles are intended to be read by other experts or students of the field, and they are typically much more sophisticated and advanced than the articles found in general magazines. This guide offers some tips to help distinguish scholarly journals from other periodicals.
CHARACTERISTICS OF RESEARCH JOURNALS
PURPOSE : Research journals communicate the results of research in the field of study covered by the journal. Research articles reflect a systematic and thorough study of a single topic, often involving experiments or surveys. Research journals may also publish review articles and book reviews that summarize the current state of knowledge on a topic.
APPEARANCE : Research journals lack the slick advertising, classified ads, coupons, etc., found in popular magazines. Articles are often printed one column to a page, as in books, and there are often graphs, tables, or charts referring to specific points in the articles.
AUTHORITY : Research articles are written by the person(s) who did the research being reported. When more than two authors are listed for a single article, the first author listed is often the primary researcher who coordinated or supervised the work done by the other authors. The most highly‑regarded scholarly journals are typically those sponsored by professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association or the American Chemical Society.
VALIDITY AND RELIABILITY : Articles submitted to research journals are evaluated by an editorial board and other experts before they are accepted for publication. This evaluation, called peer review, is designed to ensure that the articles published are based on solid research that meets the normal standards of the field of study covered by the journal. Professors sometimes use the term "refereed" to describe peer-reviewed journals.
WRITING STYLE : Articles in research journals usually contain an advanced vocabulary, since the authors use the technical language or jargon of their field of study. The authors assume that the reader already possesses a basic understanding of the field of study.
REFERENCES : The authors of research articles always indicate the sources of their information. These references are usually listed at the end of an article, but they may appear in the form of footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography.
PERIODICALS THAT ARE NOT RESEARCH JOURNALS
POPULAR MAGAZINES : These are periodicals that one typically finds at grocery stores, airport newsstands, or bookstores at a shopping mall. Popular magazines are designed to appeal to a broad audience, and they usually contain relatively brief articles written in a readable, non‑technical language.
Examples include: Car and Driver , Cosmopolitan , Esquire , Essence , Gourmet , Life , People Weekly , Readers' Digest , Rolling Stone , Sports Illustrated , Vanity Fair , and Vogue .
NEWS MAGAZINES : These periodicals, which are usually issued weekly, provide information on topics of current interest, but their articles seldom have the depth or authority of scholarly articles.
Examples include: Newsweek , Time , U.S. News and World Report .
OPINION MAGAZINES : These periodicals contain articles aimed at an educated audience interested in keeping up with current events or ideas, especially those pertaining to topical issues. Very often their articles are written from a particular political, economic, or social point of view.
Examples include: Catholic World , Christianity Today , Commentary , Ms. , The Militant , Mother Jones , The Nation , National Review , The New Republic , The Progressive , and World Marxist Review .
TRADE MAGAZINES : People who need to keep up with developments in a particular industry or occupation read these magazines. Many trade magazines publish one or more special issues each year that focus on industry statistics, directory lists, or new product announcements.
Examples include: Beverage World , Progressive Grocer , Quick Frozen Foods International , Rubber World , Sales and Marketing Management , Skiing Trade News , and Stores .
- Literature Review Guide General information on how to organize and write a literature review.
- The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It Contains two sets of questions to help students review articles, and to review their own literature reviews.
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How to Write a Journal Article
Writing and publishing journal articles is essential if you wish to pursue an academic career. Today, academic careers are publication-dependent; developing a high-quality publication record is a vital part of developing your academic credentials, your visibility among your discipline peers and your viability as a researcher.
This article will pinpoint the features of a journal article that are normally found in the humanities and social sciences. It will also examine some planning and writing strategies that will enable you to produce an article that is publication-ready. For those of you who prefer to learn by watching videos, we've prepared one on how to write your first journal article and you can watch it on Capstone Editing's YouTube channel .
The ‘preamble’ elements of a journal article
Title and subtitle.
The title should indicate the article’s topic or theme to readers, and a subtitle can extend or clarify the title. Many titles follow the format ‘Suggestive, Creative Title: Descriptive Subtitle’ (Hayot 2014, ch. 18); for example:
Chadwick, AM 2012, ‘Routine Magic, Mundane Ritual: Towards a Unified Notion of Depositional Practice’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology , vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 283–315.
In this type of title, the more suggestive first part of the title can indicate the author’s theoretical approach and something about how traditional (or not) this approach is. It is important that the subtitle gives readers some indication of the article’s objective or major theme.
Other titles may use a format that includes an abstract and a concrete noun:
Hansen, HL 2011, ‘ Multiperspectivism in the Novels of the Spanish Civil War’, Orbis Litterarum, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 148–166.
This more straightforward approach contains enough information through the words chosen (‘multiperspectivism’, ‘novels’, ‘Spanish Civil War’) so that readers can immediately identify if the article is pertinent to them, in both content and theoretical approach.
Along with a title that grabs readers’ attention and indicates the article’s theme or objective, a well-written abstract is essential. The abstract is what readers and other researchers will look at first to determine if your article is worth reading. It is worth spending time on a succinct, ‘punchy’ and relevant abstract that will clarify exactly what you are arguing or proposing. Abstract writing is a particular skill that requires practice and complete familiarity with your argument and article content. You will most likely need to review and rewrite your abstract after you have finished writing the article.
Most journals will ask you to select five to seven keywords that can be used in search engines. These are the words that students, researchers and other readers will use to search for information over the internet through Google or similar resources, library websites or the journal’s own website.
You should provide a brief acknowledgement of any financial, academic or other support you have received in relation to producing your article. You can also thank the peer reviewers here (once your article has been accepted for publication).
Writing the article
Writing a journal article is not unlike writing an essay or thesis chapter. The same basic rules of academic writing apply. By planning what and how you will write, and how you will incorporate data/evidence, your article is more likely to be cohesive, well organised and well written.
Even if you are developing an article from an existing essay or thesis chapter, spending some time on planning is essential. Some authors like to begin with a ‘mind map’. A mind map contains a central theme, argument or premise. The writer will then create ‘branches’ extending from the central theme. These may be topics or subthemes that are included in the final article. If they are substantial, they may constitute a new article. Mind maps operate like brainstorming sessions, in which you allow a free flow of ideas from your mind, through your pen or keyboard to paper or screen. These ideas can then be organised into logical patterns of related subthemes and you can then begin assembling evidence (research, references and quotations) to support the arguments under each theme.
Figure 1: A simple mind map for essay writing
A plan can be as simple as a list of subheadings with notes and supporting information, from which you will construct and write the paragraphs of your article. Using the minor themes from your thesis can also enable you to develop several articles on topics you were unable to develop more fully in the thesis.
Once you have developed a detailed plan for your article, the writing can begin. A journal article is normally written for an already informed audience. While the rules of clear writing and exposition still apply, you can safely assume that people who read your article in a journal are familiar with the terminology, methodologies and theoretical positions of your discipline. This means that you can ‘jump right in’ to a topic, stating your position or argument immediately and strongly.
This guide assumes you have already completed your research and thus amassed a large number of notes, thoughts and more or less developed ideas, along with detailed and appropriate citations to support your contentions, relevant and appropriate quotations, data or other forms of evidence that you have collected, images you may wish to include, and any other material relevant to your article. This is the raw material you will, using your plan, write up into a publishable journal article. Now we will look at a few important aspects of writing that you should consider.
Grammar, spelling and punctuation
For a guideline to standard and acceptable grammar, you may like to consult resources such as the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers , an Australian government publication that covers aspects of writing, editing and publishing in Australia. It is very important that you review whether the journal you are submitting to uses American or British spelling and punctuation conventions, as these can differ significantly. Reviewing and editing your own work to ensure grammatical consistency prior to submission is essential: this should be considered part of your writing practice and approached accordingly. Be on the lookout for instances of mixed tenses (especially the present and past tenses), clumsy sentences with too many clauses, the incorrect use of common punctuation marks such as apostrophes and commas, or the overuse of capitalisation (avoid capitalising the names of theories and job titles in particular). Ensure your spelling is consistent by using the ‘Find’ tab to search for easily misspelt words, especially regarding British/American conventions. Vary your sentence lengths and structure to maintain your readers’ interest. Some academic work falls into the trap of using sentences that are too long or complicated, or using a less-familiar or longer word when a simple one will do.
Tone and register
Tone and register refer to the style and ‘voice’ of your writing. In most academic contexts, your writing style should err on the formal side (unless you are submitting to a journal that promotes innovative or creative approaches to writing). Avoid contractions, colloquial, gender-specific (unless relevant), racist or offensive language. However, within the constraints of formal academic language, it is important that you develop your own style and ‘voice’. Read the authors that you admire the most, both for their research and for their writing. Note what you like about their writing style. While academic writing needs to communicate clearly, it can also be vibrant and elegant. In addition, it should be compelling, understandable and effective. Remember that articles are reader-centred (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 15), so your objective should always be to engage the reader with your language. As stated above, most readers of your article will be familiar with your discipline; nevertheless, it is better to avoid overloading readers with discipline-specific jargon.
The major elements of an article
The introduction’s importance may seem obvious, but all writers can benefit from a reminder of the importance and centrality of good introductions to an academic journal article. The introduction does just that: introduces your topic, theme or research question, outlines your general theoretical or methodological approach and places your article within the context of a larger academic debate or field. Here you can expand on your title and subtitle, making your contentions explicit and clarifying the data or evidence you have used. Some humanities or social science articles will include a brief literature review in the introduction; a social science writer may also include an explicit research aim or objective (this is less common in the humanities). As with the abstract, it is sometimes more beneficial to write the introduction after you have written the main body.
The main body is where you present, in appropriate detail, your main arguments, themes and contentions, all thoroughly grounded in evidence, close analysis and clear, compelling writing.
With both the humanities and social sciences, the paragraph is an article’s main organising principle. Each paragraph should contain one main theme and be of at least four or five sentences, and a logical flow should exist between and among your paragraphs. Humanities articles will often not use the more obvious subheadings common to the social sciences, such as ‘Data Collection’, ‘Analysis’ or ‘Results’. While humanities articles are less subject to these subheading conventions, the effective use of subheadings can clarify and identify your ideas and enable readers to navigate easily through the text (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 19). While an article should not contain the explicit signposting expected in undergraduate essays or even graduate research theses, it is still useful to use transitions and opening sentences to indicate what each paragraph’s main theme is, and how it fits into the overarching theme of your article.
By focusing on one main original idea or contention in your article and making explicit statements about your article’s contribution to the existing scholarship, you will grab the attention of journal publishers, and hopefully peer reviewers and subsequent readers. If you have information that is not directly related to your main argument but is still important, use footnotes or endnotes (depending on the journal’s own style). Use direct quotations strategically and judiciously and translate foreign-language quotations if your article is written for an English-language journal.
The conclusion is not just a summary of what has preceded it. A (good) conclusion will complete or make whole your article’s arguments and analysis by referring to what you have written. It will include a summing up of your main contention, but it will also offer and clarify to your reader a new way of looking at the theme or problem you have been discussing. As Eric Hayot notes, ‘a good ending is also a beginning’ (Hayot 2014, p. 107): good endings open new pathways for both readers and writers of academic work. The conclusion can be the most difficult section of an article to write; as such, it is likely to consume relatively more of your time than even the introduction. It is important to finish strongly; however, you should resist the temptation to make unfounded, sweeping or radical claims in your conclusion.
References and citations
It goes without saying that referencing and citations should be done thoroughly and correctly. If you are undertaking or have completed your thesis, you will be familiar with when to use citations and how to construct your reference list/bibliography. In general, it is best to be citation-rich for journal articles. Each journal will use a specific referencing style—either one of the main styles in common use (APA, Chicago, MLA) or a modified version of their own. Refer to the journal author guidelines for more information on this issue.
It is vital that you follow the style and referencing requirements for your chosen journal to the letter.
Remember that many journals will require you to obtain permissions for any images you may wish to use, including payment of fees to whichever institution holds the copyright.
- Australian Government Printing Service 2002, Style Manual for Editors, Writers and Printers , 6th edn, Snooks & Co.
- Hayot, E 2014, Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities , Columbia University Press, New York.
- Soule, DPJ, Whiteley, L & McIntosh, S (eds) 2007, Writing for Scholarly Journals: Publishing in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences , eSharp, http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_41223_en.pdf
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How to write a research article to submit for publication
Pharmacists and healthcare professionals who are undertaking research should have an understanding of how to produce a research article for publication, and be aware of the important considerations relating to submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
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Undertaking and performing scientific, clinical and practice-based research is only the beginning of the scholarship of discovery  . For the full impact of any research to be achieved and to have an effect on the wider research and scientific community, it must be published in an outlet accessible to relevant professionals  .
Scientific research is often published in peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is defined as the unbiased, independent, critical assessment of scholarly or research manuscripts submitted to journals by experts or opinion leaders  . The process and requirements of reviewers has been covered recently  . On account of this rigorous process, peer-reviewed scientific journals are considered the primary source of new information that impacts and advances clinical decision-making and practice  ,  .
The development of a research article can be helpful for the promotion of scientific thinking  ,  and the advancement of effective writing skills, allowing the authors to participate in broader scientific discussions that lie beyond their scope of practice or discipline  .
This article aims to provide pharmacists and healthcare professionals who are undertaking research with an understanding of how to produce a research article for publication, as well as points to consider before submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
Importance of the research question
This article will not go into detail about forming suitable research questions, however, in principle, a good research question will be specific, novel and of relevance to the scientific community (e.g. pharmacy – pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, pharmacy technicians and related healthcare professionals). Hulley et al . suggest using the FINER criteria (see ‘Figure 1: FINER criteria for a good research question’) to aid the development of a good research question  .
Figure 1: FINER criteria for a good research question
Source: Hulley S, Cummings S, Browner W et al . 
The FINER criteria highlight useful points that may generally increase the chances of developing a successful research project. A good research question should specify the population of interest, be of interest to the scientific community and potentially to the public, have clinical relevance and further current knowledge in the field.
Having a clear research question that is of interest to those working in the same field will help in the preparation of an article because it can be used as the central organising principle – all of the content included and discussed should focus on answering this question.
Preparing a first draft
Before writing the article, it is useful to highlight several journals that you could submit the final article to. It also helps to familiarise yourself with these journals’ styles, article structures and formatting instructions before starting to write. Many journals also have criteria that research articles should be able to satisfy. For example, all research article submissions to Clinical Pharmacist must demonstrate innovative or novel results that are sustainable, reproducible and transferable  .
Having researched potential target journals, you should have a clear idea about your target audience, enabling you to pitch the level of the article appropriately  (see ‘Box 1: Top tips to prepare for writing’).
Box 1: Top tips to prepare for writing
- Know the focus of the paper – identify two or three important findings and make these the central theme of the article;
- Gather important data, perform any analyses and make rough data plots and tables beforehand. These can then be refined for inclusion or submitted as supplementary information if needed;
- Organise your results to flow in a logical sequence;
- Know the structure and requirements of your target journals (check websites and author guidelines, as well as published articles);
- Think about the style of the piece and look to pitch the article at the level of the intended audience;
- Clarity should be your guiding principle.
Structuring a research article
Most research articles follow a similar structure and format that includes an abstract, introduction, methods, results and discussion, as well as a summary of the key points discussed in the article.
One approach is to start with the methods section, which can be derived from the protocol and any pilot phase. Many of the figures and tables can be constructed in advance, which will help with writing the results section. The questions addressed by the study can be used alongside the results to formulate the introduction, which can guide how the discussion is written  .
Clinical Pharmacist , like other peer-reviewed journals, has specific author guidelines and formatting instructions to help authors prepare their articles  ,  ,  . The following sections will discuss the required sections and important considerations for authors when writing.
Title, abstract and keywords
The title, abstract and keywords are essential to the successful communication of research. Most electronic search engines, databases (e.g. PubMed/MEDLINE) and journal websites extract words from them to determine whether your article will be displayed to interested readers  ,  ,  ,  , enabling accurate dissemination and leading to future citations.
In addition, the title and abstract are usually freely available online. If an article is not published in an ‘open access’ format, (i.e. it is free and immediately available online and access is combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment)  , or if the reader does not have a subscription to the journal, they will have to decide on whether to pay to access the full article to continue reading. Therefore, it is imperative that they are informative and accurate.
The title should accurately reflect the research, identify the main issue and begin with the subject matter, while being both simple and enticing enough to attract the audience  . Authors should avoid using ‘a study of’, ‘investigations into’ and ‘observations on’ in titles. It is also worth remembering that abstracting and indexing services, such as MEDLINE, require accurate titles, because they extract keywords from them for cross-referencing  .
Many journals require the abstract to be structured in the same way as the main headings of the paper (e.g. introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion) and to be around 150–300 words in length  . In general, references should not be cited in the abstract.
The introduction should provide the background and context to the study. Two or three paragraphs can be dedicated to the discussion of any previous work and identification of gaps in current knowledge. The rest of the introduction should then outline what this piece of work aims to address and why this is important, before stating the objectives of the study and the research question  .
The methods section should provide the reader with enough detail for them to be able to reproduce the study if desired  . The context and setting of the study should be described and the study design specified. The section should further describe the population (including the inclusion and exclusion criteria), sampling strategy and the interventions performed. The main study variables should be identified and the data collection procedures described  .
Authors should provide specific, technical and detailed information in this section. Several checklists and guidelines are available for the reporting of specific types of studies:
- CONSORT is used for developing and reporting a randomised controlled trial  ;
- The STARD checklist can help with designing a diagnostic accuracy study  ;
- The PRISMA checklist can be used when performing a metaâ€analyses or systematic review, but can also help with compiling an introduction  .
For the reporting of qualitative research studies, authors should explain which research tradition the study utilises and link the choice of methodological strategies with the research goals  .
For studies describing the development of new initiatives or clinical services, authors should describe the situation before the initiative began, the establishment of priorities, formulation of objectives and strategies, mobilisation of resources, and processes used in the methods section  .
The final portion of the methods section will include the statistical methods used to analyse the data  . The statistical methods employed should be described with enough detail to enable a knowledgeable reader with access to the original data to be able to judge its appropriateness for the study and verify the results  . For survey-based studies and information on sampling frame, size and statistical powers, see ‘When to use a survey in pharmacy practice research’  .
Findings should be quantified and presented with appropriate indicators of measurement error or uncertainty (e.g. confidence intervals). Authors should avoid relying solely on statistical hypothesis testing, such as P values, because these fail to convey important information about effect size and precision of estimates  . Statistical terms, abbreviations and most symbols should be defined, and the statistical software package and versions used should be specified. Authors should also take care to distinguish prespecified from exploratory analyses, including subgroup analyses  .
The results section should be straightforward and factual and all of the results that relate to the research question should be provided, with detail including simple counts and percentages  . Data collection and recruitment should be commented on and the participants described. Secondary findings and the results of subgroup analyses can also be presented  .
Figures, schemes and tables
To present data and results of the research study, figures, schemes and tables can be used. They should include significant digits, error bars and levels of statistical significance.
Tables should be presented with a summary title, followed by caption, a sentence or two that describes the content and impact of the data included in the table. All captions should provide enough detail so that the table or figure can be interpreted and understood as stand-alone material, separate from the article.
Figures should also be presented with a summary title, a caption that describes the significant result or interpretation that can be made from the figure, the number of repetitions within the experiment, as well as what the data point actually represents. All figures and tables should be cited in the manuscript text  .
When compiling tables and figures, important statistics, such as the number of samples (n), the index of dispersion (standard deviation [SD], standard error of the mean [SEM]), and the index of central tendency (mean, median or mode), must be stated. The statistical analysis performed should also be included and specific statistical data should be indicated (e.g. P values)  .
Discussion and conclusions
The discussion section should state the main findings of the study. The main results should be compared with reference to previous research and current knowledge, and where this has been extended it should be fully described  ,  ,  . For clinical studies, relevant discussion of the implications the results may have on policy should be included  . It is important to include an analysis of the strengths and limitations of the study and offer perspectives for future work  . Excessive presentation of data and results without any discussion should be avoided and it is not necessary to cite a published work for each argument presented. Any conclusions should include the major findings, followed by a brief discussion of future perspectives and the application of this work to other disciplines  .
The list of references should be appropriate; important statements presented as facts should be referenced, as well as the methods and instruments used. Reference lists for research articles, however, unlike comprehensive reviews of a topic, do not necessarily have to be exhaustive. References to unpublished work, to documents in the grey literature (technical reports), or to any source that the reader will have difficulty finding or understanding should be avoided  . Most journals have reference limits and specific formatting requirements, so it is important to check the journal’s author guidelines  ,  ,  ,  ,  .
Authorship and acknowledgements
Determining contributors who qualify as authors and those who should be acknowledged can be difficult. Clinical Pharmacist follows guidance from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, which recommends that authorship be based on the following four criteria:
- Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- 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  .
Therefore, only individuals who meet all four criteria should be identified as authors  . The contribution of individuals who do not meet all four criteria should instead be included in the acknowledgements.
In addition, a statement that recognises any funding sources for the work should be added to the acknowledgements. This statement should adhere to the guidelines provided by the funding institution  .
Supplementary and supporting information
A key principle of research publication is that others should be able to replicate and build upon an author’s published claims. Therefore, submitted manuscripts should contain the necessary detail about the study and analytical design, and the data must be available for editors and peer-reviewers to allow full evaluation to take place. This is now commonplace and is seen as best practice. Author guidelines now include sections related to misconduct and falsification of data  . By participating in self-archiving practices and providing full data sets, authors can play their part in transparency.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society website hosts a database to help share data from research studies. The map of evidence collates existing evidence and ongoing initiatives that can ultimately inform policy and practice relating to pharmacy; enables the sharing and showcasing of good pharmacy practice and innovation; and aims to increase the knowledge exchange and learning in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences  .
Revising your article prior to submission
Once a draft research article has been prepared, it should be shared among all of the co-authors for review and comments. A full revision of the draft should then take place to correct grammar and check flow and logic before journal submission. All authors will have to agree on the authenticity of the data and presentation before formal submission can take place  (see ‘Box 2: Common mistakes and reasons why research articles are rejected for publication’).
Box 2: Common mistakes and reasons why research articles are rejected for publication
- Lack of novelty and importance of the research question;
- Poor study design;
- Methods not accurately and adequately described;
- Results poorly reported, along with little analysis of data;
- Lack of statistical analysis;
- Not acknowledging the study’s limitations;
- Providing unsupported conclusions or overstating the results of the study;
- Poor writing;
- Not following the journal’s style and formatting guidance;
- Submitting a manuscript that is incomplete or outside of the aims and scope.
Selecting a journal and submitting your manuscript
It is important to select a journal for submission wisely because this choice can determine the impact and dissemination of your work  . Impact factor (a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year), the scope and readership of a title may also influence your choice.
Furthermore, approval and adequate disclosures must be obtained from all co-authors. A conflict of interests form is also completed as part of the submissions process (normally completed by the lead author on behalf of all authors).
Many journals now request that a cover letter is also submitted to the editor, putting the study in context and explaining why the research is of importance to their audience and why it should be considered for publication in their journal.
Once this is all completed, the article can be formally submitted (usually via email or an online submission system). Figure 2 provides a sample process for a manuscript once submitted to a journal for consideration for publication.
Figure 2: Sample process for a submitted manuscript
Source: The Pharmaceutical Journal
All journals follow a similar process for article submissions, whether they use a formal online submissions system or simply email. Clinical Pharmacist uses a process similar to this and it is useful for authors to be aware of how their submission may progress once submitted to a journal for publication.
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HOW TO WRITE A SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE
Barbara j. hoogenboom.
1 Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Robert C. Manske
2 University of Wichita, Wichita, KS, USA
Successful production of a written product for submission to a peer‐reviewed scientific journal requires substantial effort. Such an effort can be maximized by following a few simple suggestions when composing/creating the product for submission. By following some suggested guidelines and avoiding common errors, the process can be streamlined and success realized for even beginning/novice authors as they negotiate the publication process. The purpose of this invited commentary is to offer practical suggestions for achieving success when writing and submitting manuscripts to The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and other professional journals.
“The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking” Albert Einstein
Conducting scientific and clinical research is only the beginning of the scholarship of discovery. In order for the results of research to be accessible to other professionals and have a potential effect on the greater scientific community, it must be written and published. Most clinical and scientific discovery is published in peer‐reviewed journals, which are those that utilize a process by which an author's peers, or experts in the content area, evaluate the manuscript. Following this review the manuscript is recommended for publication, revision or rejection. It is the rigor of this review process that makes scientific journals the primary source of new information that impacts clinical decision‐making and practice. 1 , 2
The task of writing a scientific paper and submitting it to a journal for publication is a time‐consuming and often daunting task. 3 , 4 Barriers to effective writing include lack of experience, poor writing habits, writing anxiety, unfamiliarity with the requirements of scholarly writing, lack of confidence in writing ability, fear of failure, and resistance to feedback. 5 However, the very process of writing can be a helpful tool for promoting the process of scientific thinking, 6 , 7 and effective writing skills allow professionals to participate in broader scientific conversations. Furthermore, peer review manuscript publication systems requiring these technical writing skills can be developed and improved with practice. 8 Having an understanding of the process and structure used to produce a peer‐reviewed publication will surely improve the likelihood that a submitted manuscript will result in a successful publication.
Clear communication of the findings of research is essential to the growth and development of science 3 and professional practice. The culmination of the publication process provides not only satisfaction for the researcher and protection of intellectual property, but also the important function of dissemination of research results, new ideas, and alternate thought; which ultimately facilitates scholarly discourse. In short, publication of scientific papers is one way to advance evidence‐based practice in many disciplines, including sports physical therapy. Failure to publish important findings significantly diminishes the potential impact that those findings may have on clinical practice. 9
BASICS OF MANUSCRIPT PREPARATION & GENERAL WRITING TIPS
To begin it might be interesting to learn why reviewers accept manuscripts! Reviewers consider the following five criteria to be the most important in decisions about whether to accept manuscripts for publication: 1) the importance, timeliness, relevance, and prevalence of the problem addressed; 2) the quality of the writing style (i.e., that it is well‐written, clear, straightforward, easy to follow, and logical); 3) the study design applied (i.e., that the design was appropriate, rigorous, and comprehensive); 4) the degree to which the literature review was thoughtful, focused, and up‐to‐date; and 5) the use of a sufficiently large sample. 10 For these statements to be true there are also reasons that reviewers reject manuscripts. The following are the top five reasons for rejecting papers: 1) inappropriate, incomplete, or insufficiently described statistics; 2) over‐interpretation of results; 3) use of inappropriate, suboptimal, or insufficiently described populations or instruments; 4) small or biased samples; and 5) text that is poorly written or difficult to follow. 10 , 11 With these reasons for acceptance or rejection in mind, it is time to review basics and general writing tips to be used when performing manuscript preparation.
“Begin with the end in mind” . When you begin writing about your research, begin with a specific target journal in mind. 12 Every scientific journal should have specific lists of manuscript categories that are preferred for their readership. The IJSPT seeks to provide readership with current information to enhance the practice of sports physical therapy. Therefore the manuscript categories accepted by IJSPT include: Original research; Systematic reviews of literature; Clinical commentary and Current concept reviews; Case reports; Clinical suggestions and unique practice techniques; and Technical notes. Once a decision has been made to write a manuscript, compose an outline that complies with the requirements of the target submission journal and has each of the suggested sections. This means carefully checking the submission criteria and preparing your paper in the exact format of the journal to which you intend to submit. Be thoughtful about the distinction between content (what you are reporting) and structure (where it goes in the manuscript). Poor placement of content confuses the reader (reviewer) and may cause misinterpretation of content. 3 , 5
It may be helpful to follow the IMRaD format for writing scientific manuscripts. This acronym stands for the sections contained within the article: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each of these areas of the manuscript will be addressed in this commentary.
Many accomplished authors write their results first, followed by an introduction and discussion, in an attempt to “stay true” to their results and not stray into additional areas. Typically the last two portions to be written are the conclusion and the abstract.
The ability to accurately describe ideas, protocols/procedures, and outcomes are the pillars of scientific writing . Accurate and clear expression of your thoughts and research information should be the primary goal of scientific writing. 12 Remember that accuracy and clarity are even more important when trying to get complicated ideas across. Contain your literature review, ideas, and discussions to your topic, theme, model, review, commentary, or case. Avoid vague terminology and too much prose. Use short rather than long sentences. If jargon has to be utilized keep it to a minimum and explain the terms you do use clearly. 13
Write with a measure of formality, using scientific language and avoiding conjunctions, slang, and discipline or regionally specific nomenclature or terms (e.g. exercise nicknames). For example, replace the term “Monster walks” with “closed‐chain hip abduction with elastic resistance around the thighs”. You may later refer to the exercise as “also known as Monster walks” if you desire.
Avoid first person language and instead write using third person language. Some journals do not ascribe to this requirement, and allow first person references, however, IJSPT prefers use of third person. For example, replace “We determined that…” with “The authors determined that….”.
For novice writers, it is really helpful to seek a reading mentor that will help you pre‐read your submission. Problems such as improper use of grammar, tense, and spelling are often a cause of rejection by reviewers. Despite the content of the study these easily fixed errors suggest that the authors created the manuscript with less thought leading reviewers to think that the manuscript may also potentially have erroneous findings as well. A review from a second set of trained eyes will often catch these errors missed by the original authors. If English is not your first language, the editorial staff at IJSPT suggests that you consult with someone with the relevant expertise to give you guidance on English writing conventions, verb tense, and grammar. Excellent writing in English is hard, even for those of us for whom it is our first language!
Use figures and graphics to your advantage . ‐ Consider the use of graphic/figure representation of data and important procedures or exercises. Tables should be able to stand alone and be completely understandable at a quick glance. Understanding a table should not require careful review of the manuscript! Figures dramatically enhance the graphic appeal of a scientific paper. Many formats for graphic presentation are acceptable, including graphs, charts, tables, and pictures or videos. Photographs should be clear, free of clutter or extraneous background distractions and be taken with models wearing simple clothing. Color photographs are preferred. Digital figures (Scans or existing files as well as new photographs) must be at least 300dpi. All photographs should be provided as separate files (jpeg or tif preferred) and not be embedded in the paper. Quality and clarity of figures are essential for reproduction purposes and should be considered before taking images for the manuscript.
A video of an exercise or procedure speaks a thousand words. Please consider using short video clips as descriptive additions to your paper. They will be placed on the IJSPT website and accompany your paper. The video clips must be submitted in MPEG‐1, MPEG‐2, Quicktime (.mov), or Audio/Video Interface (.avi) formats. Maximum cumulative length of videos is 5 minutes. Each video segment may not exceed 50 MB, and each video clip must be saved as a separate file and clearly identified. Formulate descriptive figure/video and Table/chart/graph titles and place them on a figure legend document. Carefully consider placement of, naming of, and location of figures. It makes the job of the editors much easier!
Avoid Plagiarism and inadvertent lack of citations. Finally, use citations to your benefit. Cite frequently in order to avoid any plagiarism. The bottom line: If it is not your original idea, give credit where credit is due . When using direct quotations, provide not only the number of the citation, but the page where the quote was found. All citations should appear in text as a superscripted number followed by punctuation. It is the authors' responsibility to fully ensure all references are cited in completed form, in an accurate location. Please carefully follow the instructions for citations and check that all references in your reference list are cited in the paper and that all citations in the paper appear correctly in the reference list. Please go to IJSPT submission guidelines for full information on the format for citations.
Sometimes written as an afterthought, the abstract is of extreme importance as in many instances this section is what is initially previewed by readership to determine if the remainder of the article is worth reading. This is the authors opportunity to draw the reader into the study and entice them to read the rest of the article. The abstract is a summary of the article or study written in 3 rd person allowing the readers to get a quick glance of what the contents of the article include. Writing an abstract is rather challenging as being brief, accurate and concise are requisite. The headings and structure for an abstract are usually provided in the instructions for authors. In some instances, the abstract may change slightly pending content revisions required during the peer review process. Therefore it often works well to complete this portion of the manuscript last. Remember the abstract should be able to stand alone and should be as succinct as possible. 14
Introduction and Review of Literature
The introduction is one of the more difficult portions of the manuscript to write. Past studies are used to set the stage or provide the reader with information regarding the necessity of the represented project. For an introduction to work properly, the reader must feel that the research question is clear, concise, and worthy of study.
A competent introduction should include at least four key concepts: 1) significance of the topic, 2) the information gap in the available literature associated with the topic, 3) a literature review in support of the key questions, 4) subsequently developed purposes/objectives and hypotheses. 9
When constructing a review of the literature, be attentive to “sticking” or “staying true” to your topic at hand. Don't reach or include too broad of a literature review. For example, do not include extraneous information about performance or prevention if your research does not actually address those things. The literature review of a scientific paper is not an exhaustive review of all available knowledge in a given field of study. That type of thorough review should be left to review articles or textbook chapters. Throughout the introduction (and later in the discussion!) remind yourself that a paper, existing evidence, or results of a paper cannot draw conclusions, demonstrate, describe, or make judgments, only PEOPLE (authors) can. “The evidence demonstrates that” should be stated, “Smith and Jones, demonstrated that….”
Conclude your introduction with a solid statement of your purpose(s) and your hypothesis(es), as appropriate. The purpose and objectives should clearly relate to the information gap associated with the given manuscript topic discussed earlier in the introduction section. This may seem repetitive, but it actually is helpful to ensure the reader clearly sees the evolution, importance, and critical aspects of the study at hand See Table 1 for examples of well‐stated purposes.
Examples of well-stated purposes by submission type.
The methods section should clearly describe the specific design of the study and provide clear and concise description of the procedures that were performed. The purpose of sufficient detail in the methods section is so that an appropriately trained person would be able to replicate your experiments. 15 There should be complete transparency when describing the study. To assist in writing and manuscript preparation there are several checklists or guidelines that are available on the IJSPT website. The CONSORT guidelines can be used when developing and reporting a randomized controlled trial. 16 The STARD checklist was developed for designing a diagnostic accuracy study. 17 The PRISMA checklist was developed for use when performing a meta‐analyses or systematic review. 18 A clear methods section should contain the following information: 1) the population and equipment used in the study, 2) how the population and equipment were prepared and what was done during the study, 3) the protocol used, 4) the outcomes and how they were measured, 5) the methods used for data analysis. Initially a brief paragraph should explain the overall procedures and study design. Within this first paragraph there is generally a description of inclusion and exclusion criteria which help the reader understand the population used. Paragraphs that follow should describe in more detail the procedures followed for the study. A clear description of how data was gathered is also helpful. For example were data gathered prospectively or retrospectively? Who if anyone was blinded, and where and when was the actual data collected?
Although it is a good idea for the authors to have justification and a rationale for their procedures, these should be saved for inclusion into the discussion section, not to be discussed in the methods section. However, occasionally studies supporting components of the methods section such as reliability of tests, or validation of outcome measures may be included in the methods section.
The final portion of the methods section will include the statistical methods used to analyze the data. 19 This does not mean that the actual results should be discussed in the methods section, as they have an entire section of their own!
Most scientific journals support the need for all projects involving humans or animals to have up‐to‐date documentation of ethical approval. 20 The methods section should include a clear statement that the researchers have obtained approval from an appropriate institutional review board.
Results, Discussion, and Conclusions
In most journals the results section is separate from the discussion section. It is important that you clearly distinguish your results from your discussion. The results section should describe the results only. The discussion section should put those results into a broader context. Report your results neutrally, as you “found them”. Again, be thoughtful about content and structure. Think carefully about where content is placed in the overall structure of your paper. It is not appropriate to bring up additional results, not discussed in the results section, in the discussion. All results must first be described/presented and then discussed. Thus, the discussion should not simply be a repeat of the results section. Carefully discuss where your information is similar or different from other published evidence and why this might be so. What was different in methods or analysis, what was similar?
As previously stated, stick to your topic at hand, and do not overstretch your discussion! One of the major pitfalls in writing the discussion section is overstating the significance of your findings 4 or making very strong statements. For example, it is better to say: “Findings of the current study support….” or “these findings suggest…” than, “Findings of the current study prove that…” or “this means that….”. Maintain a sense of humbleness, as nothing is without question in the outcomes of any type of research, in any discipline! Use words like “possibly”, “likely” or “suggests” to soften findings. 12
Do not discuss extraneous ideas, concepts, or information not covered by your topic/paper/commentary. Be sure to carefully address all relevant results, not just the statistically significant ones or the ones that support your hypotheses. When you must resort to speculation or opinion, be certain to state that up front using phrases such as “we therefore speculate” or “in the authors' opinion”.
Remember, just as in the introduction and literature review, evidence or results cannot draw conclusions, just as previously stated, only people, scientists, researchers, and authors can!
Finish with a concise, 3‐5 sentence conclusion paragraph. This is not just a restatement of your results, rather is comprised of some final, summative statements that reflect the flow and outcomes of the entire paper. Do not include speculative statements or additional material; however, based upon your findings a statement about potential changes in clinical practice or future research opportunities can be provided here.
Writing for publication can be a challenging yet satisfying endeavor. The ability to examine, relate, and interlink evidence, as well as to provide a peer‐reviewed, disseminated product of your research labors can be rewarding. A few suggestions have been offered in this commentary that may assist the novice or the developing writer to attempt, polish, and perfect their approach to scholarly writing.
- Publication Process
How to Write a Journal Article from a Thesis
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Table of Contents
You are almost done with your PhD thesis and want to convert it into a journal article. Or, you’re initiating a career as a journal writer and intend to use your thesis as a starting point for an article. Whatever your situation, turning a thesis into a journal article is a logical step and a process that eventually every researcher completes. But…how to start?
The first thing to know about converting a thesis into a journal article is how different they are:
- Meets academic requirements
- Reviewed by select committee members
- Contains chapters
- Lengthy, no word limits
- Table of contents
- Lengthy research of literature
- IRB approval described in detail
- Description and copies of tools used
- All findings presented
- Verb tenses may vary
Journal Article Characteristics:
- Meets journalistic standards
- Reviewed by a panel of “blind” reviewers
- Word limits
- Manuscript format
- Succinct research of literature
- IRB described in 1 to 3 sentences
- Essential and succinct tool information
- Selected findings presented
- Verb tenses are fairly consistent
Converting your thesis to a journal article may be complex, but it’s not impossible.
A thesis is a document of academic nature, so it’s more detailed in content. A journal article, however, is shorter, highlighting key points in a more succinct format. Adapting a thesis for conversion into a journal article is a time-consuming and intricate process that can take you away from other important work. In that case, Elsevier’s Language Editing services may help you focus on important matters and provide a high-quality text for submission in no time at all.
If you are going to convert a thesis into a journal article, with or without professional help, here is a list of some of the steps you will likely have to go through:
1. Identify the best journal for your work
- Ensure that your article is within the journal’s aim and scope. How to find the right journal? Find out more .
- Check the journal’s recommended structure and reference style
2. Shorten the length of your thesis
- Treat your thesis as a separate work
- Paraphrase but do not distort meaning
- Select and repurpose parts of your thesis
3. Reformat the introduction as an abstract
- Shorten the introduction to 100-150 words, but maintain key topics to hold the reader’s attention.
- Use the introduction and discussion as basis for the abstract
4. Modify the introduction
- If your thesis has more than one research question or hypothesis, which are not all relevant for your paper, consider combining your research questions or focusing on just one for the article
- Use previously published papers (at least three) from the target journal as examples
5. Tighten the methods section
- Keep the discussion about your research approach short
6. Report main findings in the results
- Expose your main findings in the results section in concise statements
7. Discussion must be clear and concise
- Begin by providing an interpretation of your results: “What is it that we have learned from your research?”
- Situate the findings to the literature
- Discuss how your findings expand known or previous perspectives
- Briefly present ways in which future studies can build upon your work and address limitations in your study
8. Limit the number of references
- To choose the most relevant and recent
- To format them correctly
- Consider using a reference manager system (e.g. Mendeley ) to make your life easier
If you are not a proficient English speaker, the task of converting a thesis into a journal article might make it even more difficult. At Elsevier’s Language Editing services we ensure that your manuscript is written in correct scientific English before submission. Our professional proofers and editors check your manuscript in detail, taking your text as our own and with the guarantee of maximum text quality.
Language editing services by Elsevier Author Services:
- Research Process
Discover the Target Audience of Your Research Paper
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