How to write a research paper is a huge challenge an academic researcher confronts, regardless of the discipline. Before beginning to write an article, brainstorm ideas and have a definite direction mapped out. A diligent literature review is called for before venturing into the task of writing. The opening effort at writing might be sketchy, with only headings and subheadings, and bullet points jotted down. No worries. The article would take shape and form eventually, when these points are explained and the connection between them established. To start with, make a to-do list that sequentially covers the essentials of how to go about writing a research paper.
Pick the journal that most suits the subject of the paper: identify the journals related to the field of study, and then select a journal with a focus similar or close to the content of the manuscript. Keep in mind, wrong choice of journal has a high probability of manuscript rejection. Also, it is crucial to decide between a high-impact and a lower-tier journal, which depends on the extensive nature of the research done. As is known, a veritable mountain of published studies exists in most disciplines. For that reason, make sure the topic of the paper is unique, such that it attracts the interest of the research community and the target readers.
The outline of the paper should list out the major headings of each section of the manuscript, for example, typically including, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, and References. Write a clear and concise abstract. The objectives of the study, the methods used, and the study findings have to be clearly stated. Many researchers and readers will most likely read only the abstract of the paper, so it must contain the most pertinent information. Check journal guidelines for abstract length. Include a “big picture” statement in the abstract and how the results of the research would contribute to the field of study. Never refer to figures or tables or cite published material in the abstract. Researchers or readers performing literature reviews use keyword searches. So a clever selection of “Keywords” is imperative; this will increase the odds of the manuscript being read.
The introduction of a research paper is extremely important. It should present a brief literature review, the research question, the purpose of the study, key findings, and the importance of the research work. The introduction should persuade an interested reader to read the full paper. In the methods section, describe the techniques used; if a novel technique is used, explain it with the steps involved. If animal or human subjects were used in the study, include a point on ethics approval and consent obtained. When in doubt about how to report materials and methods, look to papers published in recognized journals that use similar methods and/or materials. Feel free to consult an experienced colleague to review the research techniques used in the study. For any significant reagents used in experiments, mention the names of companies they were purchased from. Make sure the figures, graphs, and tables used can speak for themselves. Be attentive to captions of float items, making the wording representative and crisp.
The results section should contain only results, and not discussion. Point out key findings and present some text that can be tied in with the findings. If the research findings are suggestive or supportive rather than decisive, then make sure to indicate so. Try not to overstate the importance of the research findings; rather, clearly point to their true significance. Have no qualms about explaining why the results of the study contradict current theories, if that is the case.
The discussion section should answer why the observed results were obtained. Summarize the findings in the context of prior work. Discuss possible interpretations. Highlight how the research contributes to the current knowledge in the field. Make sure that the discussion is informative and to the point; do not ramble or include a great deal of unnecessary information. It is important to describe the limitations of the presented work. Mention possible future directions.
The conclusions section includes a brief restatement of the other parts of the research paper. It should be concise and worth remembering. All references used as sources of information in the research paper help validate the content of the paper. Make sure to check all references cited and listed in the manuscript are correct and pertinent to the study.
Most importantly, make sure the article reads well. Clear, concise, and grammatically correct English is a must. Poor language and syntax bring down the possibilities of the paper getting published. To the extent possible, avoid long sentences; the reader may find them difficult to follow. Non-native English speakers should always try to arrange for a review by a native speaker with knowledge about the research discipline. In the absence of such a reviewer, use a professional editing service.
When the writing is done, go over the manuscript to ensure it is formatted according to the submission guidelines, paying special attention to the references, text and table formatting, and citation style. Be sure to number figures and tables according to journal guidelines and refer to them in the text in the manner specified by the journal. Note that journal editors prefer reference citations of recently published studies in the manuscript; this also enhances the validity of the research points put forward. Make sure the manuscript content is within the target journal’s word limit.
As a final step, after the writing is done, a careful critique of the entire manuscript is required to identify and correct any and all mistakes made. Look for areas that reviewers might spot as weaknesses and either correct these areas or comment on them in the manuscript, leaving reviewers with fewer options for negative criticisms. No matter how competent one may feel, having the work seen through a different lens may help spot flaws that were missed out. To this end, engage a fellow researcher to check the manuscript for errors and inconsistencies.
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