Get that paper published: hints
Here are a few things I learned after publishing my own research papers. I recommend these to students who are ready to embark into a research career. Studies have shown that publishing research articles is the only way of success in academia (see “Publish or Perish“).
Writing research papers can be extremely daunting. It is quite normal to get a rejection or major revision for your first paper. If there are constructive comments from the reviewer, you still have a chance to get it published. Some useful hints are:-
1. Reader’s perspective: Make sure that the reader understand what you mean. I ranked this first because many authors in the process of writing, tend to forget that the whole purpose of publishing research is to reach a wider audience (not just to get something published). Improving the readership of your paper will get you more citations (Why do you need citations?, check here).
2. International audience: Make sure your research is interest to a wider international audience. Even if it is a local case study, the approach used for research can be novel and interesting to scientists in other countries. This is also important to get your paper published in journals with good impact factors (What are impact factors? check here and here).
3. Choice of journal: Never try to publish in high-end journals because it is eventually going to be rejected. Identify a journal that publish studies similar to what you did. Look on impact factors, only to ensure that the chosen one is reasonably read by most people in your discipline.
4. Short and attractive title: It is scientifically proven that articles with short titles describing results receive more citations (check here). It also make sense because short titles are easy to read and understand. It also motivate people to read further looking into the abstract.
5. Author name: It is increasingly becoming important to maintain your name consistent across all publications. In particular, many citation matrices are computed based on papers published by a particular author. Having publications with multiple names may not accrue the recognition you deserve. If it is your first paper, carefully choose your ‘Brand’ name.
6. Order importance of authors: The format is different in each discipline. For biology, the most important author comes first and then the person with second most contribution will be the last. Authors between the first and the last can be arranged based on their contribution (in ascending order). I strongly disagree including authors who have no contribution to the paper (e.g. Head of institutions as last author), unless it is a project approved to him/ her as principal investigator/ supervisor.
7. Affiliations: If you are affiliated to more than one department, it is worth showing that in your credentials. Similarly if your colleagues or friends have contributed substantially, include them as co-authors. Showing their credentials indicate that you are actively networking with scientists outside your work place.
8. Abstract: Keep the abstract short and simple in language. Most people skim through the abstract and decide whether to go further with the paper. So make sure, you have at least one sentence explaining the background, method, results and application of the study. Finish abstract with the key message you want to convey. Usually, a paragraph of 300 word limit is considered OK.
9. Key words: Many students don’t know exactly what these are used for !!! Just like you type words in Google, keywords help users to find your paper through search engines. If the keywords are commonly used words (e.g. ‘research’), your paper will be listed among thousands of other articles. If you use unique words e.g. ‘species name’, then it will be more accessible to specific users and they may cite your paper.
10. The first paragraph: Of course, this is part of Introduction but it will give the first impression about your paper. Always end this paragraph with the key research question that you are trying to answer. This will help the reader to re-orient themselves in the direction you want them to think while reading through rest of the paper.
11. English: There is a misconception that articles should contain literary and scientific words of high calibre. I know this is true for at least the young ambitious students from non-English speaking background. This concept is entirely wrong because the reader should enjoy your paper, even if he/she is from a non-specialist background. Simple English can improve the readership. But this doesn’t mean to go ungrammatical.
12. Clarity: Simple English alone do not work if there is less clarity. The clarity of scientific writing is extremely important if your reader want to repeat the same experiment/ study. For example, ‘samples were withdrawn from the tube very often‘ is imprecise but, ‘samples were withdrawn at a frequency of 2 per hour‘ is a much clear scientific statement (see “Clutter to Clarity“).
13. Reasoning: You should provide convincing and justifiable reasons while addressing/ answering the research problem. An easy way to tackle this is; ‘ask why?’ very often, particularly in your methods and results section. For example, ‘why these sampling locations were chosen?’ or ‘what does this result mean in a larger picture?’
14. Do not waffle: Never write for the sake of writing. Beginners usually repeat explaining the results from different perspectives (shuffling words or using synonyms), for inflating the paragraph or for increasing the number of words. You really don’t want to bore your readers!!!
15. Sub-headings: Use sub-headings wherever possible (methods, results and discussion) but not redundantly. Sub-headings help the reader/reviewer understand how the body is structured and where certain information can be found without going through the entire text. In short, you should make the job of a reader as easy as possible.
16. Proof reading: Take breaks and do several revisions. Strangely, you may find difficult to follow your own writing (of course, then you shouldn’t be expecting others to understand). You could also give the draft to co-authors (they have a moral obligation in any case), colleagues or friends. It is really hard to find people who can spend their precious time reading your paper. Appreciate and acknowledge if someone do so!!
17. Tables and Figures: Limit them to 5 each. Anything more could result in a lengthy article and exhausts the reader. Use captions wisely so the reader can understand results without looking into the text. Arrange numerical results column-wise because most people find it easier to identify patterns reading down a column rather than across a row .
18. Acknowledgement: Though it is a formal way of expressing your gratitude, it also help the editor/ reviewer to understand your background, people/ institutions with whom you collaborated. This is also a formal way of acknowledging the funding body sponsored for the research. Never forget acknowledging the reviewers because they are doing an unpaid job by giving you advise to improve the paper.
19. Bibliography: Reference managers are becoming increasingly popular and not having one of those is a hard miss (see Endnote – not free, Mendeley, Zotero and JabRef – for LaTex users). They are software that can help creating bibliography in the style required for the journal. They can also archive your references at one place (e-library).
20. Appendices: If you have more tables/ figures or a long paragraph that is not necessarily required to understand the study, such information can be moved to an Appendix. Thus we can avoid confusing the reader and distracting him/her from the central theme. An example is the ‘questionnaire forms’ you have used for research surveys.
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