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

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

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Introduction

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

Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process

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

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

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

Identify Author Roles Early in the Process

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

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

Structure of the Introduction Section

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

figure 1

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

Methods Section

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

Results Section

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

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

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

Discussion Section

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

figure 2

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

figure 3

Checklist for manuscript quality

Data Availability

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

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

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Acknowledgments

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

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

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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.

Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.

This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

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Table of contents

Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.

Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:

  • Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
  • Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
  • Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.

Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.

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There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.

You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.

You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.

Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:

  • A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
  • A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.

Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.

Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.

  • Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
  • Are there any heated debates you can address?
  • Do you have a unique take on your topic?
  • Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?

In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”

A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.

The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.

You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.

A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.

Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:

  • Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
  • Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
  • Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.

You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.

Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.

Example paragraph

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.

Citing sources

It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.

You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.

What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.

Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?

How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.

The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.

One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:

  • topic sentences against the thesis statement;
  • topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
  • and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.

Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.

Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.

You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.

You should not :

  • Offer new arguments or essential information
  • Take up any more space than necessary
  • Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)

There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.

  • Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
  • Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
  • Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
  • If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.

The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible. You can speed up the proofreading process by using the AI proofreader .

Global concerns

  • Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
  • Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
  • Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.

Fine-grained details

Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:

  • each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
  • no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
  • all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.

Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .

Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading  or create an APA title page .

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Checklist: Research paper

I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.

My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.

My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .

My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .

Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.

I have used appropriate transitions  to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.

My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.

My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.

My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.

I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.

I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .

I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).

You've written a great paper. Make sure it's perfect with the help of a Scribbr editor!

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Toolkit: How to write a great paper

A clear format will ensure that your research paper is understood by your readers. Follow:

1. Context — your introduction

2. Content — your results

3. Conclusion — your discussion

Plan your paper carefully and decide where each point will sit within the framework before you begin writing.

how to write research journal article

Collection: Careers toolkit

Straightforward writing

Scientific writing should always aim to be A, B and C: Accurate, Brief, and Clear. Never choose a long word when a short one will do. Use simple language to communicate your results. Always aim to distill your message down into the simplest sentence possible.

Choose a title

A carefully conceived title will communicate the single core message of your research paper. It should be D, E, F: Declarative, Engaging and Focused.

Conclusions

Add a sentence or two at the end of your concluding statement that sets out your plans for further research. What is next for you or others working in your field?

Find out more

See additional information .

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-01362-9

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Issue Cover

Article Contents

Primacy of the research question, structure of the paper, writing a research article: advice to beginners.

  • Article contents
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  • Supplementary Data

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 a journal article - Oxford Academic, Oxford University Press

How to write a journal article

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  • By Rose Wolfe-Emery
  • July 21 st 2023

Academics normally learn how to write while on the job,  sugge s ts  Michael Hochberg. This usually starts with “the dissertation and interactions with their supervisor. Skills are honed and new ones acquired with each successive manuscript.” Writing continues to improve throughout a career, but that thought might bring little solace if you are staring at a blank document and wondering where to start. 

In this blog post, we share tips from editors and outline some ideas to bear in mind when drafting a journal article. Whether you are writing a journal article to share your research, contribute to your field, or progress your career, a well-written and structured article will increase the likelihood of acceptance and of your article making an impact after publication.

Four tips for writing well

Stuart West and Lindsay Turnbull  suggest  four general principles to bear in mind when writing journal articles:

  • Keep it simple:  “Simple, clear writing is fundamental to this task. Instead of trying to sound […] clever, you should be clear and concise.”
  • Assume nothing:  “When writing a paper, it’s best to assume that your reader is [subject] literate, but has very little expert knowledge. Your paper is more likely to fail because you assumed too much, than because you dumbed it down too much.”
  • Keep to essentials:  “If you focus on the main message, and remove all distractions, then the reader will come away with the message that you want them to have.”
  • Tell your story : “Good […] writing tells a story. It tells the reader why the topic you have chosen is important, what you found out, and why that matters. For the story to flow smoothly, the different parts need to link clearly to each other. In creative writing this is called ‘narrative flow’.”

“A paper is well-written if a reader who is not involved in the work can understand every single sentence in the paper,”  argues  Nancy Dixon. But understanding is the bare minimum that you should aim for—ideally, you want to  engage  your audience, so they keep reading. 

As  West and Turnbull say , frankly: “Your potential reader is someone time-limited, stressed, and easily bored. They have a million other things to do and will take any excuse to give up on reading your paper.”

A complete guide to preparing a journal article for submission

Consider your research topic.

Before you begin to draft your article, consider the following questions:

  • What key message(s) do you want to convey?
  • Can you identify a significant advance that will arise from your article?
  • How could your argument, results, or findings change the way that people think or advance understanding in the field?

As  Nancy Dixon  says: “[A journal] editor wants to publish papers that interest and excite the journal’s readers, that are important to advancing knowledge in the field and that spark new ideas for work in the field.”

Think about the journal that you want to submit to

Research the journals in your field and create a shortlist of “target” journals  before  writing your article, so that you can adapt your writing to the journal’s audience and style. Journals sometimes have an official style guide but reading published articles can also help you to familiarise yourself with the format and tone of articles in your target journals. Journals often publish articles of varying lengths and structures, so consider what article type would best suit your argument or results. 

Check your target journals’ editorial policies and ethical requirements. As a minimum, all reputable journals require submissions to be original and previously unpublished. The  ThinkCheckSubmit  checklist can help you to assess whether a journal is suitable for your research.

Now that you’ve decided on your research topic and chosen the journal you plan on submitting to, what do you need to consider when drafting each section of your article?

Create an outline

Firstly, it’s worth creating an outline for your journal article, broken down by section. Seth J. Schwartz  explains  this as follows:

Writing an outline is like creating a map before you set out on a road trip. You know which roads to take, and where to turn or get off the highway. You can even decide on places to stop during your trip. When you create a map like this, the trip is planned and you don’t have to worry whether you are going in the correct direction. It has already been mapped out for you.

The typical structure of a journal article

  • Make it concise, accurate, and catchy
  • Avoid including abbreviations or formulae
  • Choose 5-7 keywords that you’d like your journal article to appear in the search results for
  • Summarize the findings of your journal article in a succinct, “punchy”, and relevant way
  • Keep it brief (200 words for the letter, and 250 words for the main journal)
  • Do not include references

Introduction

  • Introduce your argument or outline the problem
  • Describe your approach
  • Identify existing solutions and limitations, or provide the existing context for your discussion
  • Define abbreviations

Methods 

For STEM and some social sciences articles

  • Describe how the work was done and include plenty of detail to allow for reproduction
  • Identify equipment and software programs

Results 

For STEM and some social science articles

  • Decide on the data to present and how to present it (clearly and concisely)
  • Summarise the key results of the article
  • Do not repeat results or introduce new discussion points

 Acknowledgements

  • Include funding, contributors who are not listed as authors, facilities and equipment, referees (if they’ve been helpful; even though anonymous)
  • Do not include non-research contributors (parents, friends, or pets!)
  • Cite articles that have been influential in your research—these should be well-balanced and relevant
  • Follow your chosen journal’s reference style, such as Harvard or Chicago
  • List all citations in the text alphabetically at end of the article

Sharing data

Many journals now encourage authors to make all data on which the conclusions of their article rely available to readers. This data can be presented in the main manuscript, in additional supporting files, or placed in a public repository.

Journals also tend to support the Force 11 Data Citation Principles that require all publicly available datasets be fully referenced in the reference list with an accession number or unique identifier such as a digital object identifier (DOI).

Permissions

Permission to reproduce copyright material, for online publication without a time limit, must also be cleared and, if necessary, paid for by the author. Evidence in writing that such permissions have been secured from the rights-holder are usually required to be made available to the editors.

Learning from experience

Publishing a journal article is very competitive, so don’t lose hope if your article isn’t accepted to your first-choice journal the first-time round. If your article makes it to the peer-review stage, be sure to take note of what the reviewers have said, as their comments can be very helpful. As well as continuing to write, there are other things you can do to improve your writing skills, including peer review and editing.

Christopher, Marek, and Zebel note  that “there is no secret formula for success”, arguing that: 

The lack of a specific recipe for acceptances reflects, in part, the variety of factors that may influence publication decisions, such as the perceived novelty of the manuscript topic, how the manuscript topic relates to other manuscripts submitted at a similar time, and the targeted journal. Thus, beyond actively pursuing options for any one particular manuscript, begin or continue work on others. In fact, one approach to boosting writing productivity is to have a variety of ongoing projects at different stages of completion. After all, considering that “100 percent of the shots you do not take will not go in,” you can increase your chances of publication by taking multiple shots.

Rose Wolfe-Emery , Marketing Executive, Oxford University Press

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  • Int J Sports Phys Ther
  • v.7(5); 2012 Oct

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.

INTRODUCTION

“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.

CONCLUSIONS

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.

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  • Publication Process

How to Write a Journal Article from a Thesis

  • 3 minute read
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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:

Thesis Characteristics:

  • 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:

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  • Research Process

How to Choose a Journal to Submit an Article

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  • Publication Recognition

How to Submit a Paper for Publication in a Journal

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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

pen with post-it notes on a laptop

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.

Introduction

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, Scientific Writer, BS, Biomedical Sciences, Coventry University

Lubaina Koti, BS

Scientific Writer

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Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Journal Article: Introduction

When to write the introduction.

  • Introduction

Your paper’s introduction is an opportunity to provide readers with the background necessary to understand your paper : the status of knowledge in your field, the question motivating your work and its significance, how you sought to answer that question (methods), and your main findings. A well-written introduction will broaden your readership by making your findings accessible to a larger audience.

Introduction Formula

Clarity is achieved by providing information in a predictable order.  Successful introductions are therefore composed of 4 ordered components which are referred to as the “introduction formula”.

  • General Background. Introduce the general area of science in which your project takes place, highlighting the status of our understanding of that system.
  • Specific Background. Narrow down to the sub-area that your paper will be addressing, and again highlight the extent of our understanding in this sub-area.

Tip: Give your readers the technical details they need to understand the system –nothing more. Your purpose is not to showcase the breadth of your knowledge but instead to give readers all the tools they need to understand your results and their significance.

  • Knowledge Gap. After discussing what we know, articulate what we do not know, specifically focusing on the question that has motivated your work. The prior two components should serve as a set-up for this question. That is, the question motivating your work should be a logical next step given what you’ve described in the general and specific background.
  • “Here we show…” Very briefly summarize your methods and findings. Note that you may end this section with a sentence or two on the implications/novelty of your results, although this is not essential given that you will more thoroughly address these points in the discussion section.

This content was adapted from from an article originally created by the  MIT Biological Engineering Communication Lab .

Resources and Annotated Examples

Annotated example 1.

Introduction from an article published in Science Translational Medicine . 4 MB

Annotated Example 2

Introduction from an article published in Cell . 2 MB

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How to write a journal article

2018-01-11T11:10:00+00:00

Find out how to write your article and present your research clearly using the Royal Society of Chemistry guidelines from our author and reviewer resource centre.

This guidance is suitable for first-time and experienced authors and looks at writing style and how to structure an article. 

How to write a journal research article

Additional information.

The Royal Society of Chemistry publishes 40 peer-reviewed journals, more than 1,500 print books and a collection of online databases and literature updating services. Our international publishing portfolio covers the core chemical sciences including related fields such as biology, biophysics, energy and environment, engineering, materials, medicine and physics.

Our author and reviewer  resource centre provides information and services to help you publish your research with - and review for - Royal Society of Chemistry journals.

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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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Viennaslide / Alamy Stock Photo

Undertaking and performing scientific, clinical and practice-based research is only the beginning of the scholarship of discovery [1] . 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 [2] .

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 [3] . The process and requirements of reviewers has been covered recently [4] . 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 [5] , [6] .

The development of a research article can be helpful for the promotion of scientific thinking [7] , [8] 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 [2] .

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 [9] .

how to write research journal article

Figure 1: FINER criteria for a good research question

Source: Hulley S, Cummings S, Browner W  et al . [9]

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 [10] .

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 [11] (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 [11] .

Clinical Pharmacist , like other peer-reviewed journals, has specific author guidelines and formatting instructions to help authors prepare their articles [10] , [12] , [13] . 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 [14] , [15] , [16] , [17] , 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) [18] , 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 [19] . 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 [19] .

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 [10] . In general, references should not be cited in the abstract.

Introduction

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 [20] .

The methods section should provide the reader with enough detail for them to be able to reproduce the study if desired [3] . 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 [3] .

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 [21] ;
  • The STARD checklist can help with designing a diagnostic accuracy study [22] ;
  • The PRISMA checklist can be used when performing a metaâ€analyses or systematic review, but can also help with compiling an introduction [23] .

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 [24] .

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 [10] .

The final portion of the methods section will include the statistical methods used to analyse the data [25] . 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 [3] . For survey-based studies and information on sampling frame, size and statistical powers, see ‘When to use a survey in pharmacy practice research’ [26] .

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 [3] . 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 [3] .

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 [27] . Data collection and recruitment should be commented on and the participants described. Secondary findings and the results of subgroup analyses can also be presented [27] .

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 [11] .

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) [11] .

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 [2] , [11] , [25] . For clinical studies, relevant discussion of the implications the results may have on policy should be included [10] . It is important to include an analysis of the strengths and limitations of the study and offer perspectives for future work [2] . 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 [10] .

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 [27] . Most journals have reference limits and specific formatting requirements, so it is important to check the journal’s author guidelines [10] , [11] , [12] , [13] , [19] .

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 [3] .

Therefore, only individuals who meet all four criteria should be identified as authors [3] . 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 [11] .

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 [28] . 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 [29] .

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 [3] (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 [13] . 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.

how to write research journal article

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.

Useful Links

  • The EQUATOR Network
  • Research4Life – Authorship skills modules
  • Pharmacy Research UK

Reading this article counts towards your CPD

You can use the following forms to record your learning and action points from this article from Pharmaceutical Journal Publications.

Your CPD module results are stored against your account here at The Pharmaceutical Journal . You must be registered and logged into the site to do this. To review your module results, go to the ‘My Account’ tab and then ‘My CPD’.

Any training, learning or development activities that you undertake for CPD can also be recorded as evidence as part of your RPS Faculty practice-based portfolio when preparing for Faculty membership. To start your RPS Faculty journey today, access the portfolio and tools at www.rpharms.com/Faculty

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[21] Moher D, Schultz KR & Altman DG. CONSORT GROUP (Consolidatied Standards of Reporting Trials). The CONSORT statement: Revised recommendations for improving the quality of reports of parallel‐group randomized controlled trials. Ann Intern Med . 2001;134:657–662. PMID: 11304106

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[23] Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J et al . The PRISMA Group (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta‐analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med 6(6):e1000097. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed1000097

[24] Devers KJ & Frankel RM. Getting qualitative research published. Educ Health 2001;14:109–117. doi: 10.1080/13576280010021888

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