Writing Tips Series
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part XI: submitting a paperUniform requirements exist for papers submitted to biomedical journals ( www.icmje.org ). Moreover, each journal has its own specific requirements for paper, which can be found in the author instructions on the journal's Web site. Every journal has slightly different requirements regarding aspects like the maximum number of words, the reference style to use or whether tables and figures should be embedded in the paper or submitted separately. It is advantageous to be aware of such requirements at an early stage of writing because you want your coauthors to read, comment on, and accept these additional text elements.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part XII: responding to reviewersThere are three types of editorial decisions about submitted papers: acceptance, rejection (immediately by the journal's editor or after peer review), or revision (usually with peer review). Many published papers have been rejected and/or revised several times before being accepted. Receiving a “revise and resubmit” decision proves that a journal is interested, which is good news because it means there is a good chance of acceptation if you respond satisfactorily to the reviewers' comments.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part IX: authorshipBeing an author of a scientific paper—and having a key role as an author (first, second, last, corresponding, or guarantor)—can help your career. It is therefore unsurprising that authorship is a highly debated issue in meeting rooms and around coffee machines at academic departments. Authors must be distinguished from contributors based on all three criteria (see checklist) of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE, www.icmje.org ). Contributors who do not qualify for authorship can be listed in the acknowledgements (with permission), preferably accompanied by a statement of their contribution.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part X: choice of journalIn a scientific paper, you try to tell a story, but to whom? Your audience will largely depend on the journal you publish your work in. PubMed alone cites more than 20 million papers. This shows that with some perseverance, you will probably get your paper published at some point, but choosing the right journal for your work is not easy.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part VIII: referencesScience moves forward by building on the research work of others, so it is important to appropriately cite previous work to acknowledge your sources, underpin your hypothesis, show that you are familiar with the relevant field, and give credit to the work of others, as well as avoid being charged with plagiarism. If you see your scientific paper as the spider in a large web, correct citations will allow readers to get an overview of the main work done previously within the field (the web). References can direct readers to supporting or diverging views and also to sources that may add relevant data to your work.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part VI: discussionThe purpose of the discussion section is to give the reader a summary of the main findings and to put them into context by comparing with previous work and discussing future implications and any shortcomings of the research design.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part VII: tables and figuresTables and figures are an efficient way of presenting findings from a study. If they are designed well, they provide more information than an author could possibly put into words. A paper's key findings should be presented in tables and figures, as readers will look at them to get an overview of the study results. Importantly, they must be self-explanatory; a reader should be able to fully understand the information without having to read the text. Most journals allow only a limited number of tables and figures to be part of the print version of a paper (often around 5–6).
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part V: resultsThe results section of an article presents a clear, concise, and objective description of the findings from a particular study and is mostly written in the past tense. The findings are presented without interpretation, as this should occur in the discussion section only. You may think of the results section as mirroring the methods section: For every method (what you did), there should be a corresponding result (what you found) and vice versa. A common order of elements is: recruitment/response, characteristics of the sample, findings from the primary analyses, secondary analyses, and any additional (unexpected) findings.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers—part I: how to get startedMost researchers find it challenging to start writing a new paper and to remain motivated during the process. Every writer experiences good and bad writing days. There are, however, many possibilities to make writing generally more efficient and also more fun.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part III: introductionToday many editors (and reviewers) of empirical papers prefer short and focused introductions. The purpose of the introduction is to give the reader the essential information to understand why you did the study and to state the research question. It establishes the context of the work being presented by summarizing the relevant literature to date (with references) and the current views on the problem you investigated. The introduction must allow readers to understand the biological, clinical, or methodological rationale for your study.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part IV: methodsIf you consider a research study as a delicate dish of knowledge, a paper's methods section would be like a recipe that lists all the necessary ingredients of the study and how they need to be combined during cooking. Ideally, it allows the dish to be prepared again with the same result. The methods section ties the introduction to the results section to create a clear story line; it should present the obvious approach to answer the research question and define the structure in which the results will be presented later.
Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part II: title and abstractThe title and abstract are the most important parts of a paper. They are important for editors who will scan the title and abstract to decide if it should be sent out for external peer review; for reviewers, who will get a first impression of the paper; and for readers, as the title, abstract, and keywords are often the only parts of the paper that are freely accessible to everyone online, including readers in developing countries. Electronic search databases use words in the title and abstract to yield search results.