structure your journal submission
Most research papers share a common structure (with slight variations per journal). As long as you stay true to that framework, you should be on the right path.
This guide explains the building blocks that are used to construct a journal article and why getting them right can boost your chances of publishing success.
To do this, write a purpose statement that answers the following questions:
- What is the significance of the paper?
- Why is it important and original?
- Who is your intended audience?
- What comes next? In other words, what are the implications for practice? What new research avenues might it lead to?
A purpose statement is usually a few sentences to a paragraph long. It helps you develop the article structure and decide which facts to include. As you write your manuscript, keep checking back with your purpose statement to confirm you are still on course. You can also include it in your introduction.
It is a good idea to create an outline of your paper before you start generating the text. This could be a very rough draft, or just a series of notes. Either way, you should aim to capture the main headings and themes.
There are several ways you can organise your material. Here are some approaches you could take:
- Descriptive: Outlines the development of a research project from literature background and methodology to findings and discussion
- Chronological: Describes developments over a period of time
- Thematic: Develops a number of hypotheses and uses these to develop a thematic structure for the article
Whatever your method of organisation, it should be logical and appropriate to your material. And, it’s important that links between ideas/sections are smooth and easy for the reader to follow.
Construct your article
For most disciplines, it’s easier – and more logical – to write the article out of sequence. That means you might start with the method, results and discussion, before moving on to the conclusion and introduction. The abstract, title and keywords are often the last items to be written. This helps to ensure that when you put your article building blocks together, the message they contain is consistent.
Write your manuscript
Your purpose statement is a great starting point. The introduction should outline the aims of your paper, as well as describe why the topic is important and what it contributes to the body of knowledge. You should also provide background to the research project, highlight the structure of the paper, and explain what made you decide to research this topic/write the article.
What is an ideal word count for an introduction?
This will depend on the length of your paper, the discipline you are working in, and the journal you’ve chosen to submit to. Generally, it’s good to be concise – it’s important the introduction doesn’t overwhelm the rest of your paper. At the same time, you want to give the reader enough information to understand why the work is important – after all, this is your opportunity to convince them to read on.
Focus on telling the main story, stating the main stages of your research, the methods used, the influences that determined your approach, and why you chose particular samples, etc. Additional detail, such as previously published procedures, can be given in appendices.
If you have done empirical research, you need to state your methodology clearly and under a separate heading. It’s important that you provide detail – other researchers should be able to reproduce the experiment. If the work is computational or theoretical, then code, computational, or analytical methods must be included.
It is also important to include the equipment and materials used in experiments, along with their sources if there is a risk that the quality of items used may vary.
As with the methodology, focus on the essentials, the main facts and those with wider significance. Don’t go into great detail about each statistic in your results.
Again, you want to tell a story and explain it in the most logical order. What are the really significant facts that emerge? For example, findings that further understanding in the field, those that differ from previous findings, and any unexpected results.
Consider presenting key facts in tables or graphs or using images to explain your findings. See your chosen journal’s Author Guidelines for information on how these should be formatted, used and displayed. This section on results may well include a discussion of the significance of the findings.
The conclusion should summarise the main state of play at point of writing and consider the next steps. Here are some dos and don'ts:
- Summarise and conclude, restating the main argument, and presenting key conclusions and recommendations
- State how your findings/new framework can be applied in practice
- Explain what the implications are for further research
- Say to what extent your original questions have been answered
- Highlight the limitations of your research
- Start a new topic or introduce new material
- Repeat the introduction
- Make obvious statements
- Contradict anything you said earlier
Most journal editors and reviewers are keen on a statement of implications for the practitioner, so this should be included where possible. All research papers should explain the implications of the findings for the research community.
An appendix contains material which is important to the understanding of your paper, but which would disrupt the reader's train of thought if you featured it in the main body of the article. If in doubt, study published examples in the journal you plan to submit to.
Writing an article abstract
An abstract helps an editor decide whether the article fits the journal’s aims and scope. It also helps a reviewer decide whether to accept the invitation to review and the reader decide whether to read on.
A manuscript or case study that is easy to follow will help readers absorb your key messages.
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