Planning the Presentation of Content in an Academic Research Article
The research you have been conducting for months is finally complete, the results gathered and analysed, and you have a relatively clear idea of the argument you hope to present and the conclusions you wish to share. It remains, however, somewhat difficult to start writing the paper that will report your research to your academic or scientific community. Your text will need to be clear and concise, but it must also record the methods and results of your research in some detail and share your thoughts with an appropriate sophistication. You obviously need a plan – one that will enable you to communicate the essence of all that complex research clearly, accurately and efficiently.
By a plan I do not mean the set structure of sections and other organisational elements required by most journals and many scholarly publishers, though such requirements should certainly be kept in mind while devising a content plan. Instead, what I mean is a plan that outlines the exact content such as introductory background, description of methods, analysis of results and so on that should be reported and the exact order for presenting that content within the larger structure of the paper. A good plan will prioritise the information necessary for readers to understand the problem under investigation and the contribution your work makes. It will also help you keep matters as simple as possible, which is not to say that the goal is simplistic work. On the contrary, the procedures and concepts associated with advanced research are complicated enough on their own, so a simple style with clear and accurate explanations is usually successful.
If you already know where you hope to publish your work, the length requirements indicated in the guidelines of the journal or other publisher will determine how much detail can be included. A very short paper might use one example or perhaps two to demonstrate a major trend and any important anomalies, whereas a long paper would be able to communicate trials, results, exceptions and the like more thoroughly. Making good use of tables, figures, appendices and online archives can give you a great deal of shoulder room for presenting more complex data even within the confines of the simplified main discussion a short paper often demands.
Tables, figures and appendices are sometimes included in word counts and sometimes not, so finding the right balance of tables to text, for instance, should consider publisher requirements as well as the most effective presentation of material for readers. Readers should always be in the forefront of your thoughts when deciding upon what content to include and how to present it, so adopting the perspective of your anticipated readers can be helpful. Preparing clear tables of data from your trials before you begin drafting your results section, for example, can help you use those tables much as your readers will. This strategy can also help you decide which tables will be most useful and how they might be best presented to meet readers’ needs. If you find yourself short on words and need to expand your discussion, those tables will likely also remind you of compelling examples and give you lots of food for further thought.
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