Is Your Research Paper Slim and Trim for Today’s Scholarly Journals
There was a time when the articles published in academic and scientific journals had to be a little on the hefty side to be considered truly healthy scholarship – the kind of scholarship that is firmly anchored with loads of data, detailed descriptions of every result, pages of notes and long lists of references. These elements are still valid and necessary aspects of the writing submitted to scholarly journals, and in the lengthier formats of books and theses the space dedicated to them can still match their role and importance in much earlier studies. However, today’s academic and scientific journals are faced with the challenge of publishing an increasingly larger number of articles and of publishing those papers very quickly indeed. Most scholarly journals also aim to reach an audience that extends far beyond the specialised readers who were virtually the sole consumers of such journals a century ago. This trend means that the papers now submitted to academic and scientific journals tend to be slimmer and well trimmed, and writing that demonstrates an appropriate fitness is more likely to meet with acceptance and achieve successful publication.
There are a number of ways to slim and trim your article for submission to an academic or scientific journal, but do be sure to start by familiarising yourself with the guidelines for authors provided by the journal and with a selection of the papers recently published by that journal. Pay special attention to length and structural requirements and the ways in which the published papers follow the guidelines while presenting sophisticated research in a professional manner. If you keep the journal’s requirements and the general trend for slimmer articles in mind as you draft your paper, you will likely have to do less trimming and revising down the road. However, papers written in a lengthier mode can effectively be slimmed down to the right size and shape at any point in their development, and some authors will prefer to write what they feel necessary to present their research and argument and then trim their work to fit journal guidelines and preferences.
A carefully designed structure enhancing the progress of your main argument and featuring clearly delineated sections for different kinds of information will almost always allow you to present your research and thoughts in fewer words. It will also make your work more accessible to readers, so do give considerable thought to the organisational options available to you within the structural requirements indicated by the journal. Aim for headings and subheadings that are catchy while accurately representing the contents of the sections and subsections that follow. Complicated data and procedures can often be communicated more concisely and effectively in tables and figures that have an immediate visual impact, but tables and figures require descriptive headings, captions and labels if your readers are to make good sense of them. Referring to each table or figure by number as you discuss the relevant material in your main text is not only standard scholarly practice, but also the best way to ensure that your audience will consult your tables and figures precisely when they are most important to your argument.
That main argument can in many cases be streamlined as well. Often an academic or scientific argument will follow more than one line of argumentation as it describes and analyses the complicated results of advanced research. This is an excellent approach for a book or thesis, but focussing closely on a single line of thought by emphasising the most interesting or revealing results can often be a more effective strategy for a journal article. Many journals allow notes and appendices, with the latter sometimes designed for supplemental archives and not included in word counts, so any extra material or conflicting results that you simply cannot remove entirely can perhaps be shifted into endnotes or appendices to produce a slimmer and trimmer paper.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.