How To Write a Journal Article in Twelve Essential Steps
Original journal articles are the most common means of disseminating the processes, results and implications of advanced research, so it is imperative that academics and scientists who wish to publish and share their work know how to write a journal article successfully. Although there are significant variations in manuscript requirements among disciplines and publishers, the writing tips I present below apply to most scholarly articles and journals across a wide range of research fields and specialisations.
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1. The first question to ask yourself as you begin drafting your paper or searching for a journal to publish it is what type of article will be appropriate for the material you wish to communicate. Original research, for instance, is usually reported in an original research article, whereas an evaluation of published scholarship on a topic would be written as a review article. Choosing the right type of article before you start is essential.
2. Either before or after you draft your article, you will need to learn about periodicals in the field and choose one as your target journal. The scope, aims and concerns published on the journal’s website should be appropriate for your research, and the journal must publish the kind of paper necessary to communicate all important aspects of your work.
3. Once you have decided on the journal to which you will be submitting your article, you should study the journal’s guidelines for authors. In some cases these will provide a great deal of information about how to write a journal article for publication; in others very little help will be offered. Either way, the guidelines must be followed with care as you prepare your article, so pay close attention to details, examples and restrictions.
4. With the journal’s guidelines and your research notes by your side (or at least firmly in mind), you are ready to outline the structure and content of your article. A scientific research article is likely to use a predictable structure of introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion and conclusions, but other fields and types of paper might offer greater freedom. Structure should never be neglected, however, since clear and logical organisation increases accessibility and reader comprehension.
5. Preparing tables, figures, appendices and other supplementary materials before you actually start drafting the paper is an excellent strategy when you are struggling with how to write a journal article. The production of these tools for readers can help an author analyse and interpret findings more effectively, and writing the main text with these tools in hand tends to reduce unnecessary repetition of information.
6. For many academics and scientists, starting to draft the text is the most difficult part of writing a journal article. Beginning can be rendered easier by writing the separate sections not in the order in which they will ultimately appear, but in an order that better reflects the research process. The methods can therefore be described first, with the report of results, the discussion and the conclusions following. Once you know the contents of these parts, the introduction, background, abstract and list of references can be added.
7. Be sure to take the time to assess your methods, analyse your results and interpret your findings thoroughly. Reporting what you did and what you discovered is not enough for a research paper intended for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. You will also need to tell your audience what your research means, why it is innovative and how it might be productively used by future researchers and practitioners.
8. Remember as you work out how to write a journal article that there is simply no substitute for excellent writing. Scholarly prose must be both clear and correct to communicate research processes and results effectively, and the style must be both formal and appropriate for your discipline or area of specialisation. Reading published articles in your field and especially in your target journal will give you a good idea of the kind of writing you will need to submit.
9. Proofread, edit and revise your draft repeatedly until you have eliminated all errors of fact, language and typing. Too many authors neglect this time-consuming aspect of how to write a journal article and suffer the consequences in the form of rejections and revision requests. As the person who knows your research better than anyone else, you are the person to ensure that your journal article does that research justice.
10. Recruit mentors, colleagues and friends to read your article and offer feedback. Researchers who work in your field and have successfully published their own academic or scientific writing will be able to comment constructively on research content and presentation. If English grammar, tricky references or other challenges of language and formatting prove problematic, a professional proofreader or editor can help.
11. After reader feedback has been considered and the final revisions are complete, submit your manuscript exactly as the journal’s instructions indicate. Submission via an online form is an efficient and common method, but even if the journal’s preferences seem outdated, they must be observed. Unless the guidelines suggest that a cover letter to the journal editor would be unwelcome, be sure to include one to introduce your research and article in an engaging way.
12. Finally, it is likely that your thoughts will be with your manuscript after you have submitted it and even that a host of ideas for further refinements will pop into your mind the instant the article is beyond your grasp. Take advantage of this impulse as you await a response by jotting your ideas down. If a request for revisions arrives from the editor, your notes are likely to prove incredibly helpful.
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