How To Write a Successful Scientific Manuscript for Publication
Scientific manuscripts come in a wide variety of sizes and structures, each of them reflective of the research communicated and the reasons for which they are written. A student’s lab report, a scientist’s latest research paper and an expert’s review article will vary not only in length and organisation, however, but also in the purposes for which they are written, the audiences they address and the ways in which they achieve success for their authors. It is therefore impossible to generalise about writing strategies and research content that will invariably lead to success, but the following tips apply to most serious scientific documents and the types of success their authors usually wish to achieve.
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• Follow the instructions. Many publisher rejections and low grades are due to authors neglecting to follow necessary guidelines. The length of a manuscript, its structure, the style of its references and many other details might be specified in the guidelines and must be observed with precision and consistency throughout a scientific manuscript.
• Reflect on the target audience and what those readers need to obtain from the scientific manuscript. Lab instructors already understand the material students include in scientific reports, but they need to know that the students do as well. The peer reviewers of a research manuscript submitted to a scientific journal are experts, so they will know about past and current research in the field, expect to see important studies cited and discussed in a publishable manuscript, and consider the overall quality and importance of the methods and results. Be sure to include all the information referees will require and expect, but be aware that a journal will also have readers who are far less informed.
• Organise your research material into a clear and logical structure. An effective structure renders the details of scientific research more accessible, while a logical narrative explains the processes, findings and significance of that work for readers. Guidelines for scientific manuscripts often recommend a basic structure of Introduction, Methodology, Results and Discussion that reflects the process of empirical investigation, but different types of scientific manuscripts will require different approaches. A lab report might, for example, eliminate the methodology section and present methods in figures only, whereas a review of scientific publications might be arranged according to publication date or type of research.
• Write clearly, correctly and concisely. This is far easier to say than to do, but the goal of a scientific manuscript is to communicate accurate information about scientific research and that intention can be seriously compromised by language that is unclear, confusing and potentially misleading. Always proofread your writing with care and refine your manuscript to convey information in as specific and concise a manner as possible. Ensure that your writing is successfully communicating your intentions by asking colleagues and mentors to read your work and offer you feedback, and use a professional scientific proofreader or editor to resolve language problems.
• Interpret and discuss your findings thoughtfully. Research findings can be interpreted and discussed as they are reported in the Results section or in a separate Discussion section, but interpretations should be based on the specific factual findings of the research. Discussion should follow a logical and persuasive line of thought and be relevant for your audience and the advancement of knowledge and practice in your field. Instructors frequently assign poor grades and editors reject many scientific manuscripts due to a lack of reasonable interpretation and penetrating discussion.
• Provide excellent references, preliminary matter and supporting documents for your scientific manuscript. References must be accurate, thorough and in the style specified by the relevant instructions or guidelines. The title of a scientific manuscript is extremely important; it might be the only part of your manuscript that an interested but busy scientist will encounter if that title is not clear, concise and informative. The abstract for a scientific manuscript should summarise for a wide range of readers exactly what was done and found, while a cover letter for a scientific manuscript submitted to a journal is an opportunity to present your research to the editor as a perfect fit for the journal’s aims and readers.
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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.
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