Send it on its way-an “uploading” experience
Submitted by Clement Weinberger on Wed, 2016-03-30 10:14
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A blank computer screen might be one of the scariest things on your bench or desk(top). 

You sit in front of one when you have to describe a research project that has become as “my problem”. Maybe the most difficult page is the one where you transform a “good idea at the time” into a testable hypothesis. But then, after the data has been collected and analyzed, you can write the publication manuscript. It starts with another blank screen, but this time you are not as “blank” as you were when the path to publication began as “a good idea to test”. Remember we’re talking about information flow here.

The title is a good place to start. Keep it concise and informative. Try to include the most important finding of your research and use one or two MESH terms ( Most likely the title of the article will not be the same as the working title you chose when you developed the research plan. You can also use MESH terms for the half dozen or so key words that you’ll need when submitting the manuscript to the journal that you’ve chosen. Don’t write the Abstract until the article is finished. I’ll tell you why later. 

Sometimes it takes restraint to keep from making the Introduction longer than it needs to be. Think of it as the “hook” or “teaser”, including just enough information to make the reader think “OK, I know why they did it, and now I’m interested in how they did it and what happened”. Just give the context or background of the work and summarize what is already known. Then do the same for your rationale by mentioning data that you thought was missing and would be nice to have, and then end by stating the primary objective of the study.

Material and Methods, or Experimental Procedures, should clearly describe what you did and include enough information to allow others to repeat the work. There is no need to give details of methods that have been previously published, just reference the publications and include the relevant modifications in your manuscript. Follow the target journal’s guidelines for information about naming equipment and reagent manufacturers and suppliers. Pay careful attention to the description of any statistical analyses. Think of statistics as a streetlight at night and yourself leaning on it–more for illumination than just for support.

The Results? Just describe them clearly, decide what the best order of presentation is, and don’t discuss the significance very much. Save that for the Discussion. Choose the table design, graphs and figures carefully for the clearest way to convey your intended meaning. 

The discussion gives you the opportunity to interpret your results and outline the significance of your findings. Keep in mind the interests of the target journal’s readers. If you do need to resubmit an alternate journal (no one likes rejection), you may need to rewrite the discussion to change the emphasis. You can begin by summarizing the principal findings and then compare your results to those reported in similar studies. 

Remember that you are reporting original research and not writing a review paper, so keep the citations to the essential ones and avoid extensive discussion of the published literature. Don’t forget to mention strengths and limitations of your study, and be sure to find a way to say what your results add to what was already known. There’s no harm in mentioning unanswered questions and future research; and, if you want to add a sentence or two giving your conclusions, make it echo the key findings. 

Once you and your coauthors are satisfied with the main body of the publication manuscript, write the Abstract. Remember that it should highlight the key points of the article–context, objective, methods, and results giving just enough detail to cover the “essentials”. It needs to attract a reader’s attention strongly enough to inspire reading the full text. The wording of the title, and Abstract and the choice of key words are what Internet search engines will use to find this report of your research. Writing the Abstract last helps ensure that it’s consistent with the main body of the manuscript. 

Done? Just go to the submission website, upload your files and get them off your desk. One more thing. I know this is really basic and not anything that you don’t know already, but I’ve edited a lot of manuscripts for many authors, and found many ways to improve their communication. Take a look at the author guidelines on journal Internet sites. Lots of them have comments on what they want to see in various sections of submitted papers.

Up next? Picking a journal. See you next time.

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