10 Tips to Streamline Your Writing
- Select the journal that best fits your research to help guide the structure of your manuscript.
- Create your figures early on to help you focus on the findings.
- Write a draft of your cover letter and/or Abstract to distill the Whys and Whats of your research.
- Write your Methods while performing the experiments.
- Write your Results in the order of your Methods.
- Keep it simple.
- Keep your Discussion focused. Your research is a broad and interesting topic, but the Discussion should be focused on this specific study.
- Have a colleague familiar with your research read your manuscript before finalizing it.
- Ask a friend who is not in your field read the manuscript to ensure its readability.
- Consider hiring a professional science editor to help you clearly communicate your science.
One of the biggest problems within the scientific community is the amount of research that is not being submitted in writing for peer review. Ideally, all results would be quickly written up so that further study and important collaboration can follow. Why do so many investigators procrastinate writing up their studies? The key to writing good science, according to William Zinsser, the late writer, editor, and teacher and author of On Writing Well, is to transfer clear logical thinking to paper, or as Steven Pinker refers to it in his latest book, The Sense of Style, establishing an "arc of coherence".
Scientists who are slow to write up their research for others to read and assess will not benefit from the input of others, or the ability to move their science forward. For this reason, all successful scientific researchers eventually must find ways to push past procrastination and fear of failure so that others can read, collaborate, critique, and expand on their findings. How can the writing process be streamlined so that communicating your science to the world does not hamper you from actually doing your science? We provide a simple form that can be filled out during the experimental process to facilitate the write-up of your research, allowing you to submit a clearly written paper for publication promptly after you obtain your results. Download the form here.
For those who struggle with writing, SciTechEdit International offers a simple solution to make writing less threatening. Follow a simple format when getting your thoughts down on paper; doing this will take the agony out of writing.
As a first step, it is extremely helpful to decide where you will submit your manuscript before you begin the writing process, as many journals provide guidance that may differ from that of other journals. Familiarity with the article types that the journal publishes will help you with the presentation of your own findings. Are your findings broadly applicable to various fields or specialized?
You may also wish to write a quick rough draft of your cover letter to the editor, as this will force you to distill your reasons for performing your study and descriptions of the critical findings in only a few sentences, which will also form the basis of your manuscript. After completion of the manuscript, you can go back to refine your letter. A concise, informative letter can make a big difference in the decision to send your manuscript on to reviewers.
Manuscripts contain five main sections: the Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion.
Similar to writing the draft of the cover letter, writing the Abstract first may help you distill the important facts of your study- the Why, the How, the What Happened, and the What Does it Matter. The Abstract should be brief, usually about 250 words, and may or may not be structured. You will want to return to the Abstract multiple times after writing it to ensure that it is complete, but concise. Be sure to stay within the word limit imposed by the journal. To help you pare down a wordy Abstract, simplify your sentences. Present one main idea in each sentence, and write each sentence in the order of subject- verb-object, removing extraneous words and phrases. The Abstract should be written mostly in past tense, although the background may be written in present tense depending on the strength of the background. That is, established findings should be written in present tense whereas a single pertinent finding should be written in past tense.
In the Introduction, clearly describe what led you to perform the study and identify the question explored as well as your hypothesis. To fully engage the reader, describe the relevance and importance of your study such that readers can understand why your question should interest them as it does you.
Next, describe in detail the methods used to address your question. The Materials and Methods should provide enough detail for a reader to replicate the study. Many authors find that writing their Methods while they are performing their experiments streamlines the writing process later. Writing the Methods before performing your experiment may lead to inaccuracies as changes are often made when experiments are in progress. When the methods of the study are rote for the researcher, important details may be inadvertently left out. Writing the Methods while performing the experiment not only helps you to ensure that they are accurately described, but simplifies this step in your manuscript writing process. You want the reader to understand exactly how you performed the experiment so that it can be easily replicated.
In the Results, you should focus exclusively and concisely on your findings. Don’t make your reader work to unearth your findings. Present your findings in a logical manner, following the organization of the Methods section. Your findings should be supported by statistical evidence when appropriate and with extremely descriptive sentences as well as figures and tables. All statistical analyses must be complete, appropriate, and adequately interpreted. Prepare tables and figures as necessary to provide the reader with a picture of your findings. Many find that preparing the figures before writing the manuscript helps with planning the organization of the manuscript, eliminating unimportant information and emphasizing the critical findings.
How your findings relate to the question presented in the Introduction is key to beginning the Discussion. The Discussion should be focused on the study presented, your interpretation of the findings, and their relation to previous findings. Remember, most of the readers of your manuscript are likely familiar with the field. They do not want to read a synopsis of the field, but rather a focused presentation of your current findings. Clarifying the issues and interpreting each in relation to previous evidence is essential. Cite historically important and highly relevant prior studies. Many journals expect a limitations section. Writing down the limitations of your study will help you identify and acknowledge the weak areas that require more work before the reviewers point them out. Experts agree that a good discussion helps the reader to understand the importance of the study and to be interested in the follow-up as well as your future studies.
An active voice is usually the most appropriate, although some journals will require articles written in third person, which necessitates a passive voice. Use the appropriate terminology for the target audience, and clear, professional English to make the story more interesting and readable. Great papers are well organized and written with sentences that are simple and easy to understand. Again, one idea should be presented per sentence. It is often helpful to have a colleague in the lab read your paper to confirm that the studies are presented accurately. To ensure the readability of the manuscript, ask a colleague outside of your field to read the manuscript. Professional science editors are also a great source for an objective opinion of your manuscript.
Remember that readership of scientific articles is global. Your clear writing style will help you to connect with your readers. Writing is a learned skill, which must be cultivated over many years for most individuals. A highly talented and skilled research scientist is not necessarily a talented and skilled writer. Save time by seeking help writing your papers. Having your manuscripts reviewed by native English-speaking colleagues or professional science editors will drastically increase the probability that your manuscript will be accepted for peer review and publication.
An important key to success in any field is to understand what you do well and to build on those abilities. Your research is important. Do what you do best, and let SciTechEdit International help you publish by letting us do what we do best. Download the worksheet below to help speed up the manuscript writing process.