Tips For Writing A Journal Article

Get organized, revise, and ask for help when you need it

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  Written communication can account for much of a researcher's job. In the "publish or perish" culture of science, strong writing skills are essential for progress.

  While we may be technology-centric in our job performance, if we can't convey our ideas, proposals, and conclusions in an effective manner to other people, we have failed. Good writing is hard work, and it takes time for review, reflection, and rewriting to compose a technical argument that can be understood by someone less knowledgeable in the topic area than the author.

The scient ists provide the following suggestions (in no particular order) for writing excellent manuscripts:

Tip 1. Conduct thorough literature searches and cite precedents.

"Good literature searching allows you to provide a cogent paper that is well-thought-out and well-organized, and it also keeps you from embarrassing yourself, that what you thought was seminal work has been reported on 12 times" already.

Tip 2. Read scientific literature for content and style.

Study lots of articles for technical material, but keep an eye out for particularly clear writing styles and incorporate them into your work; reading well-written papers in the specific journals you want to publish in.

Tip 3 . Get organized now.

Most authors develop a plan for organizing a paper sometime near the end of completing the lab work. Chemist George M. Whitesides at Harvard University advocates early outlining, that outlines and drafts should be constructed in the course of solving a problem rather than after all the data have been analyzed.

Tip 4 . Allow months for revision.

Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel Laureate, goes through many drafts of a manuscript with his students. "A typical number is 23," he says.

Tip 5 . Know your audience.

Nonspecialists will read your journal article. Hoffmann advises scientists to "write the manuscript for an intelligent graduate student, not a professor."

Tip 6 . Tell clear and concise stories.

Many researchers refer to journal articles as the "stories" of their research and suggest focusing on critical content and succinct sentences.

Tip 7 . Seek help with grammar and language.

"One often hears that English has become the de facto language of science; as a reviewer for several journals, it often seems more appropriate to state that 'bad English' has become the lingua franca of modern science. Seek professional help if you need it”

Tip 8 . Learn from the best.

Graduate and postdoctoral advisers are just two sources of writing advice. "Don't be afraid to ask other researchers who have been successful in achieving top-tier publications”

Tip 9 . Write often.

"Get as much experience writing as you absolutely can," "Some PIs don't 'allow' you to write, but take a stab at writing the experimental section, introduction, results, and discussion anyway."


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