We asked Hindawi Editors to share their advice and top tips when writing up a paper for the first time. Here’s what they said:
When you are done, your paper should say what you mean and not what you know how to say
“I am a native English speaker, and I have been writing for a long time. It is still hard work. It takes almost as much time to write a good paper as it does to do the experiments, so always allow enough time. Then after you write the first draft, rewrite it ten more times. This is not a joke. When you are done, your paper should say what you mean and not what you know how to say.
I also find that often I haven’t thought deeply about the results until I write it up. Things that seem like minor points at the bench become critical observations when writing because writing forces you to think deeply about your results. While I have never been able to do this well, some very successful investigators write a summary as each experiment is completed. The summary contains brief statements of the rationale and conclusions and detailed descriptions of the methods and results, including figures and tables. When it is time to write their paper, they start by combining their summaries.”
Quality over quantity
“My advice for anyone wishing to research a PhD or wanting to submit an article is that I absolutely value quality over quantity. I think it is best to write about something niche and specific. Do not throw the net too widely when doing research, because there is a danger it will water down your findings and become too generic. Make sure what you’re saying is new.”
Keep up-to-date with current discussions concerning your topic
“Read others’ work to learn from good scholars. It is also important to learn about the publication forum in which you want to publish your work. You need to join the current discussion in those forums concerning your topic. Follow the guidelines the journals give, seek advice from your teachers and peers, and be prepared to revise everything, if necessary. It might be better to try a short article first, rather than a long one.”
Keep things interesting
“Read a lot. Organize your ideas. Point out clearly what the novelty of your study is and highlight how different it is from other studies. Write clearly. Cite previous studies in the field. Be enthusiastic, as this will be relayed in your work. If I accept an article for the Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry, it is because I found it interesting and it kept my attention right to the end.”
Do not underestimate the importance of clarity and structure
“Anyone undertaking a PhD should write their first article under the supervision of an experienced author. Therefore, the whole process starts with choosing a good supervisor: someone with experience, ambition, understanding, and patience. My supervisors taught me the importance of clarity and structure. A PhD student might also need a clever and reliable statistician. Before writing an article, it is worthwhile thinking about whether all the areas of expertise that the article needs are covered by the team of authors.”
Be clear on your key message from the start
“First formulate the main message of your article, decide on which figures you want to include to convey this message, then write an outline of your paper in simple statements before starting to write the actual paper. If you are clear on what you want to say from the start, it will be much easier when it comes to writing it up.”
Follow a structured plan
“The conceptual outline is one of the most important areas to focus on. Before you begin writing, do not skip over the organization and planning steps. It is important to dig into your research topic and formulate ideas for your paper. Then you should provide evidence for your research proposal and organize your paper in a well-structured way. A good research paper tells a good, logical story. Once the paper is finished, I would recommend that you revise and check the manuscript several times. The first few checks should focus on your research outline and whether the key topics, arguments and evidence have been covered. After that, ensure that the language of the article is accurate and check the English. Finally, do make sure your paper is correctly formatted based on the requirements of the journal you are submitting to.”
Dr. Hailiang Tang, Fudan University, China, Lead Guest Editor for the Special Issue on “Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Oxidative Stress in Stroke”, published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
It’s all about the data
“First and foremost, get familiar with your data, and understand and analyze your data in depth from the perspectives of its collection, characteristics, and the specifics of any changes in the data. This is the most basic requirement for writing an article.
Secondly, study and process your data, and dig out the underlying information, patterns and meaning. This is critically important for a research paper that will reflect your creativity and innovation. It may be difficult, but it is key to improving your academic ability - this is where the true worth of an excellent scholar is demonstrated.
The third part is important but is not the most critical for the articles, because it is based on the second point. You should make an effort to bring out and enhance the novelty of your article and the underlying data. Combine the data with your own understanding to contrast and compare across a broader conceptual scope, so as to improve the innovative nature of the paper.”
Always seek feedback along the way
“In relation to writing up a paper, I think just give it a go – it can be a bit scary to write that first one, but don’t put it off. Always seek feedback along the way. The more you write the easier it will get. Try not to take reviewers’ comments personally; I’d like to think that reviewers provide supportive and constructive feedback, but it can still seem harsh when you have invested time and energy into a manuscript. Even the most published research will have had rejection letters or harsh comments, but then taking on board those comments and doing the rewrite is a major part of the process in creating a better paper. Take any opportunity that arises for you to give back to the research community by being a reviewer – you will learn so much by being part of the process and others will gain insight from you.”
Professor Jenny Wilkinson, Charles Sturt University, Australia, Associate Editor for Hindawi’s Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Submitting to a Hindawi for the first time? All our journals follow a standardized, straightforward process from submission to publication, with help given to authors every step of the way. Catherine Farrell, Editorial Production Editor at Hindawi, takes us through the process from submission to publication and explains step by step what to expect as a first-time author.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.