While editing different research manuscripts, I have often observed the lack of presentation in the content matter; as a result, in spite of having a good amount of results, the manuscript becomes very weak in terms of readability and clarity. Here are few suggestions that might be helpful for the beginner to understand how to write an effective research manuscript. A research manuscript can be of different types: original article, reviews, short communication, rapid communication, letters, etc. Here I will limit my discussion on how to plan for writing a manuscript for an original article.
Before you start writing the manuscript, take a few steps back, gather all your results and ask yourself few questions: Is it a new and original work? Does it have a clear objective or hypothesis? Did you make a significant amount of progress to achieve the goal? Are all your claims supported by appropriate data? Can you explain gist of your work in one or two sentences? If all the answers are YES, go ahead and start writing the research manuscript.
There is a general structure for each type of research manuscript. For writing a manuscript of an original article, the following structure should be followed:
IMRAD (the main body: Introduction (I), Methods (M), Results And Discussion (RAD))
This should be the format and the order of final presentation; however, the order of writing would be little different.
First, prepare all your figures and tables. This will help you in assessing the standard of your work; accordingly, select two or three journals. Once you finish writing choose the target journal among them. Following is the order you may start writing:
1. Start with the “Method” or experimental section (if you are theoretician, first work on your Theory) of the manuscript. This section should be written in detail so that any reader, if needed, can reproduce the results by following the method you described. If you have used any previously established method, cite the appropriate reference without going into detail. For chemicals, cell lines, antibody, etc., mention the company or lab from where you bought or procured it. For instrument, it is important to mention the model number along with the company name. Same is for any software, for example, Sigma-Plot, SPSS, etc. (mention the version).
2. Next, start the “Result” section of your manuscript. Briefly writing the protocol could be effective. Present all the main findings; you may present the secondary data in supplementary section. Refer the figures and tables in order. Use sub-headings while presenting results of same type together. Do not discuss and interpret the results here, if you have a separate “Discussion” section. However, in case of common “Results and Discussion”, you need to interpret. For this, you need to check the “Author guidelines” of your target journal and accordingly, plan your presentation.
3. Once you finish the result section, you will see a story has already built up in front of you. Now, start writing the “Introduction” of the manuscript. “Introduction” should reflect the background of the study, i.e., what made you interested or inspired to undertake this project. Discuss already published studies in the field. Remember, while presenting the previous literature, you should take care of the logical flow of the content. “Introduction” of a manuscript sets the beginning of your article; do not ruin it with irrelevant facts. The last paragraph should present the objective of your work clearly, and care should be taken to maintain the logical flow with rest of the introduction.
4. Once you have the “Introduction”, “Results” and “Methods” sections ready, it is easy to write “Discussion” of a manuscript. Start “Discussion” with the answer of the questions raised in the “Introduction”. The “Discussion” section of a manuscript not only involves interpreting your findings, but also comparing your results with the previously reported studies. This is very important. Often, I see the authors only discuss their result without comparing with the existing reports. If you have obtained improved results, explain the reason. At the same time, if your findings are not in accordance with the published report, try to give explanation. This could be some difference in methods or due to some limitation in your study. Besides explaining the significance your work, you must explain weakness or discrepancies of your work (if any).
4. Once you are done with the “Discussion” of your manuscript, go back to “Introduction” and refine it. Depending on how far you could achieve the goal, you need to refine. Go through the entire manuscript couple of times and find out if something is missing or over stretched. Once you are satisfied, think about “Conclusions”
5. “Conclusions” helps a reader or a reviewer to judge the work presented in the manuscript. Remember, “Conclusions” of a manuscript should not be the rehash of “Results”. In this section, you should briefly present only the key results, followed by how far you achieved the goal. Limitations (if any) should also be told very briefly and end with some future study or application.
6. Again, go back and refine your “Introduction”.
7. Take utmost care while writing “Abstract” of your manuscript. It should be clear and at the same time interesting. Do not drag it (keep it within 250-300 words as most of the journal recommends). If your target journal wants a structured abstract (Background-Objective-Results- Conclusions), it is easy for you to write; however, you may always write the “abstract” following this structure in mind. Try to present a clear objective with highlighting the key findings and end with a robust “conclusions”. A clear “Abstract” sets the mood of a reader whether your manuscript will be considered for further reading.
8. Keywords are used for indexing and it increases the visibility of your manuscript if published. Therefore, choose keywords (generally five or six maximum) those exactly relate to your study.
9. “Title” is the most crucial part of a manuscript, attracting readers. Title should be crisp and chosen in such way so that it represents the content of a manuscript in a “nut shell”. Take more time to come up with an appropriate title.
Finally, revise, revise, revise…..