Writing a research manuscript

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:

Title

Abstract

Keywords

IMRAD (the main body: Introduction (I), Methods (M), Results And Discussion (RAD))

Conclusions

Acknowledgements

References

Appendices/ Supplementary

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…..

Tips for Writing a Research Paper

In general terms, a research paper presents the writer’s viewpoint of a particular topic. Students might be required to submit a research paper (thesis/dissertation) for acquiring some professional qualification or degree. Researchers need to submit their original research or review results to be published in journals. A particular format needs to be followed while writing a research paper. The format might vary depending on the respective journal guidelines.

Problems in Writing a Research Paper

Writing a research paper is considered a complex process by many. They have no idea as to how and from where to start. The most common difficulty is not doing enough research about the study topic. Before you think about how to write a research paper, you need to first decide what to write. So, give yourself ample time to analyze the study topic thoroughly. Another major problem that is frequently faced is proper organization of a research paper. Presenting the facts in an organized manner is of utmost importance. There is often a lack of knowledge of the basic structure of a research paper. Different journals have different formats. That adds to the confusion of the students/researchers. To make things easier, the general format of a research paper is discussed below.

Basic Format of a Research Paper

Title Page

Frame a suitable title for your research paper based on your research objective. It should not be too lengthy. Some journals specify a word limit for titles. Mention the author(s) name(s) with the respective institutional details. Full postal details of the corresponding author should also be mentioned. A short running head may or may not be specified depending on the target journal guidelines.

Abstract

Abstract is a brief summary of the entire paper. Although small, it is a vital aspect of your research paper. People decide whether they want to go through the entire paper or not after reading the Abstract. It should present the research objective, methodology, results and conclusions of the research in brief. Generally, an Abstract can be of 200–300 words. But, some journals specify specific word limits for it.

Introduction

The introduction gives an insight about your research topic to the reader. It should provide the complete background information about your topic. Explain the key terms of your research, and cite relevant information and findings from previous studies. Mention your research objective and hypothesis in this section. You can also list the remaining sections of your paper and mention what they present at the end of this section. This section is generally written in present tense.

Methods

This section should provide sufficient information about the materials and methods that were used to conduct the research. The study environment, strategies, instruments/equipments, data collection and analysis techniques that you used should be listed.

Results

All the results that were obtained in relevance to the research question should be presented in detail. Use figures and tables to illustrate your findings, wherever applicable. Ensure that the results are presented systematically in a sequence, including the figures and tables.

Discussion

In this section, you need to describe the implications or significance of your findings. You have to present your facts that support and refer to the statements made in the Introduction. It should be properly organized as is relevant to your research. You should avoid putting forth new ideas in this section. The effect and contribution of the study should also be mentioned here. Interpret your results properly and mention the supporting data for your conclusion.

Conclusion

This is an overall summary of the paper. Mention your research objective and discuss the points that you covered during your research. Generally, while writing a research paper, it is considered that Conclusion is much easier to write compared to Introduction because, in the former, the memory of the results is still fresh.Your Conclusion should relate directly to the statements that you made in the Introduction. Like Introduction, this section is usually kept in the present tense.

Acknowledgements

In this section, you can thank the individuals or institutions who made your research possible.

References

This section should contain a list of all the references cited in the paper. Ensure that you have cited only credible sources in your paper.