As a former academic now turned full time academic editor, reviewer, and occasionally researcher, it still amazes me that one of the first things I need to point out to almost everyone, from graduate students to seasoned researchers, is the lacking structure of the papers they are trying to get published. As such, let us start with a reminder of what goes where in a paper.
We first have the Introduction (depending on the journal), which is to contain:
- Necessary background/area and niche
- Purpose statement
- Brief description of data set
- (in certain fields) Results & conclusions
Next, the Body (everything between the introduction and the conclusions) needs to contain
- Necessary theory/background/literature review
- Results (plus robustness checks, etc.)
Afterwards, the Conclusion:
- Nothing new goes in the conclusion!
- It must derive solely and logically from the Body.
- If the journal has a Discussion section, then include it as well:
- Discussion/Recommendations for Future Research, etc. must naturally come out of the Conclusions;
- That is, they must remain within the framework of all previous discussions (e.g., our study of X was limited to Country Y; future research should include other countries/additional environmental factors, such as …).
Finally, the Abstract:
- Should be presented first but written last
- Should never exceed the journal’s word limit
- Usually includes area (if necessary), niche, purpose statement, a brief account of the methodology used, results, conclusions, future research (if necessary)
- Should omit details
- Must follow the style of most common abstract pattern in the selected journal
Now, if English is not your first language, you will know that writing in English is different, with academic English being quite unique and a challenge for those researchers whose English is not their first language. However, even native speakers tend to lose sight of what academic English is all about. Let us summarize what makes it unique:
- Theory of contrastive rhetoric influences the way you write
- The psychology of reading is probably different from what you are used to
- Different expectations from both readers and writers
- Different rhetorical tradition
- “Writing is thought made visible”
On a more practical note, writing in English actually demands that:
- Every sentence must be clear on first reading, for only one meaning.
- An English paper is self-contained. Everything that the reader needs to know must be in the paper (precisely where it belongs) so that the reader never gets confused.
- The writer must frame everything: not only the paper, but also every section and paragraph.
- Nothing in English is implicit. You must spell everything out, and define all terms when you first mention them.
- An English paper needs to create an airtight proof. You do not narrate, discuss, or theorize, but tell the reader what you will do (or won’t), do it, then show the reader that you have done it and how you have done it.
This means that your obligation as a writer is that you must never take reader knowledge for granted. Assume nothing. Place everything where it belongs, as if nothing exists outside the universe of your paper. And that is because academic English is a 100% writer-responsible language, meaning that only the reader and the reader’s needs matter. If the reader has to think about the writing, figure out what it means, or where the writer is going, then the writing is, by definition, unacceptable.
Taking these items into consideration, the next step is, of course, the writing. A simple search will result in tons of good advice on how to write for academic journals. However, these can be summarized into five essential strategies for maximizing your publication chances. These won’t replace quality research or robust results, but even a very sound technical paper might get rejected because of missing out on one of the following strategies:
- Journal selection and submission analysis
- Organizing and arguing based on Aristotelian logic
- Less is more (edit for strength)
- Clarity rules (edit for clarity)
- Revising rigorously for language, clarity, argumentation, punctuation, etc.
You can get help with all of these here, at Peerwith.
As a general rule, points 3, 4, and 5 are in the realm of language editing. Add point 2 and you have scientific editing, while all five points are part of the writing support service, in addition to direct and targeted support from your specialist of choice.
These strategies will be discussed one by one over the next installments of the writing tips 🙂
Meanwhile, happy writing (yes, yes, procrastination included)!