How To Write a Journal Article: Three Tips for Writing Journal Papers
There are two main approaches to writing an article for a scientific or academic journal. The first is to write the article first and then decide on the journal, and the second is just the reverse – decide on a journal and then write the article. Each strategy is highly recommended by its proponents as the most effective, but the fact is that scholarly authors differ and even the same writer might vary his or her strategy depending on the circumstances. A PhD candidate writing a first research article may find a journal’s instructions for authors incredibly helpful for organising and drafting the paper, but if the object is to transform a thesis chapter into a publishable article, the goal will be reshaping that material to fit the new context. Whether you are drafting or reshaping, these three tips will help you write an article to meet the requirements of your targeted journal.
1. Find the journal’s guidelines or instructions for authors, and do not simply read them – study them. Some journals will outline virtually everything about an article’s length, structure and formatting, and a good deal as well about its content. Pay special attention to information about sections, headings and subheadings and to the relative placement of these elements. There are often very specific guidelines about the design and position of tables and figures and the type and style of references and notes. Even personal information must be presented according to the instructions, especially when your identity should be obscured for double-blind review. Make sure you are consulting the correct guidelines for the type of paper you are submitting and that you do not exceed stated limits so that your manuscript turns out too long, for instance, or contains too many references or images. Consult any separate submission guidelines and always use the required forms and formats, submitting all documents and information exactly as indicated. Remember that an excellent presentation that conforms in every way to the journal’s requirements may not render poor research publishable, but a poor presentation can certainly doom excellent research to rejection. Most journals provide everything you need to know to prevent this, so use it well.
2. Learn about the aims and scope of the journal you are considering and keep them in mind while you plan, write and edit your article. Most obviously, the range and specialisation of the journal should coincide in important ways with your own research, but finding a perfect fit is also a matter of approach, perspective, ideals and other more subtle aspects of research and writing. There may be several journals that publish articles in your area of study, but only one or two whose editor and readers will truly appreciate your research and your interpretation of the findings. Understanding a journal’s priorities and special concerns can help you focus your writing as well. If there are, for example, three main conclusions or answers you might draw from your results and you have room to elaborate only one, the one that lies most firmly within the journal’s intellectual and moral sphere is the obvious choice. Remember that presenting significant content that will genuinely interest the journal’s editor and readers is essential to success in a highly competitive publication climate. Reading articles recently published by the journal can be particularly helpful, and these articles can also serve as effective models of structure and formatting, especially if the journal’s guidelines are scant or unclear.
3. Write well and ensure that your prose is effectively conveying the meaning you intend. We live in an age of hasty and imperfect texts and on more than one occasion have been painfully reminded of the danger of unclear and misunderstood words. An academic or scientific article prepared for publication in a reputable scholarly journal is no place for such language. Ambiguity must be avoided and any potentially confusing terms or concepts should be explained. Complete sentences are required and they should be carefully constructed to communicate the author’s research with clarity and precision and present a smooth flow of ideas. Mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation must be strictly avoided, not just to ensure accuracy, but also to establish a professional and authoritative voice. Carelessness and imprecision in language are red flags warning editors of the probability of carelessness and imprecision in your research, and both qualities hinder an effective report of the procedures, findings, analysis and implications of advanced research, which is why so many articles are rejected by journal editors due to language problems. You may therefore need to seek assistance from mentors, colleagues and perhaps a professional academic or scientific proofreader to help you polish your writing to a publication standard that will benefit your career and your scholarly community.