Write well to... Beat the competition
Photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash
Publishing is essential for your research career. It provides visibility for your work, satisfies funding conditions, demonstrates your capability as a researcher and your input to the scientific community, and updates your peers on the current state of knowledge. But it’s easier said than done...
Acceptance rates for many journals are less than 30%. And unfortunately, there's a lot of emphasis on novelty when publishing research; getting “scooped” (when another group is first to publish findings similar to yours) can damage your scientific reputation. This is particularly frustrating if it happens while you’re revising your paper, or even while your paper is under review.
So how can you help speed your manuscript into that small pile of accepted papers?
1. Follow the instructions
Once you’ve chosen an appropriate journal for your manuscript, check its guidelines. These guidelines – which might be called “instructions to authors”, “information for authors”, “manuscript submission guidelines”, or a variation on that theme – can be found on every journal website. Some are stricter or more extensive than others, and different publishers put them in different places on their websites, but it’s very important to find them and follow them appropriately. Not doing so might result in your manuscript being returned to you without review, for reasons that are nothing to do with your research.
Even if your manuscript gets through to the review stage, neglecting to follow the guidelines can still cause unnecessary delays. Author guidelines cover specifics such as article types, title page information, text and reference formatting, order of sections, word limits, artwork instructions, statements on ethics and conflicts of interest, and often much more. If anything is missing or incorrect, it’s likely to be sent back to you for correction, causing a delay that could have been easily avoided.
Journal editors are inundated with submissions, and you want to make their lives as simple as possible, so following their instructions is an easy, respectful, and essential first step when preparing your manuscript.
2. Write clearly
The more clearly you present your arguments in your manuscript, the easier it will be to read. Instead of getting bogged down in “scientific” writing, write as if you’re explaining your study to a colleague or friend in a different field.
The main messages you want to get across are:
Once you’ve clearly stated those overarching points, you can go into the details; but if those three points are not well made, any smaller details might confuse the reader. This might sound obvious, but when you know your study inside-out, it's very easy to forget to explain the basics! It's one of the most common mistakes we see at NeuroEdit.
In addition, each section of the paper should follow a clear structure. Again, as if you’re talking to a colleague in another field, guide the reader through the background and rationale without too much jargon, in short and simple sentences. Provide just enough information for them to understand why the study is important and what impact it may have in your field.
3. Write engagingly
This may not be something you’ve thought about when writing your research manuscripts, but the more engagingly you write, the more likely it will be that the reader will notice your paper, read the whole thing, and be able to pay close attention to what you’ve written. By writing engagingly, you'll make it easier for them to concentrate on the science.
You’re passionate about the research you’re doing; show this to the reader and help them understand why they should care about it just as much as you do!
Grab the reader's attention from the first word of the title, and encourage them to keep reading until the last word of the conclusion.
All these points can be summarised as “keep the reader in mind”. The “reader” includes the journal editor, the reviewers, and those reading the published paper. Make their life easier, be respectful of their time, and encourage them to keep reading, by following instructions and writing clearly and engagingly.
At NeuroEdit, we help researchers create the best possible version of their manuscript before submitting it to a journal. We work with native and non-native English speakers at all stages of their career. If you're writing a paper and all the information we've listed above sounds too time-consuming or too difficult to implement, we can help. We can eliminate linguistic errors, ensure the arguments in your paper are clear, make your writing engaging, showcase your figures professionally, write an effective cover letter, format the manuscript to any journal's instructions, and more - usually within a week, and often for around the price of an antibody! Contact us to see how we can help you improve your manuscript.
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