How to write a good research paper – An introductory guide for early career researchers

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Getting published is one of the top career goals for any researcher, and a well-written manuscript is the first step towards publication success. While most students and early career researchers possess the subject knowledge to develop an excellent research study, they often struggle to organize their ideas into one comprehensive and error-free manuscript that has the potential to be published, read and cited. This article offers essential guidelines and tips on how to write a good research paper at every stage of your research career.

Read profusely to write well

Conducting research can take a long time, and hence, students don’t get a chance to write research articles regularly. However, you can develop writing skills passively by reading a variety of research papers in your domain on a regular basis to familiarize yourself with the rules and conventions of academic writing.

Here are a few tips to read a research paper effectively:

  1. In order to know how to write a good introduction for an academic paper authors must first read and observe several introductory passages in published papers. Identify these three key aspects in the Introduction
    1. How the author initiates the readers to the theme/context of their research
    2. How persuasively the author reports the gaps in their research field
    3. What kind of approaches the author adopts in their research to fill in said gaps

  2. One of the most essential tips on how to write a good research paper includes assessing the following in the Results section
    1. Use of headings and subheadings to describe results – The headings must convey the primary experiment/observation and its general outcome succinctly.
      Consider these headings:
      • Treatment of tissue with drug X and 
      • Analysis of gene X mutation
        These do not convey any outcome and can be revised to better represent the author’s research findings as:
      • Drug X reduces tissue inflammation
      • Mutation in gene X reduces protein production

    2. Finer details used to describe the results (quantitative or qualitative)
    3. Use of figures, graphs, illustrations, or other visual means to describe the findings

  3. Next, make note of these points in the Methods section
    1. Different techniques used for the study and the logical sequence in which they’re presented
    2. How each of the protocols including chemicals (company, purity grade), equipment (manufacturer, make and type), software (SPSS, Stata), etc. are outlined meticulously
    3. How to make an ethical declaration and mention whether the author’s received informed consent from the subjects

  4. Following the author’s arguments in the Conclusion and Discussion is crucial to understand how to write a good academic article and report your findings clearly
    1. How the authors usually start the discussion by revisiting the overall theme of research
    2. Analyses of research results — such as defending the novelty of results, comparing similarities or differences from other studies, and related explanations
    3. Caveats of the study and its justification by the author
    4. How the author reports the significance of research findings
    5. Key takeaways and future implications of the author’s research

Understanding the overall organization, style, and presentation of each section of a typical research paper will boost your confidence when you begin writing your own manuscript.

Avoid misinterpreting academic rules
Several academic writing myths can be misleading. Let us look at a few of them.

  1. Jargon and technical terms put off the reader.

Readers appreciate learning more about research in their domain, and subject area conventions and jargon can help them relate with your research and understand it better. Remember, you’re writing keeping a specific readership in mind.Consider these examples:

  • The cells were kept at 28° C for the whole night
  • We noticed gene X had a change in its DNA.

The information given above is correct but lacks discipline-specific language. Instead, the following examples indicate you’re not writing for a general audience, but you’ve customized your writing for a target readership.

  • The cells were grown at 28° C in the incubator overnight.
  • We discovered gene X had a mutation.
  1. Good vocabulary is good writing.

No matter how enormous one’s vocabulary may be, making smart word choices is a better way to write a good academic paper. Consider make vs prepare vs engineer — all have overlapping connotations but cannot be used interchangeably. For example:

The buffer was made using chemicals A, B, and C (informal but correct)

The buffer was engineered using chemicals A, B, and C (pretentious and incorrect)

The buffer was prepared using chemicals A, B, and C (formal and appropriate)

  • Formal writing style requires long and complex sentences

Consider the following examples.

  1. A majority of zebrafish embryos did not survive in response to treatment with drugs during the course of the study. 
  2. During the study, most zebrafish embryos died after drug treatment.

The first sentence comprises superfluous words and phrases that make the sentence long and difficult to follow. In contrast, the second sentence trims the excess and concisely explains the event. To make your research writing more readable and impactful, avoid repetition and long, hard-to-read sentences.

  • Academic writing equals excellent grammar

One of the most important tips on how to write a good research paper is that even excellent grammar and impeccable punctuation cannot compensate for incoherent and jumbled-up writing. Grammar is important, but so is grouping, sequencing, documenting information, and interlinking different sections of your research study. Pay special attention to structuring your manuscript to convey your research ideas precisely and systematically.

Other common misconceptions that new researchers may have about academic writing are:

  • Expecting the first draft to be perfect

Feedback for the first draft can sometimes be scathingly hurtful and may discourage students and new researchers. Scholars must understand that a good research paper undergoes several iterations until it is optimized for publication.

  • A writing course is the only solution

Many students and early career researchers perceive a research writing course as the ultimate solution to overcome challenges faced when writing a manuscript for the first time. Writing is a lifelong skill development endeavor that improves with time and practice. A faculty member’s or peer’s feedback or getting professional editing assistance from experienced editors can go a long way in helping scholars understand and improve individual writing errors.

Other essential characteristics of a good research paper

  1. Presenting data visually

Learning how to write a good research paper will be incomplete without using data visualization elements such as graphs, plots, maps, illustrations, etc. Data visualization is nothing but storytelling without words and helps readers understand the relationship between variables, trends, and patterns quickly and with ease. Before submitting visual data, authors must take note of the following specifications: 

  • Image editing guidelines provided by the journal
  • Image resolution, size, legends, and labeling specifications
  • Readability of words and symbols used in images
  • Embedded rich media (ERM) guidelines for submitting videos/audio files
  •  Following critical research publication ethics

Addressing potential ethical concerns is crucial to maintain research integrity. Learning how to steer clear of consequences like desk rejection or even retraction will help an author write a manuscript that adheres to the industry’s publication standards. After all, bad research ethics and a good academic article don’t coincide. Plagiarism is one of the top reasons for articles getting rejected upfront, which can be easily avoided using paraphrasing techniques and citing references clearly. Predatory journals that mostly target unsuspecting early career researchers and students can also be detrimental to one’s reputation as a research scholar. Authors must strictly refrain from citing articles published in predatory journals. Data fabrication and multiple simultaneous submissions are considered serious academic misconduct as well.

  • Adhering to journal guidelines

Your target journal itself is the best source on how to write a good academic article that impresses your journal editor and target readership. Each journal prescribes specific ways to present a manuscript for submission. Most of the information can be accessed in a section called Instruction for Authors (IFA) on your target journal’s website. Here are a few examples of specifications authors should know of:

  • Manuscript organization and referencing style
  • Word count for the entire manuscript or for particular sections
  • Specifications for headings and subheadings, layout and spacing, etc.
  • Information about what the journal allows and does not allow. For example, footnotes are usually not permitted in journal articles. Some journals also have strict rules about document types for submission.
  • Step back, relax, and proofread with a fresh perspective

While writing a research paper authors often tend to ignore finer details like ensuring coherent transition between sections or paragraphs, logical sequence of ideas in a section, and incomplete or vague arguments. Proofreading your manuscript over a period of time can help fill these gaps and make the paper easy to comprehend, concise, and persuasive. To write well means to write iteratively, but this is also one of the most easily overlooked aspects while writing a good academic paper as most researchers tend to focus on the content of their manuscripts over its presentation. But how to avoid glaring language errors that may affect your chances of getting published in the journal of your choice? Don’t worry, Editage can help!

Certain language, grammar, punctuation errors may also be easily missed by students or early career researchers regardless of whether they speak English fluently. To avoid such mistakes and multiple revisions later, researchers who are new to academic publishing may opt for professional academic editing service providers like Editage which offers high-quality editing to improve sentence construction, grammar, and readability. The premium editing service like Editage is perfect for researchers working on a tight deadline who wish to fix language issues in their manuscripts. With lighting speed delivery in just 8 hours, affordable prices, and two levels of editing by native English speakers in your specific research domain, this service is the best choice for students and early career researchers who need to deliver an error-free, submission-ready research paper. We hope you found our tips on how to write a good research paper useful. Don’t forget to learn more about our Advanced Editing service to get in-depth English editing support from subject experts for your next research manuscript.

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