Q: How to write a research paper from a thesis?

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How to write a research paper? I don't have any idea how to summarize my whole thesis.

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The world of academia today is extremely competitive, and it is imperative for early career researchers to start publishing as soon as they can. Since you have already invested significant time and effort on your PhD thesis, it makes sense to try and extract your first journal article from your thesis without spending more time on a new piece of research.

It's great that you wish to summarize your thesis into an article for journal submission. However, as you have mentioned, it is indeed not an easy task. A thesis is a huge piece of work, running to 20,000 words or more, while a journal article has to be pretty concise, ranging anywhere between 2000-4000 words. Condensing a mammoth work to one-tenths of its length can be a really daunting task. Therefore, it is best to write your research paper as a fresh piece, based on the research you have conducted during your PhD. 

First, let's get down to planning your article. A thesis often addresses several research questions, but a journal article needs to have a single central message that you want to get across to the readers. Skim through your thesis and pick up one strong idea that you would like to present in your journal article. It could be a novel aspect of the methodology that you have used in your thesis, a new theory, or an interesting modification you have made to theory or a novel set of findings. Decide on a central idea for your journal article and then create an outline based on this idea.

Next, select a few target journals from your field where you would like to publish. Go through the journal's aims and scope and the instructions for authors page. Find out what kinds of articles they publish, the prescribed word limit for each article type and the maximum number of citations allowed.  Once that is done, take a look at some of the previous issues of the journal to get an idea of how the articles are written, and the tentative length of each section. Mark 2-3 articles to use as samples when you begin writing your article. Finally, make sure which article type you would like to write and find out how such an article is usually structured.  If you are writing an original research article, here’s how you should approach each section:

Introduction: The introduction has to be brief and direct. You should begin with some background information to set context and then move on to the literature review. Just choose a few main articles from the existing literature and state their gist. Make sure you include some recent studies in your literature review. Identify the gaps in literature that led up to your topic and then state your research question. Your introduction should roughly be around one-fourth of the entire length of your article. Thus, if the word limit for your article is 2500 words, your introduction should be around 600 words.

Methods: The methods section should be more concise and to-the-point than that of your thesis. Include only the methods you have used for the research question at hand. Unlike a thesis, there is no need to discuss your research approach. Consult published papers from previous issues of your target journal to see how they have written this section.

Results: Report only the main findings relevant to the research question you have used for your article. Present only the data here, reserve the interpretation for the next section. If you are using tables and figures, make sure you don’t repeat the same data in text.

Discussion: Begin by providing an interpretation of your results, that is, what do the results prove or reveal? Don’t repeat the results here; just get on to the explanation directly. Explain the significance of the results: how they add value to the existing literature. Compare with a few related studies if you wish. Finally, touch upon the limitations of your work and provide future directions.

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