How to write the Acknowledgements section of a research paper

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How to write the Acknowledgements section of a research paper

Among all the sections of a typical research paper, the acknowledgements section is the easiest to write—which is probably why most books on writing research papers tend to ignore it. Yet, acknowledgements can be politically tricky. By forgetting to acknowledge those whom you should have acknowledged, you risk offending them; but even those whom you have acknowledged in your paper can take offence at the manner in which this is done. At times, when the help received is substantial, it can be hard to decide whether you should acknowledge the support or offer authorship instead. Wish this were as simple as remembering that it is Acknowledgments without the ‘e’ in US English but Acknowledgements with the ‘e’ in UK English.

This article discusses the purpose of the acknowledgements section in a research paper and offers tips on who should be mentioned in it and how, who should be excluded, and how the section should be formatted.

Why acknowledge?

In academic writing, the time-honoured method of acknowledging people is to cite their work, but that does not apply here. And yet, it is only proper that you put on record – by means of an appropriate mention in the acknowledgements section – any help that you received in conducting your research, in writing about it and publishing it. By doing so, albeit indirectly, you make your work more credible: for instance, when you acknowledge the help you received from a statistician in designing your experiment and in analysing its results, you reassure journal editors and, more important, those who review your manuscript, about the experimental design and the analysis of results. Similarly, acknowledging the help you received from a copy editor shows that you have taken care of the language, style, and formatting.

Who should be acknowledged?

Broadly, you should acknowledge those who helped you by going beyond their normal call of duty, especially those whose help proved crucial to your work or who provided expertise that you lacked. Such people may include some of your peers, your mentors (research supervisors or guides), and even your students. If you received funding, the fact should be acknowledged. Some funding agencies may have specific instructions about how their funding should be mentioned; if that is so, make sure that the form of acknowledgement is consistent with such instructions. You should also consider acknowledging any material or other resources made available to you free of charge. However, if such help is mentioned as part of a conflict-of-interest statement, it should not be repeated in the acknowledgements section.

Consider including reviewers, even if they are anonymous, if their suggestions have resulted in a substantially improved manuscript.

It is also advisable to have your phrasing approved by those mentioned in the acknowledgements, because such a mention may imply that they approve of the contents of the research paper.

Who should not be acknowledged?

Unlike dedications and acknowledgement commonly found in books, acknowledgements in research papers do not feature parents, family members, or friends (unless of course they qualify on other grounds). Similarly, those who provide a service as part of their job (laboratory technicians, field assistants, and so on) are usually excluded. Heads of departments, directors of laboratories, and people in similar positions also should not be acknowledged routinely: include them only if they went out of their way to help you.

Phrasing the acknowledgements

In general, be factual and avoid going overboard. Something along the lines of “The authors thank John Smith for advice on experimental design and statistical analysis” should be fine. Courtesy titles (Mr, Ms, Dr, etc.) before the names are rarely used (but check your target journal), and job titles or designations are seldom given. Avoid such expressions as ‘kind help’, ‘eternally grateful’, and ‘greatly indebted to’. If the acknowledgement is specifically by one of the authors of the paper, it is customary to use only the initials, as in “JS thanks...”.

In terms of sequence, any intellectual contributions come first, followed by technical support, help in revising and writing; financial support is mentioned at the end.

Formatting the acknowledgements

As a rule of thumb, the acknowledgement section should be a single short paragraph of say half a dozen lines. Examine the target journal for the format: whether the heading appears on a separate line or run on (that is, the text follows the heading on the same line). Check also whether the heading is in bold or in italics. The headings in the main body of the paper may be numbered, but the acknowledgement section is not numbered. Do not use any special formatting within the paragraph.

Effectively, acknowledgements signal the end of the main body of a research paper. Of course, they are followed by references—but that is another story.

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Published on: Dec 02, 2021

Communicator, Published Author, BELS-certified editor with Diplomate status.
See more from Yateendra Joshi


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