How to write a research paper. By Prof A (Tony) D Lucey, Curtin University and Engineers Australia
How to write a (research) paper Prof A.(Tony) D. LuceyCurtin University and Engineers Australia
The typical publishing sequence 1. Do research! 2. Prepare manuscript 3. Submit to journal editor (paper management system) 4. Receive (anonymous) referees’ reports (2-9 months after submission)… 5. If invited to (and after calming down)… reply to referees’ reports, if necessary, re-writing and/or generating additional results 6. Submit revised paper and response to each referee’s report to journal editor… (try to do this as quickly as possible) 7. Receive either confirmation of acceptance or the same referees’ further reports for attention…(1-6 months after re-submission) 8. Either return to #6 or… 9. Receive editorial instructions (formatting, journal conventions, electronic copies required) from publisher 10. Receive galley proofs for correction… (1-3 months after editor’s acceptance) and copyright forms 11. Correct and return the galley proofs… immediately 12. Paper appears in journal (3-6 months after galley-proof corrections)Note: total sequence can typically last between 1-2 years in Engineering
Before you start writing the paperBear in mind that the research ‘story’ you will tell needs to be:• True (validated)• Novel (new understanding)• Useful to the community (significant enough to warrant publishing)Check your target journal/conference for ‘constraints’• Page/Word (and/or number of figures) limits• Format – use the template if provided• Reference and Figure styles• Recommended number of references (occasionally suggested)And adhere to these!
Preparing the paper – key points• First and foremost: Consider the reader• Plan it! Ensure that you develop a structure that is logical and easy to follow… use a ‘road map’ in the Introduction…• Be succinct… but not terse – provide pointers and explain ‘why’ at each stage of the development• Also consider ‘what was not done’ and, as briefly as possible explain why…• When interpreting results do not state the obvious – instead, concentrate on bringing out the meaning of the results• Results in themselves are not research – the generation of understanding is…• Eliminate basic errors (spelling, syntax, references, figure presentation, cross- referencing)… referees will associate sloppy presentation with sloppy science/engineering• Make all aspects of the presentation – including figures - as easily readable (and, legible!) as possible…• Bring the paper to a close… the story must have clear and satisfying end.
An approach/menu for paper-writingTypical paper comprises: – Abstract – Introduction – Methods – Results and discussion – Conclusion – Acknowledgements – References – Appendices (optional – fairly rare – use for mathematical details)However, prepare the paper in a different order:
1. Select and prepare the results figures to be presented – these are the key features of the story – use a problem schematic and then method validation figures (your results as compared with the studies of others), then onto your new results (Usually a total of 8-15 figures for a full paper, 3-6 for a technical note)2. Write the methods section – so that it covers the techniques that generated the results figures – only provide the key steps (if necessary, details can be relegated to an appendix)3. Write the results and discussion section – use references herein to show how your work fits with and extends the results of other studies4. Write the introduction section – purpose and scope of work, literature review, and outline/road-map of your paper5. Write the conclusion to the paper – bring the main findings together with a ‘take- home message’. Do not introduce new results, nor go on at length about what you plan to do next6. Write the abstract – see next slide
Title and Abstract of your paper Very important if your work is to be accessed (title and abstract are the main entries in databases such as Scopus, ISI etc.)Title: – as short as possible, but... – long enough so that it covers the essential aspects of your work in recognised termsAbstract:Summarise all of the following in the order given (and keeping to word limit) – Research topic – Motivation/purpose of the research – Methods used/developed – Key findings
Replying to referees’ reports on your paper• Stay calm!• If you have been invited to respond, there is a very good chance that the paper will ultimately be accepted… provided that you• Don’t reject them out-of-hand… or ignore their comments/criticisms• Referees’ criticisms often stem from reading (a part of) the manuscript in a different way than you intended… or they have their own predispositions as to how the problem should be tackled. In many cases additional exposition will overcome the misunderstanding• Referees may ask for additional results. If these are to (further) demonstrate the integrity of the research, then provide them. If they are to extend the research beyond the stated scope of the paper, then don’t… but add clarification as to intended scope of the paper.• As well as making the revision, write a polite(!) point-by-point reply to each referee. This will convince the editor (who may not have detailed knowledge of the specific subject matter) that you have taken their input seriously.
If your paper is rejected… A referee passes judgment on the following criteria 1. Is the research an original contribution? 2. Is the research correct? 3. Is the paper suitable for the journal to which it has been submitted? 4. Is the scope/achievement of the work sufficient for a journal paper?If it fails in one or more of the above criteria (the report should say how), thengenerate a new paper…If 1. – Find where others’ research was done before and modify/extend yourwork to ensure sufficient distinctionIf 2. – Correct it! Or prove/demonstrate that it is….and make a convincingcase in the new paperIf 3. – Send it to a more suitable journalIf 4. – Consider re-writing as a technical-note/short-communication But don’t give up!
The games some people play (avoid these… they really antagonise editors and refereesand will, long term, give you a bad reputation even if you do ‘get away with it’ once or more…)• Sending a rejected paper, without change, to another journal… the same referee(s) could receive it!• Sending a paper concurrently to more than one journal…• Submitting an unpolished/incomplete manuscript and letting the referees correct/(suggest how to)complete it for you… as free labour.• ‘Bulking out’ a paper by including material that you have already published before• Deliberately ignoring other (key) published works that are directly relevant• Plagiarism – a mortal sin
A closing message...See it from the reader’s perspective – take him/her onthe journey and make it as comfortable as possible– Give the paper a clear developmental direction– Anticipate and head-off (readers’) doubts– Keep the English simple and precise– Apply careful attention to every detail