The aim of the journal article is to communicate your research effectively and help readers understand the issues at hand. Structure your manuscript so that readers take away the most important messages.
Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper
Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper Helping you get published
Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper The core purpose of writing a paper is to go beyond mere presentation of facts and thoughts. It is to reach out to the reader—to communicate your research effectively and help readers understand the issues at hand. This article introduces and illustrates various concepts for structuring a manuscript such that readers take away the most important messages—the messages you want to convey—after reading your paper.
The philosophy behind good manuscript structure A crucial point to remember while writing a paper is that readers do not simply read; they interpret.1 Different readers are likely to extract different meanings from your paper, depending on their expectations or the clues they receive from the manuscript’s structure. This brings us to a concept that serves as the foundation of good writing practices1: Write with the reader in mind
Manuscript structure: The essential elementsA fitting analogy to the structure of most research manuscripts would be anhourglass.2 The manuscript begins with broad statements, narrows down to the specificsof your study, and ends with broad considerations. This section presents the basiccomponents of a manuscript and outlines the essential functions and content of eachpart.2-6
Introduction (What are you studying and why?)Use this section to set the context for your study and problem. Remember that severalreaders may not understand the significance of your study right away. Therefore, usegeneral language and carefully developed logic to guide your readers to the mainproblem/objective of your study.DOs and DON’Ts Describe the rationale for undertaking the study Explain how the research makes an important contribution to the field or advances knowledge State the research question clearly Explain the theoretical framework that the study is based on Provide a background of the problem or issue that your research aims to understand or resolve, citing studies to support your arguments Summarize the current state of knowledge on the topic, citing studies as appropriateX Dont review all studies that have ever been published on the topic
Methods (What did you do?)This section is the most specific to your study. A primary criterion for well-conductedresearch is that it must be replicable. This means that another researcher should be ableto reproduce the results by following the methods detailed in your paper.DOs and DON’Ts Provide full details of all methods, techniques, and instruments Include photograph or diagram of the experimental setup Describe the questionnaire, survey, or other data collection instruments Provide or cite studies that support the validity and reliability of the analysis methods and instruments Describe the lab settings or environment Explain the analysis methods and why you chose themX Don’t exclude important details simply to avoid a lengthy description of the methods
Results (What did you find?)Include all the details of your data and results in this section. Highlight the most significantfindings in the text and then move on to the peripheral findings. Readers should be able tounderstand your results without spending too much time reading this section.DOs and DON’Ts Use tables and figures effectively to present results in a manner that’s easy to understand at a glance Describe the actual data rather than provide generalizations State the main findings in the text Highlight any unexpected or surprising results in the text Explain what the results are saying, rather them simply stating the statistical data (e.g., “X was found to substantially increase with Y [followed by statistical data]” rather than “X and Y had a positive correlation of .73”)X If you have illustrated the results of your study in figures and tables, do not include detailed descriptions of these results in the text
Discussion (What do your findings mean?)A good discussion section extends the specific results to their broader implications, whichcan then be tied in with the general background given in the introduction to maximize theimpact of the overall paper. Therefore, remember to go “back and forth” between yourdiscussion section and the introduction.DOs and DON’Ts Start by stating whether your hypothesis was supported Interpret the results: what do the results imply? Relate your findings to those of previous studies, for example, whether your results support or deviate from results in previous studies Explain how the study adds to previous knowledge Remember to mention any possible alternative explanations for the results Address the limitations of the studyX Don’t simply repeat the results againX Don’t draw conclusions that are not supported by the data
Conclusion (What have you learned from the study?)In this section, state the main conclusions of the study in the context of the formulatedproblem. By the time readers reach this part of the text, they should have understoodwhat you did and the outcomes of the research. Readers should be able to understandhow and why you reached your conclusions.DOs and DON’Ts Explain what you’ve learned from the study Ensure that the conclusion is directly related to your research question and stated purpose of the study Elaborate on the broader implications of the research Suggest specific future avenues of research to advance the knowledge you’ve gained from the study or answer questions that your study did not addressX Don’t oversell your research or “overgeneralize” the results, that is, stretch the study findings to provide suggestions or conclusions that the research doesn’t really supportX Don’t simply summarize the results
Writing for different groups of readersA good writer is aware of what different types of readers may be expecting from the paperand can structure a paper according to the readers’ expectations and backgrounds. Even ageneral reader with little or no knowledge of the field should be able to get a broadunderstanding of what you did and why.2Avoid jargon. Clearly define key terms, especially ones that are not used in theirconventional sense or ones that few readers can be expected to be familiar with.If only specialists in your field can understand what you’re saying, your paper will not beread by a wide audience. Lead readers up to the problem or theory you are studying.Don’t assume that readers know everything about the topic of your research.
Writing for different groups of readersNo explanation: We investigate the role of reduced monoamine oxidase B (MAO B) activity in smoker behavior.Better: The enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAO B) is involved in the breakdown of dopamine, a neurotransmitter implicated in reinforcing and motivating addictivebehaviours such as smoking. MAO B inhibition is associated with enhanced activity of dopamine. We investigate the role of reduced MAO B activity in smoker behavior.
Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper Conclusion To be an effective author, keep the reader in mind while writing your paper. A well- structured manuscript helps you enhance the flow of your ideas and tells readers what to expect at different parts of the manuscript.
Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper References: 1. G Gopen, J Swan The Science of Scientific Writing., American Scientist, 78, pp. 550–558 2. DJ Bern Writing the Empirical Journal Article., in The Compleat Academic: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Social Scientist, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., New Jersey, USA 3. Characteristics of a High Quality Manuscript. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, available online at http://www.nctm.org/publications/content.aspx?id=17149 4. J Samet. Dear Author—Advice from a Retiring Editor., American Journal of Epidemiology, 150, 433– 436 5. D Byrne. Common reasons for rejecting manuscripts at medical journals., Science Editor, 23, pp. 39– 44 6. Characteristics of a High Quality Manuscript (for mathematics ). Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. (n.d.).