Writing a Research Article in 40 Steps!

It was assumed, by some authors, that the ‘thicker’ articles with wider range of vocabulary is preferable in the editors hands. However, the editors (and probably the readers) prefer simple, clear and coherent writing, rather than a fancy or complex, pseudo-scientific style. recent studies showed that the information gain is especially enhanced by the “use of examples”, i.e. it helps a lot to use some non-science material, such as everyday life parallels, historical points, etc. On the other hand, some sections, such as Introduction and Discussion, have to intrigue readers and attract interest and should therefore not be over-simplified. For example, a mysterious title can catch readers’ attention and will be easily remembered (e.g.: T.Y. Li and J. Yorke named their famous paper on chaos: “The period three means chaos”). Some sections require more skill and are more important. It is approximated that from all published journal articles in the world, only less than 5% are read in detail. However, more than 50% of abstracts are read and so the quality of an abstracts is much more important. Therefore, the abstract should present the ‘story’ of the RA in miniature and should be readable standalone.

The sub-structure of an Introduction was first described by [tooltip tip=”Swales, J., 1981. Aspects of Article Introductions. ESP Research Report No.1, University of Aston, Aston, UK.”] Swales (81) [/tooltip] with so called “four moves”. These latter on become three, the so-called CaRS model (Create-A- Research-Space) that are: establish a research “territory”, establish a research “niche” and occupy the niche [tooltip tip=”Swales, J.M. and Feak, C., 1994. Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan Press.”] (Swales and Feak, 1994) [/tooltip]. In this case, participants concluded that especially the meso-structure of the Introduction and Discussion RAS should follow some logical flow of ‘moves’ . The more structured and more exact is the paper, the easier it will get published. Each of RA elements has to fulfil its function in order to achieve this goal.

However, this is not the whole story. A RA has to aim at specific audience/Journal, has to be novel and of high interest. Finally, one thing should be uppermost in researchers’ minds: a good article is not only an article that has been published in a top journal – it is the reaction it causes that makes the difference. Therefore, a good article is the one that is read and cited (Publish or Perish!). In some cases, even a good paper will get rejected by the editors, i.e. journal. Unfortunately, sometimes the reasons can be subjective (maybe 1/3rd of all cases). Editors are often biased, they prefer one or other approach, academic level, gender… nation. These problems and issues such as fraud, plagiarism and ethics [tooltip tip=”Rossiter, D.G., 2001. Preparation for MSc Thesis Research. ITC, Enschede, http://www.itc.nl/~rossiter/,28.”] (Rossiter, 2001) [/tooltip] were not discussed in this article but they certainly need attention.

The searching, input and formatting of references, has been lately largely improved by the help of so called “information management tools” (Endnote, ProCite etc.). In addition, the role of companies involved in ‘sorting’ and ‘filtering’, such as Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), will increase. In future, we can expect more structured guidelines for writing a RA (templates?). The RA will also probably support multimedia (animations, sound recordings), which will improve communication between the readers/users and authors. These innovations will inevitably require require some new rules of thumb.

Put it all together: 

Writing a Research Article in 40 Steps!

Step #
Step 1 Make a working title
Step 2 Introduce the topic and define terminology
Step 3 Emphasize why is the topic important
Step 4 Relate to current knowledge : what's been done
Step 5 Indicate the gap : what need's to be done?
Step 6 Pose research questions
Step 7 Give purpose and objectives
Step 8 List methodological steps
Step 9 Explain theory behind the methodology used
Step 10 Describe experimental set-up
Step 11 Describe object of the study (technical details)
Step 12 Give summary results
Step 13 Compare different results
Step 14 Focus on main discoveries
Step 15 Answer research questions (conclusions)
Step 16 Support and defend answers
Step 17 Explain conflicting results, unexpected findings and discrepancies with other research
Step 18 State limitations of the study
Step 19 State importance of findings
Step 20 Establish newness
Step 21 Announce further research
Step 22 ABSTRACT: what was done, what was found and what are the main conclusions
Step 23 Is the title clear and does it reflect the content and main findings?
Step 24 Are key terms clear and familiar?
Step 25 Are the objectives clear and relevant to the audience?
Step 26 Are all variables, techniques and materials listed, explained and linked to existing knowledge - are the results reproducible?
Step 27 Are all results and comparisons relevant to the posed questions/objectives?
Step 28 Do some statements and findings repeat in the text, tables of figures?
Step 29 Do the main conclusions reflect the posed questions?
Step 30 Will the main findings be unacceptable by the scientific community?
Step 31 Is the text coherent, clear and focused on a specific problem/topic?
Step 32 Is the abstract readable standalone (does it reflects the main story)?
Step 33 Are proper tenses and voices used (active and passive)?
Step 34 Are all equations mathematically correct and explained in the text? Are all equations mathematically correct and explained in the text?
Step 35 Are all abbreviations explained?
Step 36 Reconsider (avoid) using of words "very", "better", "may", "appears", "more", "convinced", "impression" in the text.
Step 37 Are all abbreviations, measurement units, variables and techniques internationally recognised (IS)?
Step 38 Are all figures/tables relevant and of good quality?
Step 39 Are all figures, tables and equations listed and mentioned in the text?
Step 40 Are all references relevant, up to date and accessible?


Hengl, T. and Gould, M., 2002. Rules of thumb for writing research articles.

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