An introduction to scientific article writing
After reading this article, you will understand:
1. The purpose of article writing
2. The benefits of publishing in peer-reviewed journals
3. The process flow of article writing
4. The concept of authorship and affiliation in research writing
Defining scientific article writing
“A research paper is a method of communication, an attempt to tell others about some specific data that you have gathered and what you think those data mean in the context of your research” (1). It is therefore expected to be written in a clear and concise method that enable readers with backgrounds similar to yours can understand easily what you have done and how you have done it should they want to repeat or extend your work (1). Scientific papers follow a required structure and style and this generally depends on the journal.
The “Title”, “Authors”, “Affiliation”, “Abstract”, “Introduction”, “Methods”, “Results”, “Discussion”, and “Literature Cited” are the common elements of a scientific journal paper (2). The scientific paper elements allow the target audience to focus on their sections of interest. Some readers prefer targeting the abstract and others may read only the results and conclusion. A well-written journal publication will receive more citations and this will be a demonstration of the impact of the new findings. Therefore, authors are expected to understand the writing styles that attract the interest of the readers (3). Journals have different writing styles and preferences. Hence, authors need to consult journal editors on the expected writing styles. Publications from high impact journals receive more citations because of their style guidelines and the quality of peer reviewers. The structure of the paper and writing style is key to qualify for high impact factor journals. Beware of predatory journals when publishing your manuscripts!!
The benefits of writing a scientific article
The ability to effectively communicate research findings is crucial to further excel in all academic disciplines. Professional scientists are generally evaluated by the quantity and quality of articles published and the number of citations those articles receive (4). It is therefore important to receive a solid foundation in scientific writing early in the academic career.
Steps for scientific article writing, and the need for writing partners
The attributes for a read-worthy scientific paper that qualifies for journal publications include a good title and research question. These are part of the attributes that immediately attracts interest from the scientific community. They determine the choice and quality of the journal and scientific readership audience (3). The scientific paper should also contribute new knowledge that addresses the existing gaps in the area of focus. Therefore, authors are expected to conduct a thorough literature review to refine the title and objectives that attract interest (3).
Scientific article writing improves with practice and by consulting others, particularly those who have published for them to critique and proofread drafts(5). This provides outside view comments or a “…means of a second check of accuracy and internal consistency” (5). It is, therefore, important to join journal clubs that also provide further assistance and the latest updates in your field of interest. Writing buddies and programmes that offer writing courses are available and these should be fully utilised (6).
This manual, therefore, provides a guideline for developing a manuscript for publication. The following represents the general structure of a manuscript.
Steps to scientific article writing
1. Prepare the figures and tables
2. Write the methods
3. Write up the results
4. Write the discussion
5. Write a clear conclusion
6. Write a compelling introduction
7. Write the abstract
8. Compose a concise and descriptive Title
9. Select keywords for indexing.
10. Write the acknowledgements.
11. Write up the references.
11 steps to structuring a science paper editors will take seriously
“Providing the name of a single author is no problem” (6). Challenges exist as the number of authors increases in terms of who comes first (6).
Plagiarism is a major concern for editors and publishers. Therefore, be certain of the sources of all data and text. If the article is based upon prior work, be sure to reference that prior work properly. An original research paper should not contain previously published data in any form without a proper citation (7).
Authorship and the order of authorship must be agreed upon by all of the authors and any other person who participated in the work but is not included as an author.
Points to consider on authorship
This is in line with the American Psychological Association (APA) Publication Manual (2001) that gives clear advice on allocating credit for authorship (6).
• The sequence of names of the authors to an article must reflect the relative scientific or professional contribution of the authors, irrespective of their academic status.
• The general rule is that the name of the principal contributor should come first, with subsequent names in order of decreasing contribution.
• Mere possession of an institutional position on its own, such as Head of the Research team, does not justify authorship.
• A student should be listed as a principal author on any multi-authored article that is substantially based on the student’s dissertation or thesis.
The number of authors (mostly from the sciences) can be very large and this further creates problems (6). Another recommended alternative solution is to list in more detail the contribution of each author to a multi-authored paper (6).
Example of a footnote to indicate author contribution
Contributors: A and B conceived of and designed the study, and C wrote the required programme. D, E and F analysed and interpreted the data. A and D drafted the paper and B and E critically revised it. All of the authors approved this final version (6).
Follow the instructions below and indicate authors’ roles and affiliations;
• Open the Plos One Journal using the following link; Click text
• Select any journal article and open the authors’ section.
Here are some activities you can do at home to stimulate your thinking.
1. Why are you planning on writing a scientific paper?
2. Identify a writing buddy.
Watch the following video and answer the questions that follow.
How to write a scientific paper
1. List the sections of a research paper.
2. Give a brief summary of what should come under each Unit of the research paper.
Read the article below by opening the provided hyperlink.
1. What was the main objective for this article
2. List the names of authors who were involved in the review and editing of this article.
The estimated length (to be aligned to journal guidelines)
Steps to follow
• Ask a probing question about the topic
• Expand on the colleague’s posting with additional insight and resources
• Offer polite disagreement or critique, supported with evidence
• In addition to, but not in place of the above, you may:
• Offer and support an opinion
• Validate an idea with your own experience
• Make a suggestion or comment that guides or facilitates the discussion.
• Share preferred articles writing days and create and set time and duration to work on your articles alone or with your research buddy.
1. Asghar K, Rashid MU. How To Write a Scientific Research Paper. J Cancer Allied Spec. 2017;3(3).
2. Bates. How to Write a Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format [Internet]. 2014. Available from: https://www.bates.edu/biology/files/2010/06/How-to-Write-Guide-v10-2014.pdf
3. Bredan AS, van Roy F. Writing readable prose. EMBO Rep. 2006;7(9):846–9.
4. Turbek SP, Chock TM, Donahue K, Havrilla CA, Oliverio AM, Polutchko SK, et al. Scientific Writing Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Undergraduate Writing in the Biological Sciences. 2016;(October):417–26.
5. Scott J. How to write a paper for a journal. Indian J Orthop. 2007;41(1):55–6.
6. Hartley J. Academic Writing and Publishing [Internet]. Vol. 42, Routledge. 2008. 1 p. Available from: http://inf.ucv.ro/~mirel/courses/MIAM114/docs/academicwriting.pdf
7. Getahun F, Mazengia F, Abuhay M, Birhanu Z. Comprehensive knowledge about cervical cancer is low among women in Northwest Ethiopia. BMC Cancer. 2013;13(1).
8. Kotzé T. Guidelines on writing a first quantitative academic article. University of Pretoria 2007 p. 1–87.
9. Fisher JP, Johnson PC, Mikos AG. Guidelines for writing a research paper for publication. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers. 2015;5(2):1–7.
10. Banerjee A, Chaudhury S. Statistics without tears: Populations and samples. Ind Psychiatry J. 2010;19(1):60.
11. Bhaskar SB, Manjuladevi M. Methodology for research II. Indian J Anaesth. 2016;60(9):646–51.
12. Steingraber S, Jolls C, Goldberg D. Guidelines for writing scientific papers. Honor Org Biol Lab. 1985;185–92.
13. Wallwork A. Cover Letters [Internet]. Springer International Publishing. Springer International Publishing; 2014. p. 135–66. Available from: https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/authorandreviewertutorials/submitting-to-a-journal-and-peer-review/cover-letters/10285574
14. Taylor and Francis Group. Cover Letter for Journal Submission. Taylor & Francis Group; 2020.