Read time: 5 min.
Many have contacted me to learn more about the process of writing my research papers.
I have published several papers during my PhD following a 13-step process. I also conducted workshops on writing research papers.
Now, some of you might be at the beginning of your research journey. And you may be trying to understand what it takes to write a research paper. In that case, I would recommend you read the following posts first: choosing a research topic, how to do a literature review, and the different research methods.
First, what is a research paper?
One or more researchers write research papers to share their findings with the research community. In short, it’s a way of sharing your work with a specific audience.
Now, let’s go through my writing process.
1. Get started!
It’s always easy to postpone your writing.
Obviously, if you don’t start writing you will never publish.
2. Review your notes and your literature search
One way to start: take notes when you read papers (literature review steps), or write preliminary results.
3. Speak to the right audience (your research community)
Your research community is your audience. Keep them in mind when you write your paper.
Keep also in mind that peer-reviewers are part of your audience.
4. Write an outline with the big picture
Start structuring your manuscript with the big picture.
Write an outline with the different sections, your data tables/charts/figures.
Keep also in mind the references you will need.
Whenever you read a research paper you realize that most of them follow a similar format.
This format or similar pattern is easy to follow and understand. I cover the conventional structure of a research paper in the next points.
What is this structure, often called the IMRAD structure.?
- The title.
- The abstract.
- The introduction.
- The methods (often with the materials and/or data).
- The results.
- The discussion and the conclusion.
5. Write the methods/data section and the results/discussion sections
One of the easiest sections to write is the Methods and Data section. It’s also called the Materials and Methods section.
Here, you need to explain the step-by-step process that you followed to get your results.
You can start by sharing the list of materials, equipment, instruments, data sources, software… that you used to conduct your experiment.
Then, you need to share the step-by-step process that you followed to get your results.
One important thing to remember is that your experiments/methods need to be reliable.
The way you have conducted your experiments should be transparent enough. If researchers try to replicate your experiments, they will arrive at the same results.
Reproducibility is an important element in science. And using reliable methods improves your credibility as an author.
6. Write the results and discussion
The next section is the results and discussion section.
The purpose of this section is to share your results that helped you in filling the research gap.
You start by sharing your data/results.
The data can be in the form of visuals, charts, graphs, figures, illustrations, tables or quotes.
Then you need to explain what that data means.
This is where you’re attaching an explanation.
In your discussion, you attach your meaning to your results. And what it means for the current research problem that you are working on.
7. Edit the text
Make sure the English & Science is correct
Of course, this is not an easy step for non-English speakers.
But many tools exist to correct your grammar, style, spelling mistakes…
Tip: Ask your colleagues (supervisors, other PhD students, colleagues from your lab) to read your paper before submitting it to a journal.
8. Write the conclusion
The purpose of the conclusion is to remind your audience why you started this research. And what you got out of it. It’s the end of your story.
So you start this section by reiterating the goal of your study.
Then you review the key findings of your work.
After that, you share the broader implications of your study. And you explain the exact contribution of your study.
Then finally you close this section by sharing some suggestions for future work. And how other researchers can take your study forward.
9. Write the abstract and the acknowledgements
The very first section that you will see in a research paper is an abstract.
It’s one of the most important sections of the research paper.
Because based on your abstract, the readers decide whether they want to read the rest of your paper or not.
All search engines index the abstract with the title of your manuscript.
An abstract is a summary of your entire research article, and it includes the important sections that I covered above: the introduction, the materials and methods, the results and discussion, and the conclusion.
But the difficulty is that an abstract has a word limit (200/300 words) depending on the journal requirements. So, you need to include all the important information, but in a concise manner.
You can also have an acknowledgement section to mention the support you received. For example: funding support, support from supervisors/colleagues etc..
10. Write the introduction, the purpose and the relevant background
Writing the introduction should not be difficult if you have done a solid literature review.
First, you share the background of your research field, and the motivation of your study.
Then you narrow it down to talk about the specific research problem that you have worked on. It’s the opposite of the conclusion section: you first write about your findings then you broaden out.
In this section, you share what is the rationale behind doing this study. What is the motivation to write this paper?
You first start with the general background of our study: you write about the context, historical data, key terms and definitions.
Then you move to the current body of knowledge. This is where your literature reviews comes into play.
What have other researchers done in this field?
Then comes the research gap. The research gap is a problem that the existing studies or research within your field have not answered.
Then you state the goal your study with your research questions. You set the scope of your study with the different questions that you plan to investigate.
11. Collect all the required references
The last section that you will see in a research paper is the references section.
Here, you list all the sources, all the literature that you have referred to in your manuscript.
You need to make sure that you the citation style required by the journal your target.
Tip: Don’t do this manually. Use a reference management tool like EndNote to collect, manage, and format your references automatically.
12. Check the manuscript requirements from the publisher of the journal you target
Such requirements can include several author guidelines like the required format of your manuscript, reference/citation style, cover letter, funding information, data sharing, etc…
If you haven’t identified a journal yet, stay tuned: I will write an upcoming post on how to find relevant journals for your manuscript. And how to avoid predatory journals.
13. Submit your paper!
And once you’ve done that, you will submit your paper for publication. As mentioned above, I will post soon on how to manage the peer review process.
That’s it. This is a quick overview of my writing process
If you have any questions, ask away and I will reply.
See you in the next newsletter!
My favourite things this week
- Getting back to work and starting 2024 on a strong note with one manuscript accepted for publication 🙂
- Great discussions with a major university in South Africa about research management at various levels (university, faculty, department, team and researcher)
Quote of the Week
“Academic writing you have to get right. Fiction you have to get plausible. And there’s a world of difference” – Eliott Colla