9 top tips for writing an excellent paper

You’ve spent hundreds of hours collecting results and analyzing data, and you’re close to the end of your research journey. There’s just one final hurdle: writing the manuscript. There’s a lot riding on your final publication, since it’s your chance to share your research with your peers and it will build the body of scientific knowledge in your field.

So how can you make sure you write the best paper possible? Here are our top 9 tips for great academic writing.

1. Read the journal you’re planning to submit to, including its Guide for Authors or submission information. This will give you a good idea of the style and structure that’s expected, so you can make sure your manuscript is appropriate.

2. Plan your manuscript, outlining the content you want to include in each section: introduction, materials and methods, results and discussion, and conclusion. Having a skeleton plan of your manuscript helps you make sure you’ve covered all the content you need to include.

3. Just write! Staring at a blank page can be daunting, so start with the easiest section. This could be materials and methods, since you’re likely to have that information in your lab book already. Write down what you know, working section by section. Scheduling time, setting yourself writing targets and deadlines can help you get to your first full draft.

4. Write a memorable title that helps readers understand what your research is about at a glance. Your title is what sells your article to potential readers, so it’s an opportunity to make your research stand out. Think of it as the headline for your story; focusing on the results can help your title make an impact. Academic writing should be accurate, but it doesn’t have to be boring!

5. Write an effective abstract that summarizes your research without going into too much detail – if they’re interested, people can read on. Your abstract should be a summary of the background, relevant methods, results and conclusions of your research, all in a neat 100-250-word paragraph. Remember, this is the first part of your article that people will read, so make sure it includes all the main points.

6. Get feedback from co-authors or trusted peers. Asking other people to read your draft can help you identify areas for improvement. Select your advisors carefully: expertise, language skills and familiarity with the subject can be helpful. Ask them to be constructively critical; your article will eventually go to reviewers for comments, so this is your chance for a mini pre-review!

7. Double-check your references and make sure you’ve cited all the important literature that’s relevant to your research. Use reference management tools like Mendeley; many of them have plug-ins that can format your references automatically, directly in your manuscript document.

8. Polish the language, especially if you’re not writing in your native language. It’s difficult to see your own mistakes if you’ve had your head stuck in the text for weeks. Poor English is one of the top reasons for rejection before peer review, so it’s worthwhile to make sure your writing is clear, accurate and correct before you submit. You could ask a native English speaker to proofread your manuscript, or have it edited professionally, for example with Elsevier’s English Language Editing services.

9. Add the bells and whistles to your manuscript: Are your tables and figures high quality, accurate and properly referenced? It’s important to make sure they look great, as they will help the reader understand your research. If you can’t create high quality images yourself, consider working with a professional, like Elsevier’s Illustration Services. This is also your chance to make sure you’ve incorporated all possible additions, such as Elsevier’s content innovations, including graphical abstracts, AudioSlides and database linking. Double-check your supplementary files, and you’re ready to go!