Advice when preparing original articles for submission
Below is some advice that authors may find helpful when preparing their work for publication in international peer-reviewed journals. This advice is based on years of both publishing my own work and reviewing the work of others.
Prepare your figures
1- Ensure you have results that are complete and sufficiently developed to warrant publication in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is to prepare your figures (or most of them). This is often the most time consuming as it ultimately involves doing the stats to show significant differences on your figures.
2- Make sure your figures are internally consistent in terms of layout and for subsections within each figure (ie A, B,C – a,b,c – i,ii,iii). Check the guidelines of examples of published articles in your target journal.
3- Make sure you use appropriate statistics and tests for normality. Statistical differences are the core of most papers and reviewers are always asked to remark on if the correct statistics have been used.
Once you have a reasonable draft of your figures (including stats) start writing the text for the Results section.
Write your Results
Golden Advice: Break down your Results section into smaller ‘bite-size’ subsections. This helps create a logical flow for your results deepening as you move through the sections. It is generally better for subsections (and title of figure captions) to be a statement i.e. “d-tubocurarine induces spike and wave seizures” rather than something vague “the effect of d-tubocurarine”.
1- Refer to other articles in high impact journals to ensure you use the correct vocabulary and formal style of a high impact publication.
2- Many journals impose strict word limits for the main text, but not for Figure legends. Therefore, if you need to keep your Results section concise you can elaborate to a certain extent in the Captions themselves, such as drawing attention to specific aspects of the figure.
3- When writing the Results section it may be apparent that you have overlooked something which may add value to your paper. If this is something that should not seriously impact your findings, but you are concerned a reviewer may criticize the lack of these data, then run a few pilot studies and providing they are consistent with your general hypothesis include them in the text of the Results.
Write your Methods
Golden Advice: If you have a complicated experimental paradigm or numerous groups then graphically describe your methods/structure of experiments in the form of a table or flow-chart.
1- This is normally the most straightforward part of a paper and should not take too long to complete. There are normally set protocols for methods which can be found in published papers. This can be used as a basis for writing your own Methods section.
2- Ensure that N values are clearly stated for experimental groups and that they all add up to the correct number at the end. Numerous submissions have formal errors of this type in and it is easy to fix.
Write your Discussion
Golden Advice: A reader should be able to read your Discussion without having read the Introductions/Results/Methods and still understand the main purpose, findings and importance of your work.
1- Make the first paragraph a general summary of your work with a closing sentence about the potential implication.
2- Discuss your work appropriately in terms of other published work, are your results consistent with other work, do they differ? If so, perhaps methodological/analytical differences may account for this.
3- Your work will not be perfect. Whilst you do not want to draw attention to the short comings of your own study it is important to be slightly self-critical of your work. What are the limitations? What should be interpreted cautiously?
4- Make sure you use paragraphs and subsections appropriately. Do not have one long paragraph (20 lines or more) or lots of short paragraphs (5 lines or less) as this is hard to read. Arrange the text in a logical manner so that it essentially tells a story of the main points of your work.
Prepare your Introduction
Golden Advice: Ensure that you clearly express your hypothesis or what it is you want to examine.
1- Introductions do not need to be long and should not an extended review of literature. Most readers will be familiar with the background and the job of a good introduction is to emphasize the relevant findings of previous publications to introduce the author’s purpose for doing the work. Examples are extension of previous work, a gap in understanding a particular phenomenon, resolving a contradiction.
2- A general structure is as follow.
First paragraph: general background
Second-third paragraph: specific points relevant to your particular study
Fourth paragraph: your specific hypothesis or what it is you want to test.
3- It is generally best to write your Introduction once you have written the Discussion as you will be able to ‘introduce’ the main aspects of your study.
Prepare your Abstract
Golden Advice: The abstract is the most important part of your work and will determine whether a reviewer accepts to review your article (or even if it is sent out for review by the Area Editor). Therefore, absolutely make sure you have drafted it several times until you are completely satisfied with the text.
1- Always carefully adhere to the guidelines laid out in the For Authors sections of the journal website. This includes keeping to word limits, layout of texts, fonts, mode of citation and reference lists.
2- Check the figure numbers provided in the Results section are consistent with the actual figures.
3- Run a spell and grammar check. Read a printed version of your paper before submitting it to the journal to reduce the number of formal mistakes.
4- Ensure you have a professional cover letter which should be submitted alongside your manuscript.
5- If you are concerned about the quality of your language ask a colleague to proof the language for you or send it to a reputable scientific proofing service.