2016 Issue

Advice on how to write and publish a scientific paper

Every year over 10,000 undergraduates and postgraduates complete their research work in Ghana, but very few of these get published. Many young scientists, especially graduates in Ghana, fail to publish their research findings due to limited knowledge or guidelines about how to write and publish their research work. The curriculum of most tertiary institutions do not require students to prepare manuscripts or research articles as part of their final year thesis submission. As a result, very few students are motivated to publish their work on completion of their studies.

This short article will briefly discuss the importance of publishing your research work as a graduate and also provide a simple but detailed checklist/guide on how to write and publish your research work.

Publication of scientific research is important because it is the primary channel by which a researcher can share results or study findings with his/her scientific community. Currently, many scientists have advocated for the publication of failed results because they also provide significant knowledge to the scientific community and prevent waste of time and resources on repetition of negative experiments. Publishing your research moves the knowledge frontier or advances knowledge in your community, and also contributes to national and global development. Secondly, it allows you to receive expert feedback on your research through the peer-review system. Publishing your research work also advances your career. Your prospects in getting a higher education job appointment, research grant or scholarship, furthering your education or working in some specific areas (such as in research and development) are highly dependent on your track record in research publication.

The checklist below provides generic guidelines or advice on how to write and publish a scientific paper in an academic journal. The checklist was developed through my publication experience and research training. The guide includes tasks/activities to be completed before, during and after writing a scientific paper. It is hoped that tertiary institutions in Ghana will consider research publication as an integral part and focus of the research curriculum.

Checklist on how to write and publish a scientific paper (Check √ each point/task if you have already completed it or after completing the task):

A. KNOW YOUR ACADEMIC COMMUNITY

It is important that you know the field or scientific community your research work fits. This will help you select a suitable journal for your paper

Check√ Task
Identify a journal for your scientific paper (e.g. Scientect Journal of Life Sciences if your research is in the life sciences)
Check if the paper you want to write is compatible with the scope of the journal
Identify potential reviewers for your paper. You may check editors for the journal and their fields or areas of expertise
Check the authors’ guidelines and time scale for the selected journal
Note ethical guidelines and requirements of the journal
Check the publication process for the selected journal(s)
Identify the essential research papers on your topic in the journal and/or other journals. This is important to build on the existing knowledge and identify potential reviewers or collaborators.

B. BEFORE WRITING: IS YOUR PAPER RELEVANT AND TIMELY?

Check√ Task
Does your paper contribute to your field? Identify the specific dimensions of originality of your paper
Is your paper the type of article the journal publishes? (E.g. theoretical, empirical, applied, technical or interdisciplinary).
Draft your research questions
Note keywords related to your topic and their relationship
Search databases for references using the keywords (e.g. Google Scholar, PubMed, ScienceDirect)
Build a library of references using Zotero or Endnote or simply create a folder and store all your references
Outline what is known about your topic or what has already been done on your topic
Identify the research gap or problem your paper seeks to fill
Draft your research design/methodology
Is your research design coherent with the literature or background you have chosen?
Is your methodology or research design compatible with the research questions?
Will your research design provide answers to the research questions you have raised?

C. WRITING THE PAPER: IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NEED TO CHECK

Check√ Task
Outline the structure of the paper based on author guidelines (Generally includes Title, Abstract, Introduction/Literature, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, and References)
Does your title include the most important key concepts of your paper?
Check the specific rules for the abstract for your journal: word count and structure
Does the abstract address the problem statement, purpose, results, contribution, and implication of your paper?
Does your abstract include what you did, why you did it and what happened when you did it?
Does your abstract state the original contribution of your paper? What remains unsolved?
Is the purpose and problem statement of your topic clearly stated and justified in the introduction?
Have you stated your main findings or results that answer the research questions in the introduction?
Does your introduction include how the main results contribute to previous literature or ongoing research?
Have you stated the main implications of your research in the introduction?
Does your introduction include a clear outline paragraph explaining other sections of the paper?
Have you critically evaluated the available research on your topic? Does your literature review demonstrate purpose?
State limits of included papers in the literature review section
Does your methodology address how data was collected?
Have you described how data analysis was conducted in the methodology?
Map the results to your research questions or research aims. Does the results answer your research questions?
Have you indicated how each result was obtained by linking to the method?
Double check the accuracy of all the results obtained
Have you differentiated between your own results and that obtained from other sources in the discussion?
Have you justified your contributions in your discussion section?
Check that your results are discussed in context of the background literature
Do you enrich the understanding of the literature background with the discussion of your results?
Rewrite or review the final version of the introduction, conclusion and abstract. (This will be a final check to ensure that your results and discussion are coherent with the other sections of the paper and the results answer the research questions)
Have you stated clearly the most important results and their implications, and contribution of the research in the conclusion?
Does your draft paper fit the selected journal’s guidelines for each section of the paper?
Check that your references conform to the journal’s guidelines for both internal and external references

D. AFTER THE WRITING: FINAL CHECKS

Check√ Task
Does your paper pass the “original contribution test”? Does it contribute to your field?
Does the problem statement or research question remain the same throughout the paper?
Is the title coherent with the paper?
Are the selected keywords adequate?
Is the content coherent with the research objectives and scope of the target journal?
Send complete draft of paper to a peer or colleague and/or supervisor to review and check against your checklist
Is your use of abbreviations adequate?
Draft a cover letter stating the purpose of your research, why you selected the journal, what you did and your main findings and the contribution of your paper to your community
Compare your final paper and cover letter to guidelines of the journal; make any necessary corrections
Check paper for spelling mistakes, typos, and improper language
Ensure there are no long sentences
Send paper to a peer or colleague and supervisor for proofreading
Verify titles, figures, and tables in the paper to confirm they are accurate
Identify the corresponding author(s) for your paper if it is a collaborative paper
Maintain effective communication with your co-authors before submission
Ensure all co-authors are satisfied with the final draft before submission
Send only one version of the article to one journal at a time

©2016 Scientect e-mag | Volume 1 (1): A4

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