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A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Manuscript

A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Manuscript

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A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Manuscript
A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Manuscript

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Published by: iMedPub on Aug 21, 2011
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A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Manuscript
Volker Wenzel, M.D., M.Sc., Martin W. Dünser, M.D.*, Karl H. Lindner, M.D.
Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University, Innsbruck,Austria; (*current affiliation: Department of Intensive Care Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland)
Abstract
About 50% of abstracts presented at conferences get published as full manuscripts.This manuscript is a hands-on instruction on how to publish a scientific investigation.Criteria for authorship should be based on the International Committee of Medical JournalEditors
 
Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writingand Editing for Biomedical Publication. The first step is always to read the Guide for Authors of the journal where you intend to submit the manuscript. Start the manuscript preparation by describing the materials and methods, including the planned statisticalanalysis (~1,000 words or less). This can often be copied from the study protocol. Thesecond step is to describe the results (~350 words). The methods and results are the mostimportant parts of the paper. When possible, use figures rather than tables to show your results. The discussion typically starts with a short overview
 
of the most important results,followed by an assessment why the chosen design or model is appropriate. The discussionshould place the results into contact, and present the clinical impact of the findings. Thediscussion should also acknowledge limitations of the study. The final conclusions should be low-key rather than exaggerated. The last step is writing the introduction (~350 words),the abstract, and the title page. Generic mistakes
 
include failure to state a hypothesis, notanswering the hypothesis, contradictions within the manuscript, superficial or ramblingdiscussion, inconsistent use of terms, and a conclusion that is not supported by the data. Inconclusion, writing scientific manuscripts need not be difficult or painful. With a little bitof organization, discipline, and persistence, writing manuscripts can be learned rapidly,thus producing excellent exchange of experience, personal success, and scientific progress.
 Nothing looks as simple as an implemented idea.
Wernher von Braun, Engineer of the United States NASA Apollo Space Program
 
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Introduction
Medical science consists to a largedegree of discussion and exchange of experience and observations. These may occur via direct dialog among scientists, presentationsat conferences, and by means of scientificmanuscripts in peer-reviewed journals. Only50% of abstracts presented at scientificmeetings are published in peer-reviewed journals.
1
This is surprising, given that publication of manuscripts is used as a measureof academic success by investigators, their colleagues, their department chair, and thosewho fund their studies. This manuscript isintended to provide step by step instruction onhow to write a scientific manuscript. The purpose is to provide a cure for “writer's block,” and thus enhance a successful scientificcareer.
2
The audience for this manuscript is the junior academician who needs guidance on howto write a manuscript. There are many ways of tackling manuscripts, and this approach ismerely one straightforward method. Althoughthe envisioned manuscript is the researchreport, these same principles apply,
mutatismutandis
, to review articles, brief reports,editorials, and case reports.
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Step 1: Read the Guide for Authors
Most journals have a Guide for Authorsthat is printed at least once yearly and isavailable online.
 Anesthesia & Analgesia
offersan unusually comprehensive Guide for Authors,which appears yearly as a Special Article
4
aswell as being available online.
1
Prior to preparing your manuscript, download andcarefully read the Guide for Authors of the journal where you intend to submit your manuscript. There will be detailed informationabout the interest and scope of the journal,specific information about manuscript types,and detailed instructions on formatting your manuscript. Editors and reviewers notice whenauthors have not even bothered to read theGuide for Authors or flagrantly disregard 
1
 
http://www.aaeditor.org/GuideForAuthors.pdf, last accessedAugust 4, 2009
instructions on manuscript preparation, style,and formatting.
 Anesthesia & Analgesia
alsorecommends that authors read “The Elementsof Style” by W. Strunk and E.B. White.
5
This isa modest and inexpensive text that can be readin a few hours. It describes a very clear andsuccinct writing style that is appropriate for scientific publications.
Step 2: Write the Materials and Methods
The Materials and Methods section isthe most critical part of the manuscript. Itshould describe what,
exactly
, you did in thestudy. Typically there is a handy document thatalready describes the materials and methods:the study protocol. Therefore, an easy andlogical place to start is to cut and paste thestudy protocol into your Materials and Methodssection.The Materials and Methods sectionshould typically consist of fewer than 1,000words. A simple laboratory study might beshorter than this, while a protocol thatintroduces new methodology may require avery extensive explanation. The materials andmethods should describe the study in sufficientdetail so that a skilled investigator in the fieldcould replicate the study. If the study uses previously published methodology, appropriatereference should be supplied. Often the materialand methods will use methodology that has been previously used by the laboratory, for example a particular assay or experimentalmodel. In this case, it is acceptable to adaptverbatim previously published material
by the same author.
2
If your study involves human subjects,always start with a statement about InstitutionalReview Board approval and informed consent.If your study involves animal subjects, alwaysstart with a statement about approval from theappropriate review board. Following these,describe your study population in explicit 
2Of course, it is never acceptable to copy text by anotheauthor without appropriate reference and the use of quotation marks if the text is copied verbatim.
 
3detail. Typically this can be found in the study protocol. If the population is divided intomultiple groups, these should be defined. It iseasier to read a study if treatment groups aregiven clear names (e.g., the propofol group vs.the etomidate group) than simply given letters(group A vs. group B). If there is a randomassignment of treatments, the randomization process should be defined.After defining treatment groups,describe how the study was conducted in eachgroup. Typically the description follows atemporal sequence, describing each step inorder. Be certain to include all of themeasurements that will be reported in theresults. Any measurements that were taken toensure the safety of subjects should also bereported.After describing the treatments, describethe data analysis plan. This includes how thedata were analyzed, including the statisticaltreatment of the data.
Consult a statistician tomake certain that the statistical analysis isappropriate, and that it is accurately described in the manuscript 
(Tables 2, 3)
.
Start with adescription of the power analysis that was performed (if any). That should be followed bya description of the statistical analysis of the primary endpoint, followed by a description of how secondary endpoints (if any) wereanalyzed. Complex or unusual analysisapproaches should be explained in sufficientdetail to permit a skilled statistician toreproduce your results from your data.Avoid non-standard abbreviations.Unusual abbreviations make manuscripts verydifficult to read. If you avoid introducing novelabbreviations in your Materials and Methods,then you are unlikely to introduce themelsewhere. Lastly, science is not a passive process conducted by automatons, but rather a personal adventure of exploration anddiscovery. It is appropriate to share thehumanity of your journey in your manuscriptwith occasional use of the first person whendescribing what you did. First person narrative,in limited doses, also makes the manuscriptmore lively and engaging.
Step 3: Describe your results
The results are the second mostimportant part of your manuscript. Now thatyou have described what you did (the Materialsand Methods), you should next describe whatyou found. Look at the scientific reports in
Science
and
 Nature
. The reports succinctlydescribe what the investigator did (theMethods) and what the investigator found (theResults). There is very little Introduction andDiscussion, because nobody cares about that.Your scientific peers care about what you did,and what you found.The organization of the results should be parallel to the organization of the methods.Start by describing your population: how manysubjects, how many protocol failures, thedemographics of the individual groups, etc.Then describe the outcome of your primaryvariable. That is followed by describing theoutcome of your secondary variable. Do notinterpret the results – that is the purpose of thediscussion.Typically investigators initially preparethe tables and graphs from their study, and thenwrite their results as a tour of the graphs andtables. That is an efficient way to proceed. Theimportance of visual presentation of the resultscannot be overstated. In virtually every analysisthere is a way of presenting the results that isgraphically compelling. Conversely, if there isno graphical means of presenting the results,then it is unlikely that the results are of anysignificance.Assemble your results in a manner thatis understandable at first sight; if you cannotexplain it to your mother, then you do notunderstand what you did. Figures and tablesneed to be self-explanatory. The reader shouldnot be forced to go back and forth between thetext and the table or figure to interpret it. Donot expect readers to pick up trends in largetables. Trends should always be displayedgraphically. There is no “right” number of tables or figures. Too few figures may not showenough of the results to fully communicate thefindings. Too many figures may obscure theimportant results. However, if you have no

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