How to write a paper

Matcheri S Keshavan MD

Department of Psychiatry Harvard Medical School

Anatomy of a scientific paper
• Abstract • Introduction • Methods • REsults • Discussion • Acknowledgements • Conflicts • Title



Author list/ Abstract


Anatomy of a Scientific paper
Title Discussion



• Coauthor qualifications (all three)
– a) substantial contribution to conception, design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation; – b) drafting or critically revising the paper, and – c) final approval of the version to be published.

• Abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
– lengthy background information, – references to other literature, – elliptical (i.e., ending with ...) or incomplete sentences, – abbreviations or terms that may be confusing to readers, – any sort of illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.

• How did you come up with this question/ hypothesis. – Set the scene – Go from general to specific. – Set a historical background. – Avoid too detailed a review of the literature; that could be material for another paper. Why this is worth doing. Has this wheel been invented before? – Provide a balanced uptodate literature Why this particular method or population.

• •

• Should have enough information for someone else to replicate your results • BUT avoid providing too much information that your peers are already expected to know

• Carefully describe the group

• Text should complement figures and tables. Do not duplicate. Do not provide too many numbers- they can be distracting. • Figures the best way for readers to capture results at a glance. Make your readers want to “steal” your figure for their own powerpoint presentation! • Figure and table captions should be detailed enough to stand alone. • Use the word “significant” only to refer to statistical significance

70 60

Legend poorly defined No data on significance


No trend line
SES 40

Poorly visible data points


10 6 8 10 12 14 education 16 18 20 22

Figure 1. Education correlated with socioeconomic status. Pearson Correlation coefficients with age effects partialled out.

R= .46 P <.01

Socioeconomic status





10 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 Education (number of years)

Figuring out figures
• Avoid figures that are too small. Readers do not like having to use magnifying glasses. • Use color as needed, but not simply because it is pretty. Many journals charge you extra! • Make sure the figures are of sufficient resolution to reproduce well by standard photocopying • Any figure/photograph from another source requires attribution in the legend.

• What did you find?
– Avoid statements not supported by data – How findings relate to other studies.

• Are the findings real? • What do the findings mean?
– Provide all possible interpretations, not just your favorite hypothesis – Avoid being overly speculative

• Do the findings matter? What are the clinical implications? • What are the strengths and limitations? • What are the next steps?

There was a massive effect of Pharmacological Treatments for Cognition….
1 0.9 (L) 0.8 0.7 0.6 (M) 0.5 0.4 0.3 (S) 0.2 0.1 0

Effect Size (Cohen's d )

CATIE (Keefe d-Cycloserine Glycine Galantamine Practice Effect et al., 2007) (Buchanan et (Buchanan et (Buchanan et (Goldberg et al., 2007) al., 2007) al., 2008) al., 2007)

“Alterations in brain high-energy phosphate and membrane phospholipid metabolism in firstepisode, drug-naive schizophrenics. A pilot study of the dorsal PFC by in vivo phosphorus 31 P MRS”
could be restated as

“In vivo prefrontal membrane phospholipids in early schizophrenia”

Writing style
– “anticholinergics were needed by the patients at a higher rate..“

–"the patients needed more anticholinergics..."

Active vs Passive. Use active verbs whenever possible; Passive verbs (is, was, has, have, had) are difficult to read and use up unnecessary words.

Style- II
• Tense.For already completed work by you or others, use the past tense consistently. • Person. Avoid too much use of first person (“I believe, I did”, etc). • Economy. Economize words Avoid flowery sentences unless absolutely needed–
– E.g. “based upon the fact that” = “Because”


How to choose your journal.
• Identify the market (your readers) and think about your paper from their perspective. Which Journals do they read? • Consider the goals of your paper. E.g. If you have a grant application in mind, which journals are the grant reviewers likely to be familiar with? • Think about potential reviewers for your paper. A look at the editorial board may be helpful. • What is the timeframe? Not all journals have a fast publication policy.

Accepting rejection
• Don’t take it personally • Try to understand why the paper has been rejected • Evaluate honestly.. Would a different journal have been more appropriate?

What gets you accepted
• • • • • • • • • Attention to details Check and double check your work Consider reviews English should be as good as possible Presentation is importantTake your time with revision Acknowledge Novelty Critically evaluate your own manuscript Ethical rules to be obeyed


• Clarity • Conciseness • correctness

• Repetition • Ambiguity • Redundancy • Exaggeration