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Writing research paper

Lin Lu, M.D., Ph.D


National Institute on Drug Dependence, Peking University

Workshop Topics

Introduction to writing
The anatomy of a research article
- components of an article
- selecting a title
- determining authorship
- presenting data responsibly
20-steps to research article
- a step-by-step process for writing an article
- choosing the right journal
- outlining and writing
- dealing with writer’s block
- responding to reviewers’ comments
What is a “paper”?
Anatomy of a Research Article

• title • methods
• authors • results
• affiliations • discussion
• abstract • references
• introduction • bibliography
Redundant publication
• What is “redundant”? • Why be concerned?
- same data, different - inflation of publication record
- misuse of valuable space
- available in abstract form
- inaccurate impression of
- data included in review
article replication
- expansion of published . Basic science
data set . Clinic science
Why write?
• Contribute knowledge
• Get feedback
• Ensure science rigor
• Built reputation
• Criteria for inclusion

• Substantial intellectual contribution

• Ability to deal with inquires
• Approved final version of manuscript
Determining Authorship
The following individuals contributed in some way to the work reported in a
manuscript to be submitted for publication. Who should be listed as an

1. Lab chief – Contributed to the design of the experiments, and analysis

and interpretation of the data; edited several drafts of the manuscripts.
2. Program director – obtained the funding for the research project,
including the salaries, supplies and equipment necessary for the
3. Technician – Trained graduate student in the techniques used for their
research; did all of the surgical procedures and some of the biochemical
4. Postdoctoral fellow – Questions arising from their research spurred the
lab chief to examine this research topic. Contributed to discussions
regarding the design of the experiments and the analysis and
interpretation of the data.
Determining Authorship
5. Graduate student – Contributed to the design of the experiments;
conducted the experiments; responsible for most of the analysis and the
interpretation of the data; wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and
edited several subsequent versions.
6. Undergraduate research assistant – performed some of the sample
7. Glassware washer – Employed special procedures for washing and
sterilizing glassware to meet the strict requirements in the experimental
8. Animal caretaker – provided specialized care needed to ensure the
survival of the animals in the study.
9. Departmental colleague – Read a complete draft of the manuscript and
provided extensive comments on both the organization and style.
10. Colleague at another university – Shared with the lab chief a unique
reagent that they (the colleague) had developed, was not commercially
available, and was central to the experiments.
• Technical assistance
• Advice on research or manuscript
• Gifts of materials
• Assistance in repairing manuscript
• Financial assistance
“This work was supported by NIH (NS19806) and Biotech, Inc. A
preliminary report was presented at the Pharmacology Society, May
25, 1999. We thank Jose Guera for technical assistance and
assistance in the preparation of this manuscript. One of the authors
(JD) is a paid consultant for Biotech, Inc.”
Importance of financial disclosure

• Source of support can influence results

• Disclosure will
- remind you
- alert reader
• Failure to disclose can raise alarms
Conclusion format
Provides quick abstract may attract more attention
Oversimplifies may be wrong

Researchers measured how quickly a group of 7-year old boys in a

Chicago elementary school learned to spell a set of one-syllable words
taken from the Jefferson Word List for Second Graders.

One group of children was provided with visual instruction only, one
with auditory instruction only, and one with both.

The children receiving both types of instruction made fewer errors

(87±4% correct ) than did those receiving only auditory (32±8%) or only
visual cues (76±5%).
The path of getting knowledge
Most widely read components of a paper
(The title/ Last 1-2 sentences of Abstract)

proper organization

1. Introduction
2. Method
3. Results (past tense) discussion
4. Final summary
“The effect on body weight is discussed.”

“ Body weight was increased.”

“Body weight increased 43 ± 2% over a 6-day period.”


• What is function ?

• Proper organization
1. what is the state of knowledge
2. what is the question
3. statement of hypothesis (optional)
4. summary of results (optional)

• Acknowledge source of ideas

• Cite key papers
- earliest observations
- original articles rather than reviews

• What is its functions ? • Sharing materials not otherwise

• Evaluation/replication
- reagents
- transgenic animals
• How much detail to present ?
- software programs
- method
- equipment models
- reagents
- sources (company, City,
Tense in Results section

Introductory statement: present tense

“ It is well-known that DTA decreases after chronic cocaine exposure”

But in Results section: past tense

“ Within 6 months of withdrawal, DTA decreased by 20 ± 6%.”
Discussion within Results section
Separation of interpretation from observations
- “Short communication”
- aid in transition

Aid in transition
The results of the previous experiment suggested to
us that the dopamine released was not derived from
vesicular stores but from the cytoplasm. To test this
Responsible presentation of data
High crimes

• Fabrication: data that are made up

• Falsification: data that are altered
- data added or moved
- data deleted without statistical justification
• Plagiarism: using the words or ideas of others without attribution
• Never mislead
- exaggerate
- minimize
- obscure
• Eliminate reasonable sources of confusion
• The responsibility is yours, not the reader’s.

1. Your observations and their relationships

2. Exceptions
3. Relation to previous work
4. Theoretical or practical implications
5. Summary and conclusions
Results: Common problems
• Present tense
• Too little transition
• Too much discussion
• logical

Discussion: Common problems

• Poorly organized
• Inadequate scholarship
• Repeats introduction
• Doesn’t compare results w/ others
• No discussion of alternative explanations

• What is its function

• Which references to cite
- primary versus secondary
- original versus most recent
- theirs versus yours
• How may to cite
- per point
- per paper
• Do you have to have read every reference?
• What about foreign language reference?
• What if you can not obtain reference?
Responsible conduct:
a final issue quality of writing

The pharmacological agents were prioritized and

selected by the staff with respect their clinical
efficacy as observed when tested on the patient
population in the study.

We used the drug that are effective

20 Steps to a Research Article
How to Write and Publish an Article in 20
Easy Steps
1. Choose authors 11. Write first draft
2. Publish? 12. Revise manuscript
3. Write title 13. Check references
4. Write synopsis 14. title, abstract
5. Authors ok? 15. Preparing figures
6. Determine form 16. Read instructions
7. Pick journal 17. Get feedback
8. Stock sections 18. Submit manuscript
9. Tables, figures 19. Deal w/review
10. Outline paper 20. Check proofs
Step 1

Determine the authors

Start writing
• Before all data collected
• Before equipment dismantled
• Before you have moved on
Step 2

Decide it is time to publish

• When you have a story

Step 3

Create a working title

Step 4

Draft an abstract
Step 5

Reevaluate the list of authors

Step 6
Determine the basic form of article

Types of scientific papers

1. Research articles
- full articles
- brief communications
- short communications
2. non-research articles
- review articles
- book chapters
- letter to editors
Step 7
Select the journal

Field/academics Time to print

Impact factor Changes
Availability - page changes
Reputation - color changes
Instructions to Authors
• Length of abstracts and article
• Citations in text

Other researcher have found that x

increases y. 37

other researcher have found that x

increases y (Adams et al, 1993).
• Style for bibliography
• Abbreviations permitted
Step 8

Stock the “section reservoirs”

Step 9

Construct tables and figures

1. Tables and figures should stand on own

2. Should be sure of result before writing
Step 10

Outline the paper

1. What are the issues?
2. What will you say about them?
3. In what order?
Step 11

Write a first draft

Focus on getting your ideas onto paper

• brainstorm
• Don’t worry about grammar, aesthetics
• Cite reference in text (REF)
“Write freely and as rapidly as “if you try to write and
possible and throw the whole edit at the same time, you
thing sown on paper. Never will do neither well.”
correct or rewrite until the
whole thing is down. Rewrite Charles H. Sides
in process is usually found to
be an excuse for not going

John Steinbeck
Writer’s block I don’t know where to
• I don’t know where to begin
• I don’t know what to say begin
• I’m not a good writer • Use your outline
• Write the easies section first
I don’t know what I’m not a good writer
to say
• No one’s first draft is readable
• Find out more about the • Editing is much easier than
subject writing
• Just do it!
Step 12

Revise the manuscript Use of headings

A. Make major alterations • Reveals structure of text

B. Polish the style • Makes it easy to find
C. Make it attractive information
• Provides visual breaks
Selecting a typeface

Serif versus scan serif


Times Roman


Step 13

Check the references

Step 14

Write the final title and abstract

Step 15

Review the instructions to authors

Step 16

Prepare the final illustrations

Step 17

Get feedback on the manuscript

Step 18: Submit the manuscript

• The text
• Tables and figures
• Cover letter
Cover letter

• Summary
• Value to journal

Te enclosed manuscript, entitled “Providing Training in Research

Ethics” by Beth A. Fischer and Michael J. Zigmond is being submitted
for possible publication in Science and Engineering Ethics.

This articles details a comprehensive educational program that

provides instruction in research ethics. It is adaptable to the needs of
graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at a broad range of
institutions. The article would be of use to individuals who are involved
in providing instruction in the responsible conduct of research…
Cover letter

• Adherence to codes of ethics

• Not being considered elsewhere
• Reviews
- to use
- to avoid
The review process

• Editor receives, surveys manuscript

• Manuscript sent to reviewers for evaluation
• Reviewers provide editor with critique
• Editor makes decision
Criteria for evaluation

• Relevance
• Significance
• Content
• writing
Pet Peeves of Reviewers

• “data are” (not data is)

• Starting sentences w/ a number
• Inconsistent use of abbreviations
• Seemingly relevant paper not cited
Step 19

Deal with the reviewers’ comments

The reply Your options

• Accept as is
• Revise • Revise: incorporate editor’s
and reviewer’s suggestions
• reject
• Submit manuscript to another
• Appeal the decision
Cover letter for a
revised manuscript
• Specify that this is a revision
• Address each of the concerns raised by
reviewer’s and point out changes
Cover letter for a
revised manuscript
1. Reviewer #2 felt that more detailed information
on moral reasoning should be provided.
This information has been inserted (see p. 9).

2. Reviewer #3 requested that …

We have…
Step 20

Check page proofs, order offprints

Page proofs Page proofs
• Sent to corresponding author
• Must be returned within a few DO:
days DON’T:
- answer all queries
- check clarity - make major
- correct types
- insert new
- order offprints
What Reviewers Look For
Basic issues:
Is manuscript within scope of journal?
Does subject matter warrant publication?
- original?
- important?
Content of the paper:
Title and abstract: Do they reflect the paper’s content?
- adequate description of problem?
- appropriate literature reviewed?
Methods/materials: Will the reader be able to reproduce the experiments?
- clearly expressed?
- results flow logically from methods?
- ethical considerations?
What Reviewers Look For
Tables and Figures:
- necessary?
- intelligible without reference to the text?
- results adequately discussed?
- reasonable conclusion drawn from data?
- alternative hypotheses considered?
- clear statement of implications of research?
- appropriate?

Writing style:
Adherence to journal’s style requirements?
- length
- other requirements
Free of grammar, punctuation, spelling errors?
intelligible to the journal’s readership?
Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk
Blake G & Bly RW. The Elements of Technical Writing. New York: Macmillian,

Boice R. How Writers Journey to comfort and Fluency: A Psychological

Adventure. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994.

Boice R. procrastination and Blocking: A novel, Practical Approach. Westport,

CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.

Boice R. Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing.

Oklahoma: New Forums Press Inc., 1990.

Booth V. Communicating in Science: Writing a Scientific Pager and Speaking at

Scientific Meetings. (2nd ed.)NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
A thin book filled with wisdom about writing and talking. A sort of “Elements of
Style” for scientists.
Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk
Briscoe MH. Preparing Scientic Illustrations: A guide to better Posters,
Presentations, and Publications. New York: Springer, 1996.

Byrne D. Publishing Your Medical Research Paper. Baltimore Maryland:

Williams & Wilkins, 1998.

Cleveland WS. The Elements of Graphing Data. Murray Hill, NJ: AT & T Bell
Lab., 1994

Council of Biology Editors. Ethics and Policy in Scientific Publication. Bethesda,

MD: Council of Biology Editors, Inc.,1990.

Council of Biology Editors. Scientific Style and Format. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1994.

Council of Biology Editors. Scientific Illustrations Committee. Illustrating

Science. New York: Council of Biology Editors, Inc., 1988
Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk

Day RA. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 5th Edition . Phoenix: Oryx
Press, 1998. There are a great many books on the subject; this is the best – wise
and witty, takes you from creating the title to checking the galley proofs. Read it,
then keep it handy.

Day RA. Scientific English : A Guide for Scientists and Other Professionals. Phoenix:
Oryx Press, 1992. A good extension of “How to write…” although some of the
material overlaps.

Gowers E. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press,

Hall GM. How to Write a Paper. London: BMJ Publishing, 1994.

Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk

Huth EJ. How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences, 2nd Edition.
Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1990.

Kosslyn SM. Elements of Graph Design. New York: Freeman and Co, 1994.
Filled with useful advice. Although not specifically written for research
presentation the majority of the information appears to be relevant. Useful
side-by-side presentation to “do” and “don’t.”

Lamott A. Bird by Bird. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Lang TA & Secic M. How to Report Statistics In Medicine: Annotated Guidelines

For Authors, Editors, and Reviewers. Philadelphia: American College of
Physicians, 1997.
Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk

Morgan P. An Insider’s Guide for Medical Authors & Editors. Philadelphia: iSi
Press, 1986.

Sides CH. How to Write and Present Technical Information. USA: Oryx Press,

Sternberg RJ. The Psychologist’s Companion: A Guide to Scientific Writing for

Students and Researchers. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Strunk W Jr & White EB. The Elements of Style, 3rd Edition. New York:
MacMillan, 1979.
A classic, easy-to-use reference on writing.

Zeiger M. Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers. New York:

McGraw-Hill, 1991.
Writing Research Articles
Particularly good resources are marked with an asterisk


@primer (an interactive tutorial on copyright)

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