Writing a research manuscript and publishing it in reputed academic journals is an integral part of the research process. Yet, with rejection rates of top-tier journals ranging as high as 80%-95%, this is easier said than done.1 Research manuscripts need to meet several key submission requirements to even be considered, this includes getting the structure of scientific papers right. However, most researchers find themselves feeling overwhelmed when it comes to writing a manuscript. The lack of formal training on writing a research manuscript, especially how to structure a manuscript effectively makes this a daunting task, especially for early-career researchers.
While there are no quick and easy shortcuts to writing a manuscript for publication, this article explains how researchers can sort their research under different sections and present their findings effectively in a well-structured research manuscript.
Structuring a research paper logically
Presenting research findings in a clear and structured way helps readers quickly understand your work’s significance and potential impact. Writing a manuscript that is worded well in simple English is imperative as you write for a global audience, many of which may not have English as the first language. Experts suggest following the standard and globally accepted IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) structure for research manuscripts. The ideal length for a research manuscript can range from 25-40 pages depending on your journal, with specific lengths for each section.2
Understanding the key parts of a manuscript2,3
Breaking down your work into these clear parts of a manuscript allows you to organize your findings more coherently and ensure a logical flow, which makes your research manuscript more engaging for readers.
Introduction – Covers what are you studying and why (1.5-2 pages)
This is an important part of the research manuscript as itstates the purpose of your research and what you want to achieve, existing knowledge on the topic and its limitations, and the significance and usefulness of the work. The introduction should mention the research question, the rationale for the research study, and describe the theoretical framework used. It should also offer a background of the problem and what is known so far and explain how your research contributes to the subject by adding citations to support this view. Avoid adding too many or irrelevant citations here or you may risk losing the plot, which is a red flag for editors and reviewers.
Remember, the introduction must be a concise summary of the work being presented in the research manuscript; do not to go into extensive details at this point. Take care not to mix methods, results, discussion, or conclusion in the introduction section – it’s important to keep these parts of a manuscript separate to ensure a coherent and logical flow between sections.
Methodology – Covers how you conducted the study in about 2-3 pages
One of the most critical parts of the manuscript, the methods section is meant to highlight how the problem was studied and communicates the methods, procedures, and research tools used. Be sure to describe the methodology you followed to conduct the research simply, precisely, and completely. If you’re using a new method, include all the details required for others to reproduce it, but if you’re working with established methods, it is enough to summarize these with key references. Poor methodology, small sample size, incomplete statistical analysis are all reasons why reviewers recommend rejection of a research manuscript, so check and recheck this to ensure it is flawless.
Include accurate statistics and control experiments to ensure experiments are reproducible and use standard academic conventions for nomenclature, measurement units, and numbers. Avoid adding any comments, research results, or discussion points in this part of the manuscript. It’s a good idea to write the methods section in the same flow and order in which you did the research. Supplement the text with visuals like tables, figures, photographs, or infographics that convey complex data, but don’t duplicate the information in the text.
Results – Covers the main findings of your studying in about 6-8 pages
The results section is a key part of the manuscript and isdedicated to presenting the primary and secondary findings of your research study. While writing a manuscript, ensure you spend extra time and attention while drafting the results; after all, this is the most important part of your research manuscript and your entire research effort.
Share your main results as text and use tables and figures to present findings effectively (don’t explain the data again in text). Avoid generalizations and use actual data to explain the results in your research manuscript – for example, instead of saying temperature rose as we applied more pressure, say temperature rose by 10 degrees with a 20% increase in pressure. Be sure to highlight any unexpected findings but avoid using too many technical terms or jargon so it is easy for readers from other research disciplines and non-scientific backgrounds to understand. Most importantly, this part of the manuscript is reserved for your research findings so do not include references to previously published work here.
Discussion – Covers what your research findings mean in about 4-6 pages
This is a crucial part of a manuscript where you interpret the results of your research and showcase its significance. The discussion in your research manuscript is a chance to showcase (not reiterate or repeat) your research results and how they address the original question. Do not suddenly include new information, instead talk about the limitations, whether the data supports the hypothesis or is consistent with previous studies, or if the findings were unexpected.
You may choose to mention alternate ways to interpret the results but avoid interpretations that are not supported by your research findings. Finally, compare your work with previously published studies, highlight what is new and what further research will be required to answer questions raised by the results. A well-written discussion section is essential to help differentiate your work from existing studies, which is what makes it critical to get right.
Conclusion – Covers learnings from the research study in one short para
Check your journal guidelines before writing the conclusion. For some journals, this is a separate section whereas in others it is the concluding part of the discussion part of the manuscript. This section of the research manuscript should explain the outcomes of the research in relation to the original objective, presenting it from global and specific perspectives. Avoid simply listing the results or repeating the abstract or introduction sections, provide a justification of your work and suggest further experiments and if any of these are in progress.
Title & Abstract – Covers highlights of the research done
The title and abstract are what readers use to evaluate whether the information provided in the research manuscript is relevant enough for them to read and cite. This is true for editors and reviewers of your research manuscript as well. Spend some time thinking of an interesting title, one that is informative, concise, and unambiguous. Write a well-structured abstract that highlights the objective and purpose of the research, addresses the key results precisely, and briefly describes the conclusion of the study (usually in under 250 words). This is the first and possibly only chance to draw in your readers so keep it simple and specific, avoid using jargon or being repetitive as you’re writing for a wide, varied audience.
In addition to the sections mentioned above, there are other key parts of a manuscript that require deep thought and time to put together. Showcase your findings through tables and figures (one per page) and format the references correctly (2-4 pages) in your research manuscript. Finally, when writing your research manuscript, be sure to follow the guidelines provided by the journal or institute you will be submitting to. Keep to the recommended paper length and journal formats when writing a manuscript for it to be considered and taken forward for publication.
- Khadilkar SS. Rejection Blues: Why Do Research Papers Get Rejected? The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of India, August 2018. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6046667/
- Borja A. 11 steps to structuring a science paper editors will take seriously. Elsevier Connect, June 2014. Available at https://www.elsevier.com/connect/11-steps-to-structuring-a-science-paper-editors-will-take-seriously
- Vadrevu A. Manuscript structure: How to convey your most important ideas through your paper. Editage Insights, November 2013. Available at https://www.editage.com/insights/manuscript-structure-how-to-convey-your-most-important-ideas-through-your-paper