From writing to submission: Checklist for writing and submitting a Quality Scientific Article
Many necessary elements go into the creation and composition of quality scientific articles. Below is an expanded checklist with 15 actionable items that will enable you to focus on the writing process and help you submit a quality article to your target journal.
1. Follow the Information for Authors
It's important to read and follow the Information for Authors (IFA) of the journal to which you intend to submit your paper. Each journal will provide detailed guidelines for various article types, including word counts, number of authors allowed, limits on figures, financial disclosures of authors, plagiarism, ghost authorship, etc. Following the IFA may not ensure acceptance, but not following the IFA will almost assuredly result in rejection.
2. Have a specific goal/purpose statement and hypothesis
This statement will help keep you focused as you write, and help the reviewers know what you want to accomplish. Your paper should address one clear question/topic rather than try to provide answers to multiple questions.
3. Perform an adequate literature review
The comprehensiveness of the literature review depends on the article topic and type. You want to show that you've done your homework, but unless you are doing a meta-analysis or topic review, don't overdo it.
4. Apply for ethical approval
An Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval is mandatory for all studies with animals and/or humans as subjects.
5. Register clinical trials with human subjects in a national or international trial registry
This is nearly a mandatory element with human medical research. Be sure to register your clinical trial before you start writing.
6. Perform adequate follow-up (for medical research)
Most journals require a minimum of six months follow-up; depending on the study, a two-year follow-up may be needed.
7. Have a sufficiently large patient population (for medical studies)
Medical journals prefer clinical studies with large numbers of patients enrolled. To the extent possible, enrol and analyse as large a patient population as possible for your research.
8. Include clearly described methodologies
Even though this step may seem repetitive to experienced authors, each manuscript needs to explain the study design and methods used. Clearly include all inclusion and exclusion criteria and patient characteristics (if you are writing a medical paper). Identify any confounding issues and their resolution, and define your outcome measures.
9. Ensure proper controls and statistical analysis
Consulting a statistician with experience in study design will enable you to develop appropriate statistics and design protocols.
10. Develop conclusions based on study results
Make conclusions only after you have analysed the data and completed your statistical analyses. Don’t let anticipated or desired results cloud what your actual results tell you.
11. Create excellent figures and illustrations
Invest extra effort in these, and if possible, submit figures in full colour. If your research is medical, make sure intraoperative photos are clear. If not, include a high-quality illustration. Ensure that pre- and post-operative photos are comparable and show clear results. Simple things yield large benefits in photographs, such as correct focus, sufficient brightness and exposure, and close-up images sufficiently close to provide detail.
12. Include carefully thought-out and executed tables and charts
Along with figures and illustrations, high quality tables and charts can ‘make or break’ a manuscript. Spend extra time on making sure your tables and graphs are easy to understand and comprehensive. Make sure your results are clear and significant.
13. Disclose all conflicts of interest for all authors
Do any of the authors have any sort of financial interest in any of the products, devices, techniques or pharmaceuticals used in the study? If so, disclose them at the beginning of the manuscript. Follow the journal's IFA on how to disclose conflicts of interest.
14. Prepare submission files in proper digital formats
Online submission systems typically accept a wide variety of digital files – but be sure yours will be accepted prior to starting the writing process.
15. Do an English language review
If you are submitting to an English language journal, and if you are not a native English speaker, ask a native English speaker (or use an English editing service) to read over your paper prior to submission.
Accounting for these elements of quality in scientific articles will ensure that you incorporate all the needed elements in your paper before you submit it to your journal of choice. Taking care of these items will improve the chances of your paper receiving a favourable review.
Read next/second in series: From writing to submission: Preparing to Write Your Manuscript
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