From writing to submission: Preparing to Write your manuscript
One of the best gifts that academic authors can give themselves is to be well prepared before writing a paper. Conducting advance preparation of the constituent elements of a paper will not only save time but also reduce frustration and fatigue, and enhance the overall writing process. Below are some things to consider as you prepare to write your manuscript.
Have a good understanding of your field
Any researcher must keep abreast of the literature in their field, both current and historical. When your research uncovers something new, it’s imperative that you know where it fits into the grand scheme of the field as a whole. Such knowledge will give you an educated sense of the importance of the findings, how best to present them and to which journals you should submit your paper.
Write a clear statement of your hypothesis
What specific, measurable and answerable question are you trying to address with your research?
Serendipity and discovery do play an exciting role in research, but most advances are made with research that seeks answers to clearly articulated questions.
Have a clear understanding of the data and results
Although you need not know precisely what your conclusions will be prior to writing, you do need to firmly understand the data sets and research results.
Does your data seem to address your hypothesis?
Do you need more data points?
Are the results positive, or do you need to modify or re-do your experimental protocols?
It’s critical to conduct careful research and collect full documentation of your results prior to writing.
Make a statistician your best friend
Appropriate statistical analysis is crucial to most studies with large data sets. Usually, the larger the data set (and in medical research, the longer the follow up period), the more reliable the results will be.
However, before beginning to write the paper (and probably even before you start collecting data), you need to consult a statistician who is highly competent in study design. They will know how large your data set needs to be, as well as which statistical tests will best interpret and most accurately convey the importance of your results.
Many elegant and otherwise beautifully conducted studies have been rejected outright because the authors did not consult a statistician prior to designing their study, and as a result did not obtain statistically significant results with appropriate controls or analysis.
Conduct a literature review
A subject-specific literature review of your general topic will pre-position your writing efforts. Such a review will enable you to know with certainty whether your research is novel, or at worst, confirmatory. One of the most common reasons submissions are rejected is because they lack novelty and don’t contribute significantly to knowledge in the field.
Create writing time and space
Simple yet often overlooked keys to success can make a big difference with academic writing. One of those keys is to set aside privileged time for writing in a conducive place, free from distractions. If you’ve invested quality time and resources in your research, you owe it to yourself to invest equally in creating a protected, quiet writing space with sufficient time blocked off.
Making these preparations in advance of writing your paper will set the stage for success. Even though the writing process will still require effort, that effort will be streamlined and made most efficient with thoughtful advance planning.
Read next/third in series: From writing to submission: Simple strategies to Make Your Scientific Article (Read) Better
Read previous/first in series: From writing to submission: Checklist for writing and submitting a quality scientific article
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