Most researchers are familiar with the “IMRaD” format for scientific publications (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). Though this is the order in which the sections usually appear in print, you shouldn’t write in this order. Here are my suggestions for how to write your scientific publications, with some resources for further reading at the end.
- Identify a journal and adhere to ALL of the author instructions – Journal editors will appreciate it that your manuscript conforms to the journal specifications and this will likely result in the manuscript being processed faster. If the instructions for your targeted journal are unclear, consult the Recommendations for Scholarly Work published by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).
- Begin writing the Methods section – This is usually the most obvious information; typically it is presented in chronological order. Assembling the Methods can help you see the big picture early on.
- Prepare the Figures and Tables – The foundation around which to build your story. Consult relevant resources for data reporting guidelines (see below), which will affect how data are analyzed. Captions should clearly describe each figure and be able to stand alone from the Results section text.
- Write the Results section – Sometimes you don’t know the entirety of the data you have until you describe it in detail. Start to craft the story for your scientific publication. Refrain from interpreting your results here unless it is critical to understand why you performed subsequent experiments.
- Write the Discussion section – Time to interpret your results and link them with existing literature. Frame the story that you are telling. Answer the question “Why is this study important?” Don’t overstate your results; editors and reviewers appreciate when you are aware of study limitations or conflicting results.
- Write the Introduction section – It strongly frames the story that you are telling. Start with the big picture and narrow down to the question you’re answering. It’s often easier to write the Introduction after all other sections have been assembled because you have a more complete picture of your data and how they fit with existing research.
- Write the Abstract and Title – The abstract should concisely and coherently review the content of the scientific publication. Provide enough detail for readers to evaluate whether your paper is relevant to them. The title should engage readers and reflect the main topic of the paper.
- Have co-authors comment on a draft of the manuscript – Ideally, the manuscript should go through at least two rounds of review.
- Have someone edit the manuscript for English usage, if necessary – This is especially relevant for non-native English speakers.
- Check and edit the publication – Edit for grammar, spelling, and usage. Double check that all literature is cited at the correct location in the text and the reference list is complete. Ensure all figure references in the text correspond to the correct figure number. Consult relevant resources for grammar, usage, and science writing (see below). Make sure you’re following all of the journal guidelines.
Scientific Writing and Editing Resources
Clarke, Chandra. Common grammar and spelling mistakes you missed even after proofreading.
Chipperfield L, Citrome L, Clark J, et al. Authors’ submission toolkit: a practical guide to getting your research published. Curr Med Res Opin. 2010; 26(8):1967-1982.
Clinical Chemistry Guide to Scientific Writing. Clin Chem. 2010-2011.
Greene AE. Writing Science in Plain English. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 2013.
Lang T, Secic M. How to Report Statistics in Medicine: Annotated Guidelines for Authors, Editors, and Reviewers. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians; 2006.
Wager E, Smith R. Getting Research Published: An A-Z of Publication Strategy. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing; 2011.
Zieger M. Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2000.
Publishing and Reporting Guidelines
Committee on Publication Ethics – guidelines for publishing, peer review, and authorship
EQUATOR Network – data reporting guidelines, summarized for many study types
Good Publication Practice (GPP3) – guidelines for communicating company-sponsored research
Recommendations for Scholarly Work from ICMJE – formatting, publishing, authorship, and peer review guidelines
Iverson C. American Medical Association Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2007.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2010.
Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. 7th ed. New York: The Rockefeller University Press; 2006.