Quick Guide About Writing a Scientific Article and Getting it Published Successfully

Mr Navaneethan Palanisamy
Mr Navaneethan Palanisamy
B.Tech., M.MedSc., M.Sc.
University of Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Baden Würtumberg, Germany

Choosing an appropriate journal:

There are many factors you should consider before you decide to write research articles from your research works. The first and foremost thing you should do is browse the internet and familiarize yourself with all the available journals related to your field of interest. 

Secondly, read the journal’s ‘aims and scopes’ carefully. Ignoring the journal’s ‘aims and scopes’ is a mistake many people do and it is one of the main reasons for the paper to get rejected without even going for the review process. The type of journal determines the type of readers and eventually determines your use of technical terms and language levels in your article. Once you find the appropriate journal, look where this journal has been indexed. For researchers in biology or allied field, it is wise to go for journals that are indexed in PubMed (or Medline), Scopus and Web of Science. 

Thirdly, check whether the journal is subscription-based or open-access. For open-access journals, the submitting author needs to cover the article processing charges (APCs) enforced by the publishing company. While many institutions and funding agencies cover open-access charges on behalf of the submitting author, establishments in low-income countries can not offer such luxury to their researchers. Many open-access journals these days offer a complete waiver on APCs for authors from the low-income countries. Researchers from high-income countries, if they do not have enough money to cover the APCs, they can make a special request to the publishing company for a full or partial waiver. The advantage of having your article published in the open-access journal is that it is freely available to anyone who has the internet, thus enhancing the impact of your research. There are many pros and cons for subscription-based and open-access journals, which I can not discuss as it is out of scope for this small article. As a caution, currently, there are many predatory journals which destroy the principle of the open-access system and you should try to avoid submitting your article to such journals. 

Now that you have decided the right journal for your article, meticulously read and follow the author's guidelines. Once you do this, you will have an idea about the format for your article (e.g. research article or short communication or letter to the editor).

Plan an overview:

In the planning process, you have to ask three questions to yourself: 1) what is the main finding in your work? 2) how did you come to the conclusion of your finding? and 3) why do you think the result you obtained is novel? The answers to these questions are the highlights of your paper which the readers usually look for. The other sentences in the article are mere additions that support or contradict to your findings albeit should not be taken lightly. Depending on the type of article and journal, you can think about the number of figures and/or tables.

Suggestions that can improve the acceptance percentage of your article:

The title of your article should be catchy, if not, at least should tell the main finding of your article instead of vague ones. Keep it short and sweet.

Next is the abstract. Your abstract should introduce your topic to the readers. One to three sentences giving an introduction to your topic is ideal. After the introduction, tell the readers about the aim of your work. Then, give the readers about an overview of the methods you used in your study. Finally, disclose your results and conclusions. Irrespective of journal types (i.e. subscription-based or open-access), abstract of your article can be viewed by anyone. You can imagine abstract of your article is like a trailer or sneak peek for a movie. Your abstract should be carved in such a way that it should motivate the readers to read your full article. Another positive thing with having good abstract is when people write an article they have to quote references to previously published works. But, most of the time, the writer due to time constraints or lack of access, just reads the abstract instead of the whole article and if they find your results agreeing or disagreeing to their work, he/she will cite your article. So, the abstract is the most important part of your whole article.

The introduction can be a single paragraph or multiple paragraphs. It depends on the author and also depends on the area of research. Experts in the particular field (e.g. professors and scientists) usually read the abstract of your article and immediately scroll down to figures and/or tables. So, you should invest most of your time in making good and clear illustrations explaining your findings instead of writing your findings in words. To give you an example, in hepatitis C virus-infected patient samples, if you say there were 15 %, 20 %, 25 %, 10 %, 12% and 18 % of genotype 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 samples respectively, it will not be appealing to the readers. Instead, if you make a graph showing the %s, it will be more appealing. Another advantage of having a good illustration is that if the reader likes your illustration, he/she will use it for his/her presentations and thereby disseminating your article to a greater audience.

The materials and methods section should explain how you did the experiment and analysis. You have to explain each and every minute details of your experiment and analysis including the equipment name, equipment seller and model number. You might think that the protocol is well known and that you could omit some details. Remember that each lab has different types of equipment, and even if the protocol is well known, they might have adopted some variations due to lack of resources. Researchers anywhere in the world should be able to reproduce your results by following your materials and methods. Lack of reproducible results is a big concern currently which consumes a lot of money and time in science. Nearly in all cases, the lack of reproducibility is due to these minor details that one omits in their article.

In the results section, you should simply explain the results that you have got. You do not have to add any speculations here as for why you got such results - you can explain these speculations to the readers in the discussion part. In some journals, you can combine results and discussion sections together. In such cases, it does not matter. The discussion section is a platform where you can interpret your findings with earlier findings and also can speculate the future direction of your research. Many authors additionally provide illustration(s) here explaining their results in the bigger context (e.g. if they find that an increase in protein X concentration in a cell leads to cell death, they show in the figure how protein X can possibly bring cell death). By this, the readers get an overview of the whole article without even completely reading it. Also, this gives a hypothesis that one can test or could indirectly hint the readers about the future research endeavor of the author.

Do not be afraid of rejections after the review process:

It’s your fault if your article gets rejected by the Editor even before the reviewing process because you did not follow the author’s guidelines properly. On the other hand, if your article has been reviewed and then your article has been rejected by the Editor, then you should know that either your article lacks something that the journal was expecting or your article is not up to their journal’s standards. But, do not give up here. Take the reviewers comments seriously and modify or rewrite your paper accordingly. In the end, your newer version of the article will look better (99 % cases) and when you submit this newer version to another journal, you will have better chances of getting your article accepted. I would like to quote my personal experience here. I am not a big fan of journal impact factors albeit being a big fan of the citation numbers with regard to my article. Nevertheless, I am telling my experience to motivate people who have seen rejections. I submitted my article to a journal ‘X’. The reviewers suggested a lot of changes and the Editor ultimately rejected my article. I took the valuable suggestions given by the reviewers and rewrote the article again. In the end, I felt really satisfied with the newer version. The best part is that the newer version was eventually accepted in a journal with an impact factor higher than the earlier journal and also the article has been positively cited by more than 50 other articles as of today.

Writing is a learning process. The more articles you read and write, the more fluent you get with the art of scientific writing. I too learn new things in writing whenever I write a different type of articles. Also, like you, the readers will also prefer simple English. Overdosing your article with fancy or less commonly used English terms or words will make the reader get frightened (especially, if the native language of the reader is not English) or the reader gets lost in the middle of your article. The only thing you have to make sure is that you have written the article grammatically correct. So, as a conclusion, do not be afraid of rejections. Keep honing your scientific writing skills every day.