How to produce a first-class paper that will get published

  • The discussion section is so weak that it’s obvious the writer does not clearly understand the existing literature. Writers should put their results into a global context to demonstrate what makes those results significant or original.
  • In the conclusion, include a one- or two-sentence statement on the research you plan to do in the future and on what else needs to be explored.
  • ‘What’s new’ element is buried. Answering one central question — What did you do? — is the key to finding the structure of a piece. Every section of the manuscript needs to support that one fundamental idea.
  • Scientific authors are often scared to make confident statements with muscularity. The result is turgid or obfuscatory writing that sounds defensive, with too many caveats and long lists — as if the authors are writing to fend off criticism that hasn’t been made yet.
  • The reader’s job is to pay attention and remember what they read. The writer’s job is to make those two things easy to do.
  • Humans are story-telling animals. If we don’t engage that aspect of ourselves, it’s hard to absorb the meaning of what we’re reading. Scientific writing should be factual, concise and evidence-based, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be creative.
  • Structure is paramount. If you don’t get the structure right, you have no hope.
  • I co-wrote a paper (B. Mensh and K. Kording PLoS Comput. Biol.; 2017) that lays out structural details for using a context–content–conclusion scheme to build a core concept.
  • It’s crucial to focus your paper on a single key message, which you communicate in the title.
  • They need to explain why the findings are interesting and how they affect a wider understanding of the topic. Authors should also reassess the existing literature and consider whether their findings open the door for future work.
  • There have been no in-depth studies linking the quality of writing to a paper’s impact, but a recent one (N. Di Girolamo and R. M. Reynders J. Clin. Epidemiol. 85, 32–36; 2017) shows that articles with clear, succinct, declarative titles are more likely to get picked up by social media or the popular press.
  • If you write in a way that is accessible to non-specialists, you are not only opening yourself up to citations by experts in other fields, but you are also making your writing available to laypeople, which is especially important in the biomedical fields.

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