As medical and pre-medical students, I am sure most of us have been, or will, be doing research at some point. If we’re going all the way, we will be submitting our results for publication in a journal. Getting started can be difficult, so I made note of some key tips that I have gathered in my experience to share with anyone who may be writing in the future.
- Check journal guidelines first. Before you begin writing, narrow down what journals you may want to submit to so you can focus your writing in accordance with their guidelines. For example, I did not realize the journal I wanted to submit to had a reference limit of 25 until I was halfway through my draft, and had to spend extra time eliminating information. Consolidate these guidelines in a Word doc so you can keep them in your mind while you are writing for maximum efficiency.
- Don’t necessarily start with the introduction. It seems intuitive to begin with the background/intro because that is the first section you read in a journal article, but the writing process need not be chronological. If you have results already, I find it easier to start with the results section, which will be the bulk of your paper and is typically the most time consuming to write and formulate its tables. You already have a solid grasp on the background of your research, so this could be put off until later. I personally prefer starting with intro only if I am new to the topic and need to gain background knowledge.
- Learn from other authors. Sometimes I come across articles that do an excellent job of presenting their results or word their Study Procedures very well. I will copy/paste how other authors format or word certain things in a separate file; not to exactly replicate what they’ve written, but to use as a template when I’m writing up the sections of my own paper. Of course, you will want to find your own style of writing, but it helps to read through many other articles and see what is done well. Conciseness of writing is very important, especially with a word limit!
- Cite as you write. I used to make the mistake of putting off citations until the end, which makes remembering which references to cite and producing the reference list more tedious than it should be. Even if you do not know what format you are writing in yet, it helps to make note of (Author, Year) where needed, so that you can easily insert the proper citation at the end. Citing while writing has allowed me to not spend more time than necessary on something that could already be taken care of during the drafting process.
- Citation libraries. Whether it be Mendeley, EndNote, or some other citation manager, I highly recommend using one to keep your references organized. Not only does it store all your references in one place, but makes inserting the references into your draft much easier. I am a faithful EndNote user, and love the fact that EndNote functions are incorporated into Word – you can directly access your EndNote library from Microsoft Word and a simple click will allow insertion of any reference right into your paper.
- Bigger is not always better. In the beginning, I frequented the thesaurus to replace commonplace words with more “scientific” sounding jargon. I learned shortly that your editors and mentors will suggest you replace these words with the simpler terms. There is no need to add more characters if you can get your point across in shorter, more concise words. Plus, you want to cater your research to all audiences, so using universal language may make your piece more appealing and comprehensible to the general public.
And there you have it! These are some of the things that work well for me, and I hope you’ll be able to take something away to aid in your manuscript drafting. Happy writing!