Updated: Apr 12, 2019
One of the most common issues for new, and sometimes seasoned, researchers is how to construct a scientific manuscript. Of course, it is not the actual structure that troubles people – Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion is a format that is not very intimidating – but it is the most effective and efficient way to put the pieces together that eludes many scientists.
Of the issues constructing a manuscript, how to begin is perhaps the most significant. Like tackling anything big, the initial steps are usually the most difficult. Do you start with the Abstract? Maybe the Introduction? This decision, or indecision as it were, can significantly hamper your writing process.
What follows is what many of our editors have found to be the most effective way to write a manuscript. It is by no means the only way or even the best way for all. It is meant as a tool that may help in your writing process.
How to Start
Many have found that the easiest way to start a manuscript is to begin with the results section. I mean, your results are what led you to believe that you have the data necessary to produce a publication, right? So, here is a few steps that could help in this process:
1) Gather and organize your data – Get all of your data that you intend to place in the paper and start organizing them into potential figures and tables (this, of course, is not written in stone and can be changed along the way).
2) Describe your data – This is essentially what your results section is for! Go figure by figure and describe the main points of what was found.
Note that this process often leads you realize some glaring holes in your data that you can begin working on right away (instead of waiting for a reviewer to point it out!).
At this point, with your Results down on paper, the Discussion is the next section to tackle. Often regarded as the toughest section to write, we believe that with your results fresh in your mind, it is the perfect time to talk about them with respect to what is already known and what significance your results will have in the field.
You can also write your conclusions section at this point if you choose (or are forced by journal guidelines) to include it.
Materials and Methods
This should give you a nice reprieve from some of the heavier writing that you’ve done. You already know what results you are including in your paper and which ones you are leaving out, so writing down the details of the experiments should come somewhat easily.
At this point, what you did, what you found, and how it fits in the current state of the field is down on paper. This should allow you to easily see what concepts and topics you need to introduce to the reader so that they can understand your paper.
How to Finish
It seems somewhat counterintuitive to finish at the beginning of your paper, but that is what many people recommend. Having completed your manuscript, you are in the best position to concisely summarize the background, methods, results, and conclusions/significance.
Write your reference list as you go! It’s always a relief to have your references done once you finish your first draft. Going back is incredibly tedious and will take much longer.
Write the sections in the following order:
Results, Discussion, Materials and Methods, Introduction, and Abstract
Try it and let us know what you think! Have a better way? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment and let us know!
Of course, if you have any questions while writing your manuscript, Excision Editing is here to help! Grab one of our plans and you're on your way.
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