New research findings are most often communicated in writing, which allows the study outcomes to become officially documented in a research publication as part of the scholarly literature. Research communication in writing via specialist journal publications supports the principles of academic research to share research evidence, to connect with peers, to enhance knowledge and to bring about progress and change for the better.
Academic writing aimed at publishing new research outcomes is different from popular writing about research for the wider public. In contrast to academic writing, popular science writing is driven by newsworthiness with the aim to publicise research to a wider audience. As a result, academic writing adheres to a specific structure which allows content to become increasingly more specialised throughout a publication for clarity, transparency and reproducibility.
Over decades, the IMRaD structure has proven to suit academic writing, particularly but not exclusively in the health and medical sciences. IMRaD refers to content being presented in the following order: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. To date, this manuscript structure is widely accepted as the core of a research publication in the international peer reviewed academic literature. It allows specific research approaches and outcomes to be documented in context.
While across disciplines writing research manuscripts requires a commitment to the objective, complete and accurate reporting of study findings, research in the health and medicine discipline comes with a duty to disclose clinical interventional trial results irrespective of the outcome. Registration of this type of research allows study findings to be publicly available if the research cannot be published by an academic journal in the field.
International standards in the reporting of health and medicine research have been developed and helpful tools to guide and enhance the quality and transparency of research publications in this discipline are freely available via the EQUATOR Network.
This global initiative is supported by many credible peer-reviewed academic journals, which may require you to submit the completed EQUATOR Checklist related to your study design with your manuscript for publication. This supporting document then assists journal editors and peer-reviewers in assessing the level of transparency, completeness and accuracy of your academic writing. The Equator GoodReports tool can help you find the most appropriate reporting checklist.
The academic writing structure of research reporting other than human participant-based studies may differ significantly form the IMRaD structure. This may apply to academic writing in the field of humanities. Support and advice on this specific type of academic writing is currently under development.
Notre Dame's Research Offices organise regular training events in Fremantle, Broome and Sydney to assist research staff and students in academic writing. General advice on academic writing is also available via the University Library.
Manuscript Preparation: Writing Process
When writing a research manuscript based on the IMRaD structure, working your way through the various core sections in a chronological order may not always be the easiest approach. Expert encouragement towards 'how to think about the writing process' and 'what not to do' are available.
A good start could be to begin with what you feel most confident about - research content:
- Define the focus of your manuscript and select those findings (i) relevant to support or reject your study hypothesis, and (ii) underpinning the message you want to convey.
- Decide how and in which order to present the selected study outcomes, write the Results section and make sure that your text, figures, tables and/or supplementary information complement each other.
- Then write the Methods in which you describe only the study design and analysis approaches that generated the outcomes you have selected.
This will set you up to continue with the scientific context in which your research findings matter:
- Write an Introduction that presents the issue in your field to set the scene, states what is known on the topic and why your study can contribute to a better understanding of the issue.
- Conclude the Introduction with a brief description of your aim or hypothesis, what you set out to do and what you achieved in the form of an overall conclusion.
- The Discussion can then start with a more detailed summary of your most important findings, followed by how these findings relate to what is known from other studies, how they can be explained, what possible limitations to result interpretation there may be and what constructive advice you may have for future research on the topic. Try to keep it evidence-based and avoid speculations
A study summary will need to preceed the IMRaD structure:
- Prepare a title page, including a title which frames your message accurately but is phrased with a punch.
- Select key words that are effective for categorisation and online indexing purposes. Nowadays, search engine optimisation to present a publication online as a search result by readers is driven by key words.
- Write an abstract as a concise study summary on the most prominent study findings and avoid ambiguity when concluding the overall significance of the outcomes.
You are now ready for the draft completion of your manuscript:
- Include responsible citing of preferably peer-reviewed literature and prepare a reference list according to the style most appropriate for the publication. Consult the journal you aim to submit to or use the style preferred in your discipline.
- Add an Acknowledgement section to thank contributors to the study who are not eligible for authorship and/or (non-commercial) research funding organisation.
- Add a disclosure statement if a conflict of interest may be perceived by others or research funding was received from a commercial entity.
It is recommended that you write a manuscript with a journal of interest in mind. Make sure you inform yourself of journal specific requirements, writing style and referencing format, which are generally covered extensively in the journal's instructions to authors.
Manuscript Preparation: Journal Selection
With an increasing number of scholarly journals able to consider your manuscript for publication, it is important to choose the right journal for your research. Most journals publish online only nowadays and journal website have improved over time to present useful information for you to consider when selecting your preferred journal to publish your work.
Most frequently used selection criteria include:
- Journal quality & credibility
- Peer review assessment
- Publication model and article processing charges (APC; publication fee)
- Journal focus, scope of research and reach
- Publication speed
- Indexing services used for search engine optimisation
- Personal or peer experience
The UK initiative 'Think, Check, Submit' can help you find a trustworthy journal to submit your manuscript for publication. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) can serve as a whitelist for high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals.
With the inevitable rise in scholarly journals, it becomes increasingly more important to recognise predatory type of journals, which significantly compromise the impact of your publication and can damage your research credibility and reputation. These journal characteristically:
- Have journal names and website appearances which resemble reputable journals or publisher, aimed at intentionally misleading inexperienced researchers,
- Demand article processing charges (APC) or Open Access fees upfront,
- Ask for immediate copyright transfer upon submission,
- Publish unbelievably fast without a legitimate peer review process,
- Have no transparent information available on the journal website to assess quality & credibility,
- Recruit submissions via 'personalised' spam emails with unusual use of first or last name.
Beware of the signs and learn more about how to tell the difference between trusted and predatory journals.