From submission to sharing: the life cycle of an article

When an author decides to submit a manuscript for publication, that manuscript begins its life cycle, going through many phases as it is checked, refined and adjusted. Here we follow an article through its life cycle, to understand the different steps of the publication process and see how they contribute to ensuring an article is scientifically rigorous and accurately presented.

Phase 1: Conception and birth

The article is conceived in the author’s lab book, but it really comes to life once the author has written the manuscript. The fledgling article has been read by co-authors and supervisors, and it has been tweaked, checked and double-checked ready for submission.

The author has chosen a home for the article – the target journal – and checked the Guide for Authors to make sure the article is in the correct format. For many journals, Elsevier enables authors to submit in their chosen format through the Your Paper Your Way program, which means specific formatting isn’t needed until the article has been accepted. For most, though, requirements like line numbering and file format determine what the article looks like at submission.

Phase 2: Submission

The article leaves the author and begins its development in the journals submission system – home to more than a million articles a year. The article will soon be picked up and assessed by an editor and then the life cycle splits: the article may go back to the author, or move on to reviewers.

If the editor determines that the article is unsuitable for publication, the article will go back to the author with a rejection letter, suggestions for major changes, or an offer to submit to an alternative journal. The criteria depend on the journal, but scope and quality are two key requirements. If the journal is part of Article Transfer Service, the editor may suggest that the submission be transferred to another, more suitable journal. If the author chooses to transfer the submission, this submission phase of the life cycle will restart. If the editor thinks the article is suitable for the journal, and is of high enough quality, the article will move on to the next phase of its life cycle.

Phase 3: Reviewers

One of the pilots enables reviewers to discuss a paper with each other before they submit their reports. This helps reviewers align their feedback, making the decision of whether to publish easier for the editor. In another pilot, submitted abstracts are published before peer review and acceptance on the journal homepage of participating journals, such as Atmospheric Environment, profiling the authors and their work.

The peer review phase of the article’s life cycle is effectively the certification process, ensuring the article is suitable for the journal it’s heading for, and that it’s scientifically sound. In their review reports, reviewers make one of four recommendations to the editor:

  • Accept without revisions (rare)
  • Request minor revisions (such as adjusting tables and figures, rewriting sections)
  • Request major revisions (could involve repeating experiments)
  • Reject

Once the article has been assessed, it goes back to the authors to adjust, or submit to a different journal: the article either restarts the peer review phase, or returns to the submission phase. Assuming it continues on its cycle, the article is updated and is now in a state of near-completion. It has been checked, tweaked and checked, and is ready for publication.

Phase 4: Production and publication

The article has been accepted in its target journal, and it now enters the production phase, during which its appearance will change considerably. The editor’s job is complete, and the journal manager takes over the reins to guide the article through its transformation.

The first step is for the article to be converted into the journal’s specific layout. Typesetters transfer the text, tables, figures, links and references into the new layout, and stamp it with a CrossMark – an identification that shows readers whether they are looking at the most recent version of the article.

Next comes the proofing process: traditionally, this has been a source of delays in an article’s life cycle, so few journals are working on several projects to make the proofing process more efficient and easier for authors. Proof Central is a system that lets authors check their articles and correct mistakes directly in the text, instead of having to mark up a PDF. Automating the approvals process and enabling this direct interaction shortens this phase of the life cycle dramatically.

While the article is with the author for a final check, the journal manager assigns it to an issue of the journal and it’s uploaded to ScienceDirect. In its current format, the article is an accepted manuscript and it’s available in the articles in press section of the journal’s ScienceDirect site, complete with DOI. If the journal has an article-based publishing (ABP) process in place, the article is put directly into the next available issue in progress. This will be its home for the rest of its life. If the journal doesn’t yet use ABP, the article will wait in the articles in press area – a sort of waiting room – until it’s time to compile the issue.

The article has been checked by the author and it’s free of typos, full of interactive links and ready to enter the next phase. Our article is now in its permanent home online, fully citable, with a DOI and page numbers.

Phase 5: Dissemination and archiving

The article is published, but its life cycle isn’t yet complete. In this phase, dissemination can start; sharing the article helps increase readership and make it more visible. The author can share this link via email and on social media, and encourage colleagues, peers and other contacts to read the article. An earlier version of the article – the accepted manuscript – is also available on the author’s institutional website and on Mendeley. Through green open access, authors can share accepted manuscripts on academic sites for research and educational purposes.


The article is also archived at this stage. Occasionally, articles need to be corrected if a mistake slips through the proofing net during the production phase (we’re all human, after all). Since the article is archived and has a permanent home, any corrections that need to be made through corrigenda and errata, for example, can be linked to the article easily.

It’s also vital to make sure the article is available in perpetuity: archiving is very important for the scientific record. Archiving means that researchers can look back at the article for information long into the future; it’s still possible to find the original The Lancet paper describing Alzheimer’s disease from 1950.

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Posted in Academic Writing, Case report, Communication, Editing, Education, Impact Factor, Interdisciplinary research, Journal article, Medical Writing, Open access, Peer Review, Peer-reviewed Journal, Proofreading, Review article, Science and Technology, Scientific writing

The things you hate most about submitting manuscripts

I asked in Twittersphere what annoys them the most when it comes to submitting manuscripts to peer-reviewed academic journals. From the irritation of having to reformat references to fit some journal’s arbitrary style, to consigning figures and captions to the end of a submission, (as though it really was still 1988), to the pointlessness of cover letters* where all authors want to say is “Dear Editor, here is our paper” but feel the need to throw in something about how amazing their results are. The tweet proved a lot more popular than I expected and for a good two days you could see a steam of delicious rage rising from my timeline.

I had an ulterior motive in seeking out this information from your good selves. As most of you will know, one of my aims is to help improve the transparency and reproducibility of published research, and one of the journals I edit for is working through its (future) adoption of the newTransparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines. The TOP guidelines are a self-certification scheme in which journals voluntarily report their level of policy compliance with a series of transparency standards, such as data sharing, pre-registration, and so forth. TOP is currently endorsed by over 500 journals and promises to make the degree of transparency adopted by journals itself more transparent. I guess you could call this “meta-transparency”.

Now, in putting together our TOP policy at this journal at which I serve, we realised that it involves the addition of some new submission bureaucracy for authors. There will be a page of TOP guidelines to read beforehand and a 5-minute checklist to complete when actually submitting. We realise extra forms and guidelines are annoying for authors, so at the same time as introducing TOP we are going to strive to cut as much of the other (far less important) shit as possible.

Here are the things you hated the most, and your most popular recommendations. For fun, I calculated an extremely silly and invalid score of every interaction to this tweet, adding up RTs, favourites and the number of independent mentions of specific points:
  1. Abolish trivial house style requirements, including stipulations on figure dimensions & image file types, especially for the initial submission, as well as arbitrary house referencing and in-text citations styles. This is by far the most popular response. (score 112)
  2. Allow in-text figures and tables according to their natural position until the very final stage of submission. (score 61)
  3. Abolish all unnecessary duplication of information about the manuscript (e.g. word count, keywords), main author details and (most especially) co-author contact details that is otherwise mentioned on the title page or could be calculated automatically; abolish any requirement to include postal addresses of co-authors at least until the final stage (affiliation and email address should be sufficient, and should be readable from title page without requiring additional form completion); eliminate fax numbers altogether because, seriously, WTF are those fossils doing there anyway. (score 50)
  4. Abolish requirement for submissions to be in MS Word format only. (score 36)
  5. Abolish endnotes and either replace with footnotes or cut both. (score 33)
  6. Allow submission of LaTeX files. (score 29)
  7. Allow submission of single integrated PDF until the final stage of acceptance. (score 27)
  8. Abolish cover letters for initial submissions. (score 21)
  9. Abolish the Highlights section altogether because
    * Highlights are Stupid
    * Everyone knows Highlights are Stupid
    * I can’t think of anything else to say here, so I’ll just repeat the conclusion that Highlights are Stupid (score 18)
  10. Remove maximum limits on the number of cited references. (score 7)
  11. Abolish the requirement for authors to recommend reviewers. (score 7)
  12. Increase speed of user interface. (score 6)

Not all of these apply to our journal, but we’ll try and improve on the things that do, and which we can change.

* Shameless plug alert: At one journal I edit for (Cortex), submitting a pre-registered article called a Registered Report greatly increases your chances of being published.  The rejection rate for standard (unregistered) research reports? Just over 90%.  The rejection rate for the 50% of Registered Reports that pass editorial triage and proceed to in-depth Stage 1 peer review? About 10%.
Highlights Graphic
The reason the rejection rate is so low for Registered Reports isn’t because our standards are any less (if anything they are higher, in my opinion) but because this format attracts particularly good submissions and also gives authors the opportunity to address reviewer criticisms of their experimental design before they do their research.

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Posted in APA Format, APA Style, Chicago Manual Style, Communication, Education, Impact Factor, Interdisciplinary research, Journal article, Manuscript format, MLA Format, MLA Style, Open access, Peer-reviewed Journal

5 writing tips to get your research the attention it deserves

Science Communication

Your research has been published, and you know that it will change the world. You expect that the press, TV, radio and internet will pick up the wave and it will be like a tsunami – the new discovery that changes how we understand science, health, life. And then the news is out and … after a few articles and tweets, only a distant echo responds. So what has happened to that ground-breaking discovery?!

Well, it has gone unnoticed by the public, just like thousands of other fascinating scientific revelations. Why? Most likely it has been communicated in a way that is indigestible and confusing to a normal person.

We love our science so much, we want to share it in the tiniest detail – and this is where we fail even before starting. Because we are the scientists, and they — well, they are them. But hold on: what if them represents 99 percent of the population?

Want your discovery to be appreciated and understood? Stick to my 5 rules:

1. Start with a “why?” Did you know that an average attention span has gone down to 8 seconds? This is how much time you have to engage with your reader online. If you don’t pique someone’s interest in that short span, you will lose them. So maybe leaving the “payback” ‘til  the very end is not the best idea as few will stick around to read it. I would say do as the best in film industry do: at least give a hint, get people curious so they stick around to see the grand finale.

2. Stick to one concept. You have to get a grip on your need to tell everyone everything. If your story is good, you can always make a sequel. Cramming in too many technically complicated concepts only confuses the reader, and a confused reader simply leaves. I am fully aware that to your research, all the details are crucial; however you need to accept that to your reader, they are probably not. Decide what your key concept is and stick to it. Draw it on a Post-it and attach it to your screen. Throughout the process, keep glancing at it and make sure you have not drifted into the next chapter of a very long series.

3. Good metaphor is your best friend. There is no better way of making someone understand your point than using a concept they are already familiar with. If you have never done it, the first time might be a bit bumpy, but once you see it working, you won’t be able to stop yourself: a human body with an allergic reaction like a country invaded by an enemy, DNA as a library, cancer as a thief. And the metaphor does not have to be bulletproof from every angle of your research; it simply has to reflect the main concept. You can try it out on a friend or a family member: when you get that “oh, I see” expression, you know you’ve got it.


Pictures – and metaphors – can bring your science stories to life.

4. Mind your language. I’m sorry but you have to cut the scientific jargon to minimum or completely get rid of it. Forget abbreviations. No more oligosaccharides, sugar will have to do. And do not even try to describe triglycerides — stick to fat. I’m not saying that the public won’t understand the term. But if someone has to dig deep to remember a term they do not use on daily basis, they will need more concentration to follow your story. Next to your metaphor, I would stick another Post-it with the objective of WHY you are trying to write about your science. Is your objective really to pack as much information as possible into a short text? Or rather to get someone engaged, stick around to read it all and take the message home? I recommend trying out The Up-Goer Five Text Editor to see how good you are in explaining concepts with simple vocabulary. Only 1,000 most common words allowed. And a good image or a diagram is worth more than a thousand words.

5. Keep it short. Let’s assume you have followed all the steps: you gave a good reason why people should read your text, focused your topic, found a perfect metaphor for your concept, made it as simple as you can. Now what? Well, check the word count. If you are within a range of 1,000 words, that is a good indication. If you are in the range of 3,000, go back to the start and get rid of at least half. Double check if you are keeping the course you chose at the beginning: your main concept. Are you going into too much detail? If there is a paragraph that you are not sure about – simply get rid of it.

I love science, and since you are here, I hope we share this passion. The gap between research and society is growing bigger by the minute. Mass media can contribute to the problem if their interest is only a good story, or a scary story to get the most clicks. Whose job is it then to get things right if not ours? Try it, and once you are hooked, there is no way back. You will want to keep on writing.

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Posted in Academic Writing, Case report, Communication, Science, Science and Technology, Scientific writing

How to review manuscripts — your ultimate checklist

This is one of various “Quick Guides” in the Publishing Campus.

How to review manuscripts

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Posted in Academic Writing, Communication, Education, Journal article, Science and Technology, Scientific editing

Infographic: How to read a scientific paper?

Much of a scientist’s work involves reading research papers, whether it’s to stay up to date in their field, advance their scientific understanding, review manuscripts, or gather information for a project proposal or grant application. Because scientific articles are different from other texts, like novels or newspaper stories, they should be read differently.

Research papers follow the well-known IMRD format — an abstract followed by the Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. They have multiple cross references and tables as well as supplementary material, such as data sets, lab protocols and gene sequences. All those characteristics can make them dense and complex. Being able to effectively understand them is a matter of practice.

Reading a scientific paper should not be done in a linear way (from beginning to end); instead, it should be done strategically and with a critical mindset, questioning your understanding and the findings. Sometimes you will have to go backwards and forwards, take notes and have multiple tabs opened in your browser.

Here are some tips for reading and understanding research papers.


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Posted in Communication, Education, Journal article, Medical Writing, Proofreading, Science, Scientific Journal

It’s time for academic writing to evolve — a brief communication, why and how?

Communication is a vital part of the academic process: sharing results with your peers means your research builds the knowledge base, adding to our understanding of the universe and everything that goes on inside it.

So why does the writing have to be so dull?

Research articles can be near enough impenetrable for most people, but even when readers do understand them, many are written in such a boring, unappealing way that they’re not exactly engaging page-turners. Does it matter?

For Dr. Filipe, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, we could all stand to benefit from a big change in academic writing:

“As researchers, we like to think we’re creative, but in my opinion the scientific community is a very conservative place in reality. We repeat the same formulae over and over, including when we’re writing articles.”

It’s often journals themselves that set the formulae – some journals have such strict submission guidelines that authors are restricted at the sentence level. “Guidelines are important in a way, but when they’re so restrictive, you end up with an article with exactly the same structure as all the other articles in the journal,” Filipe says. “This affects me every day. I really enjoy reading scientific papers – I do it a lot – and maybe that’s why I’d like to see some novelty.”

Writing style is influenced by the greats

He has a theory of why scientific papers are slow to evolve:

“My hypothesis is that people often want to do things the way the greats do them – you can see this in music, for example, with people emulating their guitar heroes. Every once in a while there’s a revolutionary person, and all of a sudden everyone is following their new formula.”

It’s this top-down approach that holds back change in academic writing – originality is reserved only for people who are well established in their field, he says, with researchers telling themselves, “I’m not there yet, I don’t see myself as one of the greats. The way I tackle it is to stand by the style and language decisions I really believe in. Occasionally I try to stand a little more firm next to a paragraph a reviewer is criticizing for the way it’s written. I’m not talking about misstatements, or writing that’s unclear or ambiguous, but really about style choices.”

Influence is also powerful in terms of teaching the next generation of researchers. But is this a missed opportunity? “Most people I know who are great communicators tend to be great teachers who have engaging lectures,” Filipe says. “When you go to their lectures, you really enjoy them – they’re full of metaphors and they present the content in an interesting way. It’s a shame this very often doesn’t transpire in their writings.

I’m responsible for teaching a lot of future researchers how to write. It’s striking to me that we’re telling them how to make their writing clear and transparent, but in doing so, we’re actually making it very inaccessible because the way we have to write makes it incredibly tedious to read.

 Acdemic writing

Journals play a part in shaping style

Publishing also influences academic writing – reviewers and editors play important roles in this process. “The peer review process is a very important part of publishing,” he explains, “but it’s not just your science that’s on the line – reviewers often make stylistic judgments, and if your paper diverges too far from the norm it doesn’t fare well.”

The accepted approach to academic writing is formal and technical, and many editors and reviewers will suggest stylistic and language changes to an article. In doing so, though, they may be limiting the impact of a paper. “I think more engaging writing gets more people reading about your work – there are papers that have been cited more because of the way they were written,” he says.

“As a reviewer, I avoid stylistic comments – I tend to stick to the science, and I speak up when there’s something I don’t understand. What I care about is whether I get the message, and whether it’s logically sound. I’ll never make a comment about a word you have used unless I don’t agree with the idea I get from it; if I do, then it’s a problem of clarity.”

Improve by trying new things (that may not work out)

When authors – including less established ones – try something original in their writing, in the right situation, with the right journal it can be refreshing and engaging. But what if it’s not? According to Filipe, failure is OK, and it’s something we need to embrace if we’re going to make a change.

“Occasionally an author will try something new and it just won’t work. But that’s OK; the fact that they actually tried to do something different means something good can come out of it. Even if you’re simply showing how not to do it, you end up getting more exposure,” he says.

“Whether you like it or not, or think it’s appropriate or not, it’s a weird world where you don’t have the freedom to express your science the way you want to express it.”

So what’s the magic formula?

“Diversity is one of the things I’d like the most. I don’t only listen to jazz, or rock, or classical music, just as I don’t only like one style of article. Something I would never say is ‘this is the formula that everyone should be following.’ We need to get away from the idea that there is just one way of communicating a paper.”

5 ways to engage readers with your research

Try these simple tricks to freshen up your writing and entice more readers.

1. Give your article an interesting title. Make it clear to readers what your work is about, but keep the title short and snappy. The title is a great place to filter out unnecessary jargon. For example, the title “Analysis of the process of altering the flavor of the liquid beverage derived from plants of the family Rubiaceae using crystallized short-chain carbohydrates” might instead be “Analyzing the taste of coffee sweetened with sugar.”

2. Write in active sentences. Was the ball dropped by you, or did you drop the ball? Traditionally, academic writing is in the passive voice – grammatically, that means the subject of the sentence is the recipient of an action. But we engage more with stories about people; if you are the subject of a sentence, it becomes more naturally interesting. So instead of “the agar plates were incubated,” try “we incubated the agar plates.”

3. Write short sentences and paragraphs. One surefire way to lose readers is to write in long, complicated sentences. Academic subjects tend to bring with them a technical language with long words. Using technical terms already increases the difficulty of reading a piece of writing. If you want to keep hold of your readers and make sure they really understand your message, keep it short and sweet.

4. Don’t use unnecessary jargon. Sure, you’ll need to use some technical terms, but if you can make your writing more interesting with alternatives, give it a try. If you have a choice of words to use, and one is more recognizable than another, go with the familiar one. You could also introduce a technical term, then continue with the more familiar term, for example: “We tracked several colonies of Apis mellifera (honeybees) to see how far they travel to food. The honeybees flew up to …”

5. Enrich your article with Audio slides or a lay summary. editEon offers article enrichments so you can talk about your research in your own words or summarize your article for a wider audience.

Encrypting results for secrecy

In the 17th century, natural philosophers started to publish their discoveries, but competition to be first to make a discovery led many of them to develop a way of publishing without giving anything away. Newton, Hooke and Galileo were among those who started to publish anagrams. In his book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science Michael Nielsen describes how Galileo first published his discovery of Saturn’s moons in an anagram:

“Instead of explaining forthrightly what he had seen, Galileo explained that he would describe his latest discovery in the form of an anagram: smaismrmilmepoetaleumibunenugttauiras. By sending this anagram, Galileo avoided revealing the details of his discovery, but at the same time ensured that if someone else – such as Kepler – later made the same discovery, Galileo could reveal the anagram and claim the credit.”

Being first isn’t such a powerful driver these days, but in a way, academic publishing does prevent many readers from understanding – or at least enjoying – research papers.

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Posted in Academic Writing, Communication, Medical Writing, Scientific editing, Scientific writing

Infographic: How to write better science papers

Reporting results in a scientific journal is a process common to researchers in all disciplines. However, many scientific papers fail to communicate research work effectively. Pitfalls include using complicated jargon, including unnecessary details, and writing for your highly specialized colleagues instead of a wider audience.

Effective research articles are interesting and useful to a broad audience, including scientists in other fields. This infographic presents tips to help you write papers people will want to read.

Infographic - How to write better science papers

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Posted in Communication, Medical Writing, Scientific editing, Scientific writing, Writing

Infographic: Tips for designing better research posters

Research posters are a common way to show the results of your research to the academic community. Researchers present posters at conferences to communicate their work in a summarized form to a broader audience.

The research poster must be clear, concise and attractive in order to generate discussion and feedback from colleagues. However, it is not easy to achieve those goals in a pleasing layout. Here are some tips to help you design effective research posters that stand out.



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Posted in Communication, Science, Science and Technology

Referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Referencing is an essential part of academic scholarship and ethical values demand that authors identify the sources used in their work. You are referencing in order to:

  • Acknowledge an intellectual debt to another author where you have drawn from his or her published work or ideas, either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Support specific facts or claims which you make in your text.
  • Enable your reader to find sources to which you have referred easily and quickly.

The benefits of referencing to you are that:

  • It shows the range of reading that you have done. This gains you marks.
  • It can make your own arguments more convincing by supporting them with the ideas of acknowledged experts and data from credible sources.
  • It is a basic academic requirement and doing so means you cannot be accused of plagiarism.

Failure to identify sources upon which you draw is considered as plagiarism, defined by the University in Section 2.2 of its Student Disciplinary Policy as:

“the submission of an item of assessment which, all or in part, contains work produced by another person(s) in such a way that it could be assumed to be the student’s own work”.

Plagiarism is treated as academic misconduct and dealt with in accordance with the its Disciplinary policy and Operating Process.


There are two inter-related parts of the referencing process:

  1. The citation is essentially a marker you put in your text to show that you are referring to a source. For example, you may have given a direct quotation or summarized the ideas from the source. The marker you use links to the full reference in your reference list.
  2. The reference gives full details about the source you have cited in your text so that you can go from the source to the original from the details given. References are listed in an organized, structured and consistent way, at the end of your assignment, before any appendices.
    Footnotes and endnotes are not used in the Harvard (Author-date) referencing style.

Harvard referencing style

These guidelines have been developed to bring consistency to the practice of citing references within the University so that there is a document to which all students and staff can refer. The Harvard system emphasizes the name of the author and the publication year in the text with full bibliographic details in a reference list. Citing references informs your reader where you found your information and is the accepted way of giving credit to the ideas and evidence on which your argument is based. It is standard academic practice and you must do this in all your assignments.

The style that is recommended is very similar to the Harvard-style referencing format used by Microsoft Word 2013. This is shown as Harvard – Anglia 2008 in the Style section of the References tab. It is also based on the publication, Cite them Right (Pears and Shields, 2013) and the Anglia Ruskin University’s Harvard referencing web page There are differences between all three and these are shown in Appendix 1 along with the University’s preferred options.

Facts, ideas, dates, events and information that are expected to be known by a student working in that subject area would be considered to be “common knowledge” and therefore would not expect to be referenced.

You will encounter other styles of referencing, especially if you are looking at books and articles relating to law, literature, psychology, media studies and the performing arts. These commonly use a numeric style with a number inserted in the text rather than an author’s name and date. There are separate guidelines for these styles of referencing and there are links to these from the Referencing page


The following statement of confidentiality can be found in the Faculty of Health’s Guidelines, Guide to Academic Procedures: Confidentiality in Learning, Teaching and Assessment:

If a patient’s/client’s name or that of a member of staff is included in any part of your work including appendices (if they are not available to the general public), you will fail. The work will be deemed a ‘technical fail’ and will receive a mark of 1% only. Success in the resubmitted work will be subject to capping, as for any resubmission.

The full policy is detailed in your student handbook from the Faculty of Health. Confidentiality must be maintained within referencing as well as your written work. Guidance is provided in these referencing guidelines regarding the maintenance of confidentiality of source material.

Reference management software

You can use EndNote Web which is available to you on the University network to manage your references. This software is particularly useful if you have lots of references to handle. Training is available through Corporate ICT but you must book a place on the course. Full details on the web

Free open source reference management software is also available and our databases will often export references to software such as Zotero, CiteULike and Mendeley.

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Posted in Communication, Journal article, Review article, Writing

How to write an A+ research paper

This article lists some of the stages involved in writing a library-based research paper.

Although this list suggests that there is a simple, linear process to writing such a paper, the actual process of writing a research paper is often a messy and recursive one, so please use this outline as a flexible guide.

  1. Discovering, narrowing, and focusing a researchable topic
  2. Finding, selecting, and reading sources
  3. Grouping, sequencing, and documenting information
  4. Writing an outline and a prospectus for yourself
  5. Writing the introduction
  6. Writing the body
  7. Writing the conclusion
  8. Revising the final draft

Discovering, narrowing, and focusing a researchable topic

  • Try to find a topic that truly interests you
  • Try writing your way to a topic
  • Talk with your course instructor and classmates about your topic
  • Pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved

Finding, selecting, and reading sources

You will need to look at the following types of sources:

  • Library catalog, periodical indexes, bibliographies, suggestions from your instructor
  • Primary vs. secondary sources
  • Journals, books, other documents

Grouping, sequencing, and documenting information

The following systems will help keep you organized:

  • A system for noting sources on bibliography cards
  • A system for organizing material according to its relative importance
  • A system for taking notes

Writing an outline and a prospectus for yourself

Consider the following questions:

  • What is the topic?
  • Why is it significant?
  • What background material is relevant?
  • What is my thesis or purpose statement?
  • What organizational plan will best support my purpose?

Writing the Introduction

In the introduction you will need to do the following things:

  • Present relevant background or contextual material
  • Define terms or concepts when necessary
  • Explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose
  • Reveal your plan of organization

Writing the body

  • Use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides
  • Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don’t let your sources organize your paper)
  • Integrate your sources into your discussion
  • Summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
  • Move up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization

Writing the conclusion

  • If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.
  • Perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research.

Revising the final draft

  • Check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
  • Paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.
  • Documentation: consistent use of one system, citation of all material not considered common knowledge, appropriate use of endnotes or footnotes, accuracy of list of works cited.

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