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Journal article writing tips for Researchers and Authors

Research Word

What exactly is a good writing style and how can an Author in the field of engineering better communicate his/her research? In this interview, Martin Wells, Journal Editor for a portfolio of Engineering titles shares important factors to take note of when you are preparing your manuscript for submission.

About Martin: Martin Wells is a Journals Editor and Publishing Manager at Wiley overseeing the publication of a portfolio of Engineering titles, including highly respected Journals such as, International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics, and International Journal of Robust and Nonlinear Control. Based in the UK, Martin works closely with a group of Editors from around the world, who are among the most respected figures in their respective fields, to develop high performing Journals containing innovative and timely material to support the international research community.

Q: What is the most common problem encountered by Editors when they receive a manuscript?

The most common problem we encounter is poor presentation. This makes the Editor’s job extremely difficult and will most likely result in your manuscript being returned to you for revision without review, or rejected without review. Too often we come across manuscripts where, just by glancing through, you can see that something is not right. This could be problems with the language, poor formatting, illegible equations or, surprisingly, missing references. These errors look very sloppy and cause the Editor to doubt the content of the paper. Authors should ensure that their manuscript has been read and checked by colleagues before submitting, they should also consider using an editing service such as the one provided by Wiley if they are not confident.

Q: Are there any key tips you can share to help Authors with the writing process?

Yes, ‘one paper – one idea’! Before writing the paper the Author should ask herself: ‘what is the idea you want to present in the paper?’ This is where the Author should define the core idea and novelty of the paper and be able to explain it in a single sentence. This is what I would describe as the ‘sales pitch’ for your paper and it should help to focus the writing process, as well as helping you promote your work to others. The whole manuscript should be organised to demonstrate or illustrate this idea.

It is vitally important that you are clear about the novelty of your work as this will help the Editor to assess the paper. Emphasize at which points your work goes beyond what is currently known. It is particularly important to do this in the abstract, introduction, and summary sections as these are the key areas that an Editor looks at when receiving a manuscript for the first time.

Q: For engineers in particular is there a core piece of advice to bear in mind when preparing a manuscript?

Rationalise everything! Any theory has to be based on clearly given assumptions. The experimental measurements must be fully presented with all the experimental conditions. The numerical results must come from codes with given algorithmic features and clear hypotheses (boundary conditions, initial conditions, constitutive relations of the materials etc.). What we are really referring to here is scientific rigor – the paper must demonstrate scientific rigor throughout.

Ultimately, a paper should be structured so that it never moves on to the next step without having demonstrated (by theoretical argument or by analytical development) or established (by lab or numerical experiments) the present step. Every stage of the paper should be underpinned by evidence and clear argument, before reaching a conclusion based on the evidence presented.

Q: Do you have any specific advice for authors to ensure that their article is ready for submission to a journal?

A journal article is very different to a conference paper or a PhD thesis and serves a very particular purpose. As such, Authors should structure their paper specifically for journal submission.

With this in mind, it is vitally important that your manuscript is carefully edited. When editing your paper, be sure that the paper does not take too long before coming to the point. An introduction of seven pages is usually not well received and will make the Editor’s job more difficult. The main message should come as early in the paper as possible – remember your one sentence ‘sales pitch’ and use it at the beginning of your abstract and early in the introduction.

Be aware that a longer manuscript is not necessarily a better one, rather the reverse. A very long paper can often be an indication that it has not been edited properly and can fail to convey the essence of the work. It is important to remember that time is short for everyone involved in the process, so longer papers may not be read, or not read well.

A shorter well edited article demonstrates that the Author has carefully written the paper to communicate her ideas in the most effective way possible.

Q: Do you have any tips for making an accepted article more discoverable?

With around one million scientific articles being published each year, it is becoming increasingly important for authors to self-promote their work to make it more discoverable online and therefore citable. Authors should be thinking about this throughout the writing process to ensure that they can implement tactics to make sure that the paper is in the best position to be found online following publication.

There are four central areas to be aware of and to take action on:

Keywords – Keywords are a powerful tool for discoverability. Not only important for Search Engine Optimization in that they help push your paper to the top of the search results, but they are also used by abstracting and indexing services as a mechanism to tag research content. Make sure that you include appropriate keywords in your paper to take advantage of this and use them throughout the manuscript.

Title – In search engine terms, the title is the most interesting element. It’s the first piece of information that someone sees before deciding to read your paper. Try to keep the title to 15 words or less, place the main concept at the beginning and try to avoid abbreviations or acronyms.

Abstract – Almost always free access, which means that (along with the title) it is the most widely read part of the paper. Capture the key points of your paper in simple language, clarify the main novelty of your paper early in the abstract (use your one sentence ‘sales pitch’ to help), and try to keep it down to around seven to ten sentences.

Links – The more inbound links to your publication, the more search engines will value and highlight your content. Make sure that you link to the paper from your profile page on your institution’s website as well as on any other personal profiles you may have, make sure that any co-authors are also creating links to the paper and reach out to colleagues for help in drawing attention to your published work. It is also important to use any social media channels you have to draw attention to the paper.

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