This area of the website contains some guidance for those writing for publication for the first time and is based on the training sessions we run through Reinvention. The 'top tips' are useful if you wish to submit your work to Reinvention or if you wish to write up your research for another academic journal. We will be adding to this area of the site over the coming weeks and months. If you feel there is anything missing or that you can add 'top tips' of your own, particularly if you are an experienced academic writer, please let us know.
- Some Basics
- The Title of your Paper
- Abstract and Keywords
- Structuring your Article
- Substantiating your Claims
- Aspects of Style
- Writing a Book Review
Don’t just send in an essay or report you have previously written
A written journal article needs much more than this – if you’re unsure, check out other articles published in Reinvention, or in journals in your own subject area. Be aware that you will have a fair amount to do on your original work to turn it into a paper.
Read the style guide before you start
All articles submitted to a journal must conform to their style guide. Those that do not will almost certainly be returned to the author without being read, so be aware of the requirements before you start. Please read and adhere to the Reinvention style guide if you wish to send your work to us.
Make sure you use an academic style and references
Your written paper will need a full bibliography, referencing works you have cited as well as those you have used to inform your work. Make sure you use a formal style of writing.
Ensure you have identified a gap in the literature
Academic journals require submissions to address a gap in the existing research literature. Make sure you are clear in your paper why your article is of interest to readers and how it is different to academic work already published on the subject.
Back up your assertions
Be aware that you should be able to justify everything you say: there should be no generalisations such as ‘everyone knows that …’ or ‘it’s true that most people tend to …’. Also don’t extrapolate from your findings that something is generalisable: even if your experiment has found something to be true, it does not mean that it holds true for the entire population, ensure that your conclusions are in line with the scale of your research.
Check your permissions
If you have included images, tables, figures, etc which are not your own, be aware that we, and other journals, can only publish them if you have obtained specific permission from the copyright holders (we can help you with this if required).
Abstracts and keywords
An abstract and keywords are necessary for most journal articles and you need to think about them carefully (see the Abstract and Keywords section for further tips) – these are the means by which readers will find your paper and decide whether or not they wish to read it.
Pay attention to ethics
Be aware that it is your responsibility to ensure that your research and its presentation are ethically sound. You must have permission from participants in your research to reproduce their words, image, responses, etc even if you have anonymised their contributions.
Check your work
Don't send your work off as soon as you have finished writing it. Leave it for a day or two and then proofread your paper carefully and don’t rely on the spell checker. If necessary read your work from the back page forwards so that you can concentrate on the proofreading and not get caught up in the argument. Double check all of your equations, tables, figures, etc for accuracy. Think about asking someone else to look at your work to check it - you will often see what you think a sentence should say and not what it actually does!
The Title of your Paper
- Ensure your title accurately reflects the crux of your research
- Keep it concise
- Make it different to an essay title
Your title will be the first thing anyone sees of your article so it needs to draw readers in. Coming up with a really good title is much more difficult than it looks. Basically you need to convey your information in a concise manner, while avoiding the temptation to make it sound like an essay title. Particularly in an online journal, your title will make up key, searchable data, so don't waste the opportunity to get it right!
The 'too-much-like-an-essay' title
- 'What were the economic reasons behind the handover of power from Brandt to Schmidt in Germany in 1972?'
- 'Discuss the arguments for and against capital punishment'
You're not asking your readers a question; you are encapsulating the core themes of your research to accurately reflect what readers will be getting if they read your article.
The clever or obscure title
- 'Anyone for Tennis?'
- 'Is there a Text in this Class?'
These titles may seem interesting but they do not tell the reader enough about the content of the article.
The 'academic colon'
- 'Where have all the Blue Knights Gone?: Colour Symbolism in Medieval Literature'
- 'With All, and for the Good of All: The Emergence of Popular Nationalism in the Cuban Communities of the United States, 1848-1898'
These sorts of titles can be great and provide an interesting and informative introduction to your work, but only use this style of title if it is appropriate within your discipline. You should also ensure that the pre-colon section of the title is relevant to your paper and not just an excuse to make things sound more interesting!
The 'my whole article is in the title' title
Be careful not to make your title too long. Ensure that you have conveyed enough information, but don't try to cram in too much.
The 'does exactly what it says on the tin' title
- 'The Siege Engine as Metaphor in Four Old French Chronicles'
- 'The Stereochemical Outcome of Diene Additions to Thionitrosoarenes'
- 'Short-term and Long-Term Effects of United Nations Peace Operations'
These sorts of titles tell the reader exactly what they will be reading and are informative to those who have a good knowledge of the subject area and those who do not.
If in doubt take a look at titles of journal articles you have read previously (or not read because the title put you off!). Some titles are better and more effective than others. Which ones tell you exactly what you would get if you read the paper? Which pique your interest and which put you off? Try to take inspiration from the best titles and re-title your paper if you think you need to.
Abstract and Keywords
- Most journal articles require an abstract
- An abstract should be a concise summary of what the paper contains, including conclusions
- Keywords need to be both specific and informative
Most journals will ask you to write an abstract of your paper, normally about 100-200 words long, and put it at the beginning of the paper so that people can read through it and see whether they want to read the whole paper. Writing a good abstract can be as difficult, if not more so, than writing the paper. I've got all this brilliant and well-presented research! How am I going to sum it up in 200 words??
There are various techniques you can use to write an effective abstract. One of them is to go through your article and summarise each paragraph in one line. Then use all these lines to form the basis of your abstract (and if you find a paragraph that doesn't say anything that you want to include, perhaps you should think about removing it!). Don't use the lines word for word and just run them together, but use them to shape your abstract. This technique means that there is a logical chronology to your abstract, which matches your main paper, and ensures that your abstract doesn't suddenly contain new information not included in your article. Alternatively you could use the questions listed in our Structuring your Article section to form the basis of your abstract. Of course these are just two techniques, and you'll probably want to find your own.
One important thing to remember about an abstract is that it shouldn't be a 'teaser' like the blurb on the back of a book. If you find yourself writing something like 'What were the exciting results of my work? Read on to find out …' then you probably want to re-think! Your abstract should be a summary of your whole paper – what you did, why you did it, how you did it, what your results were and where your research is going from here.
You will probably also be asked to come up with some keywords if you are writing an academic article. These are words that people will be able to use on internet or database searches to find your article and they may be used to allocate reviewers to your paper. Again, the trick is to be concise and informative. Try to think of the sort of things people would search for in an index or if they were searching for your work on Google – for example, if they're interested in colloid stability then 'colloid' is going to be a better word than 'chemistry'.
Keywords (and abstracts and titles) are becoming more and more important as readers access papers more on-line than in hard copy. Keywords, titles and abstracts are the window to your research and must be accurate, interesting and relevant in order to ensure that (the right) people read your work. Make every word count and remember, this may be the only part of your research people read (particularly if you get it wrong!).
Structuring your Article
Your article should essentially answer four main questions:
- So what?
- Now what?
Day and Peters (1994), "Quality Indicators in Academic Publishing", Library Review, 43, 7
In an essay, you are normally given the title so you can just get started with addressing the question. This is not the case in an article, so you need to start by saying why your subject is important and why you want to study it. The why is important: too many articles start with something like 'the purpose of this article is to study X, so I collated some data and here is what I found'. You need to contextualise the topic and give some background, so you can set the stage. What are your research questions and why are they important?
You then need to move on to what you did: depending on your subject, the main body of your article may include literary analysis, case studies, data, descriptions of experiments and so on. You may decide to divide it into subsections or write it as one long discursive piece. However you organise it, you need to make it a logical progression so you're not jumping around and back. Always have your reader in mind when you're writing and ensure you are doing all you can to help them understand your research.
This leads us on the 'so what?' – that is, what do your results mean and what has your analysis shown? Explicitly, what are the answers to your research questions? What are your conclusions? What effect has this had / could it have on your discipline? You don't want you leave your reader wondering why they read your article and what they have gained - asking 'so what?'.
And finally, 'Now what?' – have your discoveries opened up further questions for research, or have you produced something which is self-contained and doesn't need further study? Other people reading your work might have been inspired to carry out their own research so let them know what further questions you think your research has raised. The answer to the 'now what' question might be any one of a number of things, but it still needs spelling out. Again, this is different from an essay.
Your paper should ideally:
- Demonstrate or describe a research problem, provide analysis of the issue and arrive at a conclusion
- Show awareness of contemporary research in the field, and acknowledge supporting and opposing views
- Demonstrate its own contribution to knowledge
- Argue for the importance and validity of its subject and methodology (where appropriate)
Substantiating your Claims
- Provide references unless your point is seen as 'common knowledge'
- Some areas of knowledge are contested
- Ensure you cite supporting literature
Something which a lot of people get confused about is deciding when they do or don't need to reference something. Ask yourself – 'is this common knowledge or not?', and be aware that again this will vary from discipline to discipline.
In every field there will be things which you can take for granted: criminal trials take place in court; mixing copper and tin gives you bronze; most people have two legs. There will be some statements which aren't quite as black and white as this. If in doubt, it's always better to support your claims than not.
Some areas of research are contested and it is important to be aware of and acknowledge other schools of thought if they don't necessarily agree with your point of view. Not only should you come up with references which support your own point of view, but you also have to show that you recognise that there was a different opinion: you'd need to provide references for people who disagreed, and show the evidence for why you disagree with them.
You can't ever do too much background reading, but you can do too little, so references to plenty of supporting literature won't go amiss. The way in which you reference will depend on your discipline and the style guide of the publication you are submitting to, but as a general rule of thumb, being over-precise is better than too vague. The reason you are referencing is so that people who read your article can see where you have taken that quote or idea from, so make it as easy as possible for them to find the original.
A good habit to get into is making a list of your references as you go along, so that you don't have to go back and look for things after you've finished, which is when you can make mistakes and end up plagiarising something unintentionally.
As a minimum, you should list any work to which you have made reference, but it's also good practice to list anything which you haven't specifically mentioned, but which shaped your thinking for the article. You don't have to include everything you've ever read – try to find a balance so that you include anything you think is relevant.
Finally, plagiarism is stealing someone else's ideas, whether done intentionally or not. Clearly, you need to reference any direct quote. But you also need to reference if you base any part of your article on someone else's concepts or ideas.
Aspects of style
- Mind your style and grammar
- Don't be too informal (or too formal!)
It goes without saying (or it should!) that any academic publication should be written in formal language. You are writing, not speaking, so avoid anything which looks too informal. However, be aware also that going too far in the other direction can be a problem too.
Your task as an author is to convey complex ideas in a clear and concise manner – it's a question of balance. You are not trying to make yourself sound clever at the expense of your reader. Your job as an author is to communicate with your reader, to ensure that they fully understand your research by the time they have finished reading your paper.
Finally, make sure you make sense. If you try to write something which you don't quite understand yourself, you will almost certainly end up with a sentence that doesn't make sense itself.
- There is a difference between permission and copyright
- You need permission for any work in its entirety you are using in your paper
- It is your responsibility to obtain this permission
We're not talking here about the copyright of your own article after you've written it, we're talking about what of other people's you can include in your own work without needing to get explicit permission.
Some things are fairly straightforward: if you use any image, photo, drawing, map, chart or table that has been devised by someone else, you need to get permission for it, and you need to state in your article that you've done so (this is because these things count as works in themselves). This normally takes the form of a caption under the picture where it appears, saying what it depicts, and then 'source: Alan Walker's collection of photographs' or similar; and then a list of illustrations at the end of the article where you say something like 'photo reproduced with the kind permission of Alan Walker.' A number of copyright-holding institutions have a particular form of wording which you must use as part of the permission deal, so if that's the case then you can just copy in whatever they've told you.
Something less obvious might be quoting a short poem for example. This cannot just be referenced in the normal way, it too needs explicit permission to be granted before it is reproduced because it is seen as a work in its entirety. If you have any doubts you can always contact the publisher you will be submitting your work too and they should be able to help.
If a photograph is your own, you can obviously publish it as you see fit, but you should include something which says 'from the author's own collection' or similar: firstly, everyone will then know it's yours and not worry that it's an unreferenced picture of someone else's; and secondly, if anyone would like to reproduce parts of your article, they'll know to contact you as the copyright holder of that photo.
Writing a Book Review
It should go without saying that you need to read the book thoroughly and reflect on it before you start. Once you begin writing, the key thing to remember is that this is a book review, not a book summary. Don’t spend all of your review recapitulating the content; instead, reflect upon and react to the author and book, and write clearly, concisely and critically.
You can explain briefly what the book is about in order to contextualise your review, but you should also make sure that you analyse its thesis and evidence, offer a critical assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, and appraise its value to the scholarly and/or student community. Consider matters such as emphases and viewpoints, contributions to understanding, clarity and organisation, credibility and evidence offered. Does the author present new findings or utilise new sources? How does the perspective and/or interpretation differ from the work of earlier scholars on this topic?
Mix up your commentary to avoid giving a chapter-by-chapter evaluation of the book. Even though it might seem systematic and organised to do so, this can make your review dull and pedestrian. Instead, touch on points that you find the most important and organise your review thematically.
Simply telling your readers “I enjoyed the book” or “the book is good” is not terribly useful. But telling the readers about the contributions the author makes, with specific examples, is a useful feature of any review. You can refer to the book as “interesting”, “poorly organised”, or “helpful”, etc., but in all cases use specific examples (with page references where appropriate) to support your judgement.
And finally, remain civil at all times. Sometimes (particularly if you disagree with what has been written) it can be tempting to add a flourish of wit or sarcasm to a book review, but it’s better to keep your tone professional and your criticism constructive.