Article review: The ABCs of manuscript writing
I came across a practical and insightful review article written by Dr. Mark Langdorf (editor-in-chief of West JEM) and Dr. Steve Hayden (editor-in-chief of Journal of EM) outlining how to write a manuscript for publication. This is a crucial skill because paper publications are the standard unit of currency in academics, which then translates into promotions and academic credibility. Although this article primarily targets novice manuscript writers, it’s always nice to get the perspectives from Mark and Steve, editors-in chief of two major EM journals.
Overall take home points
- Be sure your manuscript fits the “mission” of the journal. This can be found in the journal’s “Aims and Scope” section.
- Follow the journal’s instructions very carefully for manuscript formatting and submission.
- Think from the perspective of the journal editor. Extra pages cost money. Thus, every word and every sentence should have a purpose. Brevity is valued. The authors suggested that most manuscripts can be trimmed 30% without compromising content.
- Use active verbs rather than a passive ones. These sentences are shorter and more direct.
- Each paragraph should have 3-6 sentences. More or fewer sentences disrupt readability.
- Check out the appendix at the end. It provides a nice summary checklist when you are writing your manuscript.
Take home points regarding manuscript sections
- Introduction: This should be not be a comprehensive literature review. It is typically only 4 paragraphs long and commonly ends with “we propose that” or “our objective was”.
- Methods: Have a statistician or research mentor review this section for clarity, accuracy, and completeness.
- For complex or multiple results, consider using a graph or table. This improves clarity and readability. The associated text does not need to repeat the displayed graph/table. A synopsis is sufficient.
- If using graphs or tables, label key findings well because they may be removed as stand-alone figures.
- Discussion: Highlight your primary finding first. In this section, be sure to address how your study might change current practice.
- Conclusion: Beware of overstating your conclusion. The conclusion should only comment on the research question that you studied.
- Limitations: In 1-2 paragraphs acknowledge the major study flaws. The most common limitations include: small sample size, patients lost to follow-up, bias, retrospective design, non-blinded methodology, and lack of generalizability.
- References: Conform with the journal’s formatting for citations. Be sure to search the literature one more time before manuscript submission.
Because West JEM is an open-access journal, you can download this article for free!
Langdorf MI, Hayden SR. Turning your abstract into a paper: academic writing made simpler. West J Emerg Med. 2009 May;10(2):120-3.
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