How to write an Award-Winning Paper Bessie Ann Young, NMRI Meeting April 19, 2013 Associate Professor University of Washington
Outline of Talk • Why are papers important in academia? • Why should you write up your results • What constitutes the basic outline for a great paper? • Abstract • Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion • Conclusions
Why are papers important in academia? • Manuscripts are the “Coin of the Realm” • It allows people to see how you think and how you write • Publishing is necessary to stay in academics • Papers are necessary for promotion • If you don’t want to be promoted, don’t write any papers! • Number of papers needed varies depending on your track • Clinician educators may not need as many and can do more reviews • Physician scientists need as many as possible and they need to be in good journals with high impact factors.
Why should you write up your results • If you don’t write up your results, either your mentor or someone else in your group will • or your competitor • It is a sign of productivity and accomplishment. • If your results are not written up and published, it is as if the study was never done. • It is important for your own sense of accomplishment to write up your results. • Publishing is important for grants, getting an academic position, and promotion.
What constitutes the basic outline for a great paper? • IMRaD: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion • Or AIMRad • Abstract • Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion • Conclusion
Abstract • Sometimes the easiest to write, but sometimes the most difficult piece of the paper • Abstracts are written early for submission to meetings • Usually very structured • Can write the initial abstract but should always review after you have written the paper • Results and conclusions in the abstract should be exactly the same as those presented in the results and conclusions sections. • This is important because it may be the only part of the paper editors read prior to make a decision regarding reviewing your paper!
Abstract • Background/Rationale • Why you are writing this paper and how does it contribute to the literature • Methods/materials • Clinical research-study design, populations, statistical methods used • Basic research- study design, animal vs cell culture vs other • Results • Concise and most important results • What should readers take away from this paper? • Summary • May or may not need to include in the abstract • Conclusion • Tell your audience why this piece of work is important!
Common Mistakes • Abstract is too long it should be approximately 250 words • Using a meeting abstract for the manuscript • Revise the manuscript abstract accordingly • Abstract is unnecessarily complicated • Remember: The abstract is a general summary of your manuscript! • Browner, Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research
Introduction: Why • Usually 3 paragraphs • Background and holes in the literature2 paragraphs • One paragraph to describe why you did your study and tentatively what you found • Briefly describe the problem and gap in the literature • Don’t describe all of the background literature here • Hypothesis, aim or goal: clearly describe what your hypothesis is and how this adds to the literature • Describe what you did and what question you answered with your study.
Checklist for the Introduction • Are the four major elements present • Background • Existing research • Problems with that research • Your improvements • After reading your abstract, could someone not familiar with the field be able to describe why your study was done and how your study will improve on existing knowledge? • Use an objective tone when criticizing prior work? • They may be your reviewers! • Does your study describe how it addresses previous gaps in the literature? • W.Browner
Methods: Who, What, Where and How Clinical Epidemiology or Health Services Paper • Population/subjects: describe who was in your study • Describe what type of study you conducted • Prospective, randomized controlled trial, cohort study, cross over study • Cross sectional, longitudinal study • What are your primary predictors • Exposure of interest, age, sex, race • What are your adjustment covariates? • Age, sex, race, other • What is your primary outcome variable(s) • Statistical Analysis • Chi-squared for categorical variables • Student-t test for means of continuous variables • Logistic regression for a binary dichotomous outcome • Linear regression for continuous outcomes • Time to Event, survival or Cox models for survival • Randomized controlled trial, other studies • IRB: include information on humans subject study approval
Materials and Methods: Basic Research • M/M include a descriptive summary of all materials used and the methods for each experiment. • Sections should be labeled or have sub-headings possibly based on experiments • May divide into experimental design and data collection. • One section should include animal guideline compliance. • All materials should have references to place of origin. • Experiments should be written such that someone could reproduce your results if they wanted to.
Results: what you found • The results section should contain results! • No interpretations, no references to other work! • Describe what you found and do not present conclusions here. • For clinical research: • Table 1 should be your demographics of your study or characteristics of study participants • Additional tables may describe additional characteristics by exposure variables or by the outcome • Last paragraphs should describe all results from multivariable or other statistical analyses. • Add figures to clarify results
Results: what you found • The results section should contain results! • No interpretations, no references to other work! • Describe what you found and do not present conclusions here. • For Basic research: • Report all results. • Include tables or graphs if it makes the data clearer • Present original data gels, blots, histology
Discussion: interpretation of the results Clinical Epi or Health Services • Describe briefly what you found in the first paragraph (1 paragraph). • Compare your results to what is out there in the literature (2-4 paragraphs). • Do not present a complete literature review, but keep your comments focused. • Include relevant studies • Mechanisms why do you think you found your specific results? • Limitations: list up front what the limitations of your study are or else reviewers will do it for you. • Power • Limited number of variables • Cross-sectional data, not a randomized trial • May include strengths as well
Discussion: interpretation of the results Basic Research • First paragraph should interpret findings and state whether the hypothesis has been proven or rejected. • Further interpretation of results compared to the existing literature • Not a literature review • Outline conclusions • Can be a separate section of conclusions • Outline where you as the researcher intend to go next with your studies
Conclusions • Outline all of your conclusions • Briefly confirm what your study found • How does your study compare to other studies in the literature • Where should the field go next? • What studies do you plan next • But don’t give too much away!
Acknowledgements • Include people who helped you with the paper, but may not have contributed enough to be an author. • Make sure to include people on the paper who should be included • Each journal has criteria for authorship • JAMA has detailed criteria for authorship • Anyone acknowledged should be told
Title • Start with a draft title. • May want to finalize after the paper is written • Needs to be interesting but not too journalistic • There are several types of titles: • The Description • How to write an award-winning Scientific Paper • The Topic/Description • Scientific Paper: How to write an award-winning one • The Statement • Writing an award-winning scientific paper is easy if you know how • The Question • How do you write an award-winning scientific paper?
References • Use an reference library to do your literature review and add references to your paper • Examples are • Reference manager (? Is it still around) • Endnote-now with a web version you can use anywhere • They come out with new versions every couple of years that require you to learn how to use it again. • Look at the journal you are going to submit your paper to and change the references accordingly. • Follow directions.
Bessie’s Rules • Give yourself time to write the paper • Block out time on your schedule • Start with an outline of your sections and fill in the blanks • IMRaD: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion • Start with topic sentences for your outline and you have already written a large section of the paper • “Write the paper before you start the experiment” • Write the introduction, methods, and parts of the discussion before you start the experiment • Write the paper as you do your experiments • Write a little each day if possible • Give your manuscript to your colleagues for feedback and editing • Give your mentor enough time to read the paper and respond
Other Comments • Writing well does not come easy to most people • Read what you have written and revise before you give it to other people to read. • Make your sentences clear • Shorter is better (most always) • Use linking words: • However, indeed, rather, moreover, on the other hand, by contrast, in comparison, surprisingly, and consistent with… • Use the correct verb tense in each manuscript section • Introduction present tense • Methods and results past tense • Discussion past tense for your results you just presented
Overcoming Writer’s Block • WBInability to put thoughts about a project into words • Browner • Many people have writer’s block. • Approach systematically • Make a list of what needs to be accomplished • Assemble materials in a single folder or computer file • Set aside time every day to write (30minutes) • Set a goal for each day Give yourself a deadline • Write the easy sections first methods or results
Summary • Manuscripts (and grants) are the academic currency; we live and die by them. • Scientific paper writing should follow a format/structure that allows for ease of writing. • Develop a strategy to allow yourself time for writing. • Give yourself deadlines for portions of the paper • Write sections of the paper • Give yourself adequate time to write the paper • Refer to references for style • Write up your results in a timely fashion. • If English is not your first language or you have difficulty with grammar, get editorial help from native speakers • Develop a thick skin
Books and Style Guides • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style • Day R, How to write and publish a scientific paper • Iverson, AMA Manuel of Style • Huth, Writing and Publishing in Medicine • The Economist,Style Guide • Sheen,Breathing Life Into Medical Writing: a Handbook • Browner W, Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research
References • Van Way, C. Writing a Scientific Paper. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2007, 22:636-640. • Alexandrov, A. How to Write a Research Paper. Cerebrovasc Disease, 2004; 18:135-38. • Pololi, Lz. Facilitating Scholarly Writing in Academic Medicine, J Gen In Medicine, 2004;19:64-68.
Grammar… • “I had to re-write your paper so that I could read it!” • W. Couser • Edward Good, A Grammar Book for You and I (Oops, Me): All the Grammar You Need to Succeed in Life • “Procrastination behaviors can be attributed to a fear that the manuscript will be rejected.” • Browner