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How to Write a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.
Start the Research Process
Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.
Create an Outline
Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.
Organize Your Notes
When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.
Write Your Final Draft
After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.
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Citing Sources: Sample Author Date Citations
- Style Links & Samples
- Sample Reference List Citations
- Sample Notes and Bibliography Citations
- Sample Author Date Citations
- Citing Nontraditional Sources in Chicago
- Sample Citations
- Major Changes to the New MLA
- Capitalization and Personal Names in Foreign Languages
- Citation Consultations Policy
- Citing Primary Sources
- Ancient Texts
The following examples display the entry first as it would appear in the References list, then the in-text citation .
Books with One Author:
Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin.
(Pollan 2006, 99–100)
Books with Two Authors:
Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. 2007. The War: An Intimate History, 1941–1945 . New York: Knopf.
(Ward and Burns 2007, 52)
Work in an Anthology (edited volume originally published elsewhere ):
Cicero, Quintus Tullius. 1986. “Handbook on Canvassing for the Consulship.” In Rome: Late Republic and Principate , edited by Walter Emil Kaegi Jr. and Peter White. Vol. 2 of University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization , edited by John Boyer and Julius Kirshner, 33–46. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Evelyn S. Shuckburgh, trans., The Letters of Cicero , vol. 1 (London: George Bell & Sons, 1908).
(Cicero 1986, 35)
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 2007. "Nature." In The Norton Anthology of American Literature , 7th ed., edited by Nina Baym, 1110-1138. New York: Norton & Company.
(Emerson 2007, 1112)
Book with Editor in Place of Author:
Greenberg, Joel, ed. 2008. Of Prairie, Woods, and Water: Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(Greenberg 2008, 100)
Book with Editor or Translator in Addition to Author:
Taylor, Edward B. 1964. Researches into the Early Development of Mankind and the Development of Civilization . Edited by Paul Bohannan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(Taylor 1964, 50)
Electronic Books and Books Consulted Online:
Austen, Jane. 2007. Pride and Prejudice . New York: Penguin Classics. Kindle edition.
Kurland, Philip B., and Ralph Lerner, eds. 1987. The Founders’ Constitution . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/.
(Kurland and Lerner, chap. 10, doc. 19)
Articles, Magazines, and Newspapers
Kossinets, Gueorgi, and Duncan J. Watts. 2009. “Origins of Homophily in an Evolving Social Network.” American Journal of Sociology 115 (2): 405-50. Accessed February 28, 2010. doi:10.1086/599247
(Kossinets and Watts 2009, 411)
Popular Article (Magazine or Newspaper):
Mendelsohn, Daniel. 2010. “But Enough about Me.” New Yorker , January 25.
(Mendelsohn 2010, 68)
Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, and Robert Pear. 2010. “Wary Centrists Posing Challenge in Health Care Vote.” New York Times , February 27. Accessed February 28, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/us/politics/28health.html.
(Stolberg and Pear 2010)
- Specialized Formats
McDonald’s Corporation. 2008. “McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy Safety Facts.” Accessed July 19. http://www.mcdonalds.com/corp/about/factsheets.html.
Guggenheim, Davis, dir. 2006. An Inconvenient Truth . DVD. Hollywood, CA: Paramount.
(Guggenhim, dir. 2006)
Table of Contents
Use this list to jump to specific sample types:
- Articles, Magazines, and Newspapers
Specific Information about Author-Date
The Author-Date style of Chicago citations uses in-text parenthetical citations with the author(s) name(s) and date of publication, rather than footnotes or endnotes. The bibliography entries (called References or Works Cited) follow the same general format as used in the Notes and Bibliography style, though see the provided examples for specific formatting differences.
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Research Foundations: Locate Citation Information
- Information Literacy
- The Information Timeline
- Popular, Scholarly, & Trade Publications
- Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Materials
- Information Formats
- Evaluate Information
- Chapter 1 Self Quiz
- The Pre-Research Process
- Decide on a Topic
- Find Background Information
- Refine Your Topic
- Develop a Thesis Statement
- Choose Keywords
- Create Search Statements
- Chapter 2 Self Quiz
- Search the Library Catalog
- Call Numbers
- Request Books
- Book Research Streamlined
- Viewing eBooks
- Access Media
- Chapter 3 Self Quiz
- About Library Databases
- Find Articles in Databases
- Modify Your Search
- Reading Scholarly Articles
- Chapter 4 Self Quiz
- Citation Styles
- Locate Citation Information
- Copyright & Fair Use
- Creative Commons
- Find & Attribute Images
- Chapter 5 Self Quiz
Locating Citation Information
No matter which citation style you use, the first step to crediting your sources is locating the citation information. Regardless of the information format, all citations will include a minimum of title of the work, author or authors, and date of publication. Below are examples from books, ebooks, articles from databases, and academic journal articles that illustrate where to find the identifying citation information.
Book / eBook Title Page
title page of a book
Title - Full title and subtitles
Edition - books that have been revised or expanded more than once will often have an edition number
Author(s) or Editor(s) - may include one or more authors or editors of the book
Publisher - the company that published the book
Publishing City - if there are multiple cities, cite the first city listed
- Book Title Page Example A larger, printable version of the title page example.
Book / eBook Copyright Page
copyright page of a book
Copyright / Publication Year - if there are multiple dates, choose the most recent
- Book Copyright Page Example A larger, printable version of the copyright page example.
Academic Journal Article
example academic journal article
Academic journal articles' citations differ from book sources, and thus require you to identify a few unique pieces of information.
Author(s) - may include one or more authors of the article
Page Number - cite the entire page range in which the article appears
Publication - name of the journal the article was published in
Volume / Issue Number - identifies the exact edition of the journal where the article appears
Publication Date - date formats vary; use the format the journal provides or the citation style requires
Most citation information will appear on the first page of the article; however, the location of that information will vary from journal to journal. You can find the placement of the journal name, page number, publication date, and volume and issue number located on the top or bottom of the article’s page. The publication date may be a single year (2013), a distinct month (October 2010), specific publication cycle (Fall 2007), or an exact date (June 28, 2005). The page range of the article is another cirtical piece of citation information. Some article in printed or PDF format, will have the page numbers visible. Other articles in a digital, or HTML, format may not have obvious page ranges.
- Academic Journal Article Example A larger, printable version of the journal article example.
There is no uniform approach to locating citation information based solely on the article itself. Many journals follow a relatively consistent format. Magazine and newspaper articles may only offer an article's title with the text and identify an author or source. Again, you are not likely to encounter standardization in the presentation of the article.
Some citation styles or professors require that you include the name of the database if retrieved through a library database. This can be tricky to discern if you are not familiar with the databases. Fortunately, most databases provide essential citation information for each article directly on the results pages or the article description page. Knowing this saves a lot of time and effort when reviewing articles.
example of citation information for a database article
Additionally, many databases will create an article's citation for you, in the citation style you choose. These computer-generated citations require careful review, as they may not be fully correct. Most databases will create citations that have the right information, in the right order. The biggest drawback to using databases created citations is in the formatting. Many will not include the correct spacing, punctuation, and capitalization for the citation style. Some articles, particularly those only available in HTML format, display just the first page number rather than the entire range. You may not be able to verify an exact page range without access to a PDF format in these instances. Always remeber to check these citations again an official style guide before including in a research project.
example of a database generated citation
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- Editorial Policies
Defining authorship in your research paper
Co-authors, corresponding authors, and affiliations, quick links, why does authorship matter.
Authorship gives credit and implies accountability for published work, so there are academic, social and financial implications.
It is very important to make sure people who have contributed to a paper, are given credit as authors. And also that people who are recognized as authors, understand their responsibility and accountability for what is being published.
There are a couple of types of authorship to be aware of.
Co-author Any person who has made a significant contribution to a journal article. They also share responsibility and accountability for the results of the published research.
Corresponding author If more than one author writes an article, you’ll choose one person to be the corresponding author. This person will handle all correspondence about the article and sign the publishing agreement on behalf of all the authors. They are responsible for ensuring that all the authors’ contact details are correct, and agree on the order that their names will appear in the article. The authors also will need to make sure that affiliations are correct, as explained in more detail below.
Open access publishing
There is increasing pressure on researchers to show the societal impact of their research.
Open access can help your work reach new readers, beyond those with easy access to a research library.
How common is co-authorship and what are the challenges collaborating authors face? Our white paper Co-authorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences: A global view explores the experiences of 894 researchers from 62 countries.
If you are a named co-author, this means that you:
Made a significant contribution to the work reported. That could be in the conception, study design, execution, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation, or in all these areas.
Have drafted or written, substantially revised or critically reviewed the article.
Have agreed on the journal to which the article will be submitted.
Reviewed and agreed on all versions of the article before submission, during revision, the final version accepted for publication, and any significant changes introduced at the proofing stage.
Agree to take responsibility and be accountable for the contents of the article. Share responsibility to resolve any questions raised about the accuracy or integrity of the published work.
Every submission to our medical and health science journals should comply with the International Committee on Medical Journal Ethics’ definition of authorship .
Please include any other form of specific personal contribution in the acknowledgments section of your paper.
Affiliations: get it right
Your affiliation in the manuscript should be the institution where you conducted the research. You should also include details of any funding received from that institution.
If you have changed affiliation since completing the research, your new affiliation can be acknowledged in a note. We can’t normally make changes to affiliation after the journal accepts your article.
Changes to authorship
If you need to change the co-authors for any reason, after the journal has accepted your article, you will need to write to the editor of the journal. You will need to send them a completed version of our Authorship Change Request form . This form must be signed by all the authors, including the person you are adding or removing. The editor will need to agree to the change. If a clear rationale has not been provided, the request may be rejected.
If the corresponding author changes before the article is published (for example, if a co-author becomes the corresponding author), you will need to write to the editor of the journal and the production editor. You will need to confirm to them, that both authors have agreed the change.
Requested changes to the co-authors or corresponding authors after publication of the article will also be considered, following the authorship guidelines issued by COPE , the Committee on Publication Ethics. Please see our corrections policy for more details. Any requests for changes must be made by submitting the completed Authorship Change Request form .
Authorship Change Request form
Important: agree your corresponding author and the order of co-authors, and check all affiliations and contact details before submitting.
Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies on Authorship
The following instructions (part of our Editorial Policies ) apply to all Taylor & Francis Group journals.
Co-authors must agree on who will take on the role of corresponding author. It is then the responsibility of the corresponding author to reach consensus with all co-authors regarding all aspects of the article, prior to submission. This includes the authorship list and order, and list of correct affiliations.
The corresponding author is also responsible for liaising with co-authors regarding any editorial queries. And, they act on behalf of all co-authors in any communication about the article throughout: submission, peer review, production, and after publication. The corresponding author signs the publishing agreement on behalf of all the listed authors.
AI-based tools and technologies for content generation
Authors must be aware that using AI-based tools and technologies for article content generation, e.g. large language models (LLMs), generative AI, and chatbots (e.g. ChatGPT), is not in line with our authorship criteria.
All authors are wholly responsible for the originality, validity and integrity of the content of their submissions. Therefore, LLMs and other similar types of tools do not meet the criteria for authorship.
Changes in authorship
Any changes in authorship prior to or after publication must be agreed upon by all authors – including those authors being added or removed. It is the responsibility of the corresponding author to obtain confirmation from all co-authors and to provide a completed Authorship Change Request form to the editorial office.
If a change in authorship is necessary after publication, this will be amended via a post-publication notice. Any changes in authorship must comply with our criteria for authorship. And requests for significant changes to the authorship list, after the article has been accepted, may be rejected if clear reasons and evidence of author contributions cannot be provided.
Assistance from scientific, medical, technical writers or translators
Contributions made by professional scientific, medical or technical writers, translators or anyone who has assisted with the manuscript content, must be acknowledged. Their source of funding must also be declared.
They should be included in an ‘Acknowledgments’ section with an explanation of their role, or they should be included in the author list if appropriate.
Authors are advised to consult the joint position statement from American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), European Medical Writers Association (EMWA), and International Society of Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP).
Assistance with experiments and data analysis
Any significant contribution to the research reported, should be appropriately credited according to our authorship criteria.
If any parts of the research were outsourced to professional laboratories or to data analysts, this should be clearly stated within the manuscript, alongside an explanation of their role. Or, they should be included in the author list if appropriate.
Authors are responsible for retaining all of the original data related to their work, and should be prepared to share it with the journal editorial office if requested.
Any individuals who have contributed to the article (for example, technical assistance, formatting-related writing assistance, translators, scholarly discussions which significantly contributed to developing the article), but who do not meet the criteria for authorship, should be listed by name and affiliation in an ‘Acknowledgments’ section.
It is the responsibility of the authors to notify and obtain permission from those they wish to identify in this section. The process of obtaining permission should include sharing the article, so that those being identified can verify the context in which their contribution is being acknowledged.
Any assistance from AI tools for content generation (e.g. large language models) and other similar types of technical tools which generate article content, must be clearly acknowledged within the article. It is the responsibility of authors to ensure the validity, originality and integrity of their article content. Authors are expected to use these types of tools responsibly and in accordance with our editorial policies on authorship and principles of publishing ethics.
Please supply a short biographical note for each author. This could be adapted from your departmental website or academic networking profile and should be relatively brief (e.g. no more than 200 words).
Author name changes on published articles
There are many reasons why an author may change their name in the course of their career. And they may wish to update their published articles to reflect this change, without publicly announcing this through a correction notice. Taylor & Francis will update journal articles where an author makes a request for their own name change, full or partial, without the requirement for an accompanying correction notice. Any pronouns in accompanying author bios and declaration statements will also be updated as part of the name change, if required.
When an author requests a name change, Taylor & Francis will:
Change the metadata associated with the article on our Taylor & Francis Online platform.
Update the HTML and PDF version of the article.
Resupply the new metadata and article content to any abstracting and indexing services that have agreements with the journal. Note: such services may have their own bibliographic policies regarding author name changes. Taylor & Francis cannot be held responsible for controlling updates to articles on third party sites and services once an article has been disseminated.
If an author wishes for a correction notice to be published alongside their name change, Taylor & Francis will accommodate this on request. But, it is not required for an author name change to be made.
To request a name change, please contact your Journal’s Production Editor or contact us.
Taylor & Francis consider it a breach of publication ethics to request a name change for an individual without their explicit consent.
Co-authorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences – our white paper based on a global survey of researchers’ experiences of collaboration.
Discussion Document: Authorship – produced by COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics), this updated guide includes practical advice on addressing the most common ethical issues in this area.
Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies
Ethics for authors – guidelines, support, and your checklist.
Citation Styles: APA Articles
- APA Books and eBooks
- APA Articles
- APA Other Resources
- CMS Books and eBooks: Notes and Bibliography Style
- CMS Articles: Notes and Bibliography Style
- CMS Other Resources: Notes and Bibliography Style
- CMS Books and eBooks: Author-Date
- CMS Articles: Author-Date
- CMS Other Resources: Author-Date
- MLA Books and eBooks
- MLA Articles
- MLA Other Resources
- ACS Books and eBooks
- ACS Articles
- ACS Other Resources
- Annotated Bibliography
- Instruction Survey
To go back to main APA page:
The following are a list of the different ways you can format your in-text citation:
Author’s name in text (no page number): Cassell and Jenkins (2000) compared reaction times. . .
Author’s name in reference (no page number): In a recent study of reaction times (Cassell & Jenkins, 2000). . .
Author’s name in text (page number): According to Cuno (2008), “For years, archaeologists have lobbied for national and international laws, treaties, and conventions to prohibit the international movement of antiquities” (p. 1).
Author’s name in reference (page number): The argument runs that, “The term 'Czechoslovak' had become a rich source of contention almost immediately after the state's formation” (Innes, 2001, p. 16).
No known author : A similar study was done of students learning to format a research paper ("Using APA." 2001).
- Use an abbreviated version of the title of the page in quotation marks to substitute for the name of the author
No known author or date : In another study of students and research decision, it was discovered that students succeeded with tutoring ("Tutoring and APA," n.d).
- Use the first few words from the title and the abbreviation n.d. ("no date")
Article Citations (7th Edition)
Article citations (6th edition).
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MLA 8 Citation Guide
- TITLE of SOURCE
- TITLE of CONTAINER
- OTHER CONTRIBUTORS
- PUBLICATION DATE
- Works Cited
- Journal Article with One Author
- Journal Article with 2 Authors
- Journal Article with 3 or more Authors
- Magazine Article
- Newspaper Article
- One Author or Editor
- Two Authors or Editors
- Three or More Authors
- Article or Chapter in an Edited Book
- Article in a Reference Book
- Reference Work
- Basic Web Page
- Entry in a Reference Work
- Government or Agency Document
- YouTube Video
- Electronic Image
- Figures and Charts
- Class Lecture/Notes
- Secondary Sources
Ask Us 24/7
Online help is available anytime via our AskUs 24/7 chat service:
Journal Article with One Author (p. 198)
JOURNAL ARTICLE from an Library Database
Works Cited List :
Author, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal , vol. issue no., year, pp. page range. [ Database source, doi or ur l]
Gordon, Laura Suzanne. “Mass Murder.” Feminist Studies , vol. 21, no. 1, 1995, pp. 165–166. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/3178324
Langhamer, Claire. “Love and Courtship in Mid-Twentieth-Century England .” Historical Journal , vol. 50, no. 1, 2007, pp. 173-96. ProQuest , doi:10.1017/S0018246X06005966 .
(Author Surname page number)
JOURNAL ARTICLE from a Print Journal
Works Cited Li st :
Author, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal , vol. issue no., year, pp. page range.
Bagchi, Alaknanda. "Conflicting Nationalisms: The Voice of the Subaltern in Mahasweta Devi's Bashai Tudu." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature , vol. 15, no. 1, 1996, pp. 41-50.
Tip: Include volume and issue number (example: vol. 23, no. 1 ) when both are available.
-Daily or Weekly Magazines
Tip: When an issue of a magazine covers several months, the name of the first and last month in the range should be given in the citation, separated by a dash, for example: Apr.-May 2003 .
Tip: When an article appears on nonconsecutive pages (for example A1 and A6) give only the first page number followed by a "+" as shown above. Give the page number on which the material you've used appears in your in-text citation, for example: (Brown A6) .
Book, film and product reviews.
Tip: The name of the work being reviewed should be preceded by "Rev.", and italics or other formatting done as appropriate for items reviewed and the source of the review itself.
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How to Order Authors in Scientific Papers
It’s rare that an article is authored by only one or two people anymore. In fact, the average original research paper has five authors these days. The growing list of collaborative research projects raises important questions regarding the author order for research manuscripts and the impact an author list has on readers’ perceptions.
With a handful of authors, a group might be inclined to create an author name list based on the amount of work contributed. What happens, though, when you have a long list of authors? It would be impractical to rank the authors by their relative contributions. Additionally, what if the authors contribute relatively equal amounts of work? Similarly, if a study was interdisciplinary (and many are these days), how can one individual’s contribution be deemed more significant than another’s?
Why does author order matter?
Although an author list should only reflect those who have made substantial contributions to a research project and its draft manuscript (see, for example, the authorship guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors ), we’d be remiss to say that author order doesn’t matter. In theory, everyone on the list should be credited equally since it takes a team to successfully complete a project; however, due to industry customs and other practical limitations, some authors will always be more visible than others.
The following are some notable implications regarding author order.
- The “first author” is a coveted position because of its increased visibility. This author is the first name readers will see, and because of various citation rules, publications are usually referred to by the name of the first author only. In-text or bibliographic referencing rules, for example, often reduce all other named authors to “et al.” Since employers use first-authorship to evaluate academic personnel for employment, promotion, and tenure, and since graduate students often need a number of first-author publications to earn their degree, being the lead author on a manuscript is crucial for many researchers, especially early in their career.
- The last author position is traditionally reserved for the supervisor or principal investigator. As such, this person receives much of the credit when the research goes well and the flak when things go wrong. The last author may also be the corresponding author, the person who is the primary contact for journal editors (the first author could, however, fill this role as well, especially if they contributed most to the work).
- Given that there is no uniform rule about author order, readers may find it difficult to assess the nature of an author’s contribution to a research project. To address this issue, some journals, particularly medical ones, nowadays insist on detailed author contribution notes (make sure you check the target journal guidelines before submission to find out how the journal you are planning to submit to handles this). Nevertheless, even this does little to counter how strongly citation rules have enhanced the attention first-named authors receive.
Common Methods for Listing Authors
The following are some common methods for establishing author order lists.
- Relative contribution. As mentioned above, the most common way authors are listed is by relative contribution. The author who made the most substantial contribution to the work described in an article and did most of the underlying research should be listed as the first author. The others are ranked in descending order of contribution. However, in many disciplines, such as the life sciences, the last author in a group is the principal investigator or “senior author”—the person who often provides ideas based on their earlier research and supervised the current work.
- Alphabetical list . Certain fields, particularly those involving large group projects, employ other methods . For example, high-energy particle physics teams list authors alphabetically.
- Multiple “first” authors . Additional “first” authors (so-called “co-first authors”) can be noted by an asterisk or other symbols accompanied by an explanatory note. This practice is common in interdisciplinary studies; however, as we explained above, the first name listed on a paper will still enjoy more visibility than any other “first” author.
- Multiple “last” authors . Similar to recognizing several first authors, multiple last authors can be recognized via typographical symbols and footnotes. This practice arose as some journals wanted to increase accountability by requiring senior lab members to review all data and interpretations produced in their labs instead of being awarded automatic last-authorship on every publication by someone in their group.
- Negotiated order . If you were thinking you could avoid politics by drowning yourself in research, you’re sorely mistaken. While there are relatively clear guidelines and practices for designating first and last authors, there’s no overriding convention for the middle authors. The list can be decided by negotiation, so sharpen those persuasive argument skills!
As you can see, choosing the right author order can be quite complicated. Therefore, we urge researchers to consider these factors early in the research process and to confirm this order during the English proofreading process, whether you self-edit or received manuscript editing or paper editing services , all of which should be done before submission to a journal. Don’t wait until the manuscript is drafted before you decide on the author order in your paper. All the parties involved will need to agree on the author list before submission, and no one will want to delay submission because of a disagreement about who should be included on the author list, and in what order (along with other journal manuscript authorship issues).
On top of that, journals sometimes have clear rules about changing authors or even authorship order during the review process, might not encourage it, and might require detailed statements explaining the specific contribution of every new/old author, official statements of agreement of all authors, and/or a corrigendum to be submitted, all of which can further delay the publication process. We recommend periodically revisiting the named author issue during the drafting stage to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the list is updated to appropriately reflect changes in team composition or contributions to a research project.
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We produce a number of different types of resources with authors and publication dates in different places.
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Publication practices and responsible authorship.
Although researchers can disseminate their findings through many different avenues, results are most likely to be published in an article in a scholarly journal. Accurate and honest reporting of research methodologies and results are the basis of all scientific publications. Researchers should avoid dividing a project into “least publishable units,” which misinforms the public on the importance and value of the research, and wastes time and money. Researchers should also avoid publishing duplicate studies, a practice that also unfairly represents the importance of the research.
Authorship credit should reflect the individual’s contribution to the study. An author is considered anyone involved with initial research design, data collection and analysis, manuscript drafting, or final approval. However, the following do not necessarily qualify for authorship: providing funding or resources, mentorship, or contributing research but not helping with the publication itself. The primary author assumes responsibility for the publication, making sure that the data are accurate, that all deserving authors have been credited, that all authors have given their approval to the final draft; and handles responses to inquiries after the manuscript is published.
- Responsible Conduct Regarding Scientific Communication — Society for Neuroscience
- The Responsible Conduct of Research, Including Responsible Authorship and Publication Practices (PDF, 112KB) — Ruth Ellen Bulger
- Comments on Bulger (PDF, 97KB) — Henk van den Belt
- Publication ethics: rights and wrongs — (Ritter, S. K., 2001)
- On Being a Scientist: Publication and Openness — National Academy of Sciences
- On Being a Scientist: Authorship and the Allocation of Credit — National Academy of Sciences
- Reflections on Determining Authorship Credit and Authorship Order on Faculty-Student Collaborations (PDF, 808KB) — (Fine & Kurdek, 1993)
- Authorship and Publication — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Research Integrity
- Online Ethics Center: Responsible Authorship — Case Western Reserve University
- Responsible Conduct of Research: Responsible Authorship and Peer Review — Columbia University
- Resources for Research Ethics Education: Publication
- Tips for Determining Authorship Credit
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- Open Access
- Published: 30 April 2020
How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal
- Clara Busse ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0178-1000 1 &
- Ella August ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5151-1036 1 , 2
Journal of Cancer Education volume 36 , pages 909–913 ( 2021 ) Cite this article
Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1 , we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.
Working on a manuscript?
Writing a scientific paper is an important component of the research process, yet researchers often receive little formal training in scientific writing. This is especially true in low-resource settings. In this article, we explain why choosing a target journal is important, give advice about authorship, provide a basic structure for writing each section of a scientific paper, and describe common pitfalls and recommendations for each section. In the online resource 1 , we also include an annotated journal article that identifies the key elements and writing approaches that we detail here. Before you begin your research, make sure you have ethical clearance from all relevant ethical review boards.
Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process
We recommend that you select a “target journal” early in the writing process; a “target journal” is the journal to which you plan to submit your paper. Each journal has a set of core readers and you should tailor your writing to this readership. For example, if you plan to submit a manuscript about vaping during pregnancy to a pregnancy-focused journal, you will need to explain what vaping is because readers of this journal may not have a background in this topic. However, if you were to submit that same article to a tobacco journal, you would not need to provide as much background information about vaping.
Information about a journal’s core readership can be found on its website, usually in a section called “About this journal” or something similar. For example, the Journal of Cancer Education presents such information on the “Aims and Scope” page of its website, which can be found here: https://www.springer.com/journal/13187/aims-and-scope .
Peer reviewer guidelines from your target journal are an additional resource that can help you tailor your writing to the journal and provide additional advice about crafting an effective article [ 1 ]. These are not always available, but it is worth a quick web search to find out.
Identify Author Roles Early in the Process
Early in the writing process, identify authors, determine the order of authors, and discuss the responsibilities of each author. Standard author responsibilities have been identified by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [ 2 ]. To set clear expectations about each team member’s responsibilities and prevent errors in communication, we also suggest outlining more detailed roles, such as who will draft each section of the manuscript, write the abstract, submit the paper electronically, serve as corresponding author, and write the cover letter. It is best to formalize this agreement in writing after discussing it, circulating the document to the author team for approval. We suggest creating a title page on which all authors are listed in the agreed-upon order. It may be necessary to adjust authorship roles and order during the development of the paper. If a new author order is agreed upon, be sure to update the title page in the manuscript draft.
In the case where multiple papers will result from a single study, authors should discuss who will author each paper. Additionally, authors should agree on a deadline for each paper and the lead author should take responsibility for producing an initial draft by this deadline.
Structure of the Introduction Section
The introduction section should be approximately three to five paragraphs in length. Look at examples from your target journal to decide the appropriate length. This section should include the elements shown in Fig. 1 . Begin with a general context, narrowing to the specific focus of the paper. Include five main elements: why your research is important, what is already known about the topic, the “gap” or what is not yet known about the topic, why it is important to learn the new information that your research adds, and the specific research aim(s) that your paper addresses. Your research aim should address the gap you identified. Be sure to add enough background information to enable readers to understand your study. Table 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
The main elements of the introduction section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap
The purpose of the methods section is twofold: to explain how the study was done in enough detail to enable its replication and to provide enough contextual detail to enable readers to understand and interpret the results. In general, the essential elements of a methods section are the following: a description of the setting and participants, the study design and timing, the recruitment and sampling, the data collection process, the dataset, the dependent and independent variables, the covariates, the analytic approach for each research objective, and the ethical approval. The hallmark of an exemplary methods section is the justification of why each method was used. Table 2 provides common methods section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
The focus of the results section should be associations, or lack thereof, rather than statistical tests. Two considerations should guide your writing here. First, the results should present answers to each part of the research aim. Second, return to the methods section to ensure that the analysis and variables for each result have been explained.
Begin the results section by describing the number of participants in the final sample and details such as the number who were approached to participate, the proportion who were eligible and who enrolled, and the number of participants who dropped out. The next part of the results should describe the participant characteristics. After that, you may organize your results by the aim or by putting the most exciting results first. Do not forget to report your non-significant associations. These are still findings.
Tables and figures capture the reader’s attention and efficiently communicate your main findings [ 3 ]. Each table and figure should have a clear message and should complement, rather than repeat, the text. Tables and figures should communicate all salient details necessary for a reader to understand the findings without consulting the text. Include information on comparisons and tests, as well as information about the sample and timing of the study in the title, legend, or in a footnote. Note that figures are often more visually interesting than tables, so if it is feasible to make a figure, make a figure. To avoid confusing the reader, either avoid abbreviations in tables and figures, or define them in a footnote. Note that there should not be citations in the results section and you should not interpret results here. Table 3 provides common results section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
Opposite the introduction section, the discussion should take the form of a right-side-up triangle beginning with interpretation of your results and moving to general implications (Fig. 2 ). This section typically begins with a restatement of the main findings, which can usually be accomplished with a few carefully-crafted sentences.
Major elements of the discussion section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap
Next, interpret the meaning or explain the significance of your results, lifting the reader’s gaze from the study’s specific findings to more general applications. Then, compare these study findings with other research. Are these findings in agreement or disagreement with those from other studies? Does this study impart additional nuance to well-accepted theories? Situate your findings within the broader context of scientific literature, then explain the pathways or mechanisms that might give rise to, or explain, the results.
Journals vary in their approach to strengths and limitations sections: some are embedded paragraphs within the discussion section, while some mandate separate section headings. Keep in mind that every study has strengths and limitations. Candidly reporting yours helps readers to correctly interpret your research findings.
The next element of the discussion is a summary of the potential impacts and applications of the research. Should these results be used to optimally design an intervention? Does the work have implications for clinical protocols or public policy? These considerations will help the reader to further grasp the possible impacts of the presented work.
Finally, the discussion should conclude with specific suggestions for future work. Here, you have an opportunity to illuminate specific gaps in the literature that compel further study. Avoid the phrase “future research is necessary” because the recommendation is too general to be helpful to readers. Instead, provide substantive and specific recommendations for future studies. Table 4 provides common discussion section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.
Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines
After you select a target journal, identify the journal’s author guidelines to guide the formatting of your manuscript and references. Author guidelines will often (but not always) include instructions for titles, cover letters, and other components of a manuscript submission. Read the guidelines carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, your article will be sent back to you.
Finally, do not submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. Even if this is not explicitly stated in the author guidelines of your target journal, it is considered inappropriate and unprofessional.
Your title should invite readers to continue reading beyond the first page [ 4 , 5 ]. It should be informative and interesting. Consider describing the independent and dependent variables, the population and setting, the study design, the timing, and even the main result in your title. Because the focus of the paper can change as you write and revise, we recommend you wait until you have finished writing your paper before composing the title.
Be sure that the title is useful for potential readers searching for your topic. The keywords you select should complement those in your title to maximize the likelihood that a researcher will find your paper through a database search. Avoid using abbreviations in your title unless they are very well known, such as SNP, because it is more likely that someone will use a complete word rather than an abbreviation as a search term to help readers find your paper.
After you have written a complete draft, use the checklist (Fig. 3 ) below to guide your revisions and editing. Additional resources are available on writing the abstract and citing references [ 5 ]. When you feel that your work is ready, ask a trusted colleague or two to read the work and provide informal feedback. The box below provides a checklist that summarizes the key points offered in this article.
Checklist for manuscript quality
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Ella August is grateful to the Sustainable Sciences Institute for mentoring her in training researchers on writing and publishing their research.
Authors and affiliations.
Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, 135 Dauer Dr, 27599, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Clara Busse & Ella August
Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-2029, USA
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Correspondence to Ella August .
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Busse, C., August, E. How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal. J Canc Educ 36 , 909–913 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z
Published : 30 April 2020
Issue Date : October 2021
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z
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