Writing a better research article

Thomas A. Lang


Publication is the last stage of research. Writing the research article is also probably the shortest, least-expensive, and arguably the most important part of the process because the published article is usually the only lasting record of your research. In addition, readers often assume that the quality of the writing indicates the quality of the research. Clear, concise writing implies clear, concise thinking, which is necessary for good research. However, few authors are taught how to write an article; how to properly document their research and statistical analyses; how to prepare tables, graphs, and images for publication; what ethical issues need to be addressed; how to choose a journal; and how to communicate with the journal throughout the publishing process. In this article, I describe several ways to write a better research article. In addition to how to improve each section of the article—the title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references—I offer advice for improving the writing itself. Using the techniques presented, you should be able to shorten your article substantially, without eliminating needed information, while improving clarity. Nothing guarantees acceptance by a journal, but a well-written article is easier to accept than a poorly written one. Once published, your article will be in the literature—forever—with your name on it. Given that the quality of your publications affects your professional reputation, making sure your publications are the best they can be is one of the greatest investments you can make in your career.