Complete Guide to Writing and Publishing Academic Papers

What is an academic paper?

An academic paper refers to extensive research published in an academic or scientific journal. It may contain first-hand research results or reviews of existing research. Such a paper may also be called as an article, and would only be recognized as valid if it goes through a process called peer review which could be done by a professor or a fellow researcher in the same field. It is after the review that you get to know if your paper is appropriate for publication in the journal.

The paper publication usually is a lengthy process and may take several months. The reason behind such a prolonged duration is that you might need to get your paper to go through many revisions, resubmissions, and reviews before getting accepted or rejected for publication. In many cases, you might need to wait for many months or maybe a year before your manuscript gets accepted. This is usually the case with popular journals where manuscript evaluation takes longer due to the high volume of proposals for limited printing space. Because of this, many researchers and academicians go for self-publication by publishing their papers on their personal or institution’s websites.

What are the parts of an academic paper?

The main parts of an academic paper are:

  1. The title page
  2. The Abstract or Summary
  3. The Introduction
  4. Materials and Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References and Notes
  9. Figures (If any)
  10. Tables (If any)

Identifying your topic (The title page)

The title page is your first bet to make a good impression on the editor. However, mistakes in the title page could ruin your chances to get your paper published. So it is essential to have a good title.  An appealing title is short and descriptive and reflects the major part of the results of your paper. For instance, “A holistic approach to elements of strategic social media marketing” is concise, explicit and provides all the details the reader requires to make a mental sketch. In case your research is solely descriptive, then the title of the paper must contain the feature(s) and parameter(s) that you have researched, for example, “Role of entrepreneurship in developing economics.” A good title can interest the editor at a mere first glance.

Ask yourself two questions when thinking for a good title:

  • What is the central point focused on in this paper?
  • How would you pitch your research in one sentence to a fellow researcher?

Guidelines on writing the different parts of an academic paper (Abstract, Introduction, Body, and Conclusion)

The Abstract or Summary

Full-length academic papers begin with an abstract. Some short communications, like “Letters to the Editor” in journals, might not include an abstract, but, in others, even a “Letter to the Editor” requires an abstract.

The abstract gives a detailed picture of the critical points in your paper, and it lets the reader figure out if it is worth her time to go through the entire document. The abstract must be tailored so that it can stand alone, without the whole body of the paper. As a result, the editor should be able to comprehend all the concepts without having to go through the entire document of the article.

The length of the abstract may vary from journal to journal and is always provided in instructions to the author of the respective journal you want to publish in. So better not exceed the word limit, or your editor will make you shorten it again. Now follow these instructions, and you are good to go.

Format: continuous text or specified sections?

The standard format for writing the Abstract in most journals is continuous text with fixed length. The abstract, however, is divided into recommended sections like background, methods, results, and conclusions in some medical journals. You should, however, follow the format imposed by your journal, keeping the defined word limit in mind.

The Introduction

The introduction to your paper must be long enough to let you:

  • Contextualize your research with relevant earlier work by other researchers,
  • Explain your reasons and motivation for carrying out research in the specific area,
  • Mention the procedures and tools you have used in carrying out calculations, and
  • Provide a glimpse into the conclusions drawn from the results of the paper.

 Avoid writing lengthy introductions.  A long Introduction is appropriate for a thesis because the researcher needs to reflect that he or she has a firm understanding of the area of research and its history. A research paper is the abridged form of a thesis, so there is no need to stretch your introduction. It is, however, also essential to understand how you finish your introduction. It is better to complete the Introduction in a way that reflects the results of your discussion at the end of the paper. Place them in a broader context.

Methodology, instrumentation, materials and analytical tools

If you have applied unique methods or used uncommon instrumentation or unusual materials, you should talk about it in the introduction. How did you use them and why and what are the implications of your innovative and novel analytical tools. This might interest your reviewer/editor and may have a good impression.

Results

Before writing your results, reread your hypothesis. See if your results comply with your hypothesis. Remember, if you are publishing your paper, your results should be reproducible too. Anyone with the same data and methodology instructions should be able to reproduce the same results.  In results, you are actually leading your reader through the structure of your reasoning and the arrangement of your experiments according to your constructed hypothesis, finally to a conclusion that agrees with and reflects the title of your paper.

The quality of your data

As mentioned above, your results should be experimentally reproducible, and if that is so, your data is perfect. Experimentally reproducible results prove the quality of your data and hence the quality of your research paper. It is also important to have results that are, if not the same, at least close by a decimal to the reproducible results even if the experimental setup is different. This could be done by performing each experiment multiple times with many replicates involved in each experiment, if possible.

So your paper not only to share your knowledge with other researchers and practitioners but also allow students to use it in relevant research areas and support their arguments. So it is imperative to have reproducible results. Your paper will only be worth publishing if your results are reproducible. Also, the validity of your results may depend strongly on the sample size. The larger the sample size.  Better and accurate the results would be.  However, if you do not have a large sample size and if your results are not reproducible, you can still get your paper published in a journal called the Journal of Irreproducible Results, which is always open to people to publish egregious scientific results. 

What results should you include in your Results section?

Your results should relate to the title of your paper too. You should mention them even if they are negative results, but make sure you mention it with the phrase “data not included” or “results not shown” and mention that within parenthesis.  In case if you are giving reference to an unpublished result, you should also mention in parenthesis that the results are unpublished, for example, “a personal statement from M. Tinker” or “unpublished results of M. Tinker and B. Bell” but the phrases should only be in parentheses. If a vast amount of data is used in your research, which cannot be included in the paper, then you should provide a reference to a website where it is available. The website could be your personal website made for displaying your data, or it could be the website where your journal publishes supplementary data, or it could also be your university website. But first, check with your journal if they allow references to third party websites.

Presentation of your data

Data is normally represented in a logical sequence. You should present data with each experiment or do so with two experiments if they are closely related. You may even use the data visualization tool too, which is another excellent way to represent data. Including figures, graphs, and bar charts that support your data is another great way to visualize data. You may also provide tables to classify and summarize your extensive data in a precise and short form. Avoid including any data or graphical representation that is already mentioned in the passage.

Availability of your newly synthesized materials to others

It is, however, important to understand that unless you have a patent registered, people will be able to benefit from your research after you publish your findings. Anyone can reproduce your experiments and make use of the innovations you have discovered to put forward. You also show your consent, in many cases, that you will provide any specialized material or reagent that you have innovated during your research work. For example, certain chemical compounds, lines of cells, antibodies to other researchers, and scientists who want to reproduce your research for academics or laboratory purposes and not for commercial purposes. This stipulation is generally included in the instructions to the writer or author of the paper. So you should go through all the instructions very carefully in case you do not want anyone to have access to your innovations or to reproduce your product. However, within the limits of feasibility and practicability, you might be obliged to share the properties and preparation of your novel material with fellow scientists.

Intellectual property and patents

It is easy to get patents for your research or innovation. Simply file your patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office within a year of publishing your paper. The patent not only protects your research and findings in public journals but also in conferences, meetings where you speak about it.

Acknowledgments

In this section, you may include all those people who have been instrumental in helping you compile a great paper and who are not listed in the list of the authors. You can describe and appreciate their efforts in the preparation of the paper. Researchers also tend to appreciate and acknowledge all the funding agencies or organizations that finance the research work of the writer. Usually, the sources of funding are included in footnotes to the title of the papers, but you may also inform them of your journal if they have a different way of doing so.  Finally, you may use either “Acknowledgments” or “Acknowledgements,” since there is just a little difference in the spelling. Prefer to use one suggested by your journal.

References and Notes

Make sure you pay close attention to the format that your journal prefers for listing the references. If you give it some good time and extra care, you might save yourself some time as different journals have a different way of putting the list of references. If you want to have a sample to learn from, pick the journal of your choice where you want to get your paper published and check their list of references as well as the instructions to the authors.

Since this is an integral part of your paper, you should also give some proper attention to the topic of this section. It is normally called “References,” but many of the journals use the term “Literature Cited.” The next thing you need to check is to see if your references are in chronological order or are in numerical order. Some journals prefer alphabetical order, while others prefer a numerical order. In some journals, references are numbered after listing them in alphabetical order.

So a glance at some papers published by different journals and in different areas and subjects is enough to elucidate how huge is the number of the specified combinations and permutations of spaces and punctuation. The possibilities of listing the references range from simple citation to more complex. For example, a paper written by two authors, Schwartz and Weiss could be written/cited as “Schwartz, J.A., and Weiss, S.” or as “Schwartz JA and Weiss S.” In other journals, there is no comma used after the first name of the authors and yet in others, “&” replaces “and” and paper is cited like “Schwartz, J. A. & Weiss, S.” or “Schwartz, J.A., & Weiss, S..”

What are the different formats used for academic papers? How are the structure or formats? (Tables, Figures, references) (What are different in each format? What is the same?)

The three formats widely used for writing a paper are MLA, APA, and CMS.

  • What is APA Format: APA refers to the official instructions put forward by the American Psychological Association, now in their sixth edition.  The APA format is usually preferred for social sciences, so if you are studying or doing research in psychology, economics or sociology, medicine, or social work, you need to understand the APA format.
  • What is MLA Format: MLA refers to modern language association. You need to know about the MLA format if you ate researching or doing a project in Humanities (English majors, artists, and music, theatre, or drama courses). Students enrolled in these fields usually know about the MLA format. The MLA format has been in use for half a century now.
  • What is CMS Format: The CMS format style is put forward by the Chicago Manual of Style, which is now in its 16th edition. The CMS format is typically seen and used in research subjects that fall under the umbrella of Humanities, more specifically in the fields of literature, history, arts, and music.

Though these formatting techniques may share several features like spacing and margins, the main differentiator is the way they attribute references to source materials.  For instance, APA calls it “references” while MLA names the same thing “works cited.” This is not a very big difference, but since it varies from journal to journal, it might affect your grade if you do not give attention to such small distinctions.

Why publish your paper?

There are many reasons behind publishing a paper in a known journal. Some people publish research papers to get tenure extension or promotion in their departments. Others publish solely for fame and recognition. A good research paper is always helpful to policymakers to solve real-world problems by using your research findings. In addition, other researchers may also use your work in the future to prove their arguments and make progress in their fields, so the advantages of publishing a paper are immense.

In addition, your publications do let you claim a particular major or minor discovery. This may help you in the industry if you file a patent to protect your innovation. Besides, this may also help other researchers to use your concepts and refer to your contribution if they are working in the same field as you did. You make good name and fame with your publication if you do some excellent lengthy experiments with big sample size and precise data. Such experiments do take long as compared to others but engender great results. This ultimately enables you to publish in the best and well-known journal around the world, which generally have limited space to publish and have a huge influx of manuscripts.

What should be published?

First of all, you need to ask yourself this question. Is your research worth publishing? Research whose results are reproducible is, of course, worth publishing. Scientific truths and phenomena might change over time, but data and statistics do not. So based on the data and statistics, if your research is reproducible, go for a peer review and publish your paper.

Where should you publish?

First of all, you need to choose a journal. There are so many journals out there, so you might like to choose the best of them all or at least one with a good reputation. Now since different journals have different formats, you need to go through the author’s instruction of your finalized journal and understand the rules and requirements. Once you have read all the instructions, you are ready now to script down your manuscript and ask your professor or fellow researcher to review it before sending it to the editor of the journal.

If you have done an excellent research and is of high caliber, you may try to get your paper published in Nature, Science, Econometrics or PANSA (Preceding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), all of which are famous journals and are read by researchers in almost every field.

What is a journal?

A scholarly or academic journal is a publication in which scholars and researchers publish their findings related to different academic disciplines. Academic journals are the permanent and most reliable forums for presenting your research and innovation. These journals are usually peer-reviewed, some are referred. Your paper will appear in the form of an article in the journal depicting the original research and discussions. The same journal might also have space for book reviews and review articles.

What is the purpose of an academic journal? According to Henry Oldenburg, who was the first editor of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the purpose of an academic journal is to provide researchers a platform to share their knowledge and research and use the combined knowledge to shape the future. Academic journal refers to scholarly publications in all fields. However, journals of quantitative social sciences and scientific journals are different in structure and function from journals of qualitative social sciences and journals of humanities.

What is a reviewed paper?

Peer-reviewed papers mean that your research findings are reviewed by scholars in the same subject area in which you have done your research. Papers published after peer reviews are called peer-reviewed papers or articles.  The purpose of peer reviews is to see the progress as well as the quality of research in a particular area. Peer-reviewed papers provide a quick understanding for readers by elucidating the latest as well as the earlier findings in a specific topic. If you are interested in reading peer-reviewed papers, you may find them in journals such as:

  • Scientific American
  • Science in the “Perspectives” and “Reviews” sections
  • Nature in the “News and Views” section

Finally, how do you publish your paper?

There are many ways to publish papers, here are a few important steps and tips:

  1. Ask your professor or colleague to review your manuscript.
  2. Revise your manuscript after your professor or colleague recommends changes.
  3. According to your chosen journal’s requirement, finalize your manuscript.
  4. Submit your article after it is precise and ready.
  5. Do not worry if the journal’s initial response is not a positive one.
  6. Take the reviewer’s comments as guidelines to perfection.
  7. Try again to get your paper published.

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