Writing the article
Writing an article is an iterative process that takes time and multiple drafts. If you are unsure how to improve your article as you write, remember your argumentative purpose and your intended audience. The following writing strategies will also help:
Write for your audience
What do you know about the potential audience of your article? In most cases you will be writing for readers who will have some expertise in your discipline, but may lack specific knowledge of your topic. Write to communicate your ideas in a way that your audience will clearly understand and find engaging.
Outline the structure
Create an outline of your article structure before you start writing the content:
- Your outline can be in the form of dot points, where more detailed sentences are added later to develop the article's ideas.
- Once you have created dot points with all the relevant material under each heading, create links between all the ideas.
- When using word processing software, use the outline feature to organise your writing into your planned structure.
- Remember to keep a logical flow to your argument.
Choose content types
Will your article include only written text, or will it also include figures, graphs or images? If the article includes visual elements, consider how they can communicate your ideas in relationship with the written text. Visual elements should be:
- Consistent and well integrated with the overall written article.
- Limited in number, to maintain the article's focus.
- Numbered sequentially.
Structuring the article
Your research discipline or chosen journal may have an expected structure you should follow:
- Many journal articles, particularly in STEM disciplines, follow a standard IMRaD structure (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion).
- Journal articles in other fields (e.g. many HASS disciplines) do not follow an expected formal structure. Even a journal article in essay form, however, requires a clear structure, with signposting clearly embedded in the text. Headings for this style of article are optional, but could be useful in the earlier drafts to ensure you maintain the logic of your argument.
- When writing the body paragraphs, remember the T(opic sentence); E(xplanation); E(vidence); E(xample); L(ink) paragraph structure to help organise your ideas at the sentence level.
Learn from the structures you see in articles in your field, and adopt an appropriate structure for your article. Adopting a clear structure will help you to sort information into a logical sequence. Click below to explore the typical contents of an IMRaD style article structure (most common in STEM disciplines):
This section explains why you decided to conduct the research. It typically includes:
- Introduce the topic in context.
- State the aim and scope of the research.
- Provide relevant theoretical and technical background information.
- Identify the research problem and its significance.
- Briefly outline the structure of the article.
This section explains how you conducted the research. It typically includes:
- Description of the study participants and/or data used.
- Explanation of how the study was done and data collection instruments (e.g. case studies, surveys, observations).
- Justification of why a specific method is being used to understand and/or solve the problem, if relevant (e.g. Why is the chosen method preferable to other methods?)
- Description and the details of experiments performed.
- Description of how the data was analysed (e.g. statistical tests used to analyse the data).
In this section, you will explain what you found as a result of your investigation. It can typically include:
- A description of the results of the experiments and statistical tests.
- Objective description of the what the data analysis shows including patterns and trends observed in the data.
In this section, you need to explain what you think the results mean. This is your interpretation of the results. This section can include:
- A summary of your main findings.
- Analysis and evaluation of your findings, including possible reasons explaining the findings and reasons for unexpected results.
- Comparison of your findings to previous studies.
- Explanation of how your results might confirm or contradict results of previous studies.
- Clarification of the significance of your results in relation to the project aim/s.
- Acknowledging limitations and suggesting future directions (where applicable).
Sometimes you might be required to write a separate conclusion section in addition to the discussion where you will need to summarise the key findings of your research and draw conclusions for the reader by providing key take home points and the implications of your findings for future research and/or practice. If not a part of the Discussion section, this section typically includes:
- Recap of your key results and main arguments, highlighting their significance in relation to your research aims and research questions.
- Brief acknowledgement of the limitations of your work.
- Brief recommendations, or directions for future research.
Strategies to generate writing
Try some of these writing strategies, alone or in combination, to help generate material for your article drafts.
Free-writing is a technique of writing continuously for a set period of time, without worrying about formatting, logical structure, or 'getting things wrong'.
- The important thing is to just keep writing and writing all of your ideas without critical judgement. You can worry about critically reviewing the material later.
- The only person who will read your free-writing is you. When editing you can retain any useful material from the free-writing exercise for your article and discard what you don’t need.
- A free-writing exercise can help you put down all your ideas on paper and then work out how they can be put together as a cohesive piece of work.
The pomodoro technique
The pomodoro technique relies on a strict time frame of 25 minute writing intervals, followed by 5 minute breaks.
- Four sessions of 25 minutes makes a pomodoro, and you can schedule a longer break as needed.
- In-built breaks of 5 minutes after each 25 minutes of writing guarantees a freshness of mind each time you sit down to the task.
- The writing is done freely, with little or no critiquing. This provides you with material to edit and refine later on.
There is no ‘correct’ way to write an article. You might find you move between different writing techniques, such as outlining and generative writing. You need to find a way that suits you. Consider the following options:
- You may choose to set yourself a challenge, such as writing 1000 words a day to maintain motivation.
- Once you have a draft, let it ‘incubate’, at least overnight or for a few days. This will allow you to see it with fresh eyes and edit it as necessary next time you get back to it.
- Learn writing tips from your supervisor, trusted academic peers, or expert guides. For example, the blogging site ‘Thesis Whisperer’ has produced helpful advice on writing an article, suggesting a program for doing it in seven days (Mewburn, n.d.).
Many journal articles are written by more than one person. There can be advantages to this process, such as:
- Pooling of ideas to create a more thorough product.
- Synthesising perspectives from collaborators with different specialised knowledge and expertise.
- Easy access to proofreaders.
- Quicker delivery as you personally do not have to write as many words and can often focus on a particular part of the process.
If you are co-authoring an article with collaborators, make sure to:
- Write cohesively. You do not want to create a ‘Frankenarticle’. A collection of ideas and words from various authors does not always combine into a seamless whole. To create a cohesive article, communicate clearly with your collaborators to ensure each draft makes the article more unified.
- Agree on authorship. Typically the researcher who did the most work would be listed as the first author, but this can depend on the discipline. In some areas, the more experienced or ‘known’ scholar will be given the privilege of being first-named. Discuss how authorship will be credited with your co-authors to avoid misunderstanding.