Writing an article

Why write an article?

An article is potentially the most efficient means for disseminating your research and establishing a publication record; many areas of academic life such as finding employment and winning research grants depend on a good publication record. Online journals have increased the geographical spread for academic work, reinforcing the importance of articles in creating and furthering your research reputation.

This tutorial has been designed to assist you in the process of writing the article. The structure of the tutorial:

What to write

The content and structure of your article is determined by the topic you select and the potential reading audience. You are proffering your contribution to the academic field, keeping in mind what is already being discussed by others. Your article will add to the academic discourse in a particular field. Therefore, choose a journal that best reflects your potential readership.

In considering how suitable your article is for publication, the editors will consider various factors, including but not limited to:

It is also important to consider the journal’s style guide. You do not want to upset the editors by ignoring their requirements; after all, they determine whether your work is worth publishing. Check the journal’s website for information regarding fonts, spacing, margins and referencing styles.

Creating your contribution

What you write in an article may reflect a distillation of ideas or findings from your thesis but it needs to be written to reflect an alternate academic context and audience. Different strategies can be used to refine your ideas.

Synthesis by title

One way of distilling and synthesising your ideas for a journal article is to consider its title; this process of considering alternate titles encourages “unity, creativity and significance” (Crosby, 1976, p. 387). These are all important aspects in writing a good journal article. James Hartley (2007) offers twelve different types of title, each one emphasising a different way of engaging with readers. Thinking through which style of title best represents your contribution to the academic field helps narrow your ideas down to the essential nub of your contention.

Activity

What's in a title?

Can you think of titles which conform to these styles? Have a go at writing your own title according to the description, then click "Turn" to see an example (all found in business and economics journals).

You can also download and complete an activity sheet (DOCX, 0.02 MB).

Creating an abstract

Another strategy for refining your thoughts is to write an abstract. An abstract is a 200-300 word document that provides a short summary or description of the article. Generally, the abstract describes the background, methods, results and conclusions, but this will depend on your discipline. An abstract is also required as part of a published paper; as such, its purpose is to attract the interest and inspire prospective readers.

There are different types of abstracts which can serve different purposes.

A simple way to create an abstract is to answer a series of questions. There are several sets of questions offered in the literature on writing for publication, including Brown’s ‘Eight Questions.’

Write for 30 minutes on the subject of your journal article

  1. Who are the intended readers? List three to five of them by name
  2. What did you do? (50 words)
  3. Why did you do it? (50 words)
  4. What happened [when you did that]? (50 words)
  5. What do the results mean in theory? (50 words)
  6. What do the results mean in practice? (50 words)
  7. What is the key benefit for readers? (25 words)
  8. What remains unresolved? (No word limit)

(Brown, 1994/95, p. 6 as cited in Murray, 2013, p. 131)

One of the advantages of using Brown’s 8 questions is the ease by which the resulting answers can be used to write a comprehensive abstract and to develop an outline for your paper.

  • Take the keywords in each sentence of your abstract.
  • Write them into section headings.
  • Use them in the topic sentence and throughout the section.
  • Define and explain the terms, as needed.

(Murray, 2013, p. 136)

Activity

Many people prefer to write the abstract once the article is complete. The advantage of writing an abstract first is that it assists in creating a structure for your argument. An abstract written later, however, will be a truer reflection of your article and should be included in your final journal article.

Writing the article

Ensure you allow plenty of time for writing your article. You should expect to write several drafts as you refine your thoughts. Remember, you will be writing for an unknown readership which will have some expertise, but not necessarily specific knowledge of your topic.

Start by thinking about the content. This includes whether you are going to include figures, graphs or images. Limit the number so that your article remains tightly focused. All visual information needs to clearly reflect the aim(s) of the article. They should all be numbered sequentially.

To facilitate writing, create an outline. This can be in the form of dot points, where more detailed sentences are added later to give the article flesh. Those writing in disciplines that already have a clear report structure can use the formal structure to help with the sorting of information. Click on the headings below to see what should be included in a scientific/business report article.

Once you have created dot points with all the relevant material under each heading, create links between all the ideas. Remember to keep a logical flow to your argument.

Many disciplines use a less formal structure for their publications. Even a journal article in essay form, however, requires a clear structure, with the 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. Remember, you can use keywords from your abstract to create a logical flow to your argument.

Use the Word Outline function to provide a framework within which you can write. Word Outline can be found by clicking of the “View” tab. It will appear in the left-hand box of the toolbar. It can help you lay out the various levels of your argument and supporting points. It could also be used to plan the structure of each paragraph.

Remember the T(opic sentence); E(xplanation); E(vidence); E(xample); L(ink) paragraph structure to help you sort what goes where.

Screenshot of Microsoft Word Outline function

Whichever style of article you write, you will need a good title, abstract, introduction and discussion/conclusion. For further guidance on structuring the body of your article, read a range of journal articles to determine accepted structures within your discipline. Once you have organised your title, content and outline, there are various strategies available to keep you writing.

Free-writing and generative writing

Several writing protocols use the idea of free-writing to get you started and to ensure you continue writing. It is important to remember that the only person who will read your ‘free-writing’ is you. Spelling mistakes, poor grammar and poor linking are not problems at this stage. This a great way to get words on paper (or into the computer) which can then be edited. This leads to the next stage, that is, generative writing. Your free-writing exercise should have primed your mind for writing a more cohesive piece of work. This time, you write in anticipation of an audience.

Free-writing and generative writing can be used in conjunction with other writing strategies.

For example, the Pomodoro Technique relies on a strict time frame for writing and taking breaks. The writing is done freely, with little or no critiquing. This provides you with material to edit and refine later on. 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. Four sessions of 25 minutes makes a Pomodoro, and you can schedule a longer break. You can search for more information on the Pomodoro Technique, including tailored timing systems, online.

Some people set themselves challenges, like writing 1000 words a day to maintain motivation.

The blogging site ‘Thesis Whisperer’ has also produced some excellent advice on writing an article, suggesting a program for doing it in seven days.

There is no ‘right’ way to write an article. You might find you move between outlining and generative writing. You need to find a way that suits you.

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.

Sharing the glory

Many journal articles are written by more than one person. There can be advantages to this process:

  • Pooling of ideas to create a more thorough product
  • 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

The development of cloud technology has helped this process as Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. allow several people to work on the one document simultaneously.

When co-authoring, it is important that the person who did the most work is listed first, but this can depend on discipline. In some areas, the more experienced or ‘known’ scholar will be given the privilege of being first-named.

There are some complications with co-authoring, beyond determining who did the most work. Too many people can lead to too many ideas. You do not want to create a ‘Frankenarticle’: a collection of ideas and words from various authors does not always combine in a seamless manner.

Like any other article, there needs to be integrity to the argument. You should not be able to distinguish the parts written by different people.

Refining the text

Before publication, your article will be reviewed by other academic experts. They will judge whether or not your article is worthy of publication. To increase your chances of acceptance, you need to ensure that your work reflects the expectations for academic writing. The article should be written in a formal tone and have a clearly articulated argument that reflects or engages with current academic discourse.

Your article also needs to be grammatically correct, and without spelling errors and typos. There are online guides to editing and proofreading. Some journals will require that the article be sent to your supervisor first as a way to maintain submission standards. Academic colleagues might also be willing to read through your submission; after all, they might learn something too.

Submission

Once you have an article ready to submit and have selected a journal, the submission process is as simple as finding the contact details for the journal and following their 'submission guidelines'.

Do not succumb to the temptation to send your article to different journals; most journals will not consider a submission while it is under consideration elsewhere and the attempt to improve your chances through multiple submissions is considered unethical (Sadler, 2009).

You must be careful at this stage to read and follow the journal's submission guidelines carefully. Reputable journals give specific instructions on referencing style, formatting (some journals have document templates setting out title and subtitle conventions, paragraph style, and font size and style) and the submission process. For guidance on various citing and referencing styles, go to the Monash Library Citing and Referencing Guide.

Once you submit your article you should receive an email to let you know it has been received and that you will be notified once the review process is complete. This might take weeks or months; journal editors are dependent on the goodwill of academic experts in the field whose primary role is likely to be within a university as teacher or researcher. They are not necessarily remunerated for this role, so it is not surprising that sometimes the task of reviewing a potential article slips down their priority list. Be patient. If there is no word after several months, a polite query to the journal editor may be in order.

References

Hartley, J. (2007). There's more to the title than meets the eye: Exploring the possibilities. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 37(1), 95-101.

Mewburn, I. (2017). Thesis Whisperer. Retrieved from https://thesiswhisperer.com/

Mewburn, I. (n.d.). Write that journal article (in seven days). Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ZsY680ToDwh3m7ShaVvvNSx4JrPpMUB9jQkvoXQWmVk/

Murray, R. E. G. (2013). Writing for academic journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Sadler, D. R. (2009). Up the publication road: A guide to publishing in scholarly journals for academics, researchers, and graduate students. Milperra, NSW: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia.

Silyn-Roberts, H. (2013). Writing for science and engineering: Papers, presentations and reports (2nd ed.). London: Elsevier. Retrieved from: http://app.knovel.com/hotlink/toc/id:kpWSEPPRE1/writing-science-engineering/writing-science-engineering

Thomson, P. & Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for peer reviewed journals. London: Routledge.