Not two scientific manuscripts are alike.

Not two scientific manuscripts are alike. The journals require different formats; the subjects differ in writing traditions, and the pressure on colleagues/supervisors is steadily increasing, leaving you with little support. Hence, it is not possible to provide detailed and exact information on how to write a scientific manuscript. Nevertheless, let me share a few useful insights, based on my own and highly personal experience, thereby "facilitating" your entrance to the journals, if only a little.

Your first concern should be to decide what journal best fits your research paper and then take extra care to check what the requirements are for that specific journal, the number of words, which headlines and how they should be formulated – and the worst of all – the references! It is not really amusing having to rewrite your literary creation, produced with blood, sweat, and tears.

After sorting out the layout of your manuscript it is time to get going with the research!

Yes, I mean that! It saves you a lot of sweat to start working on the manuscript even before getting your investigation off the ground.

The first thing you do (or should do) when embarking on a research study is updating yourself about previous research on the subject matter in question! You learn a lot from the achievements (and failures) of others. During your reading, take the opportunity to study how they write. Very few (if any) people were born a "writer-genius" and in the wait for your own experience it is okay to mimic – the writing style, nothing else!

During my active time as a scientist, I wrote the different parts of a manuscript in the following order (take notice of my advice):


Tell the reader what is known today, which is what you just have been reading about. Describe what the purpose/aim of your study was.


The list probably needs to be extended as you go along and perhaps a few references must be excluded. Write exactly according to the requirements of the proposed journal!

Materials & Methods

Describe your material and exactly how you performed every step – in detail! This part of the manuscript may need modification if something goes wrong and you have to take "another road". Avoid making this too "chatty". Informative but short and crystal clear is the name of the game.


Recount your results. Numbers do well in a table or in a graph. Do not report numbers in both the text and a table/graph! Do not compare numbers unless you have statistics!


This section must not report the results again! This is difficult to avoid and as a beginner it feels almost impossible. It is all about how you express yourself. Check how the discussion is expressed in the publications you studied prior to your experiments. If you wish to be excellent, then have a look at the "snazzy" journals (Nature, Science...). In this section of your manuscript you compare your results to the results of previous studies (never the other way around). Statistics decide whether something is "true" or not! Never write that your studies have shown that things are in a certain way. Use words like possibly, probably, perhaps, highly likely, and other vague (but in the scientific world established and necessary expressions). At the end of the discussion you may (or may not) draw your conclusions and suggest (or not) further studies. Don't go into what (possibly) went wrong and what you should have done to prevent that – it paves the way for refusal of your manuscript. There are, however, some journals requiring you to include that information. Make sure then that you solved the problems... 


Some people prefer to have a certain section including their conclusion/s, but if not required by the journal, I would avoid that – unless they are outstanding, of course!


By now, you've got your investigation "under your skin" and are (hopefully) able to summarize your study. Once more, express yourself short and crystal clear! Not too many details: What did you study? How did you perform the investigation? (Mention the methods, but do not describe them.) What was/were your result/s? No discussion or comparison with the work of others in this section, but – check the policy of the journal of your choice.


If English is not your native language: write your manuscript in English! Do not write in your mother tongue, translating it afterwards. It rarely works!

Write in imperfect (grammatically), in spite of you writing it in advance! It is presumed that you have indeed performed the study when submitting it for publication.

Use the thesaurus function of Word. Repetition is boring and as the saying goes: "Variety is the spice of life!"

Be objective in your writing. Research has nothing to do with opinions. Well, unless you work with studies on that, of course. Research on philosophical issues may well contain opinions.

How many pages should a manuscript contain? That depends on how voluminous your work is. However, think of your own reaction towards the task of reading a bunch of publications, each of them comprising ten-twenty pages. Do you (hand on heart) read everysingle word in all of them? No? The ideal size of a manuscript is 5-6 pages, when printed. That size "guarantees" that your manuscript will be read! Practice expressing yourself short and to the point. It paves the way for you in the long run.

Stuck in your writing? Welcome to the Writing coach.

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Dr Lilian Westlin
Dr Lilian Westlin