When Luigi Longobardi, Ph.D., executive editor, Applied Physics Reviews, talks to early career researchers as part of AIP Publishing’s Publishing Academy, he tells the story of his own first published paper as an example of what not to do. “As someone who has read thousands of manuscripts, I am painfully aware that however good the science, my early work did not communicate very well,” he explained. “Great results without effective communication can go unnoticed, editors may pass on the paper, and readers will not cite it.”
Dr. Longobardi shares easy-to-follow steps on the key elements of an impactful research paper, tips on how to structure it for impact, and insights about what editors are looking for in manuscripts. Follow his three critical questions and six tips to improve your writing and the chance that your manuscript will be published and cited.
Question #1: What is the key element that will make my paper impactful?
Tip #1: To be impactful, papers must communicate effectively.
Scientific papers are critical to the evolution of modern science, to enable scientists to build upon the work of others. When you share your original research with other scientists, your job is to get the reader to understand, pay attention to, and be able to act on your paper’s message. To do this, you must have a message, tell the audience why your work is important, and make sure they understand why it matters. Focus on being informative, clear, accurate, and concise.
Question #2: How can I structure my paper for impact?
Remember you have two primary audiences for scientific papers. The first is composed of specialists–including reviewers–who are experts in the field. They need access to all relevant content and technical details in order to validate the paper’s conclusions. The second audience includes non-specialists – this includes editors. To understand the paper, they require more context including a strong motivation, in-depth background, and comprehensive interpretation.
Tip #2: Put what interests the readers up front!
Focus on what is most important to your different readers and put that information where they look for it. Structure your abstract and title for effective communication. Tell your readers, up front, what is the main outcome.
An effective Abstract is a global paragraph that prepares the reader for the rest of the document. Write it with all audiences in mind so the reader can decide if the paper is of interest. Include a foreword (a description of the ‘need’ for your research), the context (what the reader needs to know to understand the need for the research), a summary (what you did to solve the problem), a conclusion (an interpretation and/or recommendation based on the findings); and perspectives (what needs to be done in the future).
Tip #3 Structure your abstract to attract ‘non-specialist’ readers.
A paper that is attractive to ‘non-specialists’ will be read (and cited) by experts in other fields.
Your title is critical. In less than 100 characters, provide a quick summary of the paper. Include enough details for specialists but be simple enough for non-specialists to understand. State what has been shown, not what has been done.
Tip #4. Make sure your title contains the main message.
The Introduction follows the abstract. Provide some context to orient the audience and establish your work’s importance. State the need for your work with respect to what the scientific community currently has and what it wants. Indicate how you have addressed the need. Preview the rest of the paper to prepare readers for its structure and the object of the paper.
Next, in the Materials and Methods section, describe how you obtained the results. Include experimental methods, materials, the development of theory, device design, modeling tool development, and more. Provide enough details so other researchers can validate your conclusions.
Results and Discussion follow with an explanation of your results. Show how the results answer the research questions posed in the Introduction. The discussion flows from summarizing, interpreting, and explaining the results, whether they were expected or unexpected, comparing them to previous work, and hypothesizing about their generality.
In a short Conclusion, state the most important outcome of the work and interpret the findings—don’t simply summarize. Report your success in addressing the need stated in the Introduction and include perspectives. This could be your plans for future work on the subject, or an invitation to readers to investigate something additional.
Appendices follow the conclusion.
Question #3: What do editors want and where do they look for it in my paper?
Editors look at the Abstract first to determine if the article is within the journal’s scope. The Introduction tells the editor what problem is addressed, what is the knowledge gap, and what progress will be made to fill the gap.
Tip # 5. Mind the gap! Make the new element of your paper easy to find.
The editor reviews Materials and Methods to determine if appropriate methods and tools have been employed. The Results and Discussion section tells the editor what scientific advance has been made and if there are any significant limitations. The editor determines if the conclusion is important.
Tip # 6. Provide context: Stress the importance of the result.
After thorough review, if the editor decides that your paper is of high quality, it will be sent to be peer-reviewed.
For more support in navigating the publishing process, check out our other AIP Publishing Academy resources.