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How to Write Effective Scholarly Manuscripts in Behavioural Sciences

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Dilemma
  3. The Need for systematic information
  4. The solution
  5. Effective Writing
  6. Parts of a Manuscript
  7. Reasons why editors reject manuscript

Introduction

A scientist’s research is complete when the results are shared with the scientific community. The traditional medium for communicating research findings is learned journals; therefore, the preparation of a manuscript for journal publication is an essential component of the research enterprise.

Scientists are frequently criticized for writing poorly. Some of this criticism reflects the misunderstanding of persons who expect all good writing to be imaginative and colourful. In fact, the task of scientific writing is the careful, objective reporting of research findings, methodology or theory, and this task is often best served by standard outlines and neutral words.

The criticism is well deserved because editors and reviewers of scientific research papers shake their heads in amazement at manuscripts that are poorly written and improperly prepared for submission to publishers. Many research write-ups are full of unjustified use of technical language.

Journal editors and book publishers also despair as they wade through manuscripts that are long-winded, grammatically sloppy, or inappropriate for their journals. Often this distress reaches the authors in the form of rejection. The purpose of this paper is to help prospective authors and beginning researchers to strengthen their research investigations and manuscripts.

The Dilemma

Most scientists are acutely aware of the criticism, but do not know how to correct their shortcomings. Most graduate students are not taught how to write for publication- a task that is often quite unlike writing to fulfill class or dissertation requirement. They are also not taught how to find appropriate publishers for their manuscripts.

Some students learn these skills informally, perhaps by co-authoring a manuscript with a supervisor professor. Others learn tem accidentally, as when they notice that some articles are alike in specific ways. Still others never learn. Only those who learn become successful scientists- in so far as success is measured by number and quality of publications. The rest waste their attempts to write, thereby advancing neither their careers nor scientific knowledge.

The Need for Systematic Information

Many scientists want to write effectively and to publish. They know what Orwell(1950) knew: The English language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…Written English is full of bad habits…If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly”. They also know that effective writing improves research. It prevents misunderstanding while permitting the exchange of ideas and publication and verification of findings. Effective communication-published and unpublished- also prevents duplication of prior research.

A lot of scientists find that publication is necessary to professional advancement. Since the late 1960s the supply of scientists with doctoral degrees has been at least equal to the demand (McCartney, 1973) and the result has been mad rise in the pressure to publish. This pressure has gradually increased because the number of available pages in journals and books has not increased in proportion to the number of new, aspiring authors. In addition, production costs have forced publishers to require higher quality of writing from authors submitting manuscripts. 

Some scientists want to reach and influence important groups of readers who lack specialized scientific training. Researchers in education, psychology, and sociology often make discoveries that can be used by teachers, school administrators, guidance counselors, and social workers. Thus descriptions of a new technique for in-service teacher training, for example, should be written not only for a professional journal but also journal read largely by teachers and school

The solution

The effective writing and reasonably speedy publication of good scientific work should not depend, even in part, on unplanned learning about writing and publishing. All other things being equal (e.g. quality of research), all scientists should have an equal chance to publish. Part of the solution to the dilemma is a well-organized handbook on writing and publishing.

Effective Writing

Effective writing is clear and efficient; thus it can be published with little copy editing. An effective author writing for scientific peers states a problem, describes and validates the evidence and methods used to find a solution, interpret the solution, and discusses its implications and uses-all within a limited number of pages.

Effective writing is not necessarily excellent writing. Excellent writing requires more than reasonable proficiency. An excellent manuscript contains no unnecessary words. Its organization and language usually presents its topic not only effectively but in an aesthetically pleasing writing style that is often unique to the author, though common in all of his or her writings.

An excellent manuscript writer continues revising long after achieving an effective draft for style-changing one word for another, playing with word combinations, looking for literary allusions to emphasize points and so forth.

Not every scientist has the potential to become an excellent writer. In contrast, effectiveness is possible for any writer to follow specific guidelines for organizing, writing and revising. The American Psychology Association-APA (2019) has clear guidelines on how ideas and data are to be ……

Before writing an article, examine recent issues of appropriate journals for general orientation. Three major characteristics of a journal article should be considered before writing begins: length, headings, and tone.

Parts of a Manuscript

  1. Title

The title should summarize the main idea of the paper simply and possibly, with style. It should be a concise statement of the main topic and should refer to the major variables or theoretical issues you have investigated. It is frequently informative to state in the title the actual substantive variable under investigation, for example: “          ”.

  • Author’s Name and Affiliation

Every manuscript should have a by-line consisting of two parts: name of the author and the institution at which the investigation occurred (without the words by or from the).

The author’s name should appear as it is customarily written, that is, an author should not use initials on one use initials on one manuscript and name on a later one. Omit titles(Dr. or Professor) and degrees.

  • Abstract

An abstract is brief summary of the content and purpose of the article. The abstract allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly. Because, like the title, it is used by Psychological Abstracts for indexing and information retrieval, the abstract should be self-contained and fully intelligible without reference to the body of the paper.

Information or conclusions that do not appear in the main body of the paper should not appear in the abstract. Because so much information must be compressed into a small space, authors sometimes find the abstract difficult to write. Leaving it until the article is finished enables you to abstract or paraphrase your own words.

An abstract of a research paper should contain statements of the problem, method, results and conclusions. Specify the subject population (number, type, age, sex, etc.) and describe the research design, test instruments, research apparatus, or data gathering procedures as specifically as necessary to reflect their importance in the experiment.

Summarize the data or findings, including statistical significance levels, if any, as appropriate. Report inferences made or comparisons drawn from the results.

An abstract of a review or theoretical article should state the topics covered, the central thesis, the sources used (e.g. personal observation, published literature, or previous research bearing on the topic), and the conclusions drawn, It should be short but informative. The abstract should tell the reader the nature or content of the theoretical discussion.

An abstract for a research paper should be 100-175 words; one for a review of theoretical article, 75-100 words. General style should be the same as that of the article.

  • Introduction

The main body of a paper opens with the introduction. Its purpose is to inform the reader of the specific problem under study and the research strategy.

In writing the introduction, consider: what is the point of the study? What is the rationale or logical link between the problem and the research design? What are the theoretical implications of the study and its relationship to previous work in the area? A good introduction answers these questions in a paragraph or two and gives the reader a firm sense of what you are doing and why?

In dealing with theory, clearly state the theoretical propositions tested and how they were derived. Summarized the relevant arguments and data and indicate how your experimental design and hypothesis relate to the issue.

Discuss the literature, but do not include an exhaustive historical review. In summarizing earlier works, avoid nonessential details; instead, emphasize major conclusions, findings, and relevant methodological issues. Refer the reader to general surveys or reviews of the topic if they are available.

Authors are obligated to acknowledge the contributions of others to the problem. Show the logical continuity between previous and present work. Develop the problem with enough breadth and clarity so it will be generally understood by as wide an audience as possible.

Controversial issues, when relevant, should be treated fairly. A simple statement that certain studies support one conclusion while others supports another conclusion is better than an extensive and inconclusive discussion. Whatever your personal opinion, avoid animosity. Do not attempt to support your position or to justify your research by citing established authorities out of context. Include only references that bear specifically on the problem at stake.

After you have introduced the problem and developed the background material, you are in a position to tell what you propose to do. This statement should be made in the closing paragraphs of the introduction.

At this point, a definition of the variables and a formal statement of your hypotheses lend clarity to the article. Questions to bear in mind in closing the introduction are: what do I plan to manipulate? What results do I expect? Why do I expect them? The logic behind “why do I expect them? Should be made explicit. The rationale for each hypothesis should be developed clearly.

  • Method

The method section should tell your reader how the study was conducted. The method should be described in enough detail to permit an experienced investigator to replicate the study if he or she so desires. A description also enables your reader to evaluate the appropriateness of your methods and the probable reliability of your results.

It is both conventional and convenient to divide the method section into labeled subsections. These will usually include, but not be limited to, a description of the subjects, the apparatus (or materials), and the procedure. The basic rule is: Include only information essential to comprehend and replicate.

Subjects: The subsection on subjects should answer three questions: Who participated in the study? How many participants were there? How were they selected? Give major demographic characteristics, such as sex and age, as well as any other relevant information. State the total number of participants and the number assigned to each experimental conditions.

When animals are part of the study, report the genus, species, strain number, or other specific identification such as the name of the supplier. Give the number of animals used and their sex, age, and physiological condition. In addition, specify all details of their treatment and handling essential to the successful replication of the investigation.

Apparatus: The apparatus subsection should include a brief description of the apparatus or materials used and their function in the experiment. Standard laboratory equipment,such as furniture, stop-watches, or screens, can usually be…..

Procedure: The procedure subsection should be a summary of each step in the execution of the research. It should include the instructions to the participants, the formation of the groups, and the specific experimental manipulations.

Describe randomization, counterbalancing, and other control features in the design. State instructions in summary or paraphrase form, unless they are unusual or comprise an experimental manipulation, in which case they may be presented verbatim.

 Most readers are familiar with standard testing procedures; unless something new or unique is presented, do not describe the procedures in detail.

Remember that the method section should tell your reader what you did and how you did it.

  • Results

The result should summarize the collected data and your statistical treatment of them. First, briefly state the main idea of your results or findings. Then, report the data in sufficient detail to justify your conclusions. Discussing the implications of the results is not appropriate here. Note all relevant results, including those that run counter to your hypotheses.

In reporting your data, choose the medium that presents them clearly and economically. It may be helpful to summarize your results and analysis in tables or figures, but do not repeat the same data in several places, and do not include tables with data that can be presented as well in a few sentences in the text.

Use a few tables or figures as possible. Refer to all graphs, pictures, or drawings as “figures” and all tables as “tables”. Figures and tables supplement the text; do not expect them to do the entire communication job. Always refer the reader to the figures and tables with sufficient explanation to make them readily intelligent.

  • Discussion

After presenting the results, you are in a position to evaluate and interpret their implications, especially with respect to your original hypotheses. In the discussion section, you are free to examine, interpret, and qualify your results, as well as draw inferences from them.

Give particular emphasis to any theoretical consequences of the results and the validity of your conclusions (when the discussion is relatively brief and straightforward, some authors prefer to combine it with the previous results section, yielding: Results and Conclusions or Results and Discussion).

Open the discussion with a clear statement on the support or nonsupport of your original hypotheses. Similarities and differences between your result and the work of others should clarify and confirm your conclusions.

Do not, however, simply reformulate and repeat points already made. Each new statement should contribute something to your position and to your readers’ understanding of the problem. While certain shortcomings of the study may be noted and explained briefly, do not dwell compulsively on every flaw. Negative results should be accepted as such without an undue attempt to explain them away.

In general, be guided by the following questions: What have I contributed here? How has my study helped to resolve the original problem? What conclusions and theoretical implications can I draw from my study? These questions are the core of your study, and readers have a right to clear, unambiguous, and direct answers.

  • Reference

Every article concludes with a list of all references cited in text. Just as data document interpretations and conclusion, reference citations document statement made about the literature.

Choose references judiciously and cite them accurately. The standard procedures for citation are designed to help you provide accurate, complete references, useful to investigators and readers. Use the reference style of the journal for which you are writing.

  • Quality of Content

Now that you have prepared a manuscript, you may wish to submit it to a journal for review and for possible publication.

What are the possibilities of acceptance? For sometimes, rejection rates for the APA journals have been high. Approximately three out of four manuscripts are found unsuitable for publication. Of the successful manuscripts, few are acceptable as written; most require extensive revision. Although, the reasons for rejection or revision may seem endless, some problems recur with sufficient frequency to warrant examination by authors, who often fail to consider the quality of their manuscripts from a journal editor’s point of view.

The discussion that follows considers some of the reasons editors reject manuscripts. It is based on (i) personal experience as member of the Editorial Board of two refereed journals in this country,(ii) the report of Smith et al(1991) presented to the JRST Editorial Board; and (III) an editorial by Maher(1974),Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Reviewer and Supervisors Comments: Reasons Given for Rejection of Research Papers/Projects/Theses/Dissertations

Title

Incompletely describes the study

Abstract

  • Abstract omission
  • Poorly written abstract
  • Inadequately describe the study

Introduction

  • Poor introduction
  • Bad problem statement
  • Draws untenable assumptions or inferences
  • Weak rationale/weak reasons for doing study/inappropriate in current context of research
  • Not clearly related to the study

Literature Review

  • Weak literature review
  • Incomplete/inadequate/omits important references
  • Not representative of the literature in the area
  • Inadequately connected to the study/irrelevant/inappropriate
  • Claims unsupported, unsubstantiated by, inconsistent with research or current theory/inaccurate interpretation
  • Inappropriate sources (especially secondary, on-scholarly, or non-peer-previewed
  • Weak and/or outdated theoretical basis

Research Design

  • Poor design
  • Inconsistent with extant research
  • Inconsistent with realities of the classroom
  • Asks the wrong questions/unclear or inappropriate statement of the research questions/study objectives/problem/chooses wrong variables to study
  • Lack of detail in description of treatment, instruments or student and/or teacher activities
  • Should have included qualitative data collection
  • Lack of control of confounding variables (no control or non-equivalent control or treatments)
  • Inadequate sample size
  • Sample selection procedures inappropriate or not described
  • Sample or population not well described
  • Sampling error/sample unbalanced (compared to referent population
  • Inadequate treatment (too brief, etc.)

Measures/Instruments (and scoring procedures)

  • Lack of detail in description
  • Undocumented or questionable validity (including questionable scoring schemes)
  • Inappropriate or poorly/questionable instrument constructed
  • Poorly timed (or otherwise poorly administered)

Data Analysis

  • Lack of detail in description/explanation
  • Lack of rationale for choice of statistics
  • Omitted needed procedure
  • Improper use of statistical language
  • Other theoretical statistical error

Results

  1. Incomplete (important data not included) results
  2. Failure to address practical/educational significance
  3. Text too repetitious of tables of vice and verse versa
  4. Ignores/explained away negative results

Conclusions/Discussions

  1. Claims unsupported/unsubstantiated by evidence
  2. Internal conflicts (without explanation) or conflicts with earlier research
  3. Biased/inappropriate attempt at persuasion
  4. Logical errors
  5. Incomplete/fails to consider alternative explanations

Limitations

Section omitted

General including editorial problems

  1. Inappropriate to the journal in question/ more appropriate to other journals/not interested to the readers of the journal in question
  2. Too long/wordy/redundant/repetitive
  3. Too brief/cryptic
  4. Lack of clarity in expression/awkward constructions
  5. Inconsistent use of terms without definition
  6. Poor writing
  7. Misrepresentation of Reference(s)
  8. Not following APA manual

Techniques & Tools for Writing Effective Research Report

Most research report or papers written in the social sciences and education usually follow the same basic structure and use APA style. Although these areas of study may be different, the methods of writing, presenting evidence, and explaining the research process are very similar. Most quantitative (and some qualitative) papers include the same organization and order:

1. Introduction

2. Review of Literature

3. Methodology

4. Findings (also called Results)

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion

7. References (according to APA style)

8. Appendices (if needed)

This document gives you a basic overview; your discipline will have specific requirements that may deviate from what is provided here. Read journals in your discipline to discover its expectations and consult your professor for further specifications.

Sources:

Prof.
APA Publication Manual 7th Edition

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