a Paper for Publication
all graduate students are expected to publish papers, The Cain Project
offers a Leadership and Professional Development (LPD) workshop on “Writing
a Paper for Publication.” Competition in fast-breaking fields
means that publication is frequently rushed. Yet it is also true
that rapid acceptance by a journal is based both on content and clarity.
Since many graduate students read published papers without evaluating
them for either content or style, they need help in noticing what
goes on in a superior paper. International students may need even
more help in learning professional expectations for papers in their
Although differences in style and even in argument structure occur
from field to field, the workshop offers the following basic advice
to help graduate students as they write a paper to submit for publication:
- Read several articles
in the journal to which you intend to submit your paper. Notice the
format and style. Note the relative length of each section. (Too often
students spend too many words on background and too few on evidence
- Read the journal’s requirements for paper submission.
Then follow them precisely or you will be rejected for something
easily have avoided.
- Make certain your abstract summarizes the content of the paper
rather than simply saying what the paper is about. Use precise
as analyze, propose, simulate, and extend rather than vague
verbs such as study and examine. Make minimal use of is and are,
but not action.
- Write the Introduction to lure the reader into actually
reading it. Consider starting with your finding or recommendation: “We
propose…” or “This paper extends…” Then
move to background. Power positions for staking your claim are
the first sentence, second sentence, or the first sentence of the
paragraph. Avoid putting in details of method and results. End
the Introduction with a brief overview of the paper to provide
for what follows.
- As you write the body of the paper, you must move beyond
a summary of what you did. Keep answering the questions
With what result. Keep thinking, “I need to explain what we did.” Answering
those questions will help you determine the level of detail to
include. Your goal is to come across as an enthusiastic researcher
your work to an interested reader.
- In the Discussion section,
summarize your key findings and comment on their significance.
Choose active verbs and concrete nouns.
- If the journal typically includes a Conclusions section, summarize
your findings and briefly indicate the evidence that backs
them. You may be able to include possible applications and future
section, depending on the journal’s practice.
- Evaluate your visuals to see if they are necessary to illustrate
and substantiate key points in your argument. Someone looking
just at the visuals should be able to understand your complete
Then check to make certain you haven’t tried to communicate too
much information in a single visual. For example, readers can’t
differentiate six different symbols in a small line graph.
- Ask other graduate students and a post-doc to evaluate
your draft for completeness and clarity. It is easy to
steps that you are familiar with. Since it is always easier
to edit someone else’s work than it is your own, take full
advantage of the helpful criticism from others.
- Finally, don’t try to edit for everything at once. Edit first
for content, looking both for completeness and clarity. Then edit for
wordiness, eliminating unnecessary passive voice, for example, and
reducing such phrases as “In order to extend” to “To
extend.” Check for transitions between and within paragraphs.
Then do a sweep for grammatical errors such as subject/verb agreement.
Finally, go beyond Spellcheck to verify spelling.
|Faculty help most by pointing
students to papers that are models not only for content, but also for
clear writing. A few minutes spent showing why a particular paper is
a good model will benefit students many times in the future. Some faculty,
out of frustration or lack of time, do a lot of the editing themselves.
The short-term benefit of that approach is increased possibility of
acceptance by a journal. However, in many cases those publications
form the basis for chapters in a thesis. The clear danger is that,
while those students may be technically well trained, they are sent
to the job market still woefully inadequate as professional writers.
Faculty can help by doing less of the editing and by pointing students
to techniques for self-editing.