Writing and Publishing Research Articles: A Panoramic View

Writing and Publishing Research Articles: A Panoramic View


The craft of writing and publishing a scientific article is a time consuming and tedious task, especially for the early-stage writers. Although it may be a challenging job, yet it is a rewarding and satisfying endeavor. Documenting and publishing the research outcomes in a peer-reviewed journal is an integral part of a researcher’s professional life, meant for career growth, recognition by the professional body and ultimate benefit of the community. By following some guidelines and practical suggestions, the process can be streamlined and the researchers-cum-authors will be inspired and motivated to navigate in the right direction. This article provides an overview of the preparation and submission of the manuscript for publishing in a biomedical journal.


In the context of writing and publishing research articles, it is well -said, “xxx research is not finished, until it is published. Absolute volume of published papers is one indicator or research activity and, indirectly, of research capacity of a country”(1). The research, a scholar has conducted as a part of his/her PG or PhD course or beyond, out of one’s own interest, must be published in a relevant medical journal for various reasons relating to personal as well as professional growth. Publication of a research paper in a standard journal is not an impossible task now-a-days, with the increase in number of such journals published and available in the medical domain. Still then, the paper must be drafted in the approved manner and presented maintaining highest possible standards[2]. The peer-reviewed journals with high impact factor look for quality articles, prepared out of high standard research studies. While drafting the article basing upon one’s research, the author should remember the version of Alton Blakeslee, “Regard readers not as being ignorant but, more likely, innocent of your topic and its jargon. Write for them, not at them” [3]. So, the technical material you are documenting, should be written in an artistic way so as to be easily comprehensible by the readers-your target audience. For novice authors and researchers, it may be a time-consuming and daunting task to write a scientific article suitable for publication. Second, some of the fresh researchers have also inhibition to write due to poor drafting habits, anxiety for documenting, apprehension of failure, want of experience, lack of self-confidence for writing, ignorance of requirements of high quality writing and resistance to feedback etc.[4].Hence, this article aims at boosting up the morale of such writers and showing them a roadmap to inculcate self-confidence, improve their knowledge and skill.


The main purpose of writing and publishing a research paper is to present a document containing valuable information to the readers so that they can assess the observations and findings you have claimed; replicate the experiment if they desire and verify if the conclusions you have drawn from your study are supported by relevant data[2].

The other important reasons for the publication of research outcomes are:

  1. Personal level:
    1. Sense of satisfaction/achievement and fulfilment; sense of honour; exhilaration of discovery; gaining reputation; protection of intellectual property; academic recognition[5,6]
    1. Researchers wish to reach a wider audience [6], instead of being confined to the limited vicinity of educational/research organization or the university, as the case may be [6]
    1. Publications contribute towards career growth, which are given importance and preference during promotions and also count for financial benefit,i.e. salary hike [6]etc.
    1. Scientific publications count for career advancements as wellas monetary rewards, either directly or indirectly [7]
    1. Authors feel gratified when they see their publications being read cited by others; thus, publication is profoundly motivating and gratifying [7].
  2. Professional level:
    1. Essential for growth and development of science and professional practice [4]
    1. Knowledge exchange is possible through scientific publications
    1. Dissemination of research outcomes, new ideas and alternate thoughts, which facilitates scholarly communication [4]
    1. Essential if the concerned professional system is to flourish [6]
    1. Peer-reviewed publications are important tools to disseminate and archive scientific progress[7], in different disciplines including medicine. Most academics have an earnest desire to contribute to the promotion of their streams, which is the main reason for them to become scientists [7].
    1. Publication is the straight way to contribute towards advancements of their field of work.
    1. To contribute to the knowledge domain required to solve multifarious problems with which the professionals have been grappling, e.g. under education, unemployment, etc.
  3. Policy and Community level:
    1. Publication may help in shaping many national health policies [5]
    1. Scientific writing improves the knowledge of clinicians; has an impact on the lives of people [1]


A typical research paper has the basic structure in the sequence of Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion with the abbreviation ‘IMRAD’[2,8,9]. However, the acronym ‘IMRAD’ is not a mandatory publication format, but a reflection of the scientific discovery process. Under these four main headings, subheadings are included to organize the text of the manuscript in a better way [9]. Some journals follow ‘IMRAD’ structure, only to write abstracts of the articles. Besides these four points under this structure, there are other components [7,10]of a scientific research paper, which are discussed below very briefly.


  1. Title

Title of the article must explain what it is broadly about. So, it is the first opportunity to attract reader’s attention. Title of a scientific document is like a signboard, directing the readers to the topic, study design and results [12]Considering its increasing informativeness, titles are referred to as ‘texts in miniature’ [13].

Features of a good title:

  1. Title provides a distilled description of the complete article and includes information along with the abstract, which will make electronic retrieval of the article sensitive and specific [10].
  2. Title may be written in descriptive form (indicates subject matter of an article, but does not include results), declarative form (provides subject matter of the article including results), or in interrogative form, i.e. written in question form [6].
  3. A good title is written in the fewest possible words that adequately describe the content of the paper [3].
  4. Title should contain important keywords, useful to retrieve the particular article from electronic databases [14].
  5. It is expected to reflect the content of the article [14].
  6. A comprehensible title has three characteristics: general, implying the area speciality or domain the article belongs to; intermediate, pertaining to a specific disease or clinical condition; and specific, referring to particular tests or interventions[5].
  7. An ideal title should be brief, concise, precise, interesting, informative, focused, attractive, and meaningful [13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19].
  8. It should contain basic characteristics of the article, having most important features of research [19].
  9. It should be maximum in two rows, and less than 100 characters [19].
  10. No. of words in a title should be limited to 10 to 12[20].

Things to avoid in a title

  1. Too many jargons and technical terms [4,20]
  2. Use of abbreviations (unless very common, e.g. HIV, AIDS WHO etc.), formulas, proprietary (rather than generic) names [4,19,20]
  3. Neither too short nor too long; must be of standard size to convey the meaning [21]
  4. Making sensational, humorous or amusing [21]
  5. ‘Waste words’ in long titles, which are useless for indexing purposes [4]

Short title

Besides the main title, many journals ask the authors to provide short title of 3-4 words, to be printed at the top of the inner pages of the article [22].

  1. Authorship

According to the recommendations of International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)[10], the author(s) of a scientific article should fulfil the following 4 criteria:

  1. “Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.”

In a research paper, the researcher, his/her supervisor/co-supervisor (if any), the scientist or senior faculty who significantly assisted the scholar in research work, manuscript drafting and correcting, submission to the  journal should essentially be authors. The issues of ghost authors[5](whose names are omitted to hide financial relationships with private companies) and honorary authors [5](inclusion of some persons’ names, due to pressure of colleagues or to facilitate publication, although they have not contributed substantially), should be dealt with very carefully. Some journals ask to provide highest qualifications, positions, departments, institutionsand e-mail ID of the authors [5,23]. When the article is authored by more than one, then one of them should be identified among themselves as corresponding author[5,23], who will be responsible for addressing all communications from the editorial team; should[12] have thorough knowledge about the study, its accuracy and completeness[5]. The researcher or his/her supervisor may be the corresponding author, as decided by the team. However, most of the journals prefer that the researcher should be the first author and his/her supervisor the corresponding author.

  1. Abstract

Abstract is the mini version of the entire article. It states the purpose(intent) of the study, how it was carried out, the key findings and the conclusions reached [24]. Abstract is of two types, e.g. structured abstract[25,26](giving sub-headings like Background/Introduction (states the purpose of the study), Methods(how the study was carried and what was the study design etc.), Results(key findings, giving specific data and their statistical significance), Discussion and Conclusion(s) (implications and benefits); and unstructured abstract[25,26] written continuously without any subheadings. No. of words: Up to 250 in case of structured abstract and 150 in case of unstructured abstract[25,26].

The abstract should not contain references nor abbreviations[26]. The importance of abstracts is steadily increasing since electronic publication databases are the primary means of getting research reports in a particular subject domain today. Therefore, abstracts should contain everything required by the potential readers[6].

  1. Keywords

Keywords are used for indexing one’s research paper[20]. These words or short phrases provide information about the research topic and act as the search terms for retrieving information electronically[23]. While listing keywords, care should be taken to include only those which are specific and essential about the article, since the search engines may use these keywords to identify (or not) one’s research paper[27]. The most important keywords should be selected from the title abstract [8]. However, if the author feels, some keywords may be chosen from the text of the article [23]. The number of keywords or short phrases should be 3 to 10, which will help indexers in cross-indexing the article [25]. Authors are usually required to provide keywords between 5-10, which contain the essence of the research paper, e.g. topic, conceptual approach, methodology and applications [27].

  • Introduction

A ‘funnel’ shape followed while writing ‘introduction’, i.e. moving from broad and general to narrow and specific. According to Swales[6,8], ‘introduction’ of the research -article moves through three phases:

  1. Establish a territory: what is the field of work; why this field is important, and what has already been done in the particular field;
  2. Establish a niche: indicate what is the void or gap in the field; raise a question or challenge the previous work in this domain, and
  3. Occupy the niche: state the intent or purpose of the own work[8].

In other words, ‘introduction section’ provides the nature and scope of the problem investigated, a brief review of related literature along with the gaps/deficiencies therein and objective of the research as well as the hypotheses or research question(s) that the study addressed [3,23].

The common deficiencies in drafting an introduction includes: unwanted background information, exaggerating the significance of the study or failing to mention what research questions the study tried to address [8].

  • Materials and Methods

A.N. Whitehead has rightly said, “The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention[3]. To supplement this statement, Calfee and Valencia opined that good methodology of a research study can be described through two ‘Cs[13], i.e. clean and clear. By clean study, they mean that the research ensures: right sampling method and technique, recruitment of required samples, proper outcome measures and use of statistical tools most appropriate for data analysis of the study, free from bias[13].

Secondly, methodology should be written in a crystal clear manner so that other researcher(s) interested to replicate the study will not find any difficulty for doing so [13, 27]. The researcher should mention about study site &duration, study design, sample selection, instruments and equipment, intervention(s)used, outcome assessment method(s), data collection tools & methods and statistical tools used to analyze data[3,4,12,22,23] and brief study procedure. The author must avoid a general and vague statement about the statistical method used like, “Appropriate statistical method was used”[23]. Most important, the author should ensure that the ethical issues involved with the study have been properly addressed[13].

  • Results

This section is composed of text or words (which tell the story), tables(that summarize the evidence(s), illustrations (that highlight the main findings) and statistics (that supplement the statements)[28].

Do not try to reflect all data under this section, but only important ones, remembering the words of John Wesley Powell (a geologist who worked as President of American Association for the Advancement of Science), “The fool collects facts; the wise man selects them”. While writing this section, author should keep in mind not to repeat the same data in tables as well as illustrations/figure [2,10,12,25]. Secondly, the text should only focus the findings recorded in the tables and figure and must not be a mere repetition. Thirdly, the important finding should be presented in the same order as mentioned in the “Methodology section” [20]. The results should be written in past tense [5].

Author should incorporate both descriptive statistics and tests of significance, including null hypothesis testing, effect sizes, confidence intervals, inferential statistics and supplementary analyses[13]. Statistical significance as represented through P-value, if accompanied by odds ratio and 95% confidence interval, provides important information of direction as well as size of treatment effect[5].

  • Discussion

‘Discussion section’ should ideally be written in a reverse order of ‘Introduction’, i.e. the author must ensure that ‘Discussion section’ answers what the ‘Introduction section’ asked [3,8,23]. Although there are many ways how to start writing this section, you may present the main findings of your study first. You should keep in mind and be careful to discuss the results in this section, but not to repeat or recapitulate the same[3,4,23].

Next, you should compare your findings with those of others’ similar studies, whether your findings agree or disagree with the observations and results of others. That means, you have to show if your results and interpretations agree or contrast with previously published work[2,3,4,23,26].

The author should not discuss extraneous ideas, concepts or information not addressed in the paper. You should try to address all related results, not just the statistically significant ones or which focus your hypotheses[10]. You should also include any unexpected result you got and try to explain why [20]. Lastly, frankly admit the most important limitations, you encountered while conducting the study, which may be: difficulties with a technique, small sample size, short follow-up time, violation of study protocol by the participants etc[3]. Some authors do not like to reveal such limitations, due to the apprehension that this might expose their weakness, which is never a fact. On the contrary, by admitting frankly, the readers, editorial team and the reviewers will appreciate your honesty and frankness and will not try to find fault with you. You will be comfortable to discuss how such limitations influenced your conclusions[3]. Some authors prefer to write both ‘Discussion’ and ‘Conclusions’ section together; if so, the sub-heading should be titled as “Discussion and Conclusions”. On the other hand, when these are presented separately, the subheadings will naturally be ‘Discussions’ and “Conclusions”.

  1. Conclusions

In this section, the author consolidates and wraps up by focusing on the most important findings [1]. The conclusion should be linked with the objective of the study, but unqualified vague statements and conclusions not sufficiently supported by the data must be avoided[10]. The conclusions of the study should be derived from the ‘results’, and ‘discussion’; should be brief, to the point and exclude anything not discussed earlier in the text [1]; and mentioned in ‘results’ section have to be avoided [23]. It is expected that this section should articulate the key message which has been discussed in the manuscript [1].

Next, the researcher should tell to the audience the indications and practical applications of the study[23] relating to profession (clinical care) policy, public health (including epidemiological understanding)[2,10]. Sometimes, when the researcher gets negative results, he/she tries to hide the truth and manipulate the data which tantamount to scientific fraud. Remember, by admitting that your data do not support the original hypothesis is a justifiable conclusion, rather than doing the reverse [2], i.e. manipulating or fabricating the data.

To summarize, conclusions must respond to the issues raised through ‘introduction’ including objectives and general work setting. Conclusions must be clear, concise and does not necessitate to recollecting and repeating the results [19]. The text of this section should ideally be written in present tense [19].

The researcher should recommend further research, to explore new aspects of the problem he/she studied, with same/similar theme [1,2,3, 4, 10, 23,24], keeping in view the constraints and limitations of the study conducted and the object of furtherance of evidence-based research. The recommendations may include greater sample size, longer duration of the study, improved methodology and the study design of greater rigor, etc.

  • Acknowledgements

“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” This statement of Alfred North Whitehead is very correct in the perspective of scientific publications. Now, the question arises, who should be acknowledged? It is a standard practice that the persons/organizations who have helped in different areas of research study and manuscript preparation, but do not fulfill the criteria of authorship[5,10] should be acknowledged [1,5,20,25]. They include: reviewers of the research protocol, funding agency, scientists/experts who guided for conducting the study, laboratory and library staff, head of the department/ institution, source(s)of getting special equipment, cultures for study, person(s) who helped in survey and data collection, study participants, biostatistician who helped in data analysis and colleagues/senior faculty members who helped in manuscript preparation, submission to journal, revision and proofreading etc[1,3,5,20,23,25].Finkelstein has categorized acknowledgements as: (1) moral support; (2) financial support; (3) editorial support; (4) presentational support; (5) instrumental/technical support; and (6) conceptual support, or peer interactive communication (P.I.C.)[1]. Most important, while acknowledging individuals, organization(s) or funding agency, their specific contributions should be stated[23]. But, there is a word of caution for authors, i.e. permission must be obtained from the person(s) or organization(s) who are acknowledged by the authors[3].

  • References

A reference is defined as asset of elements describing a document or part thereof, to enable a potential reader to identify and locate it [12]. The reference section of a research paper provides the foundation on which the researcher’s work is built.

Referencing can be considered from two aspects [12]:

  1. In-text citation: the way the source material is referred to or cited in the text of the papers.
  2. List of references: the way the sources are listed at the end of a paper, to facilitate identification, i.e reference list, which are linked to the in-text citations.

There are many referencing styles adopted in different streams. In biomedical fields, usually two methods are followed, i.e Vancouver and Harvard styles[2, 12, 23]. Vancouver style[29] was promoted by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Most of the biomedical journals of the world follow this method of reference [12]. In this method, references are numbered chronologically in the order in which they are mentioned in the text of the article [12,23].

Harvard method[30] was introduced by the American Psychology Association [12]. In this method, citations are given in the text of the article, mentioning the surname of author and year of publication in bracket/parenthesis. In ‘reference section, the particulars of referred literature are given through alphabetical arrangement of surnames of authors/organisations [23].

The details of how to present references vary from journal to journal. So, it is always advisable to follow the reference style of your target journal. There is a wrong idea with some authors that a long list of references increases the validity of the article. To quote William C. Roberts, “Manuscripts containing innumerable references are more likely a sign of insecurity than a mark of scholarship[3].  The number of references should be reasonable, neither too many nor too few [26]. It is wise to include only significant published references. It is better to avoid unpublished data, abstracts, theses / dissertations and other secondary materials. But if essential, these may be given as footnote in the text. An article accepted for publication, may be listed in reference section, citing the name of the journal followed “in press” or “forthcoming”. The authors should check very reference against the original publication, before submitting the article and again at the proof reading stages to ensure accuracy and authenticity. One most important factor, every author has to ensure that all references listed in ‘references section’ are cited somewhere in the text.

There are conventions for the most common forms of citation including journal article, book, contribution to a book (chapter), dictionary or encyclopaedia, e-book, e-journal, organisation as author, reports and Govt. publications, conference proceedings, web pages and  other internet sources, etc[29] .

With the advent of electronic bibliographic databases of the medical and scientific literature, the task of haunting literature search has become easier. The most widely used database is Medline produced by the United States National Library of Medicine, which covers the streams of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, healthcare system and preclinical sciences[2]. At present excellent software packages are also available commercially to manage bibliography, e.g. Reference manager (Refman), EndNote, Procite, Library Master etc.  Besides, freeware such as MyNotes, Scholar’s aid, Gelit, Biblio Express and Zetero can also be downloaded from the internet[12] .

The papers accepted by the journals but not yet published should be designated as “in press” or “forthcoming” and the authors should take written permission to refer such papers, besides requesting for documents showing that the article(s) have been accepted for publication. On the other hand, for information from manuscripts submitted but not accepted, should be cited in the text as “unpublished observations’ with written permission from the source[25] .


“Not all who look at a journal are going to read even one article in it; writers must know therefore what turns a looker into a reader”. All the authors must understand this valuable and practical statement of JW  Howie[26].

Publishing a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal needs a lot of efforts, a good deal of patience, perseverance and the ability to get through the cumbersome process with self-confidence[31] . If you want to envisage publications as game you want to play, you must spend significant time and effort on them [31]. Writing a paper how to write a paper can also seem futile and vague [32] . Always try to “Adjust your writing to the audience and purpose avoid redundancy and unnecessary explanations and write like you speak and then revise”[11]. No doubt, the task of writing a scientific paper and submitting to a reputed journal for publication is a time-consuming and often daunting task, particularly for the early- stage writers although it can be a challenging and gratifying endeavour. The ability of the researcher to examine, relate and interlink evidence, and to provide a peer-reviewed, disseminated product of his/her efforts for research can be a rewarding experience. But, thorough understanding of the requisites for scholarly writing; the process and structure used for publication in peer-reviewed journals will surely improve the chance of a successful publication [4].

For successfully achieving the goal of scientific publications, there must be reciprocal attitude and relationship between the researchers and readers, who should follow ‘Knowledge Transfer’ model, which has three components: creating the knowledge (doing research), translating and transferring it to the user and incorporating the knowledge into use[33]. Through this article, efforts have been made to present some facts on scientific publications which may guide the researchers and developing authors to contribute for scholarly writing.


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About Author:

By Chaturbhuja Nayak

DHMS(Hons.), Dip. NIH(Hons.), MD(Hom.)

Former Director General, Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH), Ministry of AYUSH, Govt. of India, New Delhi, India.

Correspondence address:
Dr. Chaturbhuja Nayak
Former Director General, CCRH
House No. 47-C,Block No. C-4-D,
Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, India
Email:[email protected]

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Homeopathy360 Team