Importance of Publication
I think that everybody can agree, to advance in academia, and to get our works recognised, we need to publish our works (especially in top international journals). More often than not, having publication(s) in a top journal is a soft requirement to complete a PhD. And it is certainly one of the metrics that universities are considering when they are hiring or promoting a person. How do we get our works published then?
What Works are Publishable?
You don’t have to spend years studying something to get published. But what you have to do is to contribute to the existing body of knowledge in some way. There needs to be something new about your work that others have not considered previously, or have not applied it the way you do. Otherwise, you cannot get your work published (at least not in a respectable journal anyway). Therefore, you need to know about your field well enough and know the gap in the literature (that’s the generic term to refer to papers that have been published). You can gain that knowledge by reading hundreds of papers in the field and by talking to other researchers in the field (your colleagues and supervisors are a good start). After finding a gap, then you need to plan your research and generate enough results to scientifically fill that gap.
Characteristics of a Good Paper
So now you have your results and analysis ready. Next, you need to write a manuscript explaining your findings in a way that other researchers in your field can appreciate. To do so, your manuscript should have:
1. A Clear Structure
Academic paper is not about telling a chronological story, but about presenting your thesis/argument/contribution convincingly with evidence. To be as clear as possible, you should name the sections appropriately. Most academic papers follow this structure:
- Abstract: A summary of your paper. The contributions, novelty, and importance of your paper needs to be crystal clear here. Many people only proceed to read the rest of the paper if the abstract is convincing.
- Introduction: It begins with a description of the field and the importance of the topic. Next comes the literature review about what has been done in the field and the progresses that have been made. You should cite widely, especially from the journal that you are submitting to. You can cite older papers if you want to describe the chronological development of the field, or if there are not that many relevant papers in recent years. Otherwise, focus on papers that have been published in the last 2-3 years. The introduction is not about listing what has been done previously, but about synthesising the literature, giving insight on what is missing, as well as explaining the importance of your research and contributions.
- Methodology: How the experiments/simulations are conducted, and their parameters. If you are proposing a new method to do something, this is the space to describe what’s so brilliant about your method, how it’s derived, and how it can be employed. In that case, the setup/case study you employ to test your experiment can be put in a separate section. The case study descriptions and parameters are important so that other researchers can try to replicate your work in their own research.
- Results and Discussion: This is the core of your paper where the evidence for your contributions/novelty is laid out. The results should be comprehensive enough to support your theory/hypothesis. You should also talk about the implications of your results, why they are important. It’s possible to talk about the limitations of your paper here. Finally, don’t forget to include figures to represent your results. Each of them is worth a thousand words after all.
- Conclusion is often the next part that the readers look at after abstract, and before deciding to read the whole paper. Therefore, the conclusion should be very clear and accessible even to people outside your field. It should highlight the important results and implications of the paper to the wider field.
- Acknowledgement: Funding source, possible conflict of interest, and people you would like to thank (but not part of the co-authors) go here (or in separate sections depending on the journal’s requirement).
- References: List of sources that you cited in the paper. They should be reliable sources (in most fields, journal paper > conference paper) and recent enough so that the information is not obsolete. Typically, a research paper has at least 30-40 references. A review paper has at least 100 references, often a lot more. The format of this section must follow the formatting of the journal.
Note that the above structure is more of a guide rather than a rule that you have to follow. That being said, it is one of the most common structures for academic papers, also called IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion).
2. Clear Motivation(s)
The problem/gap that you are addressing should be a real problem with real world implication and not something that you made up. The motivation should be explained briefly in the abstract, and in detail in the introduction.
3. Clear Contribution(s)
As mentioned earlier, your contributions should be crystal clear. The editor and reviewers shouldn’t have to guess how your paper advances the field. If they do, chances are, your paper will get rejected. Generally, the contributions are listed explicitly at the end of the introduction and summarised in the abstract and the conclusion.
4. Evidence of Your Contributions
The results and discussion should support your contributions. Ideally, your methods and results are benchmarked with those from other published papers, and/or experimental setups, and/or real data.
5. Beautiful Figures
Scientific papers can be boring and difficult to understand, and even more so if there is only text. Therefore, you should have figures that helps readers to understand your methods, results, and everything else you want to convey. For example, you can include a flow chart to describe your proposed methods, or a photograph of your experimental setup, or charts/graphs for your results.
Make sure that the text in the figures are legible. If the figure is a graph/chart, ensure that the font in the x and y-axes, legend, etc., are big enough. Use the same colours for legend when you are referring to the same object (quantity, method, etc.) throughout the paper.
This is the one of the figures that I am most proud of:
The figure on the left is a figure I created for a paper titled “Reactive Power Cost from PV Inverters Considering Inverter Lifetime Assessment“. And when this paper was cited by a paper who copied ((Copied might be too strong a word, to say that the authors were inspired by my figure is more appropriate. And maybe it was just a coincidence that the two figures are similar, although my ego prefers to think otherwise.)) my figure (right), I was very pleased.
6. Error-Free Language
You don’t need to be an award-winning writer or a regular columnist to have an academic paper published. But you have to make an effort for the language to be as error free and as fluent as possible. The editors and reviewers are busy with their own work and are probably not a complete expert in your field. They already need to think hard about the novel methods you are proposing. The least you can do is to make their job easier by having a clear language. If you are not an English (or the publication’s language) native writer, then you should have your paper proofread by native writers.
7. Other Details
While there are many other tips to improve your paper, some of the more useful ones are:
- Mention the full forms first, and then the abbreviations, i.e. write “my awesome algorithm (MAA)” when you first mention it, not just “MAA”. In abstract and conclusion, it is worth repeating the full forms as readers may read these 2 sections without reading the whole paper.
- If you have many mathematical symbols and abbreviations, consider having a nomenclature, so that the readers don’t need to keep wondering what \eta^B_x,t means.
Time to Submit
That’s it! Now you are ready to submit your manuscript to a journal of your choice and get published!
Like what you are reading? Still unsure on how to get published? Read other articles in this series and leave your comments below!
- Becoming a co-author
- Responding to reviewers (work in progress!)
- Choosing a journal (work in progress!)