Writing for academic publication
There are several well-established forms of communicating research. We can make a distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’, based on the intended audience.
However, some overlap exists, and some forms of communication may be appropriate for a range of audiences, subject to style adaptations.
Academic dissemination allows you to showcase your research to others familiar with your field. The aim of academic communication is to develop ideas, create or contribute to a debate within the field and, ultimately, to advance knowledge within your discipline.
Academic conferences, seminars and workshops are often an important precursor to formal dissemination through publication in scholarly journals, books or reports. They provide focused forums for researchers to present their work to their peers and elicit feedback from those with expertise in the field.
Here we present general guidance for writing for academic publication, although we acknowledge that what constitutes appropriate style, tone and structure will depend on the research discipline, methodology, and even the specific journal that you are writing for.
Where do you want to submit your article?
Identify the journal you are aiming to publish in early on. Is this a generalist journal (e.g., Journal of Higher Education) or more specialist (International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education)—tailor your use of language to the audience.
Check out the journal’s style guidance, word limits and referencing style, which should be available on their website. How long do they expect the article to be? How do they deal with tables and images? How should the paper be formatted?
Publishers may have a downloadable, pre-formatted template you can use to write your article.
What is the focus of the paper?
It is important for your paper to have a clear focus — what research question(s) are you trying to answer? You should be specific and outline the purpose of the study, how the research question is relevant and original, and how this has informed and guided your approach.
Structuring your article
Journal articles are typically structured in a consistent and highly-codified way, e.g.:
- Abstract and keywords
- Introduction and review of the literature
- Discussion and conclusion
The following guidance has been provided by Perneger & Hudelson (2004):
Source: Table 1 in Perneger, T.V. & Hundelson, P.M. (2004). Writing a research article: advice to beginners, International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 16(3), pp. 191-192.
- State why the problem you address is important
- State what is lacking in the current knowledge
- State the objectives of your study or the research question
- Describe the context and setting of the study
- Specify the study design
- Describe the ‘population’ (patients, doctors, hospitals, etc.)
- Describe the sampling strategy
- Describe the intervention (if applicable)
- Identify the main study variables
- Describe data collection instruments and procedures
- Outline analysis methods
- Report on data collection and recruitment (response rates, etc.)
- Describe participants (demographic, clinical condition, etc.)
- Present key findings with respect to the central research question
- Present secondary findings (secondary outcomes, subgroup analyses, etc.)
- State the main findings of the study
- Discuss the main results with reference to previous research
- Discuss policy and practice implications of the results
- Analyse the strengths and limitations of the study
- Offer perspectives for future work
Tips for good academic writing
Use the structure of the paper as an outline: Starting with main sections, think about what you want to say under each and use sub-headings as a guide for what to write where.
Build a coherent argument: It is important to construct a clear argument through your paper as the central thread that ties it together. It is the answer to the ‘so what?’ question:
- Why is this an important or interesting topic?
- What does the current research say?
- How am I going to research the problem and why?
- What has my research found and how does that relate to what we already know?
- What are the implications of this? How might it be relevant in the future?
Making an argument: give reasons for a particular point of view, building up a body of evidence to support this, showing an understanding of other evidenced perspectives, and being precise, logical and objective.
Follow a clear formula: presentation, analysis and interpretation
The process of organising your data into logical and meaningful categories to facilitate interpretation of findings.
The examination or interrogation of data to investigate patterns, relationships and hypotheses.
Detailing what the results of the analysis mean and why they are important.
What impact might this research have? The discussion section of your paper is particularly important–this is where you tie your research findings to the existing literature and outline the potential implications for policy and practice.