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Write & Publish: Academic Writing

Resources

Structure

It may sound obvious, but your title should be simple, brief, and attractive. Article titles serve the dual purpose of succinctly explaining to readers what the full text is about, but also enticing them to read further. Descriptive words draw readers in. Avoid using jargon and abbreviations, especially in the Social Sciences. A word about length, the APA Publication Manual specifies that a title should be no more than 12 words, and should be “fully explanatory when standing alone.”

Is your title... Example

A full 'narrative title' that clearly summaries the substance of what the article argues or what has been found out? (Very good)

'New public management is dead: Long live digital era governance' - the whole argument of the paper in 10 words

An ambiguous title but with at least some narrative or substantive hints about your line of argument or findings? (OK)

Modernist art: the gay dimension' -probably highlights themes about homosexuality, but might deny them instead

A title that perhaps contains some cues as to the author’s argument, but where you’d need to read the piece first to understand these hints? (Poor)

'One for All: the logic of group conflict' - actually this is a book title about solidarity pressures in ethnic groups, (and not Alexander Dumas' 'The Three Musketeers' which it apparently references)

An overly general title that could lead to multiple conclusions or lines of argument? (Poor)

'The Economic Institutions of Capitalism' - probably related to organisational or institutional aspects of economics

From LSE Public Policy Group (2011) Maximising the impacts of your research: a handbook for social scientists. pp. 100-101.

Activity

Try putting your prospective title through a search engine with quotation marks. Do you get any results? If you do, it is a sign that someone else has used the same title already and that you may need to rethink your prospective title.

Try putting some of the keywords from your prospective title through a search engine. Use different combinations that you think an interested reader might use to discover your article. Do you find thousands of results? This is a sign that your title may be too broad, and would have to compete with many others for attention. Do you find absolutely no results? This might be because your keywords are too specific, look for simpler words to use instead. There is no ideal number of results for a search like this, but you will want to find a happy medium between the many and the few.

Defining Authorship

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends that authorship be based on the following four 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.

The ICMJE recommends that those who meet three or less of the above criteria should be listed as contributors in the acknowledgements instead. 

Order of Names

In different disciplines the order in which authors' names appear denotes different levels of contribution and credit. For example in physics, where hundreds of authors can be listed on a research paper, names are usually listed alphabetically regardless of contribution. Meanwhile in the biological sciences the majority of credit is usually apportioned between the first author and the last author, who is usually the principle investigator. 

The American Psychological Association provides the following worksheet for determining the order of names, and Stephen Kosslyn has devised a 1,000 point system that can also be used to remove doubt when ordering author names.

The Managing Research Projects Toolkit has additional guidance on issues of authorship and recognition in collaborative projects.

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Get yourself a ResearcherID or ORCiD and ask to include it in your byline. Our page on Ways To Share Your Research has more information about persistent identifiers for authors and how to use them.

Some General Ground Rules

An abstract should consist of no more than 20 words for a populist journal, or 50 words for a conference abstract. For a refereed journal between 100 and 250 words is standard, and for a thesis an abstract can be as much as 400 words. Interestingly, articles with longer abstracts are statistically more likely to receive a greater number of citations!

When writing your abstract, don’t waste words on filler; “this article will prove that” and “as the results show,” are good examples of wasted words. Also take care not to repeat the title. You will want to use keywords that you you think people will use to search for and find your article, however vary these responsibly.

Brown's Eight Questions

  1. Who are the intended readers? List three to five of them by name.
  2. What did you do? (50 words)
  3. Why did you do it? (50 words)
  4. What happened, when you did that? (50 words)
  5. What do the results mean in theory? (50 words)
  6. What do the results mean in practice? (50 words)
  7. What is the key benefit for readers? (25 words)
  8. What remains unsolved? (no word limit)

How to Use Brown's Eight Questions

Set aside 30 minutes to answer as many of the eight questions as possible, but don't let yourself get stuck on any one question. If you can't think of what write, simply skip that particular question and move on to the next one. You can always come back to it later. Question one is meant to be taken literally. The value of answering this question lies in making you focus on your actual audience. Listing your intended readers by name will show you just how varied your audience truly is, and gives you an added focus when answering question seven. Question seven is the most important, so make sure you answer it. 

Adapted from Murray, Rowena (2005) Writing for Academic Journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 108-114; and Brown (1994) Write right first time, in Literati Newsline, Special Issue, 1-8.

Discover logo.Use a reference manager, it doesn’t matter which one, just pick the programme that you are most comfortable with. This will ensure that you can change the referencing style at the click of a mouse, meaning that you spend less time reworking your paper for resubmission. See our pages on Reference Management for more information.

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