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Learn how to get your academic papers ready for publication.

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Why publish your research?

You have spent much time on your research. Now you have something new to tell the world. However, this does not mean that you immediately share your novel findings through any website, news agency, or social media. The first step is to share your research with other researchers. You do this by publishing in a peer-reviewed academic journal. This is a journal that uses peer review to check the quality of your work. 

Academic publishing is an important part of your work as a researcher. If you have an impressive list of high-quality publications, you can:

  • Advance your career and secure research grants and fellowships
  • Represent your colleagues, institution, and country in a positive way
  • Prove your knowledge, skills, and achievements
  • Record your contributions to your field

Publication in academic journals is proof of your hard work; it subjects your findings to peer review and valuable international debate and criticism, and it helps you to advance in your field internationally.

Writing in English

There are two main reasons to write your manuscript in English: career advancement and increased access to research funding

Career advancement

English is the common language (lingua franca) used by the international academic community. Therefore, you must publish in English to reach the widest audience possible. Scientific and medical researchers around the world are interested not only in the work being done in the West and the major intellectual hubs of the East, but increasingly in the novel research coming from emerging economies like Turkey and Indonesia.

Publishing in English-language academic journals helps you contribute to the world’s scientific knowledge. Your career will advance because publishing can:

  • Remove geographic limitations
  • Place you at an equal level with others in your field
  • Let your work be more widely read
  • Improve your international reputation, so you will be invited to international conferences and asked to write review articles or books

Publishing in English means your work is peer reviewed by experts from around the world. This encourages discussions and new avenues of study. It helps ensure that your research is relevant, sound, and reproducible. Being published will help increase recognition of your name. It can benefit your reputation in and beyond your academic community.

Research funding

Additionally, your study may demonstrate unique insight from your region. The results might be applicable to other populations or environments. They may lead to further scientific advancement. Finally, publications in English are cited far more often than those in other languages. Thus, publishing in English helps you and your country develop an international reputation. It establishes your unique place in the academic world.

What do international journals look for?

It is important to understand journals’ reasons for publishing. This will help you select the most appropriate journal and present your research in the most appealing way. 

When a manuscript is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, an editor and editorial staff must screen the manuscript and decide if it is appropriate to send to experts for review. They will usually consider the following criteria:

  • Do the contents of this manuscript match the journal’s Aims and Scope?
  • Is your research original and novel?
  • Are your aims, methods, results (including illustrations), discussion, and conclusion presented in a clear and logical manner?
  • Is your methodology appropriate?
  • Did you follow applicable ethical guidelines when conducting your study?
  • Do your findings have real-world applications and implications?
  • Will your findings be of interest to the journal’s readership?
  • Are your ideas clearly communicated in English?
  • Have you formatted your manuscript according to the journal’s guidelines?

The journal editor ensures that the journal publishes high-quality research, which increases the journal’s international visibility and impact. In this way, the journal can maintain or raise its reputation by attracting potentially important and influential studies from more authors around the world. 

Think like a journal editor

Journals usually publish detailed instructions or guidelines on their website for authors submitting manuscripts. However, just following a journal’s instructions and presenting all your data is not enough. 

A good manuscript is more than just a report. I should effectively communicate your findings and their importance and relevance. It is a coherent story that presents:

  • The importance of your study
  • Your research question (or study hypothesis*) *For hypothesis-testing studies; note: there are also hypothesis-generating studies, especially in the social sciences
  • Your objectives
  • Your methods and findings relevant to your research question
  • Your discussion of the implications and limitations of your findings
  • Your discussion of how your findings are different from or similar to those in the literature
  • The importance of your findings
  • Your conclusion (answer to the research question)
  • Your suggestions on how to build on your research

While designing your study and preparing your manuscript, ask yourself the same questions that editors use to screen manuscripts:

  •  Is the topic novel and relevant? 
  • Is the flow logical? 
  • Is your research sound? 

This will guide you in the right direction. It will improve your manuscript’s chances of being accepted for publication in your target journal.

The Ethics of Peer Review

Journals normally state clear peer review processes on their websites. They will also usually give the average times required for review.

Such time requirements might include:

  • the time from manuscript submission to the initial review (desk review)
  • the time for first decision after peer review, and
  • the time between acceptance and publication
  • the time from online-first stage until print

Sometimes, review and production dates will appear on the first or last page of an online journal article. You can use these dates to estimate total processing times for that journal.

Here are some common ethical checks that journals will do:

  • Check for overlapping or prior publication and plagiarism with text-matching software
  • Check for image manipulation with special software
  • Review author declarations on authorship, patient/guardian consent, ethics review board approval
  • Review copyright permission letters for reuse of material
  • Check for clinical trial registration for human clinical studies
  • Check for funding and conflicts of interest declarations

Peer review is usually done by independent external experts in your field. Reviewers must meet very high standards. They must:

  • declare any conflicts of interest that might bias their review. If needed, they must decline the invitation.
  • turn down a manuscript if it is not in their area of expertise or if they do not have time
  • review a manuscript in a certain time
  • not use the information to their advantage or plagiarize from the manuscript
  • not slow down the review process on purpose
  • not share the information with others
  • ask permission from the journal before passing the job to someone else

The peer review process

The peer review process

Peer review is a positive process. It provides (usually) free advice from experts. All critique and feedback, no matter how harsh, can help you. Peer review can show the best way forward. It can also improve your future research.

Different journals have different peer review systems and editorial rules. But they usually follow similar methods. 

When you send a manuscript to the journal, first the editor and staff will give it a “desk review”. This review will check if:

  • your manuscript meets the journal’s rules
  • the English is clear
  • your manuscript’s content and aims are a good match for the journal

If your manuscript passes desk review, it will be sent to the journal’s regular team of expert reviewers. 

Journals may also ask you for the names of reviewers to suggest or exclude. Some journals require these names. You must also give their correct contact information.

The reviewers will carefully examine your manuscript. They will check its science and logic. Reviewers will recommend changes and send a report to the editor. 

The editor will decide whether to reject your manuscript. She will read the reviewer’s comments and also do her own checking. She may return it to you for revisions. In rare cases, the editor may accept your manuscript with no changes. 

If you are asked to make changes to your manuscript, you must acknowledge all comments. You can either revise or refute each suggested change. If you refute a change you must explain why.

Types of Peer Review

There are several different types of peer review systems:

  1. Single-blinded peer review = only the reviewer is anonymous
  2. Double-blinded peer review = both the author and reviewer are anonymous
  3. Open peer review = no one is anonymous

Some journals publish the peer review comments online. These comments may be anonymous or named.


Some journals operate these new types of peer review :

  • Transferable (or cascading) peer review = Your rejected manuscript and peer review comments go to another journal by the same publisher
  • Portable peer review = You can take your rejected manuscript and peer review comments to a journal of another publisher
    • Pre-submission peer review (a type of portable peer review) = You get your manuscript peer reviewed by a trusted peer review service. You then give this to the journal together with your manuscript
  • Collaborative peer review = The reviewers discuss your manuscript with each other

Post-publication peer review = Your manuscript is peer-reviewed after it is published online

Asking a Good Research Question

  • how existing studies can help you to build a good research question
  • the importance of stating a clear hypothesis

Building on existing studies

As we explained earlier, editors and reviewers will assess how your study fits in with the current literature. They will also check if your research question is an important one, your findings are useful, and your research is ethical.

Using the F.I.N.E.R. criteria

Hulley et al. (2007), in the clinical context, proposed using F.I.N.E.R. criteria in formulating a research question:

  • Feasible—having enough resources in terms of time, staff, and funding
  • Interesting—making the study arouse curiosity
  • Novel—doing a careful literature search to identify a knowledge gap
  • Ethical—using a design or methodology that the institutional (ethics) review board will approve
  • Relevant—ensuring the research will contribute will improve clinical practice and advance in scientific research and policy

Regular reading of the literature will allow you to identify knowledge gaps in your field. These gaps are the unanswered research questions that could form the basis and objectives of your next research project.

Reference: Hulley SB, Cummings SR, Browner WS, Grady DG, Newman TB. Designing clinical research. 3rd ed. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2007

Focusing your research question

A good research question guides your research. Your question should be clear and focused. It should use existing literature to present a unique hypothesis. 

Throughout your study, keep asking yourself, “How is my research special? Why should people care?”

A successful research project needs a well-formulated research question. Base your research question on existing knowledge in your field of study. Relate it to a problem that people face daily. Discuss the research question with your colleagues and project supervisors to refine it. 

Focus your question. Make it specific. Will you be able to answer that question within the time and resources you have?

Research question examples: 

  • Bad: What is the relationship between antipsychotics and alcohol? (The kind of relationship being investigated is not clear)
  • Better: How do antipsychotic drugs influence the effects of alcohol consumption? (This is clearer. But it is still unclear what kind of influence is being investigated)
  • Best: Do antipsychotic drugs increase the effects of alcohol consumption on memory? (The kind of influence being investigated is clear)

Example: Business and economics

Economic research/theory and business practice/policy deal with many fields of human inquiry. Every day, people base their political and business decisions on economics. Questions about the right or  wrong of economics appear in the news every day. In short, there are many research questions to be found in business and economics.

Follow your reading. Learn which journals address questions in your specialty. Specialty journals might deal fields like econometrics, organizational ethnography, or ecological modeling.

Here are some key questions:

  • What publications reflect your understanding of the meaning and scope of economics? These journals may be “mainstream” or “heterodox” (non-mainstream).
  • Do you prefer social science or natural science methods for understanding business and economics? Are you an empiricist (such as an experimentalist or statistician) or a theorist?
  • Do you believe mathematics holds the key to economics? If so, which mathematics would you apply?
  • Are you a cheerleader for capitalism, or a critic?
  • Demand is growing for accountability for human, social, and environmental costs. Can you help redefine how economics and business view accounting, and vice versa?
  • Which aspects of economics interest you: practical, scientific, or ethical?
  • Are you a decision theorist? A game theorist? Are you someone who likes the technical details of policy development (a “policy wonk”)? Does supply-side economics interest you?
  • How do you see Big Data? It is a gold mine for research, a social force, or a challenge to the theory of knowledge?

The American Economic Association has many online resources.  There are EconLit and RePEc EconPapers, among others. Such databases and indexes allow you to use Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) codes. These codes can help you to research your area of interest. You can identify both answered and unanswered questions. You can also find books, journals, and “gray” (hard-to-find or unpublished) literature. Using such online tools, there are many ways to approach unanswered questions.

The question you ask should currently be unanswered or only partly answered.  This is true in any academic field. Your answer should increase or improve knowledge within your domain. Also, be sure to use an appropriate methodology. But remember, many of the standard techniques used in economics research are changing. These methods are being criticized or transformed. Economists are struggling with the validity of their own methods. They are also embracing methods from other fields. Also, applied research journals will want to know how your work applies to the real world.

Literature reviews, conferences, and seminars

There are a few sources that academics can use while developing their research questions. These include the current literature (such as books and journals) and academic meetings (such as conferences and seminars).

LITERATURE REVIEW

Formulating a good research question almost always requires a thorough assessment of the relevant literature on the topic of your research. The main goal of a literature review is to determine what research has been conducted on the topic of interest, how it was conducted, and what knowledge gaps still exist.

CONFERENCES AND SEMINARS

As with performing a literature review, attending conferences and seminars is an excellent way to keep up with the latest research developments, understand what is being studied,  and identify what knowledge is missing in your field. This knowledge can help you formulate your research question. Exciting or controversial topics are often presented, and there are opportunities to speak with peers and experts. If you have the chance, try to present your unpublished results (usually in poster form) at a conference and encourage people you meet to give you feedback on your presentation. The way others respond to your work will be a good indicator of how much (or how little) your future manuscript will appeal to others.

If you present your work at a conference and it gains little attention, compare your topic with topics that attracted greater interest. How do they differ? Can you adjust your topic to focus more on current trends? If your study fails to attract the attention of your peers at a conference, your article will be less likely to be published, or to be read and cited if it is published.

If you work in chemistry and need online resources to formulate a research question, see the example below:

Example: Chemistry

A vast amount of published literature and a number of databases collectively catalog the structure and characteristics of chemical compounds.

The reference librarian at your institution’s chemical library can help focus your literature search on the best resources. The more information you bring to your librarian (field focus, hypothesis), the more he or she can help. Do not hesitate to ask for further help when your independent searches stall. Staring at a computer screen not knowinig what to do next is not a good use of your time. Librarians can help with onsite, offsite, computer, and mobile access; database licenses, permissions, citation and acknowledgment requirements; and resources available though other libraries. 

Chemical databases 

Chemical databases allow you to search by structure drawings or molecular weight or formula, in addition to standard names and identifiers. SciFinder (Chemical Abstracts Service online) is often considered the most comprehensive chemical database, covering some 89 million substances and 40 million literature references dating back to 1907. More specialized databases may offer more efficient searches for particular processes or classes of compounds.

Literature searches

Literature searches for existing data on compound characteristics can help you streamline or redirect your own research. This can save you countless hours. Reliance on such third-party data has traditionally required attention to its “provenance” (origin) by verifying peer review status, replicability, clearly identifiable compound characteristics, fit with other established research, and consideration of alternative conclusions. Modern databases may generally be assumed to have done much of this vetting on your behalf. Note that each journal may have guidelines or standard practices for citing or incorporating received compound data. These guidelines may shape how you conduct and document your literature search. 

In addition to large literature databases such as Scopus  and Web of Science, you can try special publisher repositories such as the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemical Sciences Article Repository.

The Importance of a clear hypothesis

The Importance of a clear hypothesis

In hypothesis-testing studies, a good research question leads directly to a study hypothesis. This is basically the question: “What kind of results and outcomes do I expect from this investigation?” 

Your study hypothesis provides the basis for your specific study aims. These aims are the steps you will take to test your hypothesis within your available time. Your time is usually limited by the duration of your degree or grant period. 

Here is an example hypothesis. Among participants who drank a certain amount of alcohol, taking a single dose of an antipsychotic drug might worsen memory test results compared with taking a placebo (a  substance with no therapeutic effect used as a “control”).

Caution! Avoid ‘fishing expeditions’ 

Although you may be tempted to redefine your hypothesis after obtaining your data, please be aware that this may affect your future funding. When you apply for a  grant, you state clear objectives. If the funding agency sees that the published research does not follow those objectives, the mismatch will reflect poorly on your credibility as a good researcher. It suggests that you are unable to properly formulate a sound and well-founded hypothesis to address an important question in the field.

Some changes will be inevitable, because research is unpredictable. But be careful not to change your focus dramatically. If you do so, you may find it difficult to obtain grants from that funding agency again in the future.

In summary, research is about verifying or contradicting your hypothesis to contribute to the greater body of knowledge. A strong hypothesis lays the groundwork for a specific research question.

Reading

  • explain the importance of reading widely and frequently
  • develop a strategy for reading
  • find knowledge gaps in the literature
  • index and organize your research

Volume and frequency of reading

To identify good research questions, you need to know what questions have already been asked and how other researchers have tried to answer them. To create a research question that will make a new contribution to the literature and keep your field moving forward, you must read extensively on the topic. 

Volume and frequency of reading

If you don’t read widely enough or often enough, you might make these mistakes:

  • Choosing a new topic with too many broad questions
  • Asking questions that may be beyond the scope of what a few new studies can answer
  • Asking questions that other researchers may already have already answered

Students, instructors, and researchers working in a specific field will already be exposed to new literature in their line of work. Nevertheless, seek out articles from similar or different fields. It will introduce fresh lines of knowledge. Try to make reading a regular habit. Then you are less likely to neglect it.

Students and new researchers should try to spend at least 20–30 minutes per day scanning abstracts and identifying articles to examine in depth. A certain amount of time, such as 1 hour, 3 days a week, can then be set aside for reading those articles. Many researchers read 60–90 minutes each day.

The two challenges you face in keeping up with the literature are:
(1) making time to try to find reading material, and 
(2) actively committing to reading it amid your other responsibilities.

Finding literature

People who subscribe to journals have an advantage with the first challengefinding material. Mailed journals arrive regularly (e.g., monthly, quarterly) and can be opened and placed somewhere convenient for reading. Online journal subscribers can sign up for email alerts for databases such as Google and PubMed, and from journal publishers. These e-mails provide titles and links to relevant new articles as they are published online. Using this approach, it is easy to acquire articles. You simply click on titles of interest and download them to your computer or mobile device.

Reading literature

To meet the second challenge of actually reading articles, it helps to schedule this on your calendar as a regular activity or to make it a daily routine. For example, you can keep PDFs of articles downloaded on your mobile device or a hard copy of the latest journal in your bag. If you take public transport to and from work, you could read articles during your commute. You could also read online on a tablet computer while exercising at the gym or in bed before going to sleep. Consider your own personality and habits when deciding how to read articles.

Reading strategies

Deciding which academic articles to read can feel like an intimidating task, particularly if your research interests are in a well-established field. A keyword search in online databases such as EconLit,  PsycInfo, PubMed, SCOPUS, and Web of Science may yield hundreds or even thousands of results. The following are some tips for finding relevant literature.

Start with review articles

For early career researchers, it is often good to begin with review articles (secondary research articles) that summarize and synthesize published research on a topic. Within those review articles, you can identify influential or seminal primary research articles that will also be important to read.

Try other disciplines

More experienced researchers will already be familiar with the influential literature, and they may want to read newer literature or corresponding literature from other disciplines. A researcher studying social media may need to read journals in psychology or sociology, for example, but may also find the mass media and communication literature relevant. Indeed, some studies may span more than one angle at the same time and involve multidisciplinary research.

Researchers conducting interdisciplinary research that involves new fields touching on more than one discipline need to locate journals from other fields. Alternatively, they could ask colleagues for suggestions of articles on similar theories, constructs, or studies to those in their discipline.

Refine your searches

Researchers in a relatively new area of research (e.g., particularly one involving emerging technology) may find it difficult to locate substantial or rigorous publications. This, in turn, may require some creativity in choosing search keywords, or broader and more creative approaches to searching databases. Try different combinations of key words using Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT).

With the appropriate strategy, and with practice, you will be able to quickly locate and select relevant articles to read, so as to keep updated in your field and topic.

Four tips for reading an article

Four tips for reading an article

Here are four reading tips that will help you to save time:

  • Read the Title and Abstract—You can do this quickly to gain an overview of the article and see if the topic is of interest. Most abstracts contain one or two sentences on the background, aims, methods, results, and conclusions. Assess your knowledge of the topic—Have you read similar papers? Are you familiar with the terminology? Do you understand why or if the hypothesis is relevant? If not, you could read a review paper to supplement your knowledge.
  • Read the last paragraph of the Introduction—Find the study aims, which typically come after the general introduction, current state of the field and the problem in the field. The aims will address the problem.
  • Examine the Figures and then read the Results—The Figures usually represent the flow of the Results, and this order tells a story. Here is where you find out what happened. Note also that each subsection of the Results often corresponds to one figure.
  • Read the Discussion for an interpretation of the findings—The Discussion section will summarize the findings, their relevance, and the implications for the field.

Using the above strategy, you can efficiently extract all the relevant information from the paper. If necessary, you can read the whole article, or specific sections, in detail. For example, if you need more background information, you can read the whole Introduction. This section also provides references to other papers on the same topic. If you need details on how the study was done, you can read the Methods section.

If you are reading a theoretical paper in computing, mathematics, or engineering, or a paper in the humanities, you will likely need to read it from the start to the end. This is because authors of these papers will usually develop their argument in a logical and linear order; therefore, the article should also be read in this way.

While you are reading, take notes and mark any interesting parts. For example, annotate the PDF on your screen. In that way, you can quickly find what you are looking for if you come back later to review the article again.

The ‘secret’ writing skill

Editors, reviewers, and other readers of your work have expectations for where they will find your information. If what they are looking for is not where it is supposed to be, they may stop reading. Hence, you need to know how journal articles are usually presented.

Reading other researchers’ articles allows you to see the way things should be done. Reading thoroughly and widely exposes you to English academic language and scientific writing style, which guides you as you begin writing. You will see how manuscripts are typically structured and worded, and you will learn how to build and support your own argument.

Easy to read articles usually:

  • use active voice (“X showed Y”) instead of passive voice (“Y was shown by X”)
  • have short and clear sentences
  • define special words and abbreviations
  • give concrete examples to help explain abstract ideas
  • separate different ideas into different paragraphs that are presented in a logical order
  • put the article’s sections in a conventional order

These are all techniques that you can use in your own writing style.

Difficult to read articles usually have long sentences and complex words. Or the author did not logically organize his or her ideas. Avoid these faults in your own writing. Ensure that your paper is clearly communicated to readers worldwide.

You do not have to write in a revolutionary new way when preparing a manuscript for submission. Allow the existing work to guide you. Learn and following the common vocabulary and manuscript structures used in your field. This will allow others to quickly find what they are looking for.

It is important to learn from other researchers’ writing. But you must never copy their exact words. If you do copy other researchers’ words, you will have serious issues with plagiarism. To learn more about avoiding plagiarism, see our Ethics course.

Journal Clubs

Journal clubs are regular gatherings where colleagues critique and discuss selected published articles. They are particularly useful for graduate students and early-career scientists to learn how to evaluate, talk about, and present research.

In some departments, a journal club may be an official event that is led by a faculty member. In other departments, journal clubs can be informal, have an advanced graduate student as leader, or have rotating leaders or even teams who take turns to choose the articles and guide the discussion. Online journal clubs such as PubPeer are another option for researchers to discuss recent research in their field.

Meeting format

The exact format of a journal club can vary by institution or study area, but they share the same purposes of reading articles critically and sharing knowledge. Participants in journal clubs typically answer the following questions about a journal article:

  1. Is the topic scientifically relevant?
  2. Is the study design appropriate and up-to-date?
  3. Are the results important?
  4. Are the conclusions and interpretations logical and valid?
  5. Is the article clearly written and logically structured?

Joining a journal club is especially important for research students. Many students might otherwise read only the scientific literature from their coursework or their own research area. Journal clubs provide a safe and supportive environment for students to gain experience in discussing research. You can test out ideas among your peers, ask for explanations and clarifications, and ask less conventional questions. You can talk freely without fear of your instructors.

Learn to critically evaluate articles at an early stage of your career. This will help you write better papers. It will also prepare you to be a more effective peer reviewer later in your career.

Benefits of journal clubs

Journal clubs are a good way to introduce members to interesting topics that may not be covered formally in their graduate program or in their work. By carefully choosing the articles to be read and discussed, journal club members can deepen their understanding of a particular area of their field, and can even find innovative connections to other theories they encounter. 

Exchanging ideas could also lead to research collaborations with colleagues or at least improve your ability to express a point of view and defend it orally. This ability is a useful skill for the oral section of comprehensive examinations, oral defenses, conference presentations, and work-related discussions.

Choosing to read newly published research pushes members to remain knowledgeable in the latest literature in their field. Discussing these readings in a journal club helps improve understanding and memory of what is read. It is  easy to postpone regular reading, but having the deadline of regular gatherings to attend and wanting to meet the expectations of the journal club helps members stay accountable in establishing regular reading habits. This is particularly important for non-native English speakers who find reading English articles challenging and are easily tempted to avoid doing so.

The efforts of a journal club are most successful when its participants understand the importance and purpose of the club and choose to read the selected articles, attend the gatherings, and thoughtfully and actively contribute to discussions.

Choose meeting locations where you are not distracted (e.g., not at a coffee shop or restaurant) and where you can freely talk (e.g., not in a library, unless it has soundproof rooms). Try reserving a meeting room or classroom. These are the best places for productive journal clubs.

Evaluating the Literature

A thorough literature review is vital before you start a project. The main goal of a literature review is to determine what research has been conducted, how it was conducted, and what knowledge gaps still exist.  

A study that has already been conducted is rarely worth repeating, except in special situations such as a studying a unique technique, population, or setting. Therefore, you must familiarize yourself with the literature before deciding how you can make a novel contribution to your field.

Where to start

A literature evaluation begins with a search of databases of indexed articles. Many researchers often use Google Scholar; But please be aware that there are no strict requirements for being indexed in this database. Accordingly, Google Scholar indexes reputable journals as well as less reputable sources, including non-peer reviewed sources and predatory (fraudulent) journals. Please use Google Scholar with caution.

We recommend that you begin with broadly focused academic databases like Scopus or Web of Science. These databases will find relevant articles across disciplines. But you should also search databases for your own field, such as PubMedPsycINFOor SciFinder. Some specialized examples are Reaxys, which chemists use to locate compounds and reactions.  Another example is the Cochrane Library, which clinical researchers use to  find clinical trials and systematic reviews.

Be familiar with how different databases work, because they can often assist you in finding more articles. For example, if you open an abstract in PubMed, it will list the titles of articles that have cited that article. This can lead you toward more up-to-date research about the topic. It will also help you find review articles and other related articles. As discussed earlier, review articles are another excellent source of relevant studies for your literature review. Finally, you should make a habit of visiting websites of reputable journals in your field. Sign up for customized e-Alerts and e-mailed Tables of Contents (e-TOCs) to stay up-to-date.

Because each database uses different algorithms to find articles, you should search for articles in two or more databases—we recommend using one broad-focused database and at least one field-specific database.

Example: Linguistics

Articles in journals of some disciplines such as linguistics, but also in engineering and computing, often begin with a short Introductions section that presents the author’s field, topic, and hypothesis. What then follows is a literature critique or literature review, which assesses the state of current research and theories, and presents an argument from that assessment. It reviews current published work, its logical strengths and weaknesses, and the evidence for and against it. 

The topic of research must clearly fit into the context of the literature, and key variables that feature in the research should be explained and defined in the literature critique. Although disciplines in the humanities and social sciences allow authors to quote the literature (within quotation marks or, for larger stretches of text, as an indented block quote, and always with a citation), such reproduction should not be too extensive. Material quoted should form a coherent academic argument.A professional journal will also expect a literature critique to identify flaws or gaps in the literature, and point the way toward alternative theoretical models and/or the kind of evidence that would be needed to support them. A literature critique may include supportive evidence from text or data analysis.

Identifying Gaps in the Knowledge

A literature review will help you identify knowledge gaps. It can also help you to refine your research question. But you should also review the literature after you have started your study. This is because other researchers might have done a study like yours. Before you submit your manuscript, check the most recent research for similar studies. 

Even if an area of study already seems researched and key findings have been copied many times, there are still chances to find new research gaps. You could ask yourself these questions:

  • Have past results been replicated using different study designs?
  • How different are the methods used?
  • Is there still opportunity to produce a new technology?

Especially in a newer field, there may still be methods that have not yet been used. Changing and evolving technology stimulates innovation. It can lead to new study designs.

Also, you could ask about the setting or population. Have the same results been found in different populations? Often, researchers do studies using a convenience sample. Such studies may not generalize to the population. You could design a study that shows if published results can be replicated with new samples or subjects. But keep in mind that such studies often lack novelty and may be more difficult to publish.

Review the Discussion sections of published articles for research ideas. Authors will often discuss future directions that can be useful in identifying current gaps in the field. Authors will also discuss their limitations, which can either serve as a basis of technological innovation or as a warning to researchers planning to do similar research.

Indexing and Organizing Your Papers

After thoroughly searching the literature and downloading all the relevant articles, you may find yourself with a very cluttered computer desktop! 

Fortunately, reference management software tools can help to keep your downloaded papers organized:

  • Author Path (free, web-based, handles manuscript writing, and allows collaborations)
  • RefWorks (Web-based and widely used)
  • Mendeley (free, allows collaborations)
  • EndNote (the most established software)
  • Papers (has a user-friendly interface) can help you format your final reference list and in-text citations 

These programs also allow you to organize your articles on your computer, synchronize your articles across multiple computers and mobile devices, and search by keywords, authors, or journals.

Take the time to learn how to use one of these programs. They offer an effective way of keeping everything in order and making your life easier when you write your paper.

Many reference management programs allow you to conduct literature searches within the program using established indexes. This can make it easier to import downloaded articles directly into the program rather than moving them later.

Journals and Articles

Journal Types

Journal Types

Not all journals are equal. In general, the main divisions are broad vs. narrow and international vs. regional. Understanding these divisions will help you find journals with the articles you are looking for.  

Broad journals vs. narrow journals

Broad journals accept a wide variety of topics, as long as they fall under the same general category. The World Journal of Surgery, for example, covers the full scope of surgery, from actual clinical practices, to education and socioeconomics. 

In contrast, narrow journals are more specific. They only publish only articles that fall within their narrower focus. The Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology, for example, focuses exclusively on the digestive tract, liver, biliary tract, and pancreas.

International vs. regional journals

International journals are more likely to have a global readership. This can allow a wider dissemination of your work. But they may also favor research with universal appeal. Thus, papers about a highly specific topic or a specific sample may have a lower chance of acceptance. One such journal is the International Journal of Information Management. It welcomes article submissions from around the world. It covers fields as diverse as medicine, education, and business. 

Regional journals publish only work that is relevant to a particular country or region. These journals may also have a readership that is limited to a geographic region. Therefore, researchers with a study that is relevant to a particular region may have an excellent chance of getting published in a regional journal. The Journal of Baltic Studies is one such focused regional journal.

It is often useful to read about your topic of interest across all four types of journals. Broad and international journals can give you a broader perspective on a topic. Narrow and regional journals can help you  to better understand your topic in more detail.

Article types

Article types

Original Research Articles are the most common type of journal article. They are full-length papers that evaluate  previous work and propose a new avenue of research. These articles also describe the methods used to answer the research question and report the appropriate statistics. They discuss the implications of what was found, the limitations of the work, and paths for future research.

Review articles do not feature new, original data. Instead, they feature a review and summary of existing literature on a topic. They may be restricted by publication years, type of methodology used, or other selected characteristics.  Reviews may also include an analysis of pooled data (see Meta-analyses, below).

Case Reports/Studies are most commonly seen in medical journals. They typically focus on a single patient and his or her clinical profile. They describe the patient’s medical phenomena or responses to treatment.

Technical Note is a brief report on a new methodology.

Short Communications are brief reports that focus on specific findings. They have little if any introduction and only minimal discussion.

Meta-analyses provide a systematic review on one topic. They combine, compare, and analyze the results of similar studies. They may even contain previously unpublished data.

Journals may also publish Letters to the Editor, which are usually brief discussions of a published article. They may also have Editorials that feature a discussion that other authors may critique or respond to.

Examples of papers in various disciplines

For each discipline below, there are different guidelines for the structure and purpose of various articles or papers. 


Chemistry

Research articles address questions not previously answered in chemical literature (as demonstrated by an inclusive, representative review). They describe the methods used to answer the research question and report the results, with appropriate statistics. They discuss the implications of what was found, the limitations of the work, and paths for future research. 

Review Articles give an overview of existing literature, often within defined constraints such as methods used or relatively recent publication. A Systematic Review identifies the best published research on a particular problem, and assesses what conclusions can be drawn and what questions remain to be answered. It proposes critical criteria for the most rigorous and productive data and methods in the topic area. 

Meta-analysis (see below) is a particular type or part of a systematic review. Meta-analyses combine, compare, and analyze data from related published studies, sometimes including previously unpublished data. Meta-analysis presents new insights by aggregating existing data or applying new analytical approaches to it. 

Technical Note reports briefly on a new methodology, an improvement or new application of an existing method, or a practical way to solve problems inherent in established techniques. 

Communications (Short, Brief, Rapid, etc.) report specific findings, with little introduction or discussion. Journals may have standards for how frequently these may be submitted, and whether a follow-on full article is expected. 

Letters to the Editor respond to a published article or comment on topics related to the journal’s focus. Journals typically refer article comments to those articles’ authors for a response to be published alongside the letter. 

Editorials present a viewpoint on a topic of current interest, with the intent of fostering discussion among journal readers. Editorials and journal-specific formats are typically solicited from established authors, though a journal may entertain a brief unsolicited proposal (presubmission query or letter) on a particular topic.


Computer science

Theoretical computer science papers explore the limits of and possibilities for computers and “computability”: 

  • The computationally challenging “NP-complete problems,” and related theory, addressed mathematically
  • Neural networks, replication, evolution, and other computational structures and processes in or inspired by biology and nature
  • The relation between quantum states and computational processes and structures

In each such case, computer science may both borrow from and contribute to fields such as mathematics, biology, and physics—sometimes with new theoretical or practical implications for either side of the exchange. While journals will not necessarily be looking for practicality, they may be looking for an explicit connection with computing as it exists in the world, whether that connection suggests limitations or new possibilities. 

Modeling and design papers have an engineering focus. They propose new computing methods and strategies—from programs, algorithms, and systems to models and frameworks—for implementation in practical methods and devices for computing in the “real world.” These papers make up the bulk of computer science research; they have been criticized for often lacking empirical or evaluative methods compared to other engineering publications. Inclusion of these elements may strengthen a journal submission. 

Empirical or evaluation papers observe, analyze, and interpret primarily existing systems, designs, models, and theories, using quantitative and qualitative analysis methods such as the overview, review, or case study. At least one journal specializes in reviews—long-form overviews and surveys—across a broad range of computing-related issues and trends, as well as book reviews. Relatively few such papers involve controlled experimentation or hypothesis testing; papers using these specifically scientific methods are sometimes classified separately, although their approach is in a general sense empirical. Empirical research may be strengthened by including an experimental element. 

Program analysis may point toward vulnerabilities and resource optimization issues not only in individual application development, but in broader systems. Systems papers explore design and implementation of operating systems, architectures, and expanding end-user services across large segments of the computing infrastructure: server-based, web-based, distributed, networked, peer-to-peer, and mobile. Systems research also includes some of the theoretical areas described above, and cross-disciplinary efforts with systems science and other fields to model and understand complex interactions in the physical world.

Method papers evaluate particular research methods, examine the methods brought to a particular set of issues, or investigate the application of a particular method to a particular area of inquiry. Publications on method in computing and computer science are few compared to those of other sciences, with relatively more papers presented in conferences and/or published in specialized, less accessible journals. Computer Science (or Computing) Research Methods—CRM—has become its own subject area, as a fast-moving field with an ever-changing subject of investigation develops a systematic way of teaching methods of inquiry and evaluation.

Position papers declare a stance toward some issue in computing or computer science. One form of position paper simply states a list of propositions. Each proposition is understood to be reasoned and founded on evidence. However the paper, like a manifesto, declares those propositions rather than argues them. Such position papers are often used, publicly or internally, to define an approach to teaching or other academic use of computing and computer science. Or they may be used to define the mission of a professional working group or an academic committee or department. 

A second type of position paper examines a current or proposed practice, whether controversial or widely accepted. The paper argues for or against the practice, based on the available evidence and applicable principles. Argumentative position papers are submittable to a conference, or to a journal that accepts them.


Physics

Physics as a discipline is enormously broad. As a career, it has become increasingly specialized. Journals are organized around fields and subfields of physics, with some overlap. Organizational and cultural divisions between theoretical and experimental physics have a somewhat permeable interface at the level of publication, and even of the work you do.

Particle physics seeks verification (when possible) from accelerator physics. Applied physics’ experimental manipulation of materials at the single-particle, single-photon level contributes to particle theory. Astrophysics ranges from observational astronomy to speculative cosmology. Each journal will include or emphasize theoreticalcomputational, and experimental papers, according to current developments and trends in its range of subjects. Always keeping up-to-date and reading journals in different fields that are relevant to your work may give you broader opportunities for publication. 

Publication formats are dominated by full research papers that advance a field and by variously named short papers reporting on, for example, negative results or new methods. Letters to the Editor are an opportunity to comment on previously published articles; depending on content, they may be subject to rebuttal and/or peer review. 

Other familiar formats such as reviewscommentaries, and conference reports are often commissioned by journal editors, who may entertain proposals from interested authors. Each journal will have its own specifications for each format.


Business and economics

Business and economics research includes qualitative and quantitative research methodssurveyscase studies and other field work, experimentsworking papers, and technical reports. Types of papers (often called “articles”) include the usual original research paper, literature reviews, and short communications. Empirical, interpretive, analytical, statistical, modeling, historical, or conceptual studies might all be considered forms of research by a particular journal.

The usual research standards apply, namely, a need for new or clarified knowledge, clear questions, suitable methods and rigor, objectivity, and readability. Business and economics publishing serves a diverse readership of academic specialists and pragmatic business types. Journals may specify the typical original research paper structure, possibly with a combined results and discussion section. At least one journal provides a Microsoft Word template for submissions. Others specify an interest in brevity and efficiency in writing, and in clear, concise, actionable results.

FINAL QUIZ

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Begin Your Research: Quiz

Before You Begin Your Research: Final Quiz

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1. How should you identify an important research question for your field? Click ALL that are true.

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2. What is the best way to stay up-to-date with the research being done in your field? Select THREE answers.

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3. Which statement most accurately describes what international journal editors are looking for when evaluating submitted manuscripts?

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4. Which of the following is the most likely to be rejected by a journal editor without peer review (by desk rejection)? Select only TWO answers.

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5. For empirical research, which of the following is the most efficient way to read an article?

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6. Your study is about adapting and validating a UK guideline to be used in Thailand. Which of the following types of journals would be most appropriate and why?

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7. Which of the following are reasons why you should publish in English? Choose ALL that are correct.

Your score is

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