Thus, Summer Eva will be catching us up on what we covered in the Spring in Adolescent Development and in Professional Development. (NOTE: I drafted this post in May, but somehow lost control of the blog again in the Spring, so hello. Again).
Today, I’m covering the mechanisms of writing a manuscript. We have already reviewed choosing a journal. And for my advice on the specifics of writing, see my intentional writing series.
Tailor to the journal (when possible). Something authors often do is write a manuscript, decide where to submit it, and then go back through to make it fit that journal better – add more adolescent development theory if it’s an adolescent journal; add a prevention spin if it’s a prevention journal; shorten it if the word limit is less than the manuscript, etc. If, on the other hand, you can decide on the journal in advance, then you can tailor the manuscript to that journal to begin with, keeping the journal’s focus, criteria, and word limit in account from the beginning.
Hourglass shape. [Insert bad joke here about how we all want to obtain an hourglass shape].
First sentence and abstract. Intentional writing is important for your entire manuscript, but even more so in the first sentence and abstract. Many people will only read your abstract – or will use it to decide whether to keep reading. Be clear, so that if someone only reads the abstract, s/he will know exactly what you did, how, and why. And don’t bore them. Elsewhere I’ve discussed the importance of the first sentence and starting strong: make the reader excited about what you have to say next.
First page. Your first page should summarize why your study matters, and what you plan to do (White, 2005). Sometimes authors work so hard to build a case for their study that they forget to start with the summary of the case. As White says, “Too many authors wait until p. 13 to tell the reader whether they have 20 or 10,000 cases.” (2005, p. 792). Not that many readers will make it to page 13 if you don’t tell them why they should bother.
Literature review. Unless your paper is actually a literature review, it should not summarize everything that has ever been done before in this area (White, 2005). Choose key citations to make your points, and present all sides of an issue, but do not try for a comprehensive literature review in an empirical paper.
Headings. Use them.
Discussion. One frequent mistake I see as a reviewer is when authors write paragraph after paragraph interpreting their findings, without situating it within prior literature or theory. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that you have citations in just about every single paragraph in your discussion, and that the citations are not only to your (or your adviser’s) work. By the end of the discussion, readers should have a strong understanding of your contribution to the literature, both in terms of building on prior empirical work, and addressing theoretical questions.
“Every sentence matters.” This quote is from my colleague Steve Zarit, one of the most prolific and well cited professors I know. Don’t waste space. Consider the importance of every sentence.
First draft. Get it out. Even though every sentence matters, every sentence does not matter in your first draft. Never let a sentence or a paragraph hold you up. Get through the whole paper, even if you have to use tricks like “INSERT SENTENCE ABOUT RATES OF CONDOM USE IN ORAL SEX HERE” or “SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT WHY THIS MATTERS HERE.” Get through the whole draft, and then worry about tackling the sticking point details.
“The post Mechanics of writing a manuscript first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on November 17, 2015.”