Guidelines for Writing and Publishing a Research Paper for the First Time

According to the Department of Education and Training at Western Sydney University, research is defined as:
“The creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes.”

Venturing into the world of research can be equal parts terrifying and exciting so here’s a list of do’s and don’t to guide you as you begin to write and publish your first research paper:

Do: Identify Your Purpose
Identify what motivates you to take on the intensely exhaustive task of writing a research paper. Is there a gap in existing research? Does a particular topic hold special significance for you? Are you trying to fulfil an academic or educational requirement or trying to advance your career? Do you simply seek a certain mental stimulation and/or satisfaction that comes from engaging in research? You need to know exactly what internal and external forces are employed behind your choice to write a research paper.

Don’t: Plagiarise
You must never compromise on honesty and authenticity while presenting your research. Cite all your sources and references and never try to lie or deceive in order to gain credit. Not only will your work be rejected by all credible journals at the slightest hint of plagiarism, your career and reputation within the research industry might be ruined.

Do: Specify Your Focus
Always specify the focus of your research. You must be able to explain why it is important to conduct research on your topic. Avoid generalising and ensure the scope of your topic isn’t too broad. You should be able to highlight important aspects of your research while also addressing any missing links or gaps in your work.

Don’t: Use Discrediting Language
When you use phrases such as “I think”, “In my opinion”, “I believe”, it diminishes not only your reputation but also the quality of your work. Your readers want to read information based on facts and evidence so don’t use phrases that reflect personal opinions.

Do: Set a List of Target Journals
There are tens of thousands of research journals in the world that publish millions of papers every year and it can be incredibly intimidating to identify and select the platforms to submit your work. Create a Target List of 3-4 journals early in the writing process so your paper aligns with the guidelines and is tailored to the core readers of the journals you want to publish in. Don’t go overboard, be realistic while creating this list and keep track of the submission deadlines

Don’t: Submit to Predatory Journals
Predatory journals and publishers are those entities that demean the author as well as the industry by prioritising self-interest. They do this by presenting false or misleading information, deviating from standard editorial and publication practices and shutting the door to transparency. They may also indulge in aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices. In simple words, these journals do not fulfil their promise of carrying out proper quality checks despite accepting a fee from the authors. There are multiple tools and methods available online that can be used to identify whether or not a journal is predatory. Do a thorough check to ensure you only submit your work to journals with significant credibility and transparency.

Do: Ensure You Have a Clear Outline and Structure
It can be easy to get swept up in the excitement as a first timer, but you must remain disciplined while setting a clear outline for your work. Maintaining a solid structure is paramount because it gives much needed direction to your efforts.

Don’t: Add Unnecessary Details
It can be tempting to throw in irrelevant details when you are struggling to increase the length of your paper, but this will only give the impression that you are an incompetent writer and researcher.

Do: Set Adequate Deadlines
It’s important to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses in order to set adequate deadlines for every part of the writing process. Not only do you have to work within the submission deadlines of your target journals, you must be able to evaluate how much time you will require to work on every aspect of the paper to ensure you stay on track. Missing self-imposed deadlines isn’t the end of the world, but this can create additional obstacles and stress so try to avoid it as much as possible.

Don’t: Lose Motivation
There are a multitude of reasons why people often give up while writing a research paper and it’s okay to resign from this endeavour if it no longer serves your purpose or if it begins to threaten your health and safety. But don’t give up when the reason behind your desire to quit is something that can be resolved with time and effort. It can be difficult to persist within this industry and you will require immense patience to pull through after hitting multiple big and small snags along the way but don’t lose sight of the reason you took on this project in the first place.

Do: Maintain Precision and Clarity
Spinning stories and riddles will only confuse your readers and diminish their desire to engage with your work. Ensure your sentences are to the point and all sections connect to each other in an organized manner. Avoid ambiguity and ‘flowery’ language and try to make all your ideas come through in a simple and concise manner.

Don’t: Neglect Editing and Proofreading:
Although it can be a frustrating or boring process to proofread and edit your paper once you finish, this is an essential process that you must never neglect.

Do: Follow Standard Rules and Ethics
Although I’ve already mentioned how plagiarism must be avoided at all cost, there is a set of ethics and rules within the research industry that you must learn and follow. Some of them are: always cite all your sources and references, substantiate all your claims, stick to minimum and maximum word limits, don’t let professional disagreements become personal conflicts, etc.

Don’t: Let Selection or Rejection Determine Your Self Worth
If your paper gets accepted for publication by one of your target journals, that’s great! Go ahead and celebrate. If your paper gets rejected by all your target journals, that can be very painful. Go ahead and grieve. Keep in mind that usually, a first draft is rarely accepted as it is and the journal will often ask you to rework parts of your paper. But whether you encounter selection or rejection, don’t let it dictate your self-worth and self-confidence.

Do: Reflect on your Learnings and Experience
Try to introspect and understand how you felt about different parts of your writing and publishing experience. Ask yourself what you have learned and how you can apply it in your personal as well as professional life. Use this experience as a way to get to know yourself better.

You will discover many more dos and don’ts along the way as you swim in the deep waters of the research industry. Never let fear hold you back because even if you are unable to publish your work or are unable to finish your paper, you will still have the gift of the growth and knowledge that comes from exploring the field of research.

References:

Definition of Research | Western Sydney University
https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/research/researchers/preparing_a_grant_application/dest_definition_of_research#:~:text=Research%20is%20defined%20as%20the,to%20new%20and%20creative%20outcomes.

Scientific Writing: the Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Research Paper
https://www.cognibrain.com/dos-and-donts-of-writing-a-scientific-research-paper/

How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Research Papers
https://www.resurchify.com/article7.php

INFOGRAPHIC: 8 Dos and 8 don’ts of writing an engaging study background
https://www.editage.com/insights/8-dos-and-8-donts-of-writing-an-engaging-study-background

Predatory journals: no definition, no defence
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03759-y

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