Ever struggled with writing your research article? Based on his 25 years of experience in writing articles PRC director Stein Kaasa gives you the recipe for writing a nice and tight article in about 35 minutes (only one presupposition: You know what you want to write about).
How do you get started?
- You start by writing the overall aim of the article/project in 1-2 sentences – crispy clear!
- When you have written it – understand it! If you do not get the story, you cannot tell anyone else about it.
- Keep in mind that the overall aim should lead to an overall conclusion.
- Then, write down your research questions. Research questions are sentences with a question mark at the end.
- Research questions should put the article into a context – these are the questions you will be answering in your discussion.
Move on to the Introduction
- Do you know the two main aims of the introduction? Here they are:
- Introduce the reader into the level of evidence in the field, based on existing literature. This should show the reader why your study makes sense in the field. Give the reader the most important references. You don’t have to include 70 references, 20 might be a sufficient number (especially since you need to refer to them once more; in the discussion).
- Present the overall aim and research questions (which you have already written…)
- The reader should get an appropriate impression of what your article is about by reading the first (main information on what the article is about) and last (aims and RQ’s) paragraph of the introduction.
- For the paragraphs in-between, write down in keywords your 3-5 main messages/themes. Then fill in the details and structure the text according to the overall rule: One idea – one message – one paragraph.
Materials and methods
- The easy one.
- Simply write down what you have done, how you have done it – and with whom.
- Also quite easy.
- First, make the tables. You might plan which tables to make long before the analysis have even started. All the results might be put into tables. Make as many as you like and save all of them in case you need them later, e.g. for a conference speech.
- Table 1: Most often patient characteristics
- Table 2: Presentation of main outcomes (might eventually be converted into a figure)
- Table 3-10: More outcomes
- Give the tables functional headings and make sure they are understandable independent of the text
- Secondly, consider if any of the findings could be presented in a figure – such as a graph or a bar chart
- Finally, write the results narratively. Paragraph by paragraph, guide the reader through the tables. No nitty-gritty details, no interpretations, and no emotions. Ice cold!
And then, the discussion
- Unfortunately or fortunately, the writing recipe is not sharply defined for the discussion. However, we offer some strategic approaches:
- Decide upon the 4-5 main points for discussion and write them down as keywords. Fill in according to the rule presented above.
- The first paragraph might be a summary of the main findings; a teaser.
- Discuss the main findings. This means: Answer your research questions. For your sake, I hope you have formulated them precisely.
- You probably had at least two research questions. You get the drill by now – discuss one of them at a time, one paragraph for each.
- Remember to go back to the introduction in order to relate your findings to the literature you presented there (you got an obvious hint about this above). Reflect on this for a minute.
- Present the study’s limitations, i.e. weaknesses related to material and methods.
- We are getting close to the final now, and here are two parts of the discussion that might demand some extra effort:
- Put the results into a larger context. This means to reflect upon your overall aim (which you, thank goodness, have written crispy clear upfront)
- Show how the reader could apply your findings in the clinic or in further research.
- The conclusion – phew! (Actually, you might want to write this directly after writing your aim – and what a relief – then you have finished your article before this last bullet point.). If the conclusion does not correspond with the introduction – start over.