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How to write academic research articles

If you are currently doing a PhD, and have begun your research, you may have been asked to write research articles for academic journals. It is important to have your work published in journals if you re considering a career in academia. The more you have published, the easier it will be to land your first job as a lecturer.

It’s often difficult to write your first research article as you lack both authority and experience. You must learn to write with an authoritative tone, as now you are an expert in your chosen field. The first research article will probably be the most difficult one to write. you can expect it to be revised and edited several times. Follow the suggestions your supervisor gives and schedule regular meetings with him or her to discuss what you write. Be prepared to make multiple drafts and don’t rush them.


What has to be included in research articles?

There is a set format to follow when you write research articles. Whether you are studying for a PhD in Humanities or Science, the format is basically the same.

  1. There must be an abstract at the beginning of the article. This is a summary of your research and its findings. Consider your own research and think about how you decide which research article is relevant to your study; you read the abstract and decide whether it’s worthwhile your reading it in full or not.
  2. Next comes the introduction in which you give the context of the research and your research question(s) which your study attempts to answer. If you want to begin with a hypothesis you will need to prove that it is true or disprove it. In research articles there is generally only one research question. You will need to state clearly why it is necessary to answer the research question.
  3. Next comes the literature review which gives the background to your particular study and demonstrates that you have read a great deal of material which will inform your study. You need to show that you have read extensively. You need to set your own study against the backdrop of a significant amount of prior research in your field.
  4. The Methodology section comes next. In this part you detail your methods of data collection and explain why you chose those specific methods. In this section you can also explain the limitations of the methods you used.
  5. The Results section comes next. This section details the research findings.
  6. This is the Discussion section. Apart from discussing the results, this section also connects the Methodology section and your Literature Review, so that you can offer possible explanations which could explain the results.
  7. The Conclusion is the section in which you draw your article to a close. You need to present the conclusions you have drawn and suggest what further studies could be undertaken either by yourself or other researchers.
  8. Your Bibliography provides the reader with a list of all the publications cited in the article.

The Methodology section needs to be detailed so that other researchers can, if they wish, replicate your study. This needs to include the methods you used to collect your data, for example questionnaires, interviews and so on.

Often the Discussion section is the most difficult to write although it is in this section that the researcher has the most freedom to express himself or herself.


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Remember that this is a research article and not a thesis or dissertation. The publication you are writing for will be limited as far as space goes. You need to streamline your article and not digress, or give overly-lengthy, verbose arguments, discussions and results. Keep the article tight, don’t waffle.

  • A chaotic structure; use headings and subheadings to keep your writing focussed.
  • Some writers fail to give their research question(s).
  • Sometimes a writer’s manuscript is not structured in accordance with the journal’s specifications and instructions.
  • Keep within the word limit given, don’t go over the word count, or your article will not be published.
  • Sometimes writers fall into the trap of writing a huge literature review in the introduction.
  • Detailed tables that are not related to the research question are presented.
  • Some writers don’t support their statements in the introduction and discussion sections with appropriate references.
  • Sometimes obscure references are cited which most readers would not be able to access.
  • Don’t overstate the importance or implications of your results.
  • Always admit the limitations of your study.
  • Sometimes writers, for one reason or another, doesn’t answer the research question.

These days some academic journals give non-native English speakers some leeway as far as grammar and vocabulary errors go. This is all well and good, as native speakers should not have a hegemony over non-native speakers. However, native speakers become irritated when an academic article is littered with mistakes. In such a case the offending article would not be cited by many other writers. The whole point of writing an academic article is to gain recognition of your work. The more citations your article gets, the more well-known you become and your chances of landing a job in academia become better.

Unfortunately, many English native speakers have a very low tolerance level to written English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). It’s fine if it is spoken, as there is always an opportunity to negotiate meaning. However, the opportunity does not present itself with the written word.

If English-speakers don’t finish reading your article, you will remain virtually unknown, as will your article.

Always have a well-educated native speaker of English to proofread your work and offer suggestions for its improvement. Don’t just rely on your supervisor to do this, as they have many other students’ work to correct, and with the best will in the world, may not be able to devote a considerable amount of time to your article.

Ask friends in your department who are native speakers to read your drafts and suggest ways to improve it. Don’t be offended when your work is criticised in a constructive fashion. Your friends are simply trying to help.

Read what you have written aloud and try to make your own adjustments to your drafts. Often non-native speakers of English can self-correct if they speak. The written word is sometimes more complicated than the spoken and non-native speakers get tangled up in grammar, which can mean that readers have to spend time deciphering the meaning of a passage. In this day and age, time is precious and unfortunately people’s patience is easily tested.

If you are unsure if what you have written in your paper is correct, don’t send it to an editor until a native speaker has checked the problem sentence or paragraph.

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