Writing a Biomedical Research Paper: A Guide to Structure and Style

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It is always best to sort out authorship before writing a manuscript as authorship order can be a source of problems once the paper has been written Several guidelines relating to authorship are available and this issue has been extensively addressed in a recently published review article by Elizabeth Wager Most guidelines on the authorship of scientific articles are focused more on creative and intellectual aspects of research than on routine or technical contributions. Alhough not universally accepted, the authorship criteria suggested by the ICMJE are the ones most widely promoted by medical journals 9.

According to these criteria, co-authors should: i substantially contribute to conception and design of the study, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; ii draft the article or revise it critically for important intellectual content; and iii approve the final version. The authors are listed in decreasing order of their contribution and the senior author, or mentor, should be the last but this convention has never been codified It is advisable to provide accurate affiliations and contacts as they will be published on PubMed as well as in the journal but it is also important to agree on the corresponding author who should have full access to the study data and through the provided e-mail address will be the link with the scientific community for the future 1.

In addition to the authorship discussed above, there are several ethical issues involved in writing a paper. These include fabrication of data, duplicate publication, plagiarism, misuse of statistics, manipulation of images and inadequate or obviously false citations A must-read for all those who are involved in any editorial activity are the guidelines released by the Committee on Publication Ethics COPE which is a forum for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals to discuss all aspects of publication ethics COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct.

Several models for the initial draft exist. According to these authors, the writing should start with making figures and tables, and then proceed with summary statements the conclusions summarising the major contributions of the manuscript to the scientific community , identification of the audience, materials and methods, results, discussion, references, introduction, title and conclusion.


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A further and more general strategy to increase productivity during the early phases of manuscript writing is to ignore at the outset all the details that can be approached later such as structure, grammar and spelling. The sequence of writing should address the following core sections of the paper in the order from first to last: methods, results, discussion and introduction 31 , 36 , The Discussion the moral of the story puts the study in perspective. The take-home messages are, therefore: i a clear understanding of the essential components of each of these sections is critical to the successful composition of a scientific manuscript; ii the proper order of writing greatly facilitates the ease of writing; iii the approach to writing can be customised by authors on the basis both of the subject they are dealing with and their personal experience; iv the CONSORT 16 , 17 , STROBE 21 , 22 or PRISMA 29 statement must be used as a guidance document for the appropriate reporting of the type of study the authors are dealing with 31 , 32 , In the following part of this paper the different sections of a manuscript will be dealt with in the order they are presented in the final document.

The title is determinant for the indexing process of the article and greatly contributes to the visibility of the paper. It should reflect the essence of the article, its novelty and its relevance to the biomedical field it deals with It should be clear, brief, specific, not include jargon or non-standard and unexplained abbreviations, reflect the purpose of the study and state the issue s addressed rather than the conclusions Indicative titles are, therefore, better than declarative ones.

Writing a Research Abstract

Obviously, the title and abstract should correlate with each other. Available evidence suggests that the presence of a colon in the title positively correlates with the number of citations In other words, the more specific and accurate the description of the content is, the more chance the manuscript has of being cited The keywords enable the database searching of the article and should be provided in compliance with the instructions to authors.


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  • The abstract is the last section to be written but it is the most important part of a paper because it is usually the first to be read and readers use the information contained in it to decide whether to read the whole article or not. It should be a concise summary of the manuscript and no longer than specified in the instructions to authors. Usually, abstracts do not contain references and abbreviations and acronyms are not always allowed. If required, it has to be structured in a specific way. For example, original articles submitted to Blood Transfusion, require an abstract of no more than 2, characters including spaces , structured as follows: Background, Materials and methods, Results, Discussion A good abstract should be easy to understand and broadly appealing, informative but not too detailed.

    The methods must be summarised without too many details; the major findings must be clearly indicated and followed by a sentence or two showing the major implications of the paper that must be consistent with the study conclusions without overestimating their possible relevance In the abstract the present tense should be used to refer to facts already established in the field, while the findings from the current study should be dealt with in the past tense.

    The aim of the introduction is to introduce the topic to the readers in a straightforward way, avoiding excessive wordiness For this reason it should be short and focused, comprising approximately three paragraphs in one page The first paragraph should mention the questions or issues that outline the background of the study and establish, using the present tense, the context, relevance, or nature of the problem, question, or purpose what is known 23 , The second paragraph may include the importance of the problem and unclear issues what is unknown.

    The last paragraph should state the rationale, hypothesis, main objective, or purpose thus clearly identifying the hypothesis to be treated and the questions addressed in the manuscript why the study was done. One of the most common mistakes is the failure to make a clear statement of purpose.

    Writing a Medical Research Abstract | ACP

    This is because many research projects, especially retrospective clinical studies, do not start at the beginning with the identification of a specific question, followed by methods and data collection but begin by collecting data without first identifying a specific question to be addressed that must in any case be established before beginning to write Data or conclusions from the study should not be presented or anticipated in the introduction section.

    Writing the introduction at the end of the process prevents any block and it is easier after the methods, results and discussion have been completed. The methods section is one of the most important parts of a scientific manuscript and its aim is to give the reader all the necessary details to replicate the study. The two essential elements of this section are a clear presentation of the study design and the identification and description of the measurement parameters used to evaluate the purpose of the study.

    It is, therefore, necessary to provide a thorough explanation of the research methodology, including the study design, data collection, analysis principles and rationale. Special attention should be paid to the sample selection, including inclusion and exclusion criteria and to any relevant ethical considerations. A description of the randomisation or other group assignment methods used should be included, as should be the pre-specified primary and secondary outcome s and other variables. When reporting experiments on animals, authors should state which institutional authority granted approval for the animal experiments 9.

    Finally, in addition to describing and identifying all the measurement parameters used, it is also important to describe any unusual statistical methodology applied, how subjects were recruited and compensated and how compliance was measured if applicable. The results section consists of the organised presentation of the collected data. All measurements that the authors described in the materials and methods section must be reported in the results section and be presented in the same order as they were in that section The past tense should be used as results were obtained in the past.

    Author s must ensure that they use proper words when describing the relationship between data or variables. This section should include only data, including negative findings, and not background or methods or results of measurements that were not described in the methods section 2.

    The interpretation of presented data must not be included in this section. Results for primary and secondary outcomes can be reported using tables and figures for additional clarity. The rationale for end-point selection and the reason for the non-collection of information on important non-measured variables must be explained Figures and tables should be simple, expand text information rather than repeat it, be consistent with reported data and summarise them In addition, they should be comprehensible on their own, that is, with only title, footnotes, abbreviations and comments.

    References in this section should be limited to methods developed in the manuscript or to similar methods reported in the literature. The main objective of the discussion is to explain the meaning of the results.

    This section should be structured as if it were a natural flow of ideas and should start with a simple statement of the key findings and whether they are consistent with the study objectives enunciated in the last paragraph of the introduction. The strengths and the limitations of the research and what the study adds to current knowledge should then be addressed Through logical arguments, the authors should convert the relations of the variables stated in the results section into mechanistic interpretations of cause and effect using the present tense as these relations do exist at present In addition, they should describe how the results are consistent or not with similar studies and discuss any confounding factors and their impact.

    They should avoid excessive wordiness and other commonly made errors such as 38 : i including information unrelated to the stated purpose of the article; ii repeating detailed data previously presented in the Results section; iii not interpreting and not critically analysing results of other studies reviewed and cited but rather just repeating their findings; iv presenting new data or new details about techniques and enrolment criteria, and v overstating the interpretation of the results.

    The anatomy of a paper: from origin to current format

    Another common mistake is to forget to criticise the research described in the manuscript by highlighting the limitations of the study. The value of a scientific article is enhanced not only by showing the strengths but also the weak points of the evidence reported in the paper. The authors should also avoid excessive generalizations of the implications of the study and remember that except for RCT there can only be testable hypotheses and observed associations, rather than rigorous proof of cause and effect Possible implications for current clinical practice or recommendations should be addressed only if appropriate.

    All contributors who do not meet the criteria for authorship should be listed in an Acknowledgements section 9. Journals generally list other members of the group in the Acknowledgments.

    Other general considerations related to references, including the following ones, can be found in the Uniform Requirements 9. References to review articles are an efficient way to guide readers to a body of literature but they do not always reflect original work accurately. In this case the name of the person and date of communication should be cited in parentheses in the text. Last but not least, remember that if a reviewer does not have access to any references he or she can ask the author for a full pdf copy of the relevant works.

    Most papers are accepted after some degree of revision. In some cases, a manuscript may be rejected after internal and editorial review only. The process of revising a manuscript and successfully responding to the comments of reviewers and Editor can be challenging.

    Little has been published addressing the issue of effectively revising a manuscript according to the minor or major comments of reviewers. This topic was recently extensively and pragmatically covered by James M. Provenzale The ten principles for revising a manuscript suggested by the author are reported in Table IV. Ten principles for revising a manuscript suggested by James M. Many manuscripts are not published simply because the authors have not followed the few simple rules needed to write a good article.

    We hope that this paper provides the reader with the basic steps to build a draft manuscript and an outline of the process needed for publishing a manuscript. However, in Table V we summarise the ten principles we strongly recommend to comply with in order to improve the likelihood of publication of a scientific manuscript Ten principles to improve the likelihood of publication of a scientific manuscript, suggested by James M. The Authors declare no conflicts of interest.

    National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Blood Transfus v. Blood Transfus. When you cite data from another author's work, explain all related aspects of the work clearly and concisely using your own words. Always provide a reference to the work directly following the information you have provided.

    How to Write an Effective Research Paper

    Most colleges and organizations use a variety of citation styles. The citation style often depends on the professor, so always check before beginning a paper. No matter what the style you use for citing your paper, the process is always the same:. The American Psychology Association — Use this style for education, psychology, sociology and other social sciences.

    American Medical Association or the National Library of Medicine for health, medicine and biological sciences. Students and researchers commonly use the Chicago Manual of Style guide, or Turabian, for most real-world subjects in magazines, books, newspapers and many other non-scholarly publications.

    A Guide to Structure and Style

    There are a variety of scientific style guides depending on the particular field, whether it be biology, chemistry, engineering. When using a citation program, always check for errors before inserting them into your reference or works cited page. The reference page is also called the annotated bibliography , and it should go at the end of the research paper. The purpose of annotated bibliographies is to link each source to one another in an orderly fashion.

    Adding citations may seem difficult at first; however, the more you practice, the easier it will become for you. By using a style guide and checking examples, citing all your sources is simple and complete. You must be logged in to post a comment. Skip to content Sharing is caring! Make the first sentence of the introduction as interesting and dramatic as possible.

    For example, ", people each year die of…" is more interesting than "An important cause of mortality is…" If space permits, provide a concise review of what is known about the problem addressed by the research, what remains unknown, and how your research project fills the knowledge gaps. The final sentence of the introduction describes the purpose of the study or the study's a priori hypothesis.

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    Methods: This is the most difficult section of the abstract to write. It must be scaled down sufficiently to allow the entire abstract to fit into the box, but at the same time it must be detailed enough to judge the validity of the work. For most clinical research abstracts, the following areas are specifically mentioned: research design; research setting; number of patients enrolled in the study and how they were selected; a description of the intervention if appropriate ; and a listing of the outcome variables and how they were measured.

    Finally, the statistical methods used to analyze the data are described. Results: This section begins with a description of the subjects that were included and excluded from the study. For those excluded, provide the reason for their exclusion. Next, list the frequencies of the most important outcome variables. If possible, present comparisons of the outcome variables between various subgroups within the study treated vs. This type of data can be efficiently presented in a table, which is an excellent use of space. But before doing this, check the rules to see if tables can be used in the abstract.

    If the results are not statistically significant, present the power of your study beta-error rate to detect a difference.

    Writing a Biomedical Research Paper

    Conclusion: State concisely what can be concluded and its implications. The conclusions must be supported by the data presented in the abstract; never present unsubstantiated personal opinion. If there is room, address the generalizability of the results to populations other than that studied and the weaknesses of the study.