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Research papers prepared for scholarly publication generally do the following:
As it is not possible to think about everything at once, most writers handle a piece of writing in stages. These stages are planning, backgrounding, evidence review/searching, brainstorming, structuring, drafting and revising.
Related library guides on this website will assist you with planning, backgrounding and searching for the evidence:
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) provides guidance on Preparing a Manuscript for Submission to a Medical Journal, including detailed information on structuring your manuscript. As ICMJE notes, articles reporting original research tend to follow the same general "IMRAD" structure: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.
ICMJE's guidance outlines the requirements for each section of a manuscript:
Impact of study design
Some study designs have reporting guidelines that will affect the content and structure of your article. For example, PRISMA for systematic reviews and CONSORT for randomised controlled trials. Ensure that your article addresses all items on the relevant reporting checklist.
Impact of article type
The type of article also influences its format, e.g. a meta-analysis will be structured differently to a case report. See the recommended books on this page for more information about writing different types of articles.
You will also need to consider the individual requirements of the journal that you will be submitting your manuscript to. E.g. The Medical Journal of Australia's Instructions for Authors. Journal requirements are often referred to as author guidelines.
Maintain a working bibliography
You will need a storage system for the evidence you acquire for your research question. EndNote and Covidence are popular reference management tools that we recommend. Or you can utilise a backed-up folder directory and manage via an Excel spreadsheet.
You will also need a notetaking system that works for you, whether it is text-based, mind maps, or charts. Many eReader apps and referencing software, such as Endnote, allow you to annotate full-text articles as you read them.
Your notetaking system should support summarising key information (condensing information in your own words), paraphrasing (retelling the information in your own words) and quotes (exact words from a source). Ensure you record article IDs and page numbers within your notes.
Inclusion of references
All evidence in your result set should be checked for relevance, reliability, and bias to ensure your findings are relatable to your question and any biases or weaknesses in the results are identified. Completing this process for each study leads to a decision about whether you should use the study, exclude the study or use it with discretion. Guidance on critical appraisal is available in Literature Searching - Step 3: Appraise and our monthly webinar on Critical Appraisal of Literature.
View our Referencing Guide or click on the below summaries of common referencing styles.
Writer beware - plagiarism
In a research paper you will be drawing on the work of other writers, and you must document their contributions. Documentation is required when you quote, summarise, or paraphrase from a source, and when you borrow facts or ideas from a source (except for common knowledge). You must cite all of this information. To borrow another writer's words and ideas without proper acknowledgement is dishonest and it constitutes plagiarism.
A literature review must do more than simply describe the existing research on a topic. It must also:
Quick tips for reading effectively
When searching for literature, you will need to make decisions about which articles are relevant to your topic. Keep the following tips in mind when you first read through the results of your literature search.
When preparing a literature review, you should not develop your structure until you have read the existing research, organised your references and brainstormed the article. Once this has taken shape you structure your article, then begin writing.
Introduction, conclusion & discussion
Your literature review should include an introduction (stating your goals). The introduction should start with a general statement and then move to specific goals. The goals are then addressed again in the conclusion. The conclusion should also cover any gaps in the literature – what you know or want to know. Your research can be related to the literature under a discussion section.
After that, each topic will vary – the structure will depend on how you want to organise your ideas. Typical structures are by:
Regardless, it is important throughout to stay focused on the topic rather than on individual writers or papers covered in the review. You refer to each writer under the theme that their work relates to.
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