How to Write a Manuscript

The related posts: How to Review a Manuscript, How to Write a Manuscript, How (and When) to Write the Background Section of a Manuscript.

My personal opinion is that writing – especially technical writing – hinges on planning. Set very specific goals. Here is what I would do for an empirical paper; this can be adapted for theory/argument. Let’s say you need to write a journal article. Set a daily goal. Take about a week to dig into article structure and make your blueprint, and each subsequent day do one paragraph/table/figure. You’ll be submitting in 3 months.

  • Pick a journal.
    • Review all of the possible journals.
    • Check to make sure they are legitimate publication venues.
    • Look at metrics that other people might care about (impact factor, who is the publisher).
    • PICK ONE.
  • Examine the structure of articles in that journal.
    • Pick three example articles that you really like and which are similar to the kind of work you will be presenting.
    • Tear each article apart
      • How many sections?
      • How many paragraphs in each section?
        • What is the form and function of each paragraph?
        • How many sentences in each paragraph? ETC.
        • Tear the articles apart down to sentence structure if needed.
  • Based on what you have learned about articles published in this journal, develop a blueprint for the components of your paper. You can model the blueprint in as much detail based on example articles as you are comfortable with. Notice – this should be generic. You are going to drop the story of your research into this blueprint.
  • Once you have that blueprint, I recommend writing in this order:
    • Research question/hypotheses
    • Methods
    • Figures/tables.
    • Bullet points for each figure/table that articulate the information in the figures/table. If a figure/table is in the results section, also write bullet points for the SO WHAT? of each figure/table.
    • Write out bullet points for results not shown in figures/tables.
    • Bullet point discussion themes – these should convey the SO WHAT? of your research and connect to the literature (which you haven’t written up yet). Nail down discussion points – this is the hardest part.
    • The content of the background should be aligned with your discussion. The discussion should consist of:
      • 2-4 very specific findings linked to the work that most closely aligns with your study.
      • 1-3 broader implications that align with work that is linked with some, but not all aspects of your work.
      • 1-3 very broad implications that align with the most general community.
      • Then, and only then, do you write the background (this is the introduction or literature review or theoretical framework or whatever your field calls the background). As you write the background, your discussion points might adjust to accommodate any new literature that you discover. See this post for suggestions about how to write the background.
    • After finish your background, flesh out the discussion by weaving the literature you have cited into the discussion.