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Common Mistakes in a Manuscript

The structure of a research article usually depends on the journal to which the article is being submitted. Many journals have page limits, figure limits, or specific article divisions to which authors must adhere. These are the basic structure guidelines that INNSPUB will follow:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Tables and Table Captions
  • Figure and Figure Captions

There are some reasons behind why would a manuscript be rejected from scholarly publication. These are:

  • It does not fit the scope of the journal
  • It is not new and original
  • Poor presentation
  • Not well written

Apart from the above reasons, common mistakes found in different sections of a manuscript which affect for publication, is presented below:

Mistakes in an abstract

  • No Abstract: Every paper needs an abstract. Yours is no exception!
  • Abstract looks like an introduction: An abstract is not an introduction – it is a summary of the whole paper. Often, authors will write an abstract that is ten sentences of background information, with no reference to the results or conclusions of the study. Don’t panic about including enough background – if a reader wants details, she goes to your introduction.
  • Missing information:  Authors frequently forget to include information like: What was the purpose of this study? What were the methods used? What were the major results? What do these results mean? Be sure than your abstract answers all those questions.
  • Too much information: Some authors include way too much information on the background, the problem, the methods, or the implications of a study. Usually, 1-2 sentences for each of the major sections (Introduction – Methods – Results – Conclusions) are enough. The Abstract should be short, snappy, and succinct. When readers want details, they’ll read the actual paper.

Mistakes in an introduction

  • Too much information: Authors sometimes include far too much information in their Introductions. Only information related to the subject should be included.
  • Not enough information: Another common mistake authors make is to assume that their audience knows more than they do. Authors often do not explain concepts, do not provide enough background information, or do not discuss enough previous studies. Reading a paper where the author assumes you know thing you don’t is incredibly frustrating and pointless. Don’t make your readers struggle to understand your paper – make yourself clear.
  • Unclear what study is: Often, authors will build a thorough Introduction, but it is unclear what the rest of their paper will cover. The author needs to bluntly state what this paper will cover, how, and why.
  • Lists: A common temptation in Introductions is to list material, either in paragraph or bullet format. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Usually it is not. Try to avoid lists and describe your study in prose instead.
  • Confusing structure: Authors often throw all sorts of information into an introduction without thinking thru the organization. The result is a confusing read.
  • First-person anecdotes: First-person reporting does not belong in a research manuscript. The author shouldn’t even say “I found…” but “It was found…” It’s a passive voice, but a standard one for reporting research.

Mistakes in a Methods & Materials

  • Not Enough Information: Oddly, few people include too much information -nearly every author includes too little.
  • Background/Introduction Material Included: Sometimes an author will include background material or explanations of concepts in the Methods & Materials section. That material belongs in the Introduction. In this section, the author should make no references to outside work, unless referencing a method or material.
  • Verbose Descriptions: In the case of experimental setups, a diagram is worth a thousand words. Some authors describe elaborate lab setups with run-on sentences. The mind goes blank. Spare your readers. Include a diagram.
  • Results Reported: Sometimes, authors get so carried away describing their experiments that they report results in this section.
  • Sources of Error Discussed: Discussion materials do not belong in the Methods & Materials section. The author should not discuss sources of error or possible causes for results – in fact, the author should not discuss results at all.

Mistakes in a Results

  • Raw Data: Occasionally an author will for some reason include all his/her raw data. This is not just unnecessary – it’s mind-numbing. The author should present only the key results, meaning those results that bear on the question or problem being addressed.
  • Redundancy: Authors will often present their results in a table, then re-state everything in the text. This is redundant. Text should be used to clarify figures and tables – not rehash them.
  • Discussion and Interpretation: Authors frequently combine the Results and Discussion sections or include interpretation in the Results section. Some journals (a very, very few) permit this.
  • No Figures or Tables: Every Results section should have at least one table. No matter what discipline the author is writing in, he/she should have data to present. A notable exception is some mathematics or computer science papers.
  • Methods/Materials Reported: Often, an author will write something like this is the Results section. The author must report only results in the Results section – no new methods or materials at all.

Mistakes in a Discussion

  • Combined with Results: It’s amazing how often authors combine the Results and Discussion sections, even though we specifically tell them not to. The Results and Discussion sections cannot be combined. They have two very different purposes. The Results section is for fact. The Discussion section is for interpretation.
  • New Results: Sometimes an author will include a new result in the Discussion section – one he/she did not report in the Results section. All results must be reported in the Results section. They can be restated in the Discussion section, but they must appear in the Results.
  • Broad Statements: Sometimes an author will draw sweeping conclusions based on his/her one tiny study. These are only appropriate even for major, groundbreaking papers – the kinds of papers that undergraduates rarely write.
  • The “Inconclusive” Cop-Out: Months of research and pages of words, all leading up to a: “The results are inconclusive.” What a waste! Don’t waste your reader’s time with a statement of “it’s inconclusive”. The author needs to draw what conclusions he/she can, then suggest how the experiment should be changed to properly test the hypothesis.
  • Ambiguous Data Sources: Often, an author will get so wound up in his/her Discussion that it’s hard to tell when he/she is talking about the results of this study and when he/she is talking about the results of other studies. Don’t let authors get away with that kind of ambiguity – whose study is being discussed is vital information.
  • Missing Information: Authors often leave out critical information from the Discussion section.

Mistakes in Figures & Tables

Inappropriate Format: How does your journal want figures and tables submitted? Within the text? As separate files? Jpeg? Bitmap? Make sure you submit them that way.

Redundant Information: Authors will often include the same information in many places: the text, figures, and tables. If an author includes information in figures, he/she should not include the same information in tables – and vice versa. Also, if a table or figure gives specific results, the author should not re-list those results in the text of the paper.

  • Ugly: The most common problems with figures and tables is that they are blurry, unclear, unlabeled, pixilated, and, in a word: ugly. Figures and tables are some of the most important pieces of a paper. The author should invest time and effort into making clear, succinct, visually pleasing figures and tables. This doesn’t mean they need to be pretty – just clear, concise, and professionally laid-out.

Mistakes in Captions

  • No Caption: No more need be said. Don’t do it.
  • One-Liner: One sentence is never, ever, enough for a caption. Give the reader more information.
  • Regurgitates Figure/Table: A caption that re-states exactly what the table/figure says is no good – the caption must explain what it means and why it is important.

Mistakes in Equations

  • Superfluous Derivations: Most papers don’t need derivations of every equations used. Use your best judgment and, with every equations, ask: “Does this really need to be here?”
  • Format: All Figures and Tables should be included as separate “.tif” files– not inserted into the text. When they are inserted into the text, the quality degrades.

Mistakes in References

  • Formatting: The most common mistake in references is their formatting. No matter how many times we tell people how to format their references, they still use brackets, numbers, footnotes, or any number of other methods. Be professional. Do your homework before submitting.
  • Type of Reference: Some papers will cite 5 references, all of them textbooks. This is unacceptable. A scientific manuscript should cite several – meaning at least a dozen – papers from peer-reviewed journals or books. If a paper cites less, then the author probably has not included enough background information and discussion of relevant research.

So, take care in writing a manuscript for scholarly publication.

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