Use a model to write better journal articles

One of the joys and curses of academic writing is that we can always do better. Writing is a skill that can be continually improved. Before I begin any writing project, I identify a model that I use as a guide for how to structure my article, chapter, or book. I find this to be a tremendous help in thinking about my project and provides me a concrete targets to shoot for when writing. In today’s post, I will share how to use a model to write better journal articles and improve your success at academic publishing.

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Model articles can offer important tips such as how long various sections should be or how to craft the implications for your study.

How to find a model article

You should select a model article from the journal where you are going to submit your publication. Ideally, the model will have a similar topic and use the same methods as your work. If you can’t find an article with both the topic and methods then choose one with the same methods (this is the most important part of the model article).

Note: if you can’t find an article with at least a similar topic and method then you should consider whether the journal is appropriate for your paper.

When looking for your model, you should think about any particular aspects of your study that should also be in the model article. For example, are you using a complicated theoretical framework? Do you have a particular methodology that requires more explanation?

In order for your model article to be most helpful, you should identify one that closely mirrors the article you intend to write.

Structure

After finding your model, you should first look at the number, type, and length of various sections. This offers a guide for your own article. You don’t have to follow the template exactly, but I urge you to not deviate too dramatically.  For example, if the literature review is 5,000 words long, you would be okay if yours is 4,600 words.  You should be worried if yours is 8,000 words and thus significantly longer.

Methods

Different journals have varying expectations of how much depth is required when discussing the methods of your study. Your model article should have similar methods and can serve to guide how you describe your methods.

Findings

How many tables should I include? How many interview quotes should I use? There are as many ways to write up findings as there are approaches to collecting data. Your model article can provide a template to use when writing up the results of your study.

Implications and recommendations

Particularly in professional fields such as higher education, some journal articles want recommendations for practitioners while others will only seek the implications of your findings for future research. Let your model article guide how you talk about the significance of your findings for research or practice.

A template can be your friend

Researchers do not win creativity points for the structure of their articles. You want to impress readers with your prose or findings. Journal editors expect to see a certain approach to conveying the results of research and deviating from this can hurt your chances of getting accepted. For all academic writers, but especially students new to academic publishing, I strongly recommend you use a model to write better journal articles. I believe you will find using a model article will both shorten the time it takes you to write and the quality of your academic publications.