Making life easier for your readers: top tips in getting your paper read
The reader perspective
Scientists and social scientists read an average of 22 journal articles a month, according to a Nature survey on how much scientists are reading, and most would struggle to find the time to read any more. This is just one of many studies to contribute to ongoing discussions about how many academic papers are read out of the many that are published. These studies are clear indicators that researchers spend a lot of their time trying to stay current with the published literature in their field and, at the same time, seek to share their findings with colleagues.
But, of course, time is a limited resource. In publishing your own research, use these three writing strategies to increase the likelihood of your paper being found, read and perhaps cited by colleagues in your field.
1) Provide a ‘hook’ for your readers
Although your paper should be written according to the style and guidelines of the journal you are submitting to, you should aim to engage your readers from the very beginning. Your research may be the core of why you are publishing, but you are still writing for readers whose time and attention is limited.
Use your title to attract readers’ attention. A title that piques a reader’s interest in a way that wants to make them read more can be a powerful tool.
Another way to attract and deeply engage your readers is to write an effective abstract. Your abstract should provide an overview of your results and methods and should let readers know what they can anticipate if they choose to read your article. The abstract is meant to provide the highlights with pertinent information, while your article is where more in-depth details of your studies should be reported.
2) Be concise
This point can’t be emphasised enough. Well-written papers do not happen by accident. They are designed with intention and, often, this means aiming for brevity. Why use more words if a few will do? Unnecessary verbiage can weigh a paper down, reducing the impact of the core information, and leaving readers confused.
To avoid cluttering your paper, identify from the start the main points that you want to convey. Then consider your supporting evidence and information for each of those points. Using a system or tool to outline your paper will help tremendously with keeping your paper focused and will ease the writing process in general.
3) Consider what your readers already know
As you draft your article, think about what knowledge your readers may or may not possess. Will they already know about previous discoveries, methods or even specific terms? Or will you need to introduce this information early and throughout your paper to provide adequate context for your reader to understand your research?
The answer to these questions will be largely dependent on the audience you are aiming for, and the type of journal you choose to publish your findings in. If you publish in a journal that is highly specific and popular in your specialist area, you will probably not need to clarify and explain some of the elements that you might if you publish in a journal whose articles span more broadly over a whole area of study.
Using these three techniques can improve the readability of your manuscript, as well as the experience for your readers, which in turn should mean they engage more fully with the research you are communicating.
If you’re looking for support services to help you with manuscript preparation, you can find our range of author services, offered in partnership with AJE, at http://www.cambridge.org/academic/author-services.
This post was written by the team at AJE in conjunction with the in-house Author services team
Find out more about getting your paper accepted by reading our blog post ‘Making life easier for your readers part 2: top tips in getting your paper accepted’