Unless you love writing, drafting a manuscript for your investigator initiated trial (IIT) can be a dreadful task. Where do you even begin? What do you have to include? It’s easy to procrastinate when it comes to writing, but the faster you finish it, the faster you can wrap up your study and move on to the next idea. We find that relying on inspiration tends not to work most of the time, so we recommend following a set template to help you get the job done. In this article, we’ll describe the key sections of a manuscript, what to include, and some tips on making this process as painless as possible.
To start, it’s a good idea to create an outline of the key sections of a manuscript. Plan to work a few hours each day on a few sections. That way, the work becomes more manageable, and you won’t feel discouraged. Get in touch with us for a free template on a general manuscript outline. In general, your manuscript will need to include:
- Title page
- Materials and methods
- Figure legends
On the title page, list all of the authors, their titles, and last names. Also include the list of affiliations for each author. This is also the page where you should list your funding sources and any acknowledgement. Additionally, most journals will also require the information for the corresponding author (e-mail and phone number), the person responsible for handling the review process with the journal.
Depending on which journal you want to submit to, the abstract format can vary. It’s a good idea to check the requirements of the journal before you write your abstract. Most of them will have a character limit or a word limit of approximately 250-300 words. While the abstract is the first section of your manuscript, it should be written last. Most abstracts will follow the standard scientific structure, which includes the purpose, methods, results, and conclusion. Keep the writing as concise as possible and omit any unnecessary details in this section. Additionally, you will also need to include a few keywords relevant to your paper. Choosing the right keywords is extremely important because it helps readers find your work.
The Perfect Introduction
Introductions can be fairly hard to write because most people have difficulties staying focused on the purpose of the paper. It’s easy to go on a tangent, straying away from the main topic and including irrelevant details. To avoid this problem, we suggest that you clearly outline the structure of your introduction with sections that clearly guide the reader towards your purpose. Below we’ve listed a structure that we apply in writing our own introductions:
- Global impact: In 1 paragraph, describe why this topic is important? Why would people care enough about it to invest their time and money to find out more?
- Experts’ opinions: In 1 paragraph, describe why or how experts have recognized that this issue is important?
- Experts’ work: In 2-5 paragraphs, describe what experts have done to address this issue. This is the place to write a brief literature review of your topic.
- Rationale: In 1 paragraph, describe what the experts have missed, the drawbacks of previous approaches, and the opportunity for your research – “If I do this, I will have solved a huge problem.”
- Purpose: In 1-2 sentences, describe your objectives for the experiment.
Materials and Methods
In this section, you want to describe how you conducted your experiment, so you will need to write in past-tense. Break up this section into several subsections as needed to clearly describe the steps of the study. Keep it concise as possible but without omitting too much detail, such that someone else can replicate your work. For instruments and chemicals used in the study, remember to include the name of the manufacturers and suppliers. It’s also important to state your statistical analysis, such as what software you used, what test was used to analyze the results and the P-values that were considered to be significant.
Your results consist of two elements, the written portion and a visual component. The written portion of your results needs to be written in detail, which includes key results with corresponding P-values, general trends, and references to the figures that you’ve included in your paper. Do not add any interpretations of your results, as this information will be included in the discussion section.
For most journal requirements, you can include your tables in this section but do not include any actual figures. These figures will need to be included as separate high-quality image files, usually in TIFF, PostScript or EPS format, at a minimum of 300 dpi. Instead of adding the actual figures in the results section, use <Insert Figure X> in place of where you want the figure to be inserted. The figure captions and the figure itself will be included in the Figure legends section of your manuscript.
Similar to writing the introduction, the discussion section should be structured in a way that creates a coherent message. Before you start writing, first create an outline of what you want and need to convey in your paper. Below we’ve included a general template for a discussion section:
- In 1 paragraph, re-phrase your purpose and key results that you’ve found.
- In 1-2 paragraphs, describe which results from your study are similar to previous studies. Have other researchers found something similar in other studies that are not directly related to your topic? The purpose of these paragraphs is to gain trust among your readers because your results are similar to what other experts have found.
- In 1-2 paragraphs, describe which results differ from previous studies, if any. Why are they different? The differences should be due to differences in experimental design, variation in samples, but not factors that could have been prevented like human error, or temperature fluctuations, etc. The purpose of these paragraphs is to maintain trust despite having contradictory results to previous studies.
- In 1-4 paragraphs, state your unique findings. Explain your observations, and rationalize what you observed. How are your observation supported directly or indirectly by literature evidence? Essentially, you are summarizing your results and using scientific evidence to support them.
- In 1-2 paragraphs, state the impact of your unique findings. What do they suggest? What are the implications? This is your chance to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge. Avoid using absolute or definitive statements. Instead, use phrases like “These findings suggest …” to state your impact.
- [Optional] In 1-2 paragraphs, state the weakness and limitations of your studies. No study design is perfect, and pointing them out here, shows you are aware of your limitations. You may wish not to include this in the first submission of the manuscript but have it ready if a reviewer asks for it.
- In 1 paragraph, summarize your findings and their implications. You can also express your intent for potential future work to investigate some of the new findings you found in this study.
We highly recommend that you use a reference manager, such as Mendeley or Endnote, for your citations and references. Don’t do this manually by hand! Ensure that your references are consistent in formatting. The journal’s editors and reviewers will not look kindly at the content of your paper if they discover sloppy mistakes in your reference section. Below are some common mistakes we often find when reviewing references:
- Missing information (authors, date, volume, issue and page numbers).
- Inconsistent abbreviations. For instance, some journals are abbreviated (i.e. J Biorg Chem) while others are written in full (i.e. Journal of Bioorganic Chemistry).
- Inconsistent capitalization in the titles. For example, some entries will have the titles all capitalized, while others will only capitalize the first word.
- Duplicate references, especially common when you’re importing references from multiple sources.
Even with a template, writing a manuscript is always a challenge but rewarding when you’re finally finished. If you need some help drafting or reviewing your paper, please feel free to reach out to us.