When you begin writing a new research manuscript, which section do you write first? β€” R Voice

When you begin writing a new research manuscript, which section do you write first?

Andrea Hayward
Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin
edited July 5 in Publication Support

Earlier this week, at a very insightful hour-long session, @Shruti Turner spoke about her experience with manuscript writing and outlined the process she follows to get those first words out on a blank page. And while Shruti's technique was fantastic, her session got me thinking...I started wondering how other researchers go about it and if they're all following a similar pattern without even knowing it. Well, I've brought my question to the R Voice Community, and so we're about to find out! πŸ˜ƒ

My question to you - When you begin writing a new research manuscript from scratch, which section of the paper do you write first?

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Comments

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    This is a great question, @Andrea Hayward! I was also thinking about this when the answers came in from the poll in the webinar about who has a routine for starting/writing a manuscript. I am commenting soI get the notifications of other comments...I'm excited to learn from others and see what tips I can pick up.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin

    @Shruti Turner hoping to hear from some of our newer community members on this one, especially the ones who joined after attending your webinar last week. :)

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 12

    I missed @Shruti Turner 's seminar. πŸ˜”

    The first thing I do is make rough figures starting from my data (if its a review paper, the data I gathered from all papers), followed by conceptual diagrams (experimental/any schematics, etc.).

    I find it more pleasant to start with colorful figures rather than dull text on a word file. πŸ˜‰

    Order of writing for me: results and disucssion + supplementary -> conclusions -> experimental -> introduction -> abstract -> keywords -> title (usually, a titular version of my keywords) -> graphical abstract

    I dont write entire sections.

    I write the first sentence of each paragraph under each section. The first sentence is written such that it summarizes the core point of my message in each paragraph. This way, the flow of the paper is set. All following text in each paragraph is basically to support the first sentence (the core point). I add this later on.

    Essentially, I aim to write such that if people read only the first sentence of each paragraph, they would still be able to get my paper. I try to do this bearing in mind the number of papers published, the limited time all readers have on each paper and our ever-shrinking attention spans. πŸ˜‚ [I dont read (all) papers fully myself...πŸ˜‰]

    This usually saves time, reduces motivation issues related to "omg, there is so much to write", etc. because it breaks the writing into bite-size chunks.

    As I go along, I make mild changes to figures, etc. (stylistically/data-wise). And I build up the supplementary section when I am focusing on the results and discussion.

    Final step is brushing up figures and text.

    Edit: explaining my rationale for the order of writing.

    I have tried starting from introduction when I was new to paper writing. However, in my case (and field), there is so much literature that it was easy to get into the rabbit hole, get lost, go around in circles, and not go forward with the paper. So, to turn things around - I started from my own data first.

    (This technique assumes that one keeps oneself uptodate with the literature and has carried the project having identified a substantial knowledge gap/untested hypothesis).

    By the time I get to the introduction, the core message (and story/flow) of the paper is pretty set through the results and disucssion/conclusions sections. It is easy to construct the context (in terms of knowledge gap/addition to a previous work/laying out a hypothesis). Then, it is easier to find and fill in the relevant literature. This minimized the conundrum of (and time and energy involved in) which papers to choose, how to write the introduction, etc.

    The abstract, keywords and title are the most condensed-form of the paper and the most important bits of the paper. Probably, the only text MOST readers out there would read, and the basis on which people would choose to read the rest of my paper. So, this comes last after I have set the core message, tone and story of the paper through the rest of the sections.

    I write the abstract when the idea of the paper has clearly crystallized in my mind and in the rest of the paper. The abstract is usually the paraphrased super-condensed form of the first sentences of my KEY paragraphs of the introduction, results and discussion and conclusions sections. The keywords come from the abstract. The title comes from the keywords.

    The graphical abstract is the most important piece in the paper (and my weakest area - not good at drawing conceptual figure that summarizes the entire paper). It comes last, getting the most of my focus/most help from people around me. πŸ˜‚

    Edit 2: I thought about how I zeroed in on this strategy. Partly my (possibly re-) invention. Partly...(the idea of first sentences as a paper skeleton)...I learnt from my current workplace, which I had to workout how to suit my own (writing) style and character.

  • Erwin Mina
    Erwin Mina Member Posts: 4 ✭

    Hey @Andrea Hayward! Nice query! As far as I am concerned, I used to write and give full attention with my Review of Literature where I can satisfactorily strengthen the title of my research. Furthermore, in the review of literature, you can level up your research to fill the gaps of completed researches with your current research work. This area seems so important in writing the other parts of the research. Kudos everyone.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram

    "Essentially, I aim to write such that if people read only the first sentence of each paragraph, they would still be able to get my paper."

    I love this - it's something I've never thought to do, but now I've read it I can't get over how great it is! For me, the first sentence in each section is the toughest for me to write, especially when I feel the pressure to make it good. Whichever order I write in though, I'm going. tobe remembering the importance of the first sentences!

    PS You can view the webinar in the recordings πŸ˜‰

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Erwin Mina You're so right that the review of literature/background section really is the gateway to the other parts of the research talked about in the paper and personal understanding. I wonder though, do you have any strategies for when you feel you have so much literature that most of the word count has turned into introduction?

  • Erwin Mina
    Erwin Mina Member Posts: 4 ✭

    It is your conviction that really matters when to stop as long as you have undergone thorough review of literature for a particular research work. Happy writing and reading and vise versa. Kudos

  • Rolando Reyes
    Rolando Reyes Member Posts: 3 ✭

    I considered the introduction as the first part of writing a manuscript. However, in mind are the objectives and methodology that serve as a guide the whole process. Thank you, R-Voice and Dr. Shruti Turner, for sharing your expertise in writing research manuscripts.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    Hi everyone!

    What an interesting topic, @Andrea Hayward .

    What I do first is writing some random things that come to my mind as if I were taking stored information out of my brain that I didn't know it was there (if that makes senseπŸ˜…).

    Then, as @Rolando Reyes shared, I focus on the introduction and sometimes I make a draft of the final conclusion, as both contains the purpose of the manuscript.

    The hard thing for me is to add details to the things I need to describe as my natural behavior is simplifying things. That's when I think it's important to read as much related papers and literature about the topic you are about to write, as @Erwin Mina suggested. The more knowledge you have, the most confident and focused you'll be (in my opinion).

    P.S. 1: @Shruti Turner you webinar was awesome!

    P.S. 2: "manuscript" means "handwritten". Shouldn't it be called something like "keyboard -script" in the XXI century? πŸ˜…πŸ˜

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Rolando Reyes - it sounds like you have a great system for manuscript writing that works for you. I also find keeping my objectives and methodology in mind really helps to keep me focussed during my introduction, else I just try to fit everything I can in!

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gustavo Arluna I love that your first step is to (what I call) brain dump! I think what you've said makes total sense...I find when things are crammed into my mind I can't make sense of it and I don't actually know what's there...sort of like a messy wardrobe! I always pick the same clothes to wear because they're at the top, never finding the gems underneath!

    Your system of focusing on the part of the draft that centre around the focus of the manuscript makes a lot of sense in my mind. I like structure and so if I have all the things I'm meant to be focusing on clearly in the draft, I find it easier not to go on a tangent!

    I wonder, do you ever find that you feel like you have too much information/knowledge in your mind which then detracts from the focus you have? Maybe just me...I am a bit of an overthinker...


    PS1 Thank you for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    PS2 I love this point, I'm such a stickler for word meanings and I never thought about this one. I feel like we need a good word to replace it, something snappy to start the trend!

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Shruti Turner well, actually I don't usually have as much information/knowledge as I shouldπŸ˜…. But sometimes I lose focus because in the process of searching for information I find something related to my manuscript but not part of it, and I get distracted on that matter. So, I have to let that aside and go back to the specific information I need, but realizing that I lost some time. Well, actually I think we never lose time if we learn something new, let's say "I lose some time for doing my manuscript specifically".

    By the way, as you can see English is not my native language, so I love how you ordered my ideas with your fluent english. That's an additional benefit for me when writing and reading in these forums: learning and practicing English😊

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gustavo Arluna Yes!! I do the same...I get totally swallowed by the rabbit hole of literature too when. I find something interesting. I'm so glad you shared that..I feel less like I'm on my own now πŸ˜‚

    I love that philosophy: "we're not losing time if we learn something new", it's sort of how I feel about mistakes/things that don't work...they're only wasted time/bad if we don't learn from them.

    Your English is super clear, everything you said came across perfectly I think. I just have a bad habit of needing lists in my life to help me process things πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ I'm glad you're feeling like you're getting the added bonus of practising another language. I have been working on trying to learn French over lockdown, but I'm definitely not fluent or anywhere near! Such a skill to have.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    Actually, I think I would need lists to have an order in my life πŸ˜…

    I started using my cellphone's calendar and notepad for setting my priorities.

    I love languages. I use Duolingo for learning some basic things in different languages, although the only one that I could finished the tree (course) was swedish. You might be wondering "why swedish instead of chinese or Arabic or another language in the top 5?". Remember, "we are not losing time if we learn something new".πŸ˜‚

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gustavo Arluna Without lists in my life I would be a mess hiding with no direction! I do like things on my phone too, because of the portability of it! Again, I don't know where I'd be without my phone calendar haha

    I use Duolingo too!! I have never made it to the end of a tree...I am trying to learn French...I am coming. up to a 500day streak but still haven't made it to checkpoint 4!! Slow and steady I say. It's the first time I have stuck to learning a language for so long. I'm impressed that you made it to the end of a language tree...especially swedish...it looks so challenging! I guess like with any language it's about finding the patterns?

    I say there has to be enjoyment in learning, and if you took a shine to swedish then why not! As you say, all learning is valuable. Are you onto a different language now?

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    Well, actually, I am joined to Portuguese, norwegian (very similar to swedish), japanese, chinese, Korean, russian, french and italian Duolingo courses. πŸ˜… I know what you are thinking, it's impossible to learn all that in a short period of time and that's true! But what I do is focusing on a main language (for example swedish) and then if I have extra time I do some lessons of other language. I think the important thing is enjoying the process. So, as I love languages and I am very curious, I enjoy the process of learning. Maybe Duolingo is not the best choice for mastering a language, but it helps a lot for your first contact to a language and it's portable, you just have it on your cellphone.

    By the way, I have a 1575 day streak, but I am like you, slow and steady. I cannot advance on the other trees, so I am just doing old lessons for maintaining the streak and not forgetting the little things I have learned.

  • Mdumiseni Mazula
    Mdumiseni Mazula Member Posts: 44 ✭✭

    Hello to everybody else I just want to say thank you to shruti Turner honestly I'm not 100% my only and only single parent, which means my father is in hospital for a heart drainage I'm so stressed I really don't know what's going to happen to him thank you so much πŸ™πŸ½

  • Mdumiseni Mazula
    Mdumiseni Mazula Member Posts: 44 ✭✭

    Thank you so much about everything

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin

    It's been a busy week and I'm only just getting around to reading all the comments here - my apologies

    @Raj sundaram I got your back! You can watch @Shruti Turner's entire session here:

    Your comment on this thread is brilliant! It was so detailed and informative that it felt like I was reading an article on an academic blog. Your writing process seems to be very structured and I really like how one phase of writing feeds the next and so on - kind of like a funnel for everything. Despite being the author here, I also love that you're writing FOR the reader and adjusting sections/adding sentences that would help the reader understand the crux of your paper in the least time possible. I'm sure this is no easy feat, given how much you know at the writing stage.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin

    Interesting @Erwin Mina, so your approach is more outside-in. I'm sure you identify a research gap you'd like to explore before even conducting your research and collecting data. But this approach seems useful because it could help you identify other research gaps your data could potentially fill or alternatively, broaden your original research gap at the writing stage.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin
    edited July 9

    @Gustavo Arluna and @Shruti Turner WOW - What an exchange! I really enjoyed reading through your comments on this thread and I'm so bummed that I missed it in real time. πŸ˜• Still, you guys make me feel glad that I started this discussion thread so (poof!) the sadness is leaving as soon as it arrived. πŸ˜„

    I'm going to try and comment on as many things as you guys talked about. First, I couldn't help but notice some similarities in how you both approach manuscript writing - especially w.r.t the brain dump on a piece of paper as the first step. Plus, you both seem to follow a very structured step-by-step process, designed to suit your own needs and style.

    Gustavo, your English is great! I'm with Shruti on this one - all of your comments are very easy to understand. In fact, if you hadn't mentioned it, I'd have never guessed that English is not your first language! πŸ˜…

    Your attitude towards learning new things and your philosophy that time spent on any learning is not time wasted is beautiful and inspiring. I'm amazed by how many languages you already speak, are learning, or plan to learn! I tried my hand at learning French in college but that was years ago and I barely remember anything. Your comments have made me seriously consider getting back to basics and trying to brush up on my French.

    I'm curious - Since you're basically multilingual, does it sometimes get difficult to convey your thoughts while speaking? Not in a "I can't find the word for this" way but more of a "Oh no. I meant to say that in English but it came out in Swedish" lol

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin

    @Mdumiseni Mazula oh no, I'm so sorry to hear this πŸ˜” I can't imagine how difficult this time must be for you, and really hope that your Dad starts recovering and feeling better very soon! Sending lots of light and hope your way. Please stay strong!

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gustavo Arluna Wow - what a streak and with so many languages too!! I don't know how you do it. I also like to revisit "easier" topics to brush up on my knowledge. My process is only having 3 new topics "open" at a time for variation and I can't move on until I have all 5 crowns!

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Mdumiseni Mazula I'm so sorry to hear the difficult time you're going through. Sending lots of support and best wishes across to you!

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Andrea Hayward I have no doubt there will be many more exchanges we get into that you'll be around for! :)

    Your observations on our exchange though are really interesting, I wonder if this is the perk of not seeing it in real-time?

    Join us back on Duolingo!! We can be french buddies :) My account name is very imaginative "shrutiturner" if you'd like to connect and we can keep each other motivated on our language journey!

    Hehe, such a good point, Andrea. I only speak English really but even with the bits of Hindi I have picked up from family there are some words that can't be translated for full effect in my mind!! My (English) husband thought I was mad...he's now used to it! I can't imagine if I had more languages in my head.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin
    edited July 9

    @Shruti Turner going to try and prioritize exploring Duolingo soon! Hopefully I can find it within myself to devote some time to this. Going to seek inspiration from @Gustavo Arluna for this! 😎

    About the Hindi words slipping out - I know, right? I am fluent in Hindi and there are some things that I sometimes absolutely have to convey in Hindi. It gets complicated because I work at a multicultural and multinational organization. And while some of my colleagues would be in splits at a Hindi reference, others would be completely clueless. But if I translate, the reference might lose its meaning and/or humor. It sounds like a made-up problem really but it is one πŸ˜‚

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭

    Enjoying this thread of polyglots.

    @Shruti Turner , @Andrea Hayward and @Gustavo Arluna ....

    I once spoke a sentence that mixed Hindi, English, Japanese, Tamil and Telugu.

    The sentence was my response to a question asked by a restaurant staff taking my order for food. ο»ΏπŸ˜‚

    Dont even ask or think about the reaction of the restaurant staff...OR the reactions of those eating at the next table. 😝

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭
    edited July 9

    @Andrea Hayward , not very often but definitely I sometimes mix words. For example, I am fully active in an English WhatsApp group were we practice English with native speakers, and sometimes I mixed some swedish words as it is a Germanic language too and have many similarities. πŸ˜… And sometimes when I speak in my native language that is Spanish with my family or at work, some English words come to my mind and I find myself translating words from English to Spanish. So funny🀭 I love languages as I think they are gates opened to new worlds, cultures, information, friends, different life perspectives, etc. The world is so big and heterogeneous that I makes me want to know more and more about it.

    By the way, @Shruti Turner@Shruti Turner and @Andrea Hayward we can get back to french together. Studying with friends is better than alone. My Duolingo account is GustavGustaffson (pretending to be swedish 🀭). I will add you, @Shruti Turner

    @Raj sundaram that was so funny! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ You speak so many languages, you are really a polyglot, not a fake polyglot as meπŸ˜…. I take my hat off. πŸ‘πŸ‘


    @andreadyanne azores

    @andreadyanne azores

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram You crack me up! I'm sure that was a great moment for all involved!! I imagine it can be so easily done when you're familiar with so many languages.

    @Gustavo Arluna Excellent - it'll be great to see you on Duolingo too :)

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