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Undergraduate Research

How students can (and should) publish their research

Proofread your manuscript

According to Elsevier publishers, between 30 percent and 50 percent of articles submitted to their journals are rejected before peer review. One of the most common reasons for this is poor language usage.

From Irina Nikitina:

Clarity is critical when it comes to scientific writing. An ambiguous sentence can confuse readers at best, and lead them onto unfruitful research paths at worst. Poor language can mask otherwise great science, and authors may run the risk of their important work not seeing the light of day because of it. So even though it’s challenging, manuscripts have to be written clearly and accurately, in good English.

Kathryn Hewlett writes in a blog post for the American Psychological Association has a few writing tips:

Write clearly

"There is no substitute for a good idea, for excellent research or for good, clean, clear writing," says Nora S. Newcombe, PhD, of Temple University, former editor of APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Newcombe endorses the advice of Cornell University's Daryl J. Bem, PhD, who in Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 118, No. 2) wrote that a review article should tell "a straightforward tale of a circumscribed question in want of an answer. It is not a novel with subplots and flashbacks, but a short story with a single, linear narrative line. Let this line stand out in bold relief."

Newcombe also admits that neatness counts. Though she tries not get in a "bad mood" about grammar mistakes or gross violations of APA style, she says, such mistakes do "give the impression that you're not so careful."

Get a pre-review

Don't send the manuscript to an editor until you have it reviewed with a fresh eye, warns Newcombe. Recruit two objective colleagues: one who is familiar with the research area, another who knows little or nothing about it. The former can provide technical advice, while the latter can determine whether your ideas are being communicated clearly...

After you've gotten that fresh critique of your work, says Newcombe, listen to the pre-reviewer's advice. If the reviewer down the hall "didn't really understand page six and therefore got lost in page 13," she says, "don't just say they didn't read carefully--other people are going to make that same error."