25 Ways to Improve Your Research Paper

Over the course of a quarter-century of pioneering open access publication, MDPI has launched more than 300 peer-reviewed, open access journals. In the year that we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our founding, we are more committed than ever to accelerating the delivery of ground-breaking scientific insights to the global scientific community.

Here, we provide 25 useful tips on how to improve the quality of research papers prior to submission. We hope that they are helpful. We received 381,000 papers for consideration in 2020 and we hope that this figure will only increase in our anniversary year!

1. Choose a specific and accurate title

Your title should provide an overview of what your paper is really about. This should be accurate and specific, reflecting the content of the paper, without any technical jargon unique to the field.

2. That goes for subtitles too!

Table and figure captions and section titles should also be accurate and specific, allowing readers to quickly skip to the content they need.

3. Write an intriguing abstract

The abstract is the first thing that people read, and so it can really make or break your readership. This is where you need to persuade others to read your paper. A clear abstract, which outlines the workings of your research, will also help you carve out a very specific space in your field.

4. Add a graphical abstract or video

A great way to make your paper instantly stand out is to add a graphical abstract or video that describes the methodology within your paper. This additional media quickly summarises your paper and makes it more appealing to readers at first glance.

Graphical Abstract of the article “Deep Learning for Land Cover Change Detection” published in Remote Sensing

See the journal’s instructions for authors for more information on graphical abstracts and video content.

5. Be selective with keywords

On the journal website, keywords are used for indexing. Words that are precise and do not already feature in the title are ideal.

Depending on the journal, keywords that also appear in the title are often even forbidden. For example, the keyword “soil” cannot be used for papers in the journal Soil Biology & Biochemistry.

6. Make sure that your research is novel

This is one of the key factors that reviewers will be asked to rate your manuscript on. Your research should advance the current knowledge in your field, rather than repeating what may already be out there.

Have you conducted a thorough search of the current and latest findings? You can cite these and add them to the content of your paper, but make sure to also add your own work, and findings that bring something new to the field. Editors like studies that push the boundaries and have new and unexpected outcomes.

7. Keep it simple

When it comes to research, it’s easy to get lost in the maze that is your paper, but there is real value in keeping it simple. It will make your work more accessible to others and therefore hopefully more popular. Try to write for a non-expert audience. Imagine that a postdoc researcher from another department is reading it. This means no technical wording or unnecessary jargon.

8. Ensure that your results are exciting enough

Your results should not only be novel, but also significant. Attracting readers and citations will prove easy if the results are exciting enough to encourage others to build on what you have discovered.

9. Don’t self-plagiarise!

Perhaps you want to cite something that you have already mentioned in a previous research paper. Extreme care must be taken, as reusing your own specific words is self-plagiarism.

Use short quotes from your past paper, placing these in quotation marks and citing the original.

10. Use the journal template, even in the early stages

Peer review can be a nerve-wracking process, waiting for opinions on whether your paper should be in the journal or not. Increase your chances of good reviews by presenting your work in its final formatting. The MDPI journal template is what is seen on the website, and will give your paper a more professional look from the outset. It’s also important to maintain good formatting throughout.

11. Keep the topic relevant to the research field or journal

Some journals or Special Issues have broad scopes, while others are far narrower. Research papers need to fit well within the range of the topic. This can sometimes be as simple as adding a paragraph to cement your location within the scope.

12. Keep it concise

Information that is surplus to requirements will do nothing but cause your paper to lack clarity and dilute the precise intention of the research. Review what you have so far—is there anything that you could do without?

13. Check the flow of the paper

Help readers out by making the steps in your research proceed in a logical way. Your paper should be linear, with all author contributions cohesive and streamlined. This is where you may need to take a step back from what you have already written. Would you be able to keep up with what is happening if you were an outsider to the field?

14. Keep in touch with co-authors

Improve the direction of the paper by checking in often with the other authors. Reviewing other sections of the paper also ensures that your work doesn’t repeat itself.

15. Swap and share

Research can often be solitary, which means that it is easy to forget that there are others— co-authors, colleagues, peers, associates—in the same boat as you. Their feedback can help you spot mistakes that you may not have noticed.

Catching up with a colleague can also give you a break from your paper and allow you to come back to it with a new mindset.

16. Write methods and results first, then abstract, introduction and conclusion later

This is commonly given advice, but is definitely worth noting. The content and tone of your paper may slightly change as you write it, meaning that the introduction and conclusion will be more refined when left until the end.

17. Take good care of plots and graphs

Nothing in your paper is as important as your data. Your discoveries make up the underlying foundation of the piece. They therefore need to be clear and easy to understand. Graphs and images should be high resolution and detail exactly how the experiment was performed.

18. Customise your graphs using external packages in Python

External packages such as MatPlotLib or MATLAB make the creation and editing of high-quality graphs and plots easy and efficient.

19. Improve your language

It is important to make sure your English is as grammatically correct as possible. This may mean proof-reading the paper several times.

MDPI also provide a full pre-editing and editing service for authors, to get their English up to scratch and ready for publication.

Find out more and get a quote here: https://www.mdpi.com/authors/english

20. Follow the instructions to format your paper

Review the house rules for the journal and follow these carefully. Each journal has an “Instructions for Authors” webpage that provides extensive information on how to present your work. Take these into consideration when coming up with the final product.

21. Be thorough with author contributions and acknowledgements

Add the colleagues and supervisors who helped with your paper. This may seem obvious, but there are often people you forget. This includes thanking your funding or grant provider.

22. Don’t forget about the importance of references

It may surprise you that many papers are submitted without evidence for their claims, which causes time to be lost when it comes to the publication process. Provide a citation for every statement that you make.

Citations and references should be from diverse sources. Cite various different sources rather than the same ones repeatedly.

Tools such as EndNote and Mendeley can help you with the formatting of references in your paper.

23. Declare any conflicts of interest

All authors need to state whether they have any relationships or interests that could influence the paper or its outcomes. This includes any (financial or non-financial) connections to organisations or governments.

24. Read through it again

Looking over your work with a fresh set of eyes is the oldest trick in the book, but a good trick no less. Sleep on it and come back the next day to check the consistency of your work. One final scan can help you find minor errors and put your mind at ease.

25. Promote your paper

This is one for after your paper has been published. Sharing your work online will make it more visible to others and may increase your chances of citation. Promoting your research is now easy thanks to sharing capabilities on social media websites, where you may already have numerous academic and industry connections, like on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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