18 July 2022
Writing for publication: how to structure and submit your article
In the first of a series of articles on publishing in scholarly journals, HIS Editorial Manager Christine Fears offers guidance on the process of selecting a journal and writing for publication.
Christine Fears is the Editorial and Production Manager at the Healthcare Infection Society. She has over a decade of experience in scholarly publishing at both publishing houses and for scholarly societies.

What? Why have I been rejected?!

Writing and preparing manuscripts for publication are key skills for scientists, but these skills are often neglected areas in training.

It is worth remembering when you are preparing to submit your paper that journals can receive hundreds of submissions in a week – and most of these papers will not make it to peer review. On the Journal of Hospital Infection (JHI), for example, around 70% of papers are rejected before they are even sent for review.

Do not despair!

This blog offers advice on how to select a suitable journal for your paper, and how to structure your work for publication.


Take a look at the aims and scope

The very first thing to do is select the journal best suited to your work.

Nature, The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, right? While it is good to aim high in terms of impact factor, it is worth bearing in mind that this is just one measure of a journal’s quality, and that no matter how good your paper, a high-impact journal in the wrong subject area will not consider your work for publication.

You can save yourself from an inbox full of rejection letters by taking a look at journal ‘aims and scope’ pages which will outline what the editorial team are looking for.  

Most immediate rejections from a publication are made because while a manuscript may be good, it is not in scope for the journal. Save yourself time and narrow down the journals which are a good fit for your paper before submitting.


Follow journal guidelines

Helpfully, each journal has a set of individual author guidelines which provide advice on how to prepare your paper for submission.

These guidelines will help you maintain consistency in language, formatting, and visual style, to choose acceptable materials for supporting information, and prepare your artwork for submission.

Often, journal staff will send papers back to authors for reformatting before peer review if they are not in suitable journal style. Following journal guidelines will:

  • Speed up time to publication
  • Ensure your paper proceeds smoothly to peer review
  • Keep your editor happy


Writing your article

Laptop and pen

Editors want to see papers that are carefully structured, easy to read, and contain a clear message. Poor writing, poor structure and ignoring journal guidelines are common reasons for rejection.

There may be some variation between journals and article types, but broadly the parts of an article are:

  • Title and abstract: snappy summaries of your work
  • The introduction: a wider perspective of the field and why this topic is relevant now
  • The methods and results: narrower focus on how you have investigated your research question and the results/conclusion of the investigation
  • The discussion: widens again, contextualizing the result of your research in the broader field
  • A conclusion, tying up what you have found and suggesting what could come next
  • Acknowledgements, authorship, conflicts

We’ll look at each section in more detail below.


The title

The title is the first thing an editor will look at. Often, this will be enough for them to decide whether your paper is in scope, so make sure it acts as a clear summary of your work.

  • Summarise the key message of your paper
  • Use keywords and phrases (the next blog in this series will go into more detail on keywords and how to select them)
  • Keep it to 15 words or fewer
  • Place the main concept at the beginning
  • Avoid abbreviations or acronyms
  • Avoid phrases such as ‘effect of’, ‘involvement of’, ‘evidence of’, etc.


The abstract

The abstract is arguably the most important part of your article in terms of getting your paper through editorial triage and to peer review: the editor will decide based on the abstract whether to proceed to invite reviewers, or to reject the paper before review.

Check before submission whether there are any journal conventions on providing structured (divided by subheading) vs. unstructured (a block of continuous text) abstracts.

Generally, an abstract will benefit from the following advice:

  • Capture the key points of the paper in simple language
  • Use keywords central to your article (the next blog in this series will go into more detail on keywords and how to select them)
  • Place essential findings first – this is a scientific paper, not a detective novel, so don’t keep your reader guessing!
  • 7-10 short, clear sentences
  • Answer questions a reader may have:
  • Why did you do this research?
  • What is your key conclusion?
  • What were your research aims?
  • What methods did you use to gather data?
  • How are your findings valuable in your field?

Many editors will base their initial ‘reject or review’ decision on abstract alone: make sure yours has a clear, persuasive message.


The body of the article

Once your paper passes editorial triage, it will be sent to peer reviewers who will scrutinise the body of your paper in greater detail.

There are variations between journals (again – always check the guidelines for authors!), but published articles are generally structured as follows:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials & Methods
  • Results (figures and tables)
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

I will look into what each of these consists of in more details in the following sections.



Here, you have a chance to communicate why your story matters: set your work within context and show why this paper is going to be a worthwhile read.

  • Why is this field important?
  • What gap exists in the literature?
  • How does this work fill it?

Keep it short and sweet, and build interest for the reader: you want them to want to read on!


Materials and Methods

In the materials and methods, clearly communicate how you conducted your study: have you given enough detail so that a peer could repeat the study?

Make sure you outline:

  • Study design used
  • Sample size
  • Outcome measures
  • Data analysis and statistical methodology
  • Ethics statement, if appropriate

Data is important for proving reproducibility and allowing others to build on your work. Many funders mandate data deposition to repositories so check the journal’s policies and your funder’s instructions.



Clearly, logically and factually communicate what you have found – you should objectively state your findings in this section. Interpretation of your results comes later. You can consider using tables and figures to more clearly tell your story. 

  • How do your results support the argument of your paper?
  • Deliver your results as a sequence of short, clear paragraphs presenting your data and how your data supports the overall argument of your paper
  • What is the best way to present each finding: words, numbers, tables, figures?
  • Each table or figure should convey one clear message
  • The figures are easily understandable, have symbols and labels of sufficient size and are of sufficient resolution to be read



In the discussion, you can outline your interpretation of your results, and show how they answer the questions posed in your introduction.

  • Summarise and contextualise your findings
  • Outline your overall conclusion, based on the results outlined in your results section.
  • State what that means for the bigger picture in your field.
  • Show off about the importance of your results: don’t overstate the case, but write strongly and persuasively
  • Be honest about the shortcomings of your study
  • What next? Outline the next steps needed to build on what you have find
  • Don’t introduce new data or repeat your results section: build on earlier sections of your paper



Often your conclusion will be the final paragraph of your discussion, although some journals will publish this as a separate section at the end of your paper.

Your conclusion should not contain any new information, but should instead snappily summarise what you found and what this means – your take-home message for readers.



It is vitally important that you acknowledge the work which has laid the foundation for your study.

Your reference list:

  • Ensures that credit is given to the original discoveries
  • Allows you to cite and discuss studies that disagree with yours
  • Shows readers that you have been honest in your discussion of your study in the context of the field
  • Shows that the work cited is be fair and balanced

To keep your editor happy and speed up the time to publication, you should ensure:

  • The references must comply to house style (check that guide for authors again)
  • They are cited in numerical order and that every reference is cited
  • Referencing software can take some of the pain out of this process



That’s a lot to look out for….

A guide like this can seem overwhelming, and submitting your work for peer review and editorial scrutiny can be intimidating.

Remember that you are part of a team – here are a few suggestions for asking others for help before submission:

  • Ask group members to read and feed back to you about your paper before you submit it
  • Ask at least one colleague outside the group to read the abstract and tell you what the paper is about – if they can give a good summary, then your abstract is doing its job.
  • Let an English-speaking expert proof-read your paper if you are not fluent in English