Writing Manuscripts – Our Spreadsheet Approach…

One of the most difficult parts of academic writing is getting the manuscript organized. I have authored or co-authored over a hundred papers and I STILL have difficulty figuring out what to include in methods and results, or how to connect my findings to the broader research literature. I have written posts on writing before that acknowledge this difficulty and offer some suggestions:

I recommend reading these blog posts to get a more in-depth sense of my step-by-step approach to writing for academic journals. My two most important first steps are: 1) Choosing a journal; and 2) Deconstructing similar articles in the target journal to get a sense of structure. Once you have done that (and read those blog posts if you are unsure how), writing your paper is simply a matter of dropping your study into the article framework you will have created.

To make the task a little bit easier, my student (Patricia Jaimes) and I created a spreadsheet that encourages writing of the manuscript in a logical way, rather than following the typical format of most journals. If you have read my other posts about writing, you will know that I think the Introduction is the VERY LAST piece of the paper you should write – perhaps in tandem with the Discussion, but certainly at the end and after Methods and Results are complete.

Above is a screenshot of the spreadsheet (which you can download at the end of this blog) that you would use for drafting a paper. This template is intended to be modified to fit the journal you are targeting. Here’s how the template works:

  1. The template contains up to four research questions and a range of lengths for different sections. EVERY JOURNAL IS DIFFERENT.
  2. Based on your analysis of your target journal, adjust the Template for Drafting Papers. This modification might be a bullet point indicating, for example, number of paragraphs needed in each section.
  3. Type bullet points or entire paragraphs into the Template for Drafting Paper sheet.
  4. Cells in yellow can be completed at any time.
  5. Cells containing numbers (1-4) and in colors (blue, purple, orange, green) should be completed as sets. Each number (or color) represents one research question and related methods/results.
  6. When you are ready to move to a program designed for writing (e.g., WORD), copy and paste COLUMN B in the Template Reordered! sheet.
  7. Voila – organized writing!

Ready to give it a try?

Feel free to use, disseminate, modify, and otherwise enjoy this spreadsheet.

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