Writing a manuscript

Plan your paper

  • What is the story?
  • What data do you need to support the story?
    Plan the figures and tables you want to present (to support your story)
    Do you have all the data – maybe more experiments?
  • Who is the audience? Why should the audience care?
  • What are target journals?
    Check the instructions for authors for the journal (length of Abstract, number of figures, number of words, Results and Discussions separate or together, reference style, etc.).
    Have a look at the structure of publications, which are similar to your manuscript, in the journal you want to submit to.

Choose a title

Pick a title that captures the main idea of the paper (and includes the organism, organism group)

Example: Cake consumption by Homo scientificus – increasing productivity or belt size?

Elements of a paper


  • One background sentence
  • Finding and methods used in the paper
  • One concluding sentence


  • Bigger picture?
  • What is known?
  • What has been done already?
  • Who are the main players in the field?
  • Why is your story interesting / different?
  • (One paragraph outlining the paper)


  • Present results and ‘basic conclusions’ (like: ‘ cake consumption peaks at 15.30′)
  • Include experimental figures in the order they are mentioned in the manuscript.


  • Discuss the results and interpret (including direct implications and implications for other fields) (e.g. ‘Cake consumption is most prominent at the time between lunch and dinner. Similar temporal patterns have also been observed for ice cream consumption and may indicate a general tendency to be hungry at this time of day.’)
  • Include models (and a graphical scheme) that shows the model you have developed.
  • Conclusion


  • Outline each element of the manuscript (Introduction, Results, Discussion ) using paragraph titles. You can also make diagrams with arrows connecting paragraphs.
  • Give each paragraph a name (sub headline) in the manuscript to guide your writing. You can erase the paragraph titles before submission.
  • It is easy to be tempted to revise your paragraph outline as you are writing – do not give in – try to stick with the plan you made. “A mediocre plan executed well is better than a excellent plan executed badly”.

 Paragraph organization

  • One introduction sentence(s) concerning the theme of the paragraph
    ‘Although scientists may have met to consume cake since the very first research groups assembled, the implications for science remain elusive.
  • Sentences that contain the information you want to convey
    ‘The first written record of cake consumption in an academic setting is credited to Pliny the eldest who described a cake orgy that occurred when Carthaginian botanist met for their 31st annual society meeting.

    Anecdotal evidence supports the idea that cake consumption occurs during most lab meetings in the PhotoSynLab. It has been postulated that cake consumption is not distracting, but increases the ability to pay attention of most participating scholars.’
  • One concluding sentence that sums up the paragraph (and can contain a link to the next paragraph)
    ‘There is emerging consensus that cake consumption during lab meetings has a positive impact on science, as long as cake consumption is not too frequent.’<

    …. the next paragraph is about the negative consequence of frequent cake consumption …

Figures / Tables

  • Figures are very likely the most important part of a paper!
  • Spend time thinking about how the figures drive the story.
  • Think about how to make the figure as clearly understandable as possible.
  • Use the same format and color scheme for figures.
  • Use the same symbols/colors for the same strains/conditions in separate panels/figures.
  • Make notes or a flow chart how you have processed the data shown in the figure (what is the file name of the original data?).


  • Put in references when you write to support statements you make.
  • Put [REF] if you think a reference is needed.
  • Think about which references make good introduction, results or discussion references.