How to prepare a manuscript for publication?

If you are a scientist, you want to publish your work at some point. Other scientists in your field should read and learn from your work. And in science a publication is usually a paper in a journal. Publishing a paper can be hard work if you do it for the first time (also later), but you’ll learn and get better at it. The first step is to prepare a manuscript that you send to a journal. Here are some of my experiences, how to do it.

I am an ecologist and some things might only apply to this field, but I think most journals have a similar style and these ideas can be used everywhere.

Each journal will provide author guidelines. It is very important to read these very carefully before starting anything. The journals specify what type of articles they are interested in. Think carefully if your study fits into the journal. A good idea is to look at a recent issue to see what kind of articles there are. Some journals ask for an abstract before telling you if they want you to send in the full manuscript. Another important point to check is if you are ok with their conditions? For example, some journals want you to provide your data, or in some journals you have to pay for colour figures. Make sure you are aware of their requirements.

Content and structure

  • Language: most articles have to be written in English. If you are not a native English speaker it is a good idea to let a native speaker read your text or somebody with lots of experience.
  • Title: add a short and catchy title. It’s the first thing your reader will see!
  • Whatever you do, be consistent throughout the manuscript: use the same expressions for things and write in the same style.
  • The key words should be words not used in the title but important terms in the manuscript
  • Usually research articles follow this structure: title page, abstract, introduction, method and materials, results, discussion, acknowledgements, references, tables, figure captions.
  • What information is needed on the title page?
    • Title
    • Author names and their affiliation, email address
    • Running title: is an abbreviated title, which is usually printed at the top of the text pages and allows the reader to determine which paper they are looking at.
    • Corresponding author: is usually the author that is responsible for the correspondence throughout the publication process.

Formatting style

  • Use a recent paper as a template. Not to copy but as guidance.
  • Add line numbering: it’s easier for anybody reading your text to refer to a specific position in your text.
  • Double spacing makes the text more readable.
  • Do not justify the right margin. It is maybe not as aesthetically pleasing, but far more readable.
  • Add page numbers! Have you ever printed a 30-page text and then mixed the pages?
  • Keep to the word count or page allowance. If you don’t, it is very easy for the editor to reject your manuscript.
  • Check the requirements for figures and tables: quality of figures, where and how to place the legend, are coloured figures allowed or do you need to pay for it and how should you refer to them (Fig. 1a or Figure 1A). How do you submit figures and tables? Some journals want them in the text (e.g. one table per page), some want you to upload the figures separately.
  • How does the supplementary material need to be presented? In a separate file? And how should you refer to the supplement material (see Appendix Fig. S1)?
  • What format of your manuscript is allowed? Word, LaTex, PDF,…
  • Check your reference list very carefully! Number allowance, format, order. It is very easy to make mistakes here and not all programs provide correct references. Are the species names in italics? Usually there should not be Capital Letters in the Title unless it is a Location or a Name.

By following these instructions, it is not guaranteed that your paper gets accepted. But if you keep to “the code” the editor is more willing to have a real look at the content of your manuscript and not send it back right away.

Good luck preparing your first manuscript and let me know about your experiences.

An ecologist, a pedagogist and a statistician went to Kristiansand

There are a number of techniques to gauge your understanding of your own research. One is the renowned elevator pitch – can you communicate the core of your work to a stranger in the time that it takes an elevator to travel between the top and bottom of a building? This is an excellent means of answering the ‘why’ question – why is this interesting or relevant to the stranger sharing the elevator with you? It can be extremely hard to pull yourself out of the fine details and jargon, and place your work into a context that is meaningful for a non-specialist.

But the other and invariably more subtle indication is teaching. This is a true test of your understanding of basic concepts within your research field. It’s a win-win situation for both student and teacher. Last week, a number of pedagogists, statisticians and ecologists travelled to Kristiansand in Southern Norway to produce two films. Despite initial wishes to follow a ‘Game of Thrones’ plot, killing off our characters with savage enthusiasm and the occasional dragon appearance, we settled for a much gentler and more educational story line (or at least for the first episodes). Our goal in these first films is to introduce new biology undergraduates to basic statistical concepts. Both films begin with scenes in which it becomes clear that a greater statistical understanding would be advantageous (is the fish you just caught above or below the average size for that species?). The films then proceed to explain the statistical concept behind the question through a dialogue between a biologist and a wondering student.



A subset of the BioSTATS team (photo: Lucas Jeno)


So far we’ve covered averages and variability, and we’re developing the script for our next film on statistical distributions. In the pipeline for next year are plans for films about standard error, t-tests, and Mann-Whitney U-tests. These films are part of the BioSTATS project within the Centre of Excellence in Biology Education at the University of Bergen. BioSTATS is a project designed to help students get a better grip on data handling and statistics, especially in the context of biological studies. The aim is to provide students with useful tutorials, videos and other materials adapted for all study levels from bachelor to doctorate.

The well-equipped studio in Kristiansand

The well-equipped studio in Kristiansand


It was a busy but rewarding week in Kristiansand. Using very advanced studio equipment, writing scripts and screen animations, developing clear accompanying datasets and, for some of us, acting, has been a creative experience for all of us. We learned a lot, and we hope the students will, too!



Welcome to FunCaB!

This spring, the University of Bergen in Norway advertised two PhD positions within the Ecological and Environmental Research Group. The topic: climate change effects on carbon and biodiversity dynamics in alpine areas. I couldn’t let such an opportunity slip by. However, like most PhD positions, one of the requirements was the completion of a Masters. Despite having another three months of Masters-thesis writing, I decided to apply. I was therefore very surprised to be invited for an interview, and absolutely delighted to be offered the job!

Two months and a Masters thesis later, I moved to Bergen to become one of two PhD students in the ‘FunCaB’ project. Inge Althuizen and I are attempting to disentangle the roles of plant Functional groups (ie. grasses, herbs, mosses) in mediating climate change effects on Carbon and Biodiversity dynamics in alpine ecosystems in western Norway. Alpine areas are important for providing crucial services including biodiversity, water, cultural and recreational services. We have seen that a century of warming has already caused many changes in mountain areas, from shrinking glaciers to shifting plant communities. Mountains are home to a quarter of the world’s population, and more than half rely on mountains directly or indirectly for the resources and services they provide. Climate change is most noticeable in mountains, so they effectively act as an early warning system for the lowlands. It is thus essential to monitor shifts in mountain regions. This project aims to disentangle how shifts in plant communities will affect carbon dynamics and biodiversity, and in turn ecosystem services, in mountain regions in Norway. More project details are available here and here.

Since June we have already completed our first season of fieldwork. This blog will document the progression of the project, with insights into our fieldwork campaigns, publications, and travels. We’ll also write from time to time about interesting topics in the news and academic field, and more generally about life as a PhD student.