Not many of us are taught how to write manuscripts. Yet, as medical students one of ways we need can be very productive in research is to be proficient in writing. The better you can write, the more papers you can produce. While I have many tips on improving your writing that are more general such as read a lot, practice writing, and get feedback, I wanted to provide some more in-depth and concrete tips in this blog post.
Start with an outline
Be intentional with what you’re trying to write. Before you sit to write your paper, craft an outline of the sections, the paragraphs and what you want to include in said paragraphs.
- Paragraph 1
- Incidence of thyroid cancer
- How to diagnose thyroid cancer
- Treatment of thyroid cancer
- How many patients have normal life expectancy with thyroid cancer
- We should care about quality of life in these cancer survivors
- Paragraph 1
Start general then get specific
This is particularly important for your introductions and discussions. Start your introduction with an overview of the disease (e.g. incidence, how to diagnosis or treat). Then, give more details on what prior studies have shown as fair as diagnosis or treatment.
Stick to one idea per paragraph
When you stick to one idea per paragraph, your messaging will be more clear. At the end of the day, your goal is to convey a clear point to your readers.
Keep your verb tense consistent
Aim to keep your verb tense consistent within each section of your paper. For example, the Results section of a paper is usually in the past tense since the study has already been completed. Citing previously literature should be past tense. If you’re concluding something or making a claim from your study, this can be in present tense (e.g. The risk of thyroid cancer after a primary malignancy is greater in female compared to males.)
Spell out numbers
There are two main times you want to spell out numbers.
- At the beginning of a sentence
- When it’s less than 10
However, when you’re starting a sentence with a large number (e.g. 7,829,119 patients were included in the study) you can rearrange the sentence (e.g. the study included 7,829,119 patients)
Keep your writing as concise as possible.
Use short sentence when you can. Use shorter words when possible. Limit your use of semicolons and break the sentence into two instead. Edit out unnecessary words or filler words such as “that.”
Limit unnecessarily over-complicated language. You don’t need to prove how smart you can sound. Let the data speak for themselves.
Avoid the phrases “our study found…” through our discussion. You can simply state your findings.
Use active phrases instead of passive.
For example, instead of “The patients were recruited by the researchers in clinic and were asked to filled out a survey.” –> “Patients were recruited and asked to fill out a survey.”
Appropriately cite prior research
When mentioning previous research or any facts, make sure you cite them. Even claims such as “The incidence of colon cancer is rising.” needs to be cited appropriately.