As a researcher, you might have a love/hate relationship with writing. Perhaps it's something like: you hate having to do it, and you love when it's done!
In truth, though, even when it feels laborious or overwhelming, you know the value of writing is that it enables you to communicate your research. Even though writing isn't the only way to share your research, writing is often the first step. So if writing your manuscript is the foundation for sharing your work with others, it's important to think about the best way to craft the story of your research.
The first thing you should consider when you start to write your manuscript is your audience.
Before you put words to a paper, before you choose keywords or a title, before you even finalize your methods and results section, think about the people who you would like to read your work. Think about the people that need to read your work. Then, write for them.
Below are 3 questions to help you consider your audience.
1. Is your audience specialized or generalized?
To determine if your audience will be specialized or generalized, you will want to consider the scope of your research. Does your work pertain to highly specialized fields, or will it resonate with a broader audience?
If your audience is specialized, you will not have to spend as much time describing the background of your research. You will be able to quickly transition into your findings and devote more time explaining your analyses. Try not to over-explain if you are writing to this audience.
If your audience is going to be generalized, you will need to include more context for the study and more information about your methods and experiments. This will give your readers a better understanding of your research. You will want to write in a way that appeals to and engages a broader audience.
Remember, your journal choice should be closely associated with your audience, whether specialized or generalized.
Key take-away: Determining if your audience is generalized or specialized will frame how you discuss your work. It will guide the level of detail that you share, so that you include necessary information without over-explaining.
2. Is your audience regional or global?
Your results should help provide the answer to this question. Is your work specific to a region or country, or does your work relate to the research across the globe?
For instance, if you study the algae that lives on a sloth, you may want to target readers in Central and South America. If your work is more localized, you might consider whether or not you want to publish in a journal that is more popular and known in that region, as opposed to a global journal. If you do choose a regional journal, you may eliminate the need to have your work translated if you are most familiar with the language in that region. Even if you are writing in English, consider whether your audience will mostly consist of readers whose first language is English. If not, there are some ways you can ensure that your writing is accessible to second-language readers from around the globe.
Or perhaps your work is related to marine biology, specifically surrounding coral reefs. Your findings may be applicable on a global scale, and you would therefore want to publish in a global journal. Sharing your work broadly may require you to provide more details to your readers. They need enough background information so that they are able to understand the context of your explanations.
Key take-away: Assessing where your audience resides (in a specific region or worldwide) will help you determine which journal you will submit to and, sometimes, what language you will submit your manuscript in.
3. What will make my audience want to read beyond the abstract?
Your abstract is the place at which you have the opportunity to connect with your readers and draw them in. It is your first impression.
At a minimum, your abstract should include the “punchline.” Researchers are busy, so they expect to be told why it would be worth their time to read more. Including your key results will also help.
Though possibly short on time, researchers are also curious. Try making the most of the 200 or so words that you have to work with, and make this introductory interesting and engaging. You just might see it increase readership.
Key take-away: Your readers should leave the abstract thinking, “How did they find that and how did they support their assertion?” Readers should not conclude with the question, “What did they find?”
Ultimately, your audience impacts your journal choice, and both impact the way you write your manuscript.
Your audience will help determine things like how specific the information that you include is, or even which language you should plan to write in. Journals vary with regard to style details, such as the order of manuscript sections and whether the manuscript should be longer and more detailed or concise with additional information included in the supplement.
Once you have answered these questions, you should set aside some time and retreat to your favorite working space because you will then be better equipped to start writing!