Category Archives: Writing a thesis

How to write when you don’t feel like it

There are many obstacles that can prevent us from being productive and efficient writers, especially procrastination. Even if there is a looming deadline and we are well aware of what needs to be written, sometimes we simply don’t feel like writing. And if we don’t feel like writing, procrastination can creep in, and we might put off writing until the last minute and then produce something that is substandard or incomplete.

Here are four ways to set you on the path of writing, even when you don’t feel like it.

1. Write intensively for short blocks of time

Set a timer and commit to writing for only 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of writing might seem achievable when you don’t feel like writing. Tell yourself that after the 30 minutes is up, as a reward, you will allow yourself to do whatever you want for one hour. Commit to only write for 30 minutes and make sure that you don’t do anything else during that period: no re-reading what you wrote previously, no stopping to google something, no telephone, no talking. Just write. If you find this too hard, start with ten minutes.

If you are normally a productive writer, 30 minutes might not seem like a long time, yet 30 minutes writing is much better than not writing at all. We can write a lot within short time periods if we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted, especially with other work tasks.

Avoid setting the timer for too long a period. Avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself as you will feel unproductive and unsatisfied if you don’t meet them.

When you set a timer, try placing it out of reach so you have to get up from your computer to turn it off. After 30 minutes, stand up and walk around, print out what you have written so you have physical evidence of your productivity. You may find that you want to reset the timer for another 30 minutes and keep going. Ultimately, you may find that setting these writing blocks allows you to break through the barrier of just getting started.

2. Don’t switch between writing tasks during a designated writing session

During your writing sessions, only compete one type of writing. If you are getting your thoughts down, just write freely and don’t switch to editing or proofreading halfway through. If you are rewriting a section of your document, don’t switch to writing new material on a related topic. 

3. Take a break from the computer: print your document out and use a pen

We spend a large proportion of our time in front of a computer for all sorts of work activities, especially writing.  Periodically take a break from writing on a computer, even if it is for a short time. Try printing out the latest draft of your document and take it to a café or a lounge chair with a pen and a notebook. Edit your draft by hand and use a notebook to write fresh material. You might find that the change in environment allows you to relax yet you can still work on your document.

I always print my document out whenever I complete a draft so that I can see how my writing looks on paper and then plan what writing I will do for the next draft. With a paper printout, I can see my whole document at a glance, without having to scroll through a digital version on a computer screen. Moving to a lounge or a comfortable environment, gives me a break from staring at a computer screen and sitting on an office chair.

4. Find a friend to write with

Writing is usually a solitary activity but you might it more enjoyable if you organise writing sessions with a friend or colleague. Try taking your laptops to a park or a café and set up 30-minute writing sessions followed by 30 minutes social chat. You could also read and give feedback on each other’s work.

And remember…

Avoid creating unrealistic expectations that create stress and reduce our work satisfaction. It is unrealistic to expect that we can be super-productive writing machines that can write anything, anywhere and at any time. Aim to write in intensive pre-organised, short blocks of time in an environment that is as comfortable and distraction-free as possible.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2023

Any suggestions or comments please email 

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How to choose the right journal to publish your paper

How to choose the right
journal to publish your paper

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    Choosing the right journal is a crucial step in getting your paper successfully published. Where you publish is also important when establishing your career as a researcher and may improve your ability to attract funding. Choosing the right journal is an important part of the planning process when drafting your paper. Ideally, you should decide what journal you will submit to before you start writing, as each journal will have unique requirements and target different audiences.

    1. Create a draft list of journal titles that appear suitable at first glance

    Based upon your knowledge, advice from colleagues and word-of-mouth, create a draft list of 20-40 journal titles that appear suitable at first glance. You can also use search engines (e.g. ‘marine biology journals’) and journal finder tools and databases (e.g. Scopus). Also look in the reference lists of the papers that you read.  

    2. Define your publishing objectives and preferred journal's attributes

    In addition to simply wanting your paper to be published, you need to have clear objectives about how and where you want your work published. Determining how different journals can meet your objectives will help you decide what journal to choose. Having clear publishing objectives is also important if you are co-authoring a document.

    The following is a list of journal attributes that should be considered when working out your objectives:

    Does the journal meet your institutions’ or funding body’s guidelines?   

    Different universities, departments and other organisation will have guidelines and criteria for journal selection. For example, the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) is Australia’s national research evaluation framework and stipulate that research output must satisfy certain criteria, including the type of journal.

    Does your study subject and publication type meet the journal’s Aim and Scope?

    The journal’s Aims and Scope gives an overview of what subject or topics they publish; for example, the Journal of Cell Science states it is “…committed to publishing the full range of topics in cell biology.” The journal’s Aims and Scope also often outlines what types of papers they publish and their peer review policy. Other crucial information (e.g. page limits) will also be found in the Instructions to Authors.

    Consider the journal’s readership and target audience 

    Does the journal’s readership and target audience match the target audience of your paper? For example, if you have a multi-disciplinary project or topic, you might want to choose a multi-disciplinary journal (for example PLOS One).

    What is the journals’ Impact Factor?

    The impact factor of a journal is a high profile and controversial measure used to rank, evaluate and compare journals and is published in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) by Clarivate Analytics. Clarivate Analytics defines impact factor as a “a measure of the frequency with which the “average article” in a journal has been cited in a particular year or period. The annual JCR impact factor is a ratio between citations and recent citable items published.”

    Is the journal indexed in well-known databases?

    Indexing refers to whether a journal is listed in databases and search engines well known within your discipline. If your journal of choice is indexed by a well-known database (for example Web of Science or PubMed), once your paper is published, both your journal and paper will be found within this database. Some databases only include abstracts, some include the entire paper and the citation index. Read more about indexing here.

    Do you agree with the journals peer-review policy?

    This information should be listed on their website, often under the Aims and Scope section. For example, the journal Trials uses an open review system.

    How long does the journal take to publish your paper?

    The time taken to review your document and notify you of acceptance or rejection will vary between journals and can be a source of frustration. Knowledge of the publishing process will help you determine when to expect to receive a response.  ‘The production process’ by Wiley clearly outlines the steps taken with their journals. Some journals take longer to release your paper after acceptance than others. The Journal of Medical Internet Research estimates it takes them from 4-6 weeks.

    Where do your peers publish?

    Your paper needs to be seen by your peers if it has any chance of being read and cited. Therefore, it should be published in the journals that they are likely to read. For example, if I were an active ecological researcher in Australia, I would consider publishing in Austral Ecology as it is well known and highly regarded.

    Check the journal’s reputation

    Only publish your paper in reputable journals. Early-career researchers might not be fully aware of fake or predatory journals that pretend to have a good reputation, accept your paper with minimal or no review and then charge you for submission. If you send a paper to a predatory journal, you might never hear from them again or ever see your paper in print. Think. Check. Submit is a system designed to help authors to identify trusted journals, including a check list to assess your chosen journals. 

    Does the journal charge fees for publishing your paper?

    Many journals not only charge for subscription and purchase of papers they publish, they also charge authors fees for publishing their papers after they have been accepted for publication.  Remember that your institution may already cover these charges. Read ‘Understanding Submission and Publication Fees’ for further background.  Even if a journal is open source, you many still need to pay article processing charges.

    3. Create a short-list of journals that meet your objectives

    Create a short-list of the journals that meet your objectives. Perhaps also compile a spreadsheet of your short-listed journals to easily compare different attributes. This spreadsheet can be updated when preparing your next publication.

    4. Once you have chosen the journal for submission, thoroughly review their requirements

    Read your chosen journal’s website meticulously, especially the Aims and Scope and the Instructions of Authors. A common reason for paper rejection or request for resubmission is that the author has not comprehensively followed these instructions. Without thorough investigation, you may overlook important aspects that will prevent you from getting your paper published and it is better to find this out before you go through the process of writing, formatting and submitting your paper.


    Don’t forget that if you are unsure about anything, contact the editor. Some journals have information about pre-submission enquires on their websites, while most will have online articles and guides to help you understand their requirements.

    © Dr Marina Hurley 2022

    Any suggestions or comments please email 

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    Critique all writing advice

    When teaching I am often asked ‘What is the writing rule for X …’, with the expectation that there will be a hard and fast rule on topic X that simply needs to be learned and followed. Before responding, I talk about the difference between writing rules, general advice and the ‘It Depends…’ option. I consider a writing rule is something that must be done every time: for example, the rule of capitalising the first word of every sentence. But not all rules or advice should be automatically followed. This is the ‘It Depends…’  option.

    Language wouldn’t work without rules and there is much advice and wisdom about how to improve writing. Most advice is based upon a wealth of experience, education and research. However, some advice is not helpful, continues to be republished and retaught and can make writing more difficult, especially if delivered as a rule rather than as a suggestion.

    The problem with writing rules

    1. As they are rules, they are often delivered as absolutes. This practice could lead writers to change their work, and possibly their intended meaning, for the primary reason of following a rule at the expense of closely reviewing and critiquing both their work and the writing advice.

    2. They are not critiqued. Some writing rules might help some people some of the time, but it’s the exceptions that leave writers fretting. Critiquing a writing rule means looking at the exceptions to see how robust it is. Writing rules that reinforce current writing conventions are harder to change; for example, the use of the personal pronoun is still widely discouraged.

    How does advice end up as a writing rule?

    I believe writing rules can evolve from suggestions in the following way: Sarah struggled with writing long paragraphs and found it helpful if she forced herself not to write more than seven sentences for each paragraph. Sarah said to Peter, “You should restrict your paragraphs to no more than seven sentences.” Peter tried this and it worked for him. He also found that it helped him if he also made sure his paragraphs were not too short. Later, he told his friend Sia that “It’s a good idea if paragraphs are no more than seven sentences and no less than three”. Sia told her friends in her tutorial group, “I’ve heard that paragraphs should be no more than seven sentences and no less than three”. Some members of this tutorial group then believed this instruction was a writing rule: that this is how all paragraphs should be written.

    This type of ad-hoc, untested advice, can be elevated to the status of a writing rule simply if delivered as a directive, by including words such as ‘should’, ‘must’ or ‘always’. These words immediately indicate something is an obligation or a duty, or a state of correctness. Also, simply calling something a ‘rule’ automatically raises its’ importance. 

    Rules may appear easier to teach and learn

    Perhaps some advice evolves into a writing rule because it initially appears easier to teach with the common ‘black or white’ or a ‘yes or no’ structure of rules. Some might also think that rules are easier to learn, and to follow, instead of having to make decisions about what and how to write. I occasionally hear inexperienced writers say they would prefer to follow writing rules thinking this will prevent them from making serious writing errors. 

    The grey areas between the black and white writing rules

    Teaching and learning in the grey areas between black and white writing rules primarily involves understanding how to deal with the exceptions to the rules. The process of teaching whether a certain piece of advice is valid can be time-consuming as it involves the use of argument and logic and the use of examples demonstrating valid exceptions to the rules. For example, the writing rule to use active voice is often delivered as a simple, single choice, yet the decision of whether to use passive or active voice is not straightforward.

    Ideally, both the writing rule and the issue needing the rule require critical assessment and deliberation, before any advice is followed. This is the ‘It Depends…’ option which is my most common response when I’m asked to teach writing rules.

    The ‘It Depends…’ option is where you:

    1. Review the writing rule under consideration.
    2. Analyse any exceptions to this rule
    3. Analyse how common and valid these exceptions are.

    If there are many valid exceptions, a writing rule reverts to being advice that should be followed depending on the circumstances of the topic, the intention of the writer and whether crucial meaning or conventions are altered by not following this advice.

    If there are too many exceptions then the writing rule becomes ambiguous, difficult to learn and difficult to teach. This is the case for some grammar, spelling and punctuation rules and for other advice delivered as writing rules.

    Many writing rules are necessary

    Some writing rules are more important than others. Most grammar rules are essential to explain how to use our language to communicate clearly. We need verbs in sentences otherwise we wouldn’t know what was going on; we need a subject so that we know who or what was doing the thing that was going on.

    Some good suggestions need not be considered writing rules

    Some writing rules are just good suggestions disguised as rules; for example, the common bullet point rule that helps maintain consistency and flow: “Always have the same size bullet point indents” can be rephrased as “Be consistent with bullet point indents.” You might have a valid reason for changing indents, especially if you have different types of bullet points.

    Some writing rules are archaic or out-dated

    While many grammar rules are essential, some are no longer used or followed. ‘Never split your infinitives’ is a prescriptive rule that dictates one must never place an adverb between ‘to’ and a verb’ (‘You have to quickly speak’ versus ‘You have to speak quickly’). This rule is widely criticised yet still commonly taught.

    There are two types of grammar rules: Descriptive grammar describes how language is currently used, while Prescriptive grammar “specifies how a language and its grammar rules should be used”. Prescriptive grammar rules generally don’t change and are seen as absolute. I follow a descriptive approach, as long as the intended meaning is preserved, while following prescriptive rules when explaining grammar and when grammar errors make sentences unintelligible.  I agree with Mark Nicol’s comment that “A tension between the two systems is inevitable — and healthy; it keeps us thinking about what we’re saying and writing.” (Daily Writing Tips 2011).

    Some writing rules are not so good

    There are writing rules that are, at best, only slightly helpful. A student once claimed that their supervisor strictly enforced a rule never to phrase rhetorical questions within research papers but the reasons behind the rule were not explained.

    Once writing rules become well-known, they are hard to undo. Some examples:

    Some writing rules reflect and perpetuate writing conventions

    Writing conventions are accepted ways of writing within a specific discipline. These conventions help delineate the discipline and are perpetuated by writing rules and more general advice. A simple example is the convention of writing Latin names for organisms, where species and sub-species are never capitalised and every level from genus and above are always capitalised. For example, the river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis): species: camaldulensis, genus: Eucalyptus, family: Myrtaceae, order: Myrtales, kingdom: Plantae.

    As language changes over time, so too do scientific writing conventions. For example, using the active voice was once strongly discouraged and now many scientific disciplines actively encourage it’s use. However, both types of voice are necessary for clear communication.

    It is crucial to stay informed of the current conventions within your discipline and research topic. Always refer to your journals’ Instruction for Authors if publishing a research paper or your organisation’s style guide to check what is expected. The Australian Style Guide is a good reference website suitable for many writing genres.

    Don’t let writing rules stop you from writing

    Yes, we want to avoid writing gobbledegook but don’t worry about writing rules in your first draft. When working on editing and rewriting your drafts, the top priority is not to compromise your meaning. Make sure that what you write is clear and succinct and that your presentation is consistent and easy to navigate. Always get feedback from your friends and colleagues if you want to know if you are making sense but critique all writing advice, especially if delivered as a writing rule.

    © Dr Marina Hurley 2022

    Any suggestions or comments please email 

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    How to write good research paper titles

    Your title is the first and most important step in engaging your reader. It should be concise, interesting and summarise the essential content of the document. Any title that is lengthy, overly complex, ambiguous or misleading can turn away prospective readers. This writing guide gives an overview of the different types of titles and explains the essential steps in designing your title.

    Title structure

    Titles can be sentence fragments, complete sentences or compound sentences with the second sentence typically following a colon.

    To help the paper appear in search results, it is common practice to place keywords in the title. Keywords used in the title should be placed in the beginning in case only a fragment of the title appears in the search results. 

    Terms used to describe types of titles

    Common terms used to describe different types of research paper titles are Descriptive, declarative, interrogative, suggestive, humorous and combination titles.

    Descriptive titles or indicative titles

    Descriptive titles state the subject, topic, design, purpose or methods of the project. For example:

    • ‘Effects of natural forest and tree plantations on leaf-litter frog assemblages in Southern Brazil.’ (Cicheleiro et al. 2021).
    • ‘An efficient incremental learning mechanism for tracking concept drift in spam filtering.’ (Jyh-Jian et al. 2017).

    Declarative or Informative titles

    These titles give the main findings or result of the study. For example:

    • ‘Novel flight style and light wings boost flight performance of tiny beetles.’ (Farisenkov et al 2022).
    • ‘Cause of hypereosinophilia shows itself after 6 years: Loa loa.’ (Hicks et al. 2022).

    There is some concern that presenting the results or conclusions in the title of a paper will appear presumptive: that titles containing a definitive statement or final conclusion of a study, might prove problematic if that finding is later disproved.

    Some journals prefer informative titles. For example, the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology has “… an editorial policy of “more informative titles” (MITs) that crisply and concisely tell our readers what our authors found in their research. A MIT states the study type and summarizes its key findings, using the past tense for individual studies and the present tense for systematic reviews.” The idea is that titles for small individual studies should be written in past tense to allow future studies to overrule or disagree with their findings, while titles should be written in present tense for studies that are unlikely to be over-ruled by later studies: i.e. literature reviews. Some research has also demonstrated that “articles with short titles describing the results are cited more often.” (Paiva et al. 2012).

    Interrogative titles

    Interrogative titles or titles phrased as a question. The use of questions in titles can create interest by making the reader immediately wonder what the answer might be. It is also a concise way of presenting the research topic.

    For example:  

    • ‘Does adding video and subtitles to an audio lesson facilitate its comprehension?’ (Zheng et al. 2022).
    • ‘Microbial defenses against mobile genetic elements and viruses: Who defends whom from what?’ (Eduardo et al. 2022).

    Suggestive titles

    These are titles that are slightly ambiguous or overly brief to hint or suggest what the findings might be, presumably to create suspense to entice the reader to find out what the answer is. For example:

    • ‘Drawing to improve metacomprehension accuracy’. (Thiede et al. 2022).
    • ‘The puzzle of high temperature superconductivity in layered iron pnictides and chalcogenides.’ (Johnston 2010).

    Humorous or colloquial title

    These are titles that hope to attract interest through humour or common-use sayings, colloquialism or metaphors. These types of titles can be used to good effect. However, be mindful that colloquialisms might not make sense to readers from different language or cultural backgrounds.

    For example:

    Combination titles

    Combination titles are those that include a combination of different types listed above.

    The following example uses a colloquialism in the key title with the findings mentioned in the sub-title:

    • ‘Standing out in a crowd: Intraspecific variability in dorsal patterning allows for photo-identification of a threatened anuran.’ (Gould et al. 2021).

    The following example has the following structure: ‘Topic: results of study’

    • Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea (Eriksen et al. 2014).

    Which type is better?

    There are conflicting views which type of title is better. There are arguments for and against different types, with research findings presenting the pros and cons of different types of title. Before you decide which is best, first look at how titles are commonly structured in recently published journals within your discipline.

    Essential steps in designing your title

    The following steps will help you design your document title.

    1. Read the Instructions to Authors

    Once you have selected a journal, review the types of titles recently published and read the Instructions to Authors to learn what the journal requires for paper titles. Instructions regarding titles are often brief. For example:

    - Elsevier’s Guide for Authors “Title - Concise and informative. Titles are often used in information-retrieval systems. Avoid abbreviations and formulae where possible.”

    - Plos One Submission Guidelines state that titles should be “…Specific, descriptive, concise, and comprehensible to readers outside the field.” and “…written in sentence case (only the first word of the text, proper nouns, and genus names are capitalized). Avoid specialist abbreviations if possible. For clinical trials, systematic reviews, or meta-analyses, the subtitle should include the study design.”

    2. Consider your audience

    Although the expected audience is broadly set by the scope of the journal, you still need to identify who will be interested in your paper. Who is your target audience? Are they scientists who mostly work in your field or will they include researchers from other disciplines? Consider what aspects of your project would attract your target audience and whether or not you can include these in your title.

    3. Decide what aspects of your study to include in your title

    As outlined above (Types of titles) decide whether you want to describe the process (descriptive) the result (informative) the research question or problem (integrative) or a combination of these factors.

    Description of methods and study design

    Titles of research papers, reports and conference proceedings often contain standard research methods. For example:  

    • ‘Plant-based diets and incident cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in African Americans: A cohort study.’ (Weston et al. 2022).
    • ‘Using scale modelling to assess the prehistoric acoustics of Stonehenge.’ (Cox et al. 2020).
    • ‘The use of chronosequences in studies of ecological succession and soil development.’ (Walker et al 2010).

    Description of study subjects and location

    Titles often just describe the key study subject, and also often including habitat or location. For example: 

    How specific or general should your title be?

    Your title should be unique to your project. Hopefully, no one else is writing a paper exactly the same as you, and your title should reflect this. If your title is too broad or general, then you may give the impression that the study is larger than it is or that it is a literature review.  This is when it is important to make a distinction between ‘topic’ (general) and ‘title’ (specific). Unless you are writing a literature review or presenting a large-scale study, don’t give your research topic as your title.

    Including information on the scope of the study will also help the reader understand the magnitude of your study and from this, the importance and implications of the findings. In the following example, “in highway bridges” gives the scope of the study:

    • ‘Finite element based fatigue assessment of corrugated steel web beams in highway bridges.’ (Wang & Wang 2015).

    Avoid making your title too long with too much specific detail. For example, perhaps this title is too long:

    • ‘Use of open-text responses to recode categorical survey data on postpartum contraception use among women in the United States: A mixed-methods inquiry of Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System data.’ (Richards et al, 2022).

    4. Consider your reader’s behaviour

    Assume your reader only has a short time to decide if your title is relevant and that they will only review the abstract if the title interests them. Titles that include standard procedures, common cause-effect scenarios or well-known research topics, might be overlooked in preference for titles describing unique approaches or interesting findings.

    5. Check that your title is clear and easy to read 

    Your main message must be clear. Your titles don’t have to be grammatically-complete sentences, but make sure they make sense, especially if you have tried to shorten them by cutting out words. Don’t sacrifice clarity for brevity by making your title obscure.

    Beware of using adjectival-noun strings in your titles. This is when authors try and be more concise by placing too many adjectives in front a single noun making it difficult to decipher whether each adjective is actually modifying the root noun or another word in the adjectival-noun string. Take an example from a student report: ‘Australian insecticide control failure.’ (Anon.) This might be interpreted as:

    • The failure of insecticide to control something in Australia.
    • The failure of Australian insecticide to control something somewhere else.
    • The failure to control [the use of] Australian insecticide.

    Another unclear example: ‘Post head emergence spring radiative frost damage of winter cereals.’ (Anon.) It could be made even longer: ‘Winter cereal post head emergence spring radiative frost damage.’ 

    6. Check your title length  

    Check that your title length is adequate for readability and comprehension. The longer the title, the harder it is to read and comprehend, especially if it includes complicated terminology and phrasing. Every time something has to be re-read, you increase your chance of losing the reader. There is no golden rule about how long a title should be, but a good tip is to ask a colleague to read it out loud. If they are unfamiliar with title and struggle to read it easily, it is probably too long or too complex. Also check to see if there is a word limit set by the Instructions to Authors in your chosen journal.

    The shorter the title, the easier it will be to read but only to a certain point. Too short and you risk sacrificing your meaning. Also, If you leave out too much detail, the title may appear too general and mislead the reader. If the reader has to guess what the meaning, you increase the chance of losing them. Check that your title is not too ambiguous, cryptic or inadvertently misleading. An ambiguous media release example:

    7. Check that your title is concise

    Titles can be made more concise by removing unnecessary repetition and detail. Common research phrases can be removed without affecting the meaning or structure of the title. Examples of these research phrases include ‘The influence of...’, ‘The role of..’, ‘Effects of..’, ‘Observations of..,’ ‘Studies on...’

    For example: ‘Annual variation in the distribution of summer snowdrifts in the Kosciuszko alpine area, Australia, and its effect on the composition and structure of alpine vegetation.’  (Edmonds et al. 2006) [25 words] could be reduced to: “Distribution of summer snowdrifts influences composition and structure of Kosciuszko alpine vegetation, Australia” [13 words].  

    8. Ways to make your title more interesting

    Ask a question

    By writing a title in the form of a question you are immediately inviting the reader to think. For example:

    • ‘Whose shoulders is health research standing on? Determining the key actors and contents of the prevailing biomedical research agenda.’ (Testoni et al. 2021).

    Be humorous or focus on the unusual or unexpected

    Mildly humorous titles immediately engage the reader while unusual or unexpected tiles create curiosity.

    • ‘On human odour, malaria mosquitoes, and Limburger cheese.’ (Knols 1996).

    Final considerations

    My key advice is, ensure your title is concise, easy to read (for your target audience), not too long and adequately reflects your study’s design or purpose (not too general or too specific).


    • Is it hard to read?
    • If it is a question, does it make your reader wonder what the answer is?
    • If it is a summary of your methods, are these methods unique or reveal a fresh approach or are they just standard and well-known and therefore unlikely to stand-out?
    • If it is the answer or conclusion to your problem, are you risking letting the reader think they now don’t need to read the paper? Or might your conclusion-title be a way to hook your reader into finding out more about your study?
    • Does it create interest or curiosity?

    © Dr Marina Hurley 2022

    Any suggestions or comments please email 

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    Co-authors should define their roles and responsibilities before they start writing

    Have you ever had problems when co-authoring a document?

    Are you about to co-author a document but have not had a lot of experience of working with other authors? Have you worked with other authors who avoid replying to your emails, contribute little to the document, then expect to be included as an author? Have you sat down with your co-authors and decided who will do what task, then find that one author has taken charge of the writing project? Have you had disputes about who should be the lead author of your paper? These problems reflect a lack of planning: co-authors should define their roles and responsibilities before they start writing.

    Being an author of a published scientific document brings responsibilities: you are acknowledged as having written and designed that document and you may need to verify or defend your writing.

    If you are the author of a document presenting original research you are presenting yourself as the person responsible for designing and completing the study and you will be given credit for any original ideas, new findings and conclusions. You are responsible for verifying the integrity of your work. If there is more than one author, the credit and responsibility is assigned equally to all authors, even with the understanding that the first author is often the major contributor.

    When co-authoring a document, each author will complete different tasks. The amount and type of work completed by each author will vary according to the nature of the project, the topic, the industry’s or discipline’s conventions and the number of co-authors.

    Should each author's contribution be listed in the document?

    Whether or not the contributions of all co-authors are included in the document itself, will depend upon the type and purpose of the document. For example, with a short, three-page report prepared by a company for a client, it might not be appropriate to state who the authors are, let alone outlining what their contributions were. In some instances, outlining co-authors contributions is essential. When submitting an article for a peer-reviewed journal, it is usually a requirement that co-authors meticulously outline their contribution to the document. For example, the ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) state “In addition to being accountable for the parts of the work he or she has done, an author should be able to identify which co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work. In addition, authors should have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.

    Co-authoring is often unplanned

    In many instances, the contributions of co-authors are not documented or even formally agreed to; a group of co-authors might discuss allocation of tasks over a coffee in an informal meeting or through short emails. In many instances, there is no prior agreement between co-authors at all which can lead to significant problems.

    If the role and responsibilities of co-authors are not managed effectively, the process of writing can take longer than it should, or worse, documents may be poorly written or never get completed. Confusion about who does what can cause disagreement between authors and dramatically reduce the quality and quantity of what is written. Additional problems include:

    - disputes over who is in charge of the writing project, who has the final say about the content or conclusions or who is the lead author

    - unrealistic expectations by a writer being nominated as author when they have made an insignificant contribution

    - objections by a colleague being nominated as an author when they consider their contribution to be minimal, preferring instead to be mentioned in the acknowledgements.

    - unnecessary duplication of writing, editing and analysis tasks

    - insufficient completion of essential tasks that is either not recognised at all or completed at the last minute without sufficient quality control

    - ad-hoc invitations for other writers to contribute at different stages

    Irrespective of the type of document produced, each co-author should outline their proposed contribution in separate document before they start writing. This is necessary for a well-managed project, as the role of authors can often change during the process of drafting of a document and written agreements are easier to manage than verbal agreements. An authorship agreement document can be updated if there are any changes and modified for different project. An example is the Authorship Agreement template from Southern Cross University. 

    Steps in developing a Co-author Agreement:

    1. Refer to a published authorship policy for guidance

    An authorship policy outlines what contributions are necessary for someone to be considered an author of a document. Most universities have authorship policies (e.g. UTAS), as do publishing companies, editorial committees and research institutions. The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) section on Authorship (5.1) states: …“To be named as an author, a researcher must have made a substantial scholarly contribution to the work and be able to take responsibility for at least that part of the work they contributed. Attribution of authorship depends to some extent on the discipline, but in all cases, authorship must be based on substantial contributions in a combination of:

    • conception and design of the project
    • analysis and interpretation of research data
    • drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the
    • interpretation.”

    2. Identify what contributions are necessary before assigning tasks to authors

    If there is no lead author who is in charge of the writing project, as a group, co-authors should decide what contributions are necessary before assigning, or agreeing to tasks. This will ensure essential tasks are not overlooked and may prevent additional, unnecessary tasks (i.e. the preparation of 12 images for publication when one will suffice).

    3. Draft an Co-author Agreement document

    Draft an Co-author Agreement document that outlines each author's role, responsibilities and contributions to the document. This can also include timelines for completion. Send the draft to all co-authors for comment and feedback.

    4. Finalise Co-author Agreement document

    Once all authors have agreed to the outline, finalise the agreement and return to all authors. Once the contributions of each co-author are assigned and agreed to, then the writing can commence. If co-authors maintain regular communication while preparing the document, any changes to contributions can be further monitored.

    The final Co-author Agreement document can also be developed as a template for future projects

    © Dr Marina Hurley 2022

    Any suggestions or comments please email 

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