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Journal article writing

Sharing knowledge is a core principle of academia, and publications are an effective and rewarding way to disseminate your research findings to those who should know about it - your communities of practice. If you are doing a PhD or Masters, it is often strongly encouraged that you publish during and beyond your program. If you have finished your Honours project, you might also be interested in publishing your work to boost your career prospects (many employers, not just academics, value publications). And publications are also a possibility for many students doing research in undergraduate programs.

So where is the best place to start? The following pages look at key steps in the process of planning and writing your article.

Targeting a journal >>

References and further resources

  • Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success . Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Clark, T. & Wright, M. (2007). Reviewing journal rankings and revisiting peer reviews: Editorial perspectives. Journal of Management Studies , 44 (4), 612-621.
  • Gump, S. E. (2004). Writing successful covering letters for unsolicited submissions to academic journals. Journal of Scholarly Publishing , 35 (2), 92-102.
  • Knight, L. V. & Steinbach, T. A. (2008). Selecting an Appropriate publication outlet: a comprehensive model of journal selection criteria for researchers in a broad range of academic disciplines. International Journal of Doctoral Studies , 3 , 59-78.
  • Murray, R. (2009). Writing for academic journals (2nd ed.). Berkshire: Open University Press (McGraw-Hill).

Targeting a journal

Turning a chapter into an article

Planning your paper

Writing an abstract

Dealing with feedback

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Journal article

Writing a journal article.

article writing university

Writing a journal article is the traditional way to share academic research with an audience in your research field. Academic journal articles are peer-reviewed and formally written, with writing conventions and rules that differ across journals and disciplines. Although these rules are important to follow, don't lose sight of your main goal: to communicate your research effectively with your audience.

3 tips for writing an article View


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Writing Article Summaries

  • Understanding Article Summaries 

Common Problems in Article Summaries

Read carefully and closely, structure of the summary, writing the summary.

  • Sample Outlines and Paragraphs

Understanding Article Summaries

An article summary is a short, focused paper about one scholarly article that is informed by a critical reading of that article. For argumentative articles, the summary identifies, explains, and analyses the thesis and supporting arguments; for empirical articles, the summary identifies, explains, and analyses the research questions, methods, findings, and implications of the study.

Although article summaries are often short and rarely account for a large portion of your grade, they are a strong indicator of your reading and writing skills. Professors ask you to write article summaries to help you to develop essential skills in critical reading, summarizing, and clear, organized writing. Furthermore, an article summary requires you to read a scholarly article quite closely, which provides a useful introduction to the conventions of writing in your discipline (e.g. Political Studies, Biology, or Anthropology).

The most common problem that students have when writing an article summary is that they misunderstand the goal of the assignment. In an article summary, your job is to write about the article, not about the actual topic of the article. For example, if you are summarizing Smith’s article about the causes of the Bubonic plague in Europe, your summary should be about Smith’s article: What does she want to find out about the plague? What evidence does she use? What is her argument? You are not writing a paper about the actual causes of Bubonic plague in Europe.

Further, as a part of critical reading, you will often consider your own position on a topic or an argument; it is tempting to include an assessment or opinion about the thesis or findings, but this is not the goal of an article summary. Rather, you must identify, explain, and analyse the main point and how it is supported.

Your key to success in writing an article summary is your understanding of the article; therefore, it is essential to read carefully and closely. The Academic Skills Centre offers helpful instruction on the steps for critical reading: pre-reading, active and analytical reading, and reflection.

Argumentative Articles

As you read an argumentative article, consider the following questions:

  • What is the topic?
  • What is the research question? In other words, what is the author trying to find out about that topic?
  • How does the author position his/her article in relation to other studies of the topic?
  • What is the thesis or position? What are the supporting arguments?
  • How are supporting arguments developed? What kind of evidence is used?
  • What is the significance of the author’s thesis? What does it help you to understand about the topic?

Empirical Articles

As you read an empirical article, consider the following questions:

  • What is the research question?
  • What are the predictions and the rationale for these predictions?
  • What methods were used (participants, sampling, materials, procedure)? What were the variables and controls?
  • What were the main results?
  • Are the findings supported by previous research?
  • What are the limitations of the study?
  • What are the implications or applications of the findings?

Create a Reverse Outline

Creating a reverse outline is one way to ensure that you fully understand the article. Pre-read the article (read the abstract, introduction, and/or conclusion). Summarize the main question(s) and thesis or findings. Skim subheadings and topic sentences to understand the organization; make notes in the margins about each section. Read each paragraph within a section; make short notes about the main idea or purpose of each paragraph. This strategy will help you to see how parts of the article connect to the main idea or the whole of the article.

A summary is written in paragraph form and generally does not include subheadings. An introduction is important to clearly identify the article, the topic, the question or purpose of the article, and its thesis or findings. The body paragraphs for a summary of an argumentative article will explain how arguments and evidence support the thesis. Alternatively, the body paragraphs of an empirical article summary may explain the methods and findings, making connections to predictions. The conclusion explains the significance of the argument or implications of the findings. This structure ensures that your summary is focused and clear.

Professors will often give you a list of required topics to include in your summary and/or explain how they want you to organize your summary. Make sure you read the assignment sheet with care and adapt the sample outlines below accordingly.

One significant challenge in writing an article summary is deciding what information or examples from the article to include. Remember, article summaries are much shorter than the article itself. You do not have the space to explain every point the author makes. Instead, you will need to explain the author’s main points and find a few excellent examples that illustrate these points.

You should also keep in mind that article summaries need to be written in your own words. Scholarly writing can use complex terminology to explain complicated ideas, which makes it difficult to understand and to summarize correctly. In the face of difficult text, many students tend to use direct quotations, saving them the time and energy required to understand and reword it. However, a summary requires you to summarize, which means “to state briefly or succinctly” (Oxford English Dictionary) the main ideas presented in a text. The brevity must come from you, in your own words, which demonstrates that you understand the article.

Sample Outlines and Paragraph

Sample outline for an argumentative article summary.

  • General topic of article
  • Author’s research question or approach to the topic
  • Author’s thesis
  • Explain some key points and how they support the thesis
  • Provide a key example or two that the author uses as evidence to support these points
  • Review how the main points work together to support the thesis?
  • How does the author explain the significance or implications of his/her article?

Sample Outline for an Empirical Article Summary

  • General topic of study
  • Author’s research question
  • Variables and hypotheses
  • Participants
  • Experiment design
  • Materials used
  • Key results
  • Did the results support the hypotheses?
  • Implications or applications of the study
  • Major limitations of the study

Sample Paragraph

The paragraph below is an example of an introductory paragraph from a summary of an empirical article:

Tavernier and Willoughby’s (2014) study explored the relationships between university students’ sleep and their intrapersonal, interpersonal, and educational development. While the authors cited many scholars who have explored these relationships, they pointed out that most of these studies focused on unidirectional correlations over a short period of time. In contrast, Tavernier and Willoughby tested whether there was a bidirectional or unidirectional association between participants’ sleep quality and duration and several psychosocial factors including intrapersonal adjustment, friendship quality, and academic achievement. Further they conducted a longitudinal study over a period of three years in order to determine whether there were changes in the strength or direction of these associations over time. They predicted that sleep quality would correlate with measures of intrapersonal adjustment, friendship quality, and academic achievement; they further hypothesized that this correlation would be bidirectional: sleep quality would predict psychosocial measures and at the same time, psychosocial measures would predict sleep quality.

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Using Articles

What are articles.

Articles are special modifiers that appear before nouns or noun phrases. Like other adjectives, they help clarify the meaning of the noun in your sentence. There are only two articles in the English language: the and a (and its variant an , used before a word that starts with a vowel sound). A noun may also appear without an article in front of it. If you are a native speaker, you will probably know which article to place in front of a noun without having to think about it. If, however, English is your second language, knowing which article to use where can be difficult. Learning and consciously applying a few basic principles can help you improve your article use significantly. With time and a lot of practice, using articles correctly will become second nature.

Where exactly do articles go?

Articles belong in front of all other modifiers preceding a noun:

a large urban university the first female college principal

There are other special modifiers called determiners or markers that may appear in front of a noun phrase. Do not use an article if you also intend to use any of the following markers directly before the noun: this , that , these , those , my , his , her , your , our , their , its , any , either , each , every , many , few , several , some , all .

A useful set of rules for using articles

You can determine which article to place in front of almost any noun by answering the following three questions: Is the noun countable or uncountable ? Is it singular or plural ? Is it definite or indefinite ?

A noun is countable if you can have more than one instance of it. The word exam is countable because you can have, say, four exams scheduled at the end of the year. The word concentration , however, is uncountable, because it would not make sense to speak of having four concentrations , even though you will need a lot of concentration to study for all four exams. Many words have both countable and uncountable meanings, depending on the sentence.

Knowing whether the particular use of a noun is singular or plural is quite straightforward. Just ask the question, Am I referring to more than one instance of something?

A noun is definite when it is clear to your reader which specific instance or instances of an entity you are referring to; otherwise it is indefinite. Often the first use of a noun is indefinite and subsequent uses are definite.

When I started university, I had a phobia about exams. I conquered the phobia by writing lots of them.

Here, the first sentence establishes for the reader the existence of the writer's former phobia. By the second sentence, the reader knows exactly which phobia the writer is talking about—the one about exams just referred to in the previous sentence. The first use of a noun can be definite if the reader can figure out from context or some other clue just which instance of an entity the writer is referring to.

The point of my professor's exams was to make sure we understood the course material .

Note that the prepositional phrase following point narrows down its meaning to something very specific, while the course material can refer only to the material in this particular professor's course. Both nouns are therefore definite.

Once you have answered all three questions, you can use the following chart to help you choose the correct article. (The symbol Ø means no article.)

  definite indefinite singular the e.g. I need to study hardest for the exam that I write next Wednesday. a, an e.g. I have an exam to write this afternoon, and then my summer holiday finally begins. plural the e.g. The exams that I wrote last year were much easier. Ø e.g. Exams are an inescapable fact of life for most university students.


  definite indefinite singular the e.g. The importance of studying hard cannot be exaggerated. Ø e.g. Do not attach importance to memorizing facts.

Observe the following: If the noun is definite, it always takes the article the ; if the noun is indefinite it never takes the article the . If you don't have the chart in front of you, you can still often get the article right just by remembering that simple rule of thumb.

Using articles to refer to classes of objects

Nouns can refer to an entire group of similar objects, sometimes called a class. There are three ways to refer to a class: using (1) the definite singular, (2) the indefinite singular, or (3) the indefinite plural. Here is an example of each:

(1) The lion is a majestic animal. (2) A lion is a majestic animal. (3) Lions are majestic animals.

All three sentences convey the same meaning with slightly different emphasis. The first sentence takes one lion as a representative of all lions and then makes its assertion about that representative. The second sentence in effect states, take any lion you like from the class of all lions, and what you say about it will be true of all other lions. The third sentence directly makes its assertion about all lions. This third usage is probably the most common. Choose whichever usage sounds best in your sentence.

Using articles in front of proper nouns

The rules in the chart do not work in all situations. In particular, they are not much help in the case of proper nouns. Most proper nouns, however, are governed by simple rules. For example, do not place an article in front of the names of people.

Stephen Harper is the twenty-second prime minister of Canada.

Most countries, like Canada in the sentence above, do not take articles. Here are two noteworthy exceptions: the United States , and the United Kingdom . Rivers, mountain ranges, seas, and oceans should be preceded by the article the: the Amazon River , the Rocky Mountains , the Ural Sea , the Pacific Ocean . Lakes, on the other hand, don't usually take an article: Lake Louise , Lake Ontario .

Find out more about articles by visiting the University of Toronto's page on special cases in the use of the definite article .

Acknowledgements to Marjatta Holt for her chart on article use.

Written by Jerry Plotnick, Director, UC Writing Centre.

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Writing for an academic journal: 10 tips

1) Have a strategy, make a plan

Why do you want to write for journals? What is your purpose? Are you writing for research assessment? Or to make a difference? Are you writing to have an impact factor or to have an impact? Do you want to develop a profile in a specific area? Will this determine which journals you write for? Have you taken their impact factors into account?

Have you researched other researchers in your field – where have they published recently? Which group or conversation can you see yourself joining? Some people write the paper first and then look for a 'home' for it, but since everything in your article – content, focus, structure, style – will be shaped for a specific journal, save yourself time by deciding on your target journal and work out how to write in a way that suits that journal.

Having a writing strategy means making sure you have both external drivers – such as scoring points in research assessment or climbing the promotion ladder – and internal drivers – which means working out why writing for academic journals matters to you. This will help you maintain the motivation you'll need to write and publish over the long term. Since the time between submission and publication can be up to two years (though in some fields it's much less) you need to be clear about your motivation.

2) Analyse writing in journals in your field

Take a couple of journals in your field that you will target now or soon. Scan all the abstracts over the past few issues. Analyse them: look closely at all first and last sentences. The first sentence (usually) gives the rationale for the research, and the last asserts a 'contribution to knowledge'. But the word 'contribution' may not be there – it's associated with the doctorate. So which words are used? What constitutes new knowledge in this journal at this time? How can you construct a similar form of contribution from the work you did? What two sentences will you write to start and end your abstract for that journal?

Scan other sections of the articles: how are they structured? What are the components of the argument? Highlight all the topic sentences – the first sentences of every paragraph – to show the stages in the argument. Can you see an emerging taxonomy of writing genres in this journal? Can you define the different types of paper, different structures and decide which one will work best in your paper? Select two types of paper: one that's the type of paper you can use as a model for yours, and one that you can cite in your paper, thereby joining the research conversation that is ongoing in that journal.

3) Do an outline and just write

Which type of writer are you: do you always do an outline before you write, or do you just dive in and start writing? Or do you do a bit of both? Both outlining and just writing are useful, and it is therefore a good idea to use both. However, make your outline very detailed: outline the main sections and calibrate these with your target journal.

What types of headings are normally used there? How long are the sections usually? Set word limits for your sections, sub-sections and, if need be, for sub-sub-sections. This involves deciding about content that you want to include, so it may take time, and feedback would help at this stage.

When you sit down to write, what exactly are you doing:using writing to develop your ideas or writing to document your work? Are you using your outline as an agenda for writing sections of your article? Define your writing task by thinking about verbs – they define purpose: to summarise, overview, critique, define, introduce, conclude etc.

4) Get feedback from start to finish

Even at the earliest stages, discuss your idea for a paper with four or five people, get feedback on your draft abstract. It will only take them a couple of minutes to read it and respond. Do multiple revisions before you submit your article to the journal.

5) Set specific writing goals and sub-goals

Making your writing goals specific means defining the content, verb and word length for the section. This means not having a writing goal like, 'I plan to have this article written by the end of the year' but 'My next writing goal is to summarise and critique twelve articles for the literature review section in 800 words on Tuesday between 9am and 10.30'. Some people see this as too mechanical for academic writing, but it is a way of forcing yourself to make decisions about content, sequence and proportion for your article.

6) Write with others

While most people see writing as a solitary activity, communal writing – writing with others who are writing – can help to develop confidence, fluency and focus. It can help you develop the discipline of regular writing. Doing your academic writing in groups or at writing retreats are ways of working on your own writing, but – if you unplug from email, internet and all other devices – also developing the concentration needed for regular, high-level academic writing.

At some point – ideally at regular intervals – you can get a lot more done if you just focus on writing. If this seems like common sense, it isn't common practice. Most people do several things at once, but this won't always work for regular journal article writing. At some point, it pays to privilege writing over all other tasks, for a defined period, such as 90 minutes, which is long enough to get something done on your paper, but not so long that it's impossible to find the time.

7) Do a warm up before you write

While you are deciding what you want to write about, an initial warm up that works is to write for five minutes, in sentences, in answer to the question: 'What writing for publication have you done [or the closest thing to it], and what do you want to do in the long, medium and short term?'

Once you have started writing your article, use a variation on this question as a warm up – what writing for this project have you done, and what do you want to do in the long, medium and short term? Top tip: end each session of writing with a 'writing instruction' for yourself to use in your next session, for example, 'on Monday from 9 to 10am, I will draft the conclusion section in 500 words'.

As discussed, if there are no numbers, there are no goals. Goals that work need to be specific, and you need to monitor the extent to which you achieve them. This is how you learn to set realistic targets.

8) Analyse reviewers' feedback on your submission

What exactly are they asking you to do? Work out whether they want you to add or cut something. How much? Where? Write out a list of revision actions. When you resubmit your article include this in your report to the journal, specifying how you have responded to the reviewers' feedback. If your article was rejected, it is still useful to analyse feedback, work out why and revise it for somewhere else.

Most feedback will help you improve your paper and, perhaps, your journal article writing, but sometimes it may seem overheated, personalised or even vindictive. Some of it may even seem unprofessional. Discuss reviewers' feedback – see what others think of it. You may find that other people – even eminent researchers – still get rejections and negative reviews; any non-rejection is a cause for celebration. Revise and resubmit as soon as you can.

9) Be persistent, thick-skinned and resilient

These are qualities that you may develop over time – or you may already have them. It may be easier to develop them in discussion with others who are writing for journals.

10) Take care of yourself

Writing for academic journals is highly competitive. It can be extremely stressful. Even making time to write can be stressful. And there are health risks in sitting for long periods, so try not to sit writing for more than an hour at a time. Finally, be sure to celebrate thoroughly when your article is accepted. Remind yourself that writing for academic journals is what you want to do – that your writing will make a difference in some way.

These points are taken from the 3rd edition of Writing for Academic Journals .

Rowena Murray is professor in education and director of research at the University of the West of Scotland – follow it on Twitter @UniWestScotland

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How to Write a Journal Article

Writing and publishing journal articles is essential if you wish to pursue an academic career. Today, academic careers are publication-dependent; developing a high-quality publication record is a vital part of developing your academic credentials, your visibility among your discipline peers and your viability as a researcher.

This article will pinpoint the features of a journal article that are normally found in the humanities and social sciences. It will also examine some planning and writing strategies that will enable you to produce an article that is publication-ready. For those of you who prefer to learn by watching videos, we've prepared one on how to write your first journal article and you can watch it on Capstone Editing's YouTube channel .

The ‘preamble’ elements of a journal article

Title and subtitle.

The title should indicate the article’s topic or theme to readers, and a subtitle can extend or clarify the title. Many titles follow the format ‘Suggestive, Creative Title: Descriptive Subtitle’ (Hayot 2014, ch. 18); for example:

Chadwick, AM 2012, ‘Routine Magic, Mundane Ritual: Towards a Unified Notion of Depositional Practice’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology , vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 283–315.

In this type of title, the more suggestive first part of the title can indicate the author’s theoretical approach and something about how traditional (or not) this approach is. It is important that the subtitle gives readers some indication of the article’s objective or major theme.

Other titles may use a format that includes an abstract and a concrete noun:

Hansen, HL 2011, ‘ Multiperspectivism in the Novels of the Spanish Civil War’, Orbis Litterarum, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 148–166.

This more straightforward approach contains enough information through the words chosen (‘multiperspectivism’, ‘novels’, ‘Spanish Civil War’) so that readers can immediately identify if the article is pertinent to them, in both content and theoretical approach.

Along with a title that grabs readers’ attention and indicates the article’s theme or objective, a well-written abstract is essential. The abstract is what readers and other researchers will look at first to determine if your article is worth reading. It is worth spending time on a succinct, ‘punchy’ and relevant abstract that will clarify exactly what you are arguing or proposing. Abstract writing is a particular skill that requires practice and complete familiarity with your argument and article content. You will most likely need to review and rewrite your abstract after you have finished writing the article.

Most journals will ask you to select five to seven keywords that can be used in search engines. These are the words that students, researchers and other readers will use to search for information over the internet through Google or similar resources, library websites or the journal’s own website.


You should provide a brief acknowledgement of any financial, academic or other support you have received in relation to producing your article. You can also thank the peer reviewers here (once your article has been accepted for publication).

Writing the article

Writing a journal article is not unlike writing an essay or thesis chapter. The same basic rules of academic writing apply. By planning what and how you will write, and how you will incorporate data/evidence, your article is more likely to be cohesive, well organised and well written.

Even if you are developing an article from an existing essay or thesis chapter, spending some time on planning is essential. Some authors like to begin with a ‘mind map’. A mind map contains a central theme, argument or premise. The writer will then create ‘branches’ extending from the central theme. These may be topics or subthemes that are included in the final article. If they are substantial, they may constitute a new article. Mind maps operate like brainstorming sessions, in which you allow a free flow of ideas from your mind, through your pen or keyboard to paper or screen. These ideas can then be organised into logical patterns of related subthemes and you can then begin assembling evidence (research, references and quotations) to support the arguments under each theme.

Figure 1: A Simple Mind Map for Essay Writing

Figure 1: A simple mind map for essay writing

A plan can be as simple as a list of subheadings with notes and supporting information, from which you will construct and write the paragraphs of your article. Using the minor themes from your thesis can also enable you to develop several articles on topics you were unable to develop more fully in the thesis.

Once you have developed a detailed plan for your article, the writing can begin. A journal article is normally written for an already informed audience. While the rules of clear writing and exposition still apply, you can safely assume that people who read your article in a journal are familiar with the terminology, methodologies and theoretical positions of your discipline. This means that you can ‘jump right in’ to a topic, stating your position or argument immediately and strongly.

This guide assumes you have already completed your research and thus amassed a large number of notes, thoughts and more or less developed ideas, along with detailed and appropriate citations to support your contentions, relevant and appropriate quotations, data or other forms of evidence that you have collected, images you may wish to include, and any other material relevant to your article. This is the raw material you will, using your plan, write up into a publishable journal article. Now we will look at a few important aspects of writing that you should consider.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation

For a guideline to standard and acceptable grammar, you may like to consult resources such as the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers , an Australian government publication that covers aspects of writing, editing and publishing in Australia. It is very important that you review whether the journal you are submitting to uses American or British spelling and punctuation conventions, as these can differ significantly. Reviewing and editing your own work to ensure grammatical consistency prior to submission is essential: this should be considered part of your writing practice and approached accordingly. Be on the lookout for instances of mixed tenses (especially the present and past tenses), clumsy sentences with too many clauses, the incorrect use of common punctuation marks such as apostrophes and commas, or the overuse of capitalisation (avoid capitalising the names of theories and job titles in particular). Ensure your spelling is consistent by using the ‘Find’ tab to search for easily misspelt words, especially regarding British/American conventions. Vary your sentence lengths and structure to maintain your readers’ interest. Some academic work falls into the trap of using sentences that are too long or complicated, or using a less-familiar or longer word when a simple one will do.

Tone and register

Tone and register refer to the style and ‘voice’ of your writing. In most academic contexts, your writing style should err on the formal side (unless you are submitting to a journal that promotes innovative or creative approaches to writing). Avoid contractions, colloquial, gender-specific (unless relevant), racist or offensive language. However, within the constraints of formal academic language, it is important that you develop your own style and ‘voice’. Read the authors that you admire the most, both for their research and for their writing. Note what you like about their writing style. While academic writing needs to communicate clearly, it can also be vibrant and elegant. In addition, it should be compelling, understandable and effective. Remember that articles are reader-centred (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 15), so your objective should always be to engage the reader with your language. As stated above, most readers of your article will be familiar with your discipline; nevertheless, it is better to avoid overloading readers with discipline-specific jargon.

The major elements of an article


The introduction’s importance may seem obvious, but all writers can benefit from a reminder of the importance and centrality of good introductions to an academic journal article. The introduction does just that: introduces your topic, theme or research question, outlines your general theoretical or methodological approach and places your article within the context of a larger academic debate or field. Here you can expand on your title and subtitle, making your contentions explicit and clarifying the data or evidence you have used. Some humanities or social science articles will include a brief literature review in the introduction; a social science writer may also include an explicit research aim or objective (this is less common in the humanities). As with the abstract, it is sometimes more beneficial to write the introduction after you have written the main body.

The main body is where you present, in appropriate detail, your main arguments, themes and contentions, all thoroughly grounded in evidence, close analysis and clear, compelling writing.

With both the humanities and social sciences, the paragraph is an article’s main organising principle. Each paragraph should contain one main theme and be of at least four or five sentences, and a logical flow should exist between and among your paragraphs. Humanities articles will often not use the more obvious subheadings common to the social sciences, such as ‘Data Collection’, ‘Analysis’ or ‘Results’. While humanities articles are less subject to these subheading conventions, the effective use of subheadings can clarify and identify your ideas and enable readers to navigate easily through the text (Soule, Whiteley and McIntosh 2007, p. 19). While an article should not contain the explicit signposting expected in undergraduate essays or even graduate research theses, it is still useful to use transitions and opening sentences to indicate what each paragraph’s main theme is, and how it fits into the overarching theme of your article.

By focusing on one main original idea or contention in your article and making explicit statements about your article’s contribution to the existing scholarship, you will grab the attention of journal publishers, and hopefully peer reviewers and subsequent readers. If you have information that is not directly related to your main argument but is still important, use footnotes or endnotes (depending on the journal’s own style). Use direct quotations strategically and judiciously and translate foreign-language quotations if your article is written for an English-language journal.

The conclusion is not just a summary of what has preceded it. A (good) conclusion will complete or make whole your article’s arguments and analysis by referring to what you have written. It will include a summing up of your main contention, but it will also offer and clarify to your reader a new way of looking at the theme or problem you have been discussing. As Eric Hayot notes, ‘a good ending is also a beginning’ (Hayot 2014, p. 107): good endings open new pathways for both readers and writers of academic work. The conclusion can be the most difficult section of an article to write; as such, it is likely to consume relatively more of your time than even the introduction. It is important to finish strongly; however, you should resist the temptation to make unfounded, sweeping or radical claims in your conclusion.

References and citations

It goes without saying that referencing and citations should be done thoroughly and correctly. If you are undertaking or have completed your thesis, you will be familiar with when to use citations and how to construct your reference list/bibliography. In general, it is best to be citation-rich for journal articles. Each journal will use a specific referencing style—either one of the main styles in common use (APA, Chicago, MLA) or a modified version of their own. Refer to the journal author guidelines for more information on this issue.

Other requirements

It is vital that you follow the style and referencing requirements for your chosen journal to the letter.

Remember that many journals will require you to obtain permissions for any images you may wish to use, including payment of fees to whichever institution holds the copyright.

  • Australian Government Printing Service 2002, Style Manual for Editors, Writers and Printers , 6th edn, Snooks & Co.
  • Hayot, E 2014, Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities , Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Soule, DPJ, Whiteley, L & McIntosh, S (eds) 2007, Writing for Scholarly Journals: Publishing in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences , eSharp,  http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_41223_en.pdf

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5.4 Writing articles

Articles are commonly found in newspapers and magazines. They can be formal or informal and often include elements of the writer’s own opinion. Articles are structured as follows:

The headline or heading tells the reader what the article is about. It often includes emotive language, alliteration (words that start with the same letter) or rhetorical questions (questions that are asked to make a point rather than get an answer) to grab the reader’s attention and set the tone of the article.

The opening paragraph should identify the main points of the article and include who and what the article is about. The opening should be brief but should ensure that the topic of the article is explained.

The main body of the article should expand on the information already provided in the opening paragraph. It should provide the most important information first.

The closing paragraph should conclude the article and summarise the key points.

The headline

Article headlines often use techniques such as emotive language, alliteration, puns and rhymes to attract the reader’s attention.

The tone of the headline can also give you an idea of the tone or mood of the article. For example:

‘ Four Die in Brighton House Fire ’ is serious. It tells you what the article is about.

‘ Electric Cars Spark Sales ’ is humorous. The writer has used a pun (a play on words) to engage the audience. ‘Spark’ could mean a spark of electricity or something that starts off the sales.

Activity 35 What’s in a headline?

Match the technique used to the article headline.

Rhetorical question

How much more can we take?

Emotive language

Pure terror in her eyes


Peter the plucky penguin

Kentucky Freed Chicken

St Helen’s glass has the class

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

a. How much more can we take?

b. Peter the plucky penguin

c. St Helen’s glass has the class

d. Pure terror in her eyes

e. Kentucky Freed Chicken

Opening paragraph

The opening paragraph should identify the main points of the article. It should include information on:

  • What has happened? What is the situation?
  • Who is or was involved?
  • When did it or will it take place?
  • Where did it or will it take place?

Activity 36 Who, what, where and when?

Read the news article below and write down who did what, where and when.


Walkland District Council issued a warning this week after a mail order clerk was fined for fraudulently obtaining benefits. Thomas Wilkinson, aged 64 of south London, admitted three charges at the Magistrates Court of fraudulently obtaining benefits amounting to £7,500. He admitted failing to disclose income from distributing mail order goods during part-time employment. Wilkinson was sentenced to 200 hours Community Service and is currently repaying the money. John Stevens of the Walkland District Council Finance Office said ‘genuine’ claimants have nothing to fear, but the Council takes a very serious view of housing benefit fraud. Any changes in circumstances should be referred to the District Council immediately.

Check your answers against these:

  • Who: Walkland District Council
  • What: issued a warning over fraudulent benefits claims
  • Where: Walkland
  • When: this week

You may also have answered the questions in relation to the man who was fined:

  • Who: Thomas Wilkinson
  • What: was fined for fraudulently obtaining benefits

The main body

The main body of the text should expand on the information provided in the opening paragraph. It should explain in detail what the article is about.

When writing the main body of the article, you should provide the most important information first:

Crucial information

Supporting information

Background information

You should use language that suits the audience and tone or mood of the piece. You may include quotes from people involved, such as experts and witnesses, to back up the story. When you include quotes, you should use quotation marks.

Using quotation marks

Quotation marks (also known as speech marks and inverted commas) look like this ‘   ’ or this: “   ”. They are used to separate one group of words from another. Here are two examples:

The book is called ‘Silver Poets of the Seventeenth Century’.

My exact words to him were, ‘If I were you, I would watch out.’

In sentence 1, the quotation marks show exactly what the book’s title is.

In sentence 2, the quotation marks show exactly what was said.

Activity 37 Where do the quotation marks go?

In the sentences below, insert quotation marks where needed.

Compare your answers with these. If your answers are different, look again at the explanation. Remember, when used to show direct speech, quotation marks enclose the words actually spoken. When used to show a title or quotation, they enclose just the title or quotation.

a. Steve turned with a look of annoyance. ‘Oh, honestly,’ he said. ‘Don’t be so ridiculous.’

b. To which Paula replied, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ Then a moment later she added, ‘And don’t take that tone with me.’

c. In the words of the Immortal Bard, ‘If music be the food of love, play on!’

d. The title of the group’s new release is ‘Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!’

e. ‘You swine! You unspeakable swine!’ he said. Fletcher only laughed.

f. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, from Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’, must be one of the most famous lines in English literature.

The closing paragraph

You should not end the article too suddenly. The best endings finish with a closing sentence or quote that provides a conclusion.

Checking and layout

Once the article is finished, it is crucial that you check that it is factually correct and does not contain spelling or grammatical errors.

You also need to decide on an appropriate layout for text and pictures.

This session has covered a number of different structured writing tasks: emails, formal letters and reports. There are, of course, many other writing tasks, such as lists, notices, messages, informal letters, faxes, CVs, and all sorts of official forms.

Part of planning is choosing the right format for a writing task. Format means the way in which something is arranged or set out.

Activity 38 Which format?

Which format would you choose for the following writing tasks?

Read the examples below and pick the correct format from the examples below.

Question 1a

1. Ask a colleague in another department for some information.

Newspaper article

The correct answer is a.

Question 1b

2. Send another company a copy of a missing invoice.

The correct answer is b.

Question 1c

3. Tell colleagues about a Christmas party.

Question 1d

4. Ask your bank for an overdraft.

Question 1e

5. Provide feedback on how well a new staff rota is working.

The correct answer is c.

Question 1f

6. Tell the general public in your local area about a new affordable housing scheme.

The correct answer is d.

When you choose a format in which to write something, make sure it represents a good use of time and effort and that your reader(s) will consider it appropriate. It is always important to take your readers’ expectations into account.

In this section you have looked at:

  • how to structure emails, letters and reports
  • when to use these three different formats.



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