Outline for a Scientific Manuscript

  • Organize and Improve Your Manuscript
  • Time Saver  

As an editor, I place great emphasis on the outline.  I receive many papers that are unorganized, both logically and
topically.  On the other hand, I rarely receive a paper from a scientist who does not understand the work reported
in the study.  Thus, these writers have a good understanding of the project, but can not effectively communicate
their work.  The outline can help the writer to organize thoughts, shape logic, and even reach a more accurate
conclusion.

Outlines are a way to organize the topics of each paragraph.  The lowest level for an outline is the topic sentence.  
This sentence requires supporting evidence, contained in the remainder of the paragraph.  We provide coherence
by linking sentences and paragraphs.  The relationship between adjacent paragraphs is clarified by an outline.  The
topic sentences for a section should read as a crude paragraph – not smooth, yet the material should appear in
logical fashion.  If a sentence is out of place in your paragraph of topic sentences, then that paragraph is out of
place in your manuscript.

Here is an outline template:

I.        Introduction
1.        Broad introduction of the topic
2.        Specific aspect of topic
3.        Specific question that your study addresses; make your topic statement
II.        Materials and Methods
III.        Results
1.        Any ‘introductory’ experiment
2.        Report results as you plan to discuss them
3.        Most interesting are saved for last, if possible
4.        Or, list the most speculative, or least solid result last
5.        Logic must flow properly in this section
6.        Thus, a result generated by an experiment that is logically based on a previous result should appear second
7.        Try to make your topic statement somewhere in the results
IV.        Discussion
1.        Summarize the study and use your topic statement here
2.        Elaborate and speculate on the most important point first
3.        Move on to less important points and mention possible alternative interpretations of your results
4.        People will lose interest in your discussion, no matter how interesting, because
5.        They really want to learn of your future directions and conclusions; make your topic statement once again

Each hypothetical topic sentence is presented as a guide to your writing.  Focus keenly on paragraphs that contain
the topic sentence, because these contain your manuscripts most important message.  

As you organize the paragraphs in your manuscript, you will detect misplaced sentences.  These become obvious
now that you understand the unifying topic.  Sentences must be linked, and as you inspect your manuscript you
will identify difficult cases.  Upon closer examination, one typically finds that the problem sentence contains an
idea that supports another topic, not the topic of the paragraph at hand.  Consequently, both paragraphs benefit
when this sentence is moved.  Thus, while at first this additional work appears time-consuming, outlining enables
the author to quickly improve the manuscript and in reality saves time.

Outlines for scientific manuscripts usually require two headings, sections and topic sentences.  When section
headings are required or desired, place these at level two and move the topic sentences to level three.
Go To Step 1             Go To Step 3
Material and Methods
typically need no outline;
this sections generally has
subheadings to help the
reader (and author!)
Outlining Exercise
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Outlining Exercise