In the discussion, have a look if a reader gets the feeling that all this is already known. Be aware, that there is a problem when you are listing several references that got the same result as you did. If you have this kind of a long list, why does science need your study?
Of course, there most probably are articles published with a same result that you got. You should refer to some of them. However, if you do not raise any new finding or aspect and show what is different, it’s an easy task for a reviewer to say that ‘there is nothing new’. You can have and present some confirmatory results, but many editors want that there is something new as well.
Top journals do not want local and confirmatory results at all. They often ask reviewers to assess how generalizable the results are. Even lower quality journal editors have asked me (as a reviewer) to assess if the results are local and just confirmatory to the ones commonly observed previously elsewhere. Now, if you yourself write many times in the discussion that ‘this has been observed previously’, how can any reviewer say anything else than ‘there is nothing new’? Therefore, when you write that your ‘result has been observed previously’, stop and think. Maybe this sentence is best to delete throughout and find another formulation.
What should you write instead then? I cannot give any universal advice, but, in many cases, you can find contradictory observations. Try to read more carefully the papers you are referring, and find what kind of contradictory results and interpretations exist. Which interpretation does your result support?
Many times and most often, you cannot find anything new about the great lines in ecological science. Therefore, you must work more and go into details. Maybe you can explain more about what specifically was found in the references you give, and then, explain what new you had. What in detail?
How many subtitles should I use? The use of subtitles seems to be increasing. Many times, they really are useful to a reader. However, when you have a subtitle for each method or variable, or between each paragraph, it is not useful any more.
Many times, I would use fewer subtitles in the Methods (and consistently in the Results). I would use them, not for each method. I would use them for instance, for each experiment. Alternatively, I would group the methods under a couple of titles, such as 'Chemical methods' and 'Molecular biology methods'. I think that it would increase clarity.
A reviewer tries to follow your text and remember the great lines. More than, let’s say, five subtitles in the methods do not help in organizing the study in one’s mind. A reader does not remember more than five method subtitles, instead they start to be in a mess in one’s mind. Therefore, many times less is better.
By no means you are able to increase the quality of your study and your data by using many subtitles, one for each small thing.
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Sometimes, neither of us knows exactly how much and what kind of work that would finally be. In those cases, we could first try to make a fixed price package and start with that.
Not surprisingly, I may suggest you to shorten the texts in the Introduction and Discussion. A good length for the Introduction is between one and two manuscript pages, and for the Discussion, it is three to five pages (Conclusions included). Even in high-quality articles, shorter texts are often better than long ones. At least I start to get tired after five pages of discussion, and ask what the important point is.
It is good to fit the length of the text to the size of the data. The smaller the data the shorter the text could be and vice versa. The same holds true as with the length of the Methods; you cannot raise the value of the research with the length of the text itself. In a reviewer’s eyes, instead, you can lower the value of the research with long stories of which meanings are not evident in the article.
Short writing needs much work, more than writing the long text originally. However, in many cases, condensing the text improves the article a lot. Here, I talk about deleting the whole sentences or themes, not about the sentence structure.
To be able to shorten the text, you must think of what really is important and deserves publishing. In the Introduction and Discussion, think if you absolutely must write about the subject. Find a reason for each theme you are writing. If you do not have any reason, delete it. It certainly is not nice to press the delete-key and destroy the text that needed much of your work. However, many times, it is the best you can do.
In most cases, there are fewer words in the final than in the original version – although I usually suggest adding something new. The aims paragraph is usually the one I suggest to write longer. The usual case is that the final aims are a half longer or even double that they were in the first version, and the discussion is much shorter in the final than original version. I do not use the words in the original long version as the base of pricing.
I may well suggest cutting the text remarkably. I take one example from real life. I suggested cutting the presentation of certain methods from 420 words to 160 words and the respective presentation of the results from 825 to 615 words - and these texts were already English corrected by a qualified professional editor. This is an example of the case where a person who has been doing research herself would have been needed. A highly qualified English language expert just corrects all. However, I am sure that, at least in any journal of reasonable quality, the reviewer or the editor would have suggested cutting.
If any of the methods is already well known, shorten the detailed explanation and give a reference and possibly the idea the method is based on. One reference is enough. Journals usually recommend a brief presentation of the methods when it is possible. For instance, you do not need the medium recipe in grams in detail if it has been presented elsewhere. For a spectrophotometric method, you need only a wavelength and the standard chemical. A standard curve preparation is certainly not wanted to be published again. Many methods are so common that they do not need a long story.
The basic instruction to write the methods, which we all know, is that the readers should be able to repeat the study. However, this does not mean that you should write all in detail in your own article. In some cases, it is not so easy to decide the length. However, in many cases, there are no doubts about it.
You cannot raise the value of the research with unnecessary long texts in the Methods. In contrast, they give an impression about inexperienced authors, and the reviewer gets courage to be extremely critical against many other things as well. Therefore, the length of the Methods is worth of thinking carefully. You get to know the proper length by reading journal articles.