Writing a journal article

Framing your paper

For a given quality of science, how the paper is framed probably makes the biggest difference for where it is published, and how well read and cited it will be. Framing, essentially, is how you fit your paper into the ‘bigger picture’, or if you prefer a less neutral term, it is how you sell your paper. My general advice is that you choose the largest plausible frame for your paper that is reasonable. In other words, to make sure you’re widely read it makes sense to find a big hook off which to hang your paper – but you have to be careful not to oversell your work. This is subjective.

Typical choices for framing papers are current global issues, big theories and new theories, particularly those that are controversial. The trick then is to make the link from the ‘big issue’ to your study as swiftly and directly as possible at the beginning; and back to the same big issue (plus sometimes additional ones) near the end of the study. A good frame is one that appears reasonable and can be directly linked to your work, and one that your work directly speaks to. A bad frame is one that takes a lot of imagination to see how your study fits in with it, and that your results don’t have a lot to do with.

Often but not always your framing is partly determined by how you planned your study (as opposed to your paper) in the first instance.

See also:

  1. Planning your paper
  2. Prioritising content
  3. Fitting the content to the length
  4. Content-to-length-ratio
  5. Introduction
  6. Cover letter
Possible exercises:
  • Brainstorm a list of possible frames. Initially, don’t be too selective — just write down lots of possible frames  that might be connected with your paper.
  • Read your discipline: where are things at? What’s currently a hot topic? What kinds of topics have recently been published in the most prestigious journals? Does your work fit in with any of those topics?
  • Generally: can you use a certain bandwagon for your benefit, and jump on it for a bit? Don’t actually change your focus too much — but can your focus be twisted ever so slightly so that it becomes interesting to a broader audience?

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