The introduction is a critical component that provides the relevant background information and the rationale for the study. A concise review of information pertinent to the topic of the manuscript should be provided. The intent is not to present a comprehensive review of all knowledge related to the topic of interest. A common error is to format the introduction similar to an annotated bibliography where specific studies are discussed in detail without attempting to summarize findings across a number of studies. Review papers generally include a more thorough overview of a topic area, and should be submitted in an appropriate format to journals that accept that type of manuscript.
The introduction should logically progress to the purpose statement. The analogy of a funnel is helpful when thinking of the introduction, which follows a logical sequence from broadly presenting the concept to focusing on a specific knowledge gap, discrepancy between studies, or research question that leads to the purpose statement. The purpose statement should be clearly defined based on the knowledge gap, discrepancy between studies, or the problem. Try to hide the purpose statement and guess what it will be after reading the introduction. This test will determine whether the introduction was adequate since the reader should essentially have an idea of what the purpose of the study will entail. Authors are also encouraged to include a directional hypothesis that includes all outcome variables of interest, as appropriate. For example, the authors should be able to hypothesize that there will be an increase in range of motion following an intervention, rather than merely stating that the intervention would have an effect on range of motion.
The methods section should detail the specific study design and provide the reader with a step‐by‐step process of the methodology utilized in the study. The methods section should also be of sufficient detail that the reader could reproduce the methods used in the study. The use of standardized criteria and checklists will ensure authors include all required elements. Specific criteria are dependent on study design and include; randomized clinical trials CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials),8
cohort, case control, cross‐sectional studies STROBE, diagnostic accuracy STARD (STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies),9
and systematic reviews and meta‐analyses PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta‐Analyses).10
Case reports have a checklist developed by the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy
editorial board. Figures, tables, and appendices can enrich reader understanding while minimizing text. Since case reports often develop in a retrospective manner clinicians are encouraged to use consistent examination techniques and standardized outcomes forms.
A specific statement should be included that clearly indicates subjects gave informed consent and that the study was approved by an institutional review board or similar committee. Case reports should include a statement that the patient was informed that information concerning the case would be submitted for publication and all identifying characteristics should be stripped from the paper. Clinical trials should be registered (clinicaltrials.gov) and there should be a mechanism to track trials using a unique case number that is often reported in the acknowledgements. Finally, any potential conflict of interest and funding should be disclosed and acknowledged.
When utilizing outcome measures it is helpful to provide the reader with information regarding validity and reliability. Reliability measures should include specific point estimates (e.g. ICC3,1
= .97) versus simply stating “good reliability”. This method provides the reader with sufficient evidence that the measures are appropriate and provides context for meaningful changes. Authors should also consider including minimal detectable change (MDC)6
or minimally clinically important difference (MCID)7
, if known, in order to provide contextual meaning to the outcome measures utilized in the study.
It is also necessary to provide information related to the sample size estimate. Although the sample size estimate is computed in the planning stages of the study, it provides the reader with an idea of the expected change in the outcome variables and how many subjects are needed to observe that change within a particular confidence range. Studies that do not determine sample size prior to data collection may not have a sufficient number of subjects to demonstrate changes that may occur throughout the study.
The results section should be dedicated to reporting the results, not the interpretation of the results. It is important to note here that statistics to do not “find” or “reveal” things, but may be used to “demonstrate” or “indicate.” The statistical analysis utilized should be based on study design and outcome variables. A good way to determine a logical flow is to examine the methods and analysis and look for parallels in the presentation. For example, if several dependent variables will be examined, use the same order in all three sections, then the reader is expecting a sequential presentation of the results. Authors that may not have strong statistical backgrounds are recommended to consult with another individual with greater expertise, such as a statistician. It is recommended to simply report results as significant or not significant. It is not appropriate to report “almost significant” and authors are encouraged to use caution when reporting trends. When reporting the statistical analysis specific values derived should be provided. An example is to include a specific P‐value (i.e. P = .04) versus a generic P‐value (i.e. P # .05). Reliability studies should include point estimates (i.e. ICC3,1= 0.97) when discussing reliability, not simply stating “good reliability”. Studies with multiple independent and dependent variables often include data that is better presented in a table or graph format. The use of tables or graphs is encouraged when presenting data, but should not duplicate the results in the text.
In addition to reporting statistical significance authors are encouraged to report effect sizes as well as the results in context to the minimal detectable change (MDC)6
or minimal clinically important difference (MCID).7
Effect size, minimal detectable change, and minimal clinically important difference provide context to the results and can be used as a comparison between studies. Effect sizes are also a good way to describe the result in a meaningful manner and should be used in conjunction with traditional statistical measures to examine an intervention.
The purpose of the discussion is to provide context for the results of the study and is often the most difficult portion to write. The discussion should provide an interpretation of the results of the current study as well as a comparison of the findings (corroborate/conflict) with previous studies. Especially important is a scholarly, critical, and referenced analysis of the outcomes or suggestions related to previous evidence and clinical practice. Authors should consider why outcomes occurred and cite with references based on previous evidence.
A common error is that occurs in the discussion section is when authors overgeneralize their study findings. This often occurs when discussing the results of a study involving individuals without pathology and suggesting that there is now evidence that a particular intervention is beneficial in a population with a specific pathology. Similarly, defending a conclusion or non‐significant statistical results is discouraged. The results reveal whether the difference was potentially due to chance, or from the intervention. If the intervention did not produce the desired outcome, limitations of the study should be presented, but the conclusion should support the statistical results. The discussion section also provides the opportunity to discuss study limitations and suggestions for future studies.
The conclusion provides a summary of the current study findings. This is not the section to discuss study limitations, introduce new study findings or to discuss future research directions. The conclusion should be brief and to the point.
The reference section should be contemporary, high quality (meta‐analyses/systematic reviews, randomized control trials) sources when possible. References for the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy should be in the correct format (American Medical Association). Additionally, references should be relevant to the manuscript, keeping in mind that more references are not necessarily better. Authors are also encouraged accurately convey information related to each reference and avoid utilizing secondary references, which can lead to errors and overgeneralized suggestions. Authors are encouraged to use referencing software and format to the specifications for the specific journal.
Tables and Figures
Tables and figures should be easy to read and contribute to the manuscript by enriching reader understanding while minimizing text. Appropriate formatting guidelines are outlined in the Instructions to Authors http://www.spts.org/assets/files/Instructions_IJSPT_7_11.pdf)
. Tables should include group means and statistical measure of variation, such as standard deviation, standard error of the mean, or confidence intervals.
Figures also provide advantages when describing methods or statistical analyses. Photos should have a professional appearance and be taken with a high quality camera in high resoultion when possible. Although most mobile phones have integrated cameras the image quality is often inferior to a traditional digital camera. In addition to focusing on the foreground of the figure, authors should also consider the background of the figure. Often photos are taken in busy clinic or laboratory settings and authors should avoid busy backgrounds or other factors that may detract from the original purpose of the photo. The use of a neutrally colored wall or cloth as a backdrop can eliminate busy or unprofessional backgrounds.
The purpose of this manuscript was to provide suggestions for authors to improve manuscript quality and to avoid common manuscript mistakes prior to submission for review. This was not intended to be a comprehensive resource for scientific writing. Readers are encouraged to also utilize other resources highlighting publication of scientific manuscripts,11
and tips to improve writing clarity.3
By avoiding common manuscript mistakes authors will ultimately produce higher quality initial submissions, allowing reviewers to focus on content related comments and suggestions, and produce high quality manuscripts.