The ‘So What?’ Question

Continuing my previous post on editing, here are some useful tips for writing stronger papers provided by Theresea MacPhail, a digital editor for a science journal.

I’d like you to pause a moment from your daily diligence — grinding out future articles and book chapters — and think about those of us who work as editors and manuscript reviewers. And I’d like to ask a big favor — one that will benefit us and you. Before you send in that manuscript, take a second look at that draft you’ve polished three or four times and ask yourself the following question: What is my main argument here?

Theresa MacPhail goes on to suggest three signs that you do not have a central argument:

  • You can’t answer the “So what?” question.
  • Your introduction and conclusion don’t mesh.
  • Your colleagues can’t explain your main argument.

The last point is important. Having a colleague explain your main argument can go a long way in exposing your blindspots and strengthening your argument. Another benefit in having a colleague (or family member or friend) read your paper is to assist in ‘polishing up’ the text. A paper that is poorly written has greater risk in being rejected outright.

Source: The ‘So What?’ Question | ChronicleVitae