I was recently asked by a cross-disciplinary team how one should outline a paper for a (top) marketing journal. Hoping my detailed answer will inspire you or tell me where it does not fit with your experience, I am sharing it here:
Abstract [at most 200 words, write this last]:
2-3 sentences: motivation (summarize/rephrase from introduction)
2-3 sentences: purpose, approach and data of the paper
2-3 sentences: key findings, including different conditions
Ending sentence: return to practical relevance and what practitioners should do differently based on your results
Introduction [2-3 pages, write this first; even BEFORE you do the empirical analysis]
< Opening quote > optional but nice to have a 2-3 line quote by practitioner
First paragraph: what is problem, how important is it, why does it matter to outside group, end with formulating key research question.
Second paragraph: current literature does not suffice to answer research question. Summarize work in different research streams, tell how you integrate them
Third paragraph: This paper address the research question by [….]: summarize your data and methodology. Give a preview of the key findings, especially the non-obvious ones
Fourth-sixth paragraphs: Key contributions, 1 per paragraph.
Research background [2-3 pages]
First paragraph: ‘Several research streams are relevant to our research question, and table 1 shows how we integrate them and how our paper is different from previous studies’
—- Insert Table 1 about here — [5-7 columns, 8 to 20 rows: list the 3-5 most relevant papers in each research stream. First column shows authors and year of publication, second one the research stream and the other columns show research purpose/question, data, methodology and key findings in a way that makes your paper shine ]
Second paragraph: The first research stream is X….[more detailed account of what has been done and found in this research stream, including the papers in Table 1 but expanding on them]
Third paragraph: The second research stream is Y….
Fourth paragraph: The third research stream is Z….
Fifth paragraph: ‘In sum, each of these 3 research streams have touched on some aspects of our research questions, but has not fully addressed them. As a result, practitioners are unsure on how to evaluate and take action in this regard. Moreover, the research streams have stayed mostly separate, with very little cross-referencing. This absence of cross-fertilization left theoretical development largely bereft of the insights from the other disciplines. Therefore, this paper integrates the different research streams and offers specific contributions to each. We next turn to the conceptual development and hypotheses, the data and the methodology.’
Conceptual development [3-4 pages]
First paragraph: ‘As shown in Figure 1, our conceptual framework relates the concepts of … and proposes the key moderators of….’
—- Insert Figure 1 about here —
As to our main effect, we propose that …Our rationale is…
Key moderating factors include…
Data and variable operationalization [2-3 pages]
‘Our data comes from multiple sources, and Table 2 details the variable operationalization and data source’
—– Insert Table 1 about here — [first column is variable label, second the description of the operationalization and calculation formula if appropriate, third the data source, fourth the mean/median in our sample, fifth the standard deviation, sixth the minimum and maximum value in our sample]
Next paragraphs explain and defend our choice of data sources and operationalization. How valid is our data? How representative is our data? etc
Methodology [3-5 pages, rest can go in appendix]
First paragraph: summary of the methodological steps, as summarized in Table
Next paragraphs: details, including equations.
Findings [3-5 pages, include several tables and figures to visualize the findings]
Discussion [2-3 pages]
First paragraph: summarize key approach and findings, then [link findings back to research question and hypotheses/propositions, to theory contribution, speculate on how our findings might differ going outside of our sample,]
Limitations and Conclusion [1 page]
1 paragraph with 3-7 limitations and how future research should address them
1 ending paragraph summarizing the key insights and calling for more work in the area
Is this the way you outline a paper? Please let us know in the comments!