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Caution against promissory notes

The final statement of your manuscript is extremely important. After summarizing your conclusions, the final statement acts as a sign-off, where you and the reader are parting ways. Given this, it is crucial to avoid using a weak or vague final sentence.

For example, after delivering several specific, direct conclusions, many authors will make a general statement regarding future work, such as the following:

“In the future, we are going to use a larger sample size and track participants over a longer follow up to further validate this treatment modality.”

There are two major issues with this type of final sentence.

  1. Highlighting the weaknesses of your paper is never a desirable way to end your manuscript. Promising to conduct a better study next time can completely undermine your previous efforts to convince the reader of the rigor, novelty, and impact of your work.

  2. Most reviewers and journal editors will be very hostile to so-called “promissory notes.” It is acceptable, even desirable, to propose ideas for subsequent investigations that should follow your work. However, you cannot use this opportunity to make a claim on this future work. The plans that you or your laboratory have are irrelevant to the content of an original research article and stating your plans strongly implies that you are trying to claim ownership for a research idea that has not yet been implemented.

The good news is that the problem sentence above can be easily modified to deliver the same content in a more productive and impactful manner. Typically, your last major conclusion would be an appropriate ending to the paper; however, if you prefer a sentence that references future work, consider the following example:

“These findings provide the requisite data necessary for the appropriate design of a multi-center, longitudinal trial that could validate this treatment modality for clinical use.”

This sentence highlights the impact of your data in the context of future work.

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