A few years ago Andrew Gelman (Columbia--Statistics/Poli Sci) wrote a brief memo filled with general advice on how to write an empirical research paper. While the memo was originally designed for "young" researchers (incident to an American Statistical Association program), it includes reminders germane to even seasoned (or "no longer young") researchers. While those interested in the full memo can click here and here, a few of the (excerpted) highlights follow.
"1. Start with the conclusions. Write a couple pages on what you’ve found and what you recommend. In writing these conclusions, you should also be writing some of the introduction, in that you’ll need to give enough background so that general readers can understand what you’re talking about and why they should care. But you want to start with the conclusions, because that will determine what sort of background information you’ll need to give.
2. Now step back. What is the principal evidence for your conclusions? Make some graphs and pull out some key numbers that represent your research findings which back up your claims.
3. Back one more step, now. What are the methods and data you used to obtain your research findings.
4. Now go back and write the literature review and the introduction.
5. Moving forward one last time: go to your results and conclusions and give alternative explanations. Why might you be wrong? What are the limits of applicability of your findings? What future research would be appropriate to follow up on these loose ends?
(a) Don’t write something unless you expect people to read it.
(b) This principle holds for tables and figures as well.
... You have to draw the trail from the scientific question, to the statistical question, to the data, to the inferences, back to the statistical and scientific questions."