DO say what you mean and mean what you say. Biology is hard because it is complex. Every paper is a distillation of a set of simpler messages that can be said to unravel this complexity. You are plotting a route through this complexity for the reader and you have to make that clear. Clarity is the watchword throughout. Having an infographic (a larger version of a graphical abstract) as your first figure can help a lot. Clearly written abstracts, an attention-grabbing opening sentence in the introduction, uncluttered figures and full figure legends are all key.
DON’T assume that the reader understands the field as well as you do. People will give up if your paper contains too much jargon and hidden assumptions, fails to use modern methods of data visualisation and hides the main messages by inverting the logical order or burying them in the results. Nothing much beats a message that goes (roughly): “Before this paper, folk believed X; our data (and literature analysis) show Y; now we need to believe Z.”
Douglas Kell is research professor of bioanalytical science at the University of Manchester and was chief executive of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council between 2008 and 2013. His h-index at Google Scholar is 100.