From teachers, lectures, books, talks, papers From thinking and asking questions
Identify the problem you are learning Understand the problem and the solution Think of similar problems and apply what you have learned = learn + practice
Think about the problem carefully Ask yourself questions Try to answer them yourself If dont know or not sure, ask others! = Learn + Ask
The problem? Novel problems (like most Nobel Prize results) usually appear accidentally when one is studying or thinking about another problem But one must first have enough basic knowledge to identify what is new and important
Reading a paper Read carefully the abstract (also the introduction and conclusion if necessary) to find out what exactly is the problem Find what is the main point: A new idea? A new method? A new solution? Nothing new? Learn that new thing See what is wrong or not completely correct How can you do it better Do not follow it line by line
In paper or seminar, always look at it from the basic physics or intuitive point of view Dont follow the algebra line by line If possible, work out the math independently, consult the paper only when you have difficulty
If you have understood a paper, you should be able to tell people its main points in ~10 minutes Every paper has normally only one simple important point
RESEARCH = Re search A Trial and Error process That is why it is interesting
Interest + Attitude hard work will automatically follow Important:
If you dont have the interest and the correct attitude, no use to be clever or to work hard.
But interest would not come unless one goes deeper into a problem
Some tricks in research Check and analyze every result seriously, whether it is trivial or complex. If you feel lost, discuss with others! If the result is negative or strange, you should also analyze it seriously and find out the reason.
Always: look out for simple explanation use simple methods try to obtain simple results
Before writing the paper First write a very short (<2 pages) informal version. This version should be such that a reader can completely understand what you have done and what your results are. Give a talk on your work within 10 to 15 minutes.
How to start writing Do not wait and think, just start! Start with the derivation of equations or description of the experimental setup, never with the Introduction! Only include the crucial points. Next describe the results and write the figure captions. Then the analysis of the results. The last 3 items to write should be the Conclusion, Introduction, and Abstract. This ordering is useful because it encourages the start of the writing. You can also easily include new idea/work that appear during the manuscript writing.
Your manuscript (even for a review paper) should always be as short as possible! Always use the simplest sentence and description. Do not put in anything that is not directly relevant. Do not unnecessarily repeat anything. Do not include the paragraph In the next section, we …. In Sec. III, we …. In the Conclusion, we … unless the paper is very long. Avoid long derivations and descriptions, just mention the most essential points or cite existing papers. For example, one might write: From the conservation and the Maxwell equations and following the approach of Wang , we can obtain after straightforward algebra … (the equation) …
Notes on writing Use only simple English. Use only common words. Use only simple sentences. Use present tense, except when mentioning very old works. Do not use old-style literal or flowerly English. Do not put in unnecessary words and lines. The writing should be as clear as possible.
Notes on English Dont use colloquial English, such as dont, were, weve. There must be an article in front of most nouns. Use a and an for an object that cannot be pinpointed, the if you can point at it. The empty spaces are important. (In MS Word, such errors are marked!) Punctuations are also needed in the formulas. Make use of connecting words, such as accordingly, however, in contrast to …, furthermore, in fact, …
Technical points Follow the authors instructions carefully. Use Latex and the journals style (.sty) file. If you use SWP, the exported plain latex version should work in a unix or linux system. If you must use Word, you should use MathType for ALL the symbols and formulas. Prepare the figures with a simple figure editor. Avoid writing explanations inside a figure. The figures must be submitted separately (even if you have included them in the manuscript). For APS journals, you can only submit the figures in EPS.
Make a long reference list. An inappropriate referee tends to pass your paper. Suggest your good friends as referees and refer to them. Reply nicely to the referees comments point by point, do not try to confuse his questions. Never say that the referee is wrong unless you can very clearly show that. Also, do not flatter him openly. If you dont want to reply to the referee, you can try to ask for a new one. But most probably the editor will send the first comments to the latter, who might be proposed by the first referee! Some tricks
Final notes The manuscript should be complete and in the final form. Dont plan to improve it in the revision. The chance of revision for a poorly prepared manuscript is very small. No journal will make major corrections and style improvements for you (too expensive). Latex is now the most important platform for publication. You should learn to write a latex manuscript using a simple editor. The duty of a modern scientist includes writing, typing, preparing figures, and publishing a paper. Learn the technical details.
10 RULES FOR GOOD WRITING in English literature also applicable for science writing adapted from D. Roberts
1. Prefer the simple description to the elegant: --She was chubby with small and pale hands.* --She was fusby with diminutive and colorless hands. * Keep it simple and to the point. 2. Prefer the familiar word to the exotic: --He held the wine flask carelessly.* --He held the ampula carelessly. *Though wine flask is the same as the arcane ampula most readers will not be used to this term.
3. Prefer ordinary writing style to the romantic style: --His kiss was tender.* --His lips gently bushed her pouting mouth. *Unless you are writing a romance keep your descriptions short. 4. Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs: --As she hangs the picture over the desk she feels tender thoughts of Walter.* --Hanging the picturesque painting high above the red lacquered desk, she held heart-swelling and passionate thought of Walter. *Use clear statements.
5. Use picture nouns and actions verbs: --It was a hot summer day but under the umbrella Jonathan could deal with the heat.* --In Portland it is to be expected that August will be hot, but under the blue and white striped table umbrellas shading Jonathan, the heat became all but intolerable. * Simple descriptive sentences are preferred. 6. Never use a long word when a short one will do as well: --"It was serendipitous to me, Watson." --"It was news to me, Watson." * *It's better to write simply than to simply write.
7. In scientific papers, do not use metaphors such as: --She was built flat as Kansas. --He was tough as a year in jail. --The finish was smooth as driftwood. 8. Prefer the simple sentence to the complicated: --The existing world's food production can be increased with the use of common chemicals.* --The way to increase the world's production of food from existing acreage is through the application of relatively inexpensive chemicals that can be mass-produced in factories. *While both examples say the same thing one is easier to "read" than the other.
9. Vary your sentence length: --The President called in his advisor. They talked about the foreign options. The options were bleak and risky. --The President called in his advisor to discuss the options they had to resolve the foreign crisis. The options were risky.* *Good writing varies the sentence length. 10. Use the active voice: --Congress set the budgetary limits and the Union fought the new contract.* --Budgetary limits were set by congress and the new contract was fought. *Active voice animates the story. A verb with a direct object is in the active voice.