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Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing Originally prepared by Dr. Johan Groeneveld Revised by Anton McLachlan “Write with precision, clarity and economy.

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Presentation on theme: "Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing Originally prepared by Dr. Johan Groeneveld Revised by Anton McLachlan “Write with precision, clarity and economy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing Originally prepared by Dr. Johan Groeneveld Revised by Anton McLachlan “Write with precision, clarity and economy. Every sentence should convey the exact truth as simply as possible.” Instructions to Authors from Ecology 1964

2 Where does writing style fit in? After: After:  Hypotheses developed  Key questions posed  Data collection  Data analyzed  Paper outline drafted  Tables and Figures compiled But before: But before:  First submission to journal

3 Write with the Reader in Mind Who is the reader? Editor, reviewers Editor, reviewers Scientists and professionals Scientists and professionals Students StudentsAssumptions: They are all busy, with little spare time They are all busy, with little spare time They prefer to read clear and concise articles They prefer to read clear and concise articles

4 Try to Avoid: Long complicated sentences Long complicated sentences Pretentious language Pretentious language Repetition Repetition Meaningless phrases Meaningless phrases Irrelevant material Irrelevant material Cluttering a paragraph Cluttering a paragraph Citing too many references Citing too many references

5 Long Complicated Sentences A long and complicated example: Various management strategies, such as the development of sanctuaries, closed seasons, minimum size-limit for harvesting of 75mm carapace length (CL) lobsters, enforcing a no-take status on ovigerous females and issuing quotas according to a total allowable catch (TAC) have been introduced over the years but catch-rates have steadily declined since the 1950s to the present catch of around 2500 tons - an effect attributed not only to over-exploitation but to decreased lobster growth-rates and large-scale environmental changes in the BCLME.

6 Long Complicated Sentences Can be broken down to three parts: Various management strategies, such as the development of sanctuaries, closed seasons, minimum size-limit of harvesting of 75 mm carapace length (CL), enforcing a no-take status on ovigerous females and issuing quotas according to a total allowable catch (TAC), have been introduced over the years but catch-rates have steadily declined since the 1950s to the present catch of around 2500 tons - an effect attributed not only to over- exploitation but to decreased lobster growth-rates and large-scale environmental changes in the BCLME.

7 Much better is: Management strategies introduced since the 1950s include: lobster sanctuaries, closed fishing seasons, minimum size-limits, no take-of ovigerous females, and a quota system. Catches have continued to decline, reaching 2500 tons by The decline is attributed to over-exploitation and decreased lobster growth rates resulting from large scale environmental changes in the BCLME. From 80 words down to 50!

8 Pretentious Language Using pretentious language will not make you sound more intelligent – it will simply make you unintelligible Using pretentious language will not make you sound more intelligent – it will simply make you unintelligible Commonly used words instead of obscure words Commonly used words instead of obscure words  The study was conducted…  The study was done… Hint: Use the Thesaurus on your word processor! Hint: Use the Thesaurus on your word processor!  Examples: hint = suggestion (n), clue, intimation, mention, indication, tip, advice, insinuation, allusion, trace, telltale sign, pointer, help

9 Avoid Repetition Discussion in the Results section Discussion in the Results section Results in the Discussion section Results in the Discussion section Information can be in the Introduction OR Discussion – not in both! Information can be in the Introduction OR Discussion – not in both! Repetition of information in Tables and Figures in the Text Repetition of information in Tables and Figures in the Text

10 Meaningless Phrases The results are given in Figure1, where it is shown that temperature was directly proportional to metabolic rate… The results are given in Figure1, where it is shown that temperature was directly proportional to metabolic rate… Rather write Temperature was directly proportional to metabolic rate (Fig.1).. In order to determine... OR to determine… In order to determine... OR to determine… Use parenthesis (brackets) for statistical results Use parenthesis (brackets) for statistical results  Fruit size was significantly greater in trees growing alone (t=3.65, df=2, p<0.05).

11 Irrelevant Material Irrelevant material lengthens a paper without adding to its substance:  Focus, focus, focus  Stick to the facts; speculate sparingly  Don’t get side-tracked  You don’t need to include ALL your data or analyses!

12 Cluttering a Paragraph Don’t have more than one main idea or theme in a paragraph? It is better in such cases to rather write two or more linked paragraphs. Don’t have more than one main idea or theme in a paragraph? It is better in such cases to rather write two or more linked paragraphs. Don’t overkill with too many citations. Just cite the most important, most recent or, where available, review papers? Don’t overkill with too many citations. Just cite the most important, most recent or, where available, review papers? (However, in a review paper it may be appropriate to have an extensive/complete list of references) (However, in a review paper it may be appropriate to have an extensive/complete list of references)

13 The Do’s: Read the “Instructions to Authors” – stick to it! Read the “Instructions to Authors” – stick to it! Maintain the focus of the paper – be clear and concise Maintain the focus of the paper – be clear and concise Use the appropriate tense Use the appropriate tense Use passive instead of active voice Use passive instead of active voice Maintain balance between text length and numbers of figures/tables Maintain balance between text length and numbers of figures/tables Be consistent in format (choice of words, font, numbering, punctuation, abbreviation, spacing, citation) Be consistent in format (choice of words, font, numbering, punctuation, abbreviation, spacing, citation)

14 Use the Appropriate Tense (normally never the future) Abstract Abstract  Past tense when describing and giving results  Present tense for conclusions Introduction Introduction  Past or present tense Methods & Results Methods & Results  Past tense (What you did and what you found) Discussion Discussion  Past and/or present tense

15 Use Passive not Active Voice Active Active  We used ANOVA to compare distances moved.  I sampled 50 sites. But better is Passive But better is Passive  ANOVA was used to compare distances moved.  Fifty sites were sampled.

16 Other Suggestions: When you are done and think it is perfect.....it’s not! When you are done and think it is perfect.....it’s not! Forget about the article for a week and then read it again! Forget about the article for a week and then read it again! Give it to an experienced colleague to read and ask him/her to be brutal! Give it to an experienced colleague to read and ask him/her to be brutal! Remember…there are as many different styles as there are researchers…but they all need to get past the journal editor and the reviewers! Remember…there are as many different styles as there are researchers…but they all need to get past the journal editor and the reviewers!


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