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Good Writing Skills for Scientists Dr. David Schultz Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National.

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Presentation on theme: "Good Writing Skills for Scientists Dr. David Schultz Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National."— Presentation transcript:

1 Good Writing Skills for Scientists Dr. David Schultz Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

2 Caveats There are many ways to write a paper. I am providing some generalities that appear to work. My opinion is just that. Others may have other approaches that work for them. Feel free to comment. My primary qualifications?

3 The Importance of Good Scientific Communication “Too frequently, published papers contain fundamental errors. The presentation in many papers is careless. Some papers abound in unsupported claims stated as facts. The unnamed papers... are not obscure articles.... Both editors and authors have told me that some of these articles have sailed through the review process.” Ron Errico (2000) Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

4 The Importance of Good Scientific Communication “The truth is that badly written papers are most often written by people who are not clear in their own minds what they want to say....” John Maddox (1990)

5 The Importance of Good Scientific Communication “Papers of poor quality do more than waste printing and publishing resources; they mislead and confuse inexperienced readers, they waste and distract the attention of experienced scientists, and by their existence they lead future authors to be content with second rate work.” G. K. Batchelor (1981)

6 The Importance of Good Scientific Communication Being a good scientist means being a good communicator. Even if you don’t choose a traditional career path, you will still need to write and speak well in nearly any kind of job.

7 Concise Writing “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should contain no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that a writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.” Strunk and White: The Elements of Style

8 How Do You Attract an Audience? Title –Informative, accurate, clear, concise, and attention commanding –What are the minimum number of words that describe what you’re doing? Abstract –Principal objectives and scope of research –Methodology, summarize results –Principal conclusions Introduction and/or Conclusions Body of paper

9 Title-Writing Exercise The Use and Misuse of Conditional Symmetric Instability

10 Title-Writing Exercise Polar Low Dynamics

11 Title-Writing Exercise Is the Tropical Atmosphere Conditionally Unstable?

12 Title-Writing Exercise A Double-Moment Multiple-Phase Four- Class Bulk Ice Scheme: Part II: Simulations of Convective Storms in Different Large-Scale Environments and Comparisons with Other Bulk Parameterizations

13 Title-Writing Exercise Evaluation of Fractional Cloudiness Parameterizations for Use in a Mesoscale Model

14 Title-Writing Exercise The Structure and Evolution of a Continental Winter Cyclone. Part I: Frontal Structure and the Classical Occlusion Process

15 Title-Writing Exercise Diagnostic Verification of Temperature Forecasts

16 Parts and Organization of a Scientific Paper See the handout. Introduction: hook to grab reader’s attention (paradox, lack of knowledge of subject, debate among experts, etc.) Discussion section Conclusion/Conclusion(s)/Summary

17 Figures and Tables Don’t skimp on the figure. Clearly define as much as possible on the figure so that the figure is self-explanatory. Don’t skimp on the captions. Take care to write them clearly. Don’t leave them until the end when you are exhausted and nearing completion of the paper.

18 Figures In these days of electronic figure preparation, limit the number of figures to the minimum necessary to make your point in the paper. Don’t leave excessive white space around edges. Make all axes uniform in size and scale, wherever possible. Reducing multiple figures to a multipaneled figure can aid in comparing results. Make lines thick---avoid dotted lines, which may not survive reproduction.

19 References How to Cite Skillfully and Avoid Plagiarizing (John Rogers) Most of the cost of copy-editing journals is in correctly formatting the reference list. References and Unreferences (Duncan Blanchard)

20 Writing Techniques The Science of Science Writing “Readers expect a grammatical subject to be followed immediately by the verb.” “Every unit of discourse, no matter the size, should serve a single function or make a single point.” “The information that begins a sentence establishes for the reader a perspective for viewing the sentence as a unit.” (topic position)

21 “It is a linguistic commonplace that readers naturally emphasize the material that arrives at the end. We refer to that location as a stress position.” “Readers also expect the material occupying the topic position to provide them with linkage (looking backward) and context (looking forward).” “Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb.” Writing Techniques The Science of Science Writing

22 “By following our knowledge of reader expectations, we have been able to spot discontinuities, to suggest strategies for bridging gaps, and to rearrange the structure of the prose, thereby increasing the accessibility of the scientific content.” Writing Techniques The Science of Science Writing

23 Concise Writing Words and Expressions to Avoid (Day) –despite the fact thatalthough –it is apparent thatapparently –in order toto –it may be thatI think –it should be noted that(omit) –with respect toabout –smaller in sizesmaller –the period 1977– –1999 –thunderstorm activitythunderstorms –acts to dry outdries out –over the Mongolia regionover Mongolia

24 Concise Writing Meteorological terms requiring care (e.g., ) –propagate movement = advection + propagation –correlate vs. relate –utilize vs. use –“Time evolution” is redundant.

25 Getting Started Begin writing before the research is finished. Writing should force you to strengthen your arguments. Also, sections like the literature review and methodology are best written while thinking about that material. Outline the text, know the goals/purpose of paper, list of figures you need to show. Allow the development of the paper to flesh out weaknesses in your argument that suggest further sections or figures.

26 In the Midst of Writing If you start to get bogged down, step back and take a look at the big picture. What is the logical progression of ideas (modeling studies, then obs; synoptic to mesoscale)? Classify your statements, then look for common themes to group together. Observations ->conclusions->implication-> speculation Make sure you have proper transition. Follow good style (AMS Authors’ Guide). Avoid colloquialisms, jargon, and abbreviations.

27 In the Midst of Writing Redundancy in your terminology will help the reader follow your train of thought. Describe the science, not the figures. “Figure 5 shows....” vs. “... (Fig. 5).” Spell out acronyms on first usage.

28 In the Midst of Writing When injecting opinion/speculation, be clear to your audience that it is not fact. Do not expect the paper to stand on speculation alone. Avoid “motherhood” statements calling for more research/data/etc. If you wish to make such statements, offer specific objectives, tests of your theory, etc.

29 Finishing Up Always perform near-final edits on paper. Begin to recognize your weaknesses and search them out systematically throughout the manuscript. Perform near-final edits when you are fresh and undistracted (e.g., morning). Read your paper out loud. Does it make sense? Send it out informally to friends, experts, and enemies for their comments.

30 The Advantages of Short Papers Everyone likes to read shorter papers. Shorter papers usually garner more favorable reviews. Shorter papers keep your name in the spotlight. Funding agencies are happy because their money leads to nuggets of information reaching the public. It is easier to get small bits of published research right. Shorter papers prevent you from overgeneralizing your research.

31 13 Deadly Sins in Manuscripts See handout. Statements in text contradict data/tables Unclear/imprecise/incorrect statements Inconsistencies in terminology Literature citations missing or incorrect format Methodology not described adequately

32 The Two Most Common Writing Problems That Inhibit Communication Organization Transition (handouts on Sentence Variety, Transitional Devices, Writing Effective Transitions)

33 What You Can Do To Improve Learn from positive and negative role models. “A severe critic is your best friend in learning how to write well.” - Chuck Doswell Reading, reviewing, and critiquing others’ articles is good practice. Form an informal reading group. The more you write, the less writer’s block becomes a problem. First efforts do not need to be perfect. Revise, revise, revise!


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