Presentation on theme: "A personal view of scientific writing or The mistakes I have made! John Kirby (with Alicia Cresswell) Postgraduate tutor."— Presentation transcript:
A personal view of scientific writing or The mistakes I have made! John Kirby (with Alicia Cresswell) Postgraduate tutor
What do scientist write? Abstracts Research papers Reviews –(maybe from your first assessment) Book chapters Books Grant applications Theses –(and assessment reports)
Student BMJ 2005; 13: 376
Clarity is essential All documents need to read swiftly No room for ambiguity –What you write might alter patient management! English may not be the readers first language –Keep your language simple!
Rules for clarity Everyone will acquire his or her own style However, there are some general rules: –Use short sentences which express single concepts I worry if my sentences exceed three lines –Use short paragraphs –Avoid ‘clever’ clauses and parentheses –Use good grammar and punctuation –If in doubt, keep it simple
A useful tips You will annoy your friends, but please try to read your own work out loud. If you find it hard to speak then then something is wrong with the text When correcting text try little and often rather than long boring sessions Get a friend to read your work
Don’t worry too much! Many international journals now employ copy editors and proof readers who pick up most errors before publication Often this will convert your English into American English (with spelling to match)!
Common errors Keep track of singular and plural forms –Remember data is the plural of datum! –Hence, “these data suggest…” –A series of 900 complex and boring experiments was designed –“none are” or “none is”?
Tense Keep track of tense –Most experiments and procedures will be described in the past tense A good way to separate what you have shown from what others have reported is to mix tenses in your writing –This is common in a discussion section For example: The protein was non-functional after modification of the terminal residue. This result is consistent with that reported by Bloggs et al (Ref) and indicates….
“Instructions to authors” Read these before you start writing! All journals have a house style –Examples: The BMJ insists all papers are written in (active) first person –I demonstrated that…. Most pure science journals tend to require (passive) third person –These data demonstrate that…. –Don’t worry if MS Word complains about “passive voice”. This means you are correct!
Oooops Dear John Kirby I looked at your manuscript closely and at first glance it seems to be rather long. The limit of articles is 6,500 words as stated in the instructions. Therefore, I would like to know the exact word count of your paper and if it is too high to shorten the manuscript to meet the guidelines. Sincerely yours
Writing a scientific paper First question –Have I got sufficient data to support my conclusion? Have a look at a typical journal in your field –What do the results sections look like? –In my field they seem to contain about 2 tables and 6 figures
We are not butterfly hunters!
The next step When you have decided what you are trying to communicate set up a mock results section Label several sheets of blank paper: –Table 1, 2 etc –Figure 1, 2 etc Roughly sketch what data will go on what page Shuffle the pages into a logical order Does it seem complete –Yes? Write the paper! –No? What else do you need to do?
Choose your journal Look carefully at a selection –Which is most appropriate? Talk to your supervisor(s) –No point going for Nature unless everyone agrees it is worthwhile Consider the impact factor –Not all journals are equal! –The impact factor is a measure of how often an average article in a journal is cited
Writing the paper Read the instructions to authors What sections should the text be divided into? Often: –Title –Abstract –Introduction –Methodology –Results –Discussion –References –Figure legends What do you do first?
This is what I do On a 1000 mile journey, the hardest thing is the first step. –Make the first step easy! The methodology is often easiest to write as is simply descriptive. –Order this in the same way as you will present your results
The next step I usually write the results text next This is also descriptive as you simply describe your data (figures and tables) –“These data show that something is higher/faster/larger than something else (p<0.001)”. A common error is to add discussion and interpretation to this section –This leaves nothing for the discussion section!
The home straight I usually then write the introduction –Details why you did the study (not what you found) Then the discussion interprets your results and places into context with the literature. –End with a nice ‘take home’ message in the final paragraph
Crossing the line Figure legends should be ‘stand alone’ The title should be clear and attract attention –You need to lure readers to your paper amongst all the others Similarly, the abstract should be very clear with simple messages, clear results and snappy conclusions
References Use Endnote (or similar) to output the references in the correct format But, which references do you cite? –High impact factor journals –Avoid citing reviews (unless to save you from reviewing) –Avoid over citation of yourself Write what you know and then reference the text or you will need to stop every few words to find a paper in the heap on your floor!
A knotty problem Who will be included as authors (and in what order) This can cause some dispute! Some journals have a clear policy Some supervisors or research groups also have a policy (ask) Remember all authors carry full responsibility for the content
The mechanics of publication Submission –You may need to learn how to use an on- line system like ‘Manuscript Central’ The decision –Rejection. Learn from the referees comments and try again –Revision. This is common. Answer the referees questions carefully (maybe generate some more data) and you’ll be OK –Immediate acceptance. This is rare!
Submission can be harder than you think!
What does the referee think?
The mechanics of publication Submission –You may need to learn how to use an on- line system like ‘Manuscript Central’ The decision –Rejection. Learn from the referees comments and try again (a different journal) –Revision. This is good. Answer the referees questions carefully (maybe generate some more data) and you’ll be OK –Immediate acceptance. This is rare!
Errors and glitches Check proofs VERY CAREFULLY! Then check them again Then ask your co-authors to check them Then ask everyone you can think of the check them
JBC; 77 citations and nobody has ever commented…
Conference abstracts Problems You often need to describe work in progress months before the meeting Acceptance is highly competitive and You want to be accepted as your travel grant depends on giving a presentation!
More on abstracts Follow the rules –Strict word or (even character) counts etc Make whatever you hope to present sound as good and positive as possible Avoid empty statements like: –These data will be discussed –This work is still in progress
Even more…. Choose a punchy title Write a brief introduction. Maybe only 2 sentences Very briefly describe the methods Show ‘solid’ data (with statistics if needed) The conclusion should show how you have answered your original question.