11 steps to structuring a science paper editors will take seriously

Step 6: Write a compelling Introduction

In this monthly series, Dr. Angel Borja draws on his extensive background as an author, reviewer and editor to give advice on preparing the manuscript (author’s view), the evaluation process (reviewer’s view) and what there is to hate or love in a paper (editor’s view).

This article is the second in the series. The first article was: «Six things to do before writing your manuscript.»[divider]

  1. Prepare the figures and tables.
  2. Write the Methods.
  3. Write up the Results.
  4. Write the Discussion. Finalize the Results and Discussion before writing the introduction. This is because, if the discussion is insufficient, how can you objectively demonstrate the scientific significance of your work in the introduction?
  5. Write a clear Conclusion.
  6. Write a compelling introduction.
  7. Write the Abstract.
  8. Compose a concise and descriptive Title.
  9. Select Keywords for indexing.
  10. Write the Acknowledgements.
  11. Write up the References.

Remember that «a figure is worth a thousand words.» Hence, illustrations, including figures and tables, are the most efficient way to present your results. Your data are the driving force of the paper, so your illustrations are critical!

How do you decide between presenting your data as tables or figures? Generally, tables give the actual experimental results, while figures are often used for comparisons of experimental results with those of previous works, or with calculated/theoretical values (Figure 1).

Whatever your choice is, no illustrations should duplicate the information described elsewhere in the manuscript.

Another important factor: figure and table legends must be self-explanatory (Figure 2).

When presenting your tables and figures, appearances count! To this end:

  • Avoid crowded plots (Figure 3), using only three or four data sets per figure; use well-selected scales.
  • Think about appropriate axis label size
  • Include clear symbols and data sets that are easy to distinguish.
  • Never include long boring tables (e.g., chemical compositions of emulsion systems or lists of species and abundances). You can include them as supplementary material.

If you are using photographs, each must have a scale marker, or scale bar, of professional quality in one corner.

In photographs and figures, use color only when necessary when submitting to a print publication. If different line styles can clarify the meaning, never use colors or other thrilling effects or you will be charged with expensive fees.

Of course, this does not apply to online journals. For many journals, you can submit duplicate figures: one in color for the online version of the journal and pdfs, and another in black and white for the hardcopy journal (Figure 4).

Another common problem is the misuse of lines and histograms. Lines joining data only can be used when presenting time series or consecutive samples data (e.g., in a transect from coast to offshore in Figure 5).

Sometimes, fonts are too small for the journal. You must take this into account, or they may be illegible to readers (Figure 6).

Finally, you must pay attention to the use of decimals, lines, etc. (Figure 7)

[divider]

Step 2: Write the Methods

This section responds to the question of how the problem was studied. If your paper is proposing a new method, you need to include detailed information so a knowledgeable reader can reproduce the experiment.

However, do not repeat the details of established methods; use References and Supporting Materials to indicate the previously published procedures. Broad summaries or key references are sufficient.

Length of the manuscript

Again, look at the journal’s Guide for Authors, but an ideal length for a manuscript is 25 to 40 pages, double spaced, including essential data only. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Title: Short and informative
  • Abstract: 1 paragraph ({amp}lt;250 words)
  • Introduction: 1.5-2 pages
  • Methods: 2-3 pages
  • Results: 6-8 pages
  • Discussion: 4-6 pages
  • Conclusion: 1 paragraph
  • Figures: 6-8 (one per page)
  • Tables: 1-3 (one per page)
  • References: 20-50 papers (2-4 pages)

Reviewers will criticize incomplete or incorrect methods descriptions and may recommend rejection, because this section is critical in the process of reproducing your investigation. In this way, all chemicals must be identified. Do not use proprietary, unidentifiable compounds.

To this end, it’s important to use standard systems for numbers and nomenclature. For example:

Present proper control experiments and statistics used, again to make the experiment of investigation repeatable.

List the methods in the same order they will appear in the Results section, in the logical order in which you did the research:

  1. Description of the site
  2. Description of the surveys or experiments done, giving information on dates, etc.
  3. Description of the laboratory methods, including separation or treatment of samples, analytical methods, following the order of waters, sediments and biomonitors. If you have worked with different biodiversity components start from the simplest (i.e. microbes) to the more complex (i.e. mammals)
  4. Description of the statistical methods used (including confidence levels, etc.)

In this section, avoid adding comments, results, and discussion, which is a common error.[divider]

Step 3: Write up the Results

This section responds to the question «What have you found?» Hence, only representative results from your research should be presented. The results should be essential for discussion.

Statistical rules

  • Indicate the statistical tests used with all relevant parameters: e.g., mean and standard deviation (SD): 44% (±3); median and interpercentile range:  7 years (4.5 to 9.5 years).
  • Use mean and standard deviation to report normally distributed data.
  • Use median and interpercentile range to report skewed data.
  • For numbers, use two significant digits unless more precision is necessary (2.08, not 2.07856444).
  • Never use percentages for very small samples e.g., «one out of two» should not be replaced by 50%.

However, remember that most journals offer the possibility of adding Supporting Materials, so use them freely for data of secondary importance. In this way, do not attempt to «hide» data in the hope of saving it for a later paper. You may lose evidence to reinforce your conclusion. If data are too abundant, you can use those supplementary materials.

Use sub-headings to keep results of the same type together, which is easier to review and read. Number these sub-sections for the convenience of internal cross-referencing, but always taking into account the publisher’s Guide for Authors.

For the data, decide on a logical order that tells a clear story and makes it and easy to understand. Generally, this will be in the same order as presented in the methods section.

An important issue is that you must not include references in this section; you are presenting your results, so you cannot refer to others here. If you refer to others, is because you are discussing your results, and this must be included in the Discussion section.[divider]

Step 4: Write the Discussion

Here you must respond to what the results mean. Probably it is the easiest section to write, but the hardest section to get right. This is because it is the most important section of your article. Here you get the chance to sell your data. Take into account that a huge numbers of manuscripts are rejected because the Discussion is weak.

You need to make the Discussion corresponding to the Results, but do not reiterate the results. Here you need to compare the published results by your colleagues with yours (using some of the references included in the Introduction). Never ignore work in disagreement with yours, in turn, you must confront it and convince the reader that you are correct or better.

Take into account the following tips:

1. Avoid statements that go beyond what the results can support.

2. Avoid unspecific expressions such as «higher temperature», «at a lower rate», «highly significant». Quantitative descriptions are always preferred (35ºC, 0.5%, p{amp}lt;0.001, respectively).

3. Avoid sudden introduction of new terms or ideas; you must present everything in the introduction, to be confronted with your results here.

4. Speculations on possible interpretations are allowed, but these should be rooted in fact, rather than imagination. To achieve good interpretations think about:

  • How do these results relate to the original question or objectives outlined in the Introduction section?
  • Do the data support your hypothesis?
  • Are your results consistent with what other investigators have reported?
  • Discuss weaknesses and discrepancies. If your results were unexpected, try to explain why
  • Is there another way to interpret your results?
  • What further research would be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results?
  • Explain what is new without exaggerating

5. Revision of Results and Discussion is not just paper work. You may do further experiments, derivations, or simulations. Sometimes you cannot clarify your idea in words because some critical items have not been studied substantially.[divider]

Step 5: Write a clear Conclusion

This section shows how the work advances the field from the present state of knowledge. In some journals, it’s a separate section; in others, it’s the last paragraph of the Discussion section. Whatever the case, without a clear conclusion section, reviewers and readers will find it difficult to judge your work and whether it merits publication in the journal.

A common error in this section is repeating the abstract, or just listing experimental results. Trivial statements of your results are unacceptable in this section.

You should provide a clear scientific justification for your work in this section, and indicate uses and extensions if appropriate. Moreover, you can suggest future experiments and point out those that are underway.

You can propose present global and specific conclusions, in relation to the objectives included in the introduction.[divider]

Step 6: Write a compelling Introduction

This is your opportunity to convince readers that you clearly know why your work is useful.

A good introduction should answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem to be solved?
  • Are there any existing solutions?
  • Which is the best?
  • What is its main limitation?
  • What do you hope to achieve?

Editors like to see that you have provided a perspective consistent with the nature of the journal. You need to introduce the main scientific publications on which your work is based, citing a couple of original and important works, including recent review articles.

However, editors hate improper citations of too many references irrelevant to the work, or inappropriate judgments on your own achievements. They will think you have no sense of purpose.

Here are some additional tips for the introduction:

  • Never use more words than necessary (be concise and to-the-point). Don’t make this section into a history lesson. Long introductions put readers off.
  • We all know that you are keen to present your new data. But do not forget that you need to give the whole picture at first.
  • The introduction must be organized from the global to the particular point of view, guiding the readers to your objectives when writing this paper.
  • State the purpose of the paper and research strategy adopted to answer the question, but do not mix introduction with results, discussion and conclusion. Always keep them separate to ensure that the manuscript flows logically from one section to the next.
  • Hypothesis and objectives must be clearly remarked at the end of the introduction.
  • Expressions such as «novel,» «first time,» «first ever,» and «paradigm-changing» are not preferred. Use them sparingly.

[divider]

Step 7: Write the Abstract

The abstract tells prospective readers what you did and what the important findings in your research were. Together with the title, it’s the advertisement of your article. Make it interesting and easily understood without reading the whole article.  Avoid using jargon, uncommon abbreviations and references.

You must be accurate, using the words that convey the precise meaning of your research. The abstract provides a short description of the perspective and purpose of your paper. It gives key results but minimizes experimental details. It is very important to remind that the abstract offers a short description of the interpretation/conclusion in the last sentence.

A clear abstract will strongly influence whether or not your work is further considered.

However, the abstracts must be keep as brief as possible. Just check the ‘Guide for authors’ of the journal, but normally they have less than 250 words. Here’s a good example on a short abstract.

In an abstract, the two whats are essential. Here’s an example from an article I co-authored in Ecological Indicators:

  1. What has been done? «In recent years, several benthic biotic indices have been proposed to be used as ecological indicators in estuarine and coastal waters. One such indicator, the AMBI (AZTI Marine Biotic Index), was designed to establish the ecological quality of European coasts. The AMBI has been used also for the determination of the ecological quality status within the context of the European Water Framework Directive. In this contribution, 38 different applications including six new case studies (hypoxia processes, sand extraction, oil platform impacts, engineering works, dredging and fish aquaculture) are presented.»
  2. What are the main findings? «The results show the response of the benthic communities to different disturbance sources in a simple way. Those communities act as ecological indicators of the ‘health’ of the system, indicating clearly the gradient associated with the disturbance.»

[divider]

Step 8: Compose a concise and descriptive title

The title must explain what the paper is broadly about. It is your first (and probably only) opportunity to attract the reader’s attention. In this way, remember that the first readers are the Editor and the referees. Also, readers are the potential authors who will cite your article, so the first impression is powerful!

We are all flooded by publications, and readers don’t have time to read all scientific production. They must be selective, and this selection often comes from the title.

Reviewers will check whether the title is specific and whether it reflects the content of the manuscript. Editors hate titles that make no sense or fail to represent the subject matter adequately. Hence, keep the title informative and concise (clear, descriptive, and not too long). You must avoid technical jargon and abbreviations, if possible. This is because you need to attract a readership as large as possible. Dedicate some time to think about the title and discuss it with your co-authors.

Here you can see some examples of original titles, and how they were changed after reviews and comments to them:

Example 1

  • Original title: Preliminary observations on the effect of salinity on benthic community distribution within a estuarine system, in the North Sea
  • Revised title: Effect of salinity on benthic distribution within the Scheldt estuary (North Sea)
  • Comments: Long title distracts readers. Remove all redundancies such as «studies on,» «the nature of,» etc. Never use expressions such as «preliminary.» Be precise.

Example 2

  • Original title: Action of antibiotics on bacteria
  • Revised title: Inhibition of growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by streptomycin
  • Comments: Titles should be specific. Think about «how will I search for this piece of information» when you design the title.

Example 3

  • Original title: Fabrication of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers displaying optical and electrical properties via electrospinning carbon
  • Revised title: Electrospinning of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers with optical and electrical properties
  • Comments: «English needs help. The title is nonsense. All materials have properties of all varieties.  You could examine my hair for its electrical and optical properties! You MUST be specific. I haven’t read the paper but I suspect there is something special about these properties, otherwise why would you be reporting them?» – the Editor-in-Chief.

Try to avoid this kind of response! [divider]

Step 9: Select keywords for indexing

Keywords are used for indexing your paper. They are the label of your manuscript. It is true that now they are less used by journals because you can search the whole text. However, when looking for keywords, avoid words with a broad meaning and words already included in the title.

Some journals require that the keywords are not those from the journal name, because it is implicit that the topic is that. For example, the journal Soil Biology {amp}amp; Biochemistry requires that the word «soil» not be selected as a keyword.

Only abbreviations firmly established in the field are eligible (e.g., TOC, CTD), avoiding those which are not broadly used (e.g., EBA, MMI).

Again, check the Guide for Authors and look at the number of keywords admitted, label, definitions, thesaurus, range, and other special requests. [divider]

Step 10: Write the Acknowledgements

Here, you can thank people who have contributed to the manuscript but not to the extent where that would justify authorship. For example, here you can include technical help and assistance with writing and proofreading. Probably, the most important thing is to thank your funding agency or the agency giving you a grant or fellowship.

In the case of European projects, do not forget to include the grant number or reference. Also, some institutes include the number of publications of the organization, e.g., «This is publication number 657 from AZTI-Tecnalia.»[divider]

Step 11: Write up the References

Typically, there are more mistakes in the references than in any other part of the manuscript. It is one of the most annoying problems, and causes great headaches among editors. Now, it is easier since to avoid these problem, because there are many available tools.

In the text, you must cite all the scientific publications on which your work is based. But do not over-inflate the manuscript with too many references – it doesn’t make a better manuscript! Avoid excessive self-citations and excessive citations of publications from the same region.

Minimize personal communications, do not include unpublished observations, manuscripts submitted but not yet accepted for publication, publications that are not peer reviewed, grey literature, or articles not published in English.

As I have mentioned, you will find the most authoritative information for each journal’s policy on citations when you consult the journal’s Guide for Authors. In general, you should minimize personal communications, and be mindful as to how you include unpublished observations. These will be necessary for some disciplines, but consider whether they strengthen or weaken your paper. You might also consider articles published on research networks prior to publication, but consider balancing these citations with citations of peer-reviewed research. When citing research in languages other than English, be aware of the possibility that not everyone in the review process will speak the language of the cited paper and that it may be helpful to find a translation where possible.

You can use any software, such as EndNote or Mendeley, to format and include your references in the paper. Most journals have now the possibility to download small files with the format of the references, allowing you to change it automatically. Also, Elsevier’s Your Paper Your Way program waves strict formatting requirements for the initial submission of a manuscript as long as it contains all the essential elements being presented here.

Make the reference list and the in-text citation conform strictly to the style given in the Guide for Authors. Remember that presentation of the references in the correct format is the responsibility of the author, not the editor. Checking the format is normally a large job for the editors. Make their work easier and they will appreciate the effort.

Finally, check the following:

  • Spelling of author names
  • Year of publications
  • Usages of «et al.»
  • Punctuation
  • Whether all references are included

In my next article, I will give tips for writing the manuscript, authorship, and how to write a compelling cover letter. Stay tuned![divider]

  • Indicate the statistical tests used with all relevant parameters: e.g., mean and standard deviation (SD): 44% (±3); median and interpercentile range:  7 years (4.5 to 9.5 years).
  • Use mean and standard deviation to report normally distributed data.
  • Use median and interpercentile range to report skewed data.
  • For numbers, use two significant digits unless more precision is necessary (2.08, not 2.07856444).
  • Never use percentages for very small samples e.g., «one out of two» should not be replaced by 50%.

This section shows how the work advances the field from the present state of knowledge. In some journals, it’s a separate section; in others, it’s the last paragraph of the Discussion section. Whatever the case, without a clear conclusion section, reviewers and readers will find it difficult to judge your work and whether it merits publication in the journal.

A common error in this section is repeating the abstract, or just listing experimental results. Trivial statements of your results are unacceptable in this section.

You should provide a clear scientific justification for your work in this section, and indicate uses and extensions if appropriate. Moreover, you can suggest future experiments and point out those that are underway.

You can propose present global and specific conclusions, in relation to the objectives included in the introduction.[divider]

This is your opportunity to convince readers that you clearly know why your work is useful.

A good introduction should answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem to be solved?
  • Are there any existing solutions?
  • Which is the best?
  • What is its main limitation?
  • What do you hope to achieve?

Editors like to see that you have provided a perspective consistent with the nature of the journal. You need to introduce the main scientific publications on which your work is based, citing a couple of original and important works, including recent review articles.

However, editors hate improper citations of too many references irrelevant to the work, or inappropriate judgments on your own achievements. They will think you have no sense of purpose.

Here are some additional tips for the introduction:

  • Never use more words than necessary (be concise and to-the-point). Don’t make this section into a history lesson. Long introductions put readers off.
  • We all know that you are keen to present your new data. But do not forget that you need to give the whole picture at first.
  • The introduction must be organized from the global to the particular point of view, guiding the readers to your objectives when writing this paper.
  • State the purpose of the paper and research strategy adopted to answer the question, but do not mix introduction with results, discussion and conclusion. Always keep them separate to ensure that the manuscript flows logically from one section to the next.
  • Hypothesis and objectives must be clearly remarked at the end of the introduction.
  • Expressions such as «novel,» «first time,» «first ever,» and «paradigm-changing» are not preferred. Use them sparingly.

[divider]

The abstract tells prospective readers what you did and what the important findings in your research were. Together with the title, it’s the advertisement of your article. Make it interesting and easily understood without reading the whole article.  Avoid using jargon, uncommon abbreviations and references.

You must be accurate, using the words that convey the precise meaning of your research. The abstract provides a short description of the perspective and purpose of your paper. It gives key results but minimizes experimental details.

A clear abstract will strongly influence whether or not your work is further considered.

However, the abstracts must be keep as brief as possible. Just check the ‘Guide for authors’ of the journal, but normally they have less than 250 words. Here’s a good example on a short abstract.

In an abstract, the two whats are essential. Here’s an example from an article I co-authored in Ecological Indicators:

  1. What has been done? «In recent years, several benthic biotic indices have been proposed to be used as ecological indicators in estuarine and coastal waters. One such indicator, the AMBI (AZTI Marine Biotic Index), was designed to establish the ecological quality of European coasts. The AMBI has been used also for the determination of the ecological quality status within the context of the European Water Framework Directive. In this contribution, 38 different applications including six new case studies (hypoxia processes, sand extraction, oil platform impacts, engineering works, dredging and fish aquaculture) are presented.»
  2. What are the main findings? «The results show the response of the benthic communities to different disturbance sources in a simple way. Those communities act as ecological indicators of the ‘health’ of the system, indicating clearly the gradient associated with the disturbance.»

[divider]

The title must explain what the paper is broadly about. It is your first (and probably only) opportunity to attract the reader’s attention. In this way, remember that the first readers are the Editor and the referees.

We are all flooded by publications, and readers don’t have time to read all scientific production. They must be selective, and this selection often comes from the title.

Reviewers will check whether the title is specific and whether it reflects the content of the manuscript. Editors hate titles that make no sense or fail to represent the subject matter adequately. Hence, keep the title informative and concise (clear, descriptive, and not too long).

You must avoid technical jargon and abbreviations, if possible. This is because you need to attract a readership as large as possible. Dedicate some time to think about the title and discuss it with your co-authors.

Here you can see some examples of original titles, and how they were changed after reviews and comments to them:

Example 1

  • Original title: Preliminary observations on the effect of salinity on benthic community distribution within a estuarine system, in the North Sea
  • Revised title: Effect of salinity on benthic distribution within the Scheldt estuary (North Sea)
  • Comments: Long title distracts readers. Remove all redundancies such as «studies on,» «the nature of,» etc. Never use expressions such as «preliminary.» Be precise.

Example 2

  • Original title: Action of antibiotics on bacteria
  • Revised title: Inhibition of growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by streptomycin
  • Comments: Titles should be specific. Think about «how will I search for this piece of information» when you design the title.

Example 3

  • Original title: Fabrication of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers displaying optical and electrical properties via electrospinning carbon
  • Revised title: Electrospinning of carbon/CdS coaxial nanofibers with optical and electrical properties
  • Comments: «English needs help. The title is nonsense. All materials have properties of all varieties.  You could examine my hair for its electrical and optical properties! You MUST be specific. I haven’t read the paper but I suspect there is something special about these properties, otherwise why would you be reporting them?» – the Editor-in-Chief.

Try to avoid this kind of response! [divider]

Here, you can thank people who have contributed to the manuscript but not to the extent where that would justify authorship. For example, here you can include technical help and assistance with writing and proofreading.

In the case of European projects, do not forget to include the grant number or reference. Also, some institutes include the number of publications of the organization, e.g., «This is publication number 657 from AZTI-Tecnalia.»[divider]

Article Summary

To write a scientific paper, start with an abstract that briefly summarizes the paper and leads into your introduction. In the introduction, review the available literature on your topic, and discuss the gap your work is trying to fill. At the end of the introduction, clearly state your hypothesis and objectives. Next, list your materials and methods, followed by your results. Then, conclude your paper with a discussion section and a list of references.

WRITING A SCIENTIFIC
RESEARCH ARTICLE

| Format for the paper |
Edit your
paper!
| Useful books |

FORMAT
FOR THE PAPER

Scientific research articles provide a method for
scientists to communicate with other scientists about the results of their research. A
standard format is used for these articles, in which the author presents the research in
an orderly, logical manner. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the order in which you did or
thought about the work.  This format is:

| Title |
Authors | Introduction |
Materials and Methods | Results (with
Tables and Figures) | Discussion |
Acknowledgments |
Literature Cited |

TITLE

  1. Make your title specific
    enough to describe
    the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. The
    title should be appropriate for the intended audience.
  2. The title usually describes the
    subject matter
    of the article: Effect of Smoking on Academic Performance»
  3. Sometimes a title that
    summarizes the results
    is more effective: Students Who Smoke Get Lower Grades»

AUTHORS

1. The person who did the work and wrote the
paper is generally listed as the first author of a research paper.

2. For published articles, other people who made
substantial contributions to the work are also listed as authors. Ask your mentor’s
permission before including his/her name as co-author.

ABSTRACT

1. An abstract, or summary, is published together
with a research article, giving the reader a «preview» of what’s to come. Such
abstracts may also be published separately in bibliographical sources, such as Biologic al
Abstracts. They allow other scientists to quickly scan the large scientific literature,
and decide which articles they want to read in depth. The abstract should be a little less
technical than the article itself; you don’t want to dissuade your potent ial audience
from reading your paper.

2. Your abstract should be one paragraph, of
100-250 words, which summarizes the purpose, methods, results and conclusions of the
paper.

3. It is not easy to include all this information
in just a few words. Start by writing a summary that includes whatever you think is
important, and then gradually prune it down to size by removing unnecessary words, while
still retaini ng the necessary concepts.

3. Don’t use abbreviations or citations in the
abstract. It should be able to stand alone without any footnotes.

INTRODUCTION

What question did you ask in your experiment? Why
is it interesting? The introduction summarizes the relevant literature so that the reader
will understand why you were interested in the question you asked. One to fo ur paragraphs
should be enough. End with a sentence explaining the specific question you asked in this
experiment.

MATERIALS AND
METHODS

1. How did you answer this question? There should
be enough information here to allow another scientist to repeat your experiment. Look at
other papers that have been published in your field to get some idea of what is included
in this section.

2. If you had a complicated protocol, it may
helpful to include a diagram, table or flowchart to explain the methods you used.

3. Do not put results in this section. You may,
however, include preliminary results that were used to design the main experiment that you
are reporting on. («In a preliminary study, I observed the owls for one week, and
found that 73 % of their locomotor activity occurred during the night, and so I conducted
all subsequent experiments between 11 pm and 6 am.»)

4. Mention relevant ethical considerations. If
you used human subjects, did they consent to participate. If you used animals, what
measures did you take to minimize pain?

RESULTS

1. This is where you present the results you’ve
gotten. Use graphs and tables if appropriate, but also summarize your main findings in the
text. Do NOT discuss the results or speculate as to why something happened; t hat goes in
th e Discussion.

2. You don’t necessarily have to include all the
data you’ve gotten during the semester. This isn’t a diary.

3. Use appropriate methods of showing data. Don’t
try to manipulate the data to make it look like you did more than you actually did.

«The drug cured 1/3 of the infected mice,
another 1/3 were not affected, and the third mouse got away.»

TABLES AND GRAPHS

1. If you present your data in a table or graph,
include a title describing what’s in the table («Enzyme activity at various
temperatures», not «My results».) For graphs, you should also label the x
and y axes.

2. Don’t use a table or graph just
to be «fancy». If you can summarize the information in one sentence, then a
table or graph is not necessary.

DISCUSSION

1. Highlight the most significant results, but
don’t just repeat what you’ve written in the Results section. How do these results relate
to the original question? Do the data support your hypothesis? Are your results consistent
with what other investigators have reported? If your results were unexpected, try to
explain why. Is there another way to interpret your results? What further research would
be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results? How do y our results fit into
the big picture?

2. End with a one-sentence summary of your
conclusion, emphasizing why it is relevant.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This section is optional. You can thank those who
either helped with the experiments, or made other important contributions, such as
discussing the protocol, commenting on the manuscript, or buying you pizza.

REFERENCES
(LITERATURE CITED)

There are several possible ways to organize this
section. Here is one commonly used way:

1. In the text, cite the literature in the
appropriate places:

Scarlet (1990) thought that the gene was present
only in yeast, but it has since been identified in the platypus (Indigo and Mauve, 1994)
and wombat (Magenta, et al., 1995).

2. In the References section list citations in
alphabetical order.

Indigo, A. C., and Mauve, B. E. 1994. Queer place
for qwerty: gene isolation from the platypus. Science 275, 1213-1214.

Magenta, S. T., Sepia, X., and Turquoise, U.
1995. Wombat genetics. In: Widiculous Wombats, Violet, Q., ed. New York: Columbia
University Press. p 123-145.

Scarlet, S.L. 1990. Isolation of qwerty gene from
S. cerevisae. Journal of Unusual Results 36, 26-31.

EDIT YOUR PAPER!!!

«In my writing, I average
about ten pages a day. Unfortunately, they’re all the same page.»
Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Writing

A major part of any writing assignment consists
of re-writing.

Write accurately

  1. Scientific writing must be accurate. Although
    writing instructors may tell you not to use the same word twice in a sentence, it’s okay
    for scientific writing, which must be accurate. (A student who tried not to repeat the
    word «hamster» produced this confusing sentence: «When I put the hamster in
    a cage with the other animals, the little mammals began to play.»)
  2. Make sure you say what you mean.
  3. Instead of: The rats were injected with
    the drug. (sounds like a syringe was filled with drug and ground-up rats and both were
    injected together)
    Write: I injected the drug into the rat.

  4. Be careful with commonly confused words:

Temperature has an effect on the
reaction.
Temperature affects the reaction.

I used solutions in various concentrations. (The
solutions were 5 mg/ml, 10 mg/ml, and 15 mg/ml)
I used solutions in varying concentrations. (The concentrations I used changed; sometimes
they were 5 mg/ml, other times they were 15 mg/ml.)

 Less food (can’t count numbers of food)
Fewer animals (can count numbers of animals)

A large amount of food (can’t count them)
A large number of animals (can count them)

The erythrocytes, which are in the blood, contain
hemoglobin.
The erythrocytes that are in the blood contain hemoglobin. (Wrong. This sentence implies
that there are erythrocytes elsewhere that don’t contain hemoglobin.)

Write clearly

1. Write at a level that’s appropriate for your
audience.

«Like a pigeon, something to admire as long
as it isn’t over your head.» Anonymous

 2. Use the active voice. It’s clearer and
more concise than the passive voice.

 Instead of: An increased appetite was
manifested by the rats and an increase in body weight was measured.
Write: The rats ate more and gained weight.

 3. Use the first person.

 Instead of: It is thought
Write: I think

 Instead of: The samples were analyzed
Write: I analyzed the samples

 4. Avoid dangling participles.

 «After incubating at 30 degrees C, we
examined the petri plates.» (You must’ve been pretty warm in there.)

 Write succinctly

 1. Use verbs instead of abstract nouns

 Instead of: take into consideration
Write: consider

 2. Use strong verbs instead of «to
be»

 Instead of: The enzyme was found to be the
active agent in catalyzing…
Write: The enzyme catalyzed…

 3. Use short words.

«I would never use a long word where a short one would answer the purpose. I
know there are professors in this country who ‘ligate’ arteries. Other surgeons tie them,
and it stops the bleeding just as well.»
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr .

Instead of: Write:
possess have
sufficient enough
utilize use
demonstrate show
assistance help
terminate end

4. Use concise terms.

 Instead
of:
Write:
prior to before
due to the fact that because
in a considerable
number of cases
often
the vast majority of most
during the time that when
in close proximity to near
it has long been known
that
I’m too lazy to look up
the reference

5. Use short sentences. A sentence made of more
than 40 words should probably be rewritten as two sentences.

 «The conjunction ‘and’ commonly serves
to indicate that the writer’s mind still functions even when no signs of the phenomenon
are noticeable.» Rudolf Virchow, 1928

Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation

1. Use a spellchecker, but be aware that they
don’t catch all mistakes.

 «When we consider the animal as a
hole,…» Student’s paper

 2. Your spellchecker may not recognize
scientific terms. For the correct spelling, try Biotech’s
Life Science
Dictionary
or one of the technical dictionaries on the reference shelf in the Biology
or Health Sciences libraries.

 3. Don’t, use, unnecessary, commas.

 4. Proofread carefully to see if you any
words out.

USEFUL BOOKS

Victoria E. McMillan, Writing Papers in the
Biological Sciences
, Bedford Books, Boston, 1997
The best. On sale for about $18 at Labyrinth Books, 112th Street. On reserve in Biology
Library

Jan A. Pechenik, A Short Guide to Writing
About Biology
, Boston: Little, Brown, 1987

Harrison W. Ambrose, III {amp}amp; Katharine Peckham
Ambrose, A Handbook of Biological Investigation, 4th edition, Hunter Textbooks Inc,
Winston-Salem, 1987
Particularly useful if you need to use statistics to analyze your data. Copy on Reference
shelf in Biology Library.

Robert S. Day, How to Write and Publish a
Scientific Paper
, 4th edition, Oryx Press, Phoenix, 1994.
Earlier editions also good. A bit more advanced, intended for those writing papers for
publication. Fun to read. Several copies available in Columbia libraries.

William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The
Elements of Style
, 3rd ed. Macmillan, New York, 1987.
Several copies available in Columbia libraries.  Strunk’s first edition is
available on-line.

RSC Advances This is an Accepted Manuscript, which has been through the Royal Society of Chemistry peer review process and has been accepted for publication. Accepted Manuscripts are published online shortly after acceptance, before technical editing, formatting and proof reading. Using this free service, authors can make their results available to the community, in citable form, before we

… [Show full abstract] publish the edited article. This Accepted Manuscript will be replaced by the edited, formatted and paginated article as soon as this is available. You can find more information about Accepted Manuscripts in the Information for Authors. Please note that technical editing may introduce minor changes to the text and/or graphics, which may alter content. The journal’s standard Terms {amp}amp; Conditions and the Ethical guidelines still apply. In no event shall the Royal Society of Chemistry be held responsible for any errors or omissions in this Accepted Manuscript or any consequences arising from the use of any information it contains.

Step 9: Select keywords for indexing

Keywords are used for indexing your paper. They are the label of your manuscript. It is true that now they are less used by journals because you can search the whole text. However, when looking for keywords, avoid words with a broad meaning and words already included in the title.

Some journals require that the keywords are not those from the journal name, because it is implicit that the topic is that. For example, the journal Soil Biology {amp}amp; Biochemistry requires that the word «soil» not be selected as a keyword.

Only abbreviations firmly established in the field are eligible (e.g., TOC, CTD), avoiding those which are not broadly used (e.g., EBA, MMI).

Again, check the Guide for Authors and look at the number of keywords admitted, label, definitions, thesaurus, range, and other special requests. [divider]

About the Writing@CSU Guides

These guides are the result of a joint effort of the Writing@CSU project and the Colorado State University Writing Center. Development of these guides began in 1993, when the original Online Writing Center was developed for campus use at Colorado State University.

Several guides were developed in Asymmetrix Multimedia Toolbook and then migrated to the Web in 1996. Over the years, additional guides were developed and revised, reflecting the efforts of many writers and writing teachers.

In 2012, the guides were moved into a content management system developed for the Writing@CSU site. Members of the staff in the Colorado State University Writing Center were among the group that migrated the guides to the new system.

We are particularly grateful to Carrie Lamanna, Patricia Lincoln, Aubrey Johnson, Christina Shane, Jennifer Lawson, Karen Buntinas, and Ellen Palmquist for their efforts in migrating, editing, and updating the guides.

Length of the manuscript

Again, look at the journal’s Guide for Authors, but an ideal length for a manuscript is 25 to 40 pages, double spaced, including essential data only. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Title: Short and informative
  • Abstract: 1 paragraph ({amp}lt;250 words)
  • Introduction: 1.5-2 pages
  • Methods: 2-3 pages
  • Results: 6-8 pages
  • Discussion: 4-6 pages
  • Conclusion: 1 paragraph
  • Figures: 6-8 (one per page)
  • Tables: 1-3 (one per page)
  • References: 20-50 papers (2-4 pages)

Step 2: Write the Methods

This section responds to the question of how the problem was studied. If your paper is proposing a new method, you need to include detailed information so a knowledgeable reader can reproduce the experiment.

However, do not repeat the details of established methods; use References and Supporting Materials to indicate the previously published procedures. Broad summaries or key references are sufficient.

This section responds to the question «What have you found?» Hence, only representative results from your research should be presented. The results should be essential for discussion.

Here you must respond to what the results mean. Probably it is the easiest section to write, but the hardest section to get right. This is because it is the most important section of your article. Here you get the chance to sell your data. Take into account that a huge numbers of manuscripts are rejected because the Discussion is weak.

You need to make the Discussion corresponding to the Results, but do not reiterate the results. Here you need to compare the published results by your colleagues with yours (using some of the references included in the Introduction).

Take into account the following tips:

1. Avoid statements that go beyond what the results can support.

2. Avoid unspecific expressions such as «higher temperature», «at a lower rate», «highly significant». Quantitative descriptions are always preferred (35ºC, 0.5%, p{amp}lt;0.001, respectively).

3. Avoid sudden introduction of new terms or ideas; you must present everything in the introduction, to be confronted with your results here.

4. Speculations on possible interpretations are allowed, but these should be rooted in fact, rather than imagination. To achieve good interpretations think about:

  • How do these results relate to the original question or objectives outlined in the Introduction section?
  • Do the data support your hypothesis?
  • Are your results consistent with what other investigators have reported?
  • Discuss weaknesses and discrepancies. If your results were unexpected, try to explain why
  • Is there another way to interpret your results?
  • What further research would be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results?
  • Explain what is new without exaggerating

5. Revision of Results and Discussion is not just paper work. You may do further experiments, derivations, or simulations. Sometimes you cannot clarify your idea in words because some critical items have not been studied substantially.[divider]

Typically, there are more mistakes in the references than in any other part of the manuscript. It is one of the most annoying problems, and causes great headaches among editors. Now, it is easier since to avoid these problem, because there are many available tools.

In the text, you must cite all the scientific publications on which your work is based. But do not over-inflate the manuscript with too many references – it doesn’t make a better manuscript! Avoid excessive self-citations and excessive citations of publications from the same region.

Minimize personal communications, do not include unpublished observations, manuscripts submitted but not yet accepted for publication, publications that are not peer reviewed, grey literature, or articles not published in English.

As I have mentioned, you will find the most authoritative information for each journal’s policy on citations when you consult the journal’s Guide for Authors. In general, you should minimize personal communications, and be mindful as to how you include unpublished observations.

These will be necessary for some disciplines, but consider whether they strengthen or weaken your paper. You might also consider articles published on research networks prior to publication, but consider balancing these citations with citations of peer-reviewed research.

When citing research in languages other than English, be aware of the possibility that not everyone in the review process will speak the language of the cited paper and that it may be helpful to find a translation where possible.

You can use any software, such as EndNote or Mendeley, to format and include your references in the paper. Most journals have now the possibility to download small files with the format of the references, allowing you to change it automatically.

Also, Elsevier’s Your Paper Your Way program waves strict formatting requirements for the initial submission of a manuscript as long as it contains all the essential elements being presented here.

Make the reference list and the in-text citation conform strictly to the style given in the Guide for Authors. Remember that presentation of the references in the correct format is the responsibility of the author, not the editor.

Finally, check the following:

  • Spelling of author names
  • Year of publications
  • Usages of «et al.»
  • Punctuation
  • Whether all references are included
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