Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing
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Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing







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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. Every sentence should convey the exact truth as simply as possible .” Instructions to Authors from Ecology 1964.
Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Writing

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Slide 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

Slide 2

Where does writing style fit in?

After:

Hypotheses developed

Key questions posed

Data collection

Data analyzed

Paper outline drafted

Tables and Figures compiled

But before:

First submission to journal

Slide 3

Write with the Reader in Mind

Who is the reader?

Editor, reviewers

Scientists and professionals

Students

Assumptions:

They are all busy, with little spare time

They prefer to read clear and concise articles

Slide 4

Try to Avoid:

Long complicated sentences

Pretentious language

Repetition

Meaningless phrases

Irrelevant material

Cluttering a paragraph

Citing too many references

Slide 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.

Slide 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.

Slide 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 2006.

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!

Slide 8

Pretentious Language

Using pretentious language will not make you sound more intelligent – it will simply make you unintelligible

Commonly used words instead of obscure words

The study was conducted…

The study was done…

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

Slide 9

Avoid Repetition

Discussion in the Results section

Results in the Discussion section

Information can be in the Introduction OR Discussion – not in both!

Repetition of information in Tables and Figures in the Text

Slide 10

Meaningless Phrases

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…

Use parenthesis (brackets) for statistical results

Fruit size was significantly greater in trees growing alone (t=3.65, df=2, p<0.05).

Slide 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!

Slide 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 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)

Slide 13

The Do’s:

Read the “Instructions to Authors” – stick to it!

Maintain the focus of the paper – be clear and concise

Use the appropriate tense

Use passive instead of active voice

Maintain balance between text length and numbers of figures/tables

Be consistent in format (choice of words, font, numbering, punctuation, abbreviation, spacing, citation)

Slide 14

Use the Appropriate Tense(normally never the future)

Abstract

Past tense when describing and giving results

Present tense for conclusions

Introduction

Past or present tense

Methods & Results

Past tense (What you did and what you found)

Discussion

Past and/or present tense

Slide 15

Use Passive not Active Voice

Active

We used ANOVA to compare distances moved.

I sampled 50 sites.

But better is Passive

ANOVA was used to compare distances moved.

Fifty sites were sampled.

Slide 16

Other Suggestions:

When you are done and think it is perfect.....it’s not!

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!

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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