Writing for scientific publications Wildlife 448 Fall 2011
Swim against the current • In direct opposition to almost everything your high school teacher and college English professor taught you. • We’re simply conveying information • Be direct . . . to the point . . . without “fluff” • Shorter is better! • Succinct sentences, tables, etc. • Keep overall length to minimum
Before You Write • Know your stuff • Be completely familiar with problem, possible solutions, methods, analyses, and implications • Know the “story” (plan what you will write) • Where does it begin (problem, possible solution)? • What goes on in the middle (try out the solution)? • How does it end (did the solution work)? • Know your audience • Different journals require different content/formats/styles
Start Writing – Kind of… • Detailed outline • Determine goals and objectives • List topic sentences for each paragraph—should summarize an idea and the content of paragraph • Review topic sentences for logical structure • Do the topic sentences follow the story line? • REALITY:Often this checking is done after you’ve written the manuscript…but it must be done!! • Methods and results are easiest to write and can determine logical flow of intro/discussion sections.
Write like you’ve never written before! • Be “clear, simple, concise, and organized” (JWM Guidelines: Chamberlain and Johnson 2008:15) • Rules 1. Never tell anything reader does not need to know 2. Exclude nothing the reader needs to know.... . . . to repeat the study . . . to understand the study/results 3. Use active voice 4. See link on common writing errors
Manuscript Guidelines • Follow JWM guidelines • Format as you would for a submitted manuscript • Guidelines downloadable from course website (from Lab Outline page)
General schematic of a scientific paper: Intro Study Site Methods Results Discussion Management implications
Introduction • “Set up” problem • Big picture: put your question into larger context • Summarize current information and state knowledge gaps (justification for your question) • Have an obvious “knock me over the head with it” problem statement • State goal or hypotheses (general statement) • Should directly address problem statement • State specific objectives • Numbered objectives can add clarity • Answers/results from objectives should achieve goal or test hypothesis
Study Area • Where was your research conducted • Location • General vegetation characteristics • Climate, topography, other species of relevance • Be specific where relevant • Use past tense (e.g., “Mean temperatures were…”) • Figure showing study area (i.e., at the state level if appropriate)
Methods (a recipe) • MUST BE REPEATABLE • First person, past tense (active voice) • Organize in order of objectives • For each objective have an obvious method. • “To determine density, I followed …” • “To estimate survival, we used …” • If the method/analysis is new, describe in detail • If the method/analysis has been used before, describe briefly and cite those responsible for originally describing • “We collected stomach contents of fishes by gastric lavage (Light et al. 1983).” • 2 Parts • Data collection • Who, WHY, when, where, how • Do not describe anything that is not used in an analysis • Data analyses • Origin of data for each analysis should be clear
Data Analysis(within Methods) • State analyses explicitly do not leave anything open to interpretation • Important for repeatability • Again follow order of objectives • Make sure there is an analysis for each objective • Make sure there is not an analysis that is not presented as an objective
Results • Present sample sizes • Arrange according to objectives • These can be very short at times (don’t worry) • Use tables and figures to present information more concisely • Highlight pertinent information from table in text • Reference Tables/Figures correctly (see guidelines) • Do not include extraneous information • Extraneous – not needed for replication or understanding • Past tense • No discussing/interpreting results until Discussion • Only report, do not explain
Discussion • Do not repeat information from results section • Do not add new results • Use this section to convince the reader whether you solved the problem (or not!) • How do your results compare to other work? • What agrees, what differs from previous work • Caveats, limitations • Should contain numerous citations • Should we do anything else to clarify the problem? • Did the results create any new/interesting questions? • Future studies
Management Implications • Journal specific section see JWM guidelines • How can your findings inform managers? • Applicability of your work?
Abstract • Write after finishing report • FIRST IMPRESSION!! • Include problem studied or hypothesis tested • Enumerate and list only most pertinent findings (positive or negative) • List implications for research or management • Minimize methods....unless it is a methods paper
Abstract • 5 items in an abstract (means minimum 5 sentences) • Justification statement • What you did • How did you get your information (methods) • Significant results (NOTE: SIGNIFICANT) • Management implications/Take home message
Literature Cited Check! Journal!! Guidelines!!! (see links on website)
Tables/Figures • Stand alone! • Caption should describe everything about what the figure/table conveys • Caption for tables at the top, figure captions go below the figure. • handout
Types of literature • Primary literature • Original research results published for the first time (journal articles) • Secondary literature • Derived from the primary literature (textbooks) • Tertiary literature • Derived from primary and secondary literature (reference books: dictionaries, encyclopedias)
Types of literature continued… • Gray literature? • body of materials that cannot be found easily through conventional channels "but which is frequently original and usually recent“ • include technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers. • is often employed exclusively with scientific research in mind
Peer review? • Process that ensures the articles published represent the best scholarship currently available. • When an article is submitted to a peer reviewed journal, the editors send it out to other scholars in the same field (the author's peers) to get their opinion on the quality of the scholarship, its relevance to the field, its appropriateness for the journal, etc.
Quiz • Peer Reviewed? • Text books? • National Geographic? • Time? • Game and Fish Report? • USGS Technical Report? Peer Review??