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Scientific Writing

Scientific Writing

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³Publish or Perish´: A Guide for Writing Scientific Papers

- with some Subjective Recommendations
by Professor Per Ohlckers Vestfold University College/University of Oslo
Last update: October 17, 2011

‡ Scientific writing is an important cornerstone of all sciences used to document research results. ‡ A suitable format is given as a template with guidelines for the structure and look. ‡ ³The Gold Standard´ - The contents of the different typical chapters of a scientific paper in natural sciences are outlined with guidelines. ‡ MIT-professor Stephen Senturia¶s practical advices for writing successful papers are outlined and commented. ‡ In conclusion, a set of subjective recommendations for scientific writing is given, use it or not.

Slide 2

Proposed Format for Writing for Papers in Natural Science
‡ A good format template: IEEE Paper Format for scientific papers and laboratory reports: 
Download the template from: www.ieee.org/documents/TRANS-JOUR.doc  If you use Linux or Mac, go via: www.ieee.org/web/publications/authors/transjnl/

‡ The template gives guidelines for the structure and look, not the scientific content of the paper ‡ The best way to learn about this format is simply to start using it ‡ This template is now used in several courses at Vestfold University College and University of Oslo ‡ Other journals have different templates ± look them up! Slide 3

it sets the footnote at the bottom of this column. please download the electronic file. It is good practice to explain the significance of the figure in the caption.org or visit http://www. Note that Fig. Otherwise. but please follow the instructions in TRANS-JOUR. use this document as an instruction set. send a blank e-mail to keywords@ieee. IEEE Abstract These instructions give you guidelines for preparing papers for IEEE TRANSACTIONS and JOURNALS. Jr.PDF. Fig. Member. 1.0 or later.> REPLACE THIS LINE WITH YOUR PAPER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (DOUBLE-CLICK HERE TO EDIT) < Preparation of Papers for IEEE TRANSACTIONS and JOURNALS (May 2007) First A. If you would prefer to use LATEX.ieee.org/organizations/pubs/ani_prod/keywrd98. from the IEEE Web site at http://www.html so you can use it to prepare your manuscript.txt 1. Define all symbols used in the abstract. download IEEE s LATEX style and sample files from the same Web page. Slide 4 . If you are reading a paper or PDF version of this document. Use this document as a template if you are using Microsoft Word 6. Magnetization as a function of applied field. Second B. INTRODUCTION THIS document is a template for Microsoft Word versions 6.DOC.ieee. TRANS-JOUR. Index Terms About four key words or phrases in alphabetical order.. Author. separated by commas. is abbreviated. Use these LATEX files for formatting. Author.org/web/publications/authors/transjnl/index.DOC or TRANS-JOUR. For a list of suggested keywords. There is a period after the figure number. followed by two spaces. and Third C.0 or later. Author. Do not delete the blank line immediately above the abstract. Do not cite references in the abstract. The electronic file of your paper will be formatted further at IEEE.

societal obligations as a public funded institution  Etc. Slide 5 . the observations in which are accompanied by complete recipes´ From [1]  [1] M. etc.D. 2006.J.  Moral.  Company/Institution. etc. p. for Ph. etc. ‡ Other motivations for writing scientific papers:  Personal: ´For the CV´.. ´From Research to Manuscripts ± A Guide to Scientific Writing´ ISBN.: ´Reputation/money/marketing´ For IMST at VUC this has high priority.13 978-1 4020-4045-0. Katz.ix-x.Motivations for Scientific Paper Writing ‡ ´A research project has not contributed to science until its results have been reported in a paper. studies. The Netherlands: Springer.

The ³Gold Standard´ for the Content for a Paper in Natural Sciences ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Abstract Introduction Material and Methods Results Discussions Conclusions Acknowledgements References  Acknowledgements sometimes obsolete and skipped. but the principal content of each chapter should be kept. the heading titles can be modified to more specific titles. Slide 6 . for instance using ´Process Technology´ instead of ´Materials and Methods´.  Except ´Abstract´ and References´.

ca/resources/library/pdf/Guideline sScientificPapers.english.edu/owl/resource/560/13  An informative and friendly guideline by S.pdf .bc.purdue. Senturia can be found on: www.bms.edu/labs/miml/reviewer-axe.pdf  "Write with precision. Every sentence should convey the exact truth as simply as possible. Ecology 1964  A general formal guide can be found on: owl.´ Instructions to Authors. clarity and economy.me.umn.The Gold Standard for Content of Papers in Natural Sciences: Links  A practical guide to writing scientific papers including experimental reports can be found on the following link: www.

RESULTS should be quantified in performance Slide 8 . One sentence on CONCLUSIONS  Comment: BACKGROUND should include motivation for the work  If possible.Abstract: ‡ Also an ´Executive Summary´ or critical ´marketing information´  From [1]:  A. Two or three sentences on METHODS  C. Less than two sentences on RESULTS  D. One or two sentences on BACKGROUND  B.

e. societal needs and benefitss are very important as motivations.Introduction ‡ Motivation(s) and background for the work are important issues  For applied research.g. MEMS crash sensors reducing car fatalities and giving billion dollars market opportunity for manufacturers ‡ Background should describe state-of-the-art ± meaning what has already been done by others ‡ Innovative work needed: ´Knowledge gap to be filled´ ‡ More academic: Your hypothesis to be tested ‡ Work to be done ± ´Plan of attack´ Slide 9 .

the tools you have used. Other examples? The ´genius´ from Bell Labs? Such cheatings disturb the progress of science! ‡ This rigorous requirement in a paper is a major cornerstone of scientific work in natural sciences to control and build on the acquired knowledge in future work Slide 10 . and complete instructions for your experimental procedures ‡ The ´Acid test´ of the quality of the content here is that your experiment can be repeated as completely as possible by anyone following your description  Cheaters are from time to time discovered by peer evaluations ± for example a recent case with a dentist in Norway: He invented results to fit his hypotheses in several papers.Material and Methods ‡ This section gives a detailed description of your materials used.

Material and Methods . and experiment parameters like temperature. for instance in ³Attachments´.  For example clearly identifying all materials and equipment used. ‡ Painstaking documentation is also needed as you go along.continued ‡ Paper reviewers will for good reasons kill your paper if you are sloppy here! ‡ Careful planning of the work is needed to fulfil this requirement.  Equipment should be identified by complete brand name and specific version. Slide 11 . ‡ Lengthy or cryptic documentation can be put elsewhere if possible. to increase readability of the paper. etc.

Results ‡ This section should ideally give an objective report of the findings of the work:  The function of this section is to summarize general trends in the data without comment. but then it is recommended that no controversial assessments are put forward. the readability and shortness can often be improved by mixing Discussions and Results in the same section and therefore widely used. bias. or interpretation  General observations  Specific observations  Case studies: Best cases and/or representative cases ‡ Many reviewers are strongly against mixing Discussions and Results in the same section:  The reader should follow your objective observations before evaluation your subjective views in the Discussion section. which contains your subjective assessments. Slide 12 . parts of which can and often will be questioned. ‡ However.

 These 2 parts contains the objective contribution to science. Slide 13 . while the other parts are ephemeral (significance eroding with time) as science move forward. most often being the section containing reference contents in future papers.  Citations in scientific papers by other authors most often refer to parts in the Result section ± positive and negative. sometimes also used to question and counter your assessments in Discussions and Conclusions.Results . ‡ The results are also the part that is most useful for future work by others and yourself.continued ‡ This section is together with the Material and Methods section the most enduring parts of a scientific paper.

‡ These 2 sections (Materials and Methods. ‡ Be aware that unexpected results instead of a disappointment might be a ´New Gold Mine´ of new science..continued ‡ Take care not to manipulate your reader by selecting or twisting the results that best fit your Discussions and Conclusions. while the other parts are ephemeral (significance eroding with time) as science and society move forward. contain the objective contributions to science..Results . large or small. if kept clean of discussions. Slide 14 .  Kristian Birkeland invented electric arch fixing of air nitrogen to nitric oxide by accident when he tried to make an electromagnetic cannon! The modern syntetic fertilizer industry got started in the first decade of the 20th century. Results).

do your utmost to present your results in a clear and concise way. statistical processing tools may disguise significant findings if used wrong) Slide 15 . be careful to maintain objective reporting of results (For instance. etc.  This often means processing your raw data into statistical presentations. graphs and tables.. are important ways to visualize your results. drawings. microscope images.  However.continued ‡ To improve readability and pave the way for constructive Discussions.  Photos.Results .

but not conclusive results that need to be further evaluated by future work by you or others. This should be done as objectively as possible. Slide 16 . but will always contain elements of subjective interpretations of the results.  Objectivity to show that parts of the results lead to conclusions that most readers will agree upon and support.Discussions ‡ In this section we interpret how the results have brought new knowledge contributing to science.  Subjectivity to point out indicative.

questionable interpretations. Slide 17 . cited in the References  State your conclusions you are making based on your results and relevant results by others. This includes stating what can be considered proven results. continued ‡ Organisation of the discussion of results should guide the reader through your argumentation:  A suggested way:  Recapitulate your intentions with the work and the results achieved by the work  Compare your findings with work of others.Discussions . and what are subjective.

if your Results are hard to interpret or unexpected. ‡ However. you may need to:  Use mathematical tools like statistics to look for trends and patterns  Suggest further work to achieve results that give more knowledge towards the scope of work  Suggest further work to address possible new findings Slide 18 . continued ‡ If your work was well planned and executed and earlier sections are written well. the Discussions section can most often be made short and mainly refer to the findings in the Results section.Discussions .

it is your main result. for instance:  Hypothesis proven  New technology or device invented and demonstrated  Proposal for Further Work can also be included.Conclusion(s) (and Further Work) ‡ The conclusion(s): One paragraph statement of the highlight point(s) of the paper  The main message(s) you want to highlight  Most often. a proposal for a gyroscope design with a potential improved performance Slide 19 . if the discussions of results are inconclusive or opens up for new knowledge to be acquired.  For instance.

just like your own paper  Be careful with sources not being peer evaluated. like newspapers and popular press articles: Information here range widely from true to wrong. and very often twisted/manipulative!  The cited sources should be available for anyone wanting to look them up   Be careful with short-lived sources like web pages or unpublished material Personal communications are generally not good as cited sources Slide 20 .References ‡ This is a list of all sources cited in the paper using the appropriate bibliographic format  The section names the ´links´ through which your paper is tied into the ´Web of science´  The cited sources should be of approved scientific quality.

However. including quality assurance issues. there are many writing guidelines for technical writing available that may be useful depending on your needs. be critical. These guidelines are modelled towards internal reports typically used in technology companies. ‡ Also. a lot of bad advices are given! Slide 21 .Scientific writing. continued ‡ Addendum: For bachelor studies at VUC: Final Project organisation and reporting has its own guidelines.

JUNE 2003 Guest Editorial: How to Avoid the Reviewer¶s Axe: One Editor¶s View Link: www.umn. as reviewer and as journal editor.me.edu/labs/miml/reviewer-axe. 3. 12. USA.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Professor Emeritus at MIT. has written a ´paper´: JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS.pdf ‡ This ´paper´ gives some friendly and straightforward recommendations for potential paper authors based upon his lifelong experiences from all sides: As scientific paper author. VOL. Highly recommended! Slide 22 . NO.

Rely on the Believability Index. Don¶t Be a Longfellow. the titles of the Guidelines:        (Almost) Nothing is New.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ First. Remember: Reviewers are Inarticulate and Authors are (somewhat) Paranoid. Don¶t Pull Rabbits Out of Hats. Mine All the Gold. Slide 23 . Watch for Gambling Words.

except an ambitious author who believes that his or her work is unique. most of our work is built on the work of others«««. even if you think they are minor.  So if you have some new findings.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Almost) Nothing is New  Everyone knows that there is nothing new under the sun. that is. Everyone. While there are a few truly unique and amazing results published once in a while. publish the work and contribute to the progress of science! Slide 24 .

This leads me to the concept of a Believability Index«««. reviewers may accept it. Talk is cheap. (Said another way.  The essence of scientific advance is that results are believable because they have been repeated and checked by independent investigators.  At the lowest level of believability is an author s speculation as to the reason for any new result. By definition then.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Rely on the Believability Index. Slide 25 . a truly new result is not scientifically confirmed until it has been repeated by others. even if they don t agree with the speculative explanation for the new behaviour. )  But if a new experimental result is sufficiently documented in a manuscript.

Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Watch for Gambling Words...´ If you have to persuade using probabilistic words. it means you can¶t prove your point and you are speculating. Slide 26 .´ and ³undoubtedly....´ ³certainly.´ ³probably...  Caution against using ³gambling words´ like ³obviously..  So don¶t get too much carried away by your enthusiasm.

he should NOT be adopted as the role model for scientific writing«.  In Tales of a Wayside Inn. While Longfellow was a wonderful story-teller.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Don¶t Be a Longfellow. sitting around the fire.  So keep the writing short and concise«. Slide 27 . the poet Longfellow presents a set of stories told by various guests at the inn.

 Reviewers get tenacious searching for the flaws when confronted with rabbits out of hats. Slide 28 . for instance by adding results of an extra experiment not included in Materials and Methods. Some of that thrill seems to stick. seated on the floor of a crowded school auditorium. we would see the visiting magician pull a rabbit out of his hat. because many scientific writers seem to want to imitate the magician. The rule is simple: Don¶t do it. as children.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Don¶t Pull Rabbits Out of Hats  We all recall the thrill when.

and then stumbles upon a gold find. you ignore it as the idiot you are.  Many examples here in the history of technology ± for instance Birkeland¶s Electric Cannon failure inspired him to invent his ammonium manufacturing process. Slide 29 . so the guideline is that if you get some unexpected results.Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Mine All the Gold. Since you are looking for silver.  The science history is full of such unexpected ´gold discoveries´. take care to check whether it is a potential gold mine you should investigate further.  Imaging you are out on a mission looking for silver.

Stephen Senturia¶s advices: ‡ Remember: Reviewers are Inarticulate and Authors are (somewhat) Paranoid  When a reviewer complains about something in a paper. Slide 30 . Reviewers often state their objections badly.  But. and that makes their reviews look arbitrary. the chances are very good that there is a problem with the paper. Not every comment by every reviewer is a correct or proper criticism. Now what«  The best fix here is to consult a grey hair senior you might know who does reviewing regularly and ask for help. but I would say that more than 90% of the criticisms that I have seen have some degree of merit. reviewers are inarticulate and giving little feedback. even whimsical. The authors¶ anger and paranoia are then provoked.

and most of you will write scientific papers ‡ About This Presentation:  Contains subjective guidelines given by the author  You may use or reject them based on your own needs  Should be used as one input among many others Slide 31 .Conclusions ‡ About Scientific Paper Writing:  It is based on formal requirements established to bring science forwards  It is based on the peer evaluation procedure as quality assurance  It can be done in many ways as long as some basic rules are followed  Learning to be a good scientific writer is hard work  Writing papers is the most important way we contribute to the advancement of science  All of you will read scientific papers.

Ohlckers(at)hive.mme2011.org/Scientific_writing.no Thank you for your attention! Slide 32 .ppt ‡ Feedbacks and inputs to improve the presentation are most welcome!  Contact: Per.Postscript ‡ The presentation can be downloaded from: www.

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