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by Michael LaRocca
How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.michaeledits.com
HOW TO WRITE A SCIENTIFIC PAPER By Michael LaRocca
How To Write Any Paper Planning Watson and Crick Show How It’s Done Published Writing That Sucks Don’t Do It! The Passive Voice Article Format Be Your Own Editor Ways To Improve Your English Acknowledgements Bibliography
How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.michaeledits.com
How To Write Any Paper
What is writing? I have some thoughts in my head. When you read what I’ve written down, you should understand those thoughts.
It sounds so simple when I say it like that. In practice, well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Let’s find out.
Any textbook of English grammar will teach you the rules of writing clear correct English.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Choose the correct word Prefer the simple word to the pompous one Prefer the single word to the circumlocution Prefer the short word to the long Use the active rather than the passive voice
These rules apply regardless of whether you’re writing about medicine, engineering, law, education, travel, dating, or even a good old-fashioned novel. Meanwhile, you’ve probably read a lot of published articles, journals, and entire textbooks that manage to violate all five of those rules.
I like the word “circumlocution,” by the way. Locution is writing or speaking, from the same root word as locomotion. Circum mean circular, from the same root as circumference. So circumlocution is not to say what you mean, but just to talk around it. That’s a nice long word that I’ll use because it’s packed with info.
And now, back to some good writing.
How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.michaeledits.com
When you write your paper. choice of words. so to speak. It described the structure of DNA. I’ll be using a lot of my own words in this book. It’s simply the one I’ve chosen. and are irrelevant for serious scientific workers. “Scientific writers are rarely literate. active and passive voice. © 1977. Oh.michaeledits. just to show you how little things have changed. and since this isn’t being published in a peer-reviewed journal. I want to quote something that was published in 1977. and the like. are for nonscientific second-rate minds with nothing original to say. Watson and Crick wrote a letter to Nature magazine. We’ll talk about that letter some more later. If a colleague tells a scientist that his latest article is difficult to understand. length of sentences. No editor will reject first-class research because it is in poor English. Lock. subjunctives. This isn’t the only source that does. the writer is more likely to assume that his colleague is unintelligent than that his article is unintelligible. Perhaps you’ve heard of DNA’s double helix. given us permission. I think we all want to agree with THORNE’S BETTER MEDICAL WRITING. many of which are badly written. you’ll cite existing literature. and few journals have enough staff to rewrite all the articles they publish. I’m just glad someone has. but I’m also going to lean on the experts because they make you more likely to believe me. It was less than 900 words. expect me to use more and longer quotes “from the existing literature” than you’re allowed to. Such writers believe that discussions about style. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. They won a Nobel prize for that discovery. right? I’m citing THORNE’S BETTER MEDICAL WRITING by S.In 1953.com 4 . this argument can be supported by reference to published accounts of important work. Pitman Medical Publishing. Unfortunately.
Communication is the object of writing.” Scientific writers are rarely literate? That’s bold.“So why does style matter? “Simplicity and clarity are the features of good scientific writing.michaeledits. didn’t it? Clear thought can be expressed clearly. Good points to remember are that doctors not working in the subject should be able to understand the article. Nobody is asking you to write great literature. which is the object of writing in the first place. “In other words. but the meaning must be readily understood. The meaning must be readily understood. It got your attention. most writers are failing to communicate. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. clear thought can be expressed clearly. Remember those. and a man with something of value to say has no need to pad it out just to bore editors (who are likely to reject them) and bore their readers (who are unlikely to finish them).com 5 .
and you didn’t understand something I said. You could send me an email. but if I even bothered to answer you’d end up waiting too long. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. That’s the first reason we plan before we write. and address them adequately but not to excess. No. You can spend weeks (months) on a paper. But you do have to plan. you’d fall asleep. In your favor. If I were sitting in the room talking to you.michaeledits. and an economy of words.com 6 . Let’s do that now. you can self-edit as many times as you want. you can’t do that. What if you read something here that you don’t agree with? I have to anticipate any and all possible disagreements. when I can’t even talk to you. wait. you could ask me for clarification. With this book.Planning If I were sitting in the room talking to you. Writing requires fluency. clarity. So I have to be very clear in my writing. let me start over. You might read these words two months later and half a world away. accuracy. Planning.
the prospect of writing an entire paper can be daunting. you’ve got some more thinking to do. But I’m probably skipping ahead. The four steps above are my medical model.michaeledits. What’s your paper about? Can you tell me in a single sentence? Again. who would read your paper? Why? The first step about the single sentence. In other words. has your literature search turned up similar cases or reviews? 3.” I need to put that on a plaque. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. and only finding out when you’re almost done. Is it worth writing? Have similar findings been reported? Is there a need for another report? If applicable. your search of the literature might refine this somewhat. Who cares? Meaning.com 7 . incidentally. Here’s a general prescription for any writing project.“What’s your paper about?” If I ask you that. So what? How would your paper change concept or practice? 4. it’s probable that the first sentence of your paper is the last one you write. It’s possible to start writing your paper without really knowing what it’s about. you don’t understand it. 2. Also. but you get the idea. 1. and you can answer me in one or maybe three sentences. If not. Planning breaks your major project down into manageable steps. reminds me of something Einstein said. you’re on the right track. “If you can’t explain it to an eight-year-old. So let’s start planning.
then the outline for your plan will be the usual Introduction. Writing starts with planning. In 1997. Methods is sometimes expanded to Patients and Methods. What was I trying to do? Why did I think it was worthwhile to do it? How did I do it? What did I show? What do I need to stress? What excuses do I need to make? What is my message? What would I like to do next? How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. Compile a list of your ideas while you are thinking. Finally.). 4. and Discussion. Put the list in some order that makes sense to you (most to least important. 6. 7. Results. and Results may be Observations. 3.1. at length.michaeledits. 2. 5.com 8 . We’re going back to the medical field. etc. 4. Start by jotting down short answers to these questions: 1. Write the rough draft. Write a final draft that shows some changes from the initial draft. Don’t you like a catchy title? I’m just gonna quote them. 5. 2. sequential/chronological. Methods. and you’ll hear mistakes and find ways to correct them. hence the British spelling. If you are writing a standard paper for a medical journal. Read your writing aloud. Spend some time thinking before you start writing your rough draft. Cambridge University Press published the second edition of MEDICAL WRITING – A PRESCRIPTION FOR CLARITY by Goodman and Edwards. 6. 8. let me cite some experts here. 3.
not as you choose to interpret them. You should make sure that it remains uppermost in your readers’ minds as they digest the fruits of your labours.michaeledits. Make your notes in a logical order. Use tables and figures if they will help readers. Methods is the answer to 3.com 9 . Your Results or Observations. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. The last sentence or paragraph of the introduction should state the answer to 1. but knowledgeable readers — and referees — will take far more notice of your methods and results. are too long. The Discussion is the most interesting part to write. many of them stay that way. question 4. Most introductions. describing things in sequence. when first submitted to journals. of any research.Introductions usually start with the answer to 2: a brief review of important facts and references. must be stated as you measured or described them. dense paragraphs of text interspersed with numbers make for difficult reading. Keep in mind that “What is the question?” is the single most important part of a clinical trial and. by extension.
I’d write.com 10 ..” I’ll edit anybody Here’s the first paragraph from Watson and Crick: We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D. MEDICAL WRITING – A PRESCRIPTION FOR CLARITY. as an example of clear scientific writing. the one that I told you earlier was under 900 words. Passive voice. About Watson and Crick’s letter. • It’s direct.N. We wish to suggest….A.many of the principles of clear writing are well illustrated by their opening paragraph. Goodman and Edwards. They could have started with a general statement about DNA: Deoxyribose nucleic acid is a nucleotide that has been isolated from many species.Watson and Crick show how it’s done New topic. same source. This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest. and I honestly don’t remember how much is quoted and how much is paraphrased.” Look at that.). How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. They cite the Watson and Crick letter to Nature. they write “.. Goodman and Edwards then ask why it’s a good example. To write this would have reduced the impact. Here’s their reasoning. “We wish to suggest…” not In this communication is made a suggestion….michaeledits. • It comes straight to the point. “Their opening paragraph illustrates many of the principles of clear writing.
One note from me.) They write “features which are of considerable biological interest” not features associated with considerable biological interest. • Every word is the correct word. Michael. twice. strange. “Novel” is an excellent word. there being no other type of structure to which they could be referring. You’ll see it everywhere except in a novel. such as This configuration…. in fact. I’ll guess Watson and Crick used it first. Many writers would have started the second sentence with a pronoun. or used a synonym. look for it. that I see it in almost every paper I edit. And. hitherto unknown. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. such as It…. • They are not afraid of using the same word. This version is more clumsy and also ambiguous: it is not clear now whether it is the suggested structure. that has the novel features. They could have linked the sentences: We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of DNA that has novel features that are of considerable biological interest. • Every word is necessary: “We wish to suggest a structure for the salt…” not We propose a possible structural hypothesis concerning the salt….michaeledits. And also in most papers that I don’t edit.• They make two simple statements in two short sentences. structure. They even avoid molecular structure. in late 2010. but now that I’ve mentioned it. while most writers would probably write We would like to… they use the elegant “We wish to…”. So excellent. or the salt of DNA itself. particularly novel (of new kind or nature. neither device would have been as effective as repeating structure.com 11 .
it’s a little if.michaeledits.” That’s nice. it would seem reasonable that shortening of 10 cm at skeletal maturity or predicted shortening of this amount when the child reaches adulthood would be sufficient to consider Syme amputation. Here’s another.then statement.. What does it mean? Well. Say it three times fast. Presumably your mind will reach a conclusion similar to: “A Syme amputation should be considered for a shortening or predicted shortening of 10 cm at skeletal maturity. Shift some things around in your mind. “If the organism demonstrates to be a staph on the gram stain..” That was published. consider drilling the femoral neck to drain the metaphyseal abscess. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.” That’s better. then you do that procedure. Why make that so hard to figure out? “If the gram stain shows staphylococci.Published Writing That Sucks “Thus. you have to stop and think about it. don’t you? Break it up into phrases. Basically. Very useful to the medical profession. If you see this symptom. one may consider drilling the femoral neck for prophylactic decompression as this may be secondary to a metaphyseal osteomyelitis.com 12 .” Meanwhile. I don’t think the reader should have to work that hard.
Or if you’d rather not dump the responsibility on your good buddy LaRocca because the patient died. try “Surgery should be delayed if the patient has an infection.” Delete them.” “LaRocca recommends that surgery be delayed if the patient has an infection.? I call those “weasel words. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. but do you know what he did write? “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” That’s better. Here’s an author who needs a big ole shot of Windex: “It is common for the need to voluntarily evacuate the pouch to occur on one occasion nightly..” I like that better than I do his novels and short stories. George Orwell noted that good writing is like a window pane.. teach your word processor how to replace “utilize” with “use. Always. That’s bad. It has been suggested that.Nathaniel Hawthorne never did any scientific writing that I know about.” Thirty-three words. Later.com 13 . more frequent defecation interfering with the patient’s sleep has not been encountered in our continent patients. Also. “It is suggested that” is always on the list.michaeledits.” That’ll work. I’ll give you a list of words to always delete.” Freeze. Here’s something Hawthorne didn’t write: “It has been suggested that the utilization of surgical intervention be deferred until attenuation of the infectious symptomatology.
I refer to long-winded passive-voice writing that leaves readers wondering What does that mean? as speed bumps. or will he put down your article and go do something else? Does this author even care? Is he even trying? Make an Acquisitions Editor wonder that enough times and you won’t have a reader. and BAM you’ve got to stop or slow down. incompetence. That’s good.“Patients who are continent need only empty their stomach pouches once each night. You’re cruising along at a nice steady pace. because you won’t get published at all. speed bumps are bad. Here’s another symptom: “The study confirmed the hypothesis that clinical instructors of undergraduate medical students would choose instructional techniques limiting active student involvement in patient care activities when faced with problematical situations. We’ve got a bad case of don’t-care-it is to treat. In writing. It kinda nags at me that these were actually published. Will the reader start reading again. Double back. or unclear thinking. reading something. by the way.” Thirteen words.michaeledits. Sort out the meaning that the author hid because of laziness.com 14 .” How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.
Finally. and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that government documents are written in “plain language” which is defined as “writing that is clear. they should’ve all known what that sentence meant because they were experiencing it. But my examples and my message apply to all scientific writing. well-organized. if you do. “I’m coming. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. But I didn’t always give them time to “translate” the bad English into good English before I blurted out the answer. you’ll automatically simplify the sentences as you go. concise. I’m going to detour briefly into fiction.com 15 . It’s the law. my examples in this book lean heavily toward medicine.” So what I’m teaching you here isn’t just a good idea. Remember when I said you should read your writing aloud? One good reason for that is.” he ejaculated.” Yeah. “Medical teachers of undergraduates tend not to let students look after difficult patients. There’s no way you could read that aloud without bursting into laughter.When I gave this lecture to undergraduate medical students in Thailand. That’s good. Then you’d delete it from your manuscript and make the world a better place. For the other reason. because I lectured for so long at Chiang Mai University’s teaching hospital.michaeledits. let’s detour briefly to the US government.
calisthenics. “After notification of NMFS. preferably every day. this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September. The activity can include brisk walking. I wonder what it means.” A few examples were sacrificed. but the meaning is the same and it’s certainly easier to understand. moderate sports exercise. Thanks. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.” Okay.com 16 . home care. like brisk walking.” That’s nice.michaeledits. most days of the week.From the Department of Health and Human Services: “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a half hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days. gardening. and dancing. “Vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing.” That was changed to “Do at least 30 minutes of exercise.
with Cause Aware of Full Consensus Much Dependent on 17 .michaeledits.Don’t Do It! Avoid A considerable amount of A decreased amount of A diagnosis consistent with A majority of A number of A small number of Absolutely essential Accounted for by the fact Adjacent to Adult human organism After having been treated Along the lines of An adequate amount of An example of this is the fact that An order of magnitude faster Ancillary Apprise Are of the same opinion As a consequence of As a matter of fact As a result of As is the case As of this date At a rapid rate At an earlier date At an early date At no time At some future time At the conclusion of At the present time At this point in time Attenuate Based on the fact that Because of the fact that By means of Causal factor Cognizant of Completely full Consensus of opinion Considerable amount of Contingent upon How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.com Use Much (or) many Less (or) fewer Diagnosed (or) diagnosis of Most Many A few Essential Because Near Adult (or) person After treatment Like Enough For example 10 times faster Additional Inform Agree Because In fact (or leave out) Because As happens Today Rapidly Previously Soon Never Later After Now Now Weaken Because Because By.
michaeledits. help Death Few Fewer End First After For Since For Plans Describe Cause Has studied Can Look like About Affect Start Essentials Some Can. while From…to While Cause Clarify. near About.) Implement Important essentials In a number of cases In a position to In a satisfactory manner In a situation in which In a very real sense In almost all instances In case In close proximity to In connection with How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.Definitely proved Despite the fact that Due to the fact that During the course of During the period from…to During the time that Effectuate Elucidate Employ Enclosed herewith End result Endeavor Entirely eliminate Eventuate Expire Fabricate Facilitate Fatal outcome Few in number Fewer in number Finalize First of all Following For the purpose of For the reason that From the point of view of Future plans Give an account of Give rise to Has been engaged in a study of Has the capability of Have the appearance of Having regard to Impact (v. support. concerning 18 . explain Use Enclosed Result Try Eliminate Happen Die Make Assist.com Proved Although Because During. may Satisfactorily When In a sense (or leave out) Nearly always (or) in most cases If Close.
com Because Often I think Rarely To Toward. be noted that It was observed in the course of the experiments that Join together Lacked the ability to Large in size Larger in size How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. as Think Begin Begin. have Today Because. start Is Wants Smith reported (I haven’t bothered to look up the reference) Apparently I think Clearly (I don’t understand it) Must Possibly A produced b Many think I understand that Often I think (or) Smith thinks Note that I think But We observed Join Couldn’t Large Larger 19 .michaeledits.In light of the fact that In many cases In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that In only a small number of cases In order to In relation to In respect to In some cases In spite of the fact that In terms of In the absence of In the event that In the not-too-distant future In the possession of In this day and age In view of the fact that Inasmuch as Incline to the view Initiate Initiate Is defined as Is desirous of It has been reported by Smith It has long been known that It is apparent that It is believed that It is clear that It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding It is crucial that It is doubtful that It is evident that a produced b It is generally believed It is my understanding that It is often the case that It is suggested that It is worth pointing out in this context that It may be that It may. however. to About Sometimes Although About Without If Soon Has. since For.
because By.com (A snow job is coming) Most Refer to Met Prohibit Changes Usually Initiatives By Useful Old Think that Daily Because For Never By Since. for When We belatedly discovered Since. because Do Stress Pooled Had Resembles Before Before Measure Much Unique Interesting Red Called Even though About Result Cause Crisis If Small Smaller To Subject 20 . among.Let me make one thing perfectly clear Majority of Make reference to Met with Militate against Modifications More often than not New initiatives No later than Of great theoretical and practical importance Of long standing Of the opinion that On a daily basis On account of On behalf of On no occasion On the basis of On the grounds that On the part of On those occasions in which Our attention has been called to the fact that Owing to the fact that Perform Place a major emphasis on Pooled together Presented to or with Presents a picture similar to Previous to Prior to Quantify Quite a large quantity of Quite unique Rather interesting Red in color Referred to as Regardless of the fact that Relative to Resultant effect Root cause Serious crisis Should it prove the case that Small in size Smaller in size So as to Subject matter How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.michaeledits.
Bam! Your paper just got better.michaeledits. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. with Fully Happen Last Agreement Until Use Use Used Uses Unique Had Believed We don’t know We thank Why To About Except Except So that Possible Spend a few minutes with your word processor’s search features. replace it with what’s on the right.com 21 .Subsequent to Sufficient Symptomatology Take into consideration Terminate The great majority of The opinion is advanced that The predominant number of The question as to whether The reason is because The vast majority of There is reason to believe They are the investigators who This result would seem to indicate Through the use of To the fullest possible extent Transpire Ultimate Unanimity of opinion Until such time Utilization Utilize Utilized Utilizes Very unique Was noted to have Was of the opinion that We have insufficient knowledge We wish to thank What is the explanation of With a view to With respect to With the exception of With the possible exception of With the result that Within the realm of possibility After Enough Symptoms Consider End Most I think Most Whether Because Most I think They This result indicates By. If you’ve written anything on the left of the table.
They’re swamped in other manuscripts. rather. If you’ve got some examples from your own writing. If you’ll do that.For our next trick. exceptionally. I also have a list of words I commonly misuse or overuse. needless to say. actually. very. quite. truly. Feel free to add your own words to these lists. Acquisitions Editors generally don’t start reading again. I tend to type “that” far too often. he can concentrate on improving what matters about your paper. Some authors. for example.com 22 . Speed bumps. Most of the papers he’s reading won’t be so “ready to read” because many authors don’t do the simple steps I’ve just described. interestingly. After you finish writing and when you are self-editing. let your word processor hunt them down. of course. That just increased your chances of publication. really. your editor will thank you. If the editor you send your paper to is in fact an Acquisitions Editor at a peer-reviewed journal. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. confuse “then” with “than” when they write even though they really know better. in a very real sense.michaeledits. here are some words and phrases you can just plain delete: actual. it is of interest to note that. Instead of being distracted by such silliness. that’s even better. the point here is that.
But in fact.com 23 . I’ll move away from my fiction-writing background and compromise with you a little bit on that. A paper written entirely in the passive voice would be difficult to read and remember. HOWEVER. for ease of writing and ease of understanding. It’s also the one where the words strike you as being “in order.michaeledits. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. Writing should be mostly in the active voice.” The doer (subject). what he’s doing (verb). Active (better): Abduct the thigh to feel for the “clunk” of the femoral head reduction. there are times when the passive voice is appropriate.The Passive Voice Which is better? • The passive voice is a grammatical construct that you should not use. Passive (weak): An appendectomy was performed. neither one is 100% correct. Active (better): We performed the appendectomy. • You should not use the passive voice. and it’d probably put a reader to sleep. Passive (weak): The thigh is then abducted and the “clunk” of the femoral head reduction is felt. what he’s doing it to (object). We can see which one has the smaller word count and is easier to say without pausing for breath.
com 24 . The emphasis here is on method. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. but you get the idea. honestly. In this case.michaeledits. If you’re the surgeon.So when is the passive voice appropriate and useful? When you need to emphasize the action or object of action rather than the doer. Like in these examples: The patient has been shot in the abdomen. I might write “Insert an 18-gauge needle through the skin wound and advance it through the renal parenchyma” because it’s still emphasizing the method rather than the doer. These words are teaching somebody how to do a medical procedure. so all you care about is the procedure. who did the shooting is not relevant medical information. all you care about is the wound. Well. An 18-gauge needle is inserted through the skin wound and advanced through the renal parenchyma.
I’ve also found that it’s damn hard to write a good one. Think of it as a label.” “pilot study.” “assessment of. try to leave that word out of your title. Phrased another way. A good title catches the reader’s attention and makes him want to read the article.” and similar descriptors.com 25 . The second example looks more “active” to me even though. Excess words: Report on the Destruction of Renal Calculi by Use of Ultrasound Better: Ultrasonic Destruction of Kidney Stones That’s an example from SPEAKING & WRITING FOR THE PHYSICIAN by LT Staheli. grammatically. Excess words: Prior Study to Access the Incidence of Coronary Artery Disease in a Group of High School Football Coaches Better: Coronary Artery Disease in High School Football Coaches How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. 1986. think of Google keywords. The choice between “renal calculi” and “kidney stones” is perhaps a case of deciding which phrase a searcher might use. it isn’t. I can’t answer that without knowing more about your target reader. Most effective titles are fewer than ten words. It tells the reader what the article is about. If you wouldn’t ask Google to find a word. and that it’s one of the last things I do. Leave out nonessential words and phrases such as “report on. Raven Press.michaeledits.Article Format 1) Title. “Report on the” and “by use of” are obviously wasted words.
” If the country-specific nature of the data is a factor. The abstract gives him a better idea of what to expect. a good introduction will keep him interested and keep him reading. my instincts say to mention that. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www.” Wow. But what a long title.com 26 .michaeledits. It can range from a few sentences to a page or two. It’ll tell him why you wrote the paper.“Prior study to access the incidence of. But a few years after my lecture series. 2) Introduction. depending on the nature and complexity of the study. If he’s still reading. In one of my lectures. we discussed an alternate title such as “Artery Disease in High School Football Coaches in Thailand. Guess what? That was a published article. and I’d call it an important one. It’ll present the purpose and scope of the paper and provide any background information he needs. Staheli gives us this example: Is the busy executive more likely to die prematurely from coronary artery disease? The title grabs the reader’s attention. an engineering journal told one of my authors to never mention the location of a study. Start with a strong opening sentence to set the tone of your paper. because you’re giving established and accepted information. “In a group of” is also a mouthful of nothing. your target publication’s guidelines always override anything you read here or anywhere else. Obviously. Write your introduction in the present tense.
this section can be relatively short.3) Materials and Methods. Give the reader enough information to assess the validity of your study and repeat your method if he wants to. This is the heart of your paper. This is also where you speculate and theorize. Tables and figures can be a big help in clarifying your data presentation. Include source of data. Write this in the present tense.michaeledits. “So what? Why do your findings matter?” Answer that here. Summarize your data in the most complete and efficient manner possible. 4) Results. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. Write this section in the past tense. Present your data or results in a straightforward. If you method is well established. Otherwise more detail will be needed. method of organization. so check the policy of the journal you’re submitting the paper to. without commentary or interpretation. or perhaps make recommendations for further research or application of your findings. This is where you explain how you conducted your study. Write it in the past tense. Spark the reader’s imagination. Ain’t that cool? 6) Summary and Conclusion. and system of analysis.com 27 . factual manner. I think of this as the “fun” part of writing. because your findings are now established scientific knowledge. You might just need to restate your main thesis and summarize your findings and conclusions. The purpose of this section has evolved over the years. 5) Discussion.
and to a degree the abstract has replaced part of the summary and conclusion’s old job.com 28 .michaeledits. and charge money for the rest of the paper. and impact. results and significance of the study. Write your abstract in the past tense.7) Abstract. An abstract should concisely state the purpose. Write the abstract last. this might be the only part of your paper some people read. after the rest of your paper is ready to send to a journal. but length varies with the journal. clarity. Use short sentences and active verbs for brevity. Most journals now include an abstract. so they must be able to stand alone. It provides an overview of your findings and should stimulate reader interest. Abstracts usually range from 100 to 200 words. methods. Abstracts are frequently reprinted in other journals or entered into computer literature retrieval systems. Write it carefully. Some websites let readers read the abstract free. and revise it to get your word count as low as you can. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. In other words. Check length requirements in the “Instructions to Authors” page and stay within the suggested word maximum.
Spock. seriously. you should not write your paper in your native language. I don’t advise it. I’m gonna quote the bits that gave me the strongest urge to just jump up and shout Hell yeah! First. too. I struggle in English. go ahead. and it’s not his first language either. I’ve got a mathematical mind. Maybe you do too. and even each word. He uses English with the precision of a scientific instrument. either by himself or in collaboration with an interested colleague. though. I’m ready to acknowledge that not everybody reading or writing scientific papers is doing it in his or her native language. Unless. since you’re writing a scientific paper. the only way you can write is to do it in your native language and then translate. well. about 98% of the advice he gives applies to all writers regardless of topic or language. Here’s what I swiped from the essay called Be Your Own Editor: I now believe that much of what I do can be done by the author. I’ll briefly answer a question that was asked at every lecture. the article will become steadily shorter and clearer as unnecessary words are crossed out and simple words and constructions replace complicated ones. No. To compensate. let’s remember Mr.Be Your Own Editor As we near the end of this manuscript. And yet. Think in English. of course.com 29 . but if the other choice is not to write at all. and good luck. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. Be Your Own Editor is the title of an essay from THORNE’S BETTER MEDICAL WRITING. Adhering too closely to a document in another language will contort your thinking and your wording. Anyone who writes in a second language impresses the heck out of me. It was the only one aimed specifically at non-native English writers.michaeledits. If the colleague will ask the author to explain exactly in his own words what he means by each sentence. No. Write in English.
the layout. I love that.michaeledits.) The colleague treatment.com 30 . He fires up Word with its bad-ass Tracking feature and marks the changes so that you can Accept/Reject/Ignore and ask him why. I appreciate that many articles submitted in English have been written in another language and then translated. it ain’t Holy Writ. I bet you start on the computer. Not only articles but many expensive medical books are far too long and turgid to read because they get no such treatment from their authors or publishers. I still write with pen and paper. but I’m old. to the English translation also.Articles that have had this time-consuming treatment. download the free tutorial from http://www. (If you don’t know what Tracking is. sometimes more than once. At the same time I do not hesitate to comment on the length. you send your paper to an editor over the Internet or on a USB drive. The “colleague treatment” can be applied to the draft in the original language and. not Holy Writ. Cool. if possible. The pencil. and I make them in pencil so that they can be rubbed out if the author disagrees with them. or the logic. That sounds suspiciously similar to something I wrote earlier.com because Tracking is excellent. I am also convinced that articles by English and American authors would invariably benefit from scrutiny by colleagues. are much easier for an editor to accept and for a language supervisor to make sound English without changing the meaning. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. I try to make it clear that my changes are only suggestions.michaeledits. See. And regardless of how you start.
g. fashion. CDs or internet sites. present and future. • Listen to songs in English.Ways To Improve Your English Listening • Follow TV and radio news in both your native language and in English. • Join an internet e-group and communicate with people who share your interests from all over the world. • Practice communicating with your friends in English. • Talk to your friends in English. Writing • Keep a diary in English. • Make an “interest group” with friends/colleagues/classmates to speak in English while you do something you enjoy together (singing. • Email or write notes to your friends in English. dialogues. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. library books or on the internet. • Read letters and emails from your friends in English. • Chat in English on the internet with people from other countries. Speaking • Learn the words to English songs and sing. • Read simple. • Follow the news in both your native language and in English. modern short stories and novels in English. Just write freely about whatever you like. Understanding the ideas in your native language first will help you understand the English. This helps you “think in English” more easily. • Watch English films and read the dialogue aloud from the subtitles. Reading • Read about topics that interest you in English (e. sports. exercise. • Practice with English cassettes. business…) in newspapers. playing cards…).com 31 .michaeledits. • Write a song or a poem. stories. eating. • Read aloud (articles. • Watch films in English with English subtitles. • Write the story of your life: past. film scripts). Understanding the ideas in your native language first will help you understand the English. • Talk to yourself in English.
“Michael. that’s how you learn to write better. But maybe you haven’t seen all those suggestions in one place before. Just pick one or two things from each skill set.com 32 . is that all writers are going to face many challenges. That can be challenging if you’re trying to learn Xhosa in Hanoi or whatever. You learn your second or third language the same way you did your first one. something that interests you. “How can I improve my English?” As if I’ve got a secret formula or a magic pill or something. Every day. And do you know why that is? Because I didn’t write it.Yeah.” I have been asked in many lectures and classrooms. Practice. Why not? There’s nothing new on that list. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. of course. My lovely wife did. Non-native English authors are simply facing one more than the rest of us. and go for it. too.michaeledits. I think this list is excellent. Surround yourself with it. but find a way. Don’t do all that stuff. What I like to note. though. Hey. Practice every day. Write on. we’re wrapping this up with something for the non-native English speakers.
Edwards MB. for turning me into a technical editor back in the previous century. 2nd Edition. © 1986. in many fields of engineering that were equally alien to me. I thank Eastern Instruments in Wilmington.com. Bannakij and Professor Niwat for listening to every single lecture without falling asleep. Bibliography Bond JF.A PRESCRIPTION FOR CLARITY. Pitman Medical Publishing.michaeledits. Lock S. I thank the hundreds of doctors and medical students at Chiang Mai University who gave me their papers for editing. I thank Edward Kirk Rose for letting me raid his personal library for inspiration.com 33 . SPEAKING & WRITING FOR THE PHYSICIAN. handouts. North Carolina. and Dr. EnglishTeachingLive. How to Write A Scientific Paper http://www. Oh. Staheli LT. Williams & Wilkins. HOW TO WRITE & PUBLISH PAPERS IN THE MEDICAL SCIENCES. again and again and again. THORNE’S BETTER MEDICAL WRITING. Bannakij and Professor Niwat for giving me the opportunity. Cambridge University Press. Raven Press. MEDICAL WRITING . © 1997. Huth EJ. that allowed me to hone a chaotic set of notes into what became this little book. © 1990. I also thank the hundreds of professors and students at Kasetsart University and Asian Institute of Technology who gave me their papers for editing. 2nd Edition. and a clue or two about what I should say.Acknowledgements I thank Chiang Mai University’s medical department for letting me give the lecture. © 1977. WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH. I thank Dr. Goodman NW. and thanks to you the reader for giving me your money. USA.
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