Writing a scientific paper and getting it published is not a easy stuff at all, many early/junior researcher (including me) :P see it as a mammoth task, picture below on the left explains the emotion very well.
Recently, I read a book on guide to scientific writing which I felt can be very useful to all early researchers. This blog is distillation of what I learnt. I came across a nice phrase which says ” publish or perish “. The phrase nicely sums up the academic life of a researcher who is inevitably judged by the number and quality of his/her published paper. Before you start writing a scientific paper, there are few basic questions that you need to know. The questions are as following:
Why to publish?
The main motive behind publishing a scientific paper is to communicate your research, to make your work visible to the world. You may also want to publish your research as part of your quest for fame, fortune or for tenure.
What to publish?
The hard and fast rule on the content of a publication is research should be absolutely reproducible. People following your research should have same results under the limit of statistical acceptable fluctuations.
Who should publish?
Most of the research comprises of a team including senior scientists, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students or technicians. The most senior member in the team owns the privilege of approving manuscripts and submits it to a journal.
Where to publish?
A scientific research is always a follow up or extension of some previous published work. Therefore, you should know your target journal before you start writing. However, if your work is of broader interest then you might try to publish in Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (known as “PNAS”).
Some of the skills required for research are also required for writing a scientific paper, for example, planning, organization and attentiveness, but for sure writing a paper also requires many additional skills. The difference in magnitude amplifies if your native language is not same in which you want to write paper. However, there are some common mistakes that scientists make when they write up their research for publication and if you take care of those mistakes then you can make life easier to some extent. Here, I tried to sum up all those common mistakes and how can they be avoided.
- Never ignore the instructions of the target journal to Authors. Every journal that is published supplies specific Instructions to Authors, follow them religiously.
- The language of manuscript (mostly English) should be grammatically correct and absolutely free of ambiguity.
- Maintain spelling consistency. For instance if you are targeting American journal then you should use American spelling of all words. If you are submitting your paper to British, Canadian, or European journal, you should use British spelling consistently.
- Be careful with the use of “that” and “which”. Compare the following sentences, “The cells grew in the enriched medium that contained calcium ions” and “The cells grew in the enriched medium, which contained calcium ions. “ The first sentence emphasizes on the “calcium medium” making it distinct from the other mediums. The second sentence emphasizes on that cells were able to grow in the enriched medium, sentence at the same time includes some additional information about the content of medium.
- “None” in a sentence means “not one” and it is singular.
- Abbreviations need to be written out in full form when they are mentioned first time.
- It is common practice to write numbers from one to ten as words (for example, write “one” for “1”) unless abbreviated units follow the number. For example, you should not write “three g/l”. The correct version is “3 g/l”.
- Use semi colons to separate items in complicated big sentences. For example, if you are making cake, you need the following ingredients: butter, preferably unsalted but salted can be used if unsalted not available; sugar either granulated or powdered; eggs, which should be fresh. As you can see, semicolons allow each description of ingredients to be separated.
- Be careful with the use of a participle (an “-ing” word, such as standing, running, and jumping). A participle should always relate to subject in the sentence. For example, use of incorrect related participle results in one such sentence, “The cells were grown in ABC medium containing glycine”. Here, subject in the sentence which is “The cells” doesn’t directly relate to glycine, therefore correct version will be “The cells were grown in ABC medium, which contained glycine”.
- Avoid using nouns as adjectives.
- “This” is often incorrect. For example, after a lengthy description of his results, a author might start a new sentence with “This showed ….. “ without specifically mentioning the observation. Therefore, it is necessary to start the sentence by referring to specific observation, for example, “The formation of cell clumps showed ….. “.
- The phrase “due to” can link only two nouns. It cannot be used as adverb. For example, it will be incorrect to say, “Due to the presence of an enzyme, we saw blue colonies”. The correct version will be , “The formation of blue colonies was due to presence of an enzyme in the cells.”
- Avoid using many fonts on the title page, choose simple and plain font, such as Helvetica, and use it for every item on your title page.
- Always use “briefly” instead of phrase “in brief”.
- Avoid inconsistent formatting in the body parts, for example, should the title have one capital M or two (” Material and Methods ” or ” Material and methods ” )?, should the title be left or on the center aligned? etc.
- Pay attention to the punctuations in your reference list. Depending on the journal the range of punctuation combinations varies, for example, two authors can be listed simply as “Andrews AK and Mohr L” or as “Andrews, A.K., and Mohr, L.” and in some journals, an ampersand “&” replaces “and” to yield “Andrews, A.K., & Mohr L.”
- Graphs and histograms should always indicate standard deviations.
- Results should be related to the title of your paper and should be absolutely reproducible. Pay attention to organization of results, some journals encourage condensation of Results and Discussion into one section. The commonest mistake researchers make in the presentation of numerical data involving the number of significant figures and decimal places. Try limiting the number of digits after decimal to make number meaningful.
I hope this blog helps a bit to all my peers, Cheers.