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  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 1

    Celia M. ElliottDepartment of Physics

    cmelliot@illinois.edu

    Copyright 20010 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

    Guidelines for Writing Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Papera Scientific Paper

    with thanks to David Hertzog and Lance Cooper

    Women in Chemistry Workshop, January 12, 2010University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Three broad themes will be covered: in the workshop1) basic principles of communications in general and communicating in science in

    particular2) advice about writing a technical manuscript for publication in a journal3) using persuasion in scientific communications

    Disclaimer:My perspective may be biased because all of my experience is in physics and

    nuclear engineering.

    Chemists: Consult The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, ed. J.S. Dodd (American Chemical Society, Washington DC, 1997).

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 2

    Disclaimer...Disclaimer...

    Youll see this icon in the lower right corner of some of the slidesit indicates a Celia Commandment.

    Although I will state the Celia commandments dogmatically and emphatically, and I believe in them passionately, they are actually advice, based on 40 years of writingnot law.

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 3

    Before you pick up a pencil, Before you pick up a pencil, answer four strategic questions...answer four strategic questions...

    What is your motivation for writing the paper?To achieve fame and fortune; to get noticed or promotedTo disseminate your results to other workers in your fieldTo provide a permanent archival record of your workTo establish precedence by publishing before your competitors canTo propose a new program or area of research

    What is the purpose of this paper?Reporting original, significant research resultsDocumenting methods or establishing standardsWarning of a hazardous condition Examining the feasibility of a projectReinterpreting previously reported resultsReviewing the literatureProviding an overview of the topic

    Who is the audience for this paper?What are their needs, interests, level of knowledge, motivation for reading?

    How significant is the information?How widely should it be disseminated?How rapidly should it be disseminated?How important is a permanent archival record?

    Ask a fifth question if youre working on something that has potential commercial applications:Can it be published at all?You cannot patent anything that has been published or otherwise publicly disclosed.

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 4

    Choosing the appropriate venue Choosing the appropriate venue for a paper is a key decisionfor a paper is a key decision

    Considerations:Publish in the most suitable periodicalget advice from your adviser and colleaguesPublish in the most prestigious journal that will accept your ms.Achieve publication as quickly as possible (usually)Is posting on an electronic archive for wide distribution and early feedback permissible?

    Reasons for flexibility:Several journals may have the same readership but different policies for subject emphasis and length of articles. You must find the best fit with your paper.Some journals publish faster; e.g., if a journal has scheduled a number of special issues, publication of your ms. may be delayed for months.Editorial trends; editors develop preferences for hot topics, to the exclusion of others. If a journal has just published two special issues on your topic, the editor may not be interested in another long paper on that subject. Consult recent issues of your first choices, or write to the editor to enquire about his interest in your topic.

    Ulrichs Periodicals Directory has circulation figures for ~300,000 serials, periodicals, annuals, and newspapers worldwide.http://www.ulrichsweb.com318 journals listed for chemistry-physical

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 5

    The (professional) publication The (professional) publication process is lengthy and exactingprocess is lengthy and exacting

    Author submits manuscript to editorEditor determines if the paper is appropriate:

    Represents new and significant workIs scientifically soundFalls within the journals topical coverage

    If the paper does not meet all of these criteria, it is rejected and returned without reviewIf the paper meets the criteria, the editor selects qualified referees and sends them paper for reviewReviewers provide written comments on:

    The technical soundness of the paperMistakes and omissionsAdditional work to be referencedSuggestions for clarification, deletion of superfluous material, or other improvements

    Reviewers also make a confidential recommendation to the editor:Accept paper as writtenRecommend optional changesRequire mandatory changesReject paper

    If the reviewers suggest changes, the editor returns the manuscript to the author, along with the anonymous reviewers reports, and requests revisionsThe author makes the requested changes, additions, or deletions, and returns the revised manuscript The editor determines that the author has satisfactorily complied with the reviewers requirements and accepts the paper

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 6

    Peer review ensures the accuracy and Peer review ensures the accuracy and significance of publications in the significance of publications in the archival record*archival record*

    **in the best of all possible worlds, Candide...in the best of all possible worlds, Candide...

    Independent recommendations of recognized experts in the field Reviewers are expected to offer objective and constructive criticismReviewers are anonymous and are expected to maintain strict confidentialityProcess should produce better papersAuthor benefits from insight and suggestions of experts

    Reviewer #3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VRBWLpYCPY

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 7

    Science has evolved a template Science has evolved a template for archiving scientific resultsfor archiving scientific results

    Hew to it witlessly

    TitleAbstract Background and IntroductionTechnical DescriptionResultsDiscussionConclusionsAcknowledgments ReferencesSpecial Sections, if needed

    Well go through these sections one at a time later in the workshop...

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 8

    You canYou cant wait until yout wait until youre re finishedfinished

    Because we think in words, the act of expressing observation in languageof distilling amorphous thoughts into wordsis a powerful tool for clarifying your thinking.

    You dont really understand something until you can explain it to somebody else who doesnt know anything about it.

    The act of composition disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind, but supply it too. Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed., p. 70.

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 9

    Write incrementallyWrite incrementally

    The conventional method is to do a project, write the paper, and get it published, but that method is flawed:

    1) You forget or overlook important insights and milestones after the fact.2) If youve worked on a project for an extended period, you get bored, and thats

    reflected in the ms.3) You cant find the time to write up the paper because youve moved on to a new

    project.

    Instead, write in increments:1) construct a preliminary outline, based on the your initial goals for the project2) write portions of the results and discussion sections while youre taking and

    analyzing your data

    Advantages of the incremental method:You may discover additional data that are needed while the equipment is still set up

    and the project ongoing.You get a finished paper faster, with more time to revise and edit.

    H.B. Michaelson, How to Write and Publish Engineering Reports and Papers (Oryx Press, Phoenix, 1990).

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 10

    Write from an outlineWrite from an outline

    Train yourself to outline and organize what youre going to say before you begin to write

    Think of your outline as a map that is going to guide the reader to the conclusions that you want him to reach: that the work presented is important, that it advances previous work significantly, and that it proves the hypothesis you set out to test.

    What are the key ideas? (restrict to

  • Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper, Celia M. Elliott

    January 2010

    Copyright, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois 11

    HereHeres an example:s an exampl