-by Louise Schoneveld
Last week I snuck into the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science’s scientific paper writing workshop, held here at the ANU. I thought I would share a few of the nuggets of wisdom I learnt during my 3 days at the workshop. I am not a climate scientist but was lucky enough to score a place in this workshop.
Make sure your paper has a defined focus. If you have co-author’s make sure you are both focussed on the same topic. This will save you lots of arguments in the future.
You are a cheetah. You can only focus on one gazelle. If you focus on more than one you will STARVE TO DEATH.
To check to see if you’ve got a focus, make a storyboard. This can be done with post-it notes, organise your article into title, introduction + need, methods, figures, discussion and conclusions. Stick them on a wall before you start. Re-arrange, put more up, tear some down, split them into two journals, put some into the supplementary material.
Selection of Target Journal
There are many ways to select a journal. You probably have a few in mind already. If you’d like some statistics on which journal publishes your topic try looking at the web of science.
How to do it: Here you should chose from the “core collection” instead of the default “all data bases. Then search your topic with “AND” between words. (Use * if you want to expand the search term eg. expand* = expandable, expanded, expanding, expands). Then click “analyse results” (top right of the search results). Then “Rank the records by this field = source titles” and then analyse!
Here is my example with the search terms experiment* AND mineral.
Got to love those statistics!
Once you have decided on your journal, look up the author instructions. Use these as a guide for length, layout and figures.
What is the topic of your paragraph? Make sure your topic comes first.
Bees disperse pollen – bees are the topic
Pollen dispersed by bees – pollen is the topic
Also remember that each paragraph should be a self contained little package of information. Start with the topic sentence. What is the rest of the paragraph going to be about? This topic may have been introduced in the last paragraph. Give the evidence and then end with a take home message. This will make everything easier to read.
What should I write first?
Remember before you start writing it would benefit you to have your focus and structure clear in your mind. remember you don’t want to starve to death.
Also, there are many ways to read a paper. The most common way is 1. abstract, 2. Intro, 3. conclusion, 4. figures. Remember this when writing, these sections need to be FABULOUS.
These are easy. You know what you did. Write it down! Congratulations you’ve started your paper.
You need rough figures for this. they don’t have to be perfect at this point but you need your key results. Make sure they are well laid out and easy to follow. You are telling a story.
Discussion and introduction
Now that you know the results you can make a guided introduction to give the reader all the information they need to understand why you are doing this study and what this study will be about.
Make sure the discussion reflects back on the focus, you are still telling a story. Lay out the discussion so it is easy to follow. Make sure you have linking sentences and remember our paragraph structure. Remember that the discussion is not just a reiteration of the results. Use strong and concise statements.
You need a catchy title, probably less than 15 words. To read more on title tips read this!
Please remember that this is HOW people find your research. Make it relevant, don’t duplicate words.
There are 3 title types:
1. “Descriptive” titles state the method: “An X Process Study of Y”
2. “Declarative” titles state the conclusion: “Y Impacts X Process By Z”
3. “Interrogative” titles present the research question: “Why Does An Increased Presence of Y Cause Z?”
Apparently, #2 is the best one to use. Personally I think it is full of spoilers but maybe this is the way that science progresses. I personally always use style 1.
There are a few tips to a good abstract, for more detail tips please read this lovely article.
1. Use your abstract to express key points of your research clearly and in less complicated language than the rest of your paper.
Your goal is to inform not to impress
You should simplify but never dumb down
2. The abstract is not a miniature version of your paper; the abstract is your chance to champion your work and communicate its findings in a way that convinces readers of its value.
3. The first and second sentences of your abstract are the most-often read sections of papers, aside from titles. Place essential findings or keywords in these sentences if you can.
4. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms unless the majority of your audience will recognize them.
“nobody likes to hear that their baby is ugly, but sometimes it’s true”
You will receive a lot of criticism of your paper. this is part of the peer review process. This journal article has become your baby, its the accumulation of often years of work and many hours of writing. It may hit you hard to hear critism but just try to remember it is for the soul purpose of making your research better or easier to understand.
Make a deadline and stick to it
There are a million things you have to do, in your academic life and home life. This article will never be done if you don’t set your own deadline, and stick to it.
Thanks to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science for running the course and letting me sneak in. I would highly recommend this course or any similar. The writing buddy and mentor’s advice were invaluable.
Here are some extra resources you may consider looking into. Click the book to find out more information.
I hope this information helped you out.