Before a manuscript is submitted to a journal, it may need:

about writing a
Mike Gould of Communication Consultants
Michael Gould Associates BV
Eat & drink what you like
• The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer
heart attacks than Brits or Americans.
• However, the French eat a lot of fat and also suffer
fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
• The Japanese drink little red wine and suffer fewer
heart attacks than Brits or Americans.
• The Italians drink lots of wine and also suffer fewer
heart attacks than Brits or Americans.
• Conclusion: Eat & drink what you like. It must be
speaking English that kills you!
Feedback page of The New Scientist (13 JuIy 2002)
Starting a PhD thesis
“This is typically a leap in the dark and
it naturally leads to anxieties” (Creedy,
2008). In many western countries,
supervisors expect a PhD student to
produce a thesis as a compilation of (at
least) three research articles on a
specific problem or research topic
Hartley (2000); Hartley & Betts (2009).
Publish (and get cited) or perish
You can evaluate a journal’s, a university’s
(or your own) impact factor using:
• Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge
• Elsevier’s SCOPUS
• Google Scholar
• Microsoft Academic Research
Writing effectively in science is
about achieving goals. So, what
are the author’s goals, what are
the journal’s goals, and what
are the reader’s goals?
What are your goals?
Real-world readers
• Don’t have to read your article
• Don’t have much time to read your
• Do not care how smart the author is
• Are looking for nuggets:
ideas/concepts they can use
• Effective communication counts for
much more than perfect grammar
What are nuggets in science?
• A nugget is something that has value
• Credible science is relevant
• Credible science meets a need
• A nugget is easy to pick up
• If we can find value in a scientific
paper, we’ve found a nugget
Acceptance criteria
Articles are judged by Journal Editors
and peer reviewers on:
But relatively few articles are accepted…
A crucial reader: the Journal Editor
“I receive about 15 articles per
day. Most of them I reject within 3
minutes. The main reason for
rejection is that I can’t see the
point of the research.”
(Edwin Gale, Editor of Diabetologia; Acceptance
rate: 20%)
Tell me a story
“A paper should have a beginning,
middle and end. The beginning says
why you did the study, the middle
says what you did, and the end says
what you found and why it matters.”
(Edwin Gale, Editor of Diabetologia)
Focus on the storyline
1. The problem to be solved
2. Research questions the answers to which
will help solve the problem
3. Answers to those questions based on
measurement and observation
4. The consequence of those answers: the
value of the work
5. The next step in research / implementation
Credible science
1. Your research question is at the heart of
your work: everything you do relates
directly to it
2. State it in terms of observable, measurable
3. Make sure that the question can in fact be
4. Make sure you answer it in your paper
So what is scientific language?
1. It’s clear, precise and accurate.
2. The only difficult words? Scientific ones.
3. Any other words are exactly the same as
those you'd use in everyday language.
4. These should be combined naturally
(as in everyday language).
5. Theses are often unnecessarily complex.
This undermines clarity, precision &
accuracy (see 1).
What makes good writing?
“It’s clear as a bell. I couldn’t put it
down. It just flows.” Why? Because
no information arrives that can’t be
handled the moment it arrives,
everything points forward, and then
goes in the direction it is pointing.”
Adapted from George D. Gopen (Expectations)
Is heavy jargon scientific?
heavy, highly purified beef-heart
mitochondria protein?
The presence of glucose delayed
daughter cell release in 80% of
…useful for long-term activities planning?
Pseudo-scientific language
‘The question then is whether these
patients show different sensorimotor
strategies compared to healthy subjects.’
‘The question then is whether these
patients adopt different sensorimotor
strategies compared to healthy subjects.’
Frontal overload
Working with students is what
attracts me most in this position.
What attracts me most in this position
is working with students.
Abstract or concrete?
Should you write:
“The fish were observed to
exhibit a 100% mortality
or simply:
“All the fish died.”?
What’s the subject of this sentence?
• Original formulation
However, there was no difference in
their BMI, waist circumference,
systolic and diastolic blood
pressures, daily alcohol
consumption and serum CRP levels
compared with the population used
for analysis.
Make the topic the subject
• Revision
However, BMI, waist circumference,
systolic and diastolic blood
pressures, daily alcohol consumption
and serum CRP levels were no
different from those in the
population used for analysis.
Exercise in fore & backgrounding
“… is a powerful analytical tool
… requires a large dataset
… gives extra precise results
it … / and …”
Use only ONE of: ‘although’, ‘but’, ‘however’
A negative angle on SQL
“SQL is a powerful
analytical tool that
gives precise results.
However, it requires a
large dataset.”
A positive angle
“Although SQL requires
a large dataset, it is a
powerful analytical
tool which gives extra
precise results.”
‘and’ is a weak link
Instead of:
“The research revealed … and was
published in Nature.”
“The research, which revealed …,
was published in Nature.”
Which factors get authors published?
1. Logical linking of sentences for readers
Coherent development of the topic
Use of grammatically correct sentences
Effective claims at the right level
Clear organisation of sections of a paper
Placing the work done in a wider context
Ranking by 116 editors (adapted from Gosden, 1992: Figure 1)
Readers need signposts for
understanding sentences and
paragraphs. First establish the
context, on the basis of what they
already know. Then move towards
new facts. Beginning with exciting
new information and ending with
something we already know leaves
us disappointed and spoils the flow
of the article.
The subject determines the flow
Scientists often have to fund their
research from limited budgets.
They need…”
“Funding for science often comes
from limited budgets. This
funding relies on…”
Zooming in
“Managers of research centers are
under pressure to keep costs low.
Those in the Netherlands are
particularly keen to do so.
Research coordinators at TU/e...”
Pre-publication CHECKLIST
Get help from your supervisor
 Write like you speak, then revise
 Find the right journal
 Do the work of the reviewers
 Make a full info package (website,
data, notes, article in the press,
scientific poster)
Four golden rules for PhD students1
1. Don’t be anxious about a lack of background
knowledge (no one knows everything, and you don’t
need to!).
2. Go for the messy (unsolved problems, mysteries)—
that’s where the action is.
3. Forgive yourself for wasting time. Unsuccessful
experiments and dead-ends are quite normal.
4. Learn something about the history of science. Take a
broad-brush approach (e.g. read Bill Bryson’s A Short
History of Nearly Everything).
Ingredients for success (% = weighting)
• A supervisor with the right advice at the right
time … and you can sit in his/her office and talk
whenever necessary (50%)
• Top lab and IT equipment, including state-ofthe-art software (10%)
• Access to digital and hard copy libraries (10%)
• Specialized training in academic writing,
research skills, statistical analysis and document
preparation (25%)
• Participation in international conferences (5%).
The Graduate School stress curve by Edwin P. Gerber (from a talk on how to
survive grad school).
A useful strategy
Set up a Writing Support Group
with a few colleagues (or find a
‘Writing Buddy’ with a good
publishing hit rate) to review your
storylines for future projects, help
you communicate with editors, and
provide feedback on your work.
'Piled Higher and Deeper' by Jorge Cham is a popular comic strip about life in grad school.
Check it out at
A couple of final thoughts
Why are scientists so
innovative in their research,
but so conservative in their
Why are they so slow to adopt
open access?

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