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Scientific writing

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So it's not just about commas, apostrophes and the other things you worry about! ... Don't abuse apostrophes. It's a fine day. Its fleece is white as snow. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Scientific writing


1
Scientific writing
  • Nuala Booth
  • 1 May 2007

2
Communication is the key
Write simply to communicate course summary,
University of Aberdeen (Ian Booth)
Write to express, not to impress course title,
University of Illinois
3
I asked 8 members of staff --
  • Remember your audience.
  • Make it clear for an interested non-scientist.
  • Keep a clear thread running through it.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Write in plain English.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Its well written if its easy to read.

4
So its not just about commas, apostrophes and
the other things you worry about!
Four key points to help you to get your message
across Complete Best order Brief Clear writing
5
Scientific writing
  • Structure
  • Style

Good order of material Connections (figures, text)
Clear sentences Energy (choice of words)
6
Think about the readers
  • Writing is a one-sided conversation, so
  • Lead the readers
  • Anticipate their questions
  • Carry them through the story

What matters is not what youd like to write but
what the reader needs to be told.
7
Your 1st year report
  • Think about its purpose to convince the reader
    that you should proceed to a PhD.
  • The reader is asking two questions
  • Will this person be able to write a PhD thesis in
    2009?
  • Is there evidence of
  • scholarship
  • research of publishable quality?
  • (both in future but nice to be sure of likelihood)

8
Three key stages
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Polish

Try not to do two or more of these at the same
time.
9
Title
  • Keep it free of jargon or unusual abbreviations.
  • You are trying to draw the readers in, not to
    exclude them.

10
Introduction
  • A clear statement to capture your readers
    interest 1st impressions count.
  • Big picture and connections to project
  • Different strands (connect, give prior warning)
  • Lead up to AIMS
  • Show that you know literature
  • Reference for all key points (cited correctly)
  • Figures help to show connections

11
Aims
  • These follow logically from introduction.
  • Use the same order of themes as you will present
    in results.
  • Make it easy for your reader to follow.

12
Results your work to date
  • The correct order is always
  • Question or hypothesis
  • Approach
  • Experimenal design
  • Result (as seen in Figures/Tables)
  • Interpretation (do this as you go and keep the
    story flowing)

13
Your plans
  • Be realistic and specific.
  • If there are problems, discuss how you can solve
    them.
  • Show your breadth and your open-mindedness.

14
Scientific writing
  • Structure
  • Style

Good order of material Connections (figures, text)
Clear sentences Energy (choice of words)
15
Style
  • Be simple and concise. Good scientific writing
    is clear and easy to read/understand.
  • Read widely and learn from papers that are
    clearly written.
  • Dont try to be literary but dont hesitate to
    go for a potent image to explain a complex idea.
  • We can all write correctly its just a matter of
    following rules.

16
Crisp text makes an impact
  • are able to bind bind
  • can bind
  • The separation of A and B was carried out by
    electrophoresis.
  • A was separated from B by electrophoresis.

17
Lead with the main clause
  • Although this technique is non-quantitative,
    it allowed us to discover the binding of A to B.
  • A was shown to bind to B but the extent of
    binding could not be quantified.
  • Commas must not connect sentences.
  • The assay is not specific for lactate, it also
    responds to other weak acids. (Wrong)

18
Paragraphs
  • are units of thought, not of length.
  • should make a point or establish an idea the
    next idea demands a new paragraph.
  • On the other hand, avoid short, sketchy
    paragraphs, which suggest failure to build a
    structured argument.
  • Make them obvious (a clear line in between looks
    good)

19
Dont abuse apostrophes
  • Its a fine day.
  • Its fleece is white as snow.
  • The manufacturers recommended
  • The manufacturers (or manufacturers)
    instructions were followed.

20
Abbreviations - easy rules
  • Singular and plural are the same (no added s).
  • base b (as in kb)
  • Dalton Da (as in kDa)
  • hour h
  • minute min Dont forget
  • minimum min. space - 30 min
  • second s

21
Third person, passive voice?
  • The experiment was designed to test the
    hypothesis that ----.
  • or We tested the hypothesis that -----
  • It was decided to -----
  • or We decided to -----
  • The 3rd person, passive voice rule is the norm
    but there are times for making a statement
    personal

22
Check your spelling
  • Dont assume that if it looks right, it is right.
  • Proof-read with care. It is not enough to use a
    computer spell-check.
  • Three good investments
  • A dictionary
  • A guide to scientific writing by David Lindsay
    (Longman) (14.99)
  • Grammar Book by Temple (0.99)

23
Writers block
  • Write a list of thoughts - worry about the order
    later.
  • Explain to someone else what you are trying to
    write. Then use their brief notes to construct
    an outline.
  • Record your oral explanation and use this to
    construct an outline.

24
Take George Orwells advice
  • A scrupulous writer ---- will ask himself ----
  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  • Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is unavoidably ugly?

25
Be your own critic
  • Can you read the text aloud without stumbling?
  • Is every word necessary?
  • Text should be as short as possible and as long
    as necessary.
  • See additional slides on web, not presented by
    Nuala Booth on 1 May 2007, but perhaps useful to
    you. These include some hints and tips and a
    method for analysing of your writing for long
    words/complex sentences.

26
The reader wants
  • Clear introduction of ideas
  • Front-loaded paragraphs
  • Links to indicate additional content or
    illustration
  • Hierarchy of argument
  • The writers task is to provide these.

27
Introduction
  • Moves from general to specific, maybe from
    known to unknown.
  • General statements - establish the setting.
  • More specific statements about what has been
    studied
  • Show the need for more investigation and
    therefore set up aims/plan.

28
Middle
  • Varies, depending on whether you are writing a
    report, thesis or paper, but aim for an easy and
    logical flow.
  • Think about the content of each paragraph and
    how they connect.

29
Conclusion
  • A conclusion must fulfil the promise of the
    introduction.
  • It may
  • summarize
  • state implications
  • link the main ideas to the future or to broader
    issues (specific to general).
  • It should not introduce new points.

30
Lead with the main clause
  • Although this technique is non-quantitative,
    it allowed us to discover the binding of A to B.
  • A was shown to bind to B but the extent of
    binding could not be quantified.
  • Take care not to bury your best thoughts at the
    end of a long sentence.

31
Commas must not be used to connect sentences.
  • The assay is not specific for lactate, it also
    responds to other weak acids. (Wrong)
  • The assay is not specific for lactate it also
    responds to other weak acids.
  • The assay is not specific for lactate but also
    responds to other weak acids.
  • The assay is not specific for lactate. It also
    responds to other weak acids.
  • (All three of these are grammatically correct)

32
Avoid complex constructions
  • cellulose acetate electrophoresis procedure
  • electrophoresis on cellulose acetate
  • a random coil to helix transition
  • a transition from random coil to helix
  • Those in blue are clearer.

33
Connections cement the text.
  • Connective adverbs
  • however, nevertheless, furthermore, therefore,
    thus, consequently
  • Connective phrases
  • on the other hand, on the contrary, in
    addition, despite this, to sum up
  • Connective clauses
  • it follows, this means, this suggests that

34
Use words you understand
  • Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude
    was, or Longitude either, but she thought they
    were nice grand words to say.
  • Avoid big words if simple ones will do. Use
    is better than utilise.
  • The experiment was done three times
  • better than
  • The experimental procedure was performed in
    triplicate. (unclear and long)

35
From a grant application!
  • Several important and novel observations,
    have been made in our laboratories which support
    this hypothesis.
  • Edit this and see how you can improve it.
  • Any questions, contact me n.a.booth_at_abdn.ac.uk

36
From an editing company!
Date  May 24, 2006     From Katherina
Johnson SM Editors   Dear Dr Booth An expression
ineffectively conveyed is worse than that not
being conveyed at all. The esteemed reviewers and
editors at the SM Group of Editors, with their
extensive experience in publications, cater to
the needs of professionals of varied disciplines,
by offering online editing and formatting
services for concepts and compositions related to
diversified fields and subjects. They are not
only professional editors/reviewers, but are also
working scientists who have had their work
published as well.   Encompassing disciplines
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our experts transform your documents to a highly
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business enterprises.
37
Reading age the Fry test
From J. Reading 1968. Dotted lines show
boundary of maximum reliability of the
test. Example on next slide
38
  • from an abstract of grant application from Nuala
    Booth
  • Fibrin degradation depends on the protease,
    plasmin, the activity of which is dictated by its
    inhibitor, a2-AP. Two key regions of a2-AP are
    involved in its localization. Both will be
    examined in the proposed studies. The role of
    the C-terminal region in binding to plasminogen
    and its potential to interact with cellular
    integrins will be investigated. Cross-linking to
    fibrin via sequences close to the N-terminus of
    a2-AP will be characterized quantitatively. The
    specificity and local activity of the
    cross-linked a2-AP will be defined. These
    studies will characterize the localization and
    activity of a2-AP, and will define the mechanisms
    by which it protects fibrin from degradation.
  • 35 syllables in the first sentence (17 words)
    200 syllables per 100 words. This is off the
    scale and makes the text hard to read.
  • 7 sentences per 100 words that compensates to
    some extent for the long words.
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