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How to write a scientific paper


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Title: How to write a scientific paper

How to write a scientific paper?
  • Course for graduate students of BTU
  • G. Wiegleb

Aim and scope of the course
  • To enable participants to write a structured
    scientific paper
  • To enable participants to improve their writing
    skills in the English language

Basic literature
  • Day, R.A. 1998. How to Write and Publish a
    Scientific Paper. 5th ed. Oryx Press, Westport.
    (on the first glance the contents of the book may
    look trivial. However, at least chapters 4-10 as
    well as chapters 32-34 contain valuable
    information, not only for beginners).
  • Swan, M. 1982. Practical English usage. Oxford
    Univ. Press, Oxford. (any later edition will do
    as well)
  • Dainty, P. 1998. Express proficiency. Students
    Book. Phoenix, New York. (there are also a
    teachers book and cassettes)

  • Part 1 The structure of a scientific paper with
    special emphasis on ecology

Some basics
  • A scientific paper is usually defined as a
    primary or original scientific publication
  • Other forms of scientific writings are e.g.
    review papers, conference reports, meeting

EssentiaI components
The title
How to prepare a title? Numeric aspects
  • No. of words, according to a survey of BAE and
    PB (5)10-19(21) (13.3), including names and
  • 5-9 (6.9) nouns (taxon, place and author names
    counted as 1)
  • 0-2 (1.5) adjectives (including true adverbs and
  • 2-7 (4.5) particles (articles, pronouns,
    prepositions, modal adverbs etc.)
  • 0-2 (0.4) verbs (only in questions and

How to prepare a title? Style
  • Elliptic style
  • X and Y
  • Something Specifications
  • Effect of x on y and z in habitat a in place b
  • Full sentence style
  • X y affect z in habitat a
  • X and y change property z1 and z2 of organism b
  • Question style
  • Is property a of organism b important for c?

How to prepare a title? Some statistics
How to prepare a title? Summary
  • A good title of an ecological paper consists of
    at least 3 of the following items
  • An agent causing something (in experimental
    studies only)
  • The object of study (a species, a community, an
    ecosystem, a property of such unit)
  • 1-2 processes, structures or indicators which
    specify the study object
  • The method used (in methodological papers)
  • The habitat, ecosystem or landscape type (if
    restricted to such)
  • The area or region of the study (optional)

The abstract
How to write an abstract? What to do?
  • Start with a general statement on an interesting
    or unsolved problem
  • Make the hypothesis or question of this paper
  • Mention specific methods if necessary
  • Give a narrative of the most important results
    and conclusions

How to write an abstract?What to avoid!
  • Avoid any conclusion that is not found in the
  • Caution The abstract is usually written after
    the paper has been finished completely
  • Avoid to write more than 200 words

The introduction
How to write an introduction?General aspects
  • Introductory sentence
  • A general statement, a truism
  • A citation of an authority
  • A self-citation
  • State-of-the-art description
  • How detailed?
  • Questions and hypotheses of this paper
  • Clear statement of what is intended

How to write the introduction? Pattern of
Quotations 1
  • Goropashanya et al., Molec. Ecol. 13 1849-1858,
  • No citation in Abstract
  • 14 citations in Intro, first own citation on
    place 14, most citations younger than 5 years
  • 12 citations in Material and Methods, 3 times own
  • 5 citations in Results, mostly referring to own
    previous results
  • 12 citations in Discussion, 1 source cited twice,
    only 5 citations shared with Intro

How to write Introduction? Pattern of Quotations 2
  • Schmid, BAE 3 339-2346. 2002
  • No citation in Abstract
  • 26 citations in Intro, starting with a classic
    paper of 1901, first own citation on place 24
  • No citation in Methods, except for a Reference
    Book for statistics
  • No citation in Results
  • 25 citations in Discussion, 7 shared with Intro

How to write Introduction?Embedding in own world
  • First mentioning of own previous work
  • In first sentence (see above)?
  • In state-of-the-art description?
  • Casual?
  • Logical structure
  • Avoid writing two introductions (introduction of
    new and additional ideas after having formulated
    aims and objectives)

How to write Introduction? Desired structure
  • Intro Introduce first important item (what is
    important, what is specific, what makes it a good
    research object)
  • Intro cont. Introduce second important item (the
    study object itself e.g. rodent communities,
    disturbance, biodiversity, spatial pattern)
  • What is known? Start with general aspects
    (ecology of rodents proceed to more specific
    items, true mice in Schlabendorf), 1 or 2
    paragraphs depending on previous knowledge
  • What do I want to know? Questions (in more
    explorative studies) and/or hypotheses (in
    experimental studies or follow-up studies)

How to write Introduction?
  • Uniformity of expression
  • The study area (the wider area, e.g. Lusatia)
  • The investigated sites (the area, where
    investigations took place, e.g. mining area
  • The sample sites/plots (the points, where the
    pitfall trap have been dug in)
  • Precision of speech
  • The opencast brown coal mining area of Lusatia
    (Lusatia during the ongoing mining process), may
    be abbreviated as mining area later
  • The post-mining landscape (those parts where
    mining has already been abandoned, may be used in
    plural to denote important differences)

How to write Introduction?
  • Permanent
  • Check for repetition
  • Check for contradiction
  • Check for logical argument and red thread
  • Towards the end
  • Check for match with Title, Abstract, Results and

Materials and Methods
How to write Materials and Methods? General
  • Ultimate goal Reproducibility
  • When (years)
  • Where (Study Site, maps or coordinates). This
    means that the description of the Study Area is
    part of this chapter!
  • Embedding in a research project, if available
  • Details of data collection (separate
  • Details of statistical analysis (how detailed?)

How to write Materials and Methods? Data
  • Experimental design (refer to previously
    published papers)
  • Sample design (how parameters were measured, in
    clear prose)
  • Field methods and sample design
  • Plant or animal material
  • Biological characteristics of important species
  • Chemical analyses (Reference book)

How to write Material and Methods? Figures and
  • Material and Methods may contain up 3 tables or
    figures (12 articles per journal reviewed)

How to write Results? 1
  • Results chapter should be structured with
  • Substructure should follow main aspects of the
  • The bulk of tables and figures should appear in

How to write Results? 2
  • Omit all statements on methods and shift them to
    the Methods chapter
  • The text of the Results mostly consists of the
    description of tables and figures (in past tense)
  • This may sound boring but it is necessary.
  • Not every detail of the tables and figures should
    be repeated but the most important aspects should
    be summarized
  • All tables and figures should be referred to in
    the text

How to write Results? 3
  • The Results chapter is the most boring part of
    the paper.
  • The selection of the right tables and figures is
  • Do not overload the paper. If the number of
    tables and figures exceeds 8 think about dividing
    the paper into 2 papers.
  • The new papers should deal with significantly
    distinct aspects.
  • There is no general rule but if the whole paper
    consists of 6600 words, no more than 2000 words
    can be allocated to the results

How to write Results? 4
  • The results of the work are condensed in
    carefully selected and designed tables and
  • From that moment on, the results are defined by
    the information found in tables and figures (and
    nothing else). Thus the text of the results
    chapter is nothing more than the description of
    what can be found in tables and figures.
  • The text should not refer to other own
    information, unless it is not necessary for the
    immediate understanding of the text (as a
    reminder). often such information is better
    placed under methods. in such case, a small
    cross-reference to the methods chapter may save
    some explanations.
  • The text should not refer to generalizations of
    the own data or comparisons with other peoples
    data. this should be saved for the discussion.
    The boundary between a result and a discussion is
  • Tables should be described in an orderly way,
    either from the top to the bottom or from the
    right to the left. No column or row should remain
    completey unmentioned. However, the text must
    summarize (not repeat) the content, or give
    emphasis on what is important, surprising or new.
  • Figures should be described in a similar way.
    However it depends very much on the complexity of
    a figure.

How to write Results
  • Tables must be enumerated
  • Figures must be enumerated separately
  • In larger texts (e.g. theses) lists of tables and
    figures are necessary
  • Tables must have an informative heading (above
    the table)
  • Figure must have a figure caption (below the
    figure). Often a separate legend is necessary
  • Neither tables nor figures are completely

How to write Discussion?
  • Discussion should be structured by subheadings
    following the subheadings of the Results
  • Tables and figures rarely appear in Discussion
    (except generalized conceptual models)
  • Only in BAE, 4 papers out of 12 Discussions
    presented 1-2 new items

How to write Discussion?
  • Writing a discussion is more delicate than
    writing the Results. A good discussion may
    contain the following items
  • A summary of the results (not a recapitulation)
    in terms of confirmed principles or relations
  • Points that remained open or unanswered
  • Critical considerations of the methods used (but
    not too critical)
  • Possible generalisations, comparison with other
    authors data
  • Theoretical importance of the work, outlook on
    necessary future work
  • Possible applications of basic research

How to write Discussion?
  • Avoid the following
  • Ad hoc hypothesis which are not supported by the
  • Introduction of new aspects or theoretical
    speculations which came to your mind while
    reading your own paper again (which are not
    covered by the results)

How to write Conclusions and Recommendations
  • In applied papers often a chapter Conclusions and
    Recommendations follows
  • Conclusions must follow from the data presented
  • Recommendations should be based on the dated
    presented plus additional information
  • They must be specific and indicate a priority of

  • Part 2 Linguistic aspects

History of English 1
History of English 2
History of English 3
Structure of Modern English
  • English is an agglutinative language with some
    remnants of an inflection system (in strong
  • Tendencies
  • Use of invariable monosyllabic words of C-V or
    C-V-C type (you can make me whole again, Atomic
  • Easy shift of words between word classes (a good
    swim, up town girl)

Structure of Modern English
  • Agglutination is reached by a few prefixes (un-,
    re-) and suffixes (-s, -ing, -ed, -ly, -er, -est)
    with varying functions
  • Determiners can substitute nouns (articles,
    demonstratives, possessives)
  • All word classes can be connected by prepositions
  • Two ideas are connected by conjunctions or -ing

Structure of Modern English
  • Continuity of an action plays a great role, not
    only in verb formation (go vs. going) but also in
    the choice of adjectives (current vs. recent) and
    adverbs (until vs. by)
  • (Modal) auxiliary verbs take various functions
    that are fulfilled by an inflection system
    (conjugation) in other languages

An example of phonology the U sound
An example of phonology the consonants c and g
Concise style the use of tenses
  • In English the present tense denotes habitual
    action and still existing facts
  • Past tenses denote things that happened in the
    past (seen from the time in which the speaker is
    living or about which the speaker is reporting)

Concise style the use of voices
  • English tries to avoid passive construction
    except a passive notion is really intended
  • One possibility to circumvent passive
    constructions is the use of impersonal

Concise style false friends
  • Old words
  • to go has a broader notion in English, while
    German gehen often corresponds to to walk
  • Loan words
  • Actually in fact, indeed
  • Aktuell topical, current, recent, up-to-date
  • Eventually finally, in the end
  • Eventuell probably, possibly, potentially

Concise style Quasi-synonyms
  • Boundary, bounds, border, border line, margin,
    limit, frontier
  • Erroneous, mistaken, false, forged, wrong,
    untrue, fictitious, misplaced, out of place
  • Different, differential, differing, varied,
    various, distinct, miscellaneous

  • Space, preposition in front of, forward, before,
    at, against
  • Space, figurative in front of, in the presence
  • Time, preposition before, ago, to
  • Time, conjunction before
  • Time, adverb in advance, before

  • Adjective near, close, nearby, next of,
    forthcoming, short-distance, further
  • Adverb near, close, closely, close by, in the
    vicinity, (to be) about (to), local, surrounding,
    around the corner
  • Preposition near, next to, close to, on the
    verge of, adjacent to, in proximity, at close
    range, around (here)
  • Implicit, often figurative suggest, be obvious,
    seem, appear, approach, access, approximate, be
    oriented to, go into, be precise

  • Great, greater, greatest, very great, extremely
    great, too great, great enough, hardly as great
    as, as great as (of same size, the size of ),
    less great
  • Synonyms large, big, grand, tall, major, huge,
    vast, long(-distance), gigantic, large-scale,
    wide, upper-, pan-, capital, grown up, most
    (part), bulk, whole-, macro-, loud-, main-,
  • Implicit greatness spacious, extensive,
    proportion, scale, order of (magnitude),
    vastness, largesse, excellence etc.

Periphrastic constructions
  • Used to go (a habit in the past)
  • Have to go (an obligation)
  • Going to do something (an intention, in the near
  • To be supposed to do something

Concise style the position of participles
  • The dumped soil the soil dumped
  • The participle usually follows the noun,
    replacing a relative clause
  • The change of position may involve a change in

Concise style countable vs. non-countable nouns
  • Uncountable biodiversity, species richness,
    succession, disturbance, dumping, vegetation,
    colonization, grassland, sand, amelioration,
    agriculture, mining, abundance,
  • Uncountable nouns are usually used in singular.
    They rarely take a definite article for denote
    specific properties, or an indefinite article for
    comparative purpose
  • Countable ecosystem, tree, diaspore, stand,
    beetle, hypothesis, sex-ratio disturbance event,
    mining site
  • Countable nouns are used in singular and plural.
    Singular forms always require an article, while
    plural forms lose the article in general

Concise style punctuation
  • Truss, L. 2003. Eats, shoots and leaves. Profile
  • There are not so many strict rules in English.
    Rather, punctuation is structuring the sentence,
    making distinctions or giving emphasis were
  • Compare the meaning of
  • Eats, shoots and leaves vs.
  • Eats shoots and leaves
  • The reason for this possible confusion is the
    multiple use of the suffix s (denoting both
    plural and 3rd person singular)

Concise style how to acquire?
  • The only way to acquire a concise style in a
    foreign language is ongoing practice.
  • Active conversation, writing e-mails and
    listening to elaborate pop lyrics such as Bob
    Dylan will improve the vocabulary but not
    necessarily the style.
  • The own writing style can only be improved by
    imitation. May be imitation of scientific texts
    is not really recommended as BAE papers may be
    written by non-native speakers
  • One should rather take as an example the great
    novelists. Their will convey a certain feeling of
    what is possible and what is not. Some
    recommendations follow.

What to read some recommendations 1
  • Graham Greene The Human Factor, The Silent
    American, The Honorary Consul, and other works,
    all published by Penguin, London. (This year is
    the authors 100th birthday. His work is still
    very much up-to-date. He was short-listed 20
    times but never received the Nobel prize)
  • Further recommended authors (non of which is
    really native speaker)
  • Salman Rushdie Shame. Penguin, 1983
  • V.S. Naipaul A House for Mister Biswas. Penguin
  • W.G. Sebald Austerlitz. Penguin, 2001
  • J. M. Coetzee Disgrace. Vintage, London, 1999

What to read some recommendations 2
  • More modern stuff
  • Lodge, D. 2001. Thinks
  • Ishiguro, K. 1989. The remainder of the day.
  • Gordimer, N. 1991. A sports of nature.
  • Penguin Classics, easy redable
  • Swift, J. Gullivers travels. Penguin classics.
  • James, H. The turn of the screw
  • Carrol, Lewis. Alices adventures in Wonderland.
    Through a looking glass. Penguin Classics