Elements of Scientific writing by hcj


									  Elements of
Scientific writing
Dr. ImanZaghloul
Many of life's failures
are men who did not
realize how close they
were to success when
they gave up.

          Thomas Edison
Facts and Myths
Qualities of good writing
Ways to improve
Seven steps to success
Common Problems
Ethics in Publishing
Tips on Graphics
Facts & Myths
I am a scientist and not a writer

                 Fact :
 Writing is not a career, it is a skill
necessary for professionals to do their
I don’t have a talent for writing, I’ve
         always been bad at it.

  Writing is a skill, not a talent. Any
 professional can and should learn to
              write effectively
If a piece of writing gets published,
          it’s a good piece

              Fact :
Many of the published papers you are
     reading are badly written
Until I have my ideas clearly organized
  in my head, I shouldn’t start writing.

                       Fact :
      The best way to clarify thinking is to
    start writing. The act of writing helps to
 clarify and organize thinking and to generate
Qualities of good writing
    Some Qualities of good writing
•   Reader-Based
•   Purposeful
•   Clear
•   Correct
•   Simple
•   No invented words
•   No Jargon
•   Few, if any, abbreviations
Ways to Improve Writing
 Ways to Improve Writing
Set aside some time each day to write.
WRITE WHAT ???????????           ANYTHING.
What you write is not as important as that you write.
Model your writing after a good writing.
Use examples of good journals to begin to
differentiate between writing that is easy to read and
writing that is painful to read
  Seven Steps to
Successful Writing
1. Prepare
 Identify your reader:
 Who is the reader?
 What does he already know?
 What are his priorities?

 Establish your purpose:
Clarify, Inform, notify, Convince, Justify
2. Research
You must understand your subject

Trying to write about unsure subject, will make it
harder and time consuming

Sources of information are:
3. Free write
 Get your ideas down on paper
 Start writing whatever comes into your mind
 It is the best cure for writer’s block
 Free writing for 10 minutes gets creativity going
 The more you write, the more ideas you’ll have
 Forget grammar, punctuation, organization and
 Go back later to edit for clarity, conciseness and
4. Organize
Make an outline
Look over your free writing
Choose main Points
Arrange in order of importance
Choose supporting details for each
5. Write
• Follow your outline
• Get the main ideas and supporting details
  down on paper
• Start with your most important
  information first
• You will polish up later
6. Revise
It is the most important step; now check for
the following:

A. Unity: Do sentences in a paragraph contribute to the
   central idea?

B. Coherence: Is relationship between sentences and
   paragraphs clear to reader?
   Transitions connect ideas, indicate relationships and
   keep reader’s mind moving
Common Transitions include:
moreover, further, besides, and, likewise, also, nor, too, again,
additionally, equally important, next
similarly, likewise, in the same manner
but, yet, however, still, nevertheless, on the other hand, on the
contrary, even so, in contrast to this, at the same time,
otherwise, nonetheless
here, beyond, nearby, opposite, adjacent to,
on the opposite side
hence, therefore, accordingly, consequently,
thus, as a result
to sum up, in brief, on the whole, in short, as
we have said, in other words, that is
meanwhile, at length, soon, in a few days, in
the meantime, afterward, later, now
7. Proofread
 Researched it
 Wrote it
 Rewrote it
 Revised it
You Will Have Hard Time to Find Errors
   Tricks to Proofreaders
• Enlarge the type
 We see mistakes if they’re larger

• Read your writing out LOUD:
 We hear mistakes that we do not see
Common Problems
    A. The Passive Voice
Dr. Peterson wrote the abstract:
        Active voice gives a sense of :
        strength, energy, vitality and

The abstract was written by Dr. Peterson:
     Passive voice slows things down,
             and it’s shorter
Debating the Active versus the passive
• Active: It is self-promoting and shows lack of
• Passive: If you did it, so say you did
• Active: Scientist should stay out of the work
• Passive: overuse of passive voice is confusing, it
             promotes misplaced modifiers
• Passive : makes the writers less accountable
• Active : it does not make you less accountable
        B. Long Sentences
• Science is complex enough without using
  overly complicated sentences to explain it
• One enemy to clarity is long sentences
• Meaning can get lost because too much is
  going on in one sentence
• Do not ask your sentences to do more
  than they can
“Among   good writers, It
 is the short sentences
  that predominates”

     William Zinsser
Guidelines for Clearing out Clutter

 Lack of clarity is No.1 problem for
 Wordiness is an obstacle to readers
 Write to communicate NOT to impress
 Keep sentences short (>17 words
discourage readers
 Avoid pompous or pretentious language
Guidelines for Clearing out Clutter;
 Use specific words
 Reduce no. of words in a phrase:

  In the near future          soon
  is of the opinion           believes
  a sizable percentage of     many
  Owing to the fact that      since
  in spite of the fact that   although
 Guidelines for Clearing out Clutter
• Don’t repeat words or ideas (a palliative, non-
  curative treatment)
• Be aware of: who, which, and that (clutter the
• Avoid the careless use of the word this
• Sharpen your words with precise meaning (Not
  infrequently ????)
• Get rid of excess words
• Limit “To Be” phrases (is lacking          lacks)
   The Publishing Process

Major Journals rejects 60 to 70%

NEJM & JAMA: Rejection rate 90%

Journals do not reject good articles

Good Articles get accepted
 The Most Common
Reasons for Rejections
    A. The manuscript is inappropriate
       for the journal and its audience

“Information for authors” :

   The mission statement
   The type of articles accepted
   The journal’s Reader
   The manuscript format
   Specific Instructions (abstracts, keywords,
   copyright, tables and figures, references, any
B. The Manuscript describes poorly designed
        or poorly conducted studies:

     Inadequate samples
     Insufficient Information
     Biased samples
     Confounding factors
     Vague endpoints
     Straying from the hypothesis
     Poor control of numbers
C. The manuscript is poorly written
Editors: “ we have received a manuscript
that was filled with errors that we could not

Reviewers: “ Any time readers notice
grammatical or stylistic lapses, their
attention is drawn away from your message
Taking It Step by Step:

1. Should I Write an article for a journal?
   (New, True, Important, Comprehensible, useful)
2. Why do I want to write this article?
3. What are the major pitfalls I might run
   into ?
4. Did someone beat me to the punch?
5. How are my findings related to the
   existing body of knowledge?
6. What is the most appropriate journal?
7. Did you read the “information for
   authors” page in the chosen journal?
8. Did you decide on the format of your
   article? (IMRAD)
               IMRAD Format
                       Why did you start?
                         Present tense

What did you do?
                                                What did you find?
  Past tense
                                                   Past tense

                   What do your results mean?
                         Present tense
9. Organize your research
   (index card, references)

10. Construct the tables and figures
    (title, footnote, legends, labels for axes)
   Make tables & figures fully informative

11. Develop an outline: arrange in a logical order
    Methods: chronological format is best
    Results: most important finding first
      A look at each Section
   Title:
 Catch  the reader’s attention
 Short, specific and clear
 < 10 words
 Indicative rather than informative
 State the subject and not the
A Comparison of Paroxetine and Clomipramine in OCD

Clomipramine More Effective Than Paroxetine in OCD
 Avoid abbreviations, acronyms
 Choose carefully, titles provide
  information for data bases
 Be brief, be interesting, be concise
 Avoid the temptation to use cute,
  misleading, dishonest or too provocative
An epidemiological study of radiation received by
male employees of a nuclear processing plant and
other residents in the vicinity and its relation to the
incidence of childhood leukemia

                  Toooooo long
                  Not interesting
                  Not provocative
 “Radiation to residents near a nuclear
  reprocessing plant and its relation to childhood
  leukemia: an epidemiological study”

Needs to be much shorter and more interesting
Leukemia Shock from Nuclear Waste Dump

 Should be left to tabloid professionals
Strayed into the world of sensationalism
               Title: exposure, and
“Nuclear reprocessing, radiation
childhood leukemia: an epidemiological study”

          Tells what the paper is about
                 not misleading
  contain all key words for electronic retrieval
               Easy to understand
                 catches the eye
                provoke curiosity
              The abstract
 Overview of an article
 Stimulate reader interest
 Self-contained:
 limit the length to 250 words or
 Read the guidelines for abstract
 Main pitfalls: no clear question, too
 long, too detailed
 Use verbal signals to indicate parts of
Avoid abbreviations when possible

Use present tense for the introduction
 and discussion

Use past tense for methods and results

Use active voice, short sentences, avoid
   Introduction: background and hypothesis or

 Materials & Methods: what, where, how,
                       whom, when

 Results: clearly and concisely what you found

 Discussion: answer to the question & suggestion
              to new study
        The Introduction
 Should answer the question: Why was
  the work done?
 Should describe the problem of interest
 Should have prior work done
 Should have the research question
 No need for extensive introduction
     Materials and Methods
 Should answer the question; How did
  you carry out the research ?

 Should provide other researchers with a
  blueprints of the study to be replicated

 It judges the quality of study design and
 procedures and validity of results
        Materials and Methods
 Design: Randomized, controlled study, clinical trial, case
 Study population: complete description of participants,
    how selected or assigned
 Setting: where the study population was selected
 Interventions: description of treatments, therapy or
    measurements instruments
   Outcome Measure: How data were analyzed, and its
    statistical analysis ( appropriateness ? Correct ?)
Past tense
 One of the editors at the New England
Journal of Medicine says:

“In my opinion, the best results
section would be “ The results of
the study can be seen in Table 1.”
Don’t repeat what is obvious in tables &

Present the data in straight forward,
factual manner without comments or

Write it in the past tense
Assess the meaning of the results

Answer the question

Takes the most time

Present tense

Discuss controversial issues clearly
Stress (not conceal) anomalous results

OK to speculate

Mention how your study fits into the
existing knowledge

 Avoid unqualified statements not
  by data
 Submitting your Manuscript
Suggestions from the Editors:
 Cover letter to the editor; why his journal
 Transfer of copyright signed by all authors
 Read “instructions to authors” and follow it
 Check references
Include only tables, graphs that show data
efficiently more than text

Make captions clear, concise

Check tables against text, number each graph

 List authors’ affiliation

 Key words for indexing (MeSH)
    Ethics In Publishing
1. Authorship:
  It should be based on substantial
  contributions to:

  Design and Conception
  Drafting article & revising it critically
  Final approval of published version
Participation solely based on getting
fund or collection of data does not justify

General supervision of the research group is
not sufficient for authorship

Biostatistician; pay him/or include him on
author’s list (design, evaluation)
2. Plagiarism:
  Everyone involved in the publishing process
  has a responsibility to maintain the highest
  standards of ethics

  It is the act of submitting the work
  of others as your own work, in
  whole or in part

  Avoid unintentional plagiarism
3. Fraud:
 Takes many forms. It ‘s fraud if you fabricate a report in
 whole or in part. It’s fraud if you suppress data that does
 not support your hypothesis or report good
 news and omit the bad.

 In order to avoid any possibility of fraud, insist on
 reviewing all protocols and data

 Once you put your name on a report, you become
 responsible and accountable for every part whether you
4. Duplicate Publication:

 If a journal unknowingly publishes a
 previously published article, the journal
 will make a statement in an editorial or the
 letters to editor column.
    Tips on Using Graphics
Graph, table, chart, map or photo can inform
more effectively
Needs to be absolutely accurate
Use minimum number of graphics
Make all parts of the graphic legible
Make the terms used in the graphic consistent
with the terms used in the text
Be consistent in format, size and terminology
Thank You for listening

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