Robart A. Day: How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper

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How to write and publish a scientific paper. Bibliography: p. Includes index. 1. Technical writing. 1. Title. T11.D33 1988 808'.0665 87-31530. ISBN 0 521 551366 ...



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X t h EDITION Robert A. Day




Published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211 USA 10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, Melbourne 3166, Australia Published in the United States by The Oryx Press Copyright © 1979, 1983, 1988, 1994 by Robert A. Day Third edition first published 1989 by Cambridge University Press Reprinted 1991, 1993 Fourth edition first published 1995 by Cambridge University Press Published simultaneously in Canada All Rights Reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder and the publisher. Printed and Bound in the United States of America A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Day, Robert A., 1924How to write and publish a scientific paper. Bibliography: p. Includes index. 1. Technical writing. 1. Title. T11.D33 1988 808'.0665 87-31530 ISBN 0 521 551366



To BETTY, Nancy, Bart, Robin, Joe, Sarah, Hilary, Hannah, Ian, and Matt




Acknowledgments Preface Chapter I W h a t Is Scientific W r i t i n g ? Chapter 2 Origins of Scientific Writing Chapter 3 W h a t Is a Scientific P a p e r ? Chapter 4 H o w to Prepare the Title Chapter 5 H o w to List the A u t h o r s and A d d r e s s e s Chapter 6 H o w to Prepare the Abstract Chapter 7 H o w to W r i t e the Introduction Chapter 8 H o w to Write the Materials and M e t h o d s Section Chapter 9 H o w to Write the Results •

C h a p t e r 10 H o w to W r i t e the Discussion C h a p t e r 11 H o w to State the A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s J J

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Chapter 12 How to Cite the References


Chapter 13 How to Design Effective Tables


Chapter 14 How to Prepare Effective Illustrations


Chapter 15 How to Keyboard the Manuscript


Chapter 16 Where and How to Submit the Manuscript


Chapter 17 The Review Process (How to Deal with Editors)


Chapter 18 The Publishing Process (How to Deal with Proofs)


Chapter 19 How to Order and Use Reprints


Chapter 20 How to Write a Review Paper


Chapter 21 How to Write a Conference Report


Chapter 22 How to Write a Book Review


Chapter 23 How to Write a Thesis


Chapter 24 How to Present a Paper Orally


Chapter 25 How to Prepare a Poster


Chapter 26 Ethics, Rights, and Permissions


Chapter 27 Use and Misuse of English




Chapter 28 Avoiding Jargon


Chapter 29 How and When to Use Abbreviations


Chapter 30 A Personalized Summary


Appendix 1 Selected Journal Title Word Abbreviations


Appendix 2 Abbreviations That May Be Used Without Definition in Table Headings


Appendix 3 Common Errors in Style and in Spelling


Appendix 4. Words and Expressions to Avoid


Appendix 5 Prefixes and Abbreviations for SI (Systeme International) Units


Appendix 6 Accepted Abbreviations and Symbols


Glossary of Technical Terms







In most of mankind gratitude is merely a secret hope for greater favours. VuU. —Due de la Rochefoucauld o



Like a c o o k b o o k , a " h o w to" book presents many recipes that the author has collected over the years. A few of the recipes may be original. Some may be variations of someone e l s e ' s originals. Many of the recipes in such a collection, however, are " b o r r o w e d " intact from other sources. In this book, I have done a reasonable j o b , I think, in citing the sources of material borrowed from the published literature. But how about the many ideas and procedures that one has picked up from discussions with colleagues? After the passage o f t i m e , one can no longer r e m e m b e r who originated what idea. After the passage of even more time, it seems to me that all of the really good ideas originated with me, a proposition that I know is indefensible. 1 am indebted to my friends and colleagues w h o served with me on the Publications Board of the American Society for Microbiology during the 19 years I served that Society. I am also grateful to the Society for Scholarly Publishing and the Council of Biology Editors, the two organizations from which I have learned the most about scientific writing and publishing. I am grateful to a number of colleagues w h o have read the manuscript for this Fourth Edition and offered valuable c o m m e n t s : Barton D. Day, Robin A. Day, Kirsten Fischer Lindahl, Barbara Gastel, Linda Illig, Evelyn S. Myers, Nancy Sakaduski, Charles Shipman, Jr., Simon Silver, and David W. Smith. I am especially grateful to Betty J. Day for help in this as in all things.


Criticism and testing are of the essence of our work. This means that science is afundamentally social activity, which implies that it depends on good communication. In the practice of science we are aware ofthis, and that is why it is right for our journals to insist on clarity and intelligibility. . . . —Hermann Bondi






Good scientific writing is not a matter of life and death; it is much more serious than that. The goal of scientific research is publication. Scientists, starting as graduate students, are measured primarily not by their dexterity in laboratory manipulations, not by their innate knowledge of either broad or narrow scientific subjects, and certainly not by their wit or charm; they are measured, and become known (or remain unknown) by their publications. A scientific experiment, no matter how spectacular the results, is not completed until the results are published. In fact, the cornerstone of the philosophy of science is based on the fundamental assumption that original research must be published; only thus can new scientific knowledge be authenticated and then added to the existing database that we call scientific knowledge. It is not necessary for the plumber to write about pipes, nor is it necessary for the lawyer to write about cases (except brief writing), but the research scientist, perhaps uniquely among the trades and professions, must provide a written document showing what he or she did, why it was done, how it was done, and what was learned from it. The key word is reproducibility. That is what makes science and scientific writing unique. Thus the scientist must not only "do" science but must "write" science. Bad writing can and often does prevent or delay the publication of good science. Unfortunately, the education of scientists is often so overwhelm-

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manuscript approved by the editor, after peer review, is the one that should be printed, not some new version containing material not seen by the editor and the reviewersSecond, it is not wise to disturb typeset material, unless it is really necessary, because new typographical errors may be introduced. If a word is added to a line, many following lines may have to be reset also (to maintain even or "justified'" margins). Third, corrections are expensive. Because they are expensive, you should not abuse the publisher (possibly a scientific society of which you are an otherwise loyal member); in addition, you just might be hit with a substantial bill for author's alterations. Most journals absorb the cost of a reasonable number of author's alterations, but many, especially those with managing editors or business managers, will sooner or later . crack down on you if you are patently guilty of excessive alteration o f t h e proofs.

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