My name is Erwan Bezard and I am a research director at the University of Bordeaux in France I have a position as associate editor, or soon to be editor-in-chief, of Neurobiology of Disease in January 2022, and as you can see I have an extensive experience in editorship. Here are my disclosures, as you can see there is nothing preventing me from giving this talk.
At the time of publishing or submitting a paper, we are facing a number of questions. The most obvious one being is that we have different editorial structures. On the left you have Nature, Science journals are of that fame and reputation as they are owned by professional editors. They rely upon a network of advisors, and the criterion for sending out a paper that has been submitted to them varies a lot. Obviously, is it good paper. It could be sexy, fashionable, it arrives right on time for a specific topic and so on. So it's very difficult to predict what is going to be reviewed Nature or Science and other journals like these.
On the other hand, you have the more classic journals like Movement Disorders, the journal of our Society, Neurobiology of Disease, Journal of Neuroscience, Neurology. The scientific editors are supported by our staff, but the editors are your peers. They are scientists, clinicians working in a lab, in a hospital, and giving some of their time for handling this very important position. They rely, of course, upon an editorial board and especially for arbitrating disputes for deciding when you have mixed reviews, if a paper is to be accepted or to be rejected by the journal.
For society journals most submissions are being sent for review provided, of course, it fits with the society objectives. There is a selection and arbitrary selections are made by the editor-in-chief and by associate editors that are helping him or she. Besides the structure, there are different levels for accessing information once it is published and this is extremely important at the time of submission to consider. More and more, this is becoming a question also raised by the funding bodies.
On the left, you have the 'classic' ways of submitting papers and of publishing papers. You basically pay nothing and the cost is on the institution. It is an indirect cost, which is actually paid by the subscription to by the libraries, by the universities, by the research bodies. So there is a standard license but you transfer the copyright to be sure, unless you are from certain institutions that have a deal with the with the publisher.
In the middle you have, what we call, the 'hybrid' journals. They are hybrid, because they offer both a classic type of publication versus an open access type of publication. Basically, you submit and your paper will be published. You don't have to pay charges for the publication. But of course you will transfer the copyright to the publisher or they offer what we call a green open access. The production cost will be on you the author and will allow you to self-archive that allows you now to make them available to everyone but through a repository of your choice. You obtain a license to do so from the copyright owner, which in this case is the publisher.
The full 'open access', as you have on the right, is what we call the gold open access. The production cost is on the author. You have an article publication charge but the consequence of that payment is that your paper is diffused everywhere on a free basis. It's available not only to you and to the researcher, but also to the lay public. There is no copyright transfer - you remain the owner of your copyright. So the funding bodies are requesting more and more for green open access at the very least, but as the best being gold open access. The more the publishing industry is moving progressively from the classic way of publishing to the hybrid, if not to the open access. And there are more and more journals moving to a full open access instead of having a hybrid way of publishing.
Now let's go to the main topic of this presentation which is about the publication process. A manuscript has to be prepared for a given journal that you have chosen based upon the criteria that we have just seen on the two previous slides. The first thing that you have to do, it is obvious of course to say so, but it's very important to repeat it - you have to comply strictly with a style so the format and all requirements explain into the Instructions to Authors. Those are sometimes very long to read, but you have to go through in order not to make any mistakes that will inevitably lead to the rejection of your paper. I urge you to use also a reference software, like Papers, Endnote, et cetera. There are plenty and many are absolutely open. You have a no charge to pay, but it's important to use them for not missing a reference for spelling them out without mistakes and for easily changing the format of the reference if you have to resubmit to another journal.
Prepare your figures with all important information and remove the unnecessary stuff from your figure. At the time of submission, the letters to the editor are required, and I believe only for the high impact journals, but most of the times they are not read by the Editor. Do not spend too much time in writing those letters to the editor, unless you write to a very high impact factor like Nature and Science. Then you have to take time to think carefully to the content and the format of your paper, because this is what will allow the editor for sending out job paper for review.
Make sure you get the green light from all the co-authors and preferably in writing as there are more and more disputes over the writing and submission of manuscripts. I also see a responsibility that every author accept as being an author of a paper with regard to the validity and the reproducibility of the data set are made public in terms of publication. You will be asked also to suggest a few originals and this is a step that requires some thinking. It is so important that you get the agreement of the co-authors and I suggest you get this in writing.
You will be asked also to suggest a few reviewers. This is a step that requires some thinking. The quality of your suggestion will set the editor view on your paper. Do not propose of course, your friends or former co-authors as it's never good. Or we can propose former co-authors from five, 10, 15 years ago, but not recent co-authors. Do not propose reviewers from some country, unless of course you are from the U.S. because it's a big country. It's accepted that in big countries you can have reviewers from the same country, but if you are like me originating from a small country, France, I never propose French reviewers because it's too small so the conflict of interest is almost obvious. In the same way editors will most of the time avoid inviting reviewers from the the same country, for the possibility of conflict of any kind, either positive or negative.
In the same way, do not exclude 20 people from being reviewers and provide a sensible rationale for excluding them. Limit your list and make it clear that you do have a conflict with these people or these people have a conflict with you. So once you have submitted your manuscript, on the general website, the editor will receive the manuscript and the letter and so on. He might use the entire crew or board in order to triage the manuscript. He or she can make a rapid decisions. A paper might be a triage, meaning a hard reject and you have to try it again. If the paper is sent out for review, which most likely will happen because you would have chosen carefully as the journal where you going to submit a paper, the editor will invite a number of reviewers, quite several, actually, in order to secure at least two, often three, external reviewers. So reviewer selection is currently supported by databases and software, and we'll come back to that later, but there will be certain keywords, depending on the journal, the editor will seek for the senior PI or for young colleagues who are supposed to have more time to serve as reviewers.
Once they review, hopefully in to two to three weeks, your paper they will submit that review which will contain narrative and you will see that narrative, of course. They will also submit a number of scores that the journal website is going to ask them to give a score on based on a novelty, soundness, sexiness, and so on, depending on the journal. Each journal has a defined rejection rate target so the score helps the editor define priority. So imagine you have a relatively positive review but the reviewers would assess your paper as sounding interesting, but maybe not interesting enough. It's purely arbitrary. It's a gut feeling. It could be based on the experience on many factors, but based on that, the editor will decide for a positive or a negative outcome. And again, he made use the editorial board when unsure about the decision and then you receive the decision. If negative, do it again, submit elsewhere. But again, comply to the new instruction for the journal. If it has been reviewed, take into account that reviewers commands and modify your manuscript
There is nothing more infuriating than as a reviewer receiving a manuscript that you have already reviewed once and the authors have not made changes at all. They have not taken into account your comments that you have made for them to improve the manuscripts. So please take into account the reviewers' comments before submitting elsewhere, of course if they are helpful for the paper.
If positive, most likely you will have a revised version. So you receive a list of items to address. Answer point by point, do not waive your hand. You have to execute the required experiments, the meaningful ones and the meaningless experiments or asked for delays if needed and communicate with editorial office, especially in your communication with internal office.
If you have a list of experiments, you can discuss with them in order to decide which experiments will be required by the editor for the paper to possibly be accepted. And which are the experiments that you can forget. Again, ask your co-authors for the green light before you resubmit before the first submission and after the revision, before the submission of this revised version. Resubmit and comply with the instructions to authors because some journals have specific procedures for the re-submission like the itemize later certain format of figures. Either if it was a major revision and it could be sent out again for re- review by the very same reviewers or it could be direct decision made by the editor if this was judged as a minor revision.
If everything goes well, you receive an acceptance notification and then the manuscript will pass to the publisher. It will not be handled anymore by the editor-in-chief, which is dealing only with the science. So publisher will produce and these days it's becoming faster. You will receive the proof and you have to be able to check them very, very carefully. It could be tedious. It's easier every day, of course, with the electronic files that we exchange. Nevertheless, you have to be to be careful - check out that the names have been correctly identified, that the figures are called as a should be and the quality of the figure is fine too.
And very soon your paper becomes online available in few days. Such a process from first submission to the final acceptance can take a few months, from three to four months up to 18 months, two years even. If you go for a very high impact factor, 18 months is almost guaranteed for the whole process to take place. It's going to take a while, do not expect a very rapid process to take place. So what matters at the time of publishing or submitting your paper and unless we do acknowledge that the impact factor matters. The value of the impact factor matters, particularly in Europe and in Asia and it is a bit less prominent in in the U.S. of course.
And what is the impact factor that you see here for Medicine, for Experimental Medicine and for Neuroscience. The impact factor is defined by Clarivate Analytics, a company that is every year providing a number of metrics, including the impact factor. Let's consider the example of Movement Disorders, which is a journal of our Society.
So Movement Disorders has an impact factor last year in 2019 of 8.67. How this number is obtained and what does it mean? So the journal impact factor is in fact calculated as the number of citations obtained in 2019 for the items published in 2017 and 2018 divided by the number of citable items, so by the number of papers published in 2017 and 2018 by Movement Disorders. So in 2019, the papers published in 2017 have received 1,800 citations and the paper published in 2018 have received 1,500 citations. So you divide the number of citations, 3,402 divided by the number of papers published in 2017 and 2018, 392, and you obtain 8.67. What does it mean? So the impact factors, in fact, are the numbers I give you is the prediction of cites in the near future of a paper that you publish in Movement Disorders. So at time of submission, when you publish, you can expect to get 8.7 citation within the next two years.
If you look at the distribution of the number of papers by the times cited every year, so for 2019, you obtain such a distribution with a very large number of papers, receiving a one or two citations. That's in the first column, one citation, two citation, actually the article citation median for the original papers is only four and for the review paper it is seven. But you can see also that there are a few papers that attract number of citations. And here we have a few papers attracting more than 50 citations every day. So the role of the editor will be to attract the highly cited manuscript, but it's very difficult to do. It's almost unpredictable to define what will be cited, but his or her role will be to kick out the papers to receive the zero cites. And in fact, it is not easier, but you can do so.
Let's now compare the numbers obtained from Movement Disorders with three other journals. So European Journal of Neuroscience has an impact factor of 3.1, Neurobiology of Disease with an impact factor of 5.3 and Science with an impact factor of 41.8. You can see that the distribution is very different. Let's take the example here of Neurobiology of Disease. Neurobiology of Disease has a very interesting profile because the article citation median is exactly the same as Movement Disorders at four. It's also the very same median for the review citation median which is seven, but in fact it has less highly cited papers, which explain the difference in impact factor between 8.7 for Movement Disorders and 5.3 for Neurobiology of Disease, meaning that in these two journals the vast majority of the papers received approximately the same number of citations, but a few papers that are highly cited in Movement Disorders.
What is also interesting is to look at the number of zero cites. In the European Journal of Neuroscience you have a number of papers and reviews receiving zero cites in the next two years. In Neurobiology of Disease, it is 21 papers. It was only 17 for Movement Disorders, but it's very close. And for Science, two papers received zero citations. Of course, the number of papers receiving very high number of citations is driving the impact factor. But you can see that Science, has very few papers receiving zero cites, but you still have a number of people of items receiving one, two, three citations, which sounds incredible, but it happens.
There are also indicators or parameters that might be relevant at time of submission not simply the impact factor, but you can also look at the impact factor of a five-year to see if it is moving and relatively stable. It seems to be relatively stable for Movement Disorders. The cited half-life and the citing half-life are also quite important. The cited half-life is the mean duration expressed in years for which your paper will be alive, so to speak, will have a chance to be cited by others. It's pretty long for Movement Disorders, it's almost nine years, and you can see that as the age of the citation that we can read in Movement Disorders is about seven years.
There are a few things to also understand. If we consider now the country of the corresponding author, we can see that the chance of being accepted even of being cited varies. If you are an author from the U.S., the likelihood of being accepted by most journals and the likelihood of being cited, is far higher than from any other country.
Then you have a distribution of the country, which varies from one journal to another. But very often you have as first the U.S. always, and then Germany, the UK, France, Spain, and China is also appearing. It often matches the distribution of the journal editorial members into that journal. It is a sad truth, but it is clear that if you are a corresponding author from small countries, the chance of being accepted by a given journal is lower than if you are originating from a country like the United States. If you consider one given country, here you have on the right hand of the slide you have the example of a study done a few years ago by an academic from the United Kingdom. And they have assessed the number of citations you might receive depending of the institution of origin. You can see here that if you are from Oxford and Cambridge, the likelihood of being equally cited is much more important than if you are from Anglia, Ruskin or Middlesex universities which are less known. The country matters but also the institution matters.
When you submit a paper, the paper is of course judged for its own merit but you could be searched as well. We have just seen that the country of origin and institution plays a role of course, a conscious role, but the numbers are absolutely unequivocal. The higher the impact factor the more likely it is that you will be searched especially in order to avoid a zero cites since the editor cannot predict if your paper will attract a number of high citation.
The editor could look at your profile and here you have a list of the number of metrics that you can easily obtain. There are too many numbers and, of course, no editor will spend time in doing so but what have I have highlighted in bold here shows the total number of citations that you have received in your career and also the H factor might play a role and they are relatively easy to obtain. You simply use Pub-Med and you see how many papers that have been published recently by this author.
If you do a Google Scholar, you have the H factor in a second, you have the total number of citations as well as the recent citation of your recent papers. Please don't forget to register on the main website of Google Scholar, Research Gate, ORCHID and so on in order to be visible and in order to ease the work of the editor.
The take home message: Ease the editor's life at submission by compiling with the journal's Instructions to Authors, propose a limited, but well thought out list of putative reviewers. Unless there is a big issue with the review process, do not question the decision, do not send harsh letters. If there is ever an objective issue such as a false statement from a reviewer or a mistake from the reviewer, or maybe the reviewer has not understood your paper. Extreme slowness in responding in a journal where you usually have a response in a month or in a month and a half but you obtain a response after five months after the submission which is too long. And the sense of an unfair competition. All of these issues can happen. If they do then place a call instead of sending a letter, calmly state your position of the situation and most of the times the editor will decide to give a chance again to the paper by either accepting a re-submission or sending it out for review again directly. When the editor has made a decision, he or she decides and it is final, fair or unfair, he or she manages a journal and has the last word of the fate of a paper. And there is nothing we can do more than accepting it and trying again in order to submit to another journal.
Thank you very much for your attention. I hope this has been helpful and have a good day.
I'm Tiago Outeiro and I'm a member of the MDS, Basic Science Special Interest Group. I'll talk to you about preparing and delivering an oral presentation.
I'm talking to you from Gottingen, Germany, a small university city right in the middle of the country with a strong university. This talk is part of a series about communicating science and therefore, we need to understand why science communication is so important.
It is important as science itself. Science isn't finished until it's communicated, and this is important to teach and educate different target audiences. It's important as a social responsibility with taxpayers that fund our work. It's important also these days to avoid fake news. We know, and we read fake news everywhere, unfortunately, so we as scientists have the duty to communicate science effectively to avoid fake news. It's also important for obtaining funding for publications getting your work advertised throughout the world and for career progression, as we all know. Let's look at some ideas based on my personal experience, what I've seen from other colleagues, and from what I've read.
First things first. It's important that you know your audience. You should know who you will be talking to before planning your presentation because this will determine how much detail you should really put into your presentation. And you should define your target audience, how you want to impact your audience and what you will need to do to help your audience understand and appreciate your talk. If you follow these first and very basic principles, then you'll be on the right track for preparing and delivering a good talk.
You should know that audiences come in different "flavors". There's audiences that are more interested in the bottom line, audiences that are expecting a more authoritative message, and audiences that like to listen to stories and get fascinated if you are a good speaker telling them a good story. There's also audiences that like challenges and like that you keep them engaged so that they keep connected to what you're presenting. These are some characteristics of audiences that you should be aware of so that you can interpret the audience you're talking to.
So what constitutes a good talk? You should understand this because this will then influence the way you prepare to talk. The content is, of course, important. It should be new information, it should pose an interesting question and discuss a novel discovery. The expertise is whether you're credible in what you're telling the audience and you should always make sure you acknowledge people in the field because this inspires trust and confidence. Good talks are clear and organized. It's important to make them understandable while avoiding jargon. Not everyone in the audience will understand the jargon you use, even if it's a very specific and specialized audience. You should use clear and simple visual aids. This is always better because we are all thinking about a thousand different things so it's important if you keep the message simple and clear. Don't run overtime; no one likes to sit and listen longer than they're supposed to. Then there's the element of style and delivery. It should convey enthusiasm. You should change the tone of your voice and your body language to make it exciting and to make it interesting, friendly and approachable. You should not make it so that people don't want to interact with you because they are afraid of the way you are presenting. You should also provide your answers to questions clearly. You should keep in mind that you can give a good, interesting talk on data that is not so interesting or you can choose to give a boring talk or unhelpful talk on amazing science.
You should follow this take home message. Each slide should convey one message. More often than not, a big mistake that people make is that they try to fit in too much data in one slide and this doesn't help. If you had all of your data on one slide, it makes it so confusing that people get tired and don't want to follow what you're telling them. Each slide should contain one piece of data, maximum two panels if they complement each other. Of course there can be exceptions to this, but these are exceptions, they should not be the rule. You should keep out data, for example, if a piece of data does not support the title. If a slide does not support the main take home message of the talk, then don't include it because it will not help it. You don't need to add information if it's not useful for the points you're trying to make.
A good talk is like telling you a good story. The hero has a miraculous birth. Then there is a problem and the hero decides to go and solve the problem. There is a meeting with a magical creature and the hero is given magical help. The hero then thinks he solved the problem. But there is a twist in the plot and maybe the problem is not solved after all. The hero solves the second problem and then there's a happy ending.
This is usually the plot for a good story and a good science talk is, in fact, a good science story. You should have a beginning, a middle and an end, like you see in an action movie. There's an introduction and some obstacles, which in a science talk, are the aims and questions. In a movie there's a resolution and the end, and in a science talk there is a conclusion at the end of the talk.
In science, you would introduce the problem and set out to address it. How did you do it? How did you develop or use a technology or a tool that people hadn't used before? You use this to overcome the challenge and address the problem and you understood, you obtained new knowledge and then you brought this new knowledge to the field.
Sometimes there are limitations to the study so you address them and then you come up with the "happy ending." This is where you suggest how important the study is and the implications of your findings. So how should you do it? Start with the premise. That can often be the title or a single sentence for the take-home message. If you start with this then you'll be on your way to preparing a good talk.
Let's talk about some basic and simple principles to help you organize the talk. First, determine the breadth of your talk. Think what you want people to learn from your presentation. Write one sentence which could be the title. This conveys the message that you want people to take home. Do not prepare the talk with the aim of impressing people that you are efficient and that you have a lot of data. It's important that you start your talk by telling the big picture.
The second step is to determine the structure of your talk. You start broad and then you narrow it down to your field. In the end, you want to broaden it again to show the implications. So how broad should this be? Well, this depends on the audience and how much they will be able to understand the details you're telling them. Usually you should try to close the circle to go from broad to narrow and then to broad again and you should end your talk with the big picture. You should really explain the implications of your message to the audience.
The third step is to lay out the structure of your talk. Usually, when you're showing a data slide, use a title that constitutes a sentence and the sentence should convey the major point made in the slide. It is a good exercise to read all the titles of your slide one after the other to be able to get the storyline of your talk.
You can also use a home slides which helps you keep the structure of your talk. A home slide is an evolving working model that helps people refocus their talk. It also helps people keep in mind the reason you are doing the experiments and the question you're trying to address.
Here is an example: You pose the big question in the field such as "how is alpha-synuclein transferred between cells?" You would then show the model and focus on the various parts of the problem. We say that first, cells release alpha-synuclein, then alpha-synuclein exits the cell. And finally, there are receiving cells that take up alpha-synuclein and this ends up seeding additional aggregation. You could use these as home slides and disperse throughout your presentation.
It's important to learn and to create clear visual aids. This is an area where people make a lot of mistakes. It's important to choose a clear font that is readable such as Helvetica or Ariel. Helvetica, for example, was really invented to be the most readable font.
The size of the font you choose for the slides is also extremely important. You have a lot of space in your slide so don't use a size for the font that people in the back of the room cannot read. You should always use at least size 18, but I often recommend much larger than that because when you're in larger rooms, it will be easier to read.
Avoid use using all capital letters because this is harder to read. You can use this for specific slides, but don't use capital letters all the time.
Color schemes are important because the choice of colors can really affect readability. Usually dark letters against a light background are the best for smaller rooms. Light letters against a dark background also works very well. Some experts feel that dark blue or black background works best for talks in larger rooms. So you can use blue or black as you prefer, but it depends on the data. If you have nice fluorescence microscopy images it works well that you use a dark background.
You should avoid red/green combinations because a large fraction of the human population is red/green colorblind so you will not be helping your audience. These types of combinations of colors really do not work and they don't look good.
Keep it simple and be consistent. Don't change between color schemes or color formats. This makes it messy and it doesn't look interesting.
How should you create simple visual aids? Here is an example slide I found in a presentation of a colleague. There is a lot of data and the slide is very full with a lot of texts and images. If someone in the audience is looking at this, they will get lost.
So what could you do to make this better? Break down the slide into the minimum essential components and then annotate them with clear messages. Take the elements you had on the previous slide, and then add the annotations that are necessary so that people can follow.
You should also always use your best photos and images for your talks as it makes a big difference. Sometimes adding a line delineating the image makes a difference as it makes it sharper. A dark background also helps you, especially in fluorescence microscopy images.
Other simple rules break down complex slides to simple slides. You should make sure that you have simpler slides because if you have a very full slide, it will take longer to explain. Every slide should have a one sentence statement as a header, and you should limit text logs to no more than two lines each. Make the text meaningful. You don't need complete sentences of texts; you can use bullet points, you can animate your texts sparingly and whenever possible, try to use a figure instead of text because it is more appealing to the audience. You should be generous with empty space; do not write to fill out all the edges of your slide as it becomes too full and confusing.
Avoid explaining the axis of figures and graphs. You should explain the expected results and the meaning of the reason you achieve this as it helps the audience understand and follow your presentation. Keep in mind that a presentation is not a manuscript and you don't have to show all your data and all your controls. Less is more. You should end your talk by summarizing the findings in your slide. You can use animations and slide transitions, but don't overdo it because then the audience gets distracted.
The delivery of the talk is an important part of giving a good presentation. You should come to the room early to prepare your computer and your working environment to make sure that everything works. If you're not using your own computer, make sure that all the colors look okay and that the slides are not cut off as you don't get surprised in the middle of your talk.
It's always good to have a pointer or a slide remote control because then you don't have to stay at the podium or to stay close to your computer. You should look the audience in the eyes and should not focus on only a few people. You can move around and you can use your body language and vary your tone of voice but don't overdo this as it will not look professional.
Practice makes perfect. The more you practice your talk, the more you give talks, the better you'll be. It's important to really think about what you want to say in those first couple of minutes as it will enable you to feel more relaxed. Then after you start, things usually flow much better. Do not use your slides as presentation notes. Talk to the audience, don't turn your back to them and don't look at your slides. This is why you don't need so much text because what you have written on the slide is what you should be telling your audience.
You should also practice using a laser pointer. This is not something that everyone knows how to do and you should use it sparingly. Don't press the button and keep it on all the time. You should also not press the button then use your hands and point the laser pointer at the audience. No one wants the laser pointer in the eye. You can point to the figures and to the text, but you don't need to use it to highlight the text. If you feel nervous and that you don't have a steady hand, then be careful about using the laser pointer.
Answering questions at the end of the talk is also a skill you must practice. You should learn how to address questions. It's important that you listen carefully to the question and that you repeat it to make sure you understand what the person was asking. This also gives you time to reflect on the question. You should encourage questions by being positive and not defensive. Usually when people ask questions, it's because they are genuinely interested in understanding what you did. If you don't know the answer, it's fine to say that you don't know.
Remember the rule of receiving feedback: it's important to know and to receive feedback in a professional manner.
There are some take home points to keep in mind. Prepare. It's important that you do this ahead of time so that you feel confident about what you're going to deliver.
You should talk about one idea and you should make it short and simple. Share your enthusiasm, teach, interact and remember that you're there to achieve a goal.
In summary, giving a great talk can help the audience understand and remember your science and it has nothing to do with the data you're presenting. You want them to understand what you did and how important it was. The simple rules that I went through can really help you organize your talk. Just remember to have fun and there is no such thing as the perfect talk.
This is something you will improve on as you do it more often. Each presentation you give is an opportunity to develop and to realize what works and what doesn't work. Listen to people that you admire giving talks and see how they do it and try to do it as they do it. Enjoy and have fun.
My name is Tiago Outeiro and I am from a small university city in Germany. I'm a member of the MDS Basic Science Special Interest Group. I will talk to you about written science communication based on my experience and based on what I've seen and read about the topic of science communication.
Why is science communication important? It's important because we need to know how to teach and educate different target audiences. We have our own responsibility with taxpayers to explain to them what we're doing with the money we receive in funding. Science actually isn't finished until it's communicated. And written communication is really important to make sure the science that we do is communicated properly to our peers and also to the general public and to the funding agencies.
This advice is for beginners and non-native English speakers. We all read papers in top journals and if you look at those papers, usually they are very well written and it's really difficult to write certain formats of certain journals. In order for you to obtain the competitive funding that allows you to do the research that you're excited about, supported by funding agencies throughout the world, it's important that you know how to communicate what you want to do in a clear, objective and focused manner.
Writing is not easy and it's one of the hardest parts of our job. The way to learn how to write well is by reading a lot and by paying attention to what you are reading. Keep in mind that writing a scientific document is different from writing an email to a friend. You don't use the same style and you should really use a different type of language.
It's important to remember that details matter. If you don't care to make everything perfect as an author, then why should a reviewer going through your work care? You should show that you were very careful with all the details because this is showing respect for the time of other colleagues.
Here are some suggestions and recommendations for writing a document. First, when you open a word document or any text editing document, insert page numbers. If you do this, you will never forget and this is important to keep the document organized.
When you're writing a paper, I always suggest that you start creating the cover page, including the title, the author list, the affiliations, all the basic information that needs to be in any manuscript. If you include that in the first version of the documents you start creating, then this will be there and this will be something that you won't have to worry about anymore.
It's important that you are consistent with abbreviations. Do not start abbreviating certain words or phrases in one way and then change the font and the style. This makes it messy and you don't want to leave that impression when you're writing a text. Be consistent with the font, the size of the font, the style and the alignment. Be neat and create a document that looks good to the eyes. People tend to use italics when it's not really necessary. Use italics when you're writing the name of a species like homosapiens but you don't need to use them when writing a scientific document, unless the journal you're writing for has specific rules about this.
So what is a good paper? A good paper tells a good story. You can imagine a story where the field you're working on has a magical birth. There is a problem and you set out to address it. By using different techniques and different approaches, magic happens and you overcome the challenge generating new knowledge.
Sometimes there are caveats and limitations to the study that you need to address. In the end, you summarize the conclusions with a happy ending where you indicate implications and the importance of the study.
How should you start organizing and writing a manuscript? I would suggest that first you prepare an outline. You should have a vision for how you want to manage it and then you should prepare the figures and tables and write the legends. If you write this, then most of the work is done.
The legends should describe what is shown in the figure so that there's a logical flow. When you need to write the remaining of the manuscript, then you can write the methods. The methods actually can be written as you are doing the experiments so don't wait until you're done with the work to write the methods. As you are doing the experiments for the manuscript, you can already write the description of what you did and how you did it. You shouldn't include all details because the methods are extremely important to ensure other colleagues in the field can go and reproduce the work that you are now doing.
You want to have all the details that enables someone that doesn't know what you have obtained to go and follow the same procedures to obtain the same results. Once you have all of this written, then you can write the results. And this will be very easy. If you have the figures and the tables ready, then you just write and describe what you did and the results you obtained.
Then you can write a discussion and you can finalize the results and discussion before writing the introduction. The introduction is something that will be very general that you should write to introduce the topic and the importance of the topic to the reader. So if the discussion is insufficient, how can you objectively demonstrate the scientific significance of your work in the introduction?
This is why writing the discussion first may actually be helpful so that you then write the introduction and then you can write the last paragraph. Sometimes for some journals, a whole section that is a clear conclusion depends on the journal but you should at least write a concluding paragraph that summarizes the findings and the implications.
The introduction should be compelling. It should be focused on the topic of the research and you should avoid unnecessary information. Don't go off on topics that are not really covered in the management of your writing. Then you can write the abstract at the end because then you will know what you need to describe.
The title should be concise and descriptive. You should try to make it catchy and sexy and informative at the same time because this is what a reader will find first. If you have a catchy title, this will catch the attention of the reader. You should select keywords that will enable someone to search and find your manuscript. Make sure that the keywords are really important and central for the manuscript.
You should then write an acknowledgement section. I suggest that you do the easy things early on and don't leave them for later because then they are done and you don't have to worry about them.
The references should be adjusted to the format of each journal. Make sure to read the guidelines from each journal to know what reference style is recommended.
And something that is very important is that when you finish writing, you should seek feedback from colleagues because they will ask you questions and they'll make you think of points that you may have not thought about. But make sure that when you send something to a colleague to read and to give you feedback, make sure you avoid mistakes and typos and formatting issues because this shows that you care about what you're sending them to read. This applies to all documents. It's not just about manuscripts and grants. It applies even to a poster. I always ask my students to be very careful when they prepare a poster that they send me something that is final, that they would feel comfortable going and putting up in a meeting. If it's not properly formatted, then I'll worry that they will miss these details. I will have to spend my time correcting those details. So it's important that you prepare documents, any kind of document, in the best way possible. You should train your eyes to spot typos and mistakes. Many times we ended up not seeing typos because we've read the documents so many times that we miss it. But you can actually train your eyes so don't use this as an excuse when you miss typos and mistakes that are still present in the document.
Of course we know English is the language of science and many of us are not native speakers so it makes it even harder for us. We will make mistakes and we have to accept that, but we should try to avoid them and we should try to improve the level of our English speaking abilities. This is important because it will increase the chances of getting your papers published and your grants funded.
Speak English, practice English, read English, and ask native speakers to help you by reading the documents you produce. There's I see a lot of confusion with the use of verb tenses. So here are some basic definitions. The simple present is "I play tennis." The present continues would be, "we are having a meeting", the simple past is "I did my homework". The past continuous, "we were watching TV when you called". The perfect "we have done the experiment". The present perfect continues. "I have been waiting for the train." So these are just some examples. There is of course, additional verb tenses, but you need to understand that these don't always mean the same thing.
And so you should use certain verb tenses when you write your documents. Which verb tense should you use? These again are personal preferences, but I I've found that these actually work well when you're reading and writing a manuscript. In the abstract, I tend to use the past tense. To describe what you did and what you found in your introduction. You are describing what is known at that present moment in time.
What is true or not true when you are doing the work? In this case, in the introduction, I recommend that you use the present tense in the methods you describe what and how things were done. So here you should use the active voice and you should prefer the simple past, because these are descriptions of what you did in the experimental part. In the results, you are describing what you did and what you observed.
Use the simple past in the results section in the discussion as you are integrating your results with what is known. There, you should use the present tense and in the figure legends is our results, the results you observed so you can describe them in the present tense. You should conjugate the verbs properly: I do. He does. I work. He works. I did not work. Not: I did not worked. These are simple mistakes that people make and you need to understand when to use and how to conjugate verbs.
You should not abbreviate when you're writing a paper or a grant or a poster as these are formal documents. These are not text messages or emails you're writing to colleagues or friends. So instead of using "it's raining", you should write "it is raining". "The samples weren't ready." You should write "the samples were not ready". "He doesn't do", "he does not do". These are the correct forms. So never use these types of abbreviation.
There is also confusion about the use of active voice versus passive voice. So when should you use each of them? First of all, you need to understand what the difference is. The active voice is "we performed electron microscopy on the samples". The passive voice would be, "the samples were studied using electromicroscopy". Which one should you use in general? The advice is to always use the active voice. This is more modern, more direct and easier to understand, but sometimes the passive voice is also used, especially in the methods section. Sometimes you see that there, but in general, try to always prefer the active voice.
Some additional common mistakes. "It's" with an apostrophe is a contraction of "it is" or "it has". If you want to use the possessive pronoun, then it would be "it" without the apostrophe. Here's an easy rule of thumb. You could repeat your sentence out loud using "it is" instead. If that sounds goofy, then it's likely the correct choice.
Keep in mind that we all make mistakes and mistakes are the stepping stones to learning. So once you make a mistake and you realize you've made a mistake, then you've learned, and you can make sure that you don't make the same mistake the next time. One of the common mistakes I always find is that you should avoid long sentences. Simple is always better. So keep in mind that no one will want to make an effort to understand what you're trying to say. If the idea is not clear, people will not want to waste time trying to understand what you're trying to write and you don't want to generate confusion. You want to avoid confusion so that your message is very clear.
Here are some additional mistakes. "Has been shown to regulate expression" versus "regulates expression". Use the simple form of the sentence. Don't use extra words when you don't need them to convey the idea. Also, in general, you should always avoid starting a sentence using, "but" or "and". This is not good English. You can use them in the middle of the sentence, but not to start the sentence.
One mistake that I often find is this confusion between "access" and "assess". So 'you can have access to the server in your lab', but 'you will assess the levels of expression in your sample in your experiments'.
Another common mistake is that people end up shooting themselves in the foot. When you're describing, for example, that you 'express the protein heterologously in a cell', people often write 'I overexpressed protein X or Y or Z. But in general, what you do is you 'express the protein'. If you use 'overexpressed' or 'overexpression', this puts the emphasis on the fact that you are expressing higher levels and perhaps unnatural levels. And if you say 'expression', the idea is still there, but you're not overemphasizing the fact that you are over producing the protein. It's not that you want to hide it here. It's nothing about hiding. It's about avoiding to shoot yourself in the foot.
Often I also read, 'we hope to unveil' when you're proposing an experiment in a grant application. But in fact, what you want to say is you 'will unveil', 'you will find', 'you will investigate'. So be very direct in what you're trying to say.
Another common mistake is when people try to downplay their own results. 'Although our findings are not novel....'. You're already telling the reader that your findings are not novel so maybe they are not important. Then why should they care about reading your findings? Be careful about how you write things.
Again, it's nothing about not being honest and truthful. It's about how you write and describe what you were trying to do. Details are very important. For example, when you write a figure legends and when you use the proper formatting for figures, use this first example here: figure one, full-stop, than the title. And in general, for most journals, this will be in bold. And then the actual figure legend description will be not involved, but will be in regular font. So you should not use figure one with a dash or a figure one with the parentheses. This is not the correct formatting for most journals. So use this style here: figure one full-stop, title, full-stop and then description.
Keep in mind the figures must have titles. Don't write "figure one" and then start describing the figure. Write a title that summarizes the figure. When you have different panels, aligned them perfectly and make sure that the alignment of your figures in the panel are perfect. It's really bad to see one panel a little bit higher than the other and more to the right or more to the left as this doesn't look neat. You should always include scale bars in microscopy pictures. Make sure when you're doing your microscopy, that you include a scale bar because you will need this for most journals science matters. People need to know what the size is of what you're trying to show.
For all of these details, it's important that you check the instructions from the journal to which you will be submitting for. Or, for many grants these days, you also are given very clear instructions for how to write certain parts of the grant. Make sure you create figures that people can see. Many times, I see that people make figures that are too small or use fonts that are too small that no one will be able to read. Be very careful - larger is always better. Of course you will be limited by the space given by the journal, but it's important to make sure you create figures that people can actually see.
An important piece of advice is once you're done and you're comfortable with what you've produced, ask colleagues to read your text and pay attention to their suggestions and corrections. Make sure you use their advice because this is likely to be the advice or the corrections that the reviewer would make.
You should also try to avoid translating from your language into English. This is something we non-native speakers end up doing because sometimes it's easier, but this usually doesn't result in a good English style.
Here is some bibliography where you can find some additional information about writing. This is based on my personal life experience based on several published articles and grant applications. And then there are a few books that I would recommend that are shown here. If you have questions, feel free to also get in touch with me and I'll be happy to help. Good luck with your writing and with being effective with your science communication!