How to write a scientific paper

writing-427527_1280When we teach students how to write papers, we take it for granted that they have already absorbed the basic format of a scientific article from their reading of the primary literature. They should be familiar with abstract-intro-methods-results-discussion-references, for example, and the content that goes into each section in order to lead the reader through the work. However, it is easy to see how students might fail to grasp the general structure of a scientific paper. For example, we often hold up the high impact journals as models of scientific research, but journals such as Nature, Science, Current Biology and PNAS have a structure and a style that is really quite different from other journals (referenced abstracts, methods at the end, extremely brief structure). I have been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students how to write scientific papers and theses for a few years now, and I thought I would share my personal method (I think I can credit Phill Watts, now at the University of Oulu, for suggesting this to me years ago):

I hope it’s useful and please do let me know if it helps, either in the comments here or on the YouTube page. The video is released under Creative Commons.

Be sensible about open access, but it’s still a good thing!

In a recent paper published in Trends in Plant Science, Anurag Angrawal presents a few “reasons to be skeptical of open-access publishing” (Angarwal, 2014) in order to stimulate debate over the current open access (OA) publishing model. Ironically this is behind a paywall so I thought I would summarise the content, which is more reasonable than the title suggests. Here is the gist of the four problems:Read More »

PubMed Commons is a huge leap forward

For me, PubMed Commons came out of nowhere.  I was aware of some innovations in publishing (check out journals like Cryosphere for examples of progress in academic publishing) but to have a huge group like PubMed involved in pro-actively pushing boundaries is a real game-changer. Here’s why it’s so important: academic publishing as it currently exists is broken. We have been using a model for publishing that is built around a century-old method for the dissemination of information.  This involves (i) the submission of articles to an editor, (ii) the selection of a small number (usually 2-3) of referees to review the paper and make sure it is adequate, and (iii) a judgement made by the editor and the referees as to whether or not the paper should be accepted.  At that point, the paper is either published (in which case it becomes a matter of record) or rejected (in which case it is never heard of unless published elsewhere).  What this means is that ENORMOUS amounts of scientific information is never seen, and that information that is released in given a sometimes-cursory review by a small number of people who may not be experts in the area.  The internet should already have changed that in a number of ways:Read More »

Four reasons to publish during your PhD, and how to go about it

A graduate student yesterday told me that they were despondent over not having published more during their PhD. I was just pleased that they were considering it at all, because the British PhD culture is still (to a certain extent) fixated on the production of a thesis (which nobody will read) rather than academic journal articles. I thought I would take a few minutes to lay out the reasons that I think you should be trying to publish whatever you can whenever you can:Read More »

Our Skeptical Inquirer article has been published!

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The Skeptical Inquirer piece on climate change denial in universities that I wrote (along with my co-conspirators) has just been published in the May/June 2013 print edition!  It’s a bit strange to be listed alongside people like Ben Radford, Sharon Hill, Joe Nickell, Massimo Pigliucci and Massimo Polidoro, but we’re all delighted that Ken Frazier and the rest of the SI team saw enough value to accept our little piece.  Many thanks to them all for a smooth and efficient editorial process.  I’m afraid that there’s no online version yet (they don’t publish all the print articles online, and those that they do publish online come along a month or two after the print edition) but I’ll post a link if/when it does appear.  All the more reason to go and subscribe to the print version!