Section I: What to do before writing
There are many researchers and students who have little expertise in writing scientific literature. Scientific writing is a complicated activity, and many people presume that scientific literature is hard to read. However, the skill of scientific writing can be improved by practicing several strategies effectively.
It is necessary to plan properly and prepare adequate strategies before even starting to write. Here are some of the strategies that one should consider before starting to write scientific literature:
- Decide on the type of article: The first step is to decide the type of the literature. For example, it can be a research article, review article, book chapter or grant application etc. The structure of the article depends on the type of the article.
- Identify the target audience: Identification of the target audience is very important because often the audience has particular interests. So, knowing the target audience helps you to curate your content and communicate your message more effectively.
- Outline the structure of the article: The structure of the article varies depending on what you choose to write about. For example, the most commonly used format for research articles is “IMRAD”, i.e. introduction, methods, results and discussion (Ecarnot et al 2015). Once you know the format, you should spend some time preparing an outline for the article. The outline will be very helpful when you start writing the actual draft.
- Set up a citation tool: The next step is to set up a citation tool. There are various citation tools available such as EndNote, Mendeley, Zoreto etc. You can choose any citation tool and set it up before starting to write the article. The citation manager helps you to keep track of all the citations you will be using in the article in an organized manner.
Additionally, setting up a deadline for each subtopic also helps to keep an eye on timely progress and to finish the writing on time. Once you are done with all the above-mentioned strategies, you should start writing the draft.
Section II: How to effectively communicate
Writing a scientific article requires effective communication, since it enables readers to comprehend and reproduce the research. Here are some guidelines for writing a scientific article that will convey clearly:
- Employ Clear and Concise Language: To explain your ideas, use clear and concise language. Avoid using jargon or technical phrases that not all readers would understand. Define any technical jargon you use. Language should be direct, not round-about. Authors who are inexperienced often overlook this aspect (Setter et al., 2020).
- Adopt a Logical Structure: For your article, use a logical format that includes a clear introduction, methods section, results section, and discussion. Break up the material with headings and subheadings to make it easier to read. Furthermore, an informative title that clearly conveys the main point of the work is typically enough to pique the reader’s interest and get the paper referenced. And, equally important is an instructive Abstract. It is always free, and may be adequate to get your work noticed even if the cited authors do not have access to the complete text.
- Provide context: Give background information about your study by reading the related literature and discussing the importance of your findings. Address any gaps in existing research and explain how the current study intends to fill them. This will assist readers in appreciating the significance of the study and its potential impact on the field. It is beneficial to the readers to define any key terms or concepts that are relevant to the study, especially if they are technical or specific to the field.
- Aim for Accuracy: Check to see that all the information that is offered in the work is correct and that it is backed by evidence. Make use of reputable sources to back up your assertions and check to see that all data has been reported correctly.
- Make Use of Figures and Tables: When presenting data and illustrating your conclusions, make use of figures and tables. Check to see that all the tables and figures are properly labeled and easy to understand. In addition, the reference of the figure/table should be given in the text wherever required.
Section III: How to make figures
As the common phrase says, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. In scientific literature, figures can be powerful tools to provide further understanding of and clarity for the scientific article. Graphics should be used to organize the data in a way that provides the audience a visual aid to understand the study and its relevance (Rougier et al 2014). Figures should convey the story of the significance of your data to your scientific question, and be understandable without text (Gastel and Day).
Formatting: Figures should have size of lettering that is easy to read and the design should stay consistent throughout the manuscript (Gastel and Day). Consistent font and formatting aids in the conceptual understanding and the aesthetics of your manuscript. In addition, the colors and symbols used for the figures should be standard and widely available (Gastel and Day) to ensure accessibility of these figures to a broad audience. Lines and colors should also have strong contrast to be able to differentiate between groups (Rougier et al 2014).
Photographs: For figures that include photographs (e.g. cell types, protein localization images, cytology, etc.) it is important to maintain proper resolution of the images while focusing the attention of the audience to the main object of the photograph. Photograph manipulation might include cropping digitally to only include the object of interest or including arrows or letters in the image to point the reader to the object of interest (Gastel and Day). It is important as well to include magnification and scale on photographs to give a sense of scale and resolution to the audience.
Captions: Figures in scientific writing should always include captions to describe how the figure should be interpreted (Rougier et al 2014). Captions are a great way to avoid misjudgment of what the message of the figure is. Captions can also help further describe and provide clarity for areas of the figure that might not be easy to describe visually.
Below are a list of software that can be used for making figures:
- Free software:
- R/Rstudio – for statistical analysis, graphs and figures
- Python – for data analysis, modeling and figures
- Inkscape – for graphics
- GIMP – for graphics, photo retouching and composition
- PowerPoint – for posters, presentations and making figures
- Paid software:
- Illustrator – for making figures
- Biorender – for making figures and posters
- Canva – for making infographics
- GraphPad Prism – for making graphs and figures
Section IV: How to proofread
Proofreading a scientific article is an important step in the publishing process since it guarantees that the material is error-free and reads fluently. Here are some recommendations on how to proofread a scientific article:
- Take a break: Take a break from the article before you begin proofreading. This will allow you to revisit the content with fresh eyes and spot errors you may have overlooked previously.
- Read aloud: You can identify odd sentences, misspellings, and grammatical problems by reading the piece aloud. This strategy can also help you discover punctuation mistakes, such as missing commas or periods.
- Make use of a checklist: Make a proofreading checklist that contains frequent problems such as spelling, grammatical, and punctuation faults. This will allow you to check the article for errors more thoroughly.
- Make use of spell and grammar checkers: Several word processing systems, such as Microsoft Word, have spell and grammar checkers. Use these tools to catch any mistakes you may have made.
- Check your formatting: Ensure that the article is properly and consistently formatted throughout, including headers, subheadings, margins, and space.
- Check references: Make sure that all references are correctly cited and formatted according to the journal’s guidelines.
- Get a second opinion: Request that a coworker or mentor read the piece and provide feedback. When submitting a document, it is often beneficial to receive feedback or comments from colleagues.
- Proofread multiple times: Proofreading is an iterative process, and it’s vital to read the piece multiple times. You may notice errors that you missed the first time you read the content.
- Ultimately, proofreading a scientific work necessitates meticulous attention to detail, perseverance, and patience. Following these guidelines will ensure that your piece is error-free and ready for publication.
- F. Ecarnot, M.-F. Seronde, R. Chopard, F. Schiele, N. Meneveau, Writing a scientific article: A step-by-step guide for beginners, European Geriatric Medicine, Volume 6, Issue 6, 2015, Pages 573-579, ISSN 1878-7649, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurger.2015.08.005
- Setter Timothy L., Munns Rana, Stefanova Katia, Shabala Sergey (2020) What makes a plant science manuscript successful for publication?. Functional Plant Biology 47, 1138-1146. https://doi.org/10.1071/FP20124
- Gastel, Barbara, and Robert A. Day. 2022. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 9th Edition. ABC-CLIO.
- Rougier NP, Droettboom M, Bourne PE (2014) Ten Simple Rules for Better Figures. PLOS Computational Biology 10(9): e1003833. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833
About the Authors
Alice Pierce is PhD student at University of California, Davis, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. She is researching the effects of stimulatory introns on gene architecture and chromatin biology. Alice is interested in bringing more visibility to the plant sciences, and bridging the intersection between science, science communication and art. You can find her on Twitter at @alicevpierce.
Arpita Yadav is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. Using Tobacco BY-2 cells as a model, she is attempting to understand the connection between cellulose synthesis and growth anisotropy. You can find her on Twitter at @arpita_yadav_.
Sourav Mukherjee is pursuing PhD in genetics at Monash University, Australia, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. His study involves understanding the molecular mechanism of temperature responses in Arabidopsis. You can find him on Twitter at @SouravBiotech.