PhD Estación Biológica de Doñana

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PhD seminars – Tips for scientific writing

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This month we hosted a round table discussion led by Carlos Herrera, who chatted with us about how to write scientific papers. We all have the task to communicate our results and the truth is that, even if theory of writing seems easy, the first time we face it, it is not.

Carlos told us that the first thing we need before start writing is a story. It could be something new that we discovered, something that no one did before or something that changes a view or a paradigm. You may describe it, broadcast it and it must be verifiable.

Everything started four centuries ago, in 1665, with the publication “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society“. For instance, Leeuwenhoek or Darwin used to publish there. And the aim has always been the same, communicate your story. What has changed is how, where, the style, the trend, etc. all of these things are secondary but also important.

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When we have our story, the first thing before starting to write is having a clear idea of what are we going to say. If you don’t, a good advice is to read, read a lot of everything! Even of those papers that are opposite to yours because they will set your brain on fire. It’s common to have good ideas while reading or when we’re doing research, never waste this enlightenment! Write it down wherever you want, a notebook, on the edge of a sheet,… but if you don’t you’ll lose it and never will come back!

A good headache is the introduction – How to give the exact importance to our work? We don’t want to be pretentious and neither underestimate it. However, when starting to write this is difficult to know, so a good thing to take into account is to choose our publication thinking of our public and then decide how to write or ask for advice to our supervisors. Publishing in journals you read will be a sure shot too, as you may like the contents in them.

Another problem is to decide which ideas should be included in the introduction and discussion sections. Carlos advised us that if you hesitate, it must go on the discussion. What’s more, it is useful to do so, because later you can connect introduction and discussion by these points. Remember, in a common paper, an introduction should never have more than three pages. So all that excess could go in the discussion! If you don’t know how to start the discussion, mention those points from the introduction.

Finally, Carlos commented some common errors in PhD students. We usually fail to put things in a logical order (I must admit I did it today) and we don’t connect a chain of structured ideas. We also tend to concentrate only in one hypothesis but we have to strive to be the devil’s advocate! All the alternatives hypothesis we are able to think about might be recorded in the discussion, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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One thought on “PhD seminars – Tips for scientific writing

  1. Pingback: Book review: ‘How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper’ by Robert A. Day and Barbara Gastel | Go Yeast

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