You must remember that in writing a
scientific paper you are not a journalist or a novelist. You must
adhere to strict principles not only of layout (as we have seen) but also
of style. The principles of Occam’s Razor is often cited as the
approach which should be undertaken. Occam was a 14th Century
philosopher who stressed the Aristotelian principle that entities must not
be multiplied beyond what is
necessary. In other words a problem should be stated in its basic and
simplest terms. This approach should be rigorously applied to achieve the
standard of terseness, conciseness, succinctness, comprehensiveness,
coherence, relevance and easy readability which must be the author’s aim
throughout the paper.
Part of this process involves making sure you know the word limit of the journal
you are aiming at for publication. Once you know it, stick to it. If you can't then contact the editor to discuss. If you
don't then you run the very real risk of your manuscript being rejected
without ever being read!
The text should be easy to read and
comprehend by the educated general reader. Therefore, it should be
written in straight plain English.
Editors are well aware that English is
not the native tongue of many authors and every effort is made to
accommodate the natural problems of language translation. However,
regardless of the ability of the author to translate their thought into
English there are many basic principles which apply to writing scientific
should be as short and simple as feasible, logically structured and not
convoluted, or long-winded. The use of very long and uncommon
terminology, flashy 'buzz' words, non-essential or pretentious
professional jargon and overworked metaphors and clichés must be
avoided and restricted to cases where the use serves special purposes.
Unusual or newly created terms must be adequately defined and explained.
Your readers want to understand what they are reading
in the minimum of time. Most experienced readers develop a style of reading articles in
journals that helps them decide what is worth reading in greater detail.
If you know how people read, you can write in a way that ensures that you
convey your main message effectively.
More people will read the title than any other part of your publication.
The title will be reproduced in the table of contents. It will be used by
librarians and by most abstracting services. Readers use the title to
decide whether to read further. If the title doesn't grab their attention,
they are unlikely to read any further.
If the title is interesting, the reader will probably read the abstract.
Recent surveys indicate that more than 80% of researchers only ever read
abstracts. In other words, only a minority ever read the full paper.
Those who progress beyond the abstract will pay most attention to the
first and last paragraphs of the introduction.
Materials and methods, and results
sections: Most readers ignore
these sections. These sections are read by referees, by students, and
researchers engaged in similar work. Occasionally they are read by those
writing critical reviews of the literature.
As with the introduction, readers pay greatest attention to the first and
last paragraphs of the discussion.
Few, other than graduate students, the
editor and referees, will look at anything else that you've written in the
paper. Many readers will, however, also look at the references to see
whether you have cited their papers - although most will deny that they do
This is the way that most of us consume
the literature. With so much published every day, we have little choice.
You should try using this technique of
'speed reading'. You will be surprised how efficient a method it is for
screening the literature for those papers that really are worth spending
Make sure when you write that the most
important message is contained in those parts of the paper that are most
likely to be read by a large number of people. And make sure each
paragraph starts with the key message sentence.
This part, if included,
combines the information which in a book or report is contained in a
preface or foreword with essential information on the international,
national and local institutional framework (political, administrative,
financial, infrastructural, personal) within which the project originated
and progressed, the purpose for which the project was originally
conceived, approved, planned and executed. It may include information on
resources used and on supporting and funding institutions. The
introduction should be as brief and focussed as possible without loss of
information which is essential for the assessment of the political,
institutional and administrative background of the paper.
idea of the introduction is to lead the reader into your work so that by
the time you discuss your activities the reader can understand what you
are doing and why.
To complete the introduction it is worthwhile returning to the last
section on writing the abstract
and expanding on each of the sections listed.
In this part,
project-related and relevant conditions of nature (environment, resources,
ecology) and culture (technology, economics, political, social, ethnic
etc.) that directly and essentially form the specific scenario within
which the project has been designed and implemented, are described. The
situation description precedes and prepares the analysis, identification
and definition of the problems with which the paper is concerned or the
project intends to solve.
It must be clearly
understood and seen in the text that the situation per se is not the problem, but is the condition on which the problem is
founded. The situation is merely the scenario of conditions
which contain the causal factors which create the problem as a
result of discrepancies and conflicts between the desirable ideal of
states and and processes, and the reality of states and processes. This
can apply to natural or cultural ecosystems, ecosystem hierarchies, or to
the intellectual, political, social and material sectors of the
Situation and problem
must never be confused or mingled; a clear-cut distinction is essential
for the logical development of any project plan, execution and assessment,
particularly for a convincing and plausible report on work done and
In writing about the situation you should
attempt to ease the reader into your work. Don't expect them to be
as familiar with the setting as you are. Summarize previous work.
Think of the most important and pertinent references to cite and use them.
Don't be tempted to fill the introduction with a large number of obscure
Remember that a situation
is not a problem per se but creates the conditions for a problem to
arise. The problem statement defines the specific problem(s) which the
paper is about to answer or the research project to solve. The problem
definition is a pivotal point in the logical structure of the thought
process. Therefore, the problem(s) must be prominently stated in a
precise, candid and succinct manner, it must be coherently and
comprehensively argued and evidenced.
Make sure that the problem statement leads logically from the situation.
The overall goal(s) and
the specific target(s)/objective(s) of the project must be succinctly and
precisely defined with adequate reference to the problem statement. This is immediately followed by an equally precise and succinct
statement of the hypotheses that are to be tested.
For example, the problem statement:
Recent analysis of pre-1990 land use data
revealed that there were fundamental effort in the data used in the 1990s,
could lead to goals related to assessing implications of incorrect data
collection, reasons why the data were incorrect, and how this might be
rectified in the future.
State the objective (or the hypothesis)
of your study. Is it a logical response to the question?
What did you do to try and answer the
question? In other words, summarise in a sentence or two the
investigation or study that you carried out to obtain an answer.
State your main message. Check that it
is a response to the most important question provoked by the problem.
Materials and methods
The objective of this section is to give the
reader a report of how the work was carried out. This part gives the
necessary but brief description of the materials involved or used, followed by a critical review of possible methodological
options, discussion of benefits and problems of the various options, and the
reason for the specific choice and precise description of the essential
features of the selected methodology. Customary and common place methods
of statistical tests, data collecting and processing, laboratory
procedures must not be described in detail, but should be briefly
is important to maintain brevity in this section and remember that your
audience is your peers, not someone with no scientific knowledge.
Write with your audience in mind.
Remember to include descriptions of relevant
and essential details of the progress of work, problems and experiences in
data collection and processing, particularly where problems have occurred.
The important point to be aware of in this
section is that results should be succinctly described but not assessed
and discussed yet. The text should contain adequate reference
to tables and figures that contain all information, including statistical
parameters, required to support the stated results as well as inform and
convince the reader, but not more.
Do not be tempted to report all your results
and analysis. This is a common mistake amongst novice authors but
one that journal editors will spot straight away. If you include
unnecessary data, tables and analysis it will appear that you are not
focusing on the main theme of your research, and maybe that you don't
really know what you are writing about. Referees and journal editors
expect brevity and if you include every piece of analysis that you carried
out your paper will not get very far. Refer back to your key
statement and consider which results are needed to justify your
conclusions. Be brutal with your pruning and remember the word
limit on the article set by the journal.
In this section the results should be
critically analysed, compared and discussed in relation to the
originally stated problem, hypotheses, and methods. The results are usually
contributing new knowledge which should be compared with the previous
knowledge stated in the Situation. The critical comparison may vindicate
the results, but also reveal deficiencies and contradictions, which is
scientifically of equal value. The critical discussion and
evaluation of any accord, contradiction or knowledge gap and the
assessment of their relevance and probable consequences for the science
and art of environmental management is an indispensable step before
proceeding to the Conclusion.
This section gives a precise and summarising
statement of the results and, if relevant, the prospects for application of the results in
the various political, social and technical arenas are assessed. In
addition, if appropriate, proposals for further actions in research,
management and politics are made.
The section should begin with a clear
statement of the principal findings. Authors commonly make the
mistake of hiding this message deep within the Conclusions section.
Don't. Your readers will want to be hit with the main findings in
the first line. Of course, the conclusion of your research will be
more complicated than can be explained in one line but think of it rather
like an advertising 'strap line'. It conveys enough information to
get the reader to carry on reading. The next few sentences should
elaborate, if necessary, on the opening statement. But, again, make
sure you are brief and stick to the point.
Putting your conclusions in context
Your findings might appear important and significant to you but you need
to prove to the reader, and the scientific community, that they are worthy
of note. This means setting them in context of previous work.
This is the most common mistake made by inexperienced authors or those who
really haven't grasped what is required in peer-reviewed science
publishing. Carrying out an experiment isn't enough. To be
honest, that can be undertaken by many people with little knowledge or
understanding of your subject. If you are a scientist who is worthy
of publishing then you should know your subject and be able to describe
your research within it. That means discussing your outputs in
relation to relevant literature. What do your results mean when
compared with others? If you can't do this then your paper will be
rejected by any major journal. If this is the case then you should
think seriously about why you carried out the research.
of your findings
The implications of your findings should be discussed within a realistic
framework. Don't exaggerate the importance of your results.
Journal editors will see this and consider you as an unreliable author.
Be honest. However much you might like to feel your results should
be implemented it is important to indicate to the reader the problems you
foresee in their adoption.
On the other hand, don't be afraid to discuss
the potential implications of your results if you can argue your case.
Need for further research
This is a section that authors commonly misuse. It is not an excuse
to justify further research funds to be spent on you or your work.
Neither should it be considered a means of explaining why your work
appeared to produce no results of any note. Instead it should be
used to highlight the important shortcomings of your work that could be
addressed by further research, or to indicate directions that further work