Writing Papers for Scientific Journals

Knowing that not all readers of this blog have a flair for writing like what I have got, I thought I’d pass on a link to a paper that appeared on the arXiv earlier this week. Here is the abstract:

Writing is a vital component of a modern career in astronomical research. Very few researchers, however, receive any training in how to produce high-quality written work in an efficient manner. We present a step-by-step guide to writing in astronomy. We concentrate on how to write scientific papers, and address various aspects including how to crystallise the ideas that underlie the research project, and how the paper is constructed considering the audience and the chosen journal. We also describe a number of grammar and spelling issues that often cause trouble to writers, including some that are particularly hard to master for non-native English speakers. This paper is aimed primarily at Master’s and PhD level students who are presented with the daunting task of writing their first scientific paper, but more senior researchers or writing instructors may well find the ideas presented here useful.

Knapen et al. 2021, arXiv:2110.05503

The title of the paper is actually Writing Scientific Papers in Astronomy, which seems curious wording to me – rather like Writing Scientific Papers in French (for example) – which is why I didn’t use it for the title of this post. Not that I’m pedantic or anything.

One of the problems with the scientific literature is that most journals have their own style rules which are often in conflict with one another so the detailed guidance on grammar, etc is probably of lesser value than the good tips on how to structure a paper. Those bits apply to any scientific field really, not just astronomy.

I remember very well what a struggle I found it when I wrote my first scientific paper. I had invaluable help, though, from my supervisor, who was an excellent writer. This is well worth reading for those early career researchers who want to avoid at least some of the pain!

The only tip I can offer to a postgraduate student struggling to write a paper is to think of who is going to be reading it. In most cases that will mainly be other early career researchers, so write in such a way that you can connect with them. That usually means, for example, taking special care to explain the things that you found difficult when you started in the area. In other words, you should put enough in your paper to allow someone else entering the field to understand it.

Other tips are of course welcome through the Comments Box.

4 Responses to “Writing Papers for Scientific Journals”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Advice on scientific writing tends to be in one of two categories. One category gives a list of rules. It is true that any paper which conforms to these rules will read well, but nobody writes while consciously checking their words against a (fairly long) list of rules. The other category is such that you come to the end of reading the advice and think “That’s wise – I agree with all of that” but you are given no clue how to write like that.

    Here is some advice (also online and also free) which aims to give the best of both worlds:

    http://www.scitext.com/effective-writing/

  2. In my experience non-native English speakers often have better grammar and punctuation than native speakers…

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed. A non-native speaker is far more likely to know what a gerund or an infinitive is than a native English speaker.

  3. Luke Drury Says:

    A good rule is to ask yourself with each sentence – what am I really trying to say and are all the words really necessary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: