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How to write a scientific paper
Transcript of How to write a scientific paper
How to write a scientific paper
Happens naturally, just like that…
Only with inspiration
Right from the first time
Real writers work alone
First collect all material
Deleting is easy
Misunderstandings about writing
Find support / supervisor
Involve (not too many) others
Email facilitates collaboration
What’s your message, to whom, why?
Read, read, read…
Read publication guidelines
Because you have something important to say
To change practice
To promote thought or debate
To allow examination of your work
“Fame and the love of beautiful women”
Relevance to the audience
What do editors want?
What do I have to say?
Is it worth saying?
What is the right format for the message?
What is the audience for the message?
Where should I publish the message?
How can I best use paper and the web?
The basics of writing a paper
Before you begin
Beginning, middle, end (‘A beginning, a muddle, and an end.’ Philip Larkin)
Tell people what you are going to say, say it, tell them what you’ve said
Rudyard Kipling: (‘I keep six honest serving me, (They taught me all I knew), Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who?’)
News story: (Story in the title; story in the first line; expand slightly on the story in the first paragraph; give the evidence for the story; give the counter view)
ImraD (Introduction, methods, results, and discussion)
Stream of consciousness
Chronology: diary, autobiography
Something very formal: for example, sonnet, limerick, haiku
Make sure that readers know where they are, where they are going, and why.
Statement of principal findings
Strengths and weaknesses of the study
Strengths and weaknesses in relation to other studies, discussing particularly any differences in results
Meaning of the study: possible mechanisms and implications for clinicians or policymakers
Unanswered questions and future research
Go easy on the last two
Stick to what is relevant
Be sure to include basic descriptive data
The text should tell the story
The tables give the evidence
The figures illustrate the highlights
Don’t include just percentages or p values
Include confidence intervals
Think about absolute risk, number needed to treat, etc
Avoid beginning to discuss the implications or strengths and weaknesses of your study
Like a recipe
For informed readers this is the most important section
Describe how subjects were selected and excluded
Don’t describe standard methods in detail - use references
Remember that you can put more detailed methods on the web--for example, questionnaire
Why did we start?
What has gone before - ? A systematic review
Why was this study needed?
Be sure that readers understand the importance of the study-but don’t overdo it: short
Don’t try to show readers that you have read everything
Short, short, short
Introduction--Why did I do it?
Methods--What did I do?
Results--What did I find?
Discussion-- What might it mean? What is our overall finding? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the study in relation to other studies? Why might we have got different results? What might the study mean, particularly for clinicians or policy makers? What questions remain unanswered and what next?
The basics of writing a paper
Title: Include design; Don’t try to be clever
Abstract: structured ?; Include some numbers, not all
References: Keep to the essentials
Covering letter: Something very crisp
Authorship, acknowledgements, competing interests
Topping and tailing
Don’t be too chatty
Don’t be pleased with yourself
Be careful with slang
Use the scalpel not the sword
‘Too many notes, Mozart.’
Add a dash of colour, just a dash
Prefer Anglo Saxon over the Latin
Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs
Cut all cliches
George Orwell: ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’
Somerset Maugham: ‘To write well is as hard as to be good.’
Jonathan Swift: ‘Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style.’
Matthew Arnold: ‘Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the essence of style.’
The rudiments of style
Avoid figures of speech and idioms
Prefer active to passive
Prefer the concrete to the abstract
Avoid the ‘not unblack cat crossed the not unwide road’
Conflict of interest
Good publication practice
Always willing to consider first appeals--but must revise the paper, refute criticisms, not just say the subject is important
Perhaps 10% accepted on appeal
No second appeals; always ends in tears; plenty of other journals
different in different journals
papers rejected by one editor: unoriginal, too specialist, “so what,” invalid, incomprehensible
papers sent to two reviewers, who are not revealed to the authors
accepted or rejected by consensus
statistical advice by specialist
some changed to short reports and re-reviewed
if no consensus “hanging committee” with senior reviewer
% accepted, almost always after revision
Peer review process
“Stand at the top of the stairs with a pile of papers and throw them down the stairs. Those that reach the bottom are published.”
“Sort the papers into two piles: those to be published and those to be rejected. Then swap them over.”
Peer review processes
A black box
Can’t detect fraud
Problems with peer review
As many processes as journals or grant giving bodies
No operational definition--usually implies “external review”
Was largely unstudied
Benefits come from improving what is published rather than sorting the wheat from the chaff
Loosen up the criteria
Enforce the ICMJE criteria more strictly
Tweak the ICMJE criteria - for instance, allow statisticians to be included
Other ideas--for example, limits on numbers of authors
Abandon the idea of authorship - go for film credits, contributors with a guarantor
Options for responding to the problems of authorship
The two basic problems of credit and accountability
Many authors on papers have done little - do not meet ICMJE criteria
People don’t know about the criteria of authorship
People think that the definition is unworkable
People are left off papers
What are the problems with authorship?
Authorship should be based only on a substantial contribution to:
i Conception and design or analysis and interpretation of data and
ii Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content and
iii Final approval of the version to be published.
Criteria for authorship of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors
A totally blind haphazard study of the effect of being a Mason on promotion within medicine
A. Professor Sir Joshua Fulloftosh, president of the university. Raised the grant, got permission for the study from the Masons
B. Professor Michael Halfpenny, British American Tobacco professor in the joint department of respiratory, Masonic, and imaginary studies. Suggested the idea for the trial before departing for a six month sabbatical in the Seychelles and handled the postpublication media coverage by satellite
C. Dr Alec Fedup, senior lecturer in the department of Masonic studies. Drew up the protocol, wrote the grant proposal, and then died in mysterious circumstances.
D. Sir Bloated Corpulent, visiting consultant. Allowed his staff to be entered haphazardly into the study
E. Dr Alice Holditalltogether, senior registrar. Ran the study, collected the data and sent them to the statistician, arranged for the writing up of the study, and negotiated with the editors
F. Polly Paired-T-Test, statistician. Did all the analysis, prepared the tables
G. Pamela Poltergeist, editorial adviser to the Masons. Wrote the paper
E. Professor Avaricious Loadsapesetas, director of the Acapulco Institute of International Masonic and Financial Studies. Allowed his name to be added to the paper in exchange for a lucrative consultancy. Unfortunately didn’t have time to read the paper.
Who is an author?
Avoidance - hard
Disclosure - to the editor, author, or reader?
How should we manage conflict of interest?
Always declare a conflict of interest, particularly one that would embarrass you if it came out afterwards
Because it may have a profound effect on somebody’s judgement.
Because of the perception that a person’s judgement may be affected--whether it is or not
Why does it matter?
A person has a conflict of interest when he or she has an attribute that is invisible to the reader or editor but which may affect his or her judgement.
What is conflict of interest?
Happens commonly--perhaps 20% of studies
Negative studies are often not published; positive studies are more likely be published more than once
Distorts what the evidence says
There is lots of room for arguing over the degree of overlap and what’s legitimate
Disclosure is the key
Always send copies of overlapping papers and reference them
The problem is not the publication but the lack of disclosure
Study design and ethical approval
Conflicts of interest
Duties of editors
Dealing with misconduct, including sanctions
COPE guidelines on good publication practice cover
Read “Guidelines on good publication practice” from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
Available free at www.publication ethics.org.uk
Good publication practice
Disclosure is almost a panacea.
Richard Smith, former editor BMJ
Peter van Harten, editor Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie
Research in psychiatry