How to Prepare a Good Scientific Manuscript - Some Thoughts Kai Sundmacher

How to Prepare a Good Scientific
Manuscript - Some Thoughts
Kai Sundmacher1,2
1 Max
Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems,
Department of Process Systems Engineering
2 Otto-von-Guericke
University Magdeburg,
Chair of Process Systems Engineering
[email protected]
DocDay, Magdeburg, 24 September 2012
Scientific Publishing Industry
All scientific research articles
Commercial University Presses
Informa /
Taylor & Francis
Elsevier – by disciplines
Earth Sciences
Social Sciences
Mathematics &
& Chemical
1.2 million English language research
articles published globally each year
Materials Science
& Engineering
250,000+ English language research
articles published with Elsevier every year
Dr. Angela Welch, Elsevier (2012)
My Role in this Publishing Industry
Publisher: Elsevier
Publisher: Wiley-VCH
Executive Editor of Chemical Engineering Science
Review Editor of Fuel Cells
Author (First, Senior, Co) of > 240 articles (WoS)
Reviewer for peer-review journals (AIChE J, CES, CEJ,
EA, IECR, JES, JMS, Science, ...)
1) What steps do I need to take
before I write my paper ?
2) How can I ensure I am using
proper manuscript language ?
3) How do I build up my article
properly ?
Determine if you are ready to publish
You should consider publishing if you have information
that advances understanding in a specific research field.
This could be in the form of:
• Presenting new, original results or methods
• Rationalizing, refining, or reinterpreting published
• Reviewing or summarizing a particular subject or field
If you are ready to publish, a strong
manuscript is what is needed next.
What is a strong manuscript?
• Has a clear, useful, and exciting message.
• Is presented and constructed in a logical
• Reviewers and editors can grasp the
significance easily.
Editors and reviewers are all busy people.
 Make things easy to save their time !
Decide the most appropriate type
of manuscript
Conference papers
Full articles / original articles
Short communications / letters
Review papers / perspectives
Self-evaluate your work: Is it sufficient for a full
article? Or are your results so thrilling that they
need to be shown as soon as possible?
Ask your supervisor and colleagues for advice on the
manuscript type. Sometimes outsiders see things more
clearly than you.
Types of manuscripts
• Conference papers  in-progress research findings (510 pages, ~ 3 figures)
• Short communications  early reports of significant,
original advances
• Original articles  disseminating completed research
findings (8-10 pages, 5-8 figures, ~ 25 references)
• Review papers  typically solicited by journal editors
(10+ pages, 8+ figures, > 80 ref.)
If patent is planned, wait with manuscript
submission until patent application is documented!
Journal Selection
TIP: Articles in your references will
likely lead you to the right journal.
Visit the journal homepages:
 Aims and scope (see: guide for authors)
 Accepted types of articles
 Readership
 Current hot topics (go through the abstracts of
recent publications)
DO NOT gamble by submitting your manuscript to more than
one journal at a time. International ethics standards prohibit
multiple submissions !
1) What steps do I need to take
before I write my paper ?
2) How can I ensure I am using
proper manuscript language ?
3) How do I build up my article
properly ?
Manuscript Language
Write with clarity, objectivity, accuracy, and brevity !
The key to successful manuscript writing is to
be alert to common errors:
Sentence construction
Incorrect tenses
Inaccurate grammar
Mixing languages
Publishers do not correct the language.
It is the author’s responsibility to make sure his paper is in its best
possible form when submitted for publication.
But: Publishers often provide resources for authors who are less
familiar with the conventions of international journals.
Manuscript Language
 Proper manuscript language is important so
that editors and reviewers can easily
understand your messages.
 Refer to the journal’s Guide for Authors for
 Check that your paper has short sentences,
correct tenses, correct grammar, and is all
in English.
 Have a native English speaker check your
manuscript or use a language editing service.
1) What steps do I need to take
before I write my paper ?
2) How can I ensure I am using
proper manuscript language ?
3) How do I build up my article
properly ?
Research Article Structure
• Title
• Abstract
• Keywords
• Main text (IMRAD)
– Introduction
– Methods
– Results
– And
– Discussions
Supplementary Data
Make them easy for indexing and searching!
(informative, attractive, effective)
How do you search for a paper?
Make sure each section of the paper fulfills
its purpose clearly and concisely.
Write in the same order you read:
1) Figures and tables
2) Methods, Results and
3) Conclusions and Introduction
4) Abstract and Title
Article Title
 A good title should contain the fewest
possible words that adequately describe
the content of a paper.
 Effective titles:
- identify the main issue of the paper
- begin with the subject of the paper
- are accurate, unambiguous, specific, and
- are as short as possible
- do not contain rarely-used abbreviations
Article Title
Original Title Revised
observations on the
effect of Zn element
on anticorrosion of
zinc plating layer
Effect of Zn on
anticorrosion of zinc
plating layer
Long title distracts readers.
Remove all redundancies such as
“observations on”, “the nature of”, etc.
Action of antibiotics
on bacteria
Inhibition of growth
of mycobacterium
tuberculosis by
Titles should be specific.
Think to yourself: “How will I search for this
piece of information?” when you design the
Fabrication of
carbon/CdS coaxial
nanofibers displaying
optical and electrical
properties via
Electrospinning of
carbon/CdS coaxial
nanofibers with
optical and electrical
“English needs help. The title is nonsense. All
materials have properties of all varieties. You
could examine my hair for its electrical and
optical properties! You MUST be specific. I
haven’t read the paper but I suspect there is
something special about these properties,
otherwise why would you be reporting them?”
– the Editor-in-chief
 It is freely freely available in electronic
abstracting & indexing services [PubMed, Medline,
Embase, SciVerse Scopus, ....]
 This is the advertisement of your article.
 Make it interesting, and easy to be understood
without reading the whole article. What has been
done? What are the main findings?
 Follow the Rule of 10:
- 2 sentences: introduction / aim
- 3 sentences: materials & methods
- 3 sentences: results
- 2 sentences: discussion/conclusions
Keywords are used by indexing and abstracting services.
They are the labels of your manuscript.
Use only established abbreviations (e.g. DNA).
Check the “Guide for Authors”.
Article Title
“Silo music and silo quake: granular
flow-induced vibration”
Silo music, Silo quake, stick-slip
flow, resonance, creep, granular
“An experimental study on evacuated
tube solar collector using supercritical
Solar collector; Supercritical CO2;
Solar energy; Solar thermal
 Clearly address the following:
– What is the problem ?
– Are there any existing solutions ?
– Which is the best solution so far?
– What is its main limitation?
– What do you hope to achieve?
– How will you fill the gap?
TIP: Hypothesis/aim of the study is typically
found in the last paragraph
of the introduction.
 Include detailed information. The reader should be
able to reproduce the experiment / the simulation.
 Previously published procedures need not be
described in depth:
- Cite methods and note any changes to the protocol
- Provide detailed methods in Supplemental Material
 Identify the equipment and materials used
- Provide source and related product information (company,
molecular weight, etc.)
 Write out full chemical/biological compound names
(followed by abbr.), then use abbreviations
throughout paper.
 Tell a clear and easy-to-understand story:
- The main findings
• Analytical description of data from experiments
described in the Methods section.
• Findings/data of secondary importance should be
captured in Supplementary Materials
• Minimal interpretation of results and/or
comparison with literature unless the journal
combines the Results & Discussion sections
- If applicable: Results of statistical analysis
- Figures and tables
Results: Figures & Tables
 Illustrations are critical because
- Figures and tables are the most efficient way to
present results and
- Results are the driving force of the publication
 Captions and legends should be self-explanatory;
figures should be able to stand alone
- What is the take home point?
 Maximize space; make sure final versions of
figures can be easily read (watch use of legends)
 Use consistent formatting between figures
- Plots: labels and scale
- Micrographs: scale bar, point out key features
 Most important section
 Critical interpretation
- Make the discussion correspond to the results
- Compare your results to published results
 Significance & implications
- How does your data relate to the “big picture” /
- Can you identify a mechanism or form new
 How your work advances the field from
the present state of knowledge
 Justify your work in the research field
- Uses ?
- Extensions ?
- Applications ?
 Suggest future experiments and/or
theoretical investigations
 Conform strictly to the journal citation
style specified in the Guide for Authors
 Editors may use plagiarism detection
software to validate authenticity; give
credit to original articles
 Avoid excessive self-citations
Submission: Cover Letter
Your chance to speak to the editor directly !
 Submitted along with your manuscript
 State final approval of all co-authors
 State prior reviews, revisions, etc.
 Mention what would make your manuscript
special to the journal
 Nominate possible referees: experts,
not collaborators, not best friends,
not from your institution
 Prepare a detailed Response Letter:
– Copy-paste each reviewer comment and type your
response below it.
– State specifically which changes you made to the
manuscript (include page/line numbers; be specific –
no generalized statements like “the discussion was
changed accordingly”).
– Provide response to accept the reviewers’ suggestions
or a convincing, solid, and polite rebuttal when you feel
the reviewer was wrong.
– Write in such a manner, that your response can be
forwarded to the reviewer without prior editing.
 Revisions improve the quality of your article !
I which you great success
when preparing your articles!
Questions ?
Kai Sundmacher
[email protected]
24 September 2012