Improve Your Manuscript Writing
Goal of a scientific manuscript
The purpose of a scientific manuscript is to provide information with sufficient detail yet is understandable by the readers whose knowledge in the field is far away from that of the authors. This will help young researchers to carry out their research using the manuscript as a base reference. A general reader also will understand without going through other documents to understand the paper.
Consistency of presentation is critical
Ann Dent UM allows some flexibility to make certain choices in terms of style. However, you must stay consistent with your choices throughout the entire manuscript.
Avoid unnecessary and/or subjective expressions and wordings
Science writing is supposed to be objective; do not use “emotional” and “subjective” words to describe your results or to give emphasis on your conclusion. Scientists are also supposed to be modest. Note that for publication, the work needs to be innovative and/or novel. You do not need tell us that in the text.
When you move from citing the literature to your work, the specification “in this study” may be helpful. Otherwise, it is simply redundant.
Shorter and tighter writing is easier to read. Expressions like “in this study”, “the results…” and the listing of samples should not be repeated. Consider expressions like “ultrasonic procedure (method, technique, process).” Does it need the extra word or could it just be expressed as “ultrasound”? Leaving those words out often improves the readability.
English tenses: What is past tense and what is present tense
Your work and the work reported in the literature are generally presented in the past tense. Conclusions can be past or present tense. Figures and tables in the paper are referred to in the present tense as they are part of the paper, but are based on work done in the past, e.g., “Figure 1 shows that X is significantly higher (p <0.05) than Y.” But: “X was significantly higher (p <0.05) than Y.”
Title: Try to keep it short and not try to tell the whole story in one sentence. Start strong by not using words like “A study of the effects of”. Rework so the first thing a reader sees are words related to the topic.
Running Title: This should be under 80 characters including spaces.
Authors: All authors should have made a intellectual contribution to the paper. Logistical contributions such as English language editing, providing laboratory facilities, technical assistance, routine data collection, and providing fund does not warrant for authorship. Any logistical contribution should just be thanked in the acknowledgment.
Author Affiliation: This does not require full mailing address. The city, state/province, and country along with a postal code are appropriate. The street address of authors is not required.
Corresponding Author: Ideally this is the person who will submit the paper and communicate with the editorial team for the production of the paper and subsequently with the potential readers after the paper is published. Ideally there should be one corresponding author. However, in certain cases, if necessary, Ann Dent UM will accept co-corresponding author and this must be mentioned in the cover letter and subsequent correspondence with the editorial team. Note: If your institution requires that the head of laboratory or department must be listed as corresponding author, note that he or she might not necessarily need to be listed as an author!
Abstract: The abstract starts on a new page. The abstract should be an independent story that can stand alone: What you did, why you did it, how you did it and what the results are. Abbreviations are created only if used in the abstract and ideally should be minimized. Any abbreviation used without definition should be widely known, even by graduate students entering the field. The abstract does not usually have any references. Recall that abstracts may be circulated without the paper itself. It is assumed that any results in the abstract are statistically significant.
Keywords: The keywords appear on the same page as the abstract. Since keywords must be strong search terms, focus on words that will NOT give thousands of hits. Examples of AVOIDABLE key words are, but not limited to: treatment, medicine, surgery, fever, and symptoms. The key materials are a good place to start (including their Latin name and common names). Methods are generally not good search terms unless you are developing them.
Introduction: The introduction only includes the information that is necessary for understanding the paper. What is the background for the research questions you are asking? By the time you get to the objectives, it should almost be obvious from the introduction. The introduction is NOT a literature review. Ideally, introduction can have three components: (i) what is the current body of information (or knowledge that is focused in the manuscript), (ii) where is the gap or missing link in the knowledge, and (ii) how is the gap or missing link is addressed in the manuscript.
Text references: Ann Det UM does not require to follow any specific reference style during submission. However be consistent and use any reference managers such as EndNote and Medeley. Authors will be asked to fix the reference only if the manuscript is finally accepted.
Materials and Methods: This is the hardest part of writing the manuscript and it is also the heart of a scientific paper.
Subjects, participants or volunteers: The more information about the sample size, distribution, source, methods of sample collection, validation of sampling method and time of sampling are important.
All materials and methods: All materials (chemicals and reagents, consumables, instruments and equipments etc.) might be introduced with their source or origin (such as company, city, province/state and country) as they are used in the text. Second and subsequent appearance of the same company does not require to mention the same detail.
Standard method versus most actual methods: Except for standard methods that are accepted transnationally, all methods should be described in sufficient detail that a person can follow what was done without having to go on a literature search. They do not have to be in all of the detail needed to reproduce the data if these are covered in the reference for the method. E.g., one can say “brought to 25 mL with distilled water” rather than “added to a volumetric flask and distilled water added to bring it to the 25 mL mark.” A reader should not have to read another paper to understand what was done.
If a good description of a method is already available, then it can be used if done properly with quotes and proper attribution. Example: The method of Zhang et al. (2012) was used and was briefly described by Liu et al. (2016) as “DESCRIPTION”. The key is that quotation marks are used to show it is copied! Note also that the introduction to methods might best be introduced by starting the sentence with “The method of Zhang et al. (2012) was used.” Again, this is a standardized format that helps the reader.
Kits: If you are using a kit, you still need to briefly describe the principle used and the actual method along with how calibration was done, including the units to report results. Please also report on any equipment used that was not part of the kit, e.g., the centrifuge or spectrophotometer.
Room or ambient temperature: Room temperature or ambient temperature should be identified. There are often multiple temperatures within a range as most laboratories are not the same temperature all the time. Use either room or ambient consistently, not both. The actual temperature needs to only be reported at the first mention.
Units: Units need to be expressed consistently. If using mL, uL, and L, the whole paper should use the capital L but ml, ul and l are also acceptable. Temperature can be 25oC or 25 oC (a gap between the digit and the unit), again consistently.
The “U” for units of enzyme or antibiotic activity units should be defined.
The preference is for “a 40 ml flask” rather than “a 40-ml flask”.
Manufacturer’s information: Information obtained from the manufacturer should be identified as “according to the manufacturer.” In particular, standards need to be fully described. Ideally, the number of points in the calibration curve and the regression equation that shows it is a linear function should be provided along with the regression value. Extrapolation versus interpolation needs to be considered. With extrapolation you might be going outside of the linear response region.
If the manufacturer gives a specific cut-off, e.g., “this dialysis tubing has a 3,500 Da cut-off,” I suggest adding the word “nominal” to show you recognize that it may not be that accurate, e.g., “has a nominal cut-off of 3,500 Da.”
Equations: Equations may be numbered. Normally the numbering is done as (4) on the same line as the equation. But in the text it should be referred to as Equation 4.
When writing equations, a space before and after the = sign is preferred (e.g., R = 0.2) but if you do not want to do this, then both sides of the = sign should not have a space (e.g., R=0.2).
Chemical Symbols: The use of standard symbols for atoms is encouraged. These do not have to be defined (e.g., Ca, Fe, NaCl, HCl, NaOH…). But please try to use these consistently. More complex compounds can be described using words.
Software: Information obtained from software should be identified as such including which software (ideally including a version number or the year of purchase) with full company information.
Centrifugation: Centrifugation should always indicate the “g force” at the bottom of the tube (maximum) and the time and temperature. The “rpm” may be put in parentheses.
Microbes and other biological names: After the first mention with their full Genus species name subsequent uses can be as G. species. This does not have to be defined as an abbreviation.
Statistical Analysis: This should be the last section of the methods and materials. It should clearly indicate ALL of the statistics used. It should also indicate the software used – treated like any other equipment/chemicals.
Statistical acceptance level (lower case “p” is preferred): The acceptance level should be indicated. If you are going to use more than one, that should be clearly stated. And the spacing of the statistical standard should be consistent. Any of the following spacing formats is acceptable as long as the same format is used throughout the paper: (p<0.05); (p <0.05); or (p < 0.05).
Notes: In the text with regular numbers the < and > signs should be directly attached to the number with no space in-between.
p=0.05 is possible so one of the two directions, i.e., p<0.05 or p>0.05 should be p≤0.05 or p≥0.05.
Properly speaking one should do everything with one significance level. However, to be realistic, other levels are used. Besides 0.05, one may sometimes want to use 0.01 and 0.001. In the text one only indicates one of these numbers – the actual “p” value can be given in a table if important (Please see the section on significant figures in Results). In that case a wording like this might be appropriate: “Although a p<0.05 was generally used, the authors have also chosen to use 0.01 (and/or 0.001) for some of the data to indicate the greater significance of the differences.”
Correlations: Correlations: One set of data can be correlated “WITH” another set of data either positively or negatively. Generally a linear curve fitting should be done, showing the equation and the value of the correlation coefficient or other statistical evaluation.
Results: The order of presentation of Tables and Figures should come in the most logical order – not necessarily as the research was originally done. If one has a single data set like proximate composition of the starting material – it can go in the text and does not need a special table. If one puts data only in the text, then the standard deviation is needed in the text.
Please do not put methods in the results section.
Please do not feel that every sample has to be mentioned in full detail. Once you have established the “framework,” the text can be simplified and that actually makes it clearer. You also do not have to start each section by reminding everyone of the samples being studied.
Please DO NOT constantly say “In this study,” “As can be seen,” “The results showed” and similar terms unless you are going from the discussion of another paper and returning to your paper and it is not clear that you are making that transition back to your work.
References to the Tables and the Figures (or Fig.) should be capitalized. If more than one figure, use the word Figures only once (e.g., Figures 1 and 4).
Tables: The title of a Table should clearly define the content and be written on TOP of (BEFORE) the Table . Footnotes should deal with abbreviations and the statistics. Be careful to identify what is covered by the statistics, e.g., by rows or by columns. In many cases the statistics should be done in both directions. Think about the direction of the table – what is horizontal versus what is vertical. The horizontal should usually be fewer entries than the vertical. Generally, the horizontal shows the “methods” and the vertical shows the samples.
Figure Legends: The written material for all figures should appear here with full details. The figure legend goes AFTER the actual figures.
Figures: The figures that present data still need proper statistics, for example, plots of lines should have statistics both in terms of changes along the X axis for a single line and differences between lines at the same value of X in addition to the error bars.
Bar graphs and similar presentations almost always need a proper statistical analysis.
Putting data into a figure is not an excuse to not do the proper statistical analysis. Please be sure to explain the statistics used in the figure legends.
Note that many people start a paper by looking at the figures before deciding if they will read the whole paper, so it is okay to not use abbreviations. However, details about methods are not appropriate, including details of the statistical tests used.
These should only appear with their Figure number. Please do not duplicate the figure legends on the pages with figures.
Figure color: Please think carefully about the use of color. We are still a print journal and there is a significant supplemental cost for printing color, which is born by the authors. Consider how it would look in black and white?
Supplemental Materials: Please be sure that supplemental materials are provided to the reviewers. Also consider whether they are really necessary and whether they are important enough to put into the paper. The standards for tables and figures hold for such materials.
Discussion: The discussion should focus on the significant changes observed and why they are important. Generally, each experiment should be discussed and then the multiple methods brought together. Suggestion: If the work is applied work, do not try to go into mechanistic claims – it is not relevant, and confuses and devalues the actual work.
Conclusions: This is not a summary. It should focus on the key results, why they may be important, and what are the limitations of these results. Suggestions for further work are also appropriate. This should generally be kept to <250 words.
Acknowledgment: Please acknowledge all funding (including project numbers where possible) and also thank all those who have contributed to the work who are NOT authors including those involved with the writing. (Even if someone is “paid” to do something, they should be recognized here.)
LANGUAGE AND FORMATTING
General guidelines: Use the same typeface and size for all of the text, preferably 12 point Times New Roman
Use a consistent format for paragraphs, headings etc.
Punctuation: There is a space before the “open parenthesis” and after the “closed parenthesis”, e.g., “Zhong et al. (2004) showed…..”.
The close quote goes after a comma or final period and before other punctuation unless it appears within a direct quote, e.g., Liu wrote: “A good paper is well written. Is your paper well written?”
Equations: Space before and after the equal sign preferred. Either pH=7 or pH = 7 is acceptable as long as spacing is the same on both sides of the equal sign.
Slash mark: no space on either side: mg/L. This can also be expressed as mgL-1 or mg L-1 as long as you are consistent throughout the paper.
Numbers: Words versus numerals
The numbers one, two and three can be written out in the text but all other numbers should be written as numbers. Use numbers for 1, 2, and 3 when they are attached to materials or data. Numbers can be written out as the first word in a sentence, but always as a word and never as a numeral.
Italics: Genus (always capitalized) and species are expressed in italics along with the expressions in vivo, in vitro, in situ and other foreign language words. (Note: If you use section headings as italics, then the foreign words would not be italicized to provide a contrast.)
Spelling: Ann Dent UM prefers American English. Authors can use British English as well. However, use only one English throughout the text..
Please use the “spell-check function” in WORD to avoid obvious spelling errors. It should be set for either British or American English as appropriate.
No use of first person (e.g., I, we, our) and no contractions (e.g., didn’t).
Note that “its” is a possessive representing ownership and is fine, but “it’s” means “it is” and must be written out as two words. Cannot is one word.
Sequence of numbers rule: If a series of numbers with the same units are written in immediate proximity, the units should be given once at the end of the sequence, e.g., 5, 10, 15 and 20 mg.
“Respectively”: The word “respectively” has a comma before and after except when it is the last word of a sentence. It is only used when two separate “lists” need to be matched to each other.
Word choices: Words with "emotional/marketing" connotations do not belong in critical scientific writing. Also by using the same words throughout, the reader never has to ask the question of “are these really synonyms or is the author trying to imply some nuance of difference?”
Guidelines for using Abbreviations: An abbreviations can only be used after it has been defined after its first use. It can be written out again in the Tables and Figures if you wish. Abbreviations can be used both as singular and plural. So there is no need for a little “s” at the end of any abbreviation.
Since the abstract stands alone, it requires the same guidelines for the use of abbreviation that apply to the paper itself. Abbreviations do not carry-over to the rest of the document where the abbreviations need to be re-established.
If you use a list of abbreviations (a nice idea), please alphabetize and try to include all abbreviations used in the paper.
Time Abbreviations: s or sec, min, h or hr, d or day, wk, yr (This is an example of where you have choices – but stick with your choice!)
Abbreviations for “Company”: Co., Corp., Ltd. (Note that the period is used in these cases)
Molecular weight abbreviations: Please use MW for molecular weight as Mr for relative molecular mass.
That is” and “for example” abbreviations: “i.e., and, e.g., each have a comma before and after.
Less-than, equal and more-than abbreviations, especially for statistical significance: The symbols >, <, ≥ and ≤ go directly with a number, e.g., <2.0. Note that in the case of p/P for statistical significance that p<0.05 and p≥0.05 must be used; the equal case should not be forgotten. On could also use p≤0.05 and p>0.05. The spacing of this information should be consistent throughout the text.
Significant Figures: All numbers in science can be expressed as 1.2345 x 10n. This number is 5 significant figures. For biological materials, where the variability is great and one has such a limited sample, even with measurements of high precision, it is probably not justifiable to have more than three significant figures, e.g., 1.23 x 10n.
Remember this is only the precision of the measurement and says nothing about the accuracy or the ability to use that number to generalize for the materials being studied.
Exceptions: IR data can be 4 significant figures, i.e., 3725 cm-1. Statistical results may also be 4 significant figures. Weight may also be given to more figures, but remember that routine weights have an inherent error. Molecular weight and time using a mass spectrometer may also justify more significant figures, but, no more than 2 places after the decimal point.
In some cases not even three significant figures can be justified as the standard deviation is simply too great. Note that the zero (0) in certain positions is not significant while in other places it is significant, e.g., for 350 the zero is not significant, but for 350.0 both zeroes are significant.
Note: With three significant numbers for the principal number, the standard deviation is usually one significant figure. With two significant figures, the standard deviation can be one or two significant figures but cannot go beyond to the right of the principal figure, e.g., 2.5±1.2, 2.5±0.5 but not 2.5±0.23.
8.67 ± 0.005 or 8.67 ± 0.01 are both acceptable. (Normally the 0.005 would be rounded up, but we are permitting a little leniency by allowing you to use 8.67 ±0.005.)
8.67 ± 0.006 must be 8.67 ± 0.01 (The standard deviation has the same number of decimal places as the principal number.)
8.67 ± 0.06 must be 8.7 ± 0.1 (The standard deviation is great enough that it only supports two significant figures.)
Note: A zero is often ambiguous when it is needed to fill a positional space and then it does not count as a significant figure. With big numbers, it is important to think in terms of scientific notation, e.g., 845±12 is really 8.45±0.12 (x 102), which becomes 8.5±0.1, which then goes back to 850±10.
When you have two significant figures in scientific notation, any standard deviation greater than 0.1 can be used, e.g., 8.7±2.1.
The above guidelines were adjusted from the Author giduelines of Food Bioscince prepared by Joe M. Regenstein and Carrie E. Regenstein.