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Principles of good formal scientific and technical writing
  • Be direct. Active tense is generally preferred over passive tense, especially in narrative sections.
  • Be concise. Your reader will appreciate your using fewer words to say the same thing.
  • Be humble. Do not overstate your findings or conclusions.
  • Give credit. Include appropriate citations. Original research citations should be used over review citations if you are referring to reviewed or re-analyzed data. Only cite the review if you are referring to their meta-analysis findings or original propositions by the review authors.
  • Keep content in its proper place (no Methods in Results, etc.)
  • Avoid repeating yourself. Choose the most effective way of making your point, rather than re-making it more than one way.
Scientific and technical writing process
Establish preliminary structure
  • Write the major headings appropriate for your target journal and paper type (e.g. Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion).
  • List tentative subheadings. For example, under Methods, one might have Study design, Subjects, Intervention, Beck anxiety inventory, Image acquisition, Image analysis, Genome-wide association study, and Data analysis. If you have a Methods section, be sure to include every technique involved in the study. For results, most journals prefer that the subheadings indicate briefly what was found, rather than what was done. For example, Patients with XYZ polymorphism exhibited heightened anxiety phenotype.
  • For more narrative sections (e.g. Introduction and Discussion), write a series of topics or questions to be answered. These can be changed and reorganized later. For now, just get some on the pages.

Fill in content
Even papers with a format other than the classical “Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion” format (e.g. Brief Communication, Case Report, Letter to the Editor, Grant application, etc.) still encompass these kinds of content in some form. To the extent that is true, this advice can be generalized. Ideally, you should include citations as you go. For information that should have a supporting reference, but that you write from memory without knowing the citation while in a “writing flow”, insert a reminder, like (ref), to be sure that you not forget to add a citation later.

  • We suggest starting with Methods text because it is composed of factual information that you already know. It is fine to paste in text from protocols to start with, and then re-write or revise them.
  • After the Methods, Results text should be the next easiest to fill in. State exactly what you found. Do not include background or methods.
  • Introduction text should go from general to specific. Start with an explanation of the central driving topic that the work addresses, such as the characteristics known about a disease (signs, symptoms, incidence, prognosis, etc.) or problem (e.g. poisonous algal blooms, dilapidated infrastructure, juvenile smoking, etc.). Follow-up with specific information that led you to the present work (e.g. prior research that suggests potential associations or solutions, a new relevant technology, shortcoming of current treatments, the development of a model or framework that guided your work, etc.). Customarily, the final paragraph (or two) of the introductory text should clarify exactly what your aims and/or hypotheses were and how (generally) the current study goes about addressing them. For example, you might say, we employed electroencephalography to examine brain responses to emotionally salient images, but you would not provide details about how the technique was performed or how the images were produced here.
  • Discussion text should not repeat information from the Introduction. The Discussion is NOT a second Introduction, nor is it a supplemental Results section. The reader should not have to re-read background from the Introduction, nor should the reader be learning of any study findings here that weren’t mentioned in the results. Discussion text should begin with a brief synopsis of the main findings (or things learned) from the present work. Next, the findings should be placed into context, which may include comparing them to prior relevant findings, explaining whether and how the findings fit (or not) with established hypotheses and or models. Customarily, the second-to-last paragraph should point out the limitations (weaknesses) of the work and how they might be addressed in the future. Finally, with the exception of extremely space-limited formats, there should be a concluding paragraph that states what the authors concluded from the work.
  • The Abstract can be generated last by taking and reworking bits of content from the main text. Be sure to follow the format instructions of the publisher. For unstructured abstracts, you should (generally) have: 1-2 sentences of background/aims; 1-4 sentences of methods; 1-5 sentences of results; 1-2 sentences of interpretation/conclusions.

If you intend to send us the paper for standard level editing , you should expect to go through the paper until you are happy with the information included and how it is organized. In this case, include your completed tables and figures for reference.

If you complete the above five steps with little or no further revision and want us to complete the preparation, you should expect to order premium or superior level editing.  You can use our editing level rubric to help determine which level is most appropriate.

You can include rough tables and/or figures for us to improve, including producing Word tables from Excel spreadsheets, producing graphs from data, producing multi-panel flat figures from image files, as well as re-formatting of tables and figures for readability and appearance. If the text only needs standard level edit, you can add figure/table editing as a secondary service, billed by time. Otherwise, it can be included within premium or superior edit

Use of abbreviations
  • Define each abbreviation at first use in both the abstract and main text.
  • Do not define abbreviations that are never used again. Do not bother with an abbreviation unless it will be used at least three times after being introduced, maybe two if the full term is long and awkward.
  • If a term has multiple abbreviations, use the most generally accepted one.
  • If your citations are in [author(s), year] format, and you are including citations with organization authors (e.g. World Health Organization), you can define the authoring organization in the References section as follows:

[WHO] World Health Organization ….(rest of reference).

This enables you to just cite it as (WHO, year), so that it is less disruptive to your flow.

Protein and gene names
Traditionally, both gene and protein symbols should be defined with their full names at first use. However, many journals are making exceptions to this convention, especially for gene names. Notably, gene and protein symbols are often allowed in titles for simplicity. However, there is no broad consensus across journals and publishers yet. When in doubt, spell it out…you can always reduce it later if appropriate. Because journal editors can adjust any formatting convention to their liking, it is always possible that your particular target journal will deviate from these general guidelines. However, if they do, it is an easy fix that will not impede the acceptance of your work.

Use standard names and symbols, if they have been established, as listed in professional databases. Links to major nomenclature resources can be found on our RESOURCES AND LINKS page.

Gene symbols (used for genomic DNA genes, RNAs, and cDNAs) are italicized. Spelled out gene names are generally not italicized, though there are exceptions for some species, including fish species.

Protein symbols are written in regular, non-italicized text format.

Capitalization conventions vary by phylogeny as follows:

Specific notes by phylogeny
Humans/primates, birds, and domestic species
BDNF gene encodes BDNF protein. Gene symbols contain three to six italicized characters that are all in upper-case (e.g., AFP). Gene symbols may be a combination of letters and Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3), but should always begin with a letter; they generally do not contain Roman numerals (e.g., I, II, III), Greek letters (e.g., α, β, γ), or punctuation. Protein symbols are identical to their corresponding gene symbols except that they are not italicized (e.g., AFP).

The Bdnf gene encodes BDNF protein.

Fish, amphibians, reptiles
The brs gene encodes Brs protein.

Gene names and symbols begin with an upper-case letter if: (1) the gene is named for a protein or (2) the gene was first named for a mutant phenotype that is dominant to the wild-type phenotype (e.g., Rpp30). Gene names and symbols begin with a lower-case letter if the gene was first named for a mutant phenotype that is recessive to the wild-type phenotype (e.g., kis). Gene symbols are italicized. Symbols for proteins that were named for genes begin with an upper-case letter, but there are no accepted formatting guidelines for proteins that were not named for genes. Protein symbols are not italicized.

Gene symbols are italicized and generally composed of three to four letters, a hyphen, and an Arabic number (e.g., abu-1). Protein symbols are not italicized, and all letters are in upper-case (e.g., ABU-1).

The polA gene encodes PolAprotein, which is an abbreviation for polymerase I. The first three letters (rarely four), which identify a process or pathway, are followed by an upper-case letter that tells you which specific gene or protein in the group you are referring to. If the spelled-out name uses a Greek letter or number, it is replaced with an English capital letter in the symbol (e.g., β subunit or II may become B).

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