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Writing Help

There is somewhat of an art to writing a manuscripts, and we all have slightly different styles. However, regardless of your style and habits the following aims are desirable.

BE CONCISE. Don’t use 6 words to say something that could be said in 2 words.

BE DIRECT. Use direct language as much as possible.

MINIMIZE REPETITION. It is a drain on the reader to re-read the introductory rationale in the methods before the methods, and then to re-read the methods in the results before the results, and then to re-read the detailed results in the discussion. Referring back to things already presented should be as brief as possible.

For example, assume the following paragraph is in your rough draft Results section:

“Western blot experiments using 12% agarose gels with EtBr and monoclonal antibody against protein X at a dilution of 1:100 were conducted to assess the affects of the drug Q on protein X because too much protein X has serious health effects and the results showed that the expression of protein X was increased by a highly significant difference in the animals injected via i.p. with drug Q at a concentration of 10 mg/kg compared with the expression of protein X of the animals injected only with PBS. The effect is showed in Figure 2 and the p value of the comparison was less than .001. These results provide a clear demonstration that drug Q may be an effective treatment for Too Much X Disease”

The above paragraph could be made drastically more concise and direct, as shown below.

“As shown in Figure 2, Western blot analysis revealed that drug Q treatment (10 mg/kg, i.p.) increased protein X levels (P < .001 vs. PBS controls).”

Editing Rationale:
1. Background for health risks of protein X was covered in the Introduction.
2. Western blot procedure was described in Methods.
3. Get straight to the point.
4. Once controls are described in methods, they can be referred to by name only from there forward.
5. You don’t need to say highly significant AND give p value.
6. Results should be pure- give the reader a chance to absorb the data, before you tell them what to think.
7. Save conclusions for discussion.

Common errors:
(1) Watch for misuse of articles (the, a, an).

(2) Only use the word of when necessary. For example, it is almost always better to say 'gene Q expression' than 'expression of gene Q'. An exception would be, if you are including a phrase immediately after that describes gene Q [...gene Q, an oncogene, was first described...]

(3) Limited vocabulary (i.e., try to avoid repeatedly saying the word 'different', though in many cases it would be better to say 'several', 'many' or 'various', depending on the sentence; or they may say 'smaller' when they should say 'fewer').

(4) There may be very long sentences that need to be broken into 2 or 3 shorter sentences. Similarly you may need to find a good spot to break a very long paragraph into 2.

(5) Be mindful of flow and transitions between sentences. Avoid using the pet phrase repeatedly, such as "On the other hand", when in many cases it would make more sense to say Whereas, Meanwhile, Moreover, By contrast, In addition, However, Although, etc.

(6) Avoid unnecessarily repeating information.

(7) Watch for overuse pronouns. Your reader should not have to do detective work to figure out the subject to which you are referring back.

(8) Watch for inconsistency of abbreviations. Abbreviations should be defined with first use in abstract and with first use in main body; once provided abbreviations should be used consistently.

Additional tips:
- Proper + consistent use of SI units (s, min, h, d; ml; g; mM)
- There should be spaces between numbers and units (5 mg, five milligrams). However symbols can be right next to number (50%, 4°C).
- At beginning of a sentence, numbers and units should be spelled out: “Ten liters of water…”
- Formatting should be consistent. Only English fonts should be used (i.e. no Simsum)


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