Meet our editors and proofreaders: Sarah

Meet our editors and proofreaders: Sarah

dr Sarah

Sarah, PhD in history University of St Andrews

As a part of “Meet our editors and proofreaders” series, we interview some of the native speakers who edit and proofread your texts. Today we publish an interview with Sarah, PhD in History, from the University of St Andrews. She discusses her work and provides helpful advice about how to improve your academic writing.

Research interests

eCORRECTOR: What are you researching?
Sarah: I’m researching medieval English law. My main focus is on how cases were argued in court and how legal experts gained their knowledge.

eCORRECTOR: What inspires you about research?
Sarah: I really enjoy getting to read through manuscripts from 800 years ago to try to find out what people were thinking! It makes the Middle Ages seem so much more real.

eCORRECTOR: What is the major scientific challenge, in your field, for this decade?
Sarah: The major challenge to medieval legal history today is that we need to reassess the sources. Most of our scholarship is based on work done in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which focused on institutionalised law and neglected large bodies of local, customary law.

eCORRECTOR: Have you read a breakthrough paper recently?
Sarah: I recently discovered that people in the twelfth century sometimes tried to use their last wills to distribute land (which you can’t legally do in the Middle Ages). This shows that people were willing to experiment with the laws that were available to see what they could get away with.

Golden tips about writing papers

eCORRECTOR: What is your golden piece of advice when writing a paper?
Sarah: Write an outline before your start ? the more detailed, the better! Then you can just fill in the blanks with your research.

eCORRECTOR: What is the most common mistake you notice when you edit/proof papers?
Sarah: Grammatically, the construction “allows to” appears very frequently. In English grammar, words like ?allow? and ?let? have to have a direct object before the infinitive, such as ?this case allows me to examine?? as opposed to ?this case allows to examine??. You can also get around this by saying, ?this case allows for the examination of??, which is just a slightly different construction that lets you avoid the first person. Ridiculous, I know! 

eCORRECTOR: Do you have a presentation/stylistic tip?
Sarah: Use the same font throughout the entire paper, 12 point for the main text and 10 point for the footnotes. It seems like a small thing, but it makes a very big difference to how professional your paper looks.

eCORRECTOR: What example phrase should you use when writing a paper?
Sarah: I’m quite fond of the phrase “X is crucial for our understanding of Y because…” . It makes the point very strongly!

About tools and motivation

eCORRECTOR: How do you get motivated to start writing a paper?
Sarah: I start by organising all my evidence. Once I’ve done that, I can see what kind of an outline I need to write and might even have half of the paper written already!
When I’m having a hard time getting started, I set a timer for 15 minutes. Then, I write as much as I can in that time (even if it’s nonsense) and see what I have. The time limit makes me feel like I am writing for a deadline and doesn’t let me procrastinate.

eCORRECTOR: Can you recommend any app/tool for improving scientific writing?
Sarah: I highly recommend using Zotero or another citation software (Endnote, Mendeley) to do your references. This will ensure that you use the same format throughout and takes care of all the repeat references by automatically using “ibid.” and short-form citations.
Grammarly is also helpful, but the professional version can do more harm than good for non-English speakers, as it does not always understand what you are trying to say and will suggest things that are incorrect.

Meet our editors and proofreaders: Anthony

dr Anthony

Anthony, PhD in Urban Studies,
The University of Sheffield

Meet our editors and proofreaders: Anthony

As a part of “Meet our editors and proofreaders” series, we interview some of the native speakers who edit and proofread your texts. We started with Anthony, PhD in Urban Studies, from the University of Sheffield. He discusses his work and provides helpful advice about how to improve your academic writing.

Research interests

What are you researching?
My research has focused on the politics and management of urban infrastructures ? how cities manage their energy and water networks, how their telecommunications infrastructures are managed, and how transport operates. In an age of tight public finances, ageing infrastructures, growing climate concerns and debates over privatisation and nationalisation, how these infrastructures are managed is a vital public concern.

What inspires you about research?
The ability to learn something new and ?create? knowledge. Many academics have the stereotype of wanting to change the world (and that was what also inspired me to get into research), but the ability to delve deep into a subject and to fully understand the mechanics at work in a particular area is truly inspirational.

What is the major scientific challenge, in your field, for this decade?
Giving cities (and nations) the ability to fund and operate their existing infrastructures in a climate-friendly and cost-effective way in an age of dwindling natural resources and tight finances, while being able to provide fair and equitable access to all members of society.

Have you read a breakthrough paper recently?
Not really a recent paper (as it was published in 2001) but ?Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition? was a book I?d recommend to anyone involved in infrastructure research.

What made it great?
Occasionally you find a book or a paper that manages to tackle all the complexities and interactions that are already swirling around in your mind, and simplify them to such an extent that you can just sit there and think, ?of course, that?s exactly what happens?.

Golden tips about writing papers

How do you get motivated to start writing a paper?
I always find it easier to start writing a new piece of work than to finish an existing piece. New papers are exciting and fun, and you have a world of possibilities as to where your argument will take you. The problem for me is how to get over the boredom and annoyance that follows that initial excitement, when writing begins to feel more like actual work. My advice is to just keep writing. It doesn?t matter what, just keep at it. Put the words on the page as you think of them and just see what comes out. Stephen King famously writes around 2,000 words every single day ? some are good, some are not so good. But keep practicing!

What is your golden piece of advice when writing a paper?
Signpost your argument. I can?t overstate how important this is for the reader. ?In this paper I will? I start by examining? before moving onto? This will allow?? A reader is unlikely to read your paper more than once (and even if someone does download your paper, it is likely they will skim through to the most important parts ? academics are busy people!). Being able to see where your argument is going and being able to pre-empt what comes next gives the reader some impetus to keep reading.

What is the most common mistake you notice when you edit/proof papers?
Ignoring the question ?so what?? Why should I read your paper? What is the end goal? You might have invented the most efficient solar panel that has ever existed, but if you do not explicitly state this in the introduction and conclusion, then I will be reading nothing more than equations and difficult technical language that I may not understand, and your paper will be lost amongst the hundreds of thousands of other papers that are published each year.

Do you have a presentation/stylistic tip?
Try not to write overly long sentences. If you cannot avoid this, then sprinkle a few very short sentences into the text. Like this. A reader needs to able to ?breathe? when they are reading your paper, even if it is only in their heads. With sentences that get far too long and far too convoluted and fail to include any forms of punctuation that can help to break up the text to give the reader time to pause they can forget the point you are trying to make before they even get to the end of the sentence. So, break it up. Regularly.

Can you recommend any app/tool for improving scientific writing?
Referencing software (EndNote, Mendeley) can be useful to help reduce the annoyances that come from fixing your references, but bear in mind they are not always accurate.

Article 101 – how to write scientific manuscript?

Article 101 – how to write scientific manuscript?

Have you ever wondered what it takes and how should scientific articles be written?

Writing a manuscript is an extremely challenging task, particularly if english is not your first language. It can take many weeks and months of drafting and redraftng to get it right.

The first part of the paper is, in fact, not the abstract, but the title itself. although finding a suitable title.  Although finding a suitable title should be straightforward, it can often be one of the most difficult parts of a paper to perfect. The title should be concise, yet accurately describe the main findings of the study. In other words, it needs to be short, convey the main result, and be just broad enough, particularly if it will be submitted to higher impact journals. Essentially, a title needs to be a clear statement about your work. Avoid writing general statements.

One of the shortest parts of the paper, namely the abstract, is usually subjected to the largest number of changes. A good abstract should summarize all the major aspects of your paper in a concise way. Since abstracts are short, stick to your main results rather than trying to cram in as many details as possible. Make sure that the abstract properly reflects your key findings, in addition to the implications of your results. A reader should be able to understand the message of the paper from reading the abstract alone. It is therefore crucially important to get this part of the manuscript right, as it is often the only part a reviewer will have access to before deciding whether to review the whole paper. It is also the first part any reader will look at to obtain information about the quality and content of the paper.

An introduction does not need to be long, and it should never become an extended review of the literature. There is no point in trying to impress reviewers with your subject matter knowledge; the key is to be concise and to cover the key points pertinent to the aims of your research. Basically, the introduction should ideally provide a clear and coherent description of the background literature with appropriate referencing of the main claims. It should establish the context of the current work in relation to previous research.

The materials and methods section should be relatively straightforward and less time-consuming. Short, sharp sentences are often useful here, as the style of this section tends to be rather dry. The most important aspect is that it contains all the necessary information required for another scientist to repliicate your experiments and cross-check your results. If an ethical statement is required, for example due to the use of laboratory animals or human volunteers, this should be stated clearly. Many journals have their own preferred way to phrase this part, usually mentioned in the guide for authors. It is important to include a separate statistics file describing the statistical analyses used.

The results (and discussion) sections are the heart of any research article. There is often a great deal of flexibility about the arrangement of the results, the order in which they are described, the contents of a figure, and what has to be described within the text of the results. It is down to the author(s) to decide how to structure this particular section to best reflect their goals.

A good research paper is concise, straightforward, and avoids the use of any unnecessary ?filler words?. Or, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: ?Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away?.

Article proofread at eCORRECTOR published on PLOS ONE

Article proofread at eCORRECTOR published on PLOS ONE

 

We are pleased to announce that a manuscript recently proofread at eCORRECTOR has been published in PLOS ONE.

“Thoracic hemisection in rats results in initial recovery followed by a late decrement in locomotor movements, with changes in coordination correlated with serotonergic innervation of the ventral horn” by A. N. Leszczyńska, H. Majczyński, G. M. Wilczyński, U. Sławińska and A. M. Cabaj.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0143602

Many congratulations to the authors!

Advice when preparing original articles for submission

Advice when preparing original articles for submission

Advice when preparing original articles for submission

 

Below is some advice that authors may find helpful when preparing their work for publication in international peer-reviewed journals. This advice is based on years of both publishing my own work and reviewing the work of others.

 

Prepare your figures

 

1- Ensure you have results that are complete and sufficiently developed to warrant publication in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is to prepare your figures (or most of them). This is often the most time consuming as it ultimately involves doing the stats to show significant differences on your figures.

 

2- Make sure your figures are internally consistent in terms of layout and for subsections within each figure (ie A, B,C –  a,b,c ? i,ii,iii). Check the guidelines of examples of published articles in your target journal.

 

3- Make sure you use appropriate statistics and tests for normality. Statistical differences are the core of most papers and reviewers are always asked to remark on if the correct statistics have been used.

 

Once you have a reasonable draft of your figures (including stats) start writing the text for the Results section.

 

Write your Results

 

Golden Advice: Break down your Results section into smaller ?bite-size? subsections. This helps create a logical flow for your results deepening as you move through the sections. It is generally better for subsections (and title of figure captions) to be a statement i.e. ?d-tubocurarine induces spike and wave seizures? rather than something vague ?the effect of d-tubocurarine?.

 

1- Refer to other articles in high impact journals to ensure you use the correct vocabulary and formal style of a high impact publication.

 

2- Many journals impose strict word limits for the main text, but not for Figure legends. Therefore, if you need to keep your Results section concise you can elaborate to a certain extent in the Captions themselves, such as drawing attention to specific aspects of the figure.

 

3- When writing the Results section it may be apparent that you have overlooked something which may add value to your paper. If this is something that should not seriously impact your findings, but you are concerned a reviewer may criticize the lack of these data, then run a few pilot studies and providing they are consistent with your general hypothesis include them in the text of the Results.

 

Write your Methods

 

Golden Advice: If you have a complicated experimental paradigm or numerous groups then graphically describe your methods/structure of experiments in the form of a table or flow-chart.

 

1- This is normally the most straightforward part of a paper and should not take too long to complete. There are normally set protocols for methods which can be found in published papers. This can be used as a basis for writing your own Methods section.

 

2- Ensure that N values are clearly stated for experimental groups and that they all add up to the correct number at the end. Numerous submissions have formal errors of this type in and it is easy to fix.

 

Write your Discussion

 

Golden Advice: A reader should be able to read your Discussion without having read the Introductions/Results/Methods and still understand the main purpose, findings and importance of your work.

 

1- Make the first paragraph a general summary of your work with a closing sentence about the potential implication.

 

2- Discuss your work appropriately in terms of other published work, are your results consistent with other work, do they differ? If so, perhaps methodological/analytical differences may account for this.

 

3- Your work will not be perfect. Whilst you do not want to draw attention to the short comings of your own study it is important to be slightly self-critical of your work. What are the limitations? What should be interpreted cautiously?

 

4- Make sure you use paragraphs and subsections appropriately. Do not have one long paragraph (20 lines or more) or lots of short paragraphs (5 lines or less) as this is hard to read. Arrange the text in a logical manner so that it essentially tells a story of the main points of your work.

 

Prepare your Introduction

 

Golden Advice: Ensure that you clearly express your hypothesis or what it is you want to examine.

 

1- Introductions do not need to be long and should not an extended review of literature. Most readers will be familiar with the background and the job of a good introduction is to emphasize the relevant findings of previous publications to introduce the author?s purpose for doing the work. Examples are extension of previous work, a gap in understanding a particular phenomenon, resolving a contradiction.

 

2- A general structure is as follow.

First paragraph: general background

Second-third paragraph: specific points relevant to your particular study

Fourth paragraph: your specific hypothesis or what it is you want to test.

 

3- It is generally best to write your Introduction once you have written the Discussion as you will be able to ?introduce? the main aspects of your study.

 

Prepare your Abstract

 

Golden Advice: The abstract is the most important part of your work and will determine whether a reviewer accepts to review your article (or even if it is sent out for review by the Area Editor). Therefore, absolutely make sure you have drafted it several times until you are completely satisfied with the text.

 

Formal Formatting

 

1- Always carefully adhere to the guidelines laid out in the For Authors sections of the journal website. This includes keeping to word limits, layout of texts, fonts, mode of citation and reference lists.

 

2- Check the figure numbers provided in the Results section are consistent with the actual figures.

 

3- Run a spell and grammar check. Read a printed version of your paper before submitting it to the journal to reduce the number of formal mistakes.

 

4- Ensure you have a professional cover letter which should be submitted alongside your manuscript.

 

5- If you are concerned about the quality of your language ask a colleague to proof the language for you or send it to a reputable scientific proofing service.