Scientific Writing, spring semester 2019


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Did you ever have a manuscript rejected from a journal? Or did you get a second chance, but a long list of criticisms from the referees? Do you feel that your thesis draft is confusing and you are at loss on how to get it right? You are not alone; indeed these are experiences all scientists go through. But you can reduce the risk of these undesired outcomes considerably by being aware of how to choose a title and write an abstract so they immediately grab the attention and interest of the reader; knowing how to write an introduction so it makes the reader want to continue reading; knowing how to prepare visuals so they truly support a paper; and knowing how to structure and plan the article/thesis logically and how to build a convincing argument. This course will give you the skills to present your ideas and results in writing with a convincing, clear and appealing voice, and to avoid mistakes that are unnecessary, yet unfortunately not uncommon, and which can have fatal consequences for the dissemination of your research.

Learning outcomes
1. Awareness of what makes a good title, how an efficient abstract is structured, and how title and abstract can support each other.
2. Knowledge of the structure of a paper and what content is expected in each section; understanding of what is meant by a hypothesis, experimental observations, analysis, discussion and conclusions, as well as of how to discuss prior work, in particular in the Introduction.
3. Ability to prepare strong visuals that support your paper and are well readable by a diverse readership.
4. Practice writing a cover letter for marketing your paper.
5. A good strategy for writing your thesis, and for helping your advisor to help you write it well.
6. A brush-up on key English vocabulary and grammar for scientific texts as well as fundamental formatting guidelines.

Homework to be graded
1. write a title and abstract for your paper
2. write an introduction and prepare one visual for your paper.

There will be some additional homework exercises, but these are for you to strengthen your writing. They are tools to support you, but will not be handed in and not be graded.

Pre-course work
Since I will have very limited time to cover document layout in the course, please download this 10-page primer and read it before the course starts. I would like to focus priomarily on other issues when giving feedback on the homework, and this is why I prepared this document. Please read it, and please take the content seriously, because mistakes at this level give a bad first impression.

Rough syllabus
10.04.2019: Introduction and welcome; key concepts of science and its dissemination; the importance of logical reasoning for writing a strong paper; choosing a title and writing an abstract. Some words about key English language issues (mainly vocabulary, some grammar).

25.04.2019: Writing with the reader in mind; the Introduction section; preparing visuals; the Conclusions section; ethical and copyright rules; the issues of repeatability and reproducibility.

08.05.2019: Some words on writing software; managing references; the cover letter; coping with rejection; guidelines for writing the Ph.D. thesis.

As course literature, we will use Jean-Luc Lebrun's excellent book "Scientific Writing 2.0", together with many examples of excellent articles published in top journals. You can download a brief guideline on formatting text here.

Each course day will run from 9:00 to 16:00 and we will be in room BSC0.01 in the Bátiment de Sciences in Limpertsberg.

The slides shown in the class (only for participating students) can be downloaded here.

Welcome!!