Scientific Publications: Sharing Your Work

To share your work, you must communicate your science to others.

Informal communications and some formal communications achieve this goal on a limited level, but to share your work with the largest audience you must publish in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (a scientific report).

Two dimensions of the scientific report are:

  1. technical/scientific – what you did and how you did it.
  2. rhetorical – placing your work in context and convincing your community of its relevance.

1. Historical Background

The research report as we know it today evolved through the early years of scientific communication:

  1. Dark Ages: Science practiced (quietly) in monasteries.
  2. Enlightenment: Open communication
    Royal Society of London – Founded 1645, Incorporated 1662
  3. 1665-1700: Reports were observations of nature (Methods).
  4. 1700-1760: Reports argued over Results.
  5. 1760-1780: Reports were discovery accounts including consideration of meanings of scientific observations (Discussion).
  6. 1780-Present: Reports presented hypotheses (Introduction) and experiments.

2. Research Report vs Review Article

The review article is a unique genre that should be distinguished from the research reviews embedded in research reports and proposals. A review article is an incredibly useful communication vehicle for students starting to learn about the science in a discipline; it can be a gold mine of information and references to help you construct a picture of current research on a topic!

A review article:

  • integrates, synthesizes, and analyzes findings (not views) from published literature on one comparatively general topic.
  • resembles a term paper or thesis – presents information about a topic and analyzes that information critically.
  • does not generally report novel experimental results and does not fit the IMRaD format.
  • situates research within the social discourse community and scientific context.
  • is usually long (10-15 typeset pages)
  • is frequently written by an acknowledged expert in the field. “The review thus represents one expert reader’s interpretation of the state of knowledge in the field.” (Penrose & Katz p. 77).
  • is written for a wider, less specialized audience than the usual research paper. A review paper will typically be read by scientists in related fields as well as those in your discipline. Therefore, as with an abstract, jargon should be eliminated. (The fact that review articles are written for a broad audience can be used to advantage by students; you will be more likely to be able to understand a review article than some research papers!)
  • can be found in professional publications with Review in the title, such as Clinical Microbiology Reviews. (Look in your own discipline for one.)

3. The Scientific Research Report

In order to be published, your work must be seen as novel to the scientific community – a new innovation that supports or refutes the paradigm.

Scientists face the problem of convincing the editors of a journal that their experiments are newsworthy.

To do this, scientists must place their work in context! It’s not enough to report your science – you must integrate the new (your experiment) with the old (the experiments of those who have gone before you). Authors who don’t understand this may have their work rejected by reviewers!

To place your work in context you must do a thorough literature review and cite the authors whose work you find in your introduction.

What else must you do to publish a research report?

  • You must produce solid, reproducible science.
  • You must write your results using the IMRaD format (to be discussed in a future lecture).
  • You must write a mechanically accurate article.
  • You must write your article in the style of the journal to which you wish to submit. Read other journal articles to get a flavor of that style.
  • You must follow the guidelines set up in the “Instructions to Authors” section of the journal. These are usually published in the January issue of a journal. Refer to the sample instruction pages from The Plant Journal.
  • Addresses and cover letter instructions should be followed.
  • You must decide if you want to submit your article as a feature or a note.
  • Follow the manuscript specifications to the letter!
  • Be sure to include a carefully written abstract and several key words. These are the vehicles by which fellow scientists will be able to find your work – it’s worthwhile to produce them thoughtfully!!
  • Decide with your collaborators on the order for listing names.
  • Equations can be difficult to typeset. Try to make it as easy as possible for your editor!
  • Follow the journal’s convention for references. Refer to previous issues to determine the format. If the journal follows one of the style guides, the reference format will be detailed there.
  • Tables and figures should be on separate pages. If possible, submit them in camera-ready format to speed publication. Original photos and artwork are required, not photocopies.
  • When submitting in machine-readable format, be cautious about formatting!
  • You must be available to proofread galleys and page proofs when the editor sends them prior to publication. It is important to proofread carefully – typesetting errors can be difficult to catch and may be embarrassing if they slip through!

Review Articles

The review article is a unique genre and an incredibly useful communication vehicle for students starting to learn about the science in a discipline; it can be a gold mine of information and references to help you construct a picture of current research on a topic!

A review article:

  • integrates, synthesizes, and analyzes findings (not views) from published literature on one comparatively general topic
  • resembles a term paper or thesis – presents information about a topic and analyzes that information critically
  • does not generally report novel experimental results and does not fit the IMRaD format
  • situates research within the social discourse community and scientific context
  • is usually long (10-15 typeset pages)
  • is frequently written by an acknowledged expert in the field. “The review thus represents one expert reader’s interpretation of the state of knowledge in the field.” (Penrose & Katz p. 77)
  • is written for a wider, less specialized audience than the usual research paper. Therefore, as with an abstract, jargon should be eliminated. (The fact that review articles are written for a broad audience can be used to advantage by students; you will be more likely to be able to understand a review article than some research papers!
  • can be found in professional publications with Review in the title

Online journals are a new form of communication. The genre is in its infancy, and many details need to be resolved before online journals will be the “gold standard” for scientific publication.

Issues:

  • Quality control
  • Peer review
  • Pressure to publish
  • Archives issues
  • Applications to fields of high public interest (medicine)
  • Financial issues

Online Resources

The organization of an argument according to classical rhetoric
http://www.iwu.edu/~jhaefner/236X/dispositio.html