Addressing important scientific questions, designing sound protocols, generating good and interesting data, and analyzing data rigorously are cornerstones of scientific research. But all that work amounts to little if you fail to communicate what you learn to your scientist peers. Furthermore, unless you can turn that science into a persuasive paper, you won’t get credit for the work you do.
Writing is no easy task, and writing about science is especially challenging. It’s a highly specialized medium that requires using many of the same words as regular writing (plus a specialized vocabulary) in new, more compact ways, and strategically deploying graphics and/or mathematics. Doing it well takes practice and experience.
In an effort to ease the writing curve for new investigators, over the years Science Careers has gathered tips from journal editors, successful scientists, and early-career researchers. We have published articles covering all the key stages in the process of publishing your scientific results, including writer’s block, composing a publishable manuscript, credit and the ethics of authorship, dealing with reviewers’ comments, and other writing-related topics.
Science Careers has also highlighted the career impacts of good publications, discussed how to handle a poor publication record, and given advice on how to secure your supervisor’s support.
The following articles are listed in chronological order, from newest to oldest. We will continue to update our content on this topic, so make sure to visit regularly.
How to Collaborate, by Sharon Ann Holgate, 20 July. Working with the same collaborators on a series of projects can make it easier to avoid disagreements about credit.
Will That Be Trash or Credit?, by Adam Ruben, 29 June. Humorist Adam Ruben writes about being “scooped.”
Career Q&A: A Successful Career Without Credentials, by Elisabeth Pain, 11 May. Getting his science papers published helped paleontologist Jack Horner overcome dyslexia and not having a Ph.D. to become a celebrated scientist.
How to Write Like a Scientist, by Adam Ruben, 23 March. Adam Ruben again, making fun of the peculiar rules behind the scientific writing style.
Hunting Ghosts, by Susan Gaidos, 18 March 2011. An industry spokesperson claims the ghostwriting problem is fixed, but critics of the practice disagree.
Ghostwriters in the Medical Literature, by Susan Gaidos, 12 November 2010. Despite new disclosure requirements, ghostwriters remain a threat to the integrity of the scientiﬁc literature as well as careers.
Perspective: Put Integrity High on Your To-Do List, by Nicholas H. Steneck, 5 November 2010. Research integrity is the sum of all the routine decisions that scientists make every day, including authorship.
Conventions of Scientific Authorship, by Vijaysree Venkatraman, 16 April 2010. Reputable journals have guidelines for authorship, but the exact protocols are still being worked out.
Scientists Embrace Openness, by Chelsea Wald, 9 April 2010. Some scientists choose to make their scientific lives an open book—literally.
Perspective: How to Succeed in Big Science and Still Get Tenure, by Victoria McGovern, 31 July 2009. To get tenure, you need to show that you, not a group of authors that frequently includes you, deserve promotion.
Learning the Ropes of Peer Reviewing, by Elisabeth Pain, 15 August 2008. Reviewing manuscripts can help you improve your own writing and your basic science skills.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Cool Off, Revise, and Submit Again, by Lucas Laursen, 15 August 2008. Despite its sting, rejection can be a constructive part of the publication process.
Playing Well With Industry, by Elisabeth Pain, 14 March 2008. Academics working with industry need to be aware of how these collaborations will impact intellectual property, data ownership and disclosure, and the freedom to publish.
Research in Translation: Getting Published, by Siri Carpenter, 29 February 2008. Planning studies carefully and picking the right journal are keys to publishing your translational research.
Mastering Your Ph.D.: Writing Your Doctoral Thesis With Style, by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 21 December 2007. You can transform published articles into thesis chapters, and vice versa.
Maximizing Productivity and Recognition, Part 1: Publication, Citation, and Impact, by S. Pfirman, P. Balsam, R.E. Bell, J.D. Laird, and P. Culligan, 2 November 2007. Successful researchers offer tips to increase the number and impact of your publications.
Mastering Your PhD: Science Papers that Shine, by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 13 April 2007. Make sure you learn the basics of writing a paper as early as possible.
Special Feature: Getting Published in Scientific Journals, by Elisabeth Pain, 6 April 2007. Journal editors and successful researchers give nuts-and-bolts advice on how to get your research into print.
Moving Out of the Shadows: Publishing From the Rest of the World, by Elisabeth Pain, 6 April 2007. When writing up their research for international journals, scientists in non-Anglophone countries face challenges that go beyond proficiency in a foreign language.
Tips for Publishing in Scientific Journals, by Katrina Kelner, 6 April 2007. Then–Science Deputy Editor Katrina Kelner (now managing editor, research journals, and Science Translational Medicine editor) offers nuts-and-bolts advice on how to get your research published.
Dealing With Deception, by Beryl Lieff Benderly, 19 January 2007. It is important for early-career researchers to find protection from the perils of scientific deceptions.
Educated Woman, Chapter 52: What, Me Write?, by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 23 June 2006. Micella Phoenix DeWhyse wrestles with overcoming writer’s block and getting on with her thesis.
MentorDoctor: No Pubs, No Postdoc?, by Next Wave Staff, 14 October 2005. Make sure you’ve got adequate support from your supervisor to timely publish your papers.
Reviewers Can Help Get Your Paper Published, by David Grimm, 23 September 2005. Many journals offer authors the opportunity to suggest or exclude other people as potential reviewers. (Reposted from Science.)
Yours Transferredly: Published but Unpaid, by Phil Dee, 22 July 2005. The more research you’ve published, the stronger your hand of cards for your job hunt.
The Unspoken Things of Science, by Phil Dee, 19 November 2004. Being an unknown or using a very novel method may slightly increase the chances that your manuscript will be rejected.
Writing a Publishable Journal Article: A Perspective From the Other Side of the Desk, by Sharon Nancekivell, 16 April 2004. An author’s editor and journal copy editor offers a checklist to help you avoid the common pitfalls on your way to publication.
Abstracting the Truth, by Phil Dee, 17 October 2003. Phil Dee offers advice on how to condense your science into its bare minimum.
Academic Scientists at Work: I Can’t Believe They Didn’t Like It!, by Jeremy M. Boss and Susan H. Eckert, 12 September 2003. The key following rejection is to know how to respond to critiques so that you get that paper accepted eventually.
Overcoming a Poor Publication Record, by Career Doctor, 8 August 2003. If you have too few papers for your career stage, make an objective decision about your mutual compatibility with academia, the Career Doctor advises.
Educated Woman: The Grad School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse–Chapter 18: Elephant Eating, 101, by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 25 July 2003. Micella explains what the experience of going through the “my first paper” process has been like for her.
Academic Scientists at Work: Publishing at the Top of the Heap, by Jeremy M. Boss and Susan H. Eckert, 11 July 2003. How important are the journals that you publish in when it comes to getting tenure?
Tips for Talent: Getting Your Paper Into a High-impact Journal, by Stephen Simpson, 4 April 2003. Former Science editor Stephen Simpson offers tips on the do’s and don’ts of scientific publishing.
How to Get Around to Writing, by Phil Dee, 21 March 2003. Phil Dee advises the literary-challenged scientist on how to get around to writing a paper.
Where Credit Meets Accountability: The Perils of Authorship, by Drummond Rennie, 31 January 2003. In the fight for credit, authors tend to overlook the fact that credit is tightly linked to responsibility for the work’s integrity.
Do You Really Want Your Name on That Paper?, by Katie Cottingham, 31 January 2003. What are scientists’ responsibilities once they are listed as an author and the paper is published?
Accountability and Authorship, by Kathy Barker, 8 November 2002. Scientific journals and institutions have rules and guidelines in place to help navigate decisions about authorship.
When a Mentor Becomes a Thief, by Chris Woolston, 24 May 2002. Many early-career researchers find themselves in a position where they feel they have been denied rightful authorship.
Your First “First-Author” Paper, Part 2–The Act of Submission and Peering at the Review Process, by Phil Dee, 15 March 2002. Phil Dee talks about his first experience going through the paper-writing mill.
Your First “First-Author” Paper: Part One–The Writing, by Phil Dee, 15 February 2002. Phil Dee offers some advice for those who have to write their first paper before starting their thesis write-up.
Authorship in Biomedical Research: Realities and Expectations, by Mildred Cho and Martha McKee, 1 March 2002. Young scientists are often involved in complicated negotiations with peers and superiors over authorship.
Horses for Courses–Research Papers versus Reviews, by Andrew Sugden, 1 February 2002. Science Deputy Editor for Biology and International Managing Editor Andrew Sugden explains the difference between research papers and reviews.
Eye on Science: New Journal Reaches Out to High School Students, by Lesley McKarney, 21 December 2001. Students from grades 7 to 12 can practice their writing skills, too.
Patent First, Publish Later: How Not to Ruin Your Chances of Winning a Patent, by Vid Mohan-Ram, 26 October 2001. Securing patents while flourishing in the academic science community requires knowing how much to give away and when.
Shotgun Thesis Composition, by Phil Dee, 21 September 2001. Phil Dee finds that picking up every result and every paper that needs to go into his thesis and slotting it right in where it needs to go is very effective.
The Write Stuff, by Mark Sincell, 24 August 2001. There are various sources that young scientists can draw upon for help writing their first paper.
Improving Writing Skills–The Postdoc Editors Club, by Marielena Mata, Tom Sweitzer, and Joseph Gray, 16 August 2001. The Postdoctoral Council at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine set up its own editors’ club as a way to give postdocs training in technical writing.
Peer-Review Techniques for Novices, by Lesley McKarney, 20 April 2001. Getting early experience peer-reviewing others’ manuscripts will help you recognize when a paper is written well.
The Ethics of Authorship: Feature Overview–How Should Authorship Be Decided?, by Katie Cottingham, 30 March 2001. Deciding whom to include and in what order are two examples of tricky decisions surrounding authorship.
The Ethics of Authorship: Authorship by Prior Agreement–Principles and Pitfalls, by Michael Gottesman, 30 March 2001. How should prior agreements for authorship be formulated, and do they take precedence over standard authorship requirements?
The Ethics of Authorship: Policies for Authorship of Articles Submitted to Scientific Journals, by Marlene Noble, 30 March 2001. A common guideline for authorship is that one must have substantially contributed to the development of the paper—but what is substantial?
The Ethics of Authorship: An Ombudsperson’s Perspective, by Linda Wilcox, 30 March 2001. An ombudsperson is an unbiased and confidential institutional resource you can go to if you have a problem regarding authorship.
The Ethics of Authorship: Does It Take a Village to Write a Paper?, by Glenn McGee, 30 March 2001. Writing is a complicated process where the most important element is not always the construction of sentences.
Thesis Writing, Guru-Style, by Andrea Lord, 2 March 2001. While writing her thesis, then–Ph.D. student Andrea Lord found relief in a list-writing method described by management guru Mark McCormack.
You CAN Write Your Thesis Without Writing Lists, by Hilary Marshall, 2 March 2001. Here is some other advice if you are not one of those people who is into making lists.
Yours Transferably: The Watershed That Is Your First-Year Report, by Phil Dee, 18 August 2000. For many young scientists, report-writing gives a first taste of what it is like to write a scientific paper.
The Beauty of Outlines, by Liane Reif-Lehrer, 9 June 2000. Making an outline can help you write a better, more logically structured manuscript, and quicker.
Sharing the Pain, by Mark Sincell, 5 May 2000. If you’re writing your thesis, you might find that joining a dissertation-writing support group is helpful.
The Thrill of the Paper, The Agony of the Review: Part Two, by Douglas Curran-Everett, 24 September 1999. An author and reviewer offers some strategies to find the game of publication a lot more fun and increase your chances to win.
The Thrill of the Paper, The Agony of the Review: Part One, by Douglas Curran-Everett, 10 September 1999. Despair is a common feeling following manuscript rejection, but there are ways around it.
Reprints: Pressures to Publish Fuel the Professionalization of Today’s Graduate Students, by Leonardo Cassuto, 27 November 1998. The need to enter the publication mill early in your training comes with a cost to graduate students.