Write Science Blog / Oili Kiikkilä

I start to write this blog with the aim to help students and beginners in scientific article writing. We are three of us helping you at the moment, but these blog articles are my personal opinions.

I strive to teach you writing, improve your article and help you to publish it in all the ways I know. All this is based on my experience in doing research, writing and trying to publish it myself, as well as writing and reading peer-reviews and editor comments. Finally, it is based on my roughly one year experience in editing and helping researchers to develop their articles. Most of my clients have been PhD students struggling with the writing. The issues I write about here are such that I have noticed and commented them more than once. All themes are in a random order, mostly coming to my mind while helping someone. You may recognize my comments on your text, but I never write so that the articles or authors could be recognized. I hope that sharing the problems could help future writers. 

I welcome all comments, questions, opinions and discussion about scientific writing. What would you like to ask? What is difficult in scientific writing?
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Monday, January 22, 2018, 16:37 | No Comments »

If your main aim is to give some information dealing with a certain ecosystem or a certain country, it is possible that the article will be rejected for that reason. This may be the case even if you yourself think that in your country, in this certain rare ecosystem, this information is lacking and these concentrations or species or factors are not known. Journals do not appreciate if your aim is to present some concentrations or identify some species somewhere, and least inside one country.

Think if a good aim is to find out something inside the borders of one country. In most cases, it is not. Most often, ecological scientific issues do not follow country borders. Instead of the country, use a climate or vegetation zone or something that describes your study area in general. Think where your results might hold true. If you can present any wider aspects, don’t mention the country at all in the aims. If it seems necessary, you can mention that the study sites were located in a certain country. However, many times even that is not necessary. How could you get rid of the country name?

Sometimes, the country may be useful in the title, so a reader knows where the study sites were. However, most often, the country should not be important enough to be mentioned in the title. By writing the country name in the title, you are highlighting the locality.

Even a more important point is that the country name may dominate and lead your thoughts too much. Why do you have the country name in the title? What would happen if you deleted it? How does it change your writing? Deleting the country name may force you to think some wider aspects, which is only a good thing.

I read hundred titles of Soil Biology & Biochemistry (2017) journal, the most prestigious soil science journal. Eight out of these hundred titles contained a country or a smaller place name inside a country – most of these had the climate or vegetation zone in addition.

Friday, January 12, 2018, 10:14 | No Comments »

In the discussion, have a look if a reader gets the feeling that all this is already known. Be aware, that there is a problem when you are listing several references that got the same result as you did. If you have this kind of a long list, why does science need your study?

Of course, there most probably are articles published with a same result that you got. You should refer to some of them. However, if you do not raise any new finding or aspect and show what is different, it’s an easy task for a reviewer to say that ‘there is nothing new’. You can have and present some confirmatory results, but many editors want that there is something new as well.

Top journals do not want local and confirmatory results at all. They often ask reviewers to assess how generalizable the results are. Even lower quality journal editors have asked me (as a reviewer) to assess if the results are local and just confirmatory to the ones commonly observed previously elsewhere.  Now, if you yourself write many times in the discussion that ‘this has been observed previously’, how can any reviewer say anything else than ‘there is nothing new’? Therefore, when you write that your ‘result has been observed previously’, stop and think. Maybe this sentence is best to delete throughout and find another formulation.

What should you write instead then? I cannot give any universal advice, but, in many cases, you can find contradictory observations. Try to read more carefully the papers you are referring, and find what kind of contradictory results and interpretations exist. Which interpretation does your result support?

Many times and most often, you cannot find anything new about the great lines in ecological science. Therefore, you must work more and go into details. Maybe you can explain more about what specifically was found in the references you give, and then, explain what new you had. What in detail? 

Monday, January 8, 2018, 15:30 | No Comments »

How many subtitles should I use? The use of subtitles seems to be increasing. Many times, they really are useful to a reader. However, when you have a subtitle for each method or variable, or between each paragraph, it is not useful any more.

Many times, I would use fewer subtitles in the Methods (and consistently in the Results). I would use them, not for each method. I would use them for instance, for each experiment. Alternatively, I would group the methods under a couple of titles, such as 'Chemical methods' and 'Molecular biology methods'. I think that it would increase clarity.

A reviewer tries to follow your text and remember the great lines. More than, let’s say, five subtitles in the methods do not help in organizing the study in one’s mind. A reader does not remember more than five method subtitles, instead they start to be in a mess in one’s mind. Therefore, many times less is better.

By no means you are able to increase the quality of your study and your data by using many subtitles, one for each small thing.

Saturday, December 23, 2017, 10:29 | No Comments »

Our substantial editing service focuses on the substance, meaning the scientific content of the text, at the research level. We call it rather writing help than scientific editing. It is much more than editing of the text at the article level. Mostly, it is not editing at all. It is developing the article together with the authors at the research level. It is supervising in writing. Therefore, our price per word is higher than for any kind of language editing. The English language check could be done in half a day, but not our work focusing on the scientific content of the article. In most cases, I read the text several times, answer to questions and discuss with you.

I believe that using our service is a good investment for you if you are going to continue as a researcher and scientific writer in ecological or environmental area. You will learn scientific writing at the general level. Your second article will be better than the first one.

Sometimes, neither of us knows exactly how much and what kind of work that would finally be. In those cases, we could first try to make a fixed price package and start with that.

Monday, December 18, 2017, 10:56 | No Comments »

Not surprisingly, I may suggest you to shorten the texts in the Introduction and Discussion. A good length for the Introduction is between one and two manuscript pages, and for the Discussion, it is three to five pages (Conclusions included). Even in high-quality articles, shorter texts are often better than long ones. At least I start to get tired after five pages of discussion, and ask what the important point is.

It is good to fit the length of the text to the size of the data. The smaller the data the shorter the text could be and vice versa. The same holds true as with the length of the Methods; you cannot raise the value of the research with the length of the text itself. In a reviewer’s eyes, instead, you can lower the value of the research with long stories of which meanings are not evident in the article.

Short writing needs much work, more than writing the long text originally. However, in many cases, condensing the text improves the article a lot. Here, I talk about deleting the whole sentences or themes, not about the sentence structure. 

To be able to shorten the text, you must think of what really is important and deserves publishing. In the Introduction and Discussion, think if you absolutely must write about the subject. Find a reason for each theme you are writing. If you do not have any reason, delete it. It certainly is not nice to press the delete-key and destroy the text that needed much of your work. However, many times, it is the best you can do.

In most cases, there are fewer words in the final than in the original version – although I usually suggest adding something new. The aims paragraph is usually the one I suggest to write longer. The usual case is that the final aims are a half longer or even double that they were in the first version, and the discussion is much shorter in the final than original version. I do not use the words in the original long version as the base of pricing.

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