Writing Manuscripts: The Alternative ‘Guide to Authors’

Post provided by EMMA SAYER

If the reviewer doesn't get it, you haven't explained it clearly enough! © Chelm261

If the reviewer doesn’t get it, you haven’t explained it clearly enough! ©Chelm261

“If the reviewer doesn’t get it, you haven’t explained it clearly enough!” This is one quote from my PhD supervisor that I haven’t forgotten. Getting research funded and published depends to a very large extent on our ability to get the point across. Although scientific texts appear to differ wildly from other forms of writing, a good research paper actually follows the same basic principles of effective communication as a newspaper article or advertising text.

There are some fairly simply guidelines on presenting and structuring written information to get the point across and highlight the key messages that are very useful for manuscripts, thesis chapters, proposals, basically any kind of academic writing. At Functional Ecology, we’ve collected tips and tricks from various sources to help authors effectively communicate their research and ideas. Here are our key points:

1) Know Your Audience

A research paper is about communicating your research in a way that makes sense to others. © Vinch

A research paper is about communicating your research in a way that makes sense to others. © Vinch

The central principle for any type of communication is: know your audience. A research paper isn’t just about presenting information – it’s about communicating your research to others. When you start preparing a manuscript, you need to think about who will read it. In the first instance, this is probably a busy editor or reviewer, so you should make sure that you get your key messages across without making your readers work too hard. Good science writing isn’t about using clever-sounding words and sentences, it’s about getting the point across in such a way that readers can understand the research and reach the right conclusion (i.e. the one you want them to reach). Continue reading

Choosing Where to Submit: Is Your Manuscript Right for MEE?

You’ve spent months, or even years, working on a project. You’ve finalised your manuscript and you’re ready to submit. But which journal should you send your paper to?

@ Colin (click image to see original)

@ Colin (click image to see original)

In recent years, this question has only gotten harder. As more and more journals enter the market, the decision of where to send your paper is becoming increasingly confusing. With predatory journals muddying the waters and an increasing pressure to publish, deciding where to submit can be a daunting task for even seasoned academics.

Is Methods in Ecology and Evolution the right journal for your manuscript? Is your manuscript right for Methods? Hopefully this blog post will give you a set of tools to make that decision a little easier. Most of these can be applied to other journals too (although some may need to be tweaked a little). Continue reading

Publishing science in the online age

While our Editor-in-Chief will be chairing a session on methods in ecology and evolution at the BES Annual Meeting 2011, our Journal Coordinator is running a lunchtime workshop on publishing science in the online age. Journalist and blogger Ed Yong, Open Science advocate Ross Mounce, and BES journal editors Marc Cadotte and David Gibson, will all be talking about the various ways in which online communication has the potential to revolutionise the scientific landscape, presenting fantastic opportunities for efficient collaboration, lively discussion, and novel dissemination – followed by questions and debate.

You can read the presentation abstracts on the workshop blog, and track the event on Twitter with #BESdigital. The workshop will be from 13.30 to 14.50 on Tuesday the 13th – just after the session on methods in ecology and evolution – in Lecture Theatre 9 of the Hicks building, so come along and join in!

INTECOL 2009 – What will journals look like in 10 years?

As I have just been involved with setting up a new journal with Wiley-Blackwell and the BES, I was asked to contribute to a planning session for Austral Ecology considering the question, “what will journals look like in 10 years?” Here are some of my thoughts that I contributed.

First, we should be clear that if we look back 10 years, journals have changed a lot: back in 1999 Ecology Letters revolutionized the editorial process by sending reviews and decisions by fax(!!). Science and Nature used Fedex to speed things up a bit. Submitting an MS meant a big drain on the printer and photocopier, and sending hard copies by snail mail.

Things were a bit less primitive for readers: pdf versions were increasingly available for mainstream journals, although a regular trip to the library was necessary to keep up with everything.

Now of course, the whole process is online, from submission to decision, through post decision processing, to the final access of the MS. At least 90% of journal access is online, and most subscriptions to journals are ‘online only’. For a new journal there is no compelling argument for producing a print version and new journals launched in the past few years do not have one (e.g. PLoS journals, Evolutionary Applications, Conservation Letters).

So what is going to happen? In predicting the future I think it is important to look at how biology is taught. Students use online resources all the time, be that online teaching material, Wikipedia or online textbooks and journals. Universities are adapting fast – for example, iTunesU is used for advertising courses and research. Youtube also has lectures. Videocasts and Podcasts are now routine tools in teaching. The current generation of undergrads are soon going to be PhD students and postdocs, and will want this type of resources in their research.

The Journal of Visualized Experiments is the current pinnacle of this trend: the key element of this journal is a video demonstration of the research and there are ecological studies already in this journal.

This imaginative use of online resources will be a major trend. However, having said this, I think the core values of publication will remain: the need for rigorous, fair review, publication prestige and speed of process will remain important to authors and readers alike.