This is a guest post by Dr. Oreta Samples.
No truer advice was ever given to a writer than “write what you know.” It is only through such writing that the passionate appreciation for ones chosen subject matter shines through. This is not to say that one cannot research a topic and develop a perfectly acceptable article; there may however be less of a passionate sheen to the finished product. And for a “science nerd” such as myself where is the fun?
My passion is “all things science.” This is in itself not surprising as I have spent most of my adult life working within different aspects of medicine, both human and veterinary in nature. From seventeen years as an insurance medical examiner to part-time work as a phlebotomist (you know the pre-dawn blood suckers employed by hospitals) to my final landing-place as an adjunct instructor and Lead Veterinary Technologist at a veterinary technicians program in rural Georgia; I have adhered to a career of medicine in some shape, form or format. As an avid reader, I have also devoured my fair share of medical novels, textbooks and journals and early on was bitten by the “I can write as good as they do…” bug. I have discovered, since having that epiphany some fourteen years ago, that scientific writing is a niche whose contributors oftentimes are overlooked as “authors” possibly due to the perception that their offerings appeal to a narrow audience. However this genre can and has provided a starting point for many whose passion, like mine is all things science. Case in point, I would imagine that it is a safe bet to assume that authors such as Robin Cook and Patricia Cromwell have written their fair share of scientific journal articles before they became the icons of the medical thriller that they remain today.
Scientific Article Writing – Getting Started
But for those who are just starting out as writers of the scientific genre (i.e. journal and research based articles), it is important to get it right the first time. Scientific articles deal in science – a discipline as exciting as it is rigid in terms of “believability.” Scientific articles begin with an idea or hypothesis; a sort of “what if”-styled epiphany by the writer. When choosing a topic for a scientific article, keep it simple. Beware of creating a monster as scientific topics have a way of billowing out of control if left unchecked; stay focused and regard all of the secondary ideas that are related in some obscure way to your primary topic as fodder for future articles. And yes, there will be future articles.
Outlines and Scientific Writing Play Well Together
Once the topic is chosen, I find the old-fashioned outline approach works well for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to organize the paper in such a way that paragraphs ebb and flow along in support and therefore supported by one another. Secondly, the outline provides an organized format which one can refer to as they begin researching out the paper. Make no mistake, many a research paper has been written from the middle outward. Some authors may jot down a rough draft of their conclusion as a way of assessing just how much work must be done to “prove” their hypothesis or claims.
Introduction, Discussion, and Conclusion
However one chooses to begin, a well-written scientific article has an identifiable Introduction where the subject (or hypothesis) is first introduced. This is generally a short paragraph that also informs the reader as to “why” the subject matters. The Discussion comes next and is the true meat of the paper, allowing the author to reference the research and findings that back up claims made within the article. This is also the area where all information should be solidly referenced through heavy citation. Finally, the Conclusion allows for a discussion of the results and the authors opinion of the relevance of these results. The conclusion may or may not include reference citations; its main focus being the showcasing of the authors own thoughts on the subject. The conclusion remains the only place of opinion within the article.
Citations are Mandatory
Statements are based on facts and facts must be documented in the form of reference citations. That is the way it works if one is to be regarded seriously within the scientific community. Scientific articles are generally referenced using the American Psychological Association form of referencing, more commonly known as “APA Style.” This is a direct contrast to papers addressing topics in the humanities or languages genre whose authors utilize the Modern Language Association (MLA) format of citation. Of course if there is any doubt, a quick check of the submission or authors guidelines will provide the correct format which the publisher prefers. It is important to get this step right as utilizing the wrong form of reference citation is an indication of a sloppy or careless writing style on the part of the author.
Find Your Stride
There is no one way to draft a successful paper, just be aware that there will be many drafts before you send the paper to an editor and then there will be many more still to come before you see your work in print. New authors should embrace the challenges of writing successfully but be aware that it is not something that “just happens” and in addition to a good laptop, plenty of paper and an imagination, the most important piece of equipment in the author’s arsenal is…a thick skin. Rejections will come more often than acceptance which makes the acceptance letter (or e-mail) all the sweeter. Savor the acceptance and file away the rejections to be studied and learned from when the sting is not so fresh. Above all, it behooves the author to remain steadfast and “keep on writing.”
My name is Dr. Oreta M. Samples and I love to write “all things science.” As an adjunct instructor at a small Land-Grant College in Fort Valley, Georgia as well as an online professor with both Kaplan University and St. Francis University, I work with adult learners on a daily basis to learn the intricacies of good solid “scientific writing.” I am a writer of what I read having served as Book Review Editor for 7 years at www.vspn.org, a community for those who have made veterinary technology their chosen career field where I review textbooks of… what else – scientific literature.