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Commentary and helpful information for communicating your scientific.

Scientific English

Clear writing enhances the reader's understanding of the importance of your reported findings. Once published, a permanent record of your ideas and hypotheses and thought processes is established, allowing others to build on your ideas for future investigation, which is the backbone of scientific exploration. This is crucial for scientific progress. Providing other scientists a piece of new information as a platform for building their own inquiries is also crucial for your career as a scientist. Science aims to enhance the understanding and lives of humanity. Findings that cannot be easily accessed or understood delay the advancement of science. The investment, in both time and money, spent on research warrant dispersion of the findings of the research, whatever they may be, to a global audience. The language used must be understood by both native and non-native English-speaking scientists throughout the world. In other words, a more 'scientific English' rather than the type of English used socially or in classical literature. Let SciTechEdit International help you to communicate your science to an international audience.

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The Best Way to Help Your Research Get Published

STE The best way to help your research get published
  • A good, persuasive cover letter increases your chances of being published.
  • Your cover letter is your sales pitch to journal editors for why they should publish your work.
  • Your cover letter must follow the journal's requirements, and be concise and free of errors.

Your goal of publishing your research is at hand. You've carefully selected the journal for submitting your work (if you haven't selected your journal yet, see The Guide to Choosing the Best Science Journal for Publishing Your Research), you've prepared and formatted your manuscript for the journal, and you are excited at the idea of being published.

For most journals, you must now write the all-important cover letter that gets you in the door to be published. Yes, you must write a cover letter! A cover letter, or pre-submission letter, is the key that entices the editor to agree to review your research. You cannot take the easy way out and simply state "here is my research for you to publish". Why would they care? Why should they care? Sending a carelessly written cover letter shows you don't care and that maybe your research isn't at all worth publishing. Do you really want to give that impression after all your hard work, time, and effort spent performing your research and writing up your findings? Probably not.

With thousands of papers to choose from for publication, science journals have their pick of what to publish and your article may not be chosen. Journal editors are in the driver's seat. 

 

What can make the difference in being published or not? Your sales pitch (or persuasive argument) to the journal. Your cover letter is that sales pitch. 

Now before you are taken aback at the idea of having to present a sales pitch, think about it. You are asking them to publish your work. You are competing with dozens of scientists and you must stand out from the crowd. We are not talking about exaggerated or overstated claims, but a statement that tells the journal 'What's In It For Them' and 'The Benefit' they gain by publishing your work. 

The competition to publish is real and ongoing. There is no resting on your laurels in science publication. A body of work may be lauded, but each piece of work must make its way to the front of the line for publication, and your cover letter is how you gain access to the first step of publication. Without a great cover letter, your research could all be for naught - a wasted effort. 

 

Pay strong attention to your cover letter as it is the mechanism to getting your research read and published. 

Just as a job cover letter is the first impression future employers see of you, the pitch in that letter is what helps them decide to progress to reading your resume. The publication cover letter is your sales pitch to science journals that your manuscript will benefit them and their readers. 

Editors want to know that you understand the focus of their journal, the scope of work they publish, how your work will complement other research they publish, and that your work will relate to their readers, as well as the public and general media. Your cover letter will emphasize why your work is important, useful, and interesting. It is your pitch to get published.

STE rev The cover letter is your sales pitch to science journals

Be persuasive and coherent in your cover letter. Sell the merits of your work to them.  You don't need to exaggerate your findings, you just need to describe why they are important and relevant. 

 

Now that you understand the importance of the WHY of a cover letter, let's move on to the HOW of a cover letter to a science journal. 

First, carefully read the specific Author Requirements and Instructions published in the journal you are targeting. If you don't carefully follow their rules, your manuscript could be immediately rejected. 

Find the name of the editor so you can address your cover letter to this specific person. If you can't locate the name and email address, then use "Dear Editor" in your letter salutation. Under no circumstances should you use "Dear Sir or Madam"! It is archaic, antiquated, and outdated. Also, do not use "To Whom It May Concern" as that shows a lack of interest in the person you wish to have read your letter. If you don't care, they won't either. 

Cover letters, or pre-submission letters, must contain a brief, concise, and clear message. One page only! If you find yours running longer than one page, edit it. 

Know that SciTechEdit International is at your service for composing, editing, proofreading, and polishing your cover letter to achieve its best potential in pitching your research for publication. See more here Cover Letters. Contact us when we may be of assistance to you!

Be human in your letter! Write in plain English and avoid jargon and acronyms. Do not drone on about your paper and bore the reader. Remove passive voice phrases such as "in order to" and "may have potential to", and rewrite in active voice. Respect the editor's time!

Briefly summarize the highlights in a way that non-experts could understand. Tell why your paper will have an impact and on whom: fellow scientists, the public, future research. Editors are not experts in all fields, so make your explanations easily understood. 

Choose a readable typeface such as Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, in a font size between 10 and 12.

Break up large blocks of text as needed to make it easier for the editor to read. 

Be sure that the name you use in your research is the same as what you use in your letter. If you are John L. Smith in your paper, sign your letter in that name, not J. L. Smith. Make it easy for the editor to connect the dots. 

If your target journal allows suggestions for reviewers ("referees"), or for reviewers you wish to avoid, follow the journal directions for how many of these they allow. *Studies show that you can significantly increase the chances of being published by suggesting and/or excluding reviewers in your cover letter. 

Be sure your letter is free of errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Don't trust "spell-check" - have a colleague or two (or a science editing company!) review your letter to catch any mistakes. Your cover letter/pre-submission letter is an important document that represents you and your research. If the cover letter is sloppy, the assumption is that your research is, too. Don't miss out on potential publication with a poorly crafted letter!

 In addition to the journal's requirements, include this important information in your pre-submission or cover letter:

  • Short introduction stating your manuscript title, the type of article if the journal has different types of articles, and the specific journal you are referencing for publication.
  • Tell why your research study was important, and what questions it answers. Include why your research was needed and whether it continues or builds on prior research in this field. 
  • Tell why your research would be of interest to the journal audience and/or to the specific field of science that the journal covers. Your goal is to convince the editor that your research fits the scope of the journal and would be of interest to their audience (THIS IS THE KEY PART OF THE PITCH). Without exaggeration, tell why your research is new, relevant, and of keen interest to scientists and readers of the journal. 
  • Tell the editor the highlights of your results and the conclusions you have drawn. Clearly and succinctly explain these results, findings, and conclusions in lay terms, not jargon. 
  • KEY: State that your manuscript has not been published, nor is under consideration by any other journal for publication. 
  • State that all authors have approved the manuscript and submission for publication to the journal.

 

Write short paragraphs for these sections, with special care and emphasis on selling/persuading the journal on why your research will benefit the journal and its readers. 

Details: 

  • Date (spell out the name of the month to avoid confusion)
  • Addressee name, Email address, Journal name
  • Salutation (e.g. Dear Dr. Smith:; Dear Editor:)
  • Body of the letter, your message
  • Closing ("Thank you" gets the best results)
  • Email Signature (Name, email address, phone, facility, department, mailing address, personal website)
  • Enclosure (under signature, if including manuscript)

STE Proofread shorten correct review

Proofread, shorten, correct, review, and rewrite your letter as necessary. The cover letter can open the door to having your research published. Give it the extra care both it, and your research, deserve. 

If all this is mind-boggling or you feel stuck in writing your cover letter, contact the editors at SciTechEdit International (Tämä sähköpostiosoite on suojattu spamboteilta. Tarvitset JavaScript-tuen nähdäksesi sen.) and we will be happy to guide you through it. We are invested in your success!

If this article has been helpful to you, please share with your fellow scientists. Thank you so much!

 

Author: Michael H. Mesches, PhD

© 2017 SciTechEdit International  

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 * Grimm, D. Suggesting or Excluding Reviewers Can Help Get Your Paper Published. Science 2005:309:1974 doi:10.1126/science.309.5743.1974

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The Guide to Choosing the Best Science Journal for Publishing Your Research

STE rev HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SCIENCE JOURNAL FOR PUBLISHING YOUR RESEARCH 250x250From the idea to the proposal, the grant application, the lab bench work, field/clinical work, collaboration, and writing your notes, your scientific research has traveled a long road to get to your destination: getting published. Dissemination of your findings and ideas to your colleagues and the public is your crucial end goal.

Choose the journal BEFORE writing the manuscript. Your choice will help you to tailor the manuscript to the scope and audience of the journal, as well as journal requirements of formatting, space limitations, allowed abbreviations, etc. Knowing the rules ahead of time will save you time and work, and improve the likelihood that your work will be selected for peer review and publication.

How do you choose which journal is best to publish your research?

We have a few ideas and tips to help you in your publication path. Read on.

First, there are two easy-to-use online resources to help you decide which journal would be most pertinent to your research. The JANE (Journal/Author Name Estimator) and the Cofactor Science Journal selector.

JANE compares your document to Medline documents to find the best match. You can use your abstract or keywords to search JANE. More info on JANE can be found here: http://jane.biosemantics.org/ and FAQ here: http://www.biosemantics.org/jane/faq.php

The journal selector at http://cofactorscience.com/journal-selector asks for five criteria and will search the journal possibilities for you that fit those criteria.

You may also want to look at Google Scholar Metrics, which indexes the top journals in the sciences, humanities, mathematics, and tech with citation h-indexes. Listings are for English publications as well as publications in other languages.

If you are still unsure of whether a journal is right for your findings, email the managing editor found on the “About” section of the journal’s website prior to your submission. Sending your abstract with an appropriate title will help the editor decide whether your paper is suitable for their journal (if they respond favorably, be sure to mention this in your cover letter).

There are other important factors to consider before deciding on your top three choices of journals, which should guide your selection:

1. Audience and Journal ScopeSTE rev. See which factors are importing in choosing a Science Journal
2. Journal Requirements
3. Language
4. Review Process
5. Time Frame for Acceptance
6. Acceptance-Rejection Rate
7. Online and Print Publication Time Frames
8. Journal Impact Factor
9. Open or Closed Access
10. Promotion & Sharing
11. Cost

1. AUDIENCE and JOURNAL SCOPE:

The Audience:
Who is your target audience?
• Is your research for a general or specific audience? Who will be most interested in your results?
• Can your findings be clinically applied or are they theoretical?
• Are your findings specific to your field or are they broadly applicable?
• Are you introducing a new technique that may be useful to most scientists or to specific fields?

The Journal:
Is the journal general to a discipline or specific to a particular sub-discipline? Aside from multi-discipline journals such as Nature, Science, and PLOS ONE, generalist journals of a single discipline have a large audience and are highly prestigious. Niche journals are less widely read and not as prestigious because of the smaller audience.

How many copies of the journal are sold? Over 2500 top university libraries around the world generally subscribe to a multitude of journals; therefore, if your selected journal sells this many copies or more, the opportunity for your work to be seen and cited is much improved. Additionally, circulation that reaches a lay audience is important for publicizing your work.

How long has the journal been published and does it publish regularly? Beware of new journals that are similar in name to established journals as they may not be respectable, and may be predatory. It is unfortunate that Beall’s list of possible predatory journals is no longer published, but it can still be found in the web archives here.

2. JOURNAL REQUIREMENTS:
Practical considerations are important in considering the best journal for your work. Article length, allowed numbers of figures, references, etc., vary by journal.

Be sure to read the journal’s Instructions to Authors/Guide for Authors to determine the limitations of the journal and whether your work will fit within those parameters. Some journals are stricter than others regarding their policies (particularly regarding article or section length). If in doubt, query the editor or check a recently published issue. Thoroughly review their policies before submission.

Examples of author guides and publication instructions can be found here:

Science journals
Nature
Journal of the American Chemical Society

 

3. LANGUAGE:
Although the dominant language of science is English, there are journals in other languages that may be more pertinent to your findings and your intended audience.

SciTechEdit International is a leader in the field of translation of science documents to English from a wide variety of languages and offer our services to you should you need translations and/or editing of your manuscripts for publication in English-language science journals.

4. REVIEW PROCESS:
It is important to know if the journal uses a Single-, Double-, or Triple-Blind, or Open review process. In a Triple-Blind review, the editor and two or more reviewers are unaware of your identity and the reviews are anonymous. In a Double-Blind review, the editor knows your identity but the reviewers do not. In a Single-Blind review, the reviewers also know who you are. In an Open Review, you know who the reviewers are and they know who you are. Open Review offers a greater degree of transparency for the author and honesty by the reviewers.

5. TIME FRAME FOR ACCEPTANCE:
The shorter the better for the time your paper reaches the journal and an editor replies with a decision. A long delay may mean that the journal is inefficiently run, has a weak reputation, or has difficulty securing expert reviewers. Conversely, a fast timeline may mean that the journal does not have enough quality submissions.

6. ACCEPTANCE-REJECTION RATE:
What is the percentage of submitted manuscripts that are published by the journal? While this should not be your deciding factor, it is an important consideration.

Medium acceptance/rejection rates are best for authors; journals with high rejection/low acceptance rates can increase the time and effort spent getting your article published, while high acceptance/low rejection rates can signify a new journal, or an unknown, risky, or desperate journal that will accept less than stellar submissions.

Note: If you want your findings published in top-tier journals, such as Science, Nature, NEJM, PNAS, and JACS, you must ensure that your manuscript strictly adheres to the journal scope and guidelines – SciTechEdit International can help to ensure that your manuscript conforms to the journal’s requirements.

7. ONLINE AND PRINT PUBLICATION:
What is the timeline from acceptance to online publication? Does the journal publish online continuously or wait to group papers into issues? What is the time frame for online publication to print? Will you receive a definite publishing date so that your promotional efforts do not run into embargo problems?

8. JOURNAL IMPACT FACTOR (JIF):
The theory of impact factor indicates how important that journal is to its scientific or academic field, but the value of the impact factor is controversial and should not be the sole deciding component for submitting your paper to a specific journal. Simply put, impact factor is citation count. There are multiple aspects to choosing a journal, impact factor being only one. Promotion and tenure decisions, however, especially in Japan and Europe, may give more weight to impact factor.

Other journal impact factor rankings are issued by PageRank and Eigenfactor.

9. OPEN OR CLOSED ACCESS:
High prestige journals are generally behind pay walls that restrict access without an expensive subscription. Open Access journals are open to all and have a much higher readership. However, most Open Access journals charge Author Processing Fees or place an embargo on publication.

Generally speaking, Open Access journals offer greater accessibility and dissemination to a broader audience, with a 47% increased probability of being referenced in Wikipedia vs. pay wall journals. See the article by Teplitskiy et al (J. Assoc. Information Sci Tech, 2016) for more details.

10. PROMOTION AND SHARING:
Publication of your manuscript is not the end of promoting your work. Promoting the published manuscript is important for increasing your presence and visibility in the scientific community, and to the media. With thousands of articles published daily, you must promote your research to the larger audience, thereby increasing your stature. Social media sharing, especially Twitter with its large science audience, is valuable to catch the eye of science journalists in major mainstream publications who may want to pursue an article featuring your research. Writing about your work on your personal blog is another way to gain visibility to the scientific community and the community at large.

Elsevier and other journal publishers have guidelines for sharing your research article, and encourage authors to do so. Click here to access their article on sharing and promoting your article

11. COST:
Publishing costs for journals vary and can be high. Costs can range from a few hundred dollars for Open Access digital publishing to approximately $4000 for print. These costs are borne by the researchers, though sometimes the author’s university or institution will cover the cost of publishing. Be sure to inquire about publishing fees if this is an issue for you.

 

We at SciTechEdit International hope this guide will be of help to you in determining which scientific journal is the best fit for you and your research findings.

We’d like to emphasize that whichever journal you choose for submission, be sure to first read the journal’s specific guidelines for submission as they can vary widely from journal to journal. Choose your journal BEFORE you write your findings, as this will save you enormous time and effort spent in re-writing, reformatting, and re-submitting your manuscripts to your second and third journal choices.

STE rev. Choose your Science Journal before writing

As always, SciTechEdit International is here to help you polish your scientific documents and help you to communicate your findings clearly. We are proud of our work in gaining a 94% publication rate for our clients, and we welcome you to contact us and learn more about how we can help you get published too.

Contact us at Tämä sähköpostiosoite on suojattu spamboteilta. Tarvitset JavaScript-tuen nähdäksesi sen. with your queries.

Thank you.

 © 2017 SciTechEdit International.  Author: Karin Mesches, PhD  

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

 

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Tense About Verb Tense?

chalk past present future   • Using correct verb tense clarifies the timeline of your research and process.
  • Incorrect verb tense can confuse the reader about the sequence of your arguments.
  • In the English language, there are 12 verb tenses.
   
   
 

 

Clearly communicating the timeline of your research to the reader is extremely important, and depends on your using the proper verb tense in writing your manuscripts. Verb tense indicates whether the action of a sentence occurred in the past, present, or future, and helps to organize the flow of your writing and outline the sequence of events to emphasize your point.

In any scientific manuscript, sequence and timeline are important. For example, your experiments precede your summary of the results and outcomes. Your methodology precedes your experiments, as its concepts inspired the experiments. Further, the work of other scientists likely preceded your current work and discussion of these previous findings adds dimension to your manuscript. In addition, if you are attempting to show instances of cause and effect, it’s important to note what came first and what subsequently resulted.

The chart below summarizes the 12 English verb tenses and their relationships with one another:

     Simple    Progressive    Perfect    Perfect Progressive
Present   I investigate   I am investigating   I have investigated   I have been investigating
Past   I investigated   I was investigating   I had investigated   I had been investigating
Future   I will investigate   I will be investigating   I will have investigated   I will have been investigating

The present tense shows that an action is taking place in the present, but does not indicate when the action will end. You may also choose to use the present tense to describe a fact that is universally true and not limited to a particular time, as seen in the following quote:

 Infected hosts differ in their responses to pathogens; some hosts are resilient and recover their original health, whereas others follow a divergent path and die.1

The past tense shows that an action was completed in the past, while the future tense shows action that is yet to be completed--more of a prediction than a statement of finished reality. You can see in the example below that the researchers used past tense to discuss their proposed thesis, and then the future tense to highlight its predictions.

 We started (past tense) with the proposition that infected patients will trace (future tense) a path over a multidimensional manifold in disease space; resilient patients will travel (future tense) predictable paths as they sicken and recover, and patients who do poorly will also take (future tense) predictable paths when they sicken and die.1

In science manuscript writing, there are standard practices regarding which verb tense to use for each section of the manuscript.

The Abstract will usually contain a mixture of verb tenses, as the background is generally based on published findings, which are presented in the present tense; the methods, results, and conclusion are presented in past tense.

The Introduction is your explanation of the previous findings that led to your question. Because the Introduction mainly discusses previously published research that is currently accepted as fact, these findings are presented in the present tense. For example:

Rheumatoid arthritis is (present tense) a common autoimmune disease primarily manifesting as chronic synovitis, subsequently leading to a change in joint integrity. Progressive disability and systemic complications are (present tense) strongly associated with a decreased quality of life.2

In the Introduction, you may also use a mixture of past tense and present tense to indicate why you are performing your research. For example:

 Pain relief is (present tense) a major goal in the treatment of RA, but is only partly achieved (past tense) by NSAIDs or opioids.2

Methods and Results, on the other hand, are always written in past tense because you are describing what you have done and what resulted. Figures and Table legends are referred to in the present tense.

 Figure 1 shows….

The Discussion will include a mixture of tenses as you discuss previous findings (present tense), your findings (past tense), and present your plans for further studies (future tense). Using the correct verb tense will eliminate confusion regarding what was known before your study and what your study has added.

Verb tense errors can distract readers from the value of your manuscript’s content. Choose the right tense to clearly communicate your research. Change verb tenses only when there is a real change in time. When you are writing about actions that take place in the same timeframe, be sure to keep using the same tense for all of the verbs associated with those sentences. By aligning your writing with these simple guidelines, you can ensure that you are communicating clearly to your readers.

 

 References

  1. Torres BY, Oliveira JHM, Thomas Tate A, Rath P, Cumnock K, Schneider DS. Tracking resilience to infections by mapping disease space. PLoS Biology 2016; 14(4): e1002436.
  2. Meier FM, Frerix M, Hermann W, Muller-Ladner U. Current immunotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis. Immunotherapy 2013; 5(9):955-974.
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3 Easy Steps to Constructing a Paragraph

paragraph construction       
  • Begin with a clear topic sentence.
  • Each subsequent sentence should support your topic statement.
  • End your paragraph with a conclusion/transition statement.
     

Letters make words, words make sentences, and sentences make paragraphs. Like one building block after another, words come together to convey ideas and support arguments –sometimes better than others. Proper paragraph construction sets good writing apart from bad.

First, start with your main idea. What is the main point you wish to convey? Give your readers an idea of where you are going with one sentence that says it all - your topic sentence. Without going into much detail, explain what your paragraph is about. Here is an example of how to write a paragraph about why studying brain physiology is important for understanding psychology. Let’s begin with the topic sentence.

Understanding the physiologic mechanisms that underlie our responses to the environment around us will help to elucidate how these responses can be modified.

Do you see how simple the topic sentence is? This topic sentence tells the reader why studying the brain is important for the field of psychology. The next step is to explain why. Adding details is the second step to constructing a strong paragraph. Every sentence added after the topic sentence should support the main topic. The more details you can add, the stronger the argument will be. Now, let’s see why studying the brain will help people understand psychology.

Understanding the physiologic mechanisms that underlie our responses to the environment around us will help to elucidate how these responses can be modified. The human experience can be explained by the physiologic underpinnings of the brain – the structures, the connectivity of the structures, and the modes of communication between structures (Ho et al, 2011). Proper functioning of these structures and their communication pathways allows for consistency of our responses to the world around us. Understanding variations in these responses allows us to modify our behaviors, or responses (Petersen et al, 2015). Every behavior, thought, or emotion is a direct result of brain activity (Sadaghiani & Kleinschmidt, 2013). In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that mental illness affects 1 in 4 people worldwide (WHO, 2014). Clarifying the normal physiology of the brain will allow us to identify abnormalities that lead to aberrant behaviors. As Francis Crick (1994) stated in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior or a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Do you see why studying the physiologic mechanisms of the brain can help to understand our responses to the world around us? Each additional sentence supports the main topic. The more details included (within reason!), the more persuasive the paragraph. Typically, a good paragraph needs at least three to five supporting sentences, but you are not limited by that number as long as you keep the sentences on topic.

Finally, when you’ve added all the details needed to support your topic sentence, close your paragraph with a strong conclusion. The conclusion sentence of the paragraph should summarize the central idea of the paragraph and provide a transition to the following paragraph. For example:

Understanding the physiologic mechanisms that underlie our responses to the environment around us will help to elucidate how these responses can be modified. The human experience can be explained by the physiologic underpinnings of the brain – the structures, the connectivity of the structures, and the modes of communication between structures (Ho et al, 2011). Proper functioning of these structures and their communication pathways allows for consistency of our responses to the world around us. Understanding variations in these responses allows us to modify our behaviors, or responses (Petersen et al, 2015). Every behavior, thought, or emotion is a direct result of brain activity (Sadaghiani & Kleinschmidt, 2013). In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that mental illness affects 1 in 4 people worldwide (WHO, 2014). Clarifying the normal physiology of the brain will allow us to identify abnormalities that lead to aberrant behaviors. As Francis Crick (1994) stated in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior or a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” The information we gain from studying the physiologic mechanisms of the brain can thus be applied to enhance our understanding of human behavior.

The conclusion sentence is not simply the topic sentence restated, but rather pulls everything in the paragraph together. The conclusion sentence of each paragraph should link with the topic sentence of the next paragraph, thus providing a word map that allows readers to follow the logic of your argument.

 

References:

Ho VM et al. The cell biology of synaptic plasticity. Science. 2011; 334(6056):623-8.
Petersen RB et al. From neurodegeneration to brain health: an integrated approach. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;46(1):271-83.
Sadaghiani S, Kleinschmidt A. 2013. Functional interactions between intrinsic brain activity and behavior. Neuroimage. 2013;15:80:379-86.
http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/
Crick, F. 1994. The astonishing hypothesis. The scientific search for the soul. NY. Scribner.
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Do you know how to use the Oxford Comma?

Commaonthecouch     
  • Punctuation is important for clarity.
  • Clarity is especially important for academic manuscripts.
  • Use the Oxford comma to increase the clarity of your science manuscript.
     

Proper punctuation is critical for clarity, as made very clear in the very popular book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. In English language editing of science manuscripts, punctuation is especially important for both clarity and conciseness. Proper punctuation can help you convey the take home message of your manuscript, while at the same time improper punctuation can lead to complete confusion. Use of the Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma, is generally considered optional, but science manuscripts are often characterized by long and complex sentences, and the Oxford comma is critical for clarity. The Oxford comma is placed right before the coordinating conjunction (and, or, or nor) in a list of items. Let’s look at the following sentence.

Duloxetine and citalopram may be prescribed for postpartum depression. We investigated the effects of these antidepressants, alcohol and barbiturates in an animal model of postpartum depression.

Now, a new mom who is fraught with anxiety and sleeplessness may be tempted to drink alcohol or take barbiturates, but these substances are certainly not known for their antidepressant effects. Without the Oxford Comma, it seems that the authors of this study are evaluating these substances for their antidepressant effects. The simple addition of the Oxford comma clarifies this sentence: Four different drugs are being investigated for their effects on postpartum depression: the antidepressants duloxetine and citalopram, alcohol, and barbiturates. The Oxford comma removes the ambiguity. The Oxford Comma allows you to be concise while keeping your meaning clear. On the other hand, knowing when not to use the Oxford comma is just as important as knowing when to use it. Consider the following example:

The effects of NMDA antagonists, MK-801 and DxM were evaluated in a model of chronic pain.

In this case, inserting a comma would be confusing because the NMDA antagonists being referred to are, in fact, MK-801 and DxM. In this case, only two drugs are being studied.

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