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Manuscript writing advice from Science Magazine (转载)  

2012-04-07 02:30:16|  分类: 论文 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Manuscript writing advice from Science Magazine

At the 2009 AAAS meeting seminar “How to publish in Science”, Pamela Hines, Senior Editor, gave some general advice on manuscript writing:

  • Organize and simplify.
  • Write for multiple audiences.
  • Write an outline.
  • Fill in specifics and details.
  • Have someone else read it.
  • Rewrite, repeat as needed.
  • Decide on where to send it.
  • Stick to requested formats.
  • Introductions can be short.
  • Present results, don’t just repeat what the figures show.
  • Provide conclusions and context.
  • Account for other research,
  • Be reasonable with your use of figures.
  • Watch the presentation (smooth readability, neatness, etc).
  • Abstracts should present the background, results, objective or method if important, and conclusions.

Most of this is of course applicable to any manuscript. Ultimately all the advice Dr. Hines gave, and which I have reported on in previous posts, goes toward understanding the process of publishing in Science Magazine, because “there is no easy answer” to how to get in.

Here’s some more advice from Science Magazine:

Part 1: What Science wants

Part 2:  Brevia

Part 3: Science cover letters

 So close, and yet…what I learned the first time I submitted a manuscript to Science Magazine

Back in 2002 working on dissertation-derived manuscripts, my committee and I decided a particular result might be interesting enough for Science Magazine. So we submitted and, lo and behold, the manuscript went out for review. I must say this was exciting news. According to Pamela Hines, Senior editor, only 20-25% of manuscripts get reviewed. That’s still a large total number of papers, as they get as many as 200 manuscripts a week. The reviews came back and were favorable, and a revision was requested. But a review is no guarantee, resulting in a final publication rate of 6-7% of initial submissions. We tried to comply, but alas, were not able to satisfy Science. The work ended up in Limnology and Oceanography, a fine journal and leader in our field, but still, what happened?

In order to get into Science, work must be “excellent, of spectacular importance, and presented beautifully.” More specifically, again according to Pamela Hines, there are seven alternative big-picture criteria a manuscript could meet:

  • It’s a large step forward.
  • It’s a solution to a long-standing problem.
  • It has broad implications.
  • It has a big impact.
  • It overturns conventional wisdom.
  • It solves a long-standing debate.
  • It rewrites textbooks.

Moreover, the two biggest reasons manuscripts get rejected are: “topics are not of broad interest” and “results are too small an advance”.

We had reported that zebra mussels were associated with Microcystis dominance of algae communities in lakes. Zebra mussels were invading in-land lakes at a startling rate, and Microcystis blooms were being reported in lakes where zebra mussels had recently invaded. Since Microcystis, which can make a disgusting mess when blooming, can also be toxic, we thought this was important. Indeed, I would’ve placed the paper in the “broad implication” category. But we were missing something, according to the reviewers.

What was missing was a mechanism. Indeed, we speculated on a mechanism, but that wasn’t the point of the paper. I asked Dr. Hines about the importance of reporting the mechanism last week at the AAAS meeting in Chicago. She said that Science papers should “rise above describing” a phenomenon, however interesting, troubling, or important it may be.

This gives me hope, actually. The manuscript I’m preparing is about explicitly demonstrating the mechanism behind an ecological phenomenon we’ve quantified. And it represents a “large step forward” and “big impact”, in my opinion. We’re going to try for a Brevia.

Monday: What Brevia are for, part 2 of a 4 part series on writing for Science Magazine.

What goes in Brevia, briefly.

So you want to publish a Brevia in Science. Well, I do, but that’s beside the point. What are the requirements? Actually the Science Magazine website is not internally consistent. This page lists one set of requirements, and this page lists another. I’ve seen the requirement for the abstract listed at 50 words and 100 words. According to Pamela Hines, Senior Editor, it’s 125 words, but perhaps she was referring to regular Reports. The Supplemental Online Material is stated to be limited to 500 words or a figure, but that gets routinely violated also. Brevia consist of ”not more than six references”, or are “suggested” to have as many as six references, except when they don’t. Okay, I’m nit-picking. What really matters? 

At the 2009 AAAS seminar “How to publish in Science”, Pamela Hines stated that Brevia are for work that is “emotionally suited” to the venue. That is, they are not incomplete studies, but “fun”, generalist results of very broad interest. I see the fun label as also flexible, since high-impact environmental results have been showcased there, and no one would regard contaminant transfer through food webs as “fun”. But I know what she means: accessibility for the entire readership. Other than that, the standard requirements apply, says Dr. Hines. Can you communicate with educated, but not expert readers? Does every sentence say what you mean it to say?

 Further standard considerations apply, according to Dr. Hines. Conclusions must be convincing, interpretations must be supported, mechanistic insights must be sufficient, biological relevance must be sufficiently evidenced. Excessive or unfounded speculation and examples repeating what’s been seen elsewhere will hurt your chances. Yet the field of inquiry, AAAS membership, being American, being an eminent author, working for a prestigious institution, or contacting the journal prior to submission does not matter. 

I asked Dr. Hines why Science has but one Brevia per issue. She responded that it’s just a general editorial decision. Then she asked me if I would like to see more Brevia. I said that would allow more papers, and hence, more chances to get in. 

I also asked her if stating predictions, e.g. hypotheses, was important. Interestingly she was not as insistent on authors stating a priori predictions as I would have…predicted. To be sure, this is more like the classic scientific method, but just as important would be asking an important question but getting an unexpected answer. 

I have chosen to state our predictions in the Brevia manuscript I’m preparing. I believe in actually making a priori predictions, and I believe it strengthens the “story” told in the manuscript. If we get reviewed, I’ll be interested to see if the reviewers comment on this.

 Writing the cover letter for a Science Magazine submission

Now it comes to it…I don’t feel like parting with it all, It’s mine it came to me! Okay, I may not be Bilbo Baggins trying to give up the ring, but sending off a manuscript can still be a little unnerving. Did I dot every ” i” and cross every “t”? Is the cover letter convincing enough? Actually until I attended the AAAS seminar on “How to publish in Science” I never poured over the cover letter I sent with my manuscripts like I did the manuscripts themselves. Pamela Hines, Senior Editor at Science, had some advice for writing cover letters accompanying submissions, and now my attitude has changed.

According to Dr, Hines, the cover letter must convey the following:

  • Why is this novel?
  • Is it a big increment over previous work?
  • Why is it of general interest?
  • (Plus reviewer exclusions and suggested reviewers).

These elements can easily be adapted to any journal, but as it is for Science, the need to include them becomes acute. Dr. Hines also gave some interesting advice.  She said that when writing, think like your family, a funding agency representative, the reviwers, and the editor. That is, write to educated but not expert readers, make your argument quickly and clearly, know that they want to find good papers, and ask your self how you’d react to reading your paper for the first time. Ultimately, Dr, Hines likens the cover letter to an “elevator speech”.

Next Time: General writing advice from Science , part 4 of a 4 part series on writing for Science Magazine.

Cover letter for Science Magazine Brevia submission

Science Magazine has rejected my Brevia submission. Oh well, at least I’m in good company with 10,000 other rejected manuscripts. The cycle for this manuscript is therefore going to be a bit different. Normally I have to cut material from manuscripts as they progress through the process, be it trimming material before it goes to co-authors, trimming following internal review, or trimming following reviewer’s comments. This time I need to build the thing up, since Brevia are so short.

As usual, I’m at a loss to understand why they didn’t want it. It might be because they published a Brevia on a closely related topic the year before. I’d be surprised if they really thought it didn’t have broad impact or appeal.

Anyway, time to expand it for another journal. Here’s the cover letter I wrote, in which I tried incorporate advice on writing cover letters to Science. I welcome any comments.

In their 2008 ScienceBrevia, Cristol et al. (1), concluded that “it is imperative to determine whether the [contaminant] was transported directly to the terrestrial food web by emergent aquatic insects or had been deposited on the floodplain during historical floods”; which is to say: “How do terrestrial invertebrates become contaminated with aquatic pollutants?”We answer this question by documenting the transfer of contaminants (PCBs) derived from aquatic sediments to terrestrial invertebrate predators and explicitly demonstrating its mechanism, the consumption of emergent aquatic insects.

 

Our study is novel because, although the transfer of nutrients and energy from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems (ecological subsidy) has been thoroughly examined in recent years, the transfer of contaminants by similar means lags shockingly behind. In fact, there is but one study providing evidence that consumption of aquatic insects transfers contaminants to invertebrate predators (2). Our study answers the general question posed by Cristol et al., for another contaminant, without duplicating the food web pathways they examined. That is, they looked at contaminant transfer from terrestrial invertebrate predators (spiders) to birds and we looked at contaminant transfer from aquatic sediments to terrestrial invertebrate predators (spiders and insects). Hence we are bridging the gap exposed by their concluding question.

 

Our study is a significant advance from previous work because we consider multiple lines of evidence, rather than solely reporting stable isotope data of predators. Starting with stable isotopes, we examined predators in a spatial context, a behavioral context, and most importantly directly examined prey items. This allowed use to not only report the occurrence of sediment-derived contaminant transfer to terrestrial food webs, but for the first time measure the spatial extent of contaminant penetration into the riparian zone, and empirically estimate its magnitude, which is enormous.

 

Our study reports results of high biological relevance concerning contaminants of serious concern to human health, and thus is high-impact. Moreover, our study has broad implications for contaminant transfer between ecosystems. Indeed, we believe this study is important enough that it needs to be published in a global venue. Because we demonstrate, for the first time, that aquatic insect emergence can transfer massive amounts of contaminants to terrestrial invertebrate predators, we further believe the subject will be easily understood by, and have broad appeal to, Science readers. Moreover, this complete study happens to fit neatly into the Brevia format.

 

Please accept this manuscript as a Brevia submission to Science. I look forward to the chance to work with your reviewers and editors. Thank you for your attention.

 

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