Medics in print

Successful Scientific Writing
April 25, 1997

With the pressures on biomedical researchers to publish or perish, one suspects that few find time to re-educate themselves in the basic principles and techniques of scientific writing. Assistance is now available. This dry subject has been made interesting and tackled in a helpful way. The text is liberally interspersed with useful figures and amusing quotations and cartoons. It is set out in a logical order and forms what is essentially a bench manual for the preparation of scientific publications.

The first chapter deals with planning and gives an introduction to the use of word processors. There is a host of useful tips on the design and execution of the scientific paper. The second chapter deals with tables, graphs, photographs and artwork. Here too the advice is highly practical and clearly based on considerable experience. Discussion then extends to a sensible account of the type of graph best suited to different types of data. Chapter three deals with the second draft and includes a further section on the use of word processors. The book then goes on to examine the minutiae of style and format. It is a tribute to the author's skill that the section on English grammar is made to seem interesting. The reader's attention is guaranteed by the inclusion of short and entertaining exercises. Once one has mastered the avoidance of "devil pairs" and the use of a gerund phrase to correct a dangling participle one begins to wonder why childhood grammar lessons seemed so boring and pointless. The use of statistics is covered superficially but to an appropriate degree in view of the large number of dedicated texts available for the purpose. The section on expressing ideas is particularly helpful, and considerable emphasis is given to improving readability. Then follows a chapter on preparing and submitting the typescript. This includes further discussion of the use of word processors, spell and grammar checkers, pointing out their limitations. Proof reading is covered in detail. The first appendix provides answers for the grammar exercises. The second appendix provides information on the requirements for submission to biomedical journals.

A publication instructing a well-educated group like academic scientists on authorship techniques might be judged in the same way as Caesar's wife. This book is beyond reproach and should be regarded as compulsory reading for all biomedical and science undergraduate and postgraduate students and all others likely to have to write or edit scientific reports. The authors are scientists in the field of veterinary medicine and so the there is an understandable bias in the numerous examples and illustrations. These are carefully selected, however, and the slant does not detract from their value.

This book will be of real value not only to aspiring authors of scientific papers and theses but also to those involved in the writing of any publication of a technical nature.

Stuart B. Coghill is consultant histopathologist, Northampton General Hospital.

Successful Scientific Writing: A Step by Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences

Author - Janice R. Matthews, John M. Bowen and Robert W. Matthews
ISBN - 0 521 55948 0
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £14.95
Pages - 181

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