Bite-sized and perfectly pitched advice

January 16, 1998

HOW TO PUBLISH IN BIOMEDICINE - 500 Tips for Success. By Jane Fraser. Redcliffe Medical Press, 216pp, Pounds 16.50. ISBN 1 85775 193 0.

How to write a bookreview? Answer in ten questions.

1. What is the book trying to do? In this case, just what the title says.

2. Does it deliver? There are 33 chapters, with about 15 entries per chapter. I did not count them, but if you add up all the forms of writing covered - papers, conference abstracts, theses, books - the advice on dealing with editors' and reviewers' comments, advice on writing style and use of English, and on which software to use, I am sure there really are 500 tips here. Most of them are useful. The book would be invaluable for a complete beginner, but some seasoned authors will keep it on hand too.

3. What is new? The packaging, rather than the content. There are plenty of books about how to write scientific papers and books. Quite a few are aimed at researchers in biology and medicine, who are more numerous and tend to publish more than their colleagues in the physical sciences. This book covers much the same ground as the others, though it is unusually comprehensive. And it has a very friendly, well thought-out format.

4. But will the format suit me? If you can cope with this review, no problem. If you prefer continuous prose, look elsewhere.

5. Is the balance of contents about right? Yes, a good mix of advice on dealing with journals and making the writing flow. The sections on figures and tables are especially good. The only notable failing is that Jane Fraser merely mentions in passing that decent word processors have outlining buttons, rather than declares in bold type that if all creators of complex documents used the outline function in Word, their efficiency would at least double.

6. Does it practice what it preaches? Yes. Jane Fraser has obviously read The Elements of Style as well as recommending it. And anyone who can cover "How to write a book" in three pages is not wasting words, or your time.

7. Is it of general interest? It is perfectly suited to its niche market. Much of the advice in any writing book is generic; so it is worth a look. Everyone needs to be reminded not to refute when they wish to deny, and that it is not wholly undesirable to avoid double negatives. But if you are one of the few surviving non-biomedical scientists, there is probably already a how-to book about writing in your speciality.

8. Is it future proof? It is up to date, with details of voice recognition and optical character recognition software, and a short list of web sites. But it ignores the fact that the advent of the web is changing scientific publishing fast. The business of putting the right words together to describe your results will not change, but the process of publication will.

9. Will you keep it, or is it off to the second-hand shop? I will keep it,thanks.

10. But would you buy it? I do not actually write biomedical papers. If I did, then I would.

Jon Turney is senior lecturer in science communication,University College London.

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