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一千多篇SCI的大神谈如何写SCI?

Published at: 2015年第1卷第S1期

Giuseppe Lippi
关键词:

原文标题:How do I write a scientific article? A personal perspective

作者:Giuseppe Lippi


译文标题:如何撰写科学论文?

译者:胡志德

Abstract

摘要

Scientific writing is not an easy task. Although there is no single and universally agreed strategy for assembling a successful scientific article, it is undeniable that some basic notions, gathered after decades of experience, may help increasing the chance of acceptance of a scientific manuscript. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to present a personal and arbitrary perspective on how to write a scientific article, entailing a tentative flowchart and a checklist describing the most important aspects characterizing each section of the manuscript. The final suggestion, which can be summarized in one simple and straightforward concept, is that you should always remember that a scientific article is meant to be read by others (i.e., referees and readers) and not by yourself. 

科技写作并非易事。就如何撰写一篇成功的学术论文这一问题,虽然没有一个普遍认可的标准,但是不得不承认的是,遵循一些基本的原则,结合多年的写作经验,可以提高稿件的接收概率。正因如此,本文的目的是对我个人写作科学论文的经验进行总结和概括,用流程图或者清单来概括论文各个部分的写作要点。文章的最终的建议可以概括为一个简单粗暴的理念,即:科技论文写作的核心是让他人(读者和审稿人)能读懂,而不是自己看懂就可以了。这一点一定要牢记。

The main drivers of scientific publishing

科技出版的主要驱动力

The goals of scientific or academic writing, which is conventionally defined as a subcategory of publishing aimed at disseminating academic research and scholarship, are many and multifaceted. First of all, the publication of a scientific article is the mainstay for propagating scientific knowledge, by means of a (usually rigorous) peer-review process that is intended to define validity, quality and originality of the study. In the scientists’ perspective, scientific writing is one of the most important criteria for obtaining funds and enabling career progression, since the leading science metrics - Hirsh index (H-index), total impact factor (IF) and number of citations – are based on the number and quality of published articles (1). The capacity to efficiently conveying research findings is hence essential for success in science and medicine (2). More or less consciously, some scientists may also suffer from an obsessive-compulsory (OC) disorder, which makes their life entirely centered around scientific publishing (3). Last but not least, scientific writing contributes to benchmarking (and so defining the ranking of) Universities and other scientific institutions (4). 

科技写作(又称学术写作)是一种特殊类型的写作,其主要目的是传播学术研究成果。科技写作的目标可以表现在多个层面:首先,发表科学论文的主要目的是传播科技成果,严格的同行评审流程确保了这些科技成果的科学性、影响力以及原创性。在科学家看来,科技写作对于基金申请和职称晋升来说极为重要,因为一些主要的学术统计指标都是基于发表文章的数量和质量,比如Hirsh指数(H指数)、总影响因子和总被引频次。因此,如果想在医学或者科学领域取得成功,就必须具备将自己的研究发现清晰表达出来的能力。科学家们或多或少都会患上强迫症,导致他们的生活完全被发表论文所困扰。其次,科技写作还会影响大学以及科研院所的排名。

Although medical and scientific writing has evolved for more than a millennium to present times, the publication of the first ever good practices can be probably dated back to the 14th century (5). Nearly three centuries later, in 1667, the English churchman Thomas Sprat first outlined the foremost concept that literary and scientific writing are not comparable, inasmuch as the latter style should be based on plain, accurate, clear and concise text composition rather than using the rhetorical flourishes characterizing literary language (5). Since then, structuring and writing of medical and scientific information has further evolved in parallel with the progress of science, language and types of media used for delivering scientific information (books, journals, newsletter, e-publishing, websites). 

虽然医学和科技论文的写作规范在过去一千年内不断变迁,但是第一次规范化的出版可能要追溯到14世纪。在距今三个多世纪的1667年,英国牧师Thomas Sprat首先提出了不能将科学写作与文学写作相提并论的观点,因为科技写作应该追求平铺直叙、表达准确、清晰明了、内容简短的写作风格,而不应使用修饰色彩浓厚的文学语言。从那时起,科技类和医学类论文的结构和写作风格就随着科学的进步、语言的变迁和科技信息传播媒体(书、学术杂志、新闻报纸、电子出版和网站)的发展而不断变化。

Scientific writing is not an easy task. With the obvious premise that there are no validated or universally agreed criteria set to define how a good scientific article should be assembled, and that each scientist often adopts a personal style to deliver academic research, the purpose of this article is to present a personal and arbitrary perspective on how a scientific article should be written, accumulated after a 25-year experience in scientific writing (6).

科技写作并非易事。显而易见,目前还没有经过严格论证的、普遍接受的标准去衡量“什么样的论文才能称得上优秀”。这个问题仁者见仁智者见智,科学家都有自己个人的写作风格。本文基于我25年的科学论文写作经验,就如何撰写科学论文这一问题谈一些个人的心得体会。

Getting started

新手坐稳,老司机开车了

According to my personal perspective, a good scientific article should always begin from accurate analysis of experimental data. Therefore, I always start with a comprehensive statistical analysis, occasionally performing statistics that will not be included in the final article for reasons of space or redundancy. As extensively described elsewhere (7), there are several important statistical aspects that should be considered, such as the analysis of values distribution (i.e., Gaussian, non-Gaussian, skewed), the use of appropriate tests (suited to either continuous or categorical values) for establishing differences between measures obtained in different populations or patients’ cohort, the correlation between measured variables (both univariate and multivariate) and - eventually - the impact of measured variables on health risks (i.e., odds or hazard ratios). When the study is centered on diagnostic techniques and/or biomarkers validation, receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve analysis, diagnostic sensitivity and specificity, negative and positive predictive values, and diagnostic odds ratio should be generally shown. It may also be useful to calculate the “number needed to test” (NNT), i.e., the number of cases that should be measured for identifying one additional adverse outcome. Whenever feasible, diagnostic studies should be arranged around the Standards for Reporting of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (STARD) guidelines (8,9). Tables and figures may be composed at this stage, bearing in mind that appearance counts. Therefore, they should be self-explanatory, clear and easy to read (i.e., the font size should not be too small).

个人认为,优秀的科学论文应该首先从精确分析实验数据开始。正因如此,我写论文一贯是从全面的统计学分析开始的。当然,偶尔也会做一些因为版面所限或者内容调整而不会出现在终稿中的统计学结果。正如我在其它地方谈到的那样,做统计学分析时需要考虑很多原则,比如:分析数据的分布形式(正态还是偏态分布)、采用恰当的统计检验方法比较不同人群或者病人中观察值的差异(连续变量还是分类变量)、检测值之间的关系(单变量还是多变量)、检测值对健康风险的影响(优势比还是风险比)。如果研究聚焦于诊断技术或验证生物标志物的诊断性能,应展示受试者工作特征(ROC)曲线分析、敏感性、特异性、阳/阴性似然比、阳/阴性预测值、诊断比数比的结果。计算出需要检测的病人数(NNT,即为了发现一个不良结局而需要接受检测的病人数)也是十分有用的。任何时候,诊断试验应该根据诊断准确性试验的标准报告规范(STARD)进行撰写。在这个阶段,就应该绘制好表格和图片。时刻牢记表格和图片的外观是很重要的。图片和表格应该具有自明性、清楚、便于阅读(字体不能太小)。

The “results” section

结果部分

After statistical analysis has been completed, I usually continue composing the “results” section, along with tables and figures (Fig. 1). This may enable to obtain a clear picture of results and of the entire work, acknowledging the most important findings, the strengths and the potential drawbacks, already at this stage. Do not include excessive or unnecessary data in this section, which may divert attention from the most significant findings. Some journals offer the interesting opportunity to publish supplementary materials. As a rule of thumb, data contained in a table should not be replicated in a figure, and vice versa, and should be presented in objective means. When showing data already present in tables and figures, it may be advisable to use sentences like “a significant difference was found… as shown in the table (or figure)”. The level of statistical significance should always be indicated (e.g., expressions like “p=ns” or “p<0.05” are discouraged), so that the readers can clearly acknowledge the relevance of your findings. Obviously, “p<0.05” can be either p=0.049 or p=49-10, which do not have the same impact. All measures should be given in International System of Units (SI) or SI-derived units, as for journal’s style, and must be absolutely coherent throughout the manuscript (for example, it is extremely annoying, even confusing, to read articles presenting values of the same parameter in “g/L”, “mg/dl”, “mmol/L” throughout the manuscript). 

统计分析完成后,我会继续撰写结果部分,同时处理表格和图片(图1)。这样我就可以对结果以及整个工作的有一个全面的了解。在这个阶段,我可以确定研究最重要的发现、优势和潜在的劣势。在这个环节中,不要展示冗余的或者不必要的数据,因为这不利于凸显研究最重要的发现。有些杂志可以上传补充文件。一般来说,表格中已经有了的数据就不应该在图片中再展示,反之亦然。到底是通过表格还是图片来展示数据应该根据自己的目的而定。当描述表格或者图片中已经展示了的数据时,建议使用类似于“a significant difference was found… as shown in the table (or figure)”的句子。统计检验的显著性水平应该标识出来,以便读者能够充分了解你的发现之间的关系,不鼓励使用类似于“p=ns” 或“p<0.05”之类的表述。很明显,P<0.05可能是P=0.049,也可能是P=49-10,对结果影响显然是不同的。所有的测量值都必须用国际单位或者标准单位进行展示,具体要求可以参照杂志的格式要求。文中所有的格式必须统一。如果有一篇文章在展示同一测量时,分别用“g/L”, “mg/dl”和“mmol/L”展示数据,会令读者感觉十分厌烦甚至产生困惑。

Materials and methods

材料和方法

Once results have been written, I usually draft the “materials and methods” section. Although being often underestimated, this is an essential part of the article. The description of the study population, study protocol and methods may help identifying potential weakness in your research, so setting up the remaining parts of the article accordingly. The description of the study population should be comprehensive, thus including sample size, the most important clinical features that have been recorded, as well as potential confounders (i.e. comorbidities, therapies). Do not forget that the ratio between sample size and epidemiologic burden of disease is not meaningless; a study based on measuring glucose in 20 diabetic patients is very unlikely to be published in high IF journals. The description of methods should be exhaustive, so including details about the analytical technique, instrumentation, manufacturers, along with the analytical performance of the assays (e.g., functional sensitivity, imprecision and linearity) (10). This aspect is especially important, because it seldom happens to peer-review articles presenting meaningless values, below the functional sensitivity of the assay, or with differences among patients’ cohorts that are lower than the imprecision of the method. Always remember that, as for ethics in scientific publishing, your article should contain all the necessary information for allowing replication by others. The statistical tests used in the article should be clearly described here, along with details about informed consent and ethical approval, when applicable. Do not present results in this section. A common mistake, for example, is describing here the study population (i.e., using sentences like “the final study population consisted of”), whereas this information must be placed in the “results” section.

结果部分的写作一旦完成,我就开始撰写材料和方法部分。虽然材料和方法部分的撰写经常被人们低估,但是这也是文章的必要部分。对研究人群、研究方案和方法的描述可以帮助人们了解出自己研究的不足,在撰写论文其它部分时也应该考虑到自己研究的不足。对研究对象的描述应该详细,应该包括样本量、已经被记录的一些重要的临床特征、潜在的混杂因素(比如合并症、治疗等)。不要忘了样本量和流行病学发病率之间的比例毫无意义,对于发病率很高的疾病最好是基于大样本的研究。一项基于20个糖尿病患者血糖检测的研究不太可能登上高影响因子的杂志,毕竟糖尿病的发病率很高。对方法学的描述应该详尽,报告的细节应该包括:检测方法、设备、生产商,同时还应该报告方法的分析性能,比如功能灵敏度、不精密度和线性等。这些细节极端重要,因为在经过同行评审的文章中极少出现无意义的结果,比如检测结果比检测方法的功能灵敏度还低,或者不同研究对象之间的差异比方法学的不精密度还低。时刻牢记,你的论文必须包括所有必要的信息,以便其它人能重复你的研究,这是科技出版的规范要求。文中所采用的统计学分析必须描述清楚。如果需要知情同意和伦理学审批,也应交待清楚。在材料和方法中不要展示结果。举个例子,最常见的错误就是在材料和方法中描述研究对象。采用了类似于“the final study population consisted of”之类的句子,这个信息其实应该放在结果部分。

The introduction: the challenge grows

前言部分:挑战来临

Upon completing the previous two sections (i.e., “results” and “materials and methods”), the challenge moves to “introduction” and “discussion”. Even in such case, there is no one approach better than another, but I usually find more helpful to start with the introduction. In such way, the ensuing discussion of data is often based on a more clear knowledge of the problem you are dealing with. According to my perspective, the introduction should be constructed defining the main aspects of the biological/clinical/laboratory setting, thus including the definition of biological pathways or diseases, the epidemiology, the significance (biological, clinical, social, economic), the frequency of the most likely outcomes (i.e., favorable evolution, recurrence, mortality). The more importance you can deliver on a certain biological or medical aspect, the more likely is to obtain a positive feedback by the referees. Remember also that the readers (and the referees) are not always clinicians, especially if you are willing to publish your article in a translational science or laboratory medicine journal. Therefore, they may somehow struggle to understand the clinical setting, when this is not sufficiently depicted by the authors. 

在写完前两节(结果、材料与方法)后,写作的重点就是前言和讨论部分了。虽然人们对于到底是先写前言还是先写讨论还有一些争议,但是我个人认为先写前言可能更好些。因为对自己解决的科学问题有清楚的阐述和介绍是写好讨论部分的前提条件。在我看来,前言部分应该介绍待研究科学问题的生物学、临床和实验室等方面的知识。包括生物通路或疾病的定义、流行病学、科学意义(生物学的、临床的、社会的、经济学的)、疾病可能的转归或进展(比如最佳的治疗结局、死亡率、复发率等)。你将某个生物或医学问题阐述得越重要,就越容易获得审稿人的正面评价。请记住读者(包括审稿人)常常不是临床医师,尤其当你想发表的文章属于转化医学或者检验医学的范畴时。因此,如果作者对临床方面的描述不够详尽时,他们阅读起来会感觉有些吃力。

It is not essential, if not unsuitable, to describe previous studies about the same topic in the introduction. The rather spontaneous question that that comes to the mind of the referees when reading an introduction presenting a huge amount of previous data on the same topic is “why have you performed another study, if there is so much already published?”. A reliable approach here, is to generate doubts in whom is reading the manuscript, that previous findings may be contradicted, that the same work can be done better or using a larger sample size, or even that no definitive evidence exists on the topic, so that further work is justified. When supported by data, sentences like “little is known”, “there is still controversy” or “no definitive evidence has been published” may help. Remember to only include material directly related to the topic of your research in this section. It often happens to read papers with very long introductions, that have little to do with the rest of the manuscript. The introduction should be usually concluded with a clear statement about the aim(s) of the study (e.g., “therefore, the aim of this study was…”).

描述前人就同一主题开展的研究并不是必要的。如果前言部分提及了较多的相关研究,审稿人在阅读前言部分时就会自然而然地产生疑问:既然已经有很多相似研究发表了,你为什么还要去开展另一项研究呢?最好的办法就是让论文的读者产生疑问:此前的研究结论并不统一,同样的工作可以做的更好或者可以用更大的样本量进行论证;甚至可以说对于这个问题还没有确定的证据,因此开展进一步的研究是合理的。如果有数据支持,采用类似于“little is known”, “there is still controversy” 或 “no definitive evidence has been published”之类的词句是很有帮助的。记住在前言中,仅仅需要阐述和你研究的科学问题直接相关的内容。如果前言部分写得很冗长,读者常常会在读完前言后对论文的其它部分没啥兴趣。前言部分通常用一个句子来总结研究的目的,比如“therefore, the aim of this study was…”。

Discussion and conclusions

讨论和结论

These sections are probably the most important throughout the entire article, since they are meant to deliver the significance of study findings for science, medicine and healthcare in general. 

这两个章节也许是最整个论文最重要的章节,因为在这两个章节中,作者需要从总体上解释研究发现对于科学、医学很健康的意义。

When discussing your findings in this section of the article, raw data should not be repeated, but a remind may be necessary. For example, in the case that a biomarker value in cases and controls was “15 versus 5 mg/L”, it may be advisable to use concise sentences like “the biomarker concentration was found to be 3-fold higher in cases than in controls”, rather than repeating the values.

当在论文的这个章节讨论你的发现时,不要重复原始数据,但适当的提醒还是必要的。比如,在一项研究中,某标志物在疾病组和对照组的值分别是15和5 mg/L,此时建议采用一句简短的句子进行描述:标志物在疾病组中的浓度是对照组的3倍。不要去简单重复数字。

Data should then be discussed at the light of current knowledge and existing literature. It may be advisable to present here previous findings, after an accurate and comprehensive literature search, so enabling the readers (and the referees) to clearly understand how the actual findings may help improving the knowledge about a specific topic. Irrespective of the possibility that data may be innovative, may contradict or confirm previous findings (bear in mind that the last aspect is often less likely to be well received by the referees), it is always essential to highlight the major strengths setting the work apart from currently available literature. Be very cautious about your conclusions. Biology, and medicine are not exact sciences; it is extremely unpleasant to publish resolute conclusions, that are then contradicted by different findings in ensuing studies. It may hence be advisable to rephrase the final statements with precautious verbs, such as “appear” or “seem”, especially when significance and confidence in your findings are not so strong.

对数据的讨论应该是基于已有的理论和文献。建议在讨论部分首先进行全面和准确的文献检索,然后对既往的研究进行回顾和总结,让读者和审稿人能清楚地认识到本研究的结果可以帮助人们拓展对于特定领域的认识。不要去考虑研究结果是首次发现,还是验证了以往的研究结果,或者和以往的结果矛盾。只要记住在论文中强调本研究与既往研究相比有何优势即可。实际上,如果研究知识对以往的研究进行了论证的话,是很难获得审稿人的好感的。下结论时一定要小心。生物学和医学并不是精确的医学。如果下了过于绝对的结论又被后续的研究给推翻了,那就尴尬了。因此,建议在下结论的时候使用一些较为谨慎的词语,比如“appear” 或“seem”,尤其是当研究的意义并不是很明确,结论并不是很可靠时。

A simple comparison between personal and previously published data may be a good starting point, but is frequently insufficient for article success. For example, if you have discovered a new gene or a new candidate biomarker in the setting of a specific clinical condition or biological pathway, then a tentative pathophysiological explanation should accompany the findings. The simple description of a given phenomenon is always less pervasive than its interpretation according to animal or human biology. Just think at the Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming who casually discovering penicillin in 1928, a finding that has revolutionized medicine. The publication of this “accidental” finding (as literally described by Fleming) in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 1929 was not limited to describing that staphylococcal bacteria were dying in proximity to mould colonies contaminating a Petri dish, but he put forward the hypothesis that Pennicillum in culture may produce an antibiotic substance (i.e., penicillin) which could powerfully inhibit the growth of many bacterial species (11). That clear description has made the fortune of Fleming and mankind, paving the way to saving billions lives worldwide. The biological interpretation of data is especially important when findings significantly deviate from those previously obtained by other authors, so that a reliable explanation should be provided for explaining the difference.

对以往的数据和自己的数据进行简单的比较是一个不错的切入点,但是要写出一片优秀的论文,仅仅对比还不够的。假如你发现了一个特定的临床或生物学通路中一个新的基因或候选标志物,你就需要对结果潜在的病理生理学意义进行解释。仅仅对特定现象简单的描是不够的,很多时候还应该站在动物或人类生物学的角度对现象进行解释。比如,苏格兰科学家亚历山大·弗莱明在1928年因为一个偶然的机会发现了青霉素,这一发现直接导致医学发生了巨大的变化。1929年,世界卫生组织的公报在发表这个偶然发现时,也并不是只描述了培养皿中青霉菌附近无葡萄球菌生长这一现象,而是直截了当地提出假说:青霉菌生长的培养基中可能含有抗菌物质(也就是青霉素),这些抗菌物质可能会强力抑制很多细菌的生长。这个清晰的描述改变了弗莱明和人类的命运,挽救了成千上万的生命。当结果与此前其它作者的研究结论相距甚远时,从生物学的角度对数据进行解释就十分重要了,因为科学的推导可以解释结果相距甚远的原因。

The discussion of the study limitations is an open issue. Some journals envisage a specific part of the discussion, usually before the conclusions, where the main drawbacks of the study should be described. In this case, there is not much to choose. Conversely, when this is not mandatory, I personally prefer to partially avert this part, or only add a vague sentence like “further studies are need…”. The potential weakness in the study will likely be captured by the referees and, therefore, the most significant limitations can be introduced upon article revision. I actually consider quite masochistic to submit an article with an entire page of limitations, since this would seems an unconscious appeal to the referees to reject your paper. This is not cheating, this is exactly leaving the referees doing their job.

讨论研究的局限性是比较自由的。有的杂志在讨论部分专门安排了一个环节来讨论局限性,通常放在结论之前。如果是这样,作者没有更多的选择,只能阐述研究的缺陷。如果这不是强制的,我个人更倾向于少写,可以用一些很模糊的句子,比如“further studies are need…”。由于审稿人通常都会指出研究潜在的缺陷,所以可以在修回阶段补充研究最重要的缺陷。事实上,我认为在投稿的文章中用一整页纸来描述研究的局限性是极不明智的。因为这会在不知不觉中导致审稿人拒绝你的稿件。这不是欺诈,准确地说,这是留机会给审稿人做自己的工作。

The references

参考文献

Although the quality of the process of including citations and references is often underestimated, the sources of information delivered in the text should always be cited. For example, it is unacceptable to read sentences like “it is known that” or “it has been previously demonstrated that” without an accompanying citation. Exactly for the same reason, when the description of a certain biological or clinical aspect is given, this should be associated with evidence that you are not delusional, nor that you are trying to cheat providing untrusty information just to support your findings.

参考文献这个环节经常被很多作者低估。论文中应该标识出学术观点的来源。举个例子:文章中出现了“it is known that”或“it has been previously demonstrated that”之类的句子,但却没有引用参考文献,这就是无法接受的。同样的道理,在描述一个给定的临床或生物学观点时,应该给出相应的证据,证明这一观点并不是自己首创的;否则的话,就认为作者采用了不可信的证据来支持其观点。

The citations to the references in the main body should be prepared exactly as indicated by the instructions to the authors of the journal, and always following the same style. Alternation of citations within round or square brackets, in line with the text or superscripted, is not acceptable. The list of citations should contain the most informative material about the topic. A limited number of self-citations may be helpful to persuade the referees and the readers that you are not really new (or inexpert) about the topic, but a huge number of self-citations should be avoided. Being self-referential is not formally accepted in science and medicine, even if you are a Nobel Prize. Accurately check whether the journal to which you are aiming to submit the article has published similar or overlapping material in recent past. It should be fair (and wise) to add and discuss these articles in your paper and add citations to the references list. The titles of cited journals should be abbreviated as clearly indicated by the instructions to the authors of the journal, and the authors list should also fulfill journal’s criteria.

应该严格按照稿约规定的格式来安排论文正文部分的参考文献。圆括号和方括号是不能相互替换,该上标的地方也应该进行上标。引文都应该是最具有信息量的文献。适当的自引可以表明自己在这个领域并非新手,这对于说服审稿人和读者是很有帮助的。当然,过度自引应该避免。医学和科学领域是绝对不允许自己审自己的稿子的,即便你是诺贝尔奖获得者。准确地核对你想要投稿的杂志在最近一段时间是否曾刊登过相似或相同的文章。将这些文章在你的论文中进行引用和讨论是比较明智和公正的。根据杂志的稿约,参考文献中杂志的名字应该缩写,引用作者的排列格式也应该符合期刊的标准。

The title

标题

Preparing a good title is critical, since it should actually reflect finding of the study. Do not use vague sentences such as “analysis of glucose in diabetes”, since this is not expected to capture a substantial interest from referees and readers, overwhelmed by the millions publications available in scientific databases. The use of succinct but clear statements, such as “glucose is increased in diabetics”, is very likely to capture more interest on the article. 

准备一个好的标题也是十分重要的。标题应该准确地反映研究的结果。不要使用很模糊的词句,比如“analysis of glucose in diabetes”,因为科学数据库里面的论文多如牛毛,你不要指望这样的标题能激起审稿人和读者的阅读兴趣。应该使用简单名了的句子,比如“glucose is increased in diabetics”,这样的句子作为论文标题更容易受到关注。

The abstract

摘要

The abstract is typically the last part of the manuscript to be written, since it may also be a kind of “collage” of text already written in other parts of the article. It may be advisable to rephrase these parts (e.g., reediting the sentences or changing some words), but the concepts will obviously remain the same. The length and style must be strictly coherent with word count specifications and journal’s instructions. Notably, exceeding the word count almost inevitably results in the manuscript being returned to the authors. Avoid writing abstracts with lengthy “background”, and preferably use the text to focus on results and conclusions. If occasionally happens to read abstracts with 50% of text devoted to the background and only 2-4 lines in which results and conclusion are summarized. 

摘要一般是在其它部分完成后才撰写的,因为摘要就是从论文其它部分“拼凑”出来的。建议在撰写摘要时重新调整下内容,比如重新编辑下句子或者更改一些词语,但是所传递的意思是不变的。摘要的长度和格式必须与杂志稿约中的要求一致。很明显,如果摘要的字数超过了稿约规定的字数,将导致稿件被打回给作者。避免将摘要写成很长的背景介绍,建议以结果及结论中的内容为主。偶尔也会读到一些摘要会用50%左右的文字介绍北京,然后仅用2-4行字来总结结果和结论。

The list of authors

署名

The International Committee of Medical Journals Editors (ICMJE) has established four essential criteria according to which the authorship can be credited. These include (i) substantial contributions to conception or design of the study; or the ac quisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the study; AND (ii) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND (iii) finally approving the version of the article to be submitted; AND (iv) agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the study in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved (12). There is no exemption to these rules, and each author should be aware that any deviation should be interpreted as ethical misconduct. Unfortunately, the real life is often different from the idealized picture. There is a nice story on the Internet, which gives a funny - but seldom realistic – interpretation of who deserves credit, as well as his/her position in the list of authors, within a scientific article. According to this tale, the first author is a senior graduate student who made the figures, the second author is a grant student who has nothing to do with the project but was included because he/she hang around group meetings usually bringing food, the third author is a first year student who actually performed all the experiments, the statistical analysis and wrote the entire article (and still thinks that being third is “fair”), the middle authors are undergraduate students and technical staff, the penultimate author is an ambitious assistant professor who instigated the paper, whereas the last author is the head of the laboratory, who has not even read the paper but… he is the boss, he got the funding and his name is so famous that the article will hardly be rejected. Besides this funny joke, the ICMJE criteria are and will remain for long the cornerstones for establishing who ultimately deserves to be credited in the paper, in the acknowledgements, or not included in the article. Although there are no written rules about the positions in the authors’ list, I have always thought that the scientist who has written the greatest part of (or the entire) article should always be first, the scientist who has thoughtfully revised (and hopefully improved) the article should be last, whereas all the other scientists should be placed in the middle of the author list, according to their actual contribution. Some journals specifically require to list authors’ contributions at the beginning or at the end of the article. This section should hence be prepared ethically and fairly; no credit should be given to authors who have not really contributed to a certain activity.

国际医学期刊编辑学会(ICMJE)制定了四条关于论文署名的标准。有资格署名的作者应同时具备以下四个条件:(i)在提出科学假说、设计研究方案、获取、分析和解释实验数据方面做出过较大贡献的人;(ii)起草了论文,或者在修改论文时有重要智力贡献的人;(iii)同意提交论文最终版本的作者;(iv)对研究的所有方面负责,确保研究过程中与数据准确性和完整性有关的问题都已妥善解决。这些条款没有例外,每个作者都应该记住如果违反其中的任何一条就属于学术不端。不幸的是,现实与理想总是有很大的差距。在互联网上有一个很搞笑的解释论文署名资格以及作者排序的故事,现实中应该不会出现。根据这个故事,第一作者应该是高年级的研究生,他绘制了图片;第二作者是一个关系户,他成天在实验室游手好闲无所事事,他之所以被列为作者是因为他经常在组会的时候带东西给大家吃;第三作者是一个一年级的学生,他完成了所有的实验,分析了数据,起草了论文;中间的作者是没有毕业的研究生和实验室的技术员;倒数第二的作者是一个野心勃勃的助理教授,他指挥研究生写了这篇论文;最后一位作者是实验室的老大,他甚至没有读过这篇文章,但是他是老板,他获得了基金的资助且名气很大,把他的名字写在论文上不容易被拒稿。抛开这个笑话来讲,ICMJE标准现在是,将来仍然会是确定论文署名权的基石,确定了谁该被列为作者,谁该被写在致谢中,谁应该被排除在作者之外。虽然对于作者的位置排序没有成文的规定,但是我一般认为起草了论文的大部分甚至全部内容的科学家应该是第一作者,通篇修改了论文,提升了论文质量的科学家应该是最后的作者,其它科学家应该根据实际贡献的大小进行排序。有的杂志会要求在文章首页或者末页说明作者的贡献分布。在列举作者贡献分布时应客观公正,没有做出过实质性贡献的作者就不应该署名。

How should I write?

我是怎么写的

Writing in a good English, considering that the vast majority of scientific articles are published in this langue, is often an insurmountable barrier for both English native and non-English native speakers, but the challenge is obviously magnified for the latter category of scientists. Even the best work, presenting highly innovative or outstanding findings, may finally be rejected if it cannot be fully understood by the referees. As for other human activities, good writing is always a compromise between innate skills and practice. A quite common custom is to have the article revised by the so-called English “teachers”. This not always works since, as discussed below, scientific and literary languages are not alike, scientific terminology is unique and often carries specific meanings. I have no personal experience on professional bioscience writers, since I have never used their help. Nevertheless, they can offer various services, such as full-text translation or revision, comments about improving the article before submission, selection of the most suitable journal to submit the work, artwork preparation, help for revising or resubmitting the article (13). Some of these services are now also offered by some scientific journals, but a number of shortcomings are apparent. First, all these services do not come for free. Then, professional science writers are not necessarily expert of one certain subject, so that they may misinterpret some key concepts of the article. Notably, the boundaries between professional medical writing, “guestwriting” (writing an article for someone else) and “ghostwriting” (i.e., writing an article but hiring authorship credited to another person) are not so clearly defined, so that some journals are no longer accepting submission prepared by professional science writers (14). Consider also that scientific writers can be legitimate contributors to the article but, according to the criteria of the ICMJE, their contribution must be recognized. Importantly, the long-standing practice of copying and pasting text from other articles is considered as a misconduct (i.e., plagiarism), and can now be easily detected by Editors and publishers using dedicated software programs (15).

绝大部分科技论文都是用英文发表的,对于母语是英语以及母语不是英语的学者而言,用地道的英语写论文都是十分棘手的事情,特别是对于那些母语不是英语的学者。即便做了顶级的工作,如果未能让让审稿人全面看懂你的论文的话,也可能会被拒稿。就像人的其它能力一样,优秀的写作能力往往需要天赋和后天锻炼。很多人习惯于让一名所谓的英语老师帮助修改论文。这个方法通常没有任何作用,因为如前所述,科技写作和文学写作大不相同,科技名词具有唯一性,常常有着特殊的含义。我个人对专业的生物科学写手没有了解,因为我从来不需要生物科学写手的帮助。即便如此,我知道他们可以提供各种服务,比如全文翻译、修改、在投稿之前对稿件进行评审、帮助选刊、绘制插图、帮助修改或重新递交稿件。有的科学杂志现在也提供其中的一些服务,但是需要注意一些问题。首先,这些服务并不是免费的;其次,专业的科学写手并不是某个专业的专家,因此他们可能会误解文章中的一些重要概念。很明显,专业的医学写作、润色(帮助他人修改论文)、代笔(写好论文后将署名权卖给他人)之间的界限并不是很清晰,因此有些杂志不再接受有专业的科学写手修改过的论文。另外一个需要考虑的问题是,科学写手是论文的合法贡献者,根据ICMJE的标准,他们的贡献应该被正确认识。重要的是,一种长期存在的学术不端行为就是从其它杂志的论文中复制和粘贴(剽窃),这种情况目前很容易被编辑和出版商用专业的软件检查出来。

As previously discussed, data should not be repeated multiple times throughout results, discussion, conclusion, tables and figures. Redundant information not only increase the production costs for the publishers (each printed pages has a considerable price), but may also antagonize the referees, who may be forced to read the same aspects many (and unnecessary) times. Full results should always be presented once (decided where, among tables, figures or results section). 

如前所述,在结果、讨论、结论和图表部分,数据可能会被重复很多次。过于罗嗦的赘述不仅会增加出版商的成本(每页纸的出版价格都不菲),同时也可能激怒审稿人,因为审稿人会多次读到同一内容。结果应该只展示一次,自己想好到底在哪一部分展示(图、表还是结果部分)。

Another aspect that should be clearly acknowledged is that scientific writing is not like writing a literary piece. The style and construction of sentences may be quite different. When a scientists reads an article, he/she wants to get clear messages, with no flowery prose. Therefore, long, intricate and pompous sentences should always be avoided. Each sentence should have a clearly identifiable subject, a verb and a succinct description of the outcome. It should be no longer than 1-2 lines. It occasionally happens to see papers with very long sentences (i.e., 5-6 lines), so that you no longer remember which is the subject when you get to the end or you need to read the sentence 2-3 times before connecting the subject (usually at the beginning of the sentence) with the verb (at the end of the sentence). The verb should always be placed close to the subject, the “core” of the sentence should be preferably moved to the end, whilst passive verbs should be avoided. 

另外一个需要认清楚的事情是科技写作与文献写作不同,二者在句子的格式和结构方面就很不相同。当一名科学家在阅读论文的时候,他/她希望看到的是清晰的阐述,而不是华丽的词藻。因此,应避免使用复杂的、华丽的长句。每个句子都要有明确的主语,谓语和对结局的简单描述。每个句子不应该超过两行。偶尔会遇见那种五六行长的句子,当你读到句子末尾的时候已经忘了主语在哪里。也有可能你需要反复阅读两三遍才能把句子的主语(通常在句首)和谓语(通常在句末)连起来。谓语通常应该紧邻主语,句子的核心应该放在句末,避免使用被动语态。

The form, grammar and spelling should be accurately checked (many times, even by different authors) and the use of informal style (e.g., “haven’t” should be “have not”, “wasn’t” should be “was not”, etc.) or slang and colloquial speech should be limited. I do not personally like using characters like “!” or open questions (i.e., placing a question mark [“?”] at the end of a sentence). The use of adverbs and adjectives may be a good means for highlighting, emphasizing or reinforcing important issues. For example, writing “we found a difference” is not the same as writing “we found a considerable difference”, provided that the difference is really noteworthy.

仔细检查格式、语法、拼写,需要多次检查甚至由不同的作者来检查。应该少用一些不正式的写法(比如 “haven’t”应该是“have not”, “wasn’t”应该是“was not”等)或者俚语、口头话。我个人不喜欢用类似于感叹号之类的符号,或者使用反问句(在句末用问号)。用副词或者形容词表示强调和凸显是一种不错的做法。比如,“we found a difference”和“we found a considerable difference”是不同的,后者表示这个差异需要引起关注。

The final layout

格式调整

The Editor and the referees are often convinced that negligence in the format of the article actually reflects negligence in the research. Their judgment about the quality of the article may hence be unwittingly biased. Therefore, the format should be accurate, in line with the instructions of the authors of the journal. This may also prevent delay in the editorial process, since some journals return the paper to the authors when the instructions are not carefully followed. The type and size of the font is often indicated by the instructions to the authors of the journal. However, when this information is unavailable, a clear font such as “Times New Roman”, “Arial”, “Calibri” or “Book Antiqua” is preferable. Avoid using different fonts, and especially different sizes (usually a 12-point font size is preferable). Use double spacing and margins of 2-3 cm throughout the manuscript. It often happens to receive papers with single spacing and narrow margins, which are very difficult to read.

编辑和审稿人通常认为在格式调整上粗心大意的作者科研工作也不太可能严谨。因此他们对论文质量的判断在不经意间就会发生偏差。因此,论文的格式应该严格按照稿约来进行调整。如果格式不正确会延迟稿件的发表,因为编辑如果发现作者的格式不符合杂志的要求时,就会把稿件返回给作者。应该严格按照稿约中的要求调整字体和字号。如果稿约中未对字体和字号提出要求,建议使用通用的格式如“Times New Roman”, “Arial”, “Calibri”或“Book Antiqua”。避免使用不同的字体和字号(通常建议字号大小为12号)。整篇文章的行距设置为两行,页边距设置为2-3厘米。我经常会收到一些单倍行距,页边距也很窄的稿件,阅读起来很麻烦。

The paper should be actually organized as specifically indicated by the instructions to the authors of the journal. Typically, most journals need that the main text of full-length articles be divided into 5-6 sections, i.e., “introduction”, “materials and methods”, “results”, “discussion” (and/or “conclusions”) and “references”. When different specifications are given (e.g., some journals place the section “materials and methods” at the end of the paper), these should be fulfilled. Carefully avoid to mix up material among the different sections of the article.

应该根据稿约中的规定来组织论文的格式。一般情况下,多数杂志要求把论文分为五六个章节,包括:前言、材料和方法、结果、讨论(包括结论)、参考文献。如果有的杂志有特殊的要求也必须满足,比如有的杂志会要求将材料和方法放在论文末尾。注意不要混淆了各部分的内容。

As a general rule, the paragraphs should be uniform throughout the article (either aligned or not), and they should all be indented or not indented (according to the instructions to the authors of the journal). The abbreviations should always be spelled. One major issue that challenges the referees is trying to understand what an acronym actually means (e.g., “HF” may stand for “Heart Failure”, but also for “Hydrogen Fluoride”, “Hip Fracture”, “Hemorrhagic Fever”, “High Frequency”, etc.). Tables, figures and supplementary material should accompany the manuscript as indicated by the instructions to the authors of the journal. Therefore, they should not be included in the main document when this is not expressly requested by the journal.

总体原则是,所有的段落必须格式统一,应根据稿约决定各个段落是否对齐,是否缩进。缩写一定要标识出来。很多时候审稿人可能并不知道缩写的意思。比如,HF可以表示Heart Failure(心衰)、Hydrogen Fluoride(氟化氢)、Hip Fracture(髋骨骨折)、Hemorrhagic Fever(出血热)和High Frequency(高频)。根据稿约,表格、图片和补充材料应该在正文中标识出来。他们不需要放在插入正文,除非杂志的稿约中另有说明。

As a general rule, read the article not less than 2-3 times before submission, or having it carefully read by one or more coauthors. In  particular, check multiple times the grammar and the style. It is quite annoying to read papers with no space between a full stop or a comma and the following word. I usually have a final pass on the article on separate days, when the mind is fresh. You can read the article for up to 10 consecutive times without findings errors or typos, but it is very likely that you will catch them on another day. Do not rush to submit. One day more will not have such a bad impact on history of science and destiny of your career.

在投稿之前,先仔细阅读文章三遍以上,或者请其他作者阅读上几遍。特别注意要重复检查语法和格式。如果阅读到句号或者逗号后面没有空格就直接接下一个单词的文章,是感觉非常不爽的。我经常把写好的稿子放几天,然后等脑子清醒的时候再拿出来看。有时你把文章连续读上10遍也发现不了问题,但很有可能过两天你才能发现问题。不要急着投稿。提前几天投稿可能会对你的职业生也产生负面影响。

Selecting the journal and submitting the paper

选择杂志以及投稿

The final and almost unavoidable activities are selecting the most appropriate journal and then submitting the article (16). As for my personal experience, the selection of the target journal can be already made after writing the sections “results” and “materials and methods”, since the information therein contained may be sufficient to identify the audience and should hence guide the composition of the remaining parts of the manuscript. There are at least five main criteria driving the choice of one journal over another: (i) aims and scope of the journal (some journals that have previously published similar material can often be found in your references list), (ii) sample size and significance of the findings, (iii) journal impact (e.g., indexing, IF, visibility, scientific reputation), (vi) policy and costs of publication (open-access; pay for submitting or publishing); and (v) article types (e.g., some journals publish “Brief communications”, “technical brief”, “technical reports”, “research letters” or similar types of papers that are more suited for studies with limited sample size, preliminary or only confirmatory data). The clinical significance of results should not be either oversized or underestimated. This would enable to reduce the overall number of unfavorable revision outcomes and shorten the time to publication. Carefully avoid to submit your article to the so-called “predatory” journals, i.e., financial profit entities based on article processing charges, which do not meet scholarly publishing standards (17). Scientific articles published by predatory publishers will be actually meaningless for your curriculum, since these journals will never be indexed, will never get an IF and, even more importantly, they may suddenly disappear shortly after the publication of your article.

最后的,也是不可回避的事情是选择恰当的杂志然后投稿。我的个人经验是:在写完结果、材料和方法之后就应该知道自己该投什么杂志了,因为这两个部分包含的信息已经足以让作者判断潜在的读者群,并在很大程度上影响了其它部分的撰写。至少有五条标准可以帮助大家选择期刊:(i)杂志的看文范围。有的杂志此前曾经发表过相似论文,这些杂志通常可以在参考文献中查到;(ii)样本量和结果的价值;(iii)期刊的影响力(比如被什么数据库索引、影响因子、读者面、杂志的学术声誉等);(vi)出版政策和费用(是不是开放存取;审稿和出版费用是多少);(v)文章的类型。比如对于一些样本量较小的、信息量较小的研究,有的杂志喜欢以短篇交流、技术简报、技术报道、研究通讯的形式来发表。不要高估也不要低估研究结果的临床意义,这样会审稿人的负面评价会少一些,也有利于缩短发表时间。注意不要将你的论文投向掠夺性期刊,就是那些以赚取发表费为目的的期刊,这些期刊通常没有达到学术出版的要求。

Conclusions

结论

As for the earliest premise, that there is no single and validated approach to write a successful scientific article (18), it is undeniable that some basic notions gathered after years of experience may help increasing the chance of acceptance (Table 1). To put it simply, all the previous concepts can be summarized in one really simple and straightforward concept. A scientific article is meant to be read by others (i.e., referees and readers) and not by yourself. Seems apparently paradoxical, but readers do not just read, but also interpret what they read. These seemingly obvious notions are often overlooked by many scientists, who follow a fairly hedonistic approach in what they write, which may ultimately bother the referees and disappoint the readers. 

我之前就说过,写好一篇成功的学术论文没有固定的模式可以遵循。但是根据我的经验,遵守一些基本的原则可以增大稿件被接受的概率(表1)。简而言之,此前所有的原则都可以概括成一句简单粗暴的话:科技论文是写给他人(读者或审稿人)看的,而不是写给自己看的。这句话看起来有些自相矛盾,但是读者不仅仅是阅读,更要理解他们的阅读内容。这些原则常常被一些科学家所忽视,他们写论文的时候只图自己写得痛快,但最终却令审稿人感觉很恼火,让读者感觉很失望。

I really hope that some of the concepts expressed in this dissertation may be a guide or a help, especially for young scientists, who frequently struggle with scientific writing.

我希望这个专题中提到的一些概念可以指导或者帮助那些正在被科技写作困扰的学者,尤其是年轻的学者。

Acknowledgements

None.

Footnote

Conflicts of Interest: The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Table 1.

Checklist describing of the most important aspects characterizing each section of a scientific article

Figure 1.

图1

Personal flowchart for writing scientific articles.

撰写科学论文的流程图

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