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MAR14

Publish or Perish? No, Publish and Prosper

Filed on: March 14, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

For scientists and academics, "Publish or perish" is a familiar phrase. But who said it first? The true origin of the phrase remains uncertain; the trail goes cold after Logan Wilson, who used the phrase in his book The Academic Man: a study in the sociology of a profession published in 1942. However, this blog takes a positive view and prefers "Publish and prosper" instead.  

I was trained as a plant pathologist and, since most plant diseases are caused by fungi, as a mycologist, a student of fungi. I learnt, as I squinted down a microscope, that a fungal spore divided into compartments by horizontal walls is likely to be of one kind (Helminthosporium, if memory does not play me false) whereas that divided into compartments by both horizontal and vertical walls is something else (Alternaria-if I recall right).

This training came in handy in identifying fonts: Is the dot in lowercase "i" square or round or oval? Does the tail of capital "Q" originate inside the circle?  Copy editing too demanded attention to details: Is it "health care" or "healthcare"? Is it "A variety of reasons are . . ." or "A variety of reasons is . . ."?  

I knew of professional societies of chemists or physicists, and even those of agricultural economists, plant nematologists, and lepidopterists: I soon learnt not only of the Council of Science Editors and the European Association of Science Editors but also of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar and the Apostrophe Protection Society.  

In days to come, I want you to join me for such excursions of little-known territories as will have something simple, useful, and directly applicable to scientists and academics who seek to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals of good standing: tips on choosing the right word, the correct punctuation mark, the appropriate chart, and so on. How do you make sure, for instance, that in your documents, the unit of measurement does not stray into the next line, leaving the number behind in such quantitative expressions as 29 kg, 6.5 cm, and 5 kWh? Watch this space.

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[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

AUG 3

What do journal editors want from authors?

Filed on: August 3, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

 

Publishing research papers in prestigious international, peer-reviewed journals is a competitive business. Good journals tend to accept only a small proportion of the papers they receive. In fact, according to a recent report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, top journals like Cell and The Lancet have rejection rates of 95%. What, then, are these journals looking for?

This question was recently discussed in an online forum of the European Association of Science Editors in which a few editors chose to respond. Readers of this blog will be interested to know what qualities of a research paper journal editors consider the most important. These desirable qualities relate to both substance and style, and one of the editors even mentioned “prompt, polite and positive dealings with the editor” (although this aspect will apply only to those manuscripts that go through peer review and not to those that are rejected outright).

The qualities related to substance were the scientific soundness of the reported research, its originality (whether it clearly improves the present state of knowledge), and its relevance and value. The qualities related to style were adherence to the journal's instructions to authors, a clear focus on a single topic, and writing that is not only understandable but readable.

Before submitting a paper to a journal – in fact, before even planning to do so – it would help to keep these requirements in mind. Meeting the above criteria would better your manuscript's  chances of acceptance.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUL 9

A guide to effective academic communication for non-native speakers of English

Filed on: July 9, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Having written a paper for submission to a chosen journal, you will need to write something more, namely a letter or an e-mail addressed to the editor of the target journal requesting the editor to consider your paper for publication. Similar covering letters are often required to accompany proposals for funding and abstracts of papers submitted to organizers of conferences. Another writing task is to respond to comments made by reviewers or referees of your paper.

English for Academic Correspondence and Socializing [1] is a book that helps you write such covering letters and responses mentioned above. The purpose of the book and its readers are clearly stated: “This book is for PhD students, researchers, lecturers, and professors in any discipline whose first language is not English. The book will teach you how to use English to carry out everyday activities in your academic work, such as writing emails, dealing with referees and editors, making phone calls, and socializing at conferences.”

The book is divided into seven parts: five main parts, namely email, writing and responding to reviews, telephone and teleconference calls, dealing with native English speakers, and socializing, supplemented with one on checking what you have written and one offering useful phrases relevant to the tasks covered in the first five parts.

Readers of this blog will find English for Academic Correspondence and Socializing a useful and up-to-date source of practical advice. In the words of the author, readers of the book “will learn how to

• write emails that your recipient will open, read, and respond to

• use standard phrases correctly, and with the right level of formality

• improve your usage of tenses (past, present, future)

• significantly improve your chances of having your paper published by interacting in a constructive way with referees and editors

• talk to key people at conferences and thus improve your chances of having a good career"

 

[1] Wallwork A. 2011. English for Academic Correspondence and Socializing. New York: Springer. 330 pp.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

The hard work in producing a research paper lies, of course, in conducting the research, analyzing and interpreting its results, and writing up the research paper—putting finishing touches to that paper is easy and may even be fun. And these touches also mean that, once accepted, your paper moves faster along the production line.

Using the en dash where you may have used the hyphen can be a simple matter of using the "find and replace" function of your word-processing software so long as you know what an en dash is and when to use it.

The en dash is longer than the hyphen, typically twice as long. The most common niche of the en dash is between two numbers when the numbers stand for a range, as in pp. 15–20 (which means pages 15 to 20) or 20–25 °C (which means a range of temperature with 20 °C as the minimum and 25 °C as the maximum). If you will look at the references listed at the end of a typical research paper, you will see the en dash between every pair of page numbers that appear at the end of a reference to a journal article.

How do you type an en dash? The ASCII code for the en dash is 0150 (you press and hold down the Alt key and type 0150 from the numerical keypad of the keyboard). Alternatively, while using MS Word, you may choose Insert > Symbol > Special characters and choose the en dash (second character in the list).

The en dash also makes it unnecessary to repeat the unit symbols: 20–30 kg and not 20 kg – 30 kg.  

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

MAY21

Analyse/Analyze, Organize/Organise, and so on

Filed on: May 21, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Do you analyse data, or do you analyze it? If you use UK English, you probably analyse your data; if you use US English, you analyze your data. In other words, this is a matter of style. However, the choice is not quite straightforward, because most academic publishers in the UK tend to use both –ize/–ise as well as -yse, depending on the verb, but, overall, prefer –ize; British newspapers and general publishers, on the other hand, prefer –ise [1].

Scientific Style and Format [2], the manual published by the Council of Science Editors, suggests that “in the frequent absence of clear preferences, a publishing house or journal office should develop its own list of preferences to reduce the need for consulting dictionaries too frequently.” The Cambridge Guide to English Usage [3] devotes more than a column to the issue but recommends –ze over –se.

The Oxford Dictionaries website is particularly helpful because it lists a “small set of verbs that must always be spelled with -ise at the end and never with –ize” and “also a few verbs which always end in -yse in British English” [4]. The Oxford Dictionaries blog [5] offers more details, adding that Oxford University Press “chose the ‘-ize’ spellings . . . for etymological  reasons: the -ize ending corresponds to the Greek verb endings -izo and -izein.”

So where does that leave us? Perhaps it is best to use –yze and –ize if you are writing in US English and to look the matter up in the Oxford Dictionary of English if you are using UK English.

[1] Quinion M. 2003. The endings ‘-ise’ and ‘-ize’, www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ise1.htm

[2] Style Manual Committee, Council of Biology Editors. 1994. Scientific Style and Format: the CBE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 6th edn, p.78. Chicago: Council of Biology Editors.

[3] Peters P. 2004. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, pp. 298–299, 590. Cambridge University Press.

 [4] http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/ize-ise-or-yse

 [5] http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/03/ize-or-ise/

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

APR 2

Make positive comparisons: Avoid negative markers

Filed on: April 2, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Science is not just about numbers but about comparing numbers: you have treatment or treatments and you have a control or controls, and comparing the two sets tells us whether the treatment (a new method, artificial light, high or low temperature, and so on) is better (than the currently used method, natural light, average temperature, and so on).

In describing the results of such experiments, researchers often use the construction less . . . than, as in “The new method was less expensive than the new method” or “Plants grown under artificial light took less time to flower than those grown under natural light.”

However, the above examples can be re-written on a positive note – and in fewer words – by replacing “less than” with a suitable adverb, as follows: “The new method was cheaper . . .” or “Plants grown under artificial light flowered sooner . . .” Sanford [1] supports the recommendation: “In general, it is supposed that the processing of sentences containing a negative marker takes longer because sentences are coded primarily in terms of a positive assertion. Negating this, through a marker, is a time consuming extra process.”

[1] Sanford A J. 1999. Word meaning and discourse processing: a tutorial view, p. 326 in Language Processing, edited by S Garrod and M Pickering. Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

APR 2

Presenting data in tables 5: Sources

Filed on: April 2, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

The last part of a table is usually labelled Source or Sources and gives details of the source of data given in the table. If no source is mentioned, it is assumed that the data are the author’s own. Different publishers prescribe different styles for the word: the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, recommends printing the word in italics and placing a colon after it [1]; some publishers set the word in small capitals; some set it in bold. Also, some publishers set the word in a separate line whereas some do not. Observe how your target journal handles this and use that style. 

Information about the source or sources may be limited to only a citation, either numbered or in the author-and-year style, with more details given under the heading references. Alternatively, full details of the source may be supplied, as in Source: Bandyopadhyay S. 2011. Solar energy storage: technology and sizing, p. 87 (Table 4) in A Solar Future for India, edited by G M Pillai, Pune, India: World Institute of Sustainable Energy.

If a table published by somebody else is reproduced in full, merely giving a reference is not enough: permission to reproduce the table must be obtained from the copyright holder and the fact mentioned in the source note, as in “Reproduced from Bandyopadhyay (2011) by permission of the author” (if the author holds the copyright) or “by permission of the World Institute of Sustainable Energy” (if, in the above example, the publisher holds the copyright).

If a published table has been modified, the acknowledgement takes the form “modified from” or “adapted from” or “recalculated from” as appropriate. Sometimes, data in different columns or rows come from different sources. If so, the fact can be indicated either with appropriate footnotes by placing the footnote markers after the column- or row-headings or appended to the citation of or reference to each source, as in “Tanaka 2011 (data on current costs of photovoltaic cells); Smith 2012 (data on current tariffs for electricity)" and so on.

This series (presenting data in the form of a table) of posts has discussed different parts of a table of numbers in some detail. Tables pack a great deal of information in limited space and therefore deserve greater attention from authors.

[1] The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edn (2011), p. 147.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

MAR18

Avoid instructions such as "See Table 2" and "Refer to Figure 6"

Filed on: March 18, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

The use of figures and tables as adjuncts to text is common in research papers. These adjuncts supplement the text: figures, for example, can convey information that may be impossible to convey through words, and tables can present data more efficiently than text. Readers of research papers know this. In fact, in leafing through a document, readers often stop at tables or figures to get a sense of what the document is about.

Figures, tables, appendixes, and similar adjuncts are numbered and referred to in the accompanying text by their numbers; readers are familiar with this convention and do not need to be specifically asked to consult such adjuncts through explicit instructions. Authors are well-advised to say something about the table or the figure when it is mentioned, as in "Seeds germinated faster when incubated at temperatures higher than 25 °C (Table 2)" or "One of the adverse side effect of the drug was skin rash (Figure 6)" and leave the rest to the reader rather than employ such expressions as ""See Table 2," "Refer to Figure 6," and "Turn to Appendix A."

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

MAR 9

Avoid using symbols for mathematical operations in running text

Filed on: March 9, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Given the scientist's preoccupation with counting and measuring, numbers are important in any scientific text-but that importance does not justify using mathematical operators such as <,>, +, and ÷ in plain text, as in "At wind speeds <9 km/h, power generation is likely to be adequate" or "The sample comprised soil + roots."  

Mathematical operators are invariably used in equations but look out of place in running text because readers do not expect to encounter such symbols in the midst of text. After all, "more than" and "less than" are perfectly adequate substitutes for the corresponding symbols. Some readers may even consider the use of symbols as an inappropriate shortcut.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

FEB24

Use "by" instead of "-wise" to indicate how a table is organized

Filed on: February 24, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Tables organize data systematically, but it is important to know what system a given table uses. For instance, population figures may be given for each country or for each decade or split into different age-groups, and data on the prevalence of diseases may be shown in terms of causes (bacterial diseases, viral diseases, fungal diseases, and so on), classified into chronic and acute diseases, or grouped on the basis of affected organs (heart diseases, respiratory diseases, skin diseases, and so on).

The simple preposition to indicate how a table is organized is by. The Oxford Dictionary of English [1] gives one of the senses of by as "identifying a parameter" (p. 240) and goes on to illustrate this sense with the phrase "a breakdown of employment figures by age and occupation" - just the adverb to serve the purpose being discussed in this post.

However, some authors attach the suffix wise to the noun that names the subject of the table, as in "Age- and occupation-wise breakdown of employment" or "Yearwise production of milk." However, wise as a suffix refers to the manner or aspect (clockwise and lengthwise, for example), which is not the sense that is required in titles of tables or in column headings. And even when used as an adverb of manner, "most of the words so formed are considered inelegant or not good English style" (Oxford Dictionary of English, p. 2020). Robert Burchfield [2], in The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, adds that "fastidious speakers treat it [such use of wise] with mild disdain" (p. 852).

[1] The Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd edn (2011). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Burchfield R W (ed.). 1996. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edn, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

FEB20

Presenting data in tables 3: Row and column headings

Filed on: February 20, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

A typical data table in a research paper is a matrix of rows and columns, each of which should have an appropriate heading that gives specific information about the content of the row or the column. An earlier post discussed table titles; this post describes how row- and column-headings should amplify the table title. Sometimes, the table title is such that readers know right away what the row- and column-heads will be. For instance, if the table title is "Monthly mean precipitation (mm) in five European cities," it is obvious that names of the cities and the twelve months of the year will make the row- and column-heads.

With some table titles, the heads will not be as obvious but can be guessed: a table titled "Speed (km/h) achieved by sprinters on different surfaces" may not even need row heads if it comprises only two columns, one giving the different surfaces (grass, clay, artificial grass, and so on) and the other giving the average speed attained on each surface. But it is possible that the data are given for each sprinter, in which case the left-most column will carry the heading "Sprinter" and each row heading will be the name of one sprinter. Incidentally, note that the heading uses the singular form Sprinter because each row refers to one sprinter.

If each row uses a different unit of measurement, the unit is typically given after the description or label and separated from it with a comma. Some publishers enclose the unit in brackets. For example, a table that compares five crops on a number of attributes may have a column for each crop and the following row headings: Area, ha; Productivity, tonnes/ha; Duration, days; and so on or Area (ha), Productivity (tonnes/ha), Duration (days), and so on. With such tables, the heading for the left-most column needs some thought: in the above example, Attribute or Parameter may serve the purpose. It is important to supply such a heading, one that states what is common to all the rows.

Row- or column-heads may include a multiplier to limit the number of digits in each cell: for example, instead of filling the cells with values such as $ 12,000, $ 8,000, and $ 32,000, the heading says "$, in thousands," and the values are given as 12, 8, and 32. Avoid using a string of zeros in such headings; in the above example, do not give the heading as $, in '000.

Because space is often a constraint in row- or column-heads, abbreviations and symbols are freely used in phrasing such heads.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

FEB13

Presenting data in tables 2: Table title

Filed on: February 13, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Every table in a research paper needs a title.

The title of a table follows its number and tells readers what the table is about and gives the unit of measurement if it applies to all entries in the table, as in "Monthly mean precipitation (mm) in five European cities." If applicable, the title also specifies the year or years the data relate to, as in "Breakdown of typical system costs (in US dollars per watt) of photovoltaic systems in 2006 and 2010."

Make table titles concise yet informative. Keep in mind that tables are often looked at independently, that is without reading the accompanying text, which is why it is important to ensure that table titles provide all essential information for readers to make sense of the numbers that make up the table.

Titles of tables in research papers are rarely given as complete sentences; titles of tables in presentations, should you decide to include tables in your presentations, can be written as sentences that highlight the main finding or point of a given table. Compare the two versions of a fictitious table title: "Speed (km/h) achieved by sprinters on different surfaces" and "Artificial grass is better than natural grass for sprinting."

Pay attention to how your target journal handles table titles. Some journals print table numbers and table titles on separate lines whereas most journals use the "run-on" style: a table title follows the table number on the same line, typically with a space or a colon to separate the two. Although table titles are not complete sentences, many journals place a full stop (period) at the end of each table title. Journals also differ in how they handle capitals: some journals capitalize every significant word in a table title (the so-called title case) whereas some journals follow normal capitalization.

Lastly, a trivial detail that you can ignore: when a table title runs to two lines or more, some journals indent the second and subsequent lines whereas other journals do not. This is one of the few formatting details that you can leave it to the journal to attend to.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

FEB11

A complimentary remark is nice, but a complementary remark is more useful

Filed on: February 11, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | 1 comment

Among pairs of words that are often confused is the pair complimentary/complementary. Complementary is not only far more common in scientific writing but also has several specific meanings: a complementary sequence of a piece of DNA, for example, or a complementary angle (which, together with its partner, adds up to 90 degrees). Then there is complementary medicine, also known as alternative medicine, which refers to treatments other than those followed in or recommended by the traditional Western medicine.

Complimentary, on the other hand, either refers to praise (as in "The reviewers complimented the researchers on the originality of their approach" or "The poster won many compliments for its attractive design and clear presentation of information") or to something given away free of charge (as in "Complimentary copies of the special issue of the journal were distributed at the conference" or "Complimentary passes for the exhibition are available for the participants").

Thus, while it is nice to be complimented, a complementary remark - one that reinforces what is said or presented - is even more welcome.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JAN28

Presenting data in tables 1: Table number

Filed on: January 28, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Science is all about counting and measuring. This preoccupation with numbers, with quantitative data, means that many research papers include one more tables. Tables present a great deal of information in small space, which is why tables need to be designed with care. This post is the first in a series that will cover different parts of a typical data table.

It is customary to number the tables in a research paper in the order in which they are mentioned and then refer to each table with its number. Supplementary tables, if used, are numbered in a separate sequence (Supplementary Table 1, for example) [1].

Tables in chapters of a multi-authored book are usually numbered in such a way that each number also identifies the number of the chapter: if, for example, Chapter 2 has three tables, they will numbered Table 2.1, Table 2.2, and Table 2.3. Such a numbering scheme is sometimes referred to as "double numeration." The two numbers may be separated either with a dot or with a hyphen.

Do not include a leading zero in the numbers: Table 1 and not Table 01.

If there is only one table in your paper, should you number it Table 1? Some publishers, including the American Psychological Association [2] insist on numbering it as Table 1; the United Nations [3], on the other hand, take the opposite view: "If there is only one table in a document, it is not numbered and the word "Table" is omitted from the heading."

Lastly, pay attention to how the word table is handled by your target journal: Table, table (lower case), or TABLE - and the punctuation, if any, that separates the number from the title of the table: some publishers use no punctuation, some use a dot, some use a colon. Note also whether the word Table and the number that follows it are printed in normal font or in bold or in italics.

[1] www.nature.com/nature/authors/submissions/final/suppinfo.html

[2] www.apsstylemanual.org/oldmanual/parts/text/tables.htm

[3] http://69.94.137.26/editorialcontrol/ed-guidelines/format/tables.htm

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JAN27

Avoid hedging your statements

Filed on: January 27, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Scientists seek truth but they also know that absolute truths are rare in science. Perhaps it is this knowledge that prompts scientists to write such sentences as "The results suggest that application of fertilizers may have increased the yield" and "The data indicate a probable correlation between high temperatures and the amount of sweat produced."Such cautious writing is sometimes referred to as hedging. The Oxford Dictionary of English says that to hedge is to "avoid making a definite statement or commitment."

However, words such as suggest/s or indicate/s are sufficient to convey a degree of uncertainty: to combine them with more words that are indicative of uncertainty such as may and likely simply makes your writing sound weak. Therefore, avoid such combinations in your writing.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JAN11

Handling abbreviations of journal names in references

Filed on: January 11, 2012 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Among the many ways in which journals differ in the way they expect authors to format references is the way names of journals are given-whether spelt out in full or abbreviated (Current Science versus Curr. Sci., for example). The abbreviations may also be different - journal being shortened to simply J or to Jnl - but, fortunately, are practically standardized now. This post offers some tips on dealing with the abbreviations.

Look up references in a recent issue of the target journal. In most cases, authors of papers published in your target journal will have already cited the journal title that you need to abbreviate. Examine a few published papers on the same topic published in the target journal to see if the journal title in question is listed and use the same abbreviation.

Look up the websites of abstracting and indexing services. Because abstracting and indexing services cover thousands of journals and typically abbreviate their names, websites of Chemical Abstracts (publishers of CASSI, or the Chemical Abstracts Service Source Index) [1] and BIOSIS (BIOSIS Serial Sources) are likely to include the journal title you are looking for.

Another comprehensive source is ‘All That JAS', or Journal Abbreviation Sources [2], which points visitors to Internet resources, organized by disciplines (from Agriculture and Anthropology to Religion and Veterinary Medicine) that provide full titles of journals and abbreviations of those titles.

Abbreviate the title from the standard abbreviations of its constituent words. If you wish to abbreviate Malaysian Journal of Oncology, for example, and cannot find the title, you can build up the abbreviation using Malay. for Malaysian, J. for journal, and Oncol. for Oncology because this is how these words are abbreviated according to ISSN. Standard abbreviations for common words are available at the ISSN website: http://www.issn.org/2-22661-LTWA-online.php.

Do not abbreviate single-word titles. Names of journals that run to only one word - Nature and Science, to cite two famous examples - are not abbreviated.

Match the target journal's style for abbreviations. Journals differ in whether they end the abbreviated words with a dot, whether they print the abbreviated titles in italics, and whether they capitalize every significant word in the title. Examine the style used by your target journal and follow that.

[1] http://cassi.cas.org/search.jsp   

[2] http://www.abbreviations.com/jas.asp

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

DEC31

You may lose your credibility through loose spellings

Filed on: December 31, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

English has many pairs of words that sound alike but are spelt differently and mean different things: there / their, hear / here, write / right, no / know, and new / knew, for example. These words are homophones (homo in Greek means the same and phone in Greek means sound or voice). One such pair is lose / loose, and the two words are far more often mistaken for each other because they also look more alike. However, the difference between them is quite clear cut.

To begin with, lose is a verb whereas loose is an adjective: if you lose weight, your trousers may become loose for you. If a part is loose, it may drop off and will be lost. The noun form of to lose is loss: a business makes a loss if it continues to lose money.

In technical writing, loose is usually associated with physical objects: loose-fitting clothes, nuts that are loose because they are not tightened properly, and a loose-leaf notebook from which single sheets can be removed easily.

One way to ensure that you use the right word is to remember the opposites of the two words: lose is the opposite of gain; loose is the opposite of tight; see which is the correct antonym, and you will always choose correctly between loose and lose.  

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

DEC27

Making something visible is not the same as visualizing something

Filed on: December 27, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Science and technology have extended our sense of vision: a microscope allows us to see objects so small that they are invisible to the naked eye; a telescope does the same for distant objects. In biology, selective staining helps us see objects clearly by improving colour contrast. Column chromatography goes one step ahead: it makes those differences visible when the properties in question have no optical counterpart at all in nature. All these are techniques that make something visible-but whether they allow us to visualize something depends not on the techniques but on our imagination: a line chart helps us visualize what the data mean, a flow diagram helps us visualize a process, and a route map helps us visualize the path we want to take.

Therefore, avoid writing "differences between the DNA samples were visualized by means of gel electrophoresis" (yet another technique) when you mean "differences between the DNA samples were made visible using gel electrophoresis." Or avoid writing "the spores were visualized using trypan blue" (trypan blue is a stain) when you mean "the spores were made visible using trypan blue" (in fact, you can write "the spores were stained with trypan blue" because it is understood that the purpose of staining is to make an object visible).

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

DEC20

Choosing fonts for your paper and electronic documents

Filed on: December 20, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

When no journal ever allows its authors to specify the font in which their papers are eventually printed, the relevance of this post may not be immediately clear. However, researchers also write letters and project proposals and project reports and print out drafts of their research papers-and do not have to use Times New Roman or even Calibri, which is now the default font in Microsoft Word. Why should they care? Well, they should care because the choice can make a difference to the ease with which documents can be read, whether printed on paper on read off a monitor. After all, Times New Roman was designed nearly 80 years ago and that too for The Times of London and therefore, among other requirements, had to be compact and suitable for printing on newsprint- our requirements are somewhat different.

Incidentally, Times New Roman, Calibri, Comic Sans, and many others are typefaces, not fonts, although the distinction is seldom observed by users (and will be ignored here from now on). Arial, for example, is a typeface: 12-point Arial Bold is a font; a font is thus a specific instance of a typeface whereas a typeface is about the design of individual letters, numerals, and other symbols which stay more or less constant across different sizes and styles (bold, italics, and small capitals). Such niceties aside, here are some factors you should consider in choosing a font,

Does the font have all the symbols I need? Different fonts are developed to meet different needs. A font developed for printing fairytales, for example, has no need for Greek letters and mathematical signs anymore than a font for printing mathematics needs emoticons.

Will I be circulating the document widely? It is best to stick to fonts that come bundled with the operating systems if you plan to circulate the document and expect those who receive it to print it out. This is also true of PowerPoint presentations. If the font you have used is not installed on another machine, a substitute will be used instead and the two versions may not match page for page or line for line, and tables and figures may shift.

Will the document be read mostly on the screen? Georgia and Verdana, for example, were especially developed for screen reading. Try changing the text of a document you are reading on screen from Times New Roman to Georgia, and you will see the difference.

Do I wish to signal a particular tone? Formal documents such as project reports and business letters need to convey a formal tone, and some fonts are just right for the job (Constantia, for instance) but if you are designing a poster, you may want to consider other options.

Does every character need to be completely clear? Using Arial, for instance, it is not easy to tell apart a lowercase ‘ell' from an uppercase ‘eye'. In printing address labels, the choice of font is critical (postal codes, for instance, need to distinguish between a zero and the letter O). If you are giving URLs, the character string has to be unambiguous because context does not provide a clue.

Why not experiment with a number of fonts and see what works best for you?

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

DEC10

Matching the figures mentioned in a manuscript with those attached to it

Filed on: December 10, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Published research papers often include figures (illustrations) and tables to support the text. Electronic publishing also allows for supplementary or archived figures and tables, which do not appear in the printed paper but are available for viewing or downloading. However, the journey of an approved manuscript - approved for publication by the reviewers, that is - from being a group of files (the text of the paper as one file and each of the accompanying figures and tables as separate files) to its final published form is often delayed because of simple oversight: the author mentions, say, four figures in the text but attaches fewer or more. The copy editor therefore has to go back to the author for clarification, either requesting for the missing figure or figures or asking how to account for the extra figures: do they need to be mentioned in the text (if the author meant to include them but forgot to mention them) or should they be simply deleted (if the author sent them by mistake).

A common reason for such mismatches is extensive revision, usually prompted by reviewers. The reviewers may have suggested that parts of the manuscript be removed, which may involve removing the corresponding figures as well and renumbering the rest if required. On the other hand, the reviewers' comments may require the author to add more matter, with additional figures, which the author may inadvertently forget to include along with the revised text of the paper.  

Good housekeeping is therefore necessary. It is best to re-check the final version looking for such oversight: use the ‘find' feature of the word-processing package to look for "figure" and "table" - or Figure or Fig. or any other form - to locate every mention and highlight such mention with a bright colour. Look at the corresponding figure or table to make sure that it is the right one. If submitting a printout, include a line of text, saying something like "Insert Figure/Table here" in the printout. While using the "Find" feature, make the search case insensitive (which ensures that both Figure and figure or Fig. and fig. are found) and search for the whole word (which excludes such words as figuring, figuratively, and figurine). Incidentally, make sure that your usage of these words is not only consistent but also matches the style used by your target journal.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

NOV25

Clear thinking to produce clear writing

Filed on: November 25, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Writing is so central to research that books on writing about research, especially those devoted to teaching scientists how to write, continue to be published. It is neither necessary nor practical for readers of this blog to read every new book about scientific writing because most such books say little that is different or original. What sets such books apart, other than the writer's tone and style, is the way each of them approaches the topic. I have chosen to write about David Lindsay's Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words [1]—yes, the title features the equals sign—because it may appeal to readers of this blog: it addresses "many of the aspects of scientific writing from the viewpoint of non-native English speaking authors" and emphasises that "they are not as disadvantaged as they perhaps may think. The language of science which conveys logic and reasoning, is independent of the language in which it happens to be expressed. Since the primary goal of good scientific writing is to communicate good science, non-native English speakers who are good scientists have all the tools they need to write well although they may need some help eventually to tidy it up for publication in English-language journals."

The second strength of the book is that it has been shaped by the author's first-hand experience of conducting workshops during which the participants "applied concepts about thinking and reasoning to the task of converting ideas and experimental data into focused articles for publication. [The participants] came from many countries and spoke many languages."

Thirdly, the book is full of practical advice. For instance, difficulty in getting started on writing is a major obstacle but Lindsay shows how to overcome it: "The first step in getting started is to realise that your problem is not so much how you are going to start, but how you are going to finish. You would never knowingly set out on a major voyage without knowing your destination."

A particular strength of the book is its analysis of seven stumbling blocks to good writing and how to remove them during the critical stage of revising your writing. The seven blocks are as follows (each is illustrated with several examples, followed by succinct advice on how to overcome the block): (1) clusters of nouns, (2) complex adjectival phrases, (3) sentences beginning with subordinate clauses, (4) nouns instead of the verbs from which they are derived, (5) use of imprecise words, (6) use of acronyms, unfamiliar abbreviations and (7) symbols, and citations, footnotes, asides in parentheses and other distractions. I do not quite agree that the last one is a stumbling block in research papers though, but its inclusion may explain why the book is free of citations and references. But this is a minor quibble, and I will urge the readers of this blog to explore the book.

[1] Lindsay D. 2011. Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words. Collingwood, Victoria, Australia: CSIRO Publishing. 122 

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

NOV16

Omit colons and full stops after headings

Filed on: November 16, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Headings or headlines are a special kind of text and are not as rigidly governed by conventions of punctuation. In particular, whenever a heading is on a separate line (the text that follows the heading starts on the next line below the heading), it is pointless to end it with a colon or a full stop. The Publications Office of the European Union [1] puts the matter succinctly: "Do not use colons at the end of headings or to introduce a table or graph set in text matter."

Such punctuation does not help readers; in fact, it has been shown to affect comprehension. A study that specifically addressed this point found that headlines that ended in a full stop lowered comprehension [2]. As Darren Rowse puts it [3], "Full stops, like their name suggests, are something that halts the eye of your reader. . . . [whereas] titles are all about leading your reader into your post."

However, minor headings are sometimes followed by full stops or colons, but only when they are "run on" (text continues on the same line immediately after the heading). Even then, the punctuation can be dispensed with if the headings are set in bold or italics. This, however, is a matter of style: if your target journal uses colons or full stops after such headings, you should do the same.

[1] Publications Office, European Union. [no date]. House rules for the preparation of the text. <http://publications.europa.eu/ code/en/en-4100100en.htm>

[2] Harrison K. [no date]. Bringing a headline to a full stop. <www.cuttingedgepr.com/ article/coreprskills_headline_to_full_stop.asp>

[3] Rowse D. 2006. Full stops (periods) in titles. <www.problogger.net/ archives/2006/09/26/full-stops-periods-in-titles>   

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

OCT21

The difference between e.g., i.e., and namely

Filed on: October 21, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Latin abbreviations are increasingly rare in today's scientific writing: the Council of Science Editors recommends and others instead of et al. and such abbreviations as op. cit. and loc. cit., commonly used in citing sources, are seldom seen now.

However, the use of e.g. is not all that rare; sometimes, it is used, incorrectly, for i.e., and this blog post shows how the two are different and how they relate to another abbreviation, viz., which simply means namely.

What the three have in common is that all serve to elaborate the word or words that come before; where they differ relates to the nature of that elaboration, that is whether the elaboration consists of examples, rephrasing, or a list, as shown below.

Consider the sentence “A number of weather variables were recorded, e.g. precipitation, temperature, and relative humidity.” The abbreviation e.g. stands for Latin exempli gratia, which means for example. In the previous sentence, the term “variables” is explained by giving examples of some variables that were recorded. Used thus, the abbreviation implies that precipitation, temperature, and relative humidity were not the only variables recorded; perhaps evaporation, the number of sunshine hours, and the intensity of radiation were also recorded.

If the term precipitation needs to be explained, the author can write “Data on precipitation, i.e. rainfall and snowfall, were collected from local weather offices.” The abbreviation i.e. stands for Latin id est, which means in other words and separates two versions which mean the same, the first version being typically more compact.

Lastly, if all members of a group are to be named - an exhaustive list and not merely an illustrative one - namely, or its Latin form viz. is the correct choice. For example, consider the sentence “The present paper evaluates the effect of major weather variables, namely precipitation, temperature, and relative humidity, on crop growth.” Namely makes it clear that the paper is about the evaluation of only three weather variables, and not about any others such as evaporation and the number of sunshine hours. 

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

OCT19

Numbers and data: A consumer's guide

Filed on: October 19, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

All too often, copyeditors focus on applying the correct style for numbers: for example, some journal publishers insist on omitting the space between the number and the unit (°C) in specifying temperatures whereas most others insist on that space (39°C and 39 °C). However, for researchers, numbers are important for their value, and this post is about a book that serves as a consumer's guide to numbers.

Turning Numbers into Knowledge [1] by J G Koomey is about judging numbers and numerical data by examining the source of such numbers, the method of their collection, and the validity of conclusions drawn from the numbers. Of particular relevance to readers of this series of blog posts are the chapters on creating effective graphs and tables and using numbers as part of a presentation.

The most important part of Turning Numbers into Knowledge is about the right questions to ask when presented with conclusions backed by data. The ten chapters that make up this part are a concise guide to critical thinking and include chapters with titles such as "All numbers are not created equal," "Question authority," and "Distinguish facts from values." The chapter titled "How guesses become facts" consists of two case studies to show that statistics that came to be accepted as solid facts merely through repetition began life as "very limited monitored data, back-of-the-envelope calculations, and hunches' and ‘pure guesswork . . . with a fancy spreadsheet and graphs to back it up."

Full of practical advice, insights, and examples, the book is for every researcher who uses, and produces, numerical data.

[1] Koomey J G. 2009. Turning Numbers into Knowledge: mastering the art of problem solving. Oakland, California: Analytics Press. 247 pp. <www.numbersintoknowledge.com>

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

OCT12

Use via only to refer to journeys or shipments

Filed on: October 12, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

It is unlikely that you will need to use the word via while writing a research paper because the word is typically used to mention a place between the starting point of a journey and its destination, as in "He travelled from Tokyo to New York via San Francisco" or "You can reach USA from India either via Europe or via the Middle East."

Do not use via to convey the technique or the apparatus you used to arrive at a particular result. It is not considered good English to write "We separated the components of the mixture via thin-layer chromatography" or "Toxicity was established via experiments on laboratory rats."

Via is sometimes used to indicate the means of transport or shipment, as in "The book was dispatched via a courier" or to mean "through the agency of," as in "The news reached him via a radio broadcast," although the New Fowler's Modern English Usage labels this usage "less comfortable" [1].

[1] Burchfield R W (ed.). 1996. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edn, p. 824. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 864 pp.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

OCT 5

Using en dashes to enclose parenthetical matter

Filed on: October 5, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Although the en dash (–) is commonly used to indicate a range, as in "pp. 17–20" or "65–70 kg," a pair of en dashes is used to enclose additional information within a sentence if that additional information is to be emphasized or highlighted, as in "Many persistent pesticides – although we do not realize it – are harmful to such beneficial creatures as earthworms and honeybees."

The two other means of enclosing such information, namely brackets and commas, serve two different purposes: brackets downplay the enclosed information, signalling that it is not particularly important, whereas a pair of commas is a neutral device; the information is neither downplayed nor highlighted.

The use of dashes to enclose parenthetical information also shows up a clear cultural divide as it were: whereas the style shown above – en dashes with space on either side – is common in Britain and Europe, the US style is to use em dashes set closed up, that is without space, as in "A ballpark figure—a rough estimate—originally referred to the estimated number of spectators in a baseball stadium."

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

SEP14

The colon to expand; the em dash to summarize

Filed on: September 14, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

The colon signals that what follows the colon will build upon what comes before it. Examples, definitions, and explanations are the three most common types of information to follow the colon, as illustrated below.

• Punctuation is a system of symbols: commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, dashes, and so on.

• Do not mistake punctuation marks for diacritical marks: symbols placed over, under, or through a letter to indicate that a letter is to be pronounced differently from one without such a mark.

• All the plants were clones: identical copies developed not from seed but from a bit of tissue carefully nurtured in the laboratory to develop into many saplings, each with its own root system, stem, and leaves.

The colon thus signals a forward movement or a push. Yet another way to visualize the function of the colon is to think of an inverted funnel: after flowing through a narrow tube, the mouth suddenly widens and information begins to flow faster.

The em dash is the exact opposite of the colon, signalling a pull rather than a push. What comes after the em dash is a summary or a conclusion that re-states the essence of what came before the dash. Consider the following examples.

• Commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, dashes, and so on—a writer's tool box, handy for assembling text.

• Whereas English names can be printed without difficulty, French, Spanish, and German names (to name a few languages) require a wider assortment of symbols such as the acute accent (le Carré), the tilde (Peña), and the umlaut (Müller)—diacritical marks are essential if such names are to be printed properly.

• All the six children looked alike, talked alike, and gestured alike—they were clones.

To visualize the function of the em dash, again think of a funnel: the material is packed closer together to force it to flow through the narrow end. In more literary text, the em dash also introduces a surprise, a twist in the tail as it were.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

SEP13

Contractions are a special kind of abbreviation

Filed on: September 13, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

In writing names of people along with their titles, do you write Mr Smith or Mr. Smith? Dr Tanaka or Dr. Tanaka? Omitting the full stop or the dot (or the period) at the end of these abbreviations is standard in the UK [1,2,3] but not so common in USA. Here are some more examples: Dept for Department, Ltd for Limited, Edn for edition, Sr for Senior and Jr for Junior.

All the above are examples of contractions—a special category of abbreviations in which the shortened version retains the first letter and the last letter of the fully spelt-out version in their respective positions. As mentioned earlier, the standard UK practice in such cases is to skip the final dot that normally marks a term as an abbreviation, as in Prof. for professor and Pvt. for private.

The convention has one exception, however: if the shortened version happens to be a word in its own right, the dot is re-introduced to prevent the shortened version being read as a normal word instead of as an abbreviation of another word. That is why it is common to write no. for number (numero), col. for colonel, and coy. for company.

Lastly, the dot is also used to distinguish between two identical forms: it is retained in St. for street but skipped in St for saint [3, p. 172].

[1] The Economist Style Guide, 10th edn (2010), p. 153. London: Profile Books. 264 pp.

[2] Butcher J, Drake C, and Leach M. 2006. Butcher's Copy-editing: the Cambridge handbook for editors, copy-editors and proofreaders, 4th edn, p. 118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 543 pp.

[3] New Hart's Rules: The handbook of style for writers and editors (2005), p. 203. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 432 pp.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

AUG21

The semicolon: Is it a relic or is it useful?

Filed on: August 21, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Of all the punctuation marks, the semicolon is the only one that can be considered a status symbol-not strictly essential but a mark of distinction, so much so that when it was used correctly on a sign for users of the New York subway, it became news [1].

A comma is used to separate items in a list, as in "Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the three major components of a diet," but how do you separate them if they already contain commas? Consider the following sentence: "Proteins, which are useful in building muscles [,] carbohydrates, which supply energy [,] and fats, which can store energy, are the three major components of a diet." Just as the different kinds of brackets - (), {}, and [] - used in algebraic equations represent a hierarchy, so do the two punctuation marks, the comma being lower than the semicolon. Therefore, the above sentence needs two semicolons to replace the two commas shown within square brackets. This is the simplest use of a semicolon, as a kind of super comma.

However, the semicolon is used with distinction for a more subtle signal, namely to convey that to separate the two parts of a sentence, a full stop will be too heavy but a comma will be either too light or altogether wrong. Such use was aptly illustrated by G V Carey in his brief guide, titled Mind the Stop [2], as follows: "There are those who have a prejudice against the semicolon; personally I find it a very useful stop."

Readers of this blog - unless they are well versed with the subtleties of English punctuation - will do well to use the semicolon only as a super comma. After all, one piece [3, p. 15] of empirical research on the topic concludes thus: "While the English punctuation system shows clear signs of having undergone a process of simplification, writing manuals show little awareness of this evolution. Instead, they continue to give minor marks such as the semicolon a theoretical importance which its frequency of use neither reflects nor justifies."

[1] Roberts S. 2008. Celebrating the semicolon in a most unlikely location. The New York Times, 18 Feb. <www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/ nyregion/18semicolon.html>

[2] Carey G V. 1958. Mind the Stop: a brief guide to punctuation with a note on proof-correction. London: Penguin Books. 128 pp.

[3] Bruthiaux P. 1995. The rise and fall of the semi-colon: English pronunciation theory and English teaching practice. Applied Linguistics 16: 1-14 <sunzi.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/10/1000068.pdf>

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

AUG21

Punctuation: A writer's tool kit

Filed on: August 21, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Professional writers and copy editors care about punctuation and often discuss the use of specific punctuation marks in detail. At the other extreme are those who know only the most basic uses of punctuation: a comma to separate items in a list, a period to end a sentence, and a question mark to indicate a question. Indeed, the first two stops or marks typically account for at least 90% of all the punctuation marks used in texts. However, if you care about writing effectively, you need to pay as much attention to the use of punctuation as you do to the use of words.

Some believe that punctuation is meant to help in reading aloud; a comma, for example, indicates a small pause; a semicolon, a longer pause; and the full stop, an even longer pause. However, research papers are seldom read aloud, and we should think of punctuation as a set of useful tools that help in constructing sentences. More specifically, punctuation indicates how different parts of a sentence are connected and also, like signposts, tell readers what is coming up next. A colon, for example, tells readers to expect something more on the same topic. That ‘something more' may be an example or two, an explanation, a definition, or even a contrast. Quotation marks or quotes indicate that the exact words of a speaker or from a source have been reproduced instead of paraphrasing them, and a pair of dashes suggests - as in this contrived example - that the text thus enclosed is incidental or secondary to the main sentence.

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]