Book Review

Weanée Kimblewood

Bodil Holst (author) and Jorge Cham (illustrator):
Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide.

Paperback: 190 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (30 Dec. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1516886267
ISBN-13: 978-1516886265
€ 26.75 (Paperback)

Publishing without Tears - How to enjoy writing scientific papers

This humorous guideline won’t improve your results nor lengthen your list of publications. But it might improve your papers and it will definitely make the laborious writing procedure more entertaining.

Writing papers is an inevitable evil. With this entertaining guide, provided by Danish physicist, Bodil Holst, it will become easier.

What makes a scientist a successful scientist? Ingenious ideas? Great gains of knowledge? Clever experiments? Weekend night shifts in the cold room? Or maybe tremendous social competence, having a knack for selecting and cooperating with brilliant colleagues who have brilliant ideas? Totally wrong. You need not be ingenious, nor hardworking or inventive. You even can be an interpersonal loser. But there are two abilities that a successful scientist necessarily must have: The ability to write regularly fruitful proposals that bring in maximum funding for research, and the publication of as many high-impact papers as possible.

By the way, the latter (many papers) is an imperative condition for the former (plenty of funding).

Junior researchers are well-educated and properly trained these days. They are fluent in English, have completed a spell in a Nobel laureate’s lab, and are familiar with the latest CRISPR genome editing kit and the newest nanopore sequencing machine.

When it’s time to present the data

The drama begins when it’s time to arrange the data, results and conclusions into a clear-cut, comprehensible form. Natural scientists are usually great in doing complex things but lousy in explaining them. Presenting scientific data to a wider audience, however, is crucial if one doesn’t want to be left behind the competitors.

Jorge Cham at work. Photo: Duncan Hull

Bodil Holst, a Danish physics professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, has published in all the major journals in her field, including Nature and Science. Additionally, she has led workshops on scientific paper writing and publishing across European research institutions over the last ten years. With Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide, she has set out her expertise to provide, “a tool kit for handling the whole process from the initial idea to the end product: a well-structured paper presenting the final results in a clear manner and published in a good journal (...) in such a way that you get the most acknowledgement for it”. She was assisted by Chinese Panamanian cartoonist, Jorge Cham, who became famous for his PhD comic strip, “about life (or the lack thereof) in academia”. Cham submitted about 50 illustrations that make the book even more entertaining.

The guidebook serves the purpose

Without going too much into detail (buy the book and enjoy it!), it can be stated that Holst’s guide serves its purpose. In chapter 1, we learn a lot about the background of publishing (i.e. what peer reviewers and impact factors are); chapter 2 (the longest) addresses nearly every aspect of paper writing (language and style, the authors, and the whole structure, from introduction to appendices). In this section we learn, for example, that by far the most crucial priority is a paper’s title (“because it determines if people actually will read it”), and that PhD students with common names like “Smith” or “Miller” should consider inventing a couple of additional initials (“W.H.O. Miller”), to make their name uniquely identifiable in literature databases.

Other delicate issues are, according to Holst, the acknowledgements section (“Don’t forget your funding agency!”), the citations/references (“Cite yourself!”) and the proper referencing and official permission when using other people’s texts and figures (“...otherwise, one day, when you are rich and famous, it might come back to haunt you!”). The former German Minister of Defense, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, will confirm this.

Letzte Änderungen: 05.10.2016