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Tips For Scientific Writing Link to NOAA.

Here are a few points which might help anyone document the results of a scientific study with a quality paper, regardless of where the paper will appear. These are based on years of reviewing studies submitted to SSD for publication.

1. Before you write a scientific paper, read some. In fact, read many! Journals such as Weather and Forecasting contain many papers that are relevant for operational forecasters. All underwent a rigorous review process during which the authors probably revised their work many times to incorporate most of the ideas below. Follow their example. Scientific writing has its own "style."

2. Follow a logical order. Technical papers generally have an Introduction (with references to previous related work), a Data section (if appropriate), an Analysis section (where techniques used to derive results are described), and a Results section (where the author explains - surprise - the results of the study). Most papers end with a Summary or Conclusions section. Organization of the paper is important for clarity.

3. Be clear, concise and complete. Do not use more words than necessary ("rain began," says the same thing as "convective thunderstorms were initiated in the area of interest"). A good paper is not written in a day. Review each draft with the specific intention of eliminating unnecessary words, phrases and even paragraphs. Active voice is usually preferable to passive voice, and uses fewer words.

4. Strive for accuracy. Try to leave nothing to doubt; science is based on fact, not guesswork. Base conclusions only on facts, not on conceptions or assumptions. Readers may not agree with your conclusions, but that should not be because they did not understand what you were trying to tell them. Ask others to read your drafts for clarity and completeness.

5. Get to the point quickly, and stick to it. Length counts for little in a scientific paper -- in fact, just the opposite. State the problem clearly, move on to an analysis of the problem, summarize results, and include useful references. Do not wander off into lengthy discussions of topics that have no real bearing on the problem being studied.

6. Cite only references that are relevant and necessary. Including extraneous and redundant references does not enhance the scientific merit of a paper, it only makes it longer. Make sure all references listed at the end of the paper are actually cited in the paper, and check for accuracy of dates, authors and sources. Avoid citing references that no one else will be able to find (from unpublished sources, for example). Follow an accepted style for listing references, such as that used in the Monthly Weather Review.

7. Include only figures and tables that are necessary. Make sure figures and tables are clear, legible and relevant. Each should be self-explanatory from its caption or legend. Avoid including extraneous details (lines or data) that only clutter up and hide the real point you are trying to illustrate. One figure may save a thousand words, so try to let it speak for itself and avoid unnecessary words to describe what it shows (in the caption as well as in the text).

8. Use standard abbreviations for units, and be consistent. Follow the style guide for units and abbreviations that is published on the inside covers of the Monthly Weather Review.

9. Use a spell-checker. It can help you avoid misteaks.

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created by Bernard N. Meisner
last update: 18 November 1996