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EDITORIAL
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 31  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 213-214
 

The art of scientific writing


People's College of Dental Sciences, Bhopal, India

Date of Web Publication21-Nov-2013

Correspondence Address:
N D Shashikiran
People's College of Dental Sciences, Bhopal
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0970-4388.121813

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How to cite this article:
Shashikiran N D. The art of scientific writing. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2013;31:213-4

How to cite this URL:
Shashikiran N D. The art of scientific writing. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent [serial online] 2013 [cited 2019 Oct 18];31:213-4. Available from: http://www.jisppd.com/text.asp?2013/31/4/213/121813


Current modern scientific writing dates ts origin to 1665 with the publication of the first structured scientific journals: Journal des Sηavans (Savants), which was intended to cover all fields of knowledge, and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which limited itself to natural philosophy (i.e., science). The latter publication continues as the longest running scientific journal in the world. The role of scientific publication from that time to now can be best summarized by Denis de Sallo, the founder of Journal des Sηavans, who wrote that "We aim to report the ideas of others without guaranteeing them." However, it was Henry Oldenburg, a founding editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, who began the practice of sending submitted manuscripts to experts who could judge their quality before publication - the earliest reported attempt at peer review. Scientific form and structure were not standardized at this time and comprised either letters or experimental reports. It was not until the 1730s, the era of Louis Pasteur, that the "methods description" approach was introduced. Gradually, the framework of "theory-experiment-discussion" became accepted practice in the submission of scientific manuscripts for publication. In the early 20th century, the use of the literary style waned, and the formal "introduction, methods, results, and discussion" (IMRAD) structure was gradually adopted, and after 1965, it began to predominate. This structure has become the framework for manuscript preparation and submission adopted by the American National Standards Institute as well as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. The purpose of the IMRAD structure is to logically address four questions: What is the problem? (Introduction); How did the researcher solve the problem? (Materials and Methods); What did the researcher find out? (Results); and What does it mean? (Discussion).

Research study design can be organized hierarchically based on quality of data from less to more rigorous. This has been referred to as study design based pyramid. There are three elements to any scientific writing: form , content , and style . An understanding of each element and their interrelationship within the writing process, particularly as it pertains to reporting accuracy, is necessary to adequately render research into publication. Form is the organizational pattern of the manuscript, compartmentalizing the content into various sections. This facilitates effective communication of scientific findings to others by a modular framework and perhaps, more importantly, allows the paper to be read at several different levels. Content concerns the details of and substance contained within the scientific framework. Style is the manner in which individual phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are constructed. Most scientific style manuals of scientific writing recommend that, in general, the active voice should be used instead of the passive voice. The active voice emphasizes the performer (or agent) of the action. Such sentences follow the structure "performer-verb-receiver." In contrast, the passive voice emphasizes the receiver (or product) of the action and follows the structure "receiver-verb-performer." However, it is sometimes preferable to write in the passive voice, such as when the performer cannot easily be named or if the performer is irrelevant, when discussing an experimental procedure in the materials and methods section, or when it may be necessary to position important information at the beginning or end of a sentence. Brevity and clarity are the hallmarks of accurate and precise scientific writing. A working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage is essential to "tighten" text and create written precision.

Although a number of studies demonstrate excellent internal validity (well designed), their external validity (clinical importance) could best be described by the quote, "There is nothing worse than doing something well which never should have been done at all."

The IMRAD structure forms the basis for all scientific writing. As proposed by David Sharp, former editor of The Lancet, all prospective researchers and potential contributors would be well advised to consider the "six honest serving men" identified by poet Rudyard Kipling within each aspect of the IMRAD framework.
"I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I knew)

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who"

 
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