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Newsletter Nature Briefing – Back to the lab: Publishing in the pandemic

Newsletter Nature Briefing – Back to the lab: Publishing in the pandemic


Back to the lab - Nature Briefing
Back to the lab - week 3 - publishing in the pandemic
Hello! This is the third Back to the lab e-mail about kicking your career into high gear. We’re halfway through!

Today we learn how to write a top-notch paper, how to deal with (almost inevitable) rejections and why retraction can be a good thing.

Five science-writing tips ✏️ 📖

  • Limit each paragraph to a single message: do not try to fold multiple ideas into a single block of text. Keeping your paragraphs short and understandable helps readers to process the often-dense information you’re providing.
  • Write good titles: research shows that articles with clear, succinct, declarative titles are more likely to get picked up by social media or the popular press.
  • Structure your work: if you’re struggling to get your thoughts in order, be uber-structured. Bullet point each section, paragraph and sentence that might make up your work — you’ll find the act of writing after this a lot easier.
  • Remember the point of your paper: all papers have a simple message: “This is what we did, and this is what we learnt.” Ask yourself if every sentence in your paper is contributing to that core message. If it isn’t, cut it out.
  • Read aloud: by reading your work to a friend or colleague you’ll identify points that you can rephrase for rhythm or for meaning.

Read more from six paper-writing experts on making a manuscript you can be be proud of. (Nature | 8 min read)

Learn how to write a top-notch paper in our four-part podcast series. In the first episode, we delve into the all-important first stage of the process. (Nature Working Scientist podcast | 20 min listen)

No country for bad science writing

Pulitzer-prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy has edited many works by faculty members and postdocs at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, including theoretical biologist and ecologist Van Savage. In bite-size pieces relevant to academics and humble email-writers alike, Savage summarizes the advice he got from McCarthy over a winter of lively weekly lunches. McCarthy’s most important tip: keep it simple while telling a coherent, compelling story.

Nature | 6 min read

A figure stares out over a deserted desert plain
Actor Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss in the 2007 film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. (Allstar Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo)

What we learnt from retracting a paper

“Someone I admire retracted a very important paper when I was a young scientist,” says Nobel-prizewinning chemist Frances Arnold, who retracted a paper in January. “I wanted to pay that lesson forward.” Arnold and three other senior scientists share what they learnt from the experience of retracting flawed papers.

Nature Index | 4 min read

How to bounce back from rejection

Not all papers will breeze through the editing and peer-review process. Rejection is a difficult and regular part of a scientist’s life. In this piece — itself initially rejected by Nature — zoologist Lucy Taylor offers advice based around her recent experience. She recommends taking the time to step back and reflect on your core goals before you move on.

Nature | 4 min read

Technology tips 💻

In these times, all scientists will have limited time in the lab and might need to use old data sets, share data or seek out unusual funding sources. Here are top tips and tools from Nature’s technology desk.

Is this scientific publishing’s new normal?

The COVID-19 crisis has underlined just how fast and open science publishing can be. Preprint servers are overflowing with preliminary results, peer review is proceeding in record time and many journals have made relevant research free to read. The question is: are these changes here to stay?

Nature | 6 min read

Publishing trends since the pandemic show an increase in the production of preprints (J. Inglis et al. Preprint at bioRxiv http://doi.org/dxdb (2020).)

Bookmark these

Thanks for reading! We’ll leave you with one final piece of advice, from novelist Cormac McCarthy:

“Try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.”

We’ll be back next week, with help and advice on networking and making connections during the pandemic and possible lockdowns.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing, and Jack Leeming, careers editor.

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