Dr. Shripad B Deshpande

Guest Lecture

Biomedical communication is the systematic means of disseminating scientific information and knowledge. There are verbal and written ways of scientific communication. The presentations in conferences, symposia, discussions, panel discussions, workshops, practical demonstrations, etc., are mostly verbal communications though written hand outs are given. Poster presentation has both written verbal components. Above these written communications in the form of Research papers and reviews stands apart.

The written communications can be categorized into two types based on the peer review of articles by the experts in the field. The papers published in the proceedings and chapters in books or monographs are not reviewed by the experts in the field. The views presented in these are not subjected to criticism or suggestions. In case of peer reviewed papers (Review articles, Research papers, Case presentations, Short communications, Letters to Editors, Views and News, etc) the scientific content of the paper is subjected to reviewing by the independent unbiased specialist/s in the field before finally being accepted and published. The peer reviewed papers have long shelf life and serve as archives for the future generation. These are very much required as they lay the foundation for the scientific research of the future.

The real problem in writing is "how to begin". This is known as "Writers block" (Huth, 1990). Even the most experienced writer's find it difficult to begin but because of their experience they overcome the difficulties. They begin jotting down the thoughts as they come to their mind without worrying about their accuracy, grammar, expressions, etc. They are aware that they will be revising it many times before it is being sent for the publication. The writers who want to write accurately and clearly revise again and again (Booth, 1971). The personal computers have revolutionized the paper writing because they make the editing easy and friendly. The text, the graphs and the figures can be easily altered and edited once they are in the computers. Further, searching of literature through internet using PCs is complete and accurate.

Before Writing

Maintenance of a good protocol book is a necessity. When you have finished the experiment or a study of a case, it may be useful to record the conclusions on the observations made about the particular experiment. Make tables and draw graphs and paste them in the protocol book. Use appropriate spread sheet packages in your PC like EXCEL, Lotus 123, Dbase, etc, for storing the data. These softwares enable you to sort, index, and analyse the observations at your will. Keep a separate book in which the record summaries of results from many experiments and sort them by subject. The well ordered note books will be useful when you write a paper but the prompt recording of summaries compels you to give critical thought to each experiment at the best time and make you to repeat the experiments/ observations when you still have the materials.

It will be beneficial to present your observations at the informal gathering such as tea table or within the group of like minded people. Speaking to others make you think out the arguments and listeners criticism. This helps you to address the confusing points. Nothing clarifies ideas so much as explaining them to others.

Another important activity is "making reservoirs" as suggested by Booth (1971). In this, take six large sheets of paper. Boldly label them as Title, Summary, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results and Discussion. Write your ideas for the paper, as notes, on the appropriate sheets. Whenever the ideas come to you write them down in any order. You will find that amazing facts accumulate as you proceed with this type of exercise. Some writers construct a skeleton, or an outline, before they start to write. A skeleton for the discussion may help you to avoid repetition and to muster your ideas in the best order.

Arrangement of a Paper

The arrangement of a paper is in such a way as to answer the questions set by Bradford (1965). They are: Why did I start ? (Introduction); What did I do ? ( Methods); What did I find? (Results); and What does it mean ? (Discussion and conclusions). Thus, a scientific paper has a definite order as mentioned above having Title, Abstract, Introduction, Results, Discussion, References, Tables, Figures and their legends. Most journals print methods before results but some print the experimental part in small type (font) at the end (e.g., Neuron or Nature) or as reference (Nature) or as the figure legends (Science/Nature). Some investigations are suitable for results and discussion to be written together in narrative form. Many journals issue editorial directives that leave you no choice. Examine the chosen journal and arrange your paper accordingly: Do not give the Editor perhaps unpaid needless editing.

There are several categories of papers such as, Original Research Article, Short Communications, Clinical Reports, Rapid Communications, Review Articles, Letters to the Editors, Trends and Perspectives, Commentary, etc. The formats vary in each of them. The Review articles are usually invited and have higher impact. The Editors of the respective journals request the experts in the field to write a review on a focal theme. The reviews provide the thoughts and future prospects of the area besides giving the current knowledge. The scientific papers that appear in the national or international journals are not invited and authors chose the journals.


Decide about the authors in the beginning itself. This is an important issue. It is presumed that all the authors have contributed equally in the making of a paper. Usually, the person who has done the work will be the first author. The corresponding author is the person under whose guidance and ideas the work has been carried out. There is no need to keep all persons in a group who might not know the contents of the paper.

Where to Start

Even though you have the material, you keep postponing to write the paper despite the pressure from within (self) and by your supervisor. Perhaps you find it difficult to start. I do. This is called as "Writers block" (Huth, 1990). To overcome it, begin with the easiest section. This may be the methods-section, because it is just writing about the procedures on has used. Use the reservoirs, and cross out the notes as you consume them.

Next write the Results section. Make Table/s and Figure/s. Start describing them in the order. Write the first draft "in your own words as though you were telling a friend about your work. Don't worry about grammar and style. The important objective is to get going". You can polish the style later.

Title and Keywords

Some searchers may read only Title and Summary, hence both are equally important. Compose them early; re-examine them later. The longer they rest greater your potential shock. On your reservoir sheet make a list of keywords for the title. If you can summarize your observations in one sentence, that precisely is the title. The title should be short and should not be general. Many Journals require an additional short "Running title". An ingenious paraphrase of the Title can supplement it.

The keywords should not be those present in the title. Therefore, select such words which are not present in the title and give coverage to your observations. The words such as "rats, cancer, human, clinical, etc" are not specific and may not project your observations.

Abstract or Summary

Abstracts should be short and brief. In some journals the Summary is in numbered paragraphs and in many as a continuous text. Whatever may be the format, first sentence should define the objectives of the study. Next sentence should describe methods used. Subsequently, list the results highlighting the main points. Last sentence should provide the conclusions of the observations. Usually the Abstracts are restricted to 150-200 words depending upon the Journal and nature of the article (Rapid communications, articles in Nature or Science, etc., have to be within 100 words). It is advisable to restrict the abstract to 200 words or lesser as the abstracts in Pubmed search are truncated to 200 words.

Write the summary in the past tense except perhaps the last paragraph. Do not give indigestible lists of values. Use words if you can, supplemented by few key values. State your conclusions in the last paragraph. If you have no plain conclusion, try to find the significance in any form. Remember that if a summary is long then the readers may look only at the first and last paragraphs and may not appreciate your observations.


Introduction should state the problem, in reference to the existing literature. This should ask a question "Why did I do these experiments or undertake this study ?" The objective must be clear. If you have modified your objective after you began the experiments, give the current version. In the last sentence it is good practice to state the lacunae which has lead you to undertake this work.

It is no longer good practice to quote many papers. Refer to the papers that, taken together, indicate that the problem exists. If another paper gives many references, refer to that, however, beware of lifting references-from that paper-together with misquotations of information from the original papers.

Materials and Methods

If the description of the materials is brief it may included in the text of methods at appropriate locations. Avoid trade names because they may not be understood at the international level. Write what you did in operational order. You should describe the methods such that others can repeat the experiments. You must be concise but must not omit the essential details. If a tube was heated, say to what temperature. If you have controlled, or even measured, humidity and ventilation in an animal room, say so. They are nearly as important as temperature. If you performed chromatography or other process at a slower or faster rate than usual, state the rate. If you used controls, permit no doubt about their nature. The reader may not be able to guess what you omitted for each control.

Follow the guidelines given by the Institutional ethical committee for conducting human or animal experiments.


Begin with the description of the control observations. Provide a brief account of salient features in normal or control conditions. Subsequently organize the results in such a way as to support your hypothesis or discussion. It is advisable to present the results as titled paragraphs.

Each of these paragraphs should be able to provide the data of your observations. Arrange the tables and Figures in the same sequence so as to project your observations. Editors require tables and figures to be clear without reference to the text. The converse has also been expressed; the text should be clear without reference to the tables or figures.

In case of clinical data and also histological data it is not always possible to present them in a numerical form. Then, the qualitative description showing the Picture/plates is required to show the differences before and after the experimental design. The observations in numerical form can be presented as mean and a measure of variability (SD or SEM). The range is not satisfactory. Give the number of observations or the degrees of freedom. It is even better if you can make a pooled estimate of the variance from the whole experiment.

Discussion and Conclusions

Discussion is the vital part of the paper in which you have the greatest freedom. The discussion must not be long as to deter a potential reader, yet it must contain logical argument. Do not repeat descriptions of others findings if they are in the Introduction: refer to that. Usually, the discussion begins with a brief outline, highlighting your results so as to facilitate the reader about the findings of the experiments. Extensive repetition of the results is unnecessary and unwanted. Enlarge upon the findings of your results and their significance. Explain how your new results add to the existing knowledge. If in the Introduction you had formulated your problem as question, discussion is facilitated when you can give the answer.

Think critically. Not only about others work, but about your own. For example, ask your self, "Can my hypothesis be refuted? Can my results have another explanation? The literature contains abundant examples of inconclusive thinking. Writers should take care not add to them by publishing in haste.

If you are fortunate, your message or a part of it may survive in text books: although you may not be given whole sentence! So the conclusion needs a meticulous wording. This may appear: legitimately: two to three times: in the Discussion, Summary and Introduction (some times). Don't repeat the wordings: paraphrase it. If the reader has not understood, another version may help him.

References, Bibliography or Literature Cited

Writing the Bibliography with a computer is much easier. Follow the format of the journal. An Endnote, software that handles the references, will be very useful as you can format the references in the prescribed form by a particular journal. Thus, there are no hardships as before. That is writing on a card, arranging the cards in a order, and typing them with many inconsistencies and errors. Check the typed list against the references in the text of an original paper. Also check the spellings of the authors and Journals.

Literary Style

Written English at its best is virtually the same as spoken English at its best. Grandiloquent writing or the use of flowery language with too many adjectives in science is no longer required. What we have to do is to convey the ideas effectively, to make it easy to the reader, to make him understand what we write, and not to impress him with the vocabulary. Indeed, writer's who use pompous language may even is under suspicion of having nothing important to say! Try to envisage your reader. Write especially for them, in a manner not too technical and not too elementary. Write in clear English. Use ordinary words and simple construction. Write short sentences but not all of them so short as to produce staccato effect. Cure a staccato passage by linking two sentences with a "but". Do this infrequently, so as to keep to "one idea per sentence," with only occasional exceptions.

It will help you to develop a good written style if you train your self to speak well. In conversation speak slowly, chose words deliberately, finish each sentence. You should be able to offer more information per unit time than can who talks fast but interjects "you know" or "you see" runs his phrases into almost interminable sentence padded with empty words.

Undisputed knowledge requires the present sentence. Author usually writes about his new work in the past tense. Others work is reported using different tenses but the present tense is most suitable. Working directions for a method are sometimes written in the imperative mood. This is done, not in the sense of getting commands but because it is the most direct style. The passive voice, although much used to describe the results, sometimes makes clumsy construction. Turn a passive phrase to direct style whenever you can. For example "pH 4 is needed for the enzyme" may be turned to the "enzyme needs pH 4" or as in "distillation was involved in the method " should be "the method included distillation". Present days most of the word processing packages have grammatical corrections. Try to incorporate them.

Final Preparation For Online Submission

Now a day's, most of the journals prefer to receive your manuscript online. The instructions given by the respective journals are self explanatory. You can get them easily by google search using a search word such as "Instructions to author for <journal name>". Usually they require the following: Covering letter; Manuscript text file; Figure files (preferably JPEG or TIFF format); Tables (some journals); List of potential reviewers and additional data of supplementary files.

Prepare a simple covering letter to the Editor giving details of the enclosures. The file names, computer used and software are also to be mentioned. Most of the journals require no justification for the paper. However, journals such as, Nature, Science, BMJ, Lancet, etc., require a covering a letter justifying the suitability of the article for publication in their journal. In that case highlight the findings mentioning the observations are befitting to the Journal's regular coverage.

MS-word format of the manuscript text file is usually preferred. Some times, one file of the manuscript including all figures and tables in PDF format is required by some journals at the time of submission along with separate files of figures and tables. In addition, high resolution format of figures (> 600 DPI) are also required. The files in TIFF or JPEG format are accepted.

Many journals ask for the potentials reviewers. You can prepare the list of persons working in your area. Use Pubmed or google search for details. If you feel that there is a conflict of interest, then clearly mention that it should not be sent to Dr. YYYY as it contradicts his/her observations and has a bias.

Do not forget to acknowledge the persons who have helped you to get the materials, equipments and have read and improved your manuscript by critical reading. Acknowledge the funding agencies.

If the journal does not have the online facility to receive your manuscript, then the procedure is almost same except you will be sending the hard copy along with floppy diskette or CD. Prepare the document in the standard word processing package save the text file and Figures in separate floppy diskettes or in CD.

After submitting the paper, file all the papers including the final hard copy version or final approved PDF format of the paper for your records along with the floppy or CD containing the files. In case of online submission you will receive the reference number and confirmation of receiving your paper immediately. In case of postal submission you will receive the acknowledgement within 2-3 weeks.

Some times the editors require the Copyright transfer at the beginning. If so, you have to send it along with the paper other wise as and when they require. Many journals insist for the "declaration for animal and human experiments". Constitute an ethical committee if not existing and record the sentence in the methods as " In this study, the guidelines by Institutional ethical committee for human an animal experiments was followed".

After submitting the paper online/by post, celebrate the dispatch with your lab mates. Wait for the replies to come. Usually the review process is completed within 2-3 months. If the Editor or Reviewer asks for additional data or clarification of some points then, try to address each of the queries point by point. A meticulous planning is required at the time of answering to the Referees Comments without hurting the Referees self esteem. Give the list of answers separately, by identifying page and line numbers in which they are incorporated. This is very much required as the editorial office verifies them. Take sufficient time to revise and do not send the revised version in a haste. You also follow the other instructions given by the Editors at this time. After submitting the revised version, it is again a time for second celebration with a larger group.

Wait for the final acceptance by the editors. Once you receive this keep the final hard copy ready for proof reading (galley proofs) along with proof readers' markings. Now a day's, the galley proofs are sent via the internet as PDF files. Correct them and send them as early as possible. Celebrate at a larger scale.

If your paper is rejected then format the paper to the next suitable journal. Never loose heart, try and try again till you succeed. You will certainly succeed but may have to compromise the journal of lower ranking.

The basic art of writing a paper is to convince an unseen critique. Therefore, while writing paper one should address the basic questions such as, why, how, so what, what is the point, etc. The state of art of paper writing will be learnt by experience not by reading. Finally, it may be true that one might have discovered a thing but unless published otherwise he has not done it so.


  1. Booth, V. (1971) Writing a scientific paper, Coinbrook, Koch Lite Laboratories, New York.

  2. Bradord. H.A. (1965) The reasons for writing. Br. Med. J. 2: 872.

  3. Huth, E.J. (1990) How to write and publish papers in the Medical Sciences, 2nd Edition, Williams and Wilkens, Baltimore, USA

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