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Publishing Your Research 101 - Ep.1 How to Write a Paper to Communicate Your Research

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[♪♪] [101] [ACS Publications] [Publishing Your Research 101] [Practical Guidelines for Authors & Reviewers from ACS Publications] [Guideline 1: How to Write a Paper to Communicate Your Research] [Featuring George Whitesides, Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University] [♪♪] [ACS Publications - Most Trusted. Most Cited. Most Read.] [female narrator] Perhaps the most important part of publishing research, besides actually doing the research, is writing your manuscript. We had the opportunity to sit down with George Whitesides, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University and author of over 1,100 publications. We spoke with him about his perspective on authoring a scientific article. We found George in his office, surrounded by shelves of books and a stack of journals to read. We asked Professor Whitesides what advice he would give to someone beginning the process of authoring an article. The major issue is to consider that writing is a part of the research process. [George Whitesides - Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University] There is a notion that one does research by carrying out a research project, putting together a pile of data, and then mining it at the end for writing. But for us, writing the paper is an integral part of the research process. So it provides a method of organizing your thinking-- thinking about what data you need to collect--and putting it in a coherent form. So my advice is start as soon as possible and regard it as part of the research, not a separate activity. [narrator] If you start writing the article at the same time you start your research, is there a danger you will bias your results? What we do is to start with a hypothesis. And science, after all, is entirely about testing hypotheses. What one does is to suggest an idea, do experiments to test the idea, and then you proceed from there. If the experiments disprove the idea, you toss them out and start something else. You can do exactly the same thing in writing. It's just that it's cleaner and more precise because you've put it down in words. So I don't think there's any more danger--in fact, probably less danger-- of biasing the results based on something that's written than an idea that's in the back of your head and hidden there. [narrator] How do your students handle your approach of writing while you research? There's a process in which they object mightily to the constraints of a fairly defined system for writing. But I will say that essentially all of them after they leave and take on their own research groups say, "We're so happy we learned this "because it really is extraordinarily useful." [narrator] How many drafts does each paper undergo? Do you have your papers undergo an internal review? Typically, our papers may go through in the order of 15 drafts before we think they're finished. And since we tend to work on projects in a way that's pretty collaborative, so a number of people will be involved in a project, that means that in principle, let's say four people on a paper have read the paper, every word, wall to wall, 15 times and rewritten it. Is that internal review? It is internal review in the sense that everyone really works to make sure the assumptions in the paper are correct, that the words in the paper are correct, that we're really saying what we mean to say. Is it internal review in the sense that we write a paper and then we give it to someone else who doesn't know anything about it, a kind of internal referee? The answer is we don't do that. So the internal reviewing is to make sure that the people who are actively working on the project and whose careers are invested in getting it right spend a lot of time going over it and over it and over it and at the same time, by the way, learning how to write English. [narrator] How do new technologies help scientists communicate their work? One of the real revolutions to me in science, in reporting of science, has been YouTube. And I say that because if you go back 20 years, 30 years, the science that you could do was the science you could report. And that meant that you had to be able to describe your science in words or in tables or in plots in two dimensions on a piece of paper. And if you did other things, you really couldn't do it. You couldn't do that; you couldn't describe other kinds of science. And with videos you can now describe dynamic phenomena which are simply too complicated, too complex, too unusual, too full of information to do in words and two-dimensional pictures. So I think that the availability of media which distribute video has opened an enormous range of science for exploration that was just previously closed. But we don't have a very good integration of that kind of information yet with the traditional scientific paper, and that is part of the process that's being worked out now. [narrator] Do authors need to be thinking of marketing their articles? Marketing is a funny word because it has a pejorative connotation. But I think the answer to the question is yes. Think about two classes of problems. One is a class of problems in which you are working with a lot of other people in a field to move something forward. Synthetic methods are often in this category. That is, the method exists but what people do is to improve it. It's a kind of synthetic engineering. Particularly if you're a young person, you have to differentiate yourself from others. Differentiating yourself from others in a field in which the ideas already exist is-- if you want to call it marketing, it is marketing. The other end of things is when you have something which is a new idea-- you've come up with something that really doesn't exist at present. Then the hardest thing that I know to do is to get people to look at a new idea, for the very sensible reason that to look at a new idea seriously, they have to consider taking the investment in time and learning and experience in whatever it is they're doing and think about abandoning that to go do something new. That's expensive and complicated and really difficult. So you have to convince them that your new idea is worthwhile, being considered with that kind of serious intent, otherwise known as marketing. So if you want to call it marketing or you want to call it persuasion or you want to call it making a scientific case, it's all, in a sense, the same thing. You're trying to influence the way people think. One of the tenets of the group has always been that if the research that we do does not change the way people think, the project is a failure, because if it's just us talking to us, why would we do that? [narrator] How concerned should I be about the title and abstract of my papers? What journalists, people who write for the newspaper and who do it professionally, say is that when a reader is scanning a newspaper, you've got basically the first two sentences to catch their attention. They start reading an article, and if something doesn't grab them-- the title or the first sentence or two--they just go to the next paper. There's the same fighting for attention in science. A nice picture helps because people tend to scan articles based on pictures. An interesting title, something which catches your attention--"What does that mean?"-- that helps. And then the first couple of sentences explaining what the problem is or what the exciting result is or what happened, the barest abstract to catch your attention, if your attention is caught, then you'll explore the paper further. But everything that you read does have that characteristic of there's this mass of stuff. You have to pick out one of the mass and pay attention to it. And what's the basis for picking that one? And we need to all of us compete on that basis. [♪♪] [ACS - Chemistry for Life] [American Chemical Society]

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 39 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 2,274
Posted by: acsvideo1 on Jun 22, 2011

The first episode in our series is an interview with Professor George M. Whitesides from Harvard University who has published nearly 600 papers with ACS Publications, and over 1100 articles overall, and has served on the advisory boards of numerous peer-reviewed journals. He is dedicated to communicating science in many forms, as exemplified by the book No Small Matter, with Felice Frankel, which seeks to explain nanoscience to the non-specialist. He has written and given presentations about the authoring process, and has a strong commitment to mentoring students to help them improve their skills in communicating science.

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