Professional writing skills are essential for a scientist.
To style-check your document, please go step by step through the following points and make sure your document complies with them. It is best to read through the page once completely before starting to write.
To begin with, view my presentation on scientific writing on YouTube.
The paragraphs of this page are numbered (G.2.1.1.) to allow me to refer to them when I correct documents.
A. Construction of the sections of your document
B. Use of material from elsewhere
C. Construction of sentences
D. Word choice, word use, word forms
E. Individual symbols
G. Special notes for people from particular corners of the world
H. Before giving your document to anyone else
J. Further reading
Which sections should be in your document depends, of course, on what kind of document you have.
C.1.2. The text should be as straightforward as possible and use the simplest constructions that convey your meaning. Avoid constructions that you would not use in oral conversations. Do not duplicate words or statements.
Peptides cannot be transported into the ER
peptide transport into the ER is hindered.
GFP-Kb overlaps with the ERGIC.
GFP-Kb shows a localization that is adjacent to that of the ERGIC.
From the preliminary results, it follows that...
From the preliminary results obtained so far, it follows that...
A influences B
A has been shown to influence B
A might influence B
It is conceivable that A might influence B
Using this method requires:
The use of this method requires at least two properties that must be fulfilled, namely the following.
This statement is complemented by the consideration that...
We can perform this assay.
It is an assay that is feasible under the conditions that are presently given in the said laboratory.
|C.1.2.9.||This protein is rapidly degraded.||This protein undergoes a strong degradation.|
|C.1.2.10.||This differential retention of RAE-1 isoforms is attributed to a PLWY amino acid motif. Or:|
This differential retention of RAE-1 isoforms is most likely due to a PLWY amino acid motif.
|This differential retention of RAE-1 isoforms is most likely attributed to a PLWY amino acid motif.|
|C.1.2.11.||Interestingly,||It is interesting to mention that under the given conditions,|
|C.1.2.12.||The soluble form of gp40 can still retain class I.||Studies have shown that the soluble form of gp40 can still retain class I.|
|C.1.2.13.||Complement control proteins include CD35, CD46, DAF, and CD59.||Complement control proteins include CD35, CD46, DAF, and CD59, among others.||The idea that there are more than these four proteins is already present in the word 'include', so 'among others' is not necessary.|
C.1.3. Use the active voice. (Exception: Results section, when experiments are described.)
Tapasin mediates peptide editing.
Peptide editing is mediated by tapasin.
|Read||For appreciating our findings, it is essential that the two terms are clearly introduced, differentiated, and understood by the readers.|
C.1.4. Use of the first person is appropriate and supports a concise style. If you don't use the first person then it is harder for someone to figure out whether you did it, someone else in the group who is not on the paper did it, or someone else in the field did it.
We have previously shown that ...
It was previously shown by our group that...
We next investigated the association of the two proteins in cells.
Next, the association of the two proteins in cells was investigated.
C.1.5. Be explicit and specific. Say plainly what you mean to say, and use the most specific words available to you. Do not leave any of your vital conclusions open to the reader's interpretation.
Since the authors showed two different fields of cells without overlaying them,
They just showed two fields of cells.
|C.1.5.2.||The energy analysis shows that the binding free energy decreases when the peptide C terminus is truncated.||The energy analysis shows the highest impact on binding free energy when the peptide C terminus is truncated.||'decrease' is much more specific than 'impact on'.|
|C.1.5.3.||MHC class I molecules play an important role in the recognition of viral and tumor epitopes.||MHC class I molecules transport peptides of viral and tumor origin to the cell surface so they can be recognized.||The sentence 'MHC class I molecules play an important role in the recognition of viral and tumor epitopes.' would work as the introduction of a long paragraph on class I antigen presentation.|
|C.1.5.4.||We co-immunoprecipitated gp40 in a mild detergent.||We co-immunoprecipitated gp40 in digitonin. OR: We co-immunoprecipitated gp40 in digitonin, a mild detergent.||Why not name the detergent?|
|C.1.5.5.||What is the structure of the complex between gp40 and tapasin?||How does gp40 bind to tapasin?||'How does gp40 bind to tapasin?' could be a question about the kinetics, the structure, the dynamics, binding partners, …|
|C.1.5.6.||This can be tested by inhibiting the proteasome in cells that lack TMED10.||Hence, a closer look after proteasomal inhibition is warranted.|
C.1.6. The beginning of a sentence is important. Do not start your sentences with a qualification (=restriction of a statement) such as "Even though..., However,…". Bring the main statement first and the qualification later. Do not use weak and meaningless words to start a sentence.
C.1.6.1. Good words to start sentences with:
C.1.6.2. Bad words to start sentences with:
C.1.8. Use basic logic when constructing your sentence - they must make sense. Here are a few examples form actual documents, with critique:
|Immunoevasins from the mCMV broadly follow two strategies.||Immunoevasins are proteins, not persons. Thus, they cannot 'follow a strategy'.||Immunoevasins … function in two different ways.|
|C.1.9.1.||The surface of polyelectrolyte microcapsules can be further modified with proteins.||Additionally, the surface of polyelectrolyte microcapsules can be further modified with proteins.||The 'additionally' (anyway a bad way of starting a sentence) duplicates the 'further'.|
|C.1.9.2.||Other substrates are DNA or proteins.||Other substrates are DNA, proteins, etc.||The 'etc.' duplicates the 'other'.|
C.2.1.1. To indicate possibility, use the forms 'can', 'may', or 'might' instead of 'could'.
|The optimal exposure time may vary from a few hours to several weeks.||The optimal exposure time might vary from a few hours to several weeks.|
C.2.1.2. Generally avoid use of 'should', 'could', and 'would' because of possible confusion between the past tense and the conditional future.
The same phenomenon was observed with another allotype.
The same phenomenon could be observed with another allotype.
|The proteins then become EndoH resistant.||The proteins would then become EndoH resistant.|
|This result might be used in biotechnology.||This result could be used in biotechnology.|
|We concluded that the poorly loaded mutant B27 molecules dissociate rapidly and constantly following their arrival at the surface.||We concluded that the poorly loaded mutant B27 molecules should be dissociating rapidly and constantly following their arrival at the surface.|
C.2.1.3. It is often more precise to use 'suggest' to indicate a conditional.
|These data suggest that frogs have four legs.||Frogs may have four legs.|
C.2.1.4. Avoid double and multiple conditionals.
These data suggest that there is an intermediate. Or: These data mean that there might be an intermediate.
These data suggest that there could be an intermediate.
The following interpretation is possible.
One might think that this interpretation could be possible.
When the protein was added, the color of the solution became stronger.
The addition of the protein caused a deepening of the color of the solution.
|There are no crystal structures of empty class I molecules.||There is a lack of crystal structures of empty class I molecules.|
C.2.3.1. The "-ing" form can cause confusion because of its unclear reference noun, and it always breaks the flow of the sentence. Avoid it.
experiments that show colocalization
experiments showing colocalization
When one considers the following reaction scheme, ...
Considering the following reaction scheme, ...
|C.2.3.3.||The experiment was done with water.||The experiment was done using water.|
|C.2.3.4.||Therefore, we speculated that the B27 disulfide mutant might lose the beta-2 microglobulin after reaching the cell surface. In support of this theory, we have recorded almost four times higher HC-10 signal from STF cells expressing the disulfide mutant as compared to the wild type B27.||Therefore, we speculated that the B27 disulfide mutant might lose the beta-2 microglobulin after reaching the cell surface. Supporting this theory, we have recorded almost four times higher HC-10 signal from STF cells expressing the disulfide mutant as compared to the wild type B27.||Who supports? We? The mutant? The observation?|
C.3.1.2. A bracket is a sideline. Do not use a bracket if the word in the bracket is used again in this or the next sentence.
|Our attempts to show the sufficiency of the linker in retaining an unrelated protein, CD4, have proven unsuccessful. Thus, CD4 is unsuitable.||Our attempts to show the sufficiency of the linker in retaining an unrelated protein (CD4) have proven unsuccessful. Thus, CD4 is unsuitable.|
C.3.1.3. There is never a period before a bracket. Only exception: if the bracket contains a full sentence.
|Tapasin is a chaperone for class I molecules (Garstka, 2011).||Tapasin is a chaperone for class I molecules. (Garstka, 2011).|
|All other allotypes have this motif, and RAE-1δ becomes susceptible to gp40 upon introduction of this motif.||All other allotypes have this motif and RAE-1δ becomes susceptible to gp40 upon introduction of this motif.|
|Applying this method addresses the sampling problem and leads to a better understanding of the conformational changes.||Applying this method addresses the sampling problem, and leads to a better understanding of the conformational changes.|
C.3.7.2. Do not use numbered lists in the flowing text. Instead, write 'First, …; second, …; third, …', etc, or find a different way to express your series.
|The studies are divided into two major approaches, namely on one hand, the investigation of TMED2/TMED10 as dimers and on the other hand, the study of individual proteins like TMED2 or TMED10 using domain swaps with CD8.||The studies are divided into two major approaches, (i) the investigation of TMED2/TMED10 as dimers and (ii) the study of individual proteins like TMED2 or TMED10 using domain swaps with CD8.|
C.3.8.1. Superscript footnotes and endnotes always come before a point or comma.
|C.188.8.131.52.||This was also shown by Miller33.||This was also shown by Miller.33|
|C.184.108.40.206.||The data, as published by Smith22, allow two interpretations.||The data, as published by Smith,22 allow two interpretations.|
D.1.1. Be as specific as possible, unless you actually mean to make a general statement. For every single word, think whether one exists that is more specific. Some examples:
D.1.2. Use correct and precise words.
D.1.2.1. Use correct quantification adjectives.
|D.220.127.116.11.||a large number of points||a large amount of points||Points are countables. The word 'amount' is synonymous with 'Quantity' and can only refer to uncountables.|
|D.18.104.22.168.||high and low temperatures||large and small temperatures||Temperatures can only be high or low (they are numerical values), not large or small.|
|D.22.214.171.124.||A binds B with high affinity||A binds B with strong affinity||Affinities are numerical values, they can only be high or low.|
|D.126.96.36.199.||high and low speeds||fast and slow speeds||Speeds can only be high or low (they are numerical values), not fast or slow.|
|D.188.8.131.52.||the number of hydrogen bonds||the amount of hydrogen bonds||Hydrogen bonds are countables, and so they are quantified by number, not by amount (which is for uncountables like water)|
D.1.2.2. Do not invent new and undefined words that will confuse the reader.
Translation products that resemble the wild type protein...
Realistic translation products...
D.1.2.3. Be brief and precise.
|fewer hydrogen bonds||less the amount of hydrogen bonds|
D.1.2.5. Use the same term for the same thing, throughout your document. Otherwise readers will be confused.
|class I molecules||MHC class I proteins and class I and class I molecules and class I proteins||Stick to one name for one protein throughout the entire document.|
D.1.3. Write what is, and not what is not.
|The pellet is loose.||The pellet is not compact.|
D.1.4. Avoid lab jargon.
assess, investigate, analyze, study
check, look at
separate on gel
run on gel
Eppi, eppendorf tube
D.1.5. Do not capitalize words, expressions, or names of molecules. Use underlines if you would like to show how an abbreviation was generated. But: when referring to figures and tables, capitalize the words "Figure" and "Table".
peptide loading complex
Peptide Loading Complex
T cell receptor
T Cell Receptor, T cell Receptor
MHC class I molecule
MHC Class I Molecule, MHC class I Molecule
We next performed an immunoprecipitation (Figure 5).
We next performed an immunoprecipitation (figure 5).
D.1.6. Consistency of terms
D.1.7.3. Abbreviations are introduced with the long version first, then the abbreviation in brackets, like this:
|…the transporter associated with antigen processing (TAP)…||…the TAP: transporter associated with antigen processing… or…the TAP (transporter associated with antigen processing)…|
D.1.8. Numerical increases and decreases
D.1.8.2. To describe numerical decreases, use % reduction (20% reduction, 99% reduction) or decrease to % (decreased to 20% of the original value).
|The number of live cells decreased to 50%.||The number of live cells decreased by a factor of two.|
|There were only 20% of the frogs left.||There were fivefold fewer frogs.|
D.1.9. Avoid 'marketing words' and superlatives.
|This method is used frequently.||This method has become immensely popular.|
|Polyelectrolyte microcapsules are versatile and multi-functional tools.||Polyelectrolyte microcapsules provide an unmatched degree of versatility and multi-functionality.|
D.2.1. Here is a list of words that should generally be avoided because of their weak or ambiguous meaning:
Do not use:
D.2.2. Words that are often misunderstood or that have several different meanings
Explain with a specific example
To put sth. on top of something else (e.g. red and green microscopy images)
To coincide (the red and the green signals overlap)
|D.2.2.4.||Therefore||Because of that|
|D.2.2.5.||Stability||many things||Do not use 'Stability' without a qualifying adjective, such as 'conformational|
|D.2.2.6.||Flexibility||Ability to bend (applies to a protein or a complex structure)|
|D.2.2.7.||Mobility||Ability to move (applies to any object, including an atom)|
|D.2.2.8.||Expression||Immunology: Surface presence (of a protein) Cell Biology: Transcription (of a gene)|
D.2.3. Scientific spelling specials, including some specific to immunology or from our lab:
|D.2.3.1.||on-rate||on rate, onrate|
α helix, α-helix, alpha-helix
|D.2.3.7.||beta strand (or beta sheet)||β strand, b strand|
MHC class I molecule
MHC Class I molecule
T cell receptor
T Cell Receptor
class I, tapasin, calreticulin
Class I, Tapasin, Calreticulin
|D.2.3.14.||cis-Golgi, trans-Golgi||cis-Golgi, trans-Golgi|
|D.2.3.15.||α1 domain (of an MHC class I molecule)||alpha1 domain, alpha 1 domain, a1 domain, α1 domain|
|D.2.3.16||beta-2 microglobulin||beta 2 microglobulin, beta 2-microglobulin, b2-microglobulin, …|
|D.2.3.17.||β2m||b2m, b2M, β2M, β2m|
|The force field of a system describes its potential energy, which depends on the coordinates of its atoms.||The force field describes the potential energy of the system, which depends on the coordinates of its atoms.|
D.2.5.2. 'Like' refers to a group of items that exclude (= are different from) the first item. Example: "There are many other frogs like this one." In any other context, try to avoid a simple 'like' because it can lead to very confusing sentences.
|They do not show partial EndoF1-resistant bands, indicating that they are not retained in the early secretory pathway. This makes them similar to the wild type gp40. Or: They do not show partial EndoF1-resistant bands, indicating that just like the wild type gp40, they are not retained in the early secretory pathway.||The mutants do not show partial EndoF1-resistant bands, indicating that they are not retained in the early secretory pathway like the wild type gp40.||Is the wild type gp40 retained in the early secretory pathway or not? Impossible to say from this sentence.|
D.2.6.2. Sometimes, instead of 'the', one can omit the article altogether.
|Loss of TMED9 in HeLa cells causes the loss of ERGIC clusters.||A loss of TMED9 in HeLa cells causes a loss of ERGIC clusters.|
D.2.7.1. Adjectives that are composed of several words (= compound adjectives) are hyphenated. Example: if an amino acid is at the carboxy terminus of a peptide, it is called "carboxy-terminal". Since the two words together form one adjective, there is a hyphen.
|D.184.108.40.206.||amino-terminal, N-terminal||amino terminal, N terminal|
|D.220.127.116.11.||high-affinity peptide||high affinity peptide|
D.2.7.2. Nouns that are composed of several words are usually not hyphenated. Example: one end of a peptide is called the amino terminus (without a hyphen). Exceptions to this rule exist, see D.2.3.
|D.18.104.22.168.||peptide binding groove||peptide-binding groove|
|D.2.8.1.||First, …; second, …; third, …||Firstly, …; secondly, …; thirdly, …||(in an enumeration)|
D.3.1.1. The genitive with apostrophe can only be used proper names.
the dynamics of the system
the system's dynamics
the function of tapasin
D.3.1.2. Avoid the apostrophied short forms of verbs.
we will see
this did not have the same effect
this didn't have the same effect
D.3.3.2. Headings have no colons or periods at the ends.
|Work plan||Work plan:|
|Background information on tapasin||Background information on tapasin.|
D.3.6.1. In English, a subject in the singular is followed by a verb in the singular, and a subject in the plural is followed by a verb in the plural.
|Side chains fit into binding pockets.||Side chains fits into binding pockets.|
|mCMV infection results in birth defects.||mCMV infection result in birth defects.|
xin a Serif font, e.g. Times or Courier. There is a (nonbreaking, see D.4.3.2.) space before and after it.
D.4.3.3. Between a minus sign and a number there is no space.
|D.22.214.171.124.||37 °C||37°C, 37° C|
|D.126.96.36.199.||16 100 x g||16 100xg|
|D.188.8.131.52.||10% APS||10 % APS|
Courier. It helps the reader if you give the designations of the ends and divide the sequence into triads (or codons):
5' GGA TCC AAG CTT 3'.
Quotation marks should be used as rarely as possible. Do not use them to define something (as in: the protein is called "tapasin"), and do not use them as emphasis (as done in some other languages).
This is an alpha. Do not use it to describe the specificity of an antibody (write 'anti-tapasin', not 'α-tapasin), and do not use it to abbreviate 'alpha helix'.
This sign (called a tilde) means "proportional to". If you would like to say "approximately", use ≈ .
The ampersand should never be used, except in the name of a company.
©, ®, ™
The copyright and trademark signs should never be used in scientific documents, not even after the name of a reagent.
If you mean to say "times", such as in '2 x' for 'two times', the x must be in a sans-serif font, for example Arial, since it is actually not a letter but a multiplication sign.
Found on a German keyboard: this is the German letter "es-zett" and not a Greek beta. A Greek beta looks like this: β . To find it on your computer, use the Symbol font.
is an asterisk. Asterix, on the contrary, is a Gallic warrior from a comic book. Make sure you don't mix up the two.
|E.10.||µ||This is the Greek letter µ (mu) that is used as a prefix in 'µl' (for 'microliters). Make sure you use the µ and not a small u. On the Mac: alt-m, on the PC: hold down the ALT key and type 0181 on the keypad.|
F.2.3. Never use repeated returns to position a line on the page. Use styles (F.1.) to define a uniform appearance of the text.
G.1.1. Make sure that there is always a comma before "and" in the separation of sentences, and in the last member of an enumeration.
Peter, Paul, and Mary
Peter, Paul and Mary
The protein is localized in the Golgi apparatus, and it is a peptide transporter.
The protein is localized in the Golgi apparatus and it is a peptide transporter.
G.1.2. Hyphenation is quite different in English from the way it is in German. Usually, in English, there are far fewer hyphens than in German.
G.1.3. Further examples of Germanisms:
G.2.1. Subject-verb agreement: Make sure you get singular and plural right. A noun in the singular is followed by a verb in the singular, while a noun in the plural is followed by a verb in the plural. See D.3.6.1.