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Janice R. Matthews, John M. Bowen, And Robert W. Matthews
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
2000, 235 pp.
Price: $24.95 (US), ISBN 0-521-78962-1
The authors, J. R. Matthews (writer/editor), J. M. Bowen (professor of pharmacology and toxicology), and R. W. Matthews (professor of entomology whose research specialty is wasps and bees), have collaborated on a book that is "everything you ever needed to know" about writing and publishing a paper in the biological and medical sciences. This book is a tightly written compendium of good advice, helpful examples and exercises, and a thorough coverage of topics, supported amply by references to other works.
General sections in the book include "From Start To Finish," "Scientific Writing in the Computer Age," "Writing the First Draft," "Supporting the Text with Tables and Figures," and "Revising Structure and Style." Specific chapters include "Scientific Writing Begins Where Research Begins–With a Question," "Conducting an Efficient and Thorough Literature Search," "Dealing with Matters of Authorship," "Use Tables to Present Complex Data or Parallel Descriptions," and "Know When and How to Include Figures," in addition to three good chapters on revising for structure, style, and grammar.
The authors recognize the importance of Instructions to the Authors offered by journals and have even included a copy of the invaluable "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" (pp. 207-230), which is actually a mini-course in writing scientific papers and well worth the reading.
They also understand the value of good examples, of which this book has many. For instance, how do you deal with matters of authorship and order of author names (alphabetical? pp. 59-62)? Whatever you decide, the authors suggest discussing it before starting the first draft.
Another problem that pesters scientific writers is tenses. The authors supply concrete examples (pp. 29-32) of when to use the different tenses in the different sections: Abstract, Materials and Methods, and Results in the past tense; Introduction mostly in the present tense (previously published works); and the Discussion in both past and present (your findings supported by previously published works).
The chapter on how to "Follow Standard Structure" (pp. 63-69) of the scientific manuscript gives good advice (e.g., in the Discussion section: present your salient findings first); however, I was disappointed that this particular chapter was not longer.
The strongest chapters in the book are on tables and figures, although the sections on a proper literature search and revising your manuscript are very useful. In addition to descriptions and discussions of tables and figures, the chapte on tables includes an example (p. 76) that help you choose the most effective type of illustration for your data.
Successful Scientific Writing is an excellent book and is a necessity for every research department and scientific/medical library. It is a book that has something to offer everyone from undergraduates and graduates to scientists and teachers of scientific writing.
Entomological Society of America
Lanham, MD 20706
Vol. 47, No.2, Summer 2001