Scientific communication




"Science exists because scientists are writers and speakers. . . . There are no boundaries, no walls, between the doing of science and the communication of it; communicating is the doing of science. . . . Publication and public speaking are required forms of professional competence-nothing less."

- Montgomery, Scott L. The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science


“In order to understand how best to improve writing, we would do well to understand better how readers go about reading.”
George D. Gopen, Judith A. Swan





Joost Kircz of Elsevier Science states that "The object of scientific communication is the registration, evaluation, dissemination and archiving of human knowledge, facts and insights into our world for the benefit of mankind and the advancement of science."

    Click for the full article:
Scientific Communication as an object of science

Gerhard Fröhlich in his article "The (Surplus) Value of Scientific Communication" explained the value of the scientific communication. According to this article, the scientific communication is "the social phenomenon whereby intellectual and creative activity is transmitted from one scholar to another"



Click for the full article:
The (Surplus) Value of Scientific Communication

Contemporary concepts of science start from the discursive and cooperative character of modern sciences: Individual scientists are in this view merely small "wheels" in the overall "machinery," who make modest contributions to the progress of their disciplines.

According to the same article, 80-90% of all scientists who ever lived are alive today. None of them will be able to be  the candidates of future's long-term scientists if they do not share their intellectual properties with other scientists.




Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of UK declared in 1995 that "The communication of the results of research is an integral part of the research process, which is incomplete and ineffective if findings are not made available to others"




Writing, which is the most important communication tool in science is a frequent task. The quality of a researcher's writing is a reflection of the quality of his/her research.




Scientific communication has its own character: it involves

  • a special language (e.g., the words "I" or "we" is never used), a special format (e.g., thesis, article, report),

  • a special content (e.g., abstract, keywords, list of references etc.,)

  • a special style (depending on the pupliation medium,margins, typography, illustration etc.,) and

  • special communication tools (like ISIS Draw for chemical drawings, SPSS for statistical analysis, Grapher for drawing graphs).

Therefore, a researcher should develop his/her communication skills parallel to his/her skills in research. Although experience help a lot in effective communication, some tools may be used for quick development. Various skill development tools are available. Chapters 14-16 of "The Elements of Academic Research" by McQuin and chapters 7, 12-14 of "The Research Student's Guide to Success" are devoted for this purpose. The WEB is full of similar or other guides. One very useful one is an article of Svetla Baykoucheva ( the manager of the ACS Library and Information Center in Washington, DC):

Internet resources for scientific writing (Baykoucheva,S, Chemical Innovations, Vol 31, No 2, February 2001)

Another useful collection of resources about how to do research and how to communicate effectively is available in the WEB of Carnegie Mellon University:

Collected Advice on Research and Writing,  (February 2003)

Indiana University Chemical Information Sources (Cheminfo) WEB page has an excellent list of science writing aids and access to lecture notes on this topic mainly for chemists:

SIRCh: Science Writing Aids, (February 2003)

Umea University (Sweden) has a perfect collection on the Chemistry and Science Teaching Resources. This collection includes a very good list of software used in chemistry:

Chemistry and Science Teaching Resources (February 2003)
Software in Chemistry (February 2003)

Virginia Technology Institute in association with University of Illinois, University of Texas and Georgia Tech publish "Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students" in their WEB site:

Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students (February 2003)







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(The following discussion is mainly based on Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students)







Assessing the Audience

In assessing your writing situation, audience is your most important constraint. To understand this constraint, you must first decide who your readers are. Are they professors, managers, engineers, scientists, or technicians? You also assess what your audience knows about the subject. What terms will you have to define? What background information will you have to include? Another consideration for audience is why your audience is reading the document. This consideration is often referred to as the purpose of the document. Is the document supposed to inform or to convince? Finally, in assessing the audience, you assess how your audience will read your document. Will they read it straight through like a story or will they turn to specific sections?

Consider the example of the Sandia engineer [Carlson, 1982] who designed an implantable electronics device that delivered insulin to the human body. In documenting his design, the engineer had two distinct audiences. One audience consisted of electrical engineers familiar with the electronics, but not with diabetes. Another audience consisted of medical doctors familiar with diabetes, but not with the electronics of this device. Given the different backgrounds of these two audiences, the engineer had to define different terms for each audience. The engineer also had to provide different background information for each audience.

Not only were the audiences different in what they knew about the subject, but they also had different purposes for reading about the design. The electronics engineers were, for the most part, curious about the electronics design. The medical doctors, on the other hand, were interested in whether they could safely use this device to treat diabetic patients. Notice that this second audience had much at stake as far as whether they would actually implant this device into patients. For that reason, the engineer's report documenting the design had to be not only informative, but also convincing.

Finally, the engineer had to consider how his audience would read the report that documented his design. Because the engineers and doctors wanted to read different background information and were interested in different aspects about the design, the engineer realized that neither audience would likely read the report straight through from front to back. Rather, the audiences would move from section to section. For that reason, the engineer parceled the information into sections with descriptive headings so that the audiences could quickly find specific information.

Decide: who is reader
Are they:
  • Professors?
  • managers?
  • engineers?
  • scientists?
  • technicians?
  • politicians?

What they know? A background information may be included.

Why they read your document? They will be informed or convinced? Usually both.

How are they going to read it? roughly or thoroughly? Readers read by jumping (zapping). Therefore parcel the information into sections.


Selecting the Format

Besides audience, another important constraint is format, which is the arrangement of type upon the page. The choice of typeface, the placement of headings, the method of citing references--these are aspects of format. For longer documents such as reports, format also encompasses the arrangement of information into sections. In engineering and science, there is no universal format. Rather, companies, journals, and courses select formats to serve their particular audiences, purposes, and occasions.

When your grade school teachers asked you to write something, the format was often simple: double spaced and front side of the paper only. However, in engineering and science, the formats are much more detailed. Why is that so? One reason is to make the reading process efficient. For instance, in a laboratory report, having all the information follow a specific sequence makes it easier for readers to locate specific information such as the results. In another instance, having all information in proposals placed under specified headings helps reviewers compare information fairly.

In your laboratory, design, or communication course, your instructor will select a format that helps emphasize the important information, that allows readers to find key information, and that allows evaluators to assess your work. These guidelines are designed to help your instructor communicate those formats efficiently and accurately to you. As stated earlier, no universal formats exist in engineering and science. For that reason, these guidelines present a number of common formats that your instructor can choose from or modify to serve the documents of your course.

Table 1 presents some common differences found in just two format issues: the hierarchy of headings and the listings of references in the text. One reason that a format specifies a hierarchy for headings is so that readers can understand what information in the document is primary and what information is subordinate. The actual ways to represent these hierarchies vary considerably. Common ways are different type sizes for the headings, different amounts of white space surrounding the headings, different typestyles for the headings, and numbering schemes for different order headings. In still other cases, such as the default option of your word processor (header 1, header 2, header 3), the formats call for combinations of these variables. Likewise, the formats for assigning credit to sources vary a great deal. Some formats call for an author-year listing in the text, others call for a numbered listing, and still others call for an abbreviated listing. Each of these listing systems refers to a section, often named "References," where readers can find a full citation for the source. Note that the ways those full citations are written vary widely as well.

Table 1. Choices in Format for Heading Hierarchy and Reference Listings

Format Issue



Heading Hierarchy

to help rank information

Hierarchy by type size (18 points, 14 points, 12 points)
Hierarchy by white space (3 spaces, 2 spaces, 1 space)
Hierarchy by type style (boldface, boldface italics, italics)
Hierarchy by number (2.0, 2.0.1,

Reference Listings

to give credit to sources

[Author, Year]: [Jones, 1998]
[Numbered]: [1]
[Abbr. author, abbr. year]: [JON, 98]


Given the wide variety of format issues and the even wider variety of options for those issues, these format guidelines cannot possibly present every format option that you will encounter in engineering and science. Such a collection would be cumbersome and, in the end, not particularly helpful. What's important is not that you learn every format which exists, but that you realize a specified format will often exist and that you follow that format. For those situations in which no specified format exists, you should choose a professional format to follow that is appropriate for your situation. Following box presents a professional format that is commonly used in engineering and science.





Format: arrangement of type upon the page

In some disciplines there are predefined formats:

  • Social sciences: MLA, APA or Turabian Styles
  • Engineering and Science: No universal format

Format depends on:

  • audience
  • purpose
  • occasions

Purpose of formatting: to make the reading process efficient

Common differences in formatting:

  • hierarchy of headings
  • listing of references

Hierarchy of headings:

  • shows the location of primary and secondary information
  • differentiated by different typefaces, different spacing


  • assign credit to sources
  • format varies - author,year - numbered - abbreviated

One should learn which format (s)?

  • not necessary to learn all formats
  • just be aware of the fact that a specified format will often exist and that you follow that format

A Sample (common) Format


Typography includes the size and style of type for a document. Type sizes are measured in points. In general, twelve point type is used for the text portion of most documents. Larger sizes may be used for headings and titles, and smaller sizes may be used for footnotes and illustration call-outs. As far as the styles of types, two main classifications exist: serif and sans serif. Which typestyle should you use? Here, much depends on the situation, but a serif font of 12 points is generally accepted for the text portion of formal documents such as reports and correspondence. An example of a serif typeface is Times. Why are serif typefaces generally used for the text? The reasons are historical as much as anything. For the headings and illustration call-outs of documents, professionals use both serif and sans serif typefaces such as Helvetica or Arial. One reason that professionals use sans serif typefaces for these situations is that they contrast nicely with the serif text.
Another aspect of typography is the use of initial capitals in titles and headings. One convention, but not the only one, for using initial capitals is that you capitalize the first letter of the first and last words--no matter what the words. Then, you capitalize the first letter of every included word except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that have fewer than four letters: a, an, and, as, but, for, in, nor, of, on, or, out, the, to, up, and yet.
Besides type sizes, type faces, and initial capitals, there are other typography guidelines that vary from institution to institution. For instance, the following list presents one recommended way to format unusual plurals: IBMs, CDs, 1970s, and 1900s.



Typography: size and type of the font


  • 12 points for the text portion
  • Serif typeface (times new roman)

Initial capitals:

  • all titles and headings
  • exceptions: a, an, and, as, but, for, in, nor, of, on, or, out, the, to, up, and yet
  • No exception for the first and last words



Layout includes such things as the type of paper chosen, the margins, the line spacing, the pagination, and the incorporation of equations, illustrations, and references. Table 1 presents general specifications for the page layouts.

Table 1. Specifications for Page Layout

Margins standard (about 1 inch)
Line spacing single space (unless other requested)
Indentations (optional) standard tab for all paragraphs (about 0.4-0.5 inches)
Paragraphing lineskip between paragraphs (optional)
Pagination centered page numbers (about 0.5 inches from bottom)


Headings. A format for headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings follows the pattern shown below. In this pattern, all headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings are in initial capitals. In a short report, the major heading is the report's title. In a formal report, the major heading serves as the name of each section--for example, the "Introduction" or "Conclusion." Note that in a long report (more than 50 pages), these major headings begin a new page, while in a shorter report, these major headings follow one another in a continuous fashion.



  • type of paper
  • margins
  • line spacing
  • pagination
  • incorporation of equations, illustrations, references


  • 1 inch margins
  • single line spacing
  • 1 tab indentations of paragraphs
  • lineskip between paragraphs
  • centered page numbers at the bottom




  • initial capitals
  • each section (major headings) starts in a new page in long reports
Title or Major Heading
For a major heading, skip three carriage returns from the top margin (or previous section) and place the heading. Use a font larger than the text (14 or 18 points), initial capitals, and boldface. For minor reports, the major heading serves as the report's title.
First Subheading
Subheadings are 12 or 14 points, flush left, and boldfaced. For all subheadings, skip two lines before and one line afterwards. Use initial capitals.
First Sub-Subheading. Sub-subheadings are in 12 point type, boldfaced, and followed by a period. Skip one line before the sub-subheading. Begin the sub-subheading's text one space after the period. Use initial capitals for sub-subheadings.
Second Sub-Subheading. If you have one sub-subheading, you must have a second. Otherwise, the first sub-subheading has nothing to be parallel with.
Second Subheading
If you have one subheading, you must have a second. Otherwise, the first subheading has nothing to be parallel with. Note that the subheadings "Introduction" and "Conclusion" are inherently parallel with other types of subheadings: noun phrases, participial phrases, or questions. "Introduction" and "Conclusion" are also descriptive because the audience expects particular kinds of information from them.


Major headings:

  • Font: 14-18 pts - bold
  • 3 carriage returns from the margin


  • font: 12-14 pts - bold
  • 2 carriage returns before and 1 returns after subheading
  • flashleft


  • 12 pts - bold
  • followed by a period
  • 1 line before

Note: If you have a subheading, you mast have a second.

Incorporation of Illustrations. There are two classes of illustrations: figures and tables. Illustrations should appear below the end of the paragraph in which that illustration is first introduced. If not enough space is available below the end of the paragraph, then continue the text and place the illustration on the next page. When placing an illustration into a document, leave a space between the illustration and the text (one line skip both above and below the illustration).
Captions for figures appear below the figure. Use Arabic numerals to number figures. A figure caption includes a phrase that identifies the figure and a sentence or two that explains important details in the figure. See the example shown in the Figure 1. When referring to figures, call them by their names: Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure IS-1, Figure A-1, and so forth. Note that Figure IS-1 would appear in an informative summary and Figure A-1 would appear in an Appendix A. Unlike figures, titles for tables appear centered above the table. Number tables using Arabic numerals. Use initial capital letters for table titles. In the text, call tables by their names: Table IS-1, Table 1, Table A-1, and so forth.


Figure 1. Eruption of Mount St. Helens [Smith, 1993].



Unlike figures, titles for tables appear above the table. For an example, see Table 2. In the text, call tables by their names: Table 1, Table 2, and so on. Note that another common table format has the title centered above the table.

Table 2. Physical characteristics of planets [Handbook, 1969].

Planet Diameter
(earth ratio)
(earth days)
Mercury 5,100 0.40 88 700
Venus 12,600 0.90 225 700
Earth 12,800 1.00 365 350
Mars 6,900 0.40 687 320
Jupiter 143,600 2.70 4,333 150
Saturn 120,600 1.20 10,759 138
Uranus 53,400 1.00 30,686 90
Pluto 12,700 ??? 90,885 80


  • Figures
  • Tables


  • below the end of the paragraph in which the illustration is first introduced
  • if enough space is not available, then on the next page
  • one line skip before and after the illustration

Captions for figures:

  • they appear below the figure
  • numbering with arabic numerals
  • a phrase to identify the figure; 1 or 2 sentences for details

Captions for tables are similar except:

  • on top of the table
  • initial capitalized


References. When incorporating the opinions, data, and illustrations of other sources into your writing, you must give credit to those sources. In these writing guidelines, the format for bestowing that credit is an author-year referencing system. Within the text of the article or report, references should be cited by giving in brackets the last name of the author(s) and the year of publication of the reference. The year should always be enclosed in brackets; whether the name of the author(s) is enclosed depends on the context. The two possibilities are illustrated as follows:


Recently, a new chemical process was developed for eliminating nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines [Perry and Siebers, 1986].

Recently, Perry and Siebers [1986] developed a new chemical process for eliminating nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines.

For three or more authors, just list the first author's name as follows: [Lee and others, 1972]. If there is no author listed, give the first word (not articles, conjunctions, or prepositions) of the document: [Manual, 1983] or ["Plastic," 1989].

The full reference citations will appear in an alphabetical list at the end of your document. Given below are examples of the listings.


Author, Title in Initial Capitals and Italics, edition # (City of Publication: Publisher, Date of Publication).

Fox, R. W., and A. T. McDonald, Introduction to Fluid Mechanics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978).

A Manual of Style, 12th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969).

McElroy, W. D., Cell Physiology and Biochemistry, 3rd ed., Foundations of Modern Biology Series (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971).


Author, "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," Journal Name in Italics, vol. #, no. # (Date), page #s.

Owyoung, A. "High Resolution Coherent Raman Spectroscopy of Gases," in Laser Spectroscopy IV, ed. by H. Walther and K. W. Rothe (New York: Springer- Verlag, 1979), pp. 175-182.

Perry, R. A., and D. L. Siebers, "Rapid Reduction of Nitrogen Oxides in Exhaust Gas Streams," Nature, vol. 324, no. 2 (August 1986), pp. 657-659.

Steeper, R. R., "Reducing Nitrogen Oxides With Ammonia Injection," Phys. Rev., vol. 13, no. 2 (1983), pp. 132-135.


Author (if known), "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," Newspaper Name (Date), section #, page #s.

Luoma, J. R., "U.S. Hunts New Ways to Clean Up Wastes," New York Times (3 January 1988), pp. 15, 18.

"Plastic Explosives Blamed for Airline Disaster," New York Times (3 January 1989) sec. 2, p. 11.


Author, Title in Initial Capitals and Italics, Report # (City of Publication: Publisher (Company or Agency), Date).

Borcherdt, R. D., Results and Data From Seismologic and Geologic Studies Following Earthquakes of December 7, 1988, Near Spitak, Armenia SSR, vol. 1, USGS OFR 89-163-A (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1989).

Guide to Operations, IBM Personal Computer Hardware Reference Library #1502490 (Boca Raton, Florida: IBM Corporation, 1984).

Spent Fuel Storage Requirements, DOE RL-88-34 (Richland, WA: Department of Energy, 1988).


Patent Holder, Patent # (Date of Patent).

Lyon, R. K., U.S. Patent No. 3,900,554 (August 1975).


Author, "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," brochure (City of Publication: Publisher (Company or Agency), Date).

Cheng, D., "Chemtronix XT Manometer," brochure (Asheville, NC: Chemtronix Corporation, 1974).


Speaker's Name, Speaker's Affiliation (City of Interview: Date of Interview), type of interview.

Lee, R., Engineer at Apple Corporation (San Jose: 5 June 1987), phone interview.


Author, Affiliation (City: Date of Letter), recipient of letter.

Alley, C. D., Plant Manager of Mason-Hanger Pantex Plant (Amarillo, TX: 3 March 1989), letter to Amarillo Globe News.

Web Site

Author, "Title," web listing in italics (City: Publisher, Date).

Thole, Travis, "Exploring the Possibility of Primitive Life on Mars," (Madison: Undergraduate Engineering Review, November 1997).




Crafting the Style

An important, but sometimes hazy, distinction in scientific writing is between format (the way you place the type upon the page) and style (the way that you express a thought in words and images). Style comprises structure, language, and illustration. These guidelines do not attempt to discuss the many questions of style; rather, these guidelines focus on stylistic points particular to writing a few technical documents, such as laboratory reports, that you are likely to encounter.

Writing is an essential skill for the successful engineer and scientist. As an engineer or scientist, you cannot treat your writing in the same way that you treat fluid mechanics or organic chemistry. Scientific writing is not a science; rather, it is a craft. The game of golf provides a good analogy to the way you should view your writing. Think of your technical problems as your drives and iron shots. In your drives and iron shots, you want loft, accuracy, and distance. Now, think of your writing problems the same as you would a putt. Notice that the clubs, swings, and mental approach of driving differ dramatically from those of putting. The same is true for the differences between the solution or technical problems and the communication of those solutions.




Top of Page

Format: the way you place the type upon the page

Style: the way that you express a thought in words and images and it includes:

  • structure
  • language
  • illustrations

Scientific witing is not a science, rather it is a craft

Writing is an essential skill



Correspondence consists of memos, letters, and electronic mail. In engineering and science, correspondence is an effective way to make requests, submit changes to a job, and deliver specific information. Unlike telephone conversations, correspondence presents the audience with a legal contract that is dated and can support a claim in court. This section presents formats for memos and letters. Because electronic mail usually has a built-in format, no format is assigned here for it.



  • memos
  • letters
  • electronic mail

In your correspondence, you should concentrate on being clear and precise. Because audiences tend to read letters and memos quickly, opt for shorter sentences and paragraphs than you would use in a formal report or journal article. Also, in correspondence, you should consider carefully the tone. Tone is difficult to control in correspondence. For instance, in a job application letter, how do you talk about your accomplishments without sounding boastful? Or in a letter complaining about faulty workmanship, how do you motivate the reader to repair the damage without alienating the reader? The answers are not simple. Often, engineers and scientists lose control of tone by avoiding simple straightforward wording. When some people sit down to write a business letter or memo, they change their entire personality. Instead of using plain English, they use convoluted phrases such as "per your request" or "enclosed please find." Because these phrases are not natural or straightforward, they inject an undesired attitude, usually arrogance, into the writing.



Golden rules:
  • being clear and precise
  • short sentences and paragraphs
  • careful tones (natural, plain straightforward wording)


Typically, you write memos to people within your place of work, and you write letters to people outside your place of work. One major difference between memos and letters is the title line found in memos. Because readers often decide whether to read the memo solely on the basis of this title line, the line is important. Another difference between letters and memos is that you sometimes write memos that serve as short reports. In such cases, the format for the memo changes somewhat. For instance, in a memo serving as a progress report for a project, you might include subheadings and sub-subheadings. Notice that people who are mentioned in a memo or are directly affected by the memo should receive a copy. Included here is a sample memo:



Use memos
  • to make requests,
  • to give announcements,
  • and sometimes to communicate reports.
A Sample Memo  
                                                                                     Engineering Physics
                                                                                     University of Wisconsin

September 23, 1997



To:           Professor Michael Alley

From:       Cindy Reese CTR

Subject:    Request to Research How Credit Was Awarded for the Discovery of Nuclear Fission

For my EPD 397 project, please grant me permission to study the way in which credit has been awarded for the discovery of nuclear fission. Although Otto Hahn received the 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery, several people assert that Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassman should have also received credit. In my research, I will attempt to discern how credit should have been bestowed.


This topic meets the criteria for a successful topic in this course. First, I am interested in the topic. As a nuclear engineering student, I realize that the discovery of nuclear fission was perhaps the single most important discovery this century in my field. As a woman scientist, I am also deeply interested in the successes and challenges faced by other women scientists. A second way in which this topic meets the criteria is that it can be quickly researched. A computer search in the library has revealed many sources available on this topic. Attached to this memo is a summary of one such source, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics by Ruth Sime.


This topic also meets the third criterion for a successful topic in this course, namely, that it be technical. The fission of a uranium nuclear involves an understanding of both chemistry and physics principles. By focussing on this single discovery, I believe that I can achieve the fourth crierion for a successful topic: the achievement of depth. Finally, because the library system at the University of Wisconsin offers such a wide array of possible sources, including papers in German, and because many of these sources have been written for audiences more technical than my intended audience, I believe that I can create a project that is unique.


If you have any suggestions for modifying this topic, please let me know. With your permission, I will continue researching.


    A Life in Physics by Ruth Sime


Copy To:

    Department Head




Your Institution's:
  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of Memo

To: Recipient of Memo

From: Writer's Name, signature and initials

Subject : Title of Memo in Initial Capitals


Titles of Persons:

  • Academic titles: before the names
  • Degrees (MPhil, MS etc.,): after the names
  • Job titles: Below the names



  • Must be typed (capital) by ink
  • If somebody else typed the memo, his/her initials should also be printed (eg, CTR/oy, here oy is being the typer)
  • Some institutions prefer the initials at the bottom of the page

Memos that make requests or announcements:

  • are read quickly
  • get to the point in the first paragraph--the first sentence, if possible
  • single space your memos and use a serif typeface
  • Skip a line between paragraphs
  • keep the sentence lengths and paragraph lengths relatively short.
  • final paragraphs should tell readers what you want them to do or what you will do for them
  • never exceed one page

Memos that make requests or announcements:

  • attach a long report after a short memo in the first page
  • drawings, tables should be attached for short reports.

Copies: send copies to anyone whose name you mention in the memo or who would be directly affected by the memo

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Formats for letters vary from company to company. For instance, some formats call for paragraph indents; others don't. Included in this section is a sample job letter and a sample thank-you letter written by someone after a job interview. In this letter, notice how the writer gets to the point in the first sentence of the first paragraph. Notice also the simple and straightforward salutation ("Sincerely"). As with a memo, people who are mentioned or directly affected by the letter should receive a copy.



  • quick introduction of the point (first sentence of the first paragraph)
  • straightforward salution

A sample letter:

6103 Oliver Loving Trail
Austin, Texas
October 30, 1996


Dr. Art Ratzel
Division 1513
Sandia National Labs
P. O. Box 5800
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185

Dr. Art Ratzel:


In last month's issue of Undergraduate Engineer, Sandia National Laboratories advertised positions for a summer undergraduate research program that is to begin in June 1997. Would you please consider me for such a position with your solar thermal division? I am a junior in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas, and my emphasis is in thermal fluids (see enclosed résumé).


In reading about Sandia, I learned of the solar thermal work in your division. Solar thermal technology interests me greatly. While here at the University of Texas, I have taken a course in solar energy applications. My project for that course--the comparison of heat transfer fluids for a solar thermal power plant--specifically pertains to your division's work.


After completing my bachelor of science here at the University of Texas, I plan to attend graduate school because I am interested in research. Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at Balcones Research Center in Austin and enjoyed the work and atmosphere associated with research. Given that Sandia National Laboratories is the foremost engineering research laboratory in the country, I would welcome the chance to work for you.


Thank you for your consideration, and if you have any questions, please feel free to write, email, or phone.



Brad Smith







A Sample Resume (Curriculum Vitae or CV)


Brad Lee Smith
6103 Oliver Loving Lane
Austin, Texas 78749
(512) 288-3548


To research thermal/fluid systems, particularly those in solar energy and gas turbine applications.


B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas (12/97)
Technical Block Option: Thermal/Fluid Systems
Relevant Courses:
Heat Transfer
Advanced Thermodynamics
Solar Energy Systems
GPA: 3.7/4.0 in major; 3.5/4.0 overall

1996: Research Assistant, Balcones Research Center; Austin, Texas
Assisted in turbine cooling laboratory
Helped set up and perform laser doppler velocimetry measurements
Authored section of progress report to project sponsor (Garrett Turbine)
Updated large Fortran computer programs
Learned Lotus 1-2-3 to edit data files
1994-1995: Field Service Technician, Longhorn Business Products; Dallas, Texas
Maintained and repaired copiers and facsimiles
Scored in top 5% in Ricoh's facsimile training school in 1994
Trained new service technicians for facsimiles
1993: Lifeguard, North Dallas YMCA; Dallas, Texas
Scheduled and supervised weekend lifeguard crews
Taught CPR classes to new lifeguards
Awards   Third place in Rube Goldberg Design Contest, 1996
Engineering Honor Roll, 3 semesters
Four-year partial scholarship, College of Engineering
Activities ASME; Society of Automotive Engineers; Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Austin; Intramural softball and basketball; Guitar
References Available upon request

Your institution's:

  • Name
  • Address
  • (Logo is preferrable)
  • Date of Letter


  • Name
  • Title
  • Institution
  • Address

Recipient's Name:

  • No need for Dear, Mr etc.,
  • Only academic titles

People read business letters quickly. Therefore:

  • get to the point in the first paragraph--the first sentence, if possible.
  • use shorter sentences and paragraphs than you would in a longer document.
  • Sentences: max 20 words
  • Paragraphs: max 7 sentences


  • Single line spacing
  • space between paragraphs
  • Serif typeset (times-new-roman or courier)


  • Do not crowd the top
  • if possible, maximum one page. Second pages are usually not read

Final paragraphs should tell readers

  • what you want them to do or
  • what you will do for them

Copies: send copies to anyone

  • whose name you mention in the letter or
  • who would be directly affected by the letter



A résumé is a summary of your

  • education,
  • work experience, and
  • accomplishments.

Your résumé is important:

  • Employers often use résumés to decide whether to interview you for a job,
  • proposal reviewers use résumés to decide whether you are qualified to do the proposed work.
  • Therefore, you should highlight your best attributes.
  • you should arrive quickly at the important points
  • they are often read in less than a minute; y64r characteristics should quickly be seen
  • you should be clear and concise
  • should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer
  • use tables rather than paragraphs
  • put your accomplishments in the strongest light
  • Finally, proof your résumé--no mistakes are allowed

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Electronic Mail

Electronic mail is a less formal version of memos and letters. Electronic mail is relatively new and is changing in terms of sophistication in format and expectation by audience. The principal advantages of electronic mail over other types of correspondence are its speed and ease of use. For instance, in minutes, you can send out information to many recipients around the world.

One disadvantage of electronic mail is the crudeness of the format. Many electronic mail systems do not allow such things as tabs or italics. For that reason, the look of the message is not as attractive as a memo or letter that has been printed on letterhead paper. Because the message does not look formal, many people mistakenly adopt a style that lacks the "appropriate formality" [Markel, 1996]. For instance, these people include needless abbreviations (such as "BTW" rather than "by the way"). Another disadvantage of electronic mail is also one of its advantages: its ease of use. With letters and memos, you must print out the correspondence before you send it. That printing out allows you to view the writing on paper--a step that makes it easier for you to proof for mechanical mistakes in spelling, usage, and punctuation. With electronic mail, though, you are not forced to print out on paper before you send. For that reason, electronic messages often are not as well proofed as regular correspondence. Remember: Because most networks archive electronic mail, you should take the same care with electronic mail as you do with printed correspondence. That means using the appropriate formality in style and carefully proofing your message before you hit the "send" button.




Electronic mails:
  • less formal
  • crude: formatting the style and layout is limited
  • difficult to see the mechanical mistakes in spelling, usage and punctuation
  • Use electronic spell-checker before sending

Important documents:

  • send as attachments
  • see the printed copy before sending
  • Same seriousness as letters or memos
  • Be sure that electronic version of the documents are considered by receiver "official" enough. Otherwise, send a "hard copy" separately



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Engineers and scientists write formal reports for many reasons, including the documentation of experiments and designs. As an engineer or scientist working on the design of an airplane seat, you might write several formal reports. One formal report might propose a new design for the seat. A second formal report might update the progress on the construction of a test seat. Yet another formal report might document tests performed on the design. Still another formal report would assess whether the new design should replace the existing design. In this last report, you would combine elements from all the previous reports. Note that this last report might appear as a research article, which is a special kind of formal report for a research audience.



They are written for various purposes

Several reports may be written before completion of a project

What distinguishes a formal report from an informal reporting of information? The answer lies not in the topics of formal reports, but in the expectations of the audiences for formal reports. In a formal report, the audience expects a methodical presentation of the subject that includes summaries of important points as well as appendices on tangential and secondary points. Note that the readers for a formal report are often two or more distinct audiences. These distinct audiences include professionals specializing in the report's subject matter, professionals not specializing in the report's subject matter, and managers overseeing the report's subject matter.
Format distinguishes formal reports from an informal reporting of information. A well-crafted formal report is formatted such that the report's information is readily accessible to all the audiences. For that reason, formal reports are split into different sections. One way to group these sections is in terms of the front matter, main text and back matter. The front matter, which presents preliminary information for the report, serves to orient all intended audiences to what the report contains. The text portion of the formal report is the report's "story" and contains the introduction, discussion, and conclusion of the report. The text delivers a methodical explanation of the report's work to the report's primary audience. The report's back matter portion, which contains the appendices, glossary, and references, serves to provide secondary information to all readers as well as primary information to secondary readers.
    The audience determines whether should be formal or informal.They expect a methodical presentation of subject including:
  • summaries of important points
  • appendices

Types of audience:

  • professionals in your field
  • professionals in other fields
  • overseeing managers

Format is important: Split into different sections.

Front Matter

The front matter to a formal report includes the preliminary information that orients all readers to the content of the report. In the format presented in these guidelines, the front matter includes a front cover, title page, contents page, and summary. Other sections that sometimes appear in the front matter are preface, acknowledgements, list of illustrations, and list of abbreviations. Except for the cover, which has no page number, pages in the front matter are numbered with roman numerals.
    orient the audience to the contents of the report

page numbering by roman numerals

Front Cover. The front cover of a formal report is important. The front cover is what people see first. When the report sits flat on a desk, the front cover is in view. Therefore, the front cover should contain the report's title and the author's name. Because reports are often revised and republished, the front cover should also contain the date of publication. The front cover has no page number. Space the title, name, and date to achieve a nice balance on the page. If possible, type the title in a larger font size than the name and date. Use initial capitals for the title.
    People see it first

It sould include:

  • Report title
  • Author
  • Publication date


  • no page number
  • Title in larger font
  • Initial capitals for title
Title Page. The title page for a formal report often contains the same information as is on the cover. In some formats, there is a summary included. Most often, because of space restrictions, that summary is descriptive (more like a table of contents in paragraph form). Sometimes, though, this initial summary is informative and geared toward the technical audience of the report. In such situations, that summary is often named an "Abstract." Consult with your instructor to find out what kind of summary, if any, should be on this page. Note that the title page is numbered "i" (the actual presence of a page number on the first page is optional).
    Simmilar to the cover page

A summary (or abstract) may be included. It should be geared toward the technical audience

Page number "i"


Contents Page. The table of contents includes the names of all the headings and subheadings for the main text. In addition, the table of contents includes names of all headings (but not subheadings) in the front matter and back matter. For instance, the contents page includes listings for the appendices (including appendix titles), the glossary, and the references.
    All headings and subheadings of
  • front matter
  • main text
  • back matter
Summary. Perhaps no term in engineering writing is as confusing as the term "summary." In general there are two types of summaries: descriptive summaries and informative summaries. A descriptive summary describes what kind of information is in the report; it is a table of contents in paragraph form. An informative summary is a synopsis of the text portion of the report; it is analogous to a baseball boxscore. Unfortunately, few people use these terms to name the summaries in reports. The names you're likely to run into are "abstract," "executive summary," and plain old "summary."
An "abstract" usually, but not always, refers to a summary written to a technical audience, and depending on its length can be either descriptive, informative, or a combination of both. As you might imagine, short abstracts are typically descriptive and longer abstracts are typically informative. Abstracts generally do not include illustrations. Sometimes the word "abstract" is proceeded by the word "descriptive," which is usually a clue that you should write a descriptive summary written to a technical audience. Other times the word "abstract" is proceeded by the word "technical," which is usually a clue that an informative summary written to a technical audience is called for.
An "executive summary" is the most consistently defined term-it refers to an informative summary written to a management audience. Because it is informative, it includes the most important results and conclusions of the document. Because it is written to a management audience, it includes enough background for the manager to understand those results and conclusions. Stylistically, it is tailored so that a manager can read it quickly and garner what happened in the report. Whether it contains illustrations or not depends on the format.
The catch-all term "summary" can be most anything--a descriptive summary, an informative summary, a summary with illustrations, a summary without. So how do you proceed if a company, laboratory, or professor asks you to write a "summary" for a formal report? Well, the best thing to do is to look at examples of summaries in previous reports for that company, laboratory, or professor. In formatting the main summary of your report, treat the name ("Abstract," "Executive Summary," or whatever your instructor prescribes) as a major heading. If illustrations are allowed, number them using the abbreviation of the summary's title. For instance, if the summary is named an "Executive Summary," number the illustrations ES-1, ES-2, and so on. Number the equations in the same way.
    summary = "abstract", synopsis", "executive summary"


  • descriptive (executive summary) - what kind of information is in the report - short - audience = managerial
  • informative (abstract) - summary of text -long - audience = technical

Avoid illustrations. If necessary number them properly.



Main Text

The text portion of your formal report contains the introduction, discussion, and conclusion of your report. Begin all major headings ("Introduction," for example) on a new page. Use Arabic numerals for numbering pages of the text and begin the first page of your text as page 1.
    Contains (in separate pages):
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions

Page numbering: Arabic numerals


Introduction. The introduction of a report prepares readers for understanding the discussion of the report. Like the title and summary, the introduction is written for the widest audience possible.
    It prepares the audience for understanding the report

It is written for the widest audience


Discussion. The discussion or middle is the story of your work. You do not necessarily present results in the order that you understood them, but in the order that is easiest for your readers to understand them. In your discussion, you not only present results, but you also evaluate those results. Note that you do not generally use the word "Discussion" as the title for the major headings in this part of the report. Rather, you choose titles that reflect the content of the sections.
    It is the story of your work

Order of results: resulting with easiest understanding by readers

The title: reflect the content of the sections; not necessarily "discussion"


Conclusion. The conclusion section analyzes for the most important results from the discussion and evaluates those results in the context of the entire work. In your conclusion, you often make recommendations based on those evaluations. The conclusion is much like an informative summary except for one thing-in the conclusion, you are writing to an audience who has read your report. Note that you do not necessarily have to use the word "Conclusion" as the title for this section. Depending on the situation, you might for example choose "Conclusions and Recommendations." In still other situations, your conclusion might span two sections.
    Analysis of most important results.

Often make "recommendations" based on these evaluations

Title: "conclusions and recommendations" or split into two separate sections


Back Matter

The back matter portion of your report contains your appendices, glossary, and references. The back matter portion usually begins on the page following the conclusion. Continue numbering back matter pages with Arabic numerals. In other words, if the conclusion section ends on page 16, the first appendix will begin on page 17.
  • Appendices
  • glossary
  • references


  • Start with a new page
  • continued page numbering

Appendices. Use appendices to present supplemental information for secondary readers. When the occasion arises in the text, refer readers to information in the appendix. For example:


This section compares three software pages to run tests on Hemodyne's blood analyzer. Hemodyne's blood analyzer performs test for such diseases as syphilis, tuberculosis, and the AIDS virus. The analyzer has a complex design, which is discussed in Appendix B. The three software packages considered in this report are...

Treat each appendix as a major heading. If you have only appendix, call it the "Appendix." If you have more than one appendix, number the appendices with letters: Appendix A, Appendix B, and so on. As with all major headings, skip three returns from the top margin and center the appendix name and title. Illustrations in appendices are numbered as follows. In both a single appendix and in an Appendix A, figures and tables are numbered A-1, A-2, and so on. Equations in Appendix A are numbered in the same way. In an Appendix B, illustrations and equations follow a B sequence.
    Appendix: supplemental information for secondary readers

Refer to the apendices in the text.


  • Number them with capital letters (Appendix A, B, etc.)
  • Number the illustrations and equations in separate sequences like Fig. A-1, A-2 etc.,)
Glossary. Use a glossary to define terms for secondary readers. Arrange terms in alphabetical order. Use italics or underlines to key readers to terms that the glossary will define. Footnote the first italicized or underlined term in the text and key readers to the location of glossary, where that term and all future underlined or italicized terms will be defined. Use a reverse indent for each definition and treat each definition as a separate paragraph.
    Glossary: definition of terms for secondary readers


References. Use a reference page to list alphabetically the references of your report. Also skip a space between each citation.

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Laboratory Reports

Laboratory reports are written for several reasons. One reason is to communicate the laboratory work to management. In such situations, management often bases company decisions on the results of the report. Another reason to write laboratory reports is to archive the work so that the work will not have to be done in the future. This web page presents a commonly used organization for laboratory reports:
    Lab reports are
A complete laboratory report might include the following sections:
  • Abstract
  • Introdution
  • Procedures
  • Results and discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Appendices

You should not assume, though, that this organization will serve all your laboratory reports. In other words, one organization does not "fit" all experiments. Rather, you should pay attention to the organization requested by your instructor who has chosen an organization that best serves your experiments.

    Organization may vary.

Abstract. A good abstract

  • should have the topic of the experiment in the first sentence
  • contain the prodecure esed very briefly
  • contains the newly introduced data in the body
  • is no longer than 200 words
  • is 1 paragraph
    May not always be necessary

Introduction. The "Introduction" of a laboratory report identifies the experiment to be undertaken, the objectives of the experiment, the importance of the experiment, and overall background for understanding the experiment. The objectives of the experiment are important to state because these objectives are usually analyzed in the conclusion to determine whether the experiment succeeded. The background often includes theoretical predictions for what the results should be.


Introduction includes:

  • objectives
  • importance of experiment
  • overall background (theoretical predictions)
 Procedures. The "Procedures," often called the "Methods," discusses how the experiment occurred. Documenting the procedures of your laboratory experiment is important not only so that others can repeat your results but also so that you can replicate the work later, if the need arises. Historically, laboratory procedures have been written as first-person narratives as opposed to second-person sets of instructions. Because your audience expects you to write the procedures as a narrative, you should do so.

Achieving a proper depth in laboratory procedures is challenging. In general, you should give the audience enough information that they could replicate your results. For that reason, you should include those details that affect the outcome. Consider as an example the procedure for using a manometer and strain indicator to find the static calibration of a pressure transducer. Because calibrations are considered standard, you can assume that your audience will have access to many details such as possible arrangements of the valves and tubes. What you would want to include, then, would be those details that might cause your results to differ from those of your audience. Such details would include the model number of the pressure transducer and the pressure range for which you calibrated the transducer. Should you have any anomalies, such as unusual ambient temperature, during your measurements, you would want to include those.

When the procedure is not standard, the audience would expect more detail including theoretical justification for the steps. Given below is such a procedure--this one for an experiment devised to determine whether the frictional torque associated with a multi-turn film potentiometer is strictly the Coulomb friction between the slider and the film.

The test performed on the potentiometer was accomplished by winding a string around the potentiometer shaft, attaching a mass to the string, and letting the mass fall. The change in resistance of the potentiometer with time indicated the acceleration of the mass. In this experiment it was assumed that the constant Coulomb friction torque was the only friction affecting the potentiometer. If this assumption were true, the friction force from the torque would be Ff = T/r (where T is the torque and r is the radius of the potentiometer's shaft). Likewise, the gravity force would be Fg = mg (where m is the mass tied to the string and g is the gravitational acceleration). A force balance then gives


T = mr (g-a),

where a is the acceleration of the mass. If the assumption holds that the only friction affecting the potentiometer was constant Coulomb friction, then each mass would undergo a constant acceleration.

The potentiometer measured voltage versus time for the masses as they dropped, but the measurement of interest to us was position versus time. For that reason, a 'calibration' was performed before we measured any data. In the calibration, the potentiometer's initial voltage was measured. Then the string was pulled a set distance (2 inches), and the voltage was recorded. This process of pulling the string a set distance and recording the voltage continued another two times (see Appendix A for the results). To determine the relationship between voltage and position, the differences in the voltages were averaged and divided by the length. The resulting relationship was 0.9661 volts/inch.

Five different masses were used to test the assumption of constant acceleration. For each mass, the string was rolled up on the shaft, the oscilloscope was triggered, and the shaft was released. As each mass dropped, the oscilloscope collected the potentiometer's voltage versus the time. After obtaining plots for each mass, we used the voltage-position relationship, mentioned above, to convert the data from the form voltage versus time to the form position versus time squared. The residuals of the data determined whether the assumption of constant acceleration was valid.


Procedures ≈ methods

Purpose: allow duplication of the experiments by

  • Others
  • Yourself in future

What to write:

  • enough information that others could replicate your results
  • only names of known standard)  methods, not details
  • brands and model numbers of the equipment used
  • abnormal environmental conditions (varying room temp, loe power voltage etc.,)
  • Assumptions
  • Callibrations
  • For nonstandard methods: theories justifying the steps
  • constants
  • description and purification method of chemicals
  • methods of data analysis
  • sketch of a detailed experimental setup
  • Flow diagram for a complex procedure
  • List of the code of a software developed (as an appendix if long)
  • Name and version information of commercial software used.


Results and Discussion. The heart of a laboratory report is the presentation of the results and the discussion of those results. In some formats, "Results" and "Discussion" appear as separate sections. However, P.B. Medawar [1979] makes a strong case that the two should appear together, particularly when you have many results to present (otherwise, the audience is faced with a "dump" of information that is impossible to synthesize). Much here depends upon your experiment and the purpose of your laboratory report. Therefore, pay attention to what your laboratory instructor requests. Also, use your judgment. For instance, combine these sections when the discussion of your first result is needed to understand your second result, but separate these sections when it is useful to discuss the results as a whole after all results are reported.

In discussing the results, you should not only analyze the results, but also discuss the implications of those results. Moreover, pay attention to the errors that existed in the experiment, both where they originated and what their significance is for interpreting the reliability of conclusions. One important way to present numerical results is to show them in graphs.


Results & Discussion: Presentation an evaluation of results

Combined ("Results & Discussion" or Separate sections ("Results" and "Discussion")?

  •  seperate when it is useful to discuss the results as a whole after all results are reported
  • combined when the discussion of your first result is neede to understand your second result


Conclusions. In longer laboratory reports, a "Conclusion" section often appears. Whereas the "Results and Discussion" section has discussed the results individually, the "Conclusion" section discusses the results in the context of the entire experiment. Usually, the objectives mentioned in the "Introduction" are examined to determined whether the experiment succeeded. If the objectives were not met, you should analyze why the results were not as predicted. Note that in shorter reports or in reports where "Discussion" is a separate section from "Results," you often do not have a "Conclusion" section.



"Conclusion" section discusses the results in the context of the entire experiment

Achievements of the objectives are examined.

If you have a separate "discussion" section in a short report, you may omit "conclusions"


Appendices. In a laboratory report, appendices often are included. One type of appendix that appears in laboratory reports presents information that is too detailed to be placed into the report's text. For example, if you had a long table giving voltage-current measurements for an RLC circuit, you might place this tabular information in an appendix and include a graph of the data in the report's text. Another type of appendix that often appears in laboratory reports presents tangential information that does not directly concern the experiment's objectives.

If the appendix is "formal," it should contain a beginning, middle, and ending. For example, if the appendix contains tables of test data, the appendix should not only contain the tabular data, but also formally introduce those tables, discuss why they have been included, and explain the unusual aspects that might confuse the reader. Because of time constraints, your instructor might allow you to include "informal" appendices with calculations and supplemental information. For such "informal" situations, having a clear beginning, middle, and ending is not necessary. However, you should still title the appendix, place a heading on each table, place a caption beneath each figure, and insert comments necessary for reader understanding.




  •  too detailed  information information (e.g., long tables of which a graph is included in the text)
  • tangential (secondary) information (like the whole story of a case study similar to yours)

Similar seriesness is expected for appendices:

  • title of the appendix
  • caption to figures and tables
  • comments for reader understanding etc.

A Sample Report


This report discusses an experiment to study the relationship of temperature and pressure of an ideal gas (air) that was heated in a closed container. Because the ideal gas was in a closed container, its volume remained constant. The objective of the experiment is to test whether the ideal equation of state holds. In the equation,


pV = mRT,


where p is the pressure the gas, V is the volume, m is the mass, R is a constant, and T is temperature. This report presents the procedures for the experiment, the experiment's results, and an analysis of those results.


In this experiment, air (an ideal gas) was heated in a pressure vessel with a volume of 1 liter. Attached to this pressure vessel was a pressure transducer and thermocouple to measure the pressure and the temperature, respectively, of the air inside the vessel. Both of these transducers produced voltage signals (in Volts) that were calibrated to the pressure (kPa) and temperature (K) of the air (the atmospheric pressure for where the experiment occurred is assumed to be 13.6 psia). In addition, the theoretical temperature (K) of air was calculated as a function of the measured pressured values (kPa).

Results and Discussion

This section analyses the results of the experiment. The experiment went as expected with no unusual events that would have introduced error. The voltages as measured for the pressure and temperature transducers appear in Table A-1 of the Appendix. Also included in the Appendix are the equations used for calibrating those voltages with the actual pressures and temperatures. These equations led to the values of pressure and temperature that are shown the third and fourth columns of Table A-1. From these values, a graph between temperature (K) and pressure (kPa) was created (Figure A-1). As can be seen from the graph, the relationship of temperature versus pressure is roughly linear.

As part of this experiment, the theoretical values of temperature were calculated for each measured pressure value. In this calculation, which used the ideal gas equation, the volume and mass were assumed to be constant. These theoretical values of temperature are shown in the final column of Table A-1. From this final column arose Figure A-2, a graph of ideal temperature (K) versus pressure (kPa). As shown in this graph, the relationship between temperature and pressure is exactly linear.

A comparison between the graph showing measured data (Figure A-1) and the graph showing theoretical data (Figure A-2) reveals differences. In general, the measured values of temperature are lower than the ideal values, and the measured values are not exactly linear. Several errors could explain the differences: precision errors in the pressure transducer and the thermocouple; bias errors in the calibration curve for the pressure transducer and the thermocouple; and imprecision in the atmospheric pressure assumed for the locale. The bias errors might arise from the large temperature range considered. Given that the temperature and pressure ranges are large, the calibration equations between the voltage signals and the actual temperatures and pressures might not be precise for that entire range. The last type of error mentioned, the error in the atmospheric error for the locale where the experiment occurred is a bias error that could be quite significant, depending on the difference in conditions between the time of the experiment and the time that the reference measurement was made.

Overall, the experiment succeeded in showing that temperature and pressure for an ideal gas at constant volume and mass follow the relation of the ideal gas equation. Differences existed in the experimental graph of temperature versus and pressure and the theoretical curve of temperature versus pressure. These differences, however, can be accounted for by experimental error.

Appendix: Experimental Data and Plots

This appendix presents the data, calculations, and graphs from the experiment to verify the ideal gas equation. The first two columns of Table A-1 show the measured voltages from the pressure transducer and the temperature transducer. Column three shows the measured values of pressures calculated from the following calibration curve for the pressure transducer:


p = 4.3087(V·V) - 13.1176V + 10.7276


where V equals the voltage output (volts) from pressure transducer, and p equals the absolute pressure (kPa). Column four presents the measured values of temperature (K) calculated from the calibration curve for the thermocouple:


T = Tref + V/S


where Tref equals the ice bath reference temperature (0°C), V equals the voltage (volts) measured across the thermocouple pair, and S equals the thermocouple constant, 42.4 µV/°C. Finally, column 5 presents the ideal values of temperature for the corresponding measured values of pressure. These ideal values arise from the ideal gas equation (PV=mrt). Figure A-1 shows the graph of temperature (K) versus pressure (kPa) for the measured case. Figure A-2 shows the graph of temperature versus pressure for the ideal case.

Table A-1.Data From Experiment

Voltagepres (V) Voltagetemp (V) Pressuremeas (kPa) Temperaturemeas (K) Temperatureideal (K)
6.32 0.0011 99.90 298.94 312.17
6.39 0.0020 102.81 320.32 321.28
6.78 0.0031 119.82 346.26 374.44
7.31 0.0046 145.04 381.64 453.24
7.17 0.0052 138.14 395.79 431.69
7.35 0.0064 147.04 424.09 459.50
7.45 0.0073 152.11 445.32 475.32
7.56 0.0078 157.78 457.11 493.04
7.66 0.0097 163.02 501.92 509.43
8.06 0.0107 184.86 525.51 577.69
8.10 0.0114 187.12 542.02 584.75
8.34 0.0130 200.97 579.75 628.03

Figure A-1. Temperature versus pressure, as measured by the transducers.

Figure A-2. Temperature versus pressure, as calculated from the ideal gas equation.



Design Reports

Design reports are written to introduce and document engineering and scientific designs. In general, these reports have two audiences. One audience includes other engineers and scientists interested in how the design works and how effective the design is. Another audience includes management interested in the application and effectiveness of the design.



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  • other engineers and sientists  interested in how effective the design is
  • management interested in the application and effectiveness of the design
For most purposes, the following section are included:
  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Appendices

Summary. The summary, sometimes labeled the abstract or executive summary, is a concise synopsis of the design itself, the motivation for having the design, and the design's effectiveness. The author should assume that the reader has some knowledge of the subject, but has not read the report. For that reason, the summary should provide enough background that it stands on its own. Note that if the summary is called an abstract, you are usually expected to target a technical audience in the summary. Likewise, if an executive summary is requested, you should target a management audience in the summary.



  • a concise synopsis of the design itself
  • motivation for having the design
  • design's effectiveness

Introduction. The "Introduction" of a design report identifies the design problem, the objectives of the design, the assumptions for the design, the design alternatives, and the selection of the design being reported. Also included for transition is a mapping of the entire report. Note that in longer reports, the selection of design is often a separate section.



  • design problem
  • objectives of design
  • design alternatives
  • selection of the design being reported

Discussion. The discussion presents the design itself, the theory behind the design, the problems encountered (or anticipated) in producing the design, how those problems were (or could be) overcome, and the results of any tests on the design. Note that this part usually consists of two, three, or four main headings. In regards to the actual names of these headings, pay close attention to what your instructor requests. Also consider what would be a logical division for your particular design.



Discussion - presentation of the design:

  • theory
  • problems encountered
  • solution to those problems
  • test results

Conclusions. The "Conclusions" section summarizes the design and testing work completed and assesses how well the design meets the objectives presented in the "Introduction." Note that if the design does not meet the objectives, you should analyze why the design did not succeed and what could be modified to make the design a success. Besides summarizing the work and analyzing whether the objectives were met, the "Conclusions" section also gives a future perspective for how the design will be used in the future.


Conclusions - summary of

  • design
  • testing work
  • achievement of objectives
  • modifications needed
  • future prospective


Appendices. In a design report, appendices often are included. One type of appendix that appears in design reports presents information that is too detailed to be placed into the report's text. For example, if you had a long table giving voltage-current measurements for an RLC circuit, you might place this tabular information in an appendix and include a graph of the data in the report's text. Another type of appendix that often appears in design reports presents tangential information that does not directly concern the design's objectives.

If the appendix is "formal," it should contain a beginning, middle, and ending. For example, if the appendix contains tables of test data, the appendix should not only contain the tabular data, but also formally introduce those tables, discuss why they have been included, and explain the unusual aspects that might confuse the reader. Because of time constraints, your instructor might allow you to include "informal" appendices with calculations and supplemental information. For such "informal" situations, having a clear beginning, middle, and ending is not necessary. However, you should still title the appendix, place a heading on each table, place a caption beneath each figure, and insert comments necessary for reader understanding.



Simmilar to a lab report's appendices


A Sample Design Report

Design of a Temperature Measurement and Display System
Using the 68HC11 Microcontroller

Executive Summary
This report presents the design of a temperature measurement and display system that uses the Motorolla HC11 microcontroller. This design makes use of the HC11 analog-to-digital converter and the serial subsystems. Temperature measurement and display circuits were built and control software was written to use the added hardware. In this design, the overall objectives were met. By keeping track of the measured temperature, the HC11 is able to control a temperature display that uses light emitting diodes. Also, if the temperature becomes very cold or hot, an alarm message is sent to a host PC terminal. This design has many potential applications, including temperature control and factory automation.
This report presents a design of a temperature measurement and display system that incorporated the Motorolla 68HC11 microcontroller, simply referred to here as the HC11. This design made use of the HC11's analog-to-digital (A/D) converter and the serial subsystems.

As shown in Figure 1, the design included a temperature sensor connected to one of the HC11's A/D input pins on Port E, and light emitting diodes (LEDs) connected to Port B. These LEDs acted as temperature indicators. Additionally, the design included a connection between the HC11 and a remote personal computer (PC). This connection served to send messages regarding temperature to the PC. An assembly software program developed for this design performed various functions for using the added hardware.

The design had two main objectives. The first objective was to use the HC11 to measure temperature. Included in this objective was the task of connecting the temperature sensor and the LEDs to the HC11. Also included in this objective was the task of designing software to do the following: initialize the A/D converter and serial subsystems; control the measurement and storage of temperature in a RAM variable called TEMP; and control the display of temperature on the LED outputs. The second objective of the design was to use the HC11 to indicate if the temperature went outside of prescribed limits: below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Included in this objective was the task of connecting the HC11 to a remote PC terminal through an RS-232 connection. Another task within this objective was developing software to initialize the serial subsystem. The final task of this objective was to create subroutines for the software program of the first objective to have the HC11 send a message to the PC if the measured temperature went outside the stated limits.

In performing the testing and design, my laboratory partner and I divided the work in the following way. My partner assumed the lead role in connecting the hardware, and I assumed the lead role in writing the programs. Although one of us had a lead role in performing either the hardware or the software, we worked collaboratively in checking both the hardware and software and in troubleshooting any problems.

This report first presents the procedures for and assessment of the design to have HC11 measure temperature. Then the report discusses the procedures for and assessment of adding a serial output to the HC11 design to communicate whether the temperature is outside of prescribed limits.



Figure 1. Temperature measurement and display system developed for the Motorolla 68HC11 microcontroller, which is attached to a universal evaluation board (EVBU).

Connecting a Temperature Measurement Circuit to the HC11
Connecting a temperature measurement circuit to the HC11 microcontroller involved both hardware and software. Hardware was added to control the measurement and display of the temperature. This hardware included a temperature sensor attached to Port E and LEDs attached to Port B. The circuit was designed according to the specifications obtained from the Computer Engineering Laboratories web site for ECPE 4535 [Lineberry, 1998]. For the complete temperature measurement circuit, see Appendix A.
Procedures for Design. Within the circuit was an LM3911 temperature controller integrated circuit (IC), the output of which we connected to a non-inverting op-amp. The output of this op-amp attached to the HC11 A/D input pin E2 through a 1000-ohm resistor. The circuitry was scaled so that 0 volts out corresponded to 0 degrees and 5 volts out corresponded to 110 degrees. To each of the output pins of Port B, we connected LEDs using a 74HC244 buffer IC and 330-ohm current limiting resistors, as shown in Appendix A. The LEDs were located in the breadboard area of the trainer kits.

To control this added hardware, we programmed the HC11 following the pseudo code and program listing given in Appendices B and C, respectively. The program shown in Appendix C consisted of three subroutines that were called from Main. The three subroutines were named Startup, GetTemp, and SetDisp. The Startup subroutine was used to enable the A/D converter subsystem. First the A/D charge pump was powered up by setting bit 7 of the OPTION register, and bit 6 was cleared so that the charge pump used the system E-clock. After a 100 microsecond delay to allow the charge pump to stabilize, the control word $22 was written to the ADCTL register to start continuous, single-scan conversions on Port E pin E2.

The subroutine GetTemp was used to input and scale the analog voltage from the temperature sensor circuit. The register ADR3 held the result of the A/D conversions, which was treated as an 8-bit binary fraction between 0 and 1. This value was loaded into accumulator A and then multiplied by a scale factor of 110 using the MUL instruction. The result of this multiplication is a 16-bit number between 0 and 110, with an 8-bit integer portion stored in accumulator A and an 8-bit fractional portion stored in accumulator B. The integer portion of the temperature was then stored in the RAM variable TEMP.

The subroutine SetDisp controlled the lighting of the LEDs connected to Port B. The amount of lighting was based on the present value of TEMP. First, TEMP was loaded into accumulator A and compared with the value 20, the designated cut-off for low temperature. Accumulator B was cleared to zero and represented the initial value to be written to Port B. If the value in accumulator A was greater than or equal to 20, then the value in accumulator B was shifted one position left and incremented, and 10 was subtracted from accumulator A. The process then repeated itself as long as the value in accumulator A was greater than or equal to 20. An abbreviated form of this process appears in Figure 2 (the complete process appears in Appendix C). After the number of LEDs to turn on were determined, as shown in Figure 2, the number of bits indicated by the count value in accumulator B were set high on Port B beginning with bit 0.



Figure 2. Flowchart illustrating the determination of the number of Port B bits to enable for the LED display.

Assessment of Design. To test the operation of the GetTemp and SetDisp subroutines, we measured the actual temperature with a temperature probe and compared that with the measured value represented by the LED display indicators at several different temperature settings. Table 1 shows the results of the measurement comparison, where the actual temperatures measured are shown on the left, and the temperatures represented by the number of LEDs lit are shown on the right. From Table 1, we verified that the developed hardware and software for this part of the lab were functioning properly. Overall, this section of the laboratory went smoothly.

Table 1. Comparison of temperature measurements.

Actual Temperature Number of LEDs Lit
15°F 0
28°F 1
33°F 2
56°F 4
110°F 8

Adding Serial Output to the HC11
This section presents the addition of four subroutines to the existing software developed in the previous section. The added subroutines, listed in Appendix D, were called InitSCI, SendChar, SendMsg, and CheckLimits. The InitSCI subroutine initialized the serial subsystem of the HC11 so that it could communicate with the host PC at 9600 baud. This initialization was done by writing control words to the BAUD, SCCR1, and SCCR2 control registers in the HC11 as shown in Appendix C.
Procedures for Design. The subroutine SendChar was added to send a single data byte from the HC11 to the remote PC terminal. The data byte to be sent was contained in accumulator A. After waiting for the TDRE bit in the SCSR register to be set, indicating that the HC11 is ready to transmit another byte, the value in accumulator A was written to the SCDR register to begin the transmission.

The subroutine SendMsg used the SendChar subroutine to write character strings to the remote PC terminal. Before calling SendMsg, the X index register was set to point to the beginning of the character string to be sent. The SendMsg subroutine then sent out the string by calling SendChar for each character until the NULL character was reached, which marked the end of a string.

The third and final subroutine CheckLimits was added to the existing software program to check the temperature range. The subroutine CheckLimits called SendMsg to print the following message if TEMP was less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit: "Temperature is very low." If TEMP was greater that 90 degrees Fahrenheit, CheckLimits called SendMsg to print the following message: "Temperature is very high." If TEMP was between 20 and 90 degrees Farenheit, CheckLimits called SendMsg to print the following message: "Temperature is acceptable." A flag variable called FLG ensured that the messages were not repeatedly sent for each entry into the very hot, very cold, or acceptable temperature regions. FLG was set to zero if TEMP was between 20 and 90 degrees, one if TEMP was less than 20 degrees, and two if TEMP was greater than 90 degrees.
Assessment of Design. While developing the design presented in this section, several mistakes and difficulties were encountered. The initial setup of the serial subsystem of the 68HC11 involved some troubleshooting. We also had problems with sending the alarm messages more than one time because a flag variable was not set. The diagnosis and solutions to these problems are discussed in this section.

Initially, the serial writes from the 68HC11 to the host PC did not work properly because the SendChar routine did not check the TDRE bit before writing to the SCDR register. This caused characters to be dropped when sending a message. We also had a problem sending out messages using SendMsg because we did not terminate the message strings correctly with the NULL zero. By adding the NULL zero to the end of the strings, the sending of messages worked as expected.

A final problem was the output rate of the alarm messages. At first, we did not set a flag to indicate to the program that a message had already been sent to the PC. This failure caused messages to be continually sent to the PC terminal when the temperature was outside of the normal operating region. This problem was fixed by making a variable called FLG that was set as soon as the alarm message was sent and then cleared when the temperature returned to the normal operating region.
This report has discussed the development of a temperature measurement and display system. The objectives of this lab were to develop the necessary hardware and software to have the HC11 measure temperature and indicate whether that temperature fell outside of prescribed limits. Both objectives were met. By keeping track of the measured temperature, the HC11 was able to control an LED temperature display. Also, if the temperature became very cold or hot, the HC11 sent an alarm message to a host PC terminal.

This lab has introduced us to the important topics of A/D conversion and serial communications. In the lab, an A/D converter allowed us access to analog inputs of temperature from a remote computer. Besides temperature measurement, A/D converters have many applications in automatic control systems and factory automation. For example, in an electric motor drive, the phase currents and flux are continually measured by using scaling circuitry and an A/D converter input to a microprocessor.
Lineberry, Bob, "Computer Engineering Laboratories Website at Virginia Tech," (Blacksburg, VA: ECE Department, 1998), ECpE 4535: Laboratory Assignments, Lab X.

Motorola Corporation, M68HC11 E Series: Reference Manual, rev. 3 (Oak Hill, Texas: Motorola Corp. 1991), p. B-5.

Spasov, Peter, Microcontroller Technology: The 68HC11, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 107.


Appendix A: Hardware Schematic
Figure A-1 presents the hardware schematic for the temperature circuit. The circuit was designed according to the specifications obtained from the Computer Engineering Laboratories web site for ECPE 4535 [Lineberry, 1998].



Figure A-1. Hardware schematic for the temperature measurement circuit designed for this lab. In an actual report, all the connections, pin numbers, and pin labels should be shown.


Appendix B: Pseudocode for the Software Developed

*In an actual report, the pseudocode would appear here. Also note that some professors allow you to substitute an appendix with program flow charts for this appendix.


Appendix C: Program Listing
Assembler release TER_2.0 version 2.09
(c) Motorola (free ware)
0001                         ;**************************************************
0002                         ; Temp_Monitor: This program implements a temperature
0003                         ; measurement and display system. The A/D system is
0004                         ; used to read an analog temperature. The value is
0005                         ; scaled to Farenheit, and displayed on an LED bar
0006                         ; display. If the temperature is above 90 or below
0007                         ; 20, a message is transmitted over the serial link.
0008                         ; Programmer: JMB
0009                         ;*************************************************
0011                         ; Define some I/O registers
0012 1004                    PORTB EQU $1004
0013 102b                    BAUD EQU $102B
0014 102c                    SCCR1 EQU $102C
0015 102d                    SCCR2 EQU $102D
0016 102e                    SCSR EQU $102E
0017 102f                    SCDR EQU $102F
0018 1030                    ADCTL EQU $1030
0019 1031                    ADR1 EQU $1031
0020 1032                    ADR2 EQU $1032
0021 1033                    ADR3 EQU $1033
0022 1034                    ADR4 EQU $1034
0023 1039                    OPTION EQU $1039
0025                         ; Define some constants
0026 005a                    UPPER_LIMIT EQU 90 ; upper temperature limit
0027 0014                    LOWER_LIMIT EQU 20 ; lower temperature limit
0028 0002                    HOT EQU 2 ; flag value indicating
0029                         ;    temperature  UPPER_LIMIT
0030 0001                    COLD EQU 1 ; flag value indicating
0031                         ;    temperHTTP/1


Progress Reports

Once you have written a successful proposal and have secured the resources to do a project, you are expected to update the client on the progress of that project. This updating is usually handled by progress reports, which can take many forms: memoranda, letters, short reports, formal reports, or presentations. What information is expected in a progress report? The answer to this question depends, as you might expect, on the situation, but most progress reports have the following similarities in content:

  1. Background on the project itself. In many instances, the client (a manager at the National Science Foundation, for instance) is responsible for several projects. Therefore, the client expects to be oriented as to what your project is, what its objectives are, and what the status of the project was at the time of the last reporting.

  2. Discussion of achievements since last reporting. This section follows the progress of the tasks presented in the proposal's schedule.

  3. Discussion of problems that have arisen. Progress reports are not necessarily for the benefit of only the client. Often, you the engineer or scientists benefit from the reporting because you can share or warn your client about problems that have arisen. In some situations, the client might be able to direct you toward possible solutions. In other situations, you might negotiate a revision of the original objectives, as presented in the proposal.

  4. Discussion of work that lies ahead. In this section, you discuss your plan for meeting the objectives of the project. In many ways, this section of a progress report is written in the same manner as the "Plan of Action" section of the proposal, except that now you have a better perspective for the schedule and cost than you did earlier.

  5. Assessment of whether you will meet the objectives in the proposed schedule and budget. In many situations, this section is the bottom line for the client. In some situations, such as the construction of a highway, failure to meet the objectives in the proposed schedule and budget can result in the engineers having to forfeit the contract. In other situations, such as a research project, the client expects that the objectives will change somewhat during the project.



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Progress Reports: updating the client, supporter, or academic department on the progress of the project

Forms vary;

  • memos
  • letters
  • formal reports
  • presentations

Information supplied:

  • background on the project itself (summary of topic, objectives, status at the time of the last report)
  • discussion of achievements since the last reporting
  • problems arised
  • work that lies ahead
  • assessment of objectives in the proposed schedule and budget.

A Sample Progress Report:


Mechanical Engineering Department

Virginia Tech

October 28, 1996

To: Michael Alley

From: Kris Johnson KTJ

Subject: Progress of My Research on the Evacuation of the R.M.S. Titanic



This memo responds to your request on the progress of my research project for ME 4984. As you might remember, my research project was an assessment of the evacuation of passengers from the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14-15, 1912, after it struck an iceberg. As presented in my proposal of October 14, 1996, I identified two principal objectives for the research: (1) assess theevacuation equipment that was available when the ship struck the iceberg, and (2) assess the evacuation procedures during the three hours that it took the Titanic to sink. This memo will first present the research that I have completed so far, including preliminary results. Then this memo will discuss the remaining research and suggest modifications to that research based on information uncovered so far. Finally, the memo will discuss my progress on meeting the original deadlines for the project.

Completed Research

Since submitting my proposal, I have spent most of my research time obtaining and reading sources. My principal source, Titanic: End of the Dream [Wade, 1992], is a book that has required much time to read through. Figure 1 presents a timeline depicting the work done so far. The shaded bars represent work that has been completed. Preliminary research shows that an assessment of the equipment is straightforward. The Titanic did not have nearly enough lifeboats. In fact, it had lifeboats for only about half the 2200 passengers and crewmembers, but this lack of available lifeboats was not unusual for cruise ships at that time [Wade, 1992]. Of more interest from an engineering perspective is an assessment of the procedure the crew used for loading and filling those boats during the three hours that it took for the Titanic to sink. For instance, the first lifeboat that was lowered into the water was at less than half capacity. That low percentage is interesting since almost two-thirds of the passengers and crew went down with the ship. Why were the lifeboats not full? Was it because the crew members were not skilled at filling them? Or was it because the crew had not made the passengers aware of the severity of the situation? Or was it something else? These questions are interesting from the perspective of safety engineering.

Figure 1. Timeline showing progress on research project. The filled bars indicate the work that has been completed. The open bars indicate the work that has yet to be done. The triangles indicate the key milestones:
the formal presentation (November 11) and the formal report (December 6).

Remaining Research

Because preliminary results in the previous section raise interesting questions about the evacuation procedure, I would like to change my research to focus on that evacuation procedure, as opposed to discussing both the evacuation procedure and equipment. By focusing on the evacuation procedures, I believe that I can achieve more depth into a subject that could provide important safety lessons for engineers.

So far, I am on schedule with the research project. The open bars shown in Figure 1 present the timeline of work that I have yet to do to complete my research project by December 6, 1996.

The two triangles indicate the important milestones for the project, the top one being the formal presentation (November 11) and the bottom one being the formal report (December 6). Most of the work remaining involves preparing a presentation on a portion of the research, drafting the final report, and revising the formal report. Because I am choosing a synopsis of the procedures for filling the lifeboats as my presentation topic (a topic that requires the presence of key images that will be used in the final report), I will have a head start on assembling important illustrations for the report.



This progress report has updated you on the status of my research on the evacuation of the R.M.S. Titanic on the night of its sinking. As stated, I am on schedule and should complete the project by the original deadline, December 6, 1996. Because preliminary research has raised interesting questions about the evacuation procedures, I request permission to modify my original objectives, discussed in the proposal, to focus on those evacuation procedures. In doing so, I believe that I will attain depth into an interesting engineering aspect of the Titanic's sinking.<P>


Wade, Wyn Craig, Titanic: End of the Dream (New York: Penguin, 1992).




Instructions tell people how to perform a process. Because processes are so common in engineering, engineers often write instructions. For example, you may have to write specifications to technicians on how to machine a drive shaft, or you may have to write a software manual for computer users on how to run a contour-plotting program. You may even have to instruct the public on the safety precautions for using a snow blower that your company manufacturers. Each of these three examples points to the importance of well-written instructions in engineering. If the specifications for the drive shaft are unclear, your company may have to resubmit the job (at your company's expense). If the software manual is disorganized, users of the program may waste valuable time searching for a command. If the safety precautions for your company's snow blower are ambiguous, someone could be injured. Money, time, and health often depend of the quality of the writing in instructions.

In engineering, the formats of instructions can vary from single-phrase cautions on clothing to thick handbooks on procedures in nuclear submarines. Instructions have four unusual aspects of style. First, instructions often include numbered steps. Using numbered steps with white space between each step allows readers to perform a step of the process and then quickly find their place in the instructions. Also, instructions include the use of the imperative mood, in which the subject is an understood you (for example, "Learn the basic procedures of first aid"). Note that you do not use the imperative mood in every sentence; however, you often use it for important steps. In the language for instructions, you also use cautions to warn readers of difficult or dangerous steps. Finally, with instructions, you use more illustrations or examples than with other types of documents.

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Instructions: telling people how to perform a process


  • technicians or workers of the same company (handbooks)
  • users (user manuals)
  • people (cautions or warnings)

Format varies from a single sentence warning to a thick handbook

Common style:

  • numbered and sufficiently separated steps
  • Use of imperative style (commands, orders) but not at every sentence
  • cautions or warnings on difficult or dangerous steps
  • more illustrations and examples
A Sample Instruction      

How to and More Importantly,
How NOT to Treat a Snakebite

I recently was advised that someone that was bitten by a Copperhead and when treated at the local hospital it was evident that the staff had no idea on how to treat the bite. It was purely by luck that one on the doctors at the hospital (but not part of the A&E staff is a keen herpetologist and knew how to correctly treat a bite. This was after ice was incorrectly used (it shouldn't have been used at all with a snake bite) and the patient after suffering much pain is now recovered.

The information below has been put together from numerous articles (all of them from medical and expert herpetologists). I hope that this article will help to remedy the situation, so that mistakes like the one related above happen less frequently.

Lets cover the most important part first:

What Not To Do

Though U.S. medical professionals may not agree on every aspect of what to do for snakebite first aid, they are nearly unanimous in their views of what not to do. Among their recommendations:

  • No ice or any other type of cooling on the bite. Research has shown this to be potentially harmful. The same applies for  hot  packs.
  • No tourniquets. This cuts blood flow completely and may result in loss of the affected limb.
  • No electric shock. This method is under study and has yet to be proven effective. It could harm the victim.
  • No incisions in the wound. Such measures have not been proven useful and may cause further injury.
  • Do not eat or drink anything unless advised by medical sources.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical activity.
  • Do not drink any alcohol or use any medication.
  • Do not apply oral (mouth) suction to bite.
  • Do not remove dressings/elastic wraps until arrival at hospital and antivenom available.
  • Do not waste time or take any risks trying to kill or catch (to bring in) the snake responsible for the bite.

Arizona physician David Hardy, M.D., says part of the problem when someone is bitten is the element of surprise. "People often aren't trained in what to do, and they are in a panic situation." He adds that preparation--which includes knowing in advance how to get to the nearest hospital--could greatly reduce anxiety and lead to more effective care.

Now let's look at the advice on how to treat snakebite:

First Aid for Snakebites

"In the past five or 10 years, there's been a backing off in first aid from really invasive things like making incisions," says Arizona physician David Hardy, M.D., who studies snakebite epidemiology. "This is because we now know these things can do harm and we don't know if they really change the outcome."

Many health-care professionals embrace just a few basic first-aid techniques. According to the American Red Cross, these steps should be taken:

  • Wash the bite with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart (if possible).
  • Get medical help.

"The main thing is to get to a hospital and don't delay," says Hardy. "Most bites don't occur in real isolated situations, so it is feasible to get prompt [medical care]." He describes cases in Arizona where people have caught rattlesnakes for sport and gotten bitten. "They waited until they couldn't stand the pain anymore and finally went to the hospital after the venom had been in there a few hours. But by then, they'd lost an opportunity for [effective treatment]," which increased the odds of long-term complications. Some medical professionals, along with the American Red Cross, cautiously recommend two other measures:

  • If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, a bandage, wrapped two to four inches above the bite, may help slow venom. The bandage should not cut off blood flow from a vein or artery. A good rule of thumb is to make the band loose enough that a finger can slip under it. The bandage should be a crepe or elastic bandage and should be wrapped as you would for a sprain.
  • A suction device may be placed over the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. Suction instruments often are included in commercial snakebite kits.

What to Tell The Staff at the Hospital

  • Ask Staff to Contact Poison Control Immediately.
  • Locate nearest Antivenom/Antivenin Resource.
  • Ask staff to use physician consultants available through Poison Control.
  • Describe the snake to the consultant so that the correct antivenin can be administered (if needed and one is actually available for that species of snake).

Avoiding Snakebites

Some bites, such as those inflicted when snakes are accidentally stepped on or encountered in the wild are nearly impossible to prevent. But many experts say a few simple precautions can significantly lower the risk of being bitten:

  • Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get a closer look at it.
  • Stay out of tall grass unless you wear thick leather boots, and remain on hiking paths as much as possible.
  • Keep hands and feet out of areas you can't see. Don't pick up rocks or firewood unless you are out of a snake's striking distance. (A snake can strike around half its length)
  • Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.
  • Be aware of which venomous snakes that are common to the area before you set out.

What do you do if you encounter a snake when walking, etc.? All you need to do is simply  walk around the snake, giving it a wide berth, say six foot or so and leave it alone. Whatever you do,  don't try to catch it or annoy it.

Where Can I find Out More?

This article is for informational purposes and no liability is assumed in its use. Always consult with a competent medical professional regarding health related issues. Because of its rarity, some doctors know little or nothing about snakebite management so one should always request that they contact a Poison Control Center and ask to be placed in direct telephone contact/consultation with a physician who is experienced in this area. A number of tragic deaths have occurred due to the lack of medical knowledge about snakebite by staff at many A&E/Hospitals.



Thesis and Dissertations


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In engineering and science, a thesis or dissertation is the culmination of a master's or PhD degree. A thesis or dissertation presents the research that the student performed for that degree. From the student's perspective, the primary purpose of a thesis or dissertation is to persuade the student's committee that he or she has performed and communicated research worthy of the degree. In other words, the main purpose of the thesis or dissertation is to help the student secure the degree. From the perspective of the engineering and scientific community, the primary purpose is to document the student's research. Although much research from theses and dissertations is also communicated in journal articles, theses and dissertations stand as detailed documents that allow others to see what the work was and how it was performed. For that reason, theses and dissertations are often read by other graduate students, especially those working in the research group of the authoring student.

    Dissretation - thesis especially for PhD degree

Content : presentation of the research that the student performed for the degree.


  • student - convince that your work scientific enough to deserve the degree
  • Engineering or scientific community - all of your work is documented

Difference from the journal articles - more detail in thesis

Format. The format of a thesis or dissertation encompasses the layout and typography of the document. For instance, questions of format would include how much line spacing to have (single, space and a half, or double), where to place page numbers (bottom centered, bottom right, or top right), and how to format chapter titles, main headings, and subheadings. For these questions, there is no universal format in engineering and science. For that reason, each student should check the guidelines given at his or her institution.
With a thesis or dissertation, the format also encompasses the names of the sections that are expected: Abstract, Acknowledgments, List of Figures, List of Tables, Nomenclature, Glossary, and References. Given in the following link is a sample table of contents that shows where these sections typically occur in the document.


No universal format:
  • Check the guidelines of your own institution
  • Examine the most recent thesis in your department
  • Get approaval from the authorities before proceeding writing. The change of the format of a 80 page completed thesis is a nightmare for a student. Changes may end up with invisible mistakes!
Style. In a thesis or dissertation, the style is the way in which the author communicates the research. One interesting stylistic consideration concerns how formal the thesis or dissertation should be. In general, theses and dissertations are written in a formal style. For instance, many committees frown upon the use of contractions, such as don't or can't that would be readily accepted in a less formal document such as an e-mail. Another example of the formality of the document is the use of the word you. While this word is commonly used in instructions, it does not appear in theses or dissertations. One reason is that its use is too informal (note, though, that the implied you does appear in clauses such as see Figure 1. In regards to the words I or we, the use depends upon the committee.
Another stylistic question concerns how wide an audience the document should target. Given the purpose of a thesis or dissertation, the primary audience for the document is the thesis or dissertation committee. For that reason, while an author might include appendices and a glossary to reach a wider audience, the text portion of the document is usually aimed for the committee. For that reason, a thesis or dissertation written to a multi-disciplinary committee is broader in style than a thesis or dissertation written to a committee within a single discipline.
Yet a third consideration for theses and dissertations concerns how much depth the author should go into. Certainly, the author should go into enough depth to allow someone to repeat the work. Moreover, the author should provide enough depth that the committee can follow the author's argument. Along those same lines, the author has to provide enough detail to persuade the committee that the work warrants the degree. Some authors, however, go too far in this direction by including details of almost every bolt that they turned. A balance has to be reached, and a good way to determine that balance is to submit a title page, table-of-contents, and sample chapter early in the writing process


    A careful language is necessary for a good style

Wideness (length) dependes on audience (thesis commitee)

  • broader style for a multidisciplinary committee
  • norrower style for a single discipline

Depth (details): enough depth

  •  to allow someone to repeat the work
  • the committee can follow your arguments
  • to convince the committe that the work warrants the degree
  • that there is a ballance (don't convert it to a lab notebook)


A Sample "Contents" Page of a Thesis





Abstract .................................................................................................. ii

Acknowledgments.................................................................................... iii

Nomenclature .......................................................................................... vi

List of Figures .......................................................................................... viii

List of Tables............................................................................................ x

1 Introduction .......................................................................................... 1

2 Literature Review.................................................................................. 7

2.1 Effect of Boundary Layer Thickness on Secondary Flows .................. 8

2.2 Effect of Temperature Gradients on Secondary Flows.........................13

3 Theoretical Analysis of Secondary Flows...............................................18

3.1 Theoretical Development of Classical Secondary Flow........................24

3.2 Effects of Compression and Viscosity on Classical Secondary Flow.... 29

3.3 Methods of Predicting Secondary Losses at the Endwall...................... 32

4 Computational Methods ......................................................................... 37

4.1 Computational Domain......................................................................... 38

4.2 Meshing Procedures............................................................................. 44

4.3 Numerical Simulation Techniques.......................................................... 49

4.4 Computing Resources .......................................................................... 53

5 Experimental Design and Flowfield Measurements ................................... 59

5.1 Test Section Design ............................................................................. 64

5.2 Cascade Inlet Flowfield ....................................................................... 68

5.3 Instrumentation and Flowfield Measurement Techniques........................ 74

6 CFD Benchmarking................................................................................. 80

6.1 CFD Analysis Methods and Definitions................................................. 82

6.2 Grid Independence Study..................................................................... 86

6.3 Comparison of Turbulence Models ...................................................... 95

6.4 Leading Edge Region............................................................................ 104

7 Experimental and Computational Results................................................... 112

7.1 Low-Speed Parametric Study ............................................................... 113

7.2 High-Speed Engine Conditions .............................................................. 123

7.3 Comparison of Low-Speed and High-Speed Conditions......................... 140

8 Conclusions and Future Work................................................................... 152

8.1 CFD Benchmarking ...............................................................................153

8.2 Flowfield Measurements......................................................................... 155

8.3 Parametric Study and Engine Simulations................................................. 158

8.4 Recommendations for Future Work ........................................................ 162

Appendix A: Data for Stator Vane Geometry................................................. 166

Appendix B: Uncertainty Analysis Calculations .............................................. 171

Glossary........................................................................................................ 182

References .................................................................................................... 185






There is no universal recepie for the preparation of a scientific paper. It is possible, however, to state principles and offer suggestions that will encourage any author to present a body of scientific information in a reasonably smooth and coherent form.

There are various resources on this topic. The following discussion was based on:

  • J.S. Dodd (editor), "The ACS Style Guide - A Manual for Authors and Editors", 2nd Ed., American Chemical Society (1977), chapter 7. (On-line version)

Other resources used are:

  • "AIP Style Manual", 4th Edition, American Institute of Physics, Inc. (1990) (On-line version with downloadable PDFs - Perfect and useful for all disciplines)
  • G. Anderson, "How to Write a Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format", Bates College, (2002) (On-line version with a very handy presentation)
  •  P. Fairweather, "Publication as an Academic Way of Life", Daekin University WEB Page (On-line - Perfect in explaining the publication process)

    No universal format


Types of (Journal) Papers

Followings are the types of papers in scientific literature:

  • Articles
  • Notes
  • Communications
  • Reviews
  • Book Chapters

Articles. Articles, also called full papers, are definitive accounts of significant, original studies. They present important new data or provide a fresh approach to an established subject.

The organization and length of an article should be determined by the amount of new information to be presented and by space restrictions within the publication. The standard format is suitable for most papers in this category.

    article = full paper: present new data or provide a fresh approach to an established subject

Organization & length depends on:

  • new information presented
  • space restrictions within publication


Notes. Notes are concise accounts of original research of a limited scope. They may also be preliminary reports of special significance. The material reported must be definitive and may not be published again later. Appropriate subjects for notes include improved procedures of wide applicability or interest, accounts of novel observations or of compounds of special interest, and development of new techniques. Notes are subject to the same editorial appraisal as full-length articles.

    notes: preliminary reports of special significance

They include:

  • improved procedures
  • accounts of novel observations
  • compounds of special interest
  • development of new techniques

Value ≈ full article


Communications. Communications, called “Letters” or “Correspondence” in some publications, are usually preliminary reports of special significance and urgency that are given expedited (accelerated) publication. They are accepted if the editor believes that their rapid publication will be a service to the scientific community. They may also be comments on the work of others, in which case the original authors' rebuttal may be published at the same time. Communications are subject to strict length limitations; they must contain specific results to support their conclusions, but they may not contain polemics or nonessential experimental details.

The same rigorous standards of acceptance that apply to full-length papers also apply to communications. Communications are submitted to review, and they are not accepted if the editor believes that the principal content has been published elsewhere. In many cases, authors are expected to publish complete details (not necessarily in the same journal) after their communications have been published. Acceptance of a communication, however, does not guarantee acceptance of the detailed manuscript.

    Communications = "letters" = "correspondance" : reports of
  • special significance
  • urgency for accelerated publication
  • comments on other articles
  • small length
  • no polemics
  • no nonessential experimental details
  • same standards as articles
  • complete details in another publication


Reviews. Reviews integrate, correlate, and evaluate results from published literature on a particular subject. They seldom report new experimental findings. Effective review articles have a well-defined theme, are usually critical, and present novel theoretical interpretations. Ordinarily, they do not give experimental details, but in special cases (as when a technique is of central interest), experimental procedures may be included. An important function of reviews is to serve as a guide to the original literature; for this reason, accuracy and completeness of references cited are essential. Reviews critically analyze the literature.

  • integrate, correlate and evaluate results from published literature on a particular subject
  • seldom new experimental findings
  • usually no experimental details
  • serves as a guide to original literature
  • critically analyze the literature



Book Chapters. In multiauthored books, chapters may be accounts of original research or literature reviews (like journal articles), but they may also be topical overviews. They may be developed and expanded from presentations given at symposia, or they may be written especially for the book in which they will be published. Multiauthored books should contain at least one chapter that reviews the subject thoroughly and also provides an overview to unify the chapters into a coherent treatment of the subject. In a longer book that is divided into sections, each section may need a short overview chapter.

In books entirely written by one author or collaboratively by more than one author, each chapter treats one subdivision of the broader topic, and each is a review and overview.


    Book chapters:
  • multiauthored books
  • original research, or topical overviews



Publication Process

(Mainly from: "
Publication as an Academic Way of Life")


Top of Page

Step 1: Deciding to submit. Deciding that you have "enough" material to justify a paper is difficult for relatively inexperienced researchers. In this it is best to be guided by your supervisor and your peers. Other issues are the relevance of, and interest in, your results, and whether your approach or results might spark further studies by others.

Become aware of the standards evident in any discipline within which you wish to publish, and compare your work with them. The space in journals is very limited (despite a recent doubling time of only 7 or so years!) and so competition for publication can be fierce. Having a relatively neat and informative story to tell is pretty routine, so you may need to tidy up those loose ends before submitting a manuscript. It is less common for papers to be "prefatory" (i.e. foreshadowing work in progress rather than reporting completed studies), but this does crop up more often in conference proceedings.

From here on it is all proactive - you are going to badger the editor of some journal to publish your manuscript!

    Issues in deciding (guided by your supervisor):
  • amount of material to justify publication
  • relevance of, or interest in your results
  • sparkling results, or approach


  • standards of the discipline
  • limited space in journals
  • competition for publication
  • report of completed work


Step 2: Journal selection. Become aware of the range of journals that publish the sorts of research you are doing. This should be evident from what you read in the library and what ends up in the reference list in your thesis.

You must select the most appropriate one to target. What audience do you wish to reach? Is your work of international, national or purely local significance? Use this domain as criterion for choosing a journal.

There are probably four "types" of journals:

  • disciplinary scientific journals that are refereed, e.g. Australian Journal of Ecology

  • interdisciplinary journals (also refereed), e.g. Environmental Management, Hydrobiologia

  • specialist, professional journals or magazines (not always refereed), e.g. Water (the AWWA journal), Planner

  • special interest or semi-technical but popular magazines read also by the layperson (rarely refereed), e.g. Victorian Naturalist, National Parks Journal

I try to think in terms of the thrust of the message I want to put into each manuscript I write. Note differences of emphasis and subject matter that align roughly with the publishing profile of different journals. For example, some journals publish reports of phenomena with relatively little wider analysis. Others prefer contrasts drawn between your study and previously published cases whilst some limit themselves to tests of established theory or contributions to the body of theory around a subject (including management questions). To see where your manuscript would fit requires, of course, that you are familiar with the journals in your field of study!

After sheer appropriateness, there are other reasons for selecting a journal, e.g. how long does it take to publish accepted manuscripts, is the journal new or expanding, how many reviewers do they use, is it refereed? There is also a pecking order of journals that roughly translates into their rate of rejecting submitted manuscripts. For example, in Nature or Science it is about 85%, about 70% for Ecology and for the Australian Journal of Ecology a bit over 50% (for others left unnamed it is much closer to zero). A higher rejection rate means that editors are being more selective. If many more authors submit manuscripts then the rejection rate can increase and so the journal continues to become "sexier".

Although there are many steps required to successfully publish a research study, the step is selecting a proper journal for publication is very important. Issues to consider include the ‘‘level’’ or ‘‘tier’’ of the journal, the scope and readership of the journal, and whether the journal has published similar studies in the past. If the author selects a journal characterized by extremely stringent peer review and the study is not of sufficient quality and impact, a rejection may end the motivation for resubmission and effectively kill the project or, at the least, it will delay publication in an appropriate venue. Conversely, if the manuscript is submitted to an ‘‘easy’’ journal (a journal that has a reputation for a low rejection rate) and is accepted rapidly, the article may not reach the widest and most appropriate readership, or it may not be published in the highest-quality journal possible, reducing its impact. (DeBehnke et al. "Research Fundamentals: Choosing an Appropriate Journal, Manuscript Preparation, and Interactions with Editors", ACADEMIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE 2001; 8:844–850)

    8500 journals in ISI WebOfScince!

Which one?


  • Audience (international, national, local)
  • Scope
    (very norrow discipline → interdisciplinary)
  • Readership
    (respect in scientific community)
  • Type of journal
    - (refereed disciplinary scientific journal
    - speialist prof. Journal or magazine (not always refereed)
    - interdisciplinary journals (refereed)
    popular magazines (not refereed)
  • Pofile of journal:
    - theory vs application
    - review vs full article
    - etc.
  • publication lag
  • Age of journal
    (young journal ≈ easy acceptance, fast publication!)
  • Rejection rate (selective)

"Tough" or "easy" journal?

Tough journal:
- stringent peer review
- possibility of rejection
- may destroy your motivation

"Easy" journal:
- low rejection rate
- easy acceptance
- may not reach appropriate readers
- reduce ethe impact fo your results



Step 3: Using a journal’s advice to authors. Once you have decided on a journal, you must obtain, study and digest the sheet titled "Instructions to Contributors" (or similar) that is usually located in either the front or the back of each issue (but perhaps not all issues). Copies are also available from the editorial office of the journal or via its Webpage (if it has one). This is designed to guide anyone wishing to submit a manuscript and gives details of the editors' expectations regarding format, style, structure, number of copies, figure preparation, etc. If you do not follow it closely you run the risk of having your MS returned immediately (because it indicates that you haven't thought about your MS in relation to this journal - they might not be suited). Complying with the advice sheet is one of the hoops that you must jump through to gain acceptance for your manuscript.

Alternative Path - Doing it via Conferences. Another way of getting published is to be aware of upcoming conferences and to submit an Abstract about your research. You will then be invited to give an oral paper at the conference (unless your abstract was awful), and perhaps contribute to a Proceedings from the conference. Beware that not all conferences result in publications. Two trends  are becoming more common: review of conference papers is becoming moderately common, especially for international conferences; and conference organizers are arranging with journal editors to publish proceedings as special issues of the journal (in this case the usual refereeing standard of the journal will probably apply, as will the instructions to authors). The other avenue for conference proceedings is as a book, but the quality of, and procedures for, these vary a lot.



Step 4: Writing your manuscript. Now you write your manuscript. Start with the data, getting figures, tables and their interpretation right. Then start to write the MS sections but you don’t have to do that in the order of the finished product. The easiest section is the Methods (ideally you made thorough notes as you did your work!), then the Results, Discussion, Introduction and lastly the Abstract or Summary.

You should be striving to communicate. This involves attempting to avoid ambiguities and to write exactly what you mean as concisely as you can (because few people have as much time to read as they would like). Always choose the simplest construction that fulfils these criteria. Many books (see list at end) give alternatives to the jargon-filled expressions we drift into so easily. The key concepts to keep in mind are:

CLARITY        BREVITY(briefness)       PRECISION       TERSENESS (conciseness)

A good way to get there is to follow George Orwell’s five rules:

  1. never use a long word where a short one will do;

  2. if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out;

  3. never use the passive voice where you can use the active voice;

  4. never use jargon or foreign words if you can think of everyday English equivalents; and

  5. break any of these rules sooner than write anything outright barbarous!

Subsidiary objectives included fluency, consistency, following conventions, hooking the reader’s attention, avoiding annoying quirks and overall appearance. Try to structure your arguments so that they lead somewhere – to your conclusions, of course! Each paragraph should address only one point or maybe a few closely related ones. A practice I use regularly (especially in Discussions, which I find hard to wrote) is to summaries on scraps of paper the point of each paragraph. Then I push these around until a clear and logical order emerges (maybe with splitting or adding some).

You should get used to a draft-feedback-edit cycle of writing. Any piece usually can be improved by some thoughtful and measured consideration on it. Let a draft sit for a day or so before attempting to edit it. This allows time for it to turn over in the back of your mind (often subconsciously, it seems to me) and you will be "fresh" when you return to it.


    Manuscript = MS

The key concepts:

  • Clarity - avoid ambiguities
  • brevity - no unnecessary informaion
  • precission - a scientific presentation
  • terseness - write exactly what you mean as concisely as possible

Also consider:

  • fluency
  • consistency
  • following conventions
  • hooking the reader's attention
  • avoiding annoying quirks (flourishing)
  • overall appearance
  • clear an logical order towards "conclusions"


  • draft
  • feedback
  • edit


Step 5: Getting feedback on your draft. After writing your MS to fit the journal and its Instructions sheet, get feedback on what you have written before you submit it. As a minimum, your supervisor should read everything you write because it is their duty to do so. Also fellow students and staff, and your "significant other" should read and critically comment of your draft. And it is a until you submit it (thence a MS)! Editing what you have written is an iterative process of polishing, polishing and polishing. Refer to books on writing per se.


    Feedback from:
  • your supervisor
  • fellow students
  • fellow staff


Step 6: Preparation checklist. Once you having edited your drafts to your satisfaction, you need to work off a checklist before sending your manuscript away to the journal. Some thoughtful journals provide them for you. As a minimum you should check that: you have all sections of the manuscript in the required number of copies; references appear as pairs in the text and in the reference list (omit all ‘lost’ cases appearing in only one); all tables and figures are as you want them and are referred to in the text; figures are readable at the size they will appear in the journal (a good idea is to submit them at the reduced size); it fits the Instructions to Authors; and you make a clear point with the manuscript. To emphasize this last part, it is wise to give careful consideration to the title and the abstract/summary. These are the parts that create the initial (often only!) impression on the editor, reviewers and potential readers. Communication can only occur after you have sucked them into reading!


  • you prepared all sections
  • number of copies
  • true referencing (reference numbers in text and list)
  • all tables and figures as you want them
  •  figures are of appropriate size
  • consistency with "Instructions to Authrs" of the journal


Step 7: Submitting. Once all the above is right, do you just bundle it off to the journal? Wrong! As well as the several copies and (perhaps) the original figures, you should send a letter of submission to the editor. This serves to open up the lines of communication with the editor, who you will have to deal with extensively over your MS. You can also make the usual declarations that the work is your own and that you have not published it elsewhere (nor have it currently being considered elsewhere). It is also good to inform the editor of any absences from work or the country you may have coming up and to give contact addresses or numbers. I also include a brief justification of why I believe this material suits the journal (= the point of it) - in case the editor can't see the obvious - and point to any novel features of my work. As an editor, I appreciate getting these because it indicates the author(s) has thought carefully about the MS and its submission. The tone of this letter should display a mixture of careful thought, confidence and humility. It is NOT the place for bragging about your work! All this is sent to the journal by the most secure post available to you - you don't want to lose it now - but do keep a complete, final copy for yourself. It is usual for journals to notify receipt of your MS. If this doesn't happen within a month of submission then fire off a politely inquiring letter. After learning that it is being dealt with, just sit back and relax - it is out of your hands now. For a refereed journal, the editor is about to send it out to two or more specialist referees for their advice on whether it should be published.


    Write a letter of submission

Inform the editor:

  • title of the manuscript
  • declarations of originality (it is your work and not published elsewhere)
  • Contact address
  • justification of publication in that journal
  • A serious but not bragging tone


  • Send the package by a "SECURE" post
  • Save a copy to yourself
  • expect a letter of "receival" within one month. If not, ask the editor about the fate.



Step 8: Reviews arrive. Eventually all or part of your MS will be returned by the editor, along with the reviews from the referees (who usually remain anonymous). It is very rare that an editor rejects a MS without review, but take the hint if that happens rather than demand review. Each reviewer will make general comments about the worth of your MS, specific suggestions for changes and perhaps an overall recommendation of its fate. It is usual to feel rather crushed at this point. Yes, someone has threatened your baby that you spent so much time on and now seems so clear and perfect to you. I take a quick look at the reviews then shove them in a drawer for a few days or until the rage subsides. Then I take a cool and rational look at the comments. Usually they turn out to be more helpful than damaging. Consult your supervisor on this.

There are three things to keep in mind:

  1. a good editor either only transmits or emphasizes the important parts of the reviews (i.e. the bits to consider carefully). Therefore you can't ignore them;

  2. bad reviews do happen but it is pretty pointless to argue over anything but errors of fact - the real problem is that you haven't communicated with one reader, the referee, who is usually a researcher of some standing in the field - it is your problem, not theirs; and

  3. the bottom line is, do you want to publish your MS or not? This may seem a little cynical but I usually try to incorporate the suggested changes unless they alter the meaning of my story or they are just plain wrong.

So don't fight an anonymous enemy, respond as best you can to the suggestions and attempt to improve your communication as you go. It is not uncommon for me to go much further than a review suggests and rewrite the whole MS to better make my point. It is also important to know when to desist and so withdraw your manuscript - flogging a dead horse is no good unless you are a sadistic equine-fancier with necrophiliac tendencies!


    You will recieve:
  • all parts of your manuscript
  • Reviewer (referee reports)

Keep in mind:

  • you can't ignore referee comments
  • with bad reviews:
    be calm and never  argue over anything but errors of the fact
  • incorparate the suggested changes unless they alter the whole meaning or they are wrong
  • don't fight. If you realize that your MS is not in the standards of the journal, then withdraw and send to another journal


Step 9: Interacting with the editor. Pay particular attention to suggestions made by the editor. He/she controls the destiny of your MS, can override picky or contentious reviews and is also whether your revised version needs to be sent back to referees. Above all, the editor is concerned with matters of editorial policy for that journal. This ultimate arbiter can also assist where you can't reconcile separate reviews and over issues of the best way to present material (there is usually some preferred format - check recent issues of the journal). Together you can work at improving your MS for publication. Be mindful also that, along with issues of content, the editor also has to ensure that your MS is as concise as possible and fits the journal in matters of style, etc.


    Pay attention to suggestions made by the editor

Step 10: Remember it's an iterative process. The review/revise process may actually take several iterations before all three parties (author, editor, referee) are satisfied with the MS. It is virtually unheard of that a MS is accepted without the need for at least minor changes. A need for minor revision is a good indicator toward eventual acceptance but don't bank on it! A request for a major revision is an opportunity to consider the form of the whole MS, but don't leave it too long or else you run the risk of having it treated as a novel submission in view of your delay. Once you have revised the MS to your satisfaction, send it back with another covering letter outlining how you have responded, the changes made and making your case over any points of disagreement. The editor may or may not send your revision back to the original reviewer(s) for another look, but a detailed letter demonstrating your revisions might just dissuade she or he from embarking on this lengthy further step. You should try to convince the editor but leave out the bulltwang - the editor will read your revision carefully. Each time around the loop you should get closer to acceptance, but you also need to be mindful of when to desist.


    review/revise process: may take several iterations (author, editor, referee cycle)

At least "acceptance with minor changes"

Send with a new cover letter including:

  • how you responded
  • the changes made
  • points of disagreement

Your new MS may not be sent to the referees. Therefore be as "scientist" as possible to convince the editor.


Step 11: Acceptance & then delay. Hopefully after one or more revisions you will receive a letter telling you that the MS has been accepted for publication and perhaps giving some indication of when this will occur. Only from this time can you use the description "in press" for your MS (previously you should refer to it as "unpub.", "in prep." or "submitted"). At acceptance your wishful thinking becomes reality! Be prepared for a variable and perhaps quite long delay before the next stage (your MS is being copy-edited and sent to the presses - in fact it is probably sitting in a queue somewhere waiting to be called).


    You get an "acceptance letter". Consequences:
  • you can cite it (as "in press")
  • wait for the proofs

Step 12: Proofs arrive. The next thing that will happen is that proofs (usually page proofs rather than galleys) of your paper will arrive. You must check the accuracy of these against your MS (many mistakes happen at the typesetting stage) and you should do so very quickly (despite the delay since you last heard anything, most journals have very tight production schedules). To fail to do this or to be tardy runs the risk of either your paper appearing as is, warts & all, or a further delay. The latter usually means an even longer wait till your paper finally appears in print (up to six months if the journal appears only two times a year, 3 months for 4 times, etc.). So send back the corrected proofs ASAP. The best way to proof read is to have someone else read from the MS while you scan every character in the proofs (or vice versa). Exhausting stuff! You can usually only fix errors at this stage without extra fuss and cost. Other changes cost money and cause delay.


    Proofreaing - cheking the accuray against your MS, mainly typesetting:
  • be quick for fast publication
  • someone else read from MS, you scan "every" character in the proofs.
  • major changes is not desired (journal rejects or ask for money)

Step 13: Obtaining reprints. Also at the proof stage is your only opportunity to order reprints of your paper (the electronic templates will be destroyed after the print run). Some journals offer 25 to 50 free reprints but you may wish to get more. I usually get 100. After publication, eager researchers will write to for reprints upon seeing your paper in Current Contents, an abstracting Webpage or on the shelf. It is a courtesy of research for you to provide these free, although they will cost you to get any extra ones. The trade-off is that the arrangement is reciprocal, you can ask for an exchange or can get into the habit of sending out reprint requests yourself. So who should get one? Apart from your supervisor, the School archives and your mum, you should give them to any researcher who you want to impress or just establish contact with. I try to send them to all who send me reprint requests, rationing them so that they definitely go to the third world, recognizably active researchers and up-&-comers first. Be sure to keep about ten reprints for your later use, e.g. as your portfolio in job or promotion applications.


    limited number of free copies are offered.

You should order if you want more in the proof stage.

Step 14: Handling rejoinders. It is also possible that after your paper is published someone decides that they don't like it and so they write what is termed a rejoinder. This is another paper that basically criticizes yours. You do have a right of reply that unfortunately you must insist on with some journals. Although some researchers love this cut-&-thrust (at least you get cited and then you get to write another paper in reply!), you should consider the arguments very carefully. Some replies make the author look quite foolish. We all make mistakes, but you may just have made one in print. Clear up all errors on both sides and try to be gracious about it whichever way it goes. See comments above about dead horses and take counsel from your supervisor.



Components of a Paper

(From: The ACS Style Guide - A Manual for Authors and Editors)

Use the standard format, which is described next, for reports of original research but not necessarily for literature reviews or theoretical papers. Present all parts of your paper as concisely as possible.



Title. The best time to determine the title is after you have written the text, so that the title will reflect the paper's content and emphasis accurately and clearly. The title must be brief and grammatically correct but accurate and complete enough to stand alone. A two- or three-word title may be too vague, but a 14- or 15-word title is unnecessarily long. Choose terms that are as specific as the text permits: “a vanadium-iron alloy” rather than “a magnetic alloy”. Avoid phrases such as “on the”, “a study of”, “research on”, “report on”, “regarding”, and “use of”. In most cases, omit “the” at the beginning of the title. Avoid nonquantitative, meaningless words such as “rapid” and “new”.

Spell out all terms in the title, and avoid jargon, symbols, formulas, and abbreviations. Whenever possible, use words rather than expressions containing superscripts, subscripts, or other special notations. Do not cite company names, specific trademarks, or brand names of chemicals, drugs, materials, or instruments.

The title serves two main purposes: (1) to attract the potential audience and (2) to aid retrieval and indexing. Therefore, be sure to include several keywords. The title should provide the maximum information for a computerized title search.

Series titles are of little value. Some publications do not permit them at all. If consecutive papers in a series are published simultaneously, a series title may be relevant, but in a long series, paper 42 probably bears so limited a relationship to paper 1 that they do not warrant a common title. In addition, an editor or reviewer seeing the same title repeatedly may reject it on the grounds that it is only one more publication on a general topic that has already been discussed at length.

If you cannot create a title that is short, consider breaking it into title and subtitle.


  • reflect paper's content and emphasis
  • accurate and clear
  • brief and gramatically correct but accurate and complete enough to stand alone
  • 5-10 words
  • specific terms
  • avoid jargon, symbols and abreviations
  • should provide the maximum information(keywords) for a computerized search
  • Avoid "series" titles. Some publications do not allow this
  • Break long titles into title and subtitle.

Byline and Affiliation. Include in the byline all those, and only those, who made substantial contributions to the work, even if the paper was actually written by only one person.

Many publications specifically request at least one full given name for each author, rather than only initials. Use your first name, initial, and surname (e.g., John R. Smith) or your first initial, second name, and surname (e.g., J. Robert Smith). Whatever byline you use, be consistent. Papers by John R. Smith, Jr., J. Smith, J. R. Smith, Jack Smith, and J. R. Smith, Jr., will not be indexed in the same place; the bibliographic citations may be listed in five different locations, and ascribing the work to a single author will therefore be difficult if not impossible.

Do not include professional, religious, or official titles or academic degrees.

The affiliation is the institution (or institutions) at which the work was conducted. If there is more than one author, use an asterisk or superscript (check the specific publication's style) to indicate the author or authors to whom correspondence should be addressed. Clarify all corresponding authors' addresses by accompanying footnotes if they are not apparent. If the current address of a corresponding author differs from that at which the work was done, give the author's current address in a footnote.

Also provide the corresponding author's e-mail address and fax number, in addition to postal address and telephone number.


    The names of participants only

Full names with the initials of middle names.

No professional, religious, official or academic titles

Asterks (*) or superscript for

  •  authors from different institutions
  • Authors to whom correspondance should be addressed

Fax and e-mail of corresponding author


Abstract. Most publications require an informative abstract for every paper, even if they do not publish abstracts. For a research paper, briefly state the problem or the purpose of the research, indicate the theoretical or experimental plan used, summarize the principal findings, and point out major conclusions. Include chemical safety information when applicable. Do not supplement or evaluate the conclusions in the text. For a review paper, the abstract describes the topic, the scope, the sources reviewed, an the conclusions. Write the abstract last to be sure that it accurately reflects the content of the paper.

The abstract allows the reader to determine the nature and scope of the paper and helps editors identify key features for indexing and retrieval.

Although an abstract is not a substitute for the article itself, it must be concise, self-contained, and complete enough to appear separately in abstract publications. Often, authors' abstracts are used in Chemical Abstracts. Furthermore, abstracts of full papers submitted to ACS journals will be published in Advance ACS Abstracts several weeks before the journal is published.

The optimal length is one paragraph, but it could be as short as two sentences. The length of the abstract depends on the subject matter and the length of the paper. Between 80 and 200 words is usually adequate.

Do not cite references, tables, figures, or sections of the paper in the abstract. You may refer to equations or structures presented in the body of the paper if they occupy only a single line and can readily be incorporated into the running text when the abstract is used in the secondary literature (e.g.,Chemical Abstracts). Do not include equations and structures that take up more than one line.

Use abbreviations and acronyms only when it is necessary to prevent awkward construction or needless repetition. Define abbreviations at first use in the abstract (and again at first use in the text).


  • readers to determine the nature and scope
  • editors to identify key features for indexing and retrieval

Main features:

  • concise
  • self-contained
  • complete enough for separate publication
  • statement of the problem or purpose
  • indication of theoretical or experimental plan used
  • summary of principle findings
  • safety information
  • no evaluaton of conclusions
  • no citing to references, tables, figures or sections
  • avoid citing the equations
  • avoid abbreviations or acronyms


  • 1 paragraph
  • 2-3 sentences
  • 80-200 words


Introduction. A good introduction is a clear statement of the problem or project and the reasons that you are studying it. This information should be contained in the first few sentences. Give a concise and appropriate background discussion of the problem and the significance, scope, and limits of your work. Outline what has been done before by citing truly pertinent literature, but do not include a general survey of semirelevant literature. State how your work differs from or is related to work previously published. Demonstrate the continuity from the previous work to yours. The introduction can be one or two paragraphs long. Often, the heading “Introduction” is not used because it is superfluous; opening paragraphs are usually introductory.


  • clear statement of problem and the purpose
  • concise background discussion
  • significance, scope and limits of your work
  • disussion of knowns (literature) and unknowns


  • 1 or two paragraphs
  • Heading "Introduction" may be omitted



Experimental Details or Theoretical Basis. In research reports, this section can also be called “Experimental Methods”, “Experimental Section”, or “Materials and Methods”. Check the specific publication. For experimental work, give sufficient detail about your materials and methods so that other experienced workers can repeat your work and obtain comparable results. When using a standard method, cite the appropriate literature and give only the details needed.

Identify the materials used, and give information on the degree of and criteria for purity, but do not reference standard laboratory reagents. Give the chemical names of all compounds and the chemical formulas of compounds that are new or uncommon. Use meaningful nomenclature; that is, use standard systematic nomenclature where specificity and complexity require, or use trivial nomenclature where it will adequately and unambiguously define a well-established compound.

Describe apparatus only if it is not standard or not commercially available. Giving a company name and model number in parentheses is nondistracting and adequate to identify standard equipment.

Avoid using trademarks and brand names of equipment and reagents. Use generic names; include the trademark in parentheses after the generic name only if the material or product you used is somehow different from others. Remember that trademarks often are recognized and available as such only in the country of origin. In ACS publications, do not use trademark (™) and registered trademark (®) symbols.

Describe the procedures used, unless they are established and standard.

Note and emphasize any hazards, such as explosive or pyrophoric tendencies and toxicity, in a separate paragraph introduced by the word “Caution:”. Include precautionary handling procedures, special waste disposal procedures, and any other safety considerations in adequate detail so that workers repeating the experiments can take appropriate safety measures. Some ACS journals also indicate hazards as footnotes on their contents pages.

In theoretical reports, this section is called, for example, “Theoretical Basis” or “Theoretical Calculations” instead of “Experimental Details” and includes sufficient mathematical detail to enable other researchers to reproduce derivations and verify numerical results. Include all background data, equations, and formulas necessary to the arguments, but lengthy derivations are best presented as Supporting Information.


    Other names: "Experimental Methods", Experimental Section","Materials and Methods"


  • materials and methods
  • sufficient detail for "duplicability"
  • only literature citing for standard methods
  • identitiy and purity criteria for chemicals of nonstandard chemicals
  • correct systematic nomenclature
  • company name and model number of nonstandard apparatus
  • description of nonstandard procedures
  • cautions on dangeraous material or procedure (handling procedures, waste disposal procedures)
  • sufficient mathematical detail to enable others to reproduce derivativations and verify numerical results


Results. Summarize the data collected and their statistical treatment. Include only relevant data, but give sufficient detail to justify your conclusions. Use equations, figures, and tables only where necessary for clarity and brevity.


  • data collected and their statistical treatment
  • only relevant data
  • equations, figures and tables


Discussion. The purpose of the discussion is to interpret and compare the results. Be objective; point out the features and limitations of the work. Relate your results to current knowledge in the field and to your original purpose in undertaking the project: Have you resolved the problem? What exactly have you contributed? Briefly state the logical implications of your results. Suggest further study or applications if warranted.

Present your results and discussion either as two separate sections or as one combined section if it is more logical to do so. Do not repeat information given elsewhere in the manuscript.


  • objective interpretation and comparison of results
  • relation of results with current knowledge and your original purpose (have you resolved the problem?, what is your contribution?)
  • statement of logical implications of results
  • suggestions for further study


Conclusions. The purpose of the Conclusions section is to put the interpretation into the context of the original problem. Do not repeat discussion points or include irrelevant material. Your conclusions should be based on the evidence presented.

Summary. A summary is unnecessary in most papers. In long papers, a summary of the main points can be helpful, if you stick to the main points only. If the summary itself is too long, its purpose is defeated.

Acknowledgments. Generally, the last paragraph of the paper is the place to acknowledge people, organizations, and financing. As simply as possible, thank those persons, other than coauthors, who added substantially to the work, provided advice or technical assistance, or aided materially by providing equipment or supplies. Do not include their titles. If applicable, state grant numbers and sponsors here, as well as auspices under which the work was done, including permission to publish.

Follow the journal's guidelines on what to include in the Acknowledgments section. Some journals permit financial aid to be mentioned in acknowledgments, but not meeting references. Some journals put financial aid and meeting references together, but not in the Acknowledgments section.


    Conclusion - putting the interpretation into the context of original problem

Summary - necessary for long articles


  • people with major contributions
  • joint organizations (state grant number)
  • financing

References. In many journals and books, references are placed at the end of the article or chapter; in others, they are treated as footnotes. In any case, place your list of references at the end of the manuscript.

In ACS books and most journals, the style and content of references are standard regardless of where they are located. Follow the reference style presented in Chapter 6.

The accuracy of the references is the author's responsibility. If you copy citations from another source, check the original reference for accuracy and appropriate content.


    References: check "Instructions to Authors" and obey strictly

Special Sections. This discussion on format applies to most manuscripts, but it is not a set of rigid rules and headings. If your paper is well organized, scientifically sound, and appropriate to the publication for which you are preparing it, you may include other sections and subsections. For example, an appendix contains material that is not critical to understanding the text but provides important background information.



Supporting Information. Material that may be essential to the specialized reader but not require elaboration in the paper itself is published as Supporting Information. Examples are large tables, extensive figures, lengthy experimental procedures, mathematical derivations, analytical and spectral characterization data, biological test data for a series, molecular modeling coordinates, modeling programs, crystallographic information files (CIF), instrument and circuit diagrams, and expanded discussions of peripheral findings. More journals are encouraging this type of publishing to keep printed papers shorter.


Equations and Reaction



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Equations should be numbered properly. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Only displayed equations are numbered
  2. The preferred style is to number equations consecutively throughout the text with arabic numerals  in paranthesis: (1), (2), (3). etc. Numbering by section is also acceptable: (2.1), (2.2), (2.3), etc. In appendices use the numbering sequence: (A1), (A2), (A3) etc.
  3. Place equation numbers flash with the right margin. Place at least two characters between equation number and equation. Use a "right alligned tab stop for this purpose in MS Word. To insert such a tab stop follow this menu-click sequence: "Format / Tabs... /"
  4. An equation number should be centered beside a group of equations identified by one number:

  5. It should be alligned with the last line of a multilinear equation:

Equation Editor of MS Word is sufficient enough for most purposes, and equations produced are acceptable by most journals. To insert an equation with Equation Editor, follow this menu-click sequence in MS Word: "Insert / Object.../ Microsoft Equation" 


    equations should be numbered appropriately:
  • right aligned numbering as (1), or (2.1) or (A1)


Tables and Figures

(Mainly from: "How to Write a Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format"


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Every Figure and Table included in the paper MUST be referred to from the text. Use sentences that draw the reader's attention to the relationship or trend you wish to highlight, referring to the appropriate Figure or Table only parenthetically:

"Germination rates were significantly higher after 24 h in running water than in controls (Fig. 4)."

"DNA sequence homologies for the purple gene from the four congeners (Table 1) show high similarity, differing by at most 4 base pairs."

When referring to a Figure in the text, the word "Figure" is abbreviated as "Fig.", while "Table" is not abbreviated. Both words are spelled out completely in descriptive legends.

Figures and Tables are numbered independently, in the sequence in which you refer to them in the text, starting with Figure 1 and Table 1.

In consideration of your readers, place each Table or Figure as near as possible to the place where you first refer to it (e.g., the next page.) For manuscripts (e.g. lab papers), Tables and Figures are usually put on separate pages from text material.

Any Table or Figure you present must be sufficiently clear, well-labeled, and described by its legend to be understood by your intended audience without reading the results section, i.e., it must be able to stand alone and be interpretable. Overly complicated Figures or Tables may be difficult to understand in or out of context, so strive for simplicity whenever possible. If you are unsure whether your tables or figures meet these criteria, give them to a fellow biology major (not in your course) and ask them to interpret your results.

Table legends go above the body of the Table and are left justified; Tables are read from the top down. Figure legends go below the graph; graphs and other types of Figures are usually read from the bottom up.

Following examples show the common anatomy of different tables.Tables are most easily constructed using your word processor's table function or a spread sheet such as Excel. Gridlines or boxes, commonly invoked by word processors, are optional for our purposes, but unlikely to be permitted in a journal.


    Refering in the text: (parenthetically)

Abbreviation: Figures only as "Fig."

Numbering: independently

Place in text: as near as possible to the place where you first refer to it.


  • clear
  • well labeled
  • described by its legend
  • understood without reading the text

Legends (captions):

  • Tables - top-left
  • Figures - below




In these examples notice several things:

  • the presence of a period after "Table #";
  • the legend goes above the Table;
  • units are specified in column headings wherever appropriate;
  • lines of demarcation are used to set legend, headers, data, and footnotes apart from one another.
  • footnotes are used to clarify points in the table, or to convey repetitive information about entries;
  • footnotes may also be used to denote statistical differences among groups.

Below are example figures (typical line and bar graphs) with the various component parts labeled in red. Refer back to these examples if you encounter an unfamiliar term as you read the following sections.







Some general considerations about Figures:

  • Big or little? For course-related papers, a good rule of thumb is to size your figures to fill about one-half of a page. Readers should not have to reach for a magnifying glass to make out the details.
  • Color or no color? Most often black and white is preferred. The rationale is that if you need to photocopy or fax your paper, any information conveyed by colors will be lost to the reader. However, for a poster presentation or a talk with projected images, color can be helpful in distinguishing different data sets. Every aspect of your Figure should convey information; never use color simply because it is pretty.
  • Title or no title? Never use a title for Figures included in a paper; the legend conveys all the necessary information and the title just takes up extra space. However, for posters or projected images, where people may have a harder time reading the small print of a legend, a larger font title is very helpful.
  • Offset axes or not? Elect to offset the axes only when data points will be obscured by being printed over the Y axis.
  • Error bars or not? Always include error bars (SD or SEM) when plotting means. In some courses you may be asked to plot other measures associated with the mean, such as confidence intervals.



Common Types of Graphs

Bar Graphs:

In this example notice that:

  • legend goes below the figure;
  • a period follows "Figure 1" and the legend itself; "Figure" is not abbreviated ;
  • the measured variable is labeled on the Y axis. In most cases units are given here as well (see next example);
  • the categorical variable (habitat) is labeled on the X axis, and each category is designated;
  • a second categorical variable (year) within habitat has been designated by different bar fill patterns. The patterns must be defined in a key, located wherever there is a convenient space within the graph.
  • error bars are included, extending +1 SD or SEM above the mean.
  • statistical differences may be indicated by a system of letters above the bars, with an accompanying note in the caption indicating the test and the significance level used.

Frequency Histogram. Frequency histograms (also called frequency distributions) are bar-type graphs that show how the measured individuals are distributed along an axis of the measured variable.

Notice several things about this example:

  • the Y axis includes a clear indication ("%") that relative frequencies are used. (Some examples of an absolute frequencies: "Number of stems", "Number of birds observed")
  • the measured variable (X axis) has been divided into categories ("bins") of appropriate width to visualize the population distribution. In this case, bins of 0.2 cm broke the population into 7 columns of varying heights. Setting the bin size at 0.5 cm would have yielded only 3 columns, not enough to visualize a pattern. Conversely, setting the bin size too small (0.05 cm) would have yielded very short columns scattered along a long axis, again obscuring the pattern.
  • the values labeled on the X axis are the bin centers;
  • sample size is clearly indicated, either in the legend or (in this case) the graph itself;
  • the Y axis includes numbered and minor ticks to allow easy determination of bar values.



X,Y Scatter plot. These are plots of X,Y coordinates showing each individual's or sample's score on two variables.

Note in this example that:

  • each axis is labeled (including units where appropriate) and includes numbered and minor ticks to allow easy determination of the values of plotted points;
  • sample size is included in the legend or the body of the graph;
  • if the data have been analyzed statistically and a relationship between the variables exists, it may be indicated by plotting the regression line on the graph, and by giving the equation of the regression and its statistical significance in the legend or body of the figure;
  • the range of each axis has been carefully selected to maximize the spread of the points and to minimize wasted blank space where no points fall. For instance, the X axis is truncated below 50 g because no plants smaller than 52 g were measured. The ranges selected also result in labeled ticks that are easy to read (50, 100, 150…, rather than 48, 96, 144…)



X,Y Line Graph. Line graphs plot a series of related values that depict a change in Y as a function of X.

Notice here that:

  • this time the dots ARE connected dot-to-dot within each treatment, because cumulative percent germination was measured within the same set of seeds each day, and thus is dependent on the measurements of the prior days;
  • a different symbol is used for each treatment, and symbols are large enough (and connecting lines fine enough) so that all can be easily read at the final graph size;
  • in addition to the key to symbols, two other kinds of helpful information are supplied in the body of the figure: the values of the highest and lowest final cumulative percents, and a dashed line (baseline) showing the lowest cumulative % germination achieved. This baseline is defined in the legend.





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Short declarative sentences are the easiest to write and the easiest to read, and they are usually clear. However, too many short sentences in a row can sound abrupt or monotonous. To add sentence variety, it is better to start with simple declarative sentences and then combine some of them than to start with long rambling sentences and then try to shorten them.

You and your colleagues probably have been discussing the project for months, so the words seem familiar, common, and clear to you. However, the readers will not have been part of these discussions. That is where copy editors can help. Their job is to make sure that readers understand the material you are presenting.

By all means, write in your own personal style, but keep in mind that scientific writing is not literary writing. Scientific writing serves a purpose completely different from that of literary writing, and it must therefore be precise and unambiguous.

If English is not your first language, ask an English-speaking colleague--if possible, a native English speaker--for help with grammar and diction.

Choosing the Correct Word or Phrase

 Use words in their primary meanings; do not use a word to express a thought if such usage is uncommon, informal, or primarily literary. Examples are using “since” when you mean “because”, and “while” when you mean “although”. Many words are clear when you are speaking because you can amplify your meaning with gestures, expressions, and vocal inflections--but when these same words are written, they may be clear only to you.

 Use appropriate verb tenses.

  • Simple past tense is correct for stating what was done, either by others or by you: “The solutions were heated to boiling.” “The spectra were recorded.” “Jones reviewed the literature and gathered much of this information.” “We recently found that relativistic effects enhance the bond strength.” “The structures were determined by neutron diffraction methods.”
  • Present tense is correct for statements of fact: “Absolute rate constants for a wide variety of reactions are available.” “Hyperbranched compounds are macromolecular compounds that contain a branching point in each structural repeat unit.”
  • Present and simple past tenses may both be correct for results, discussion, and conclusions: “The characteristics of the voltammetric wave indicate that electron transfer and breaking of the carbon-iodine bond are concerted.” “The absence of substitution was confirmed by preparative-scale electrolysis at a potential located at the foot of the voltammetric wave.” “IR spectroscopy shows that nitrates are adsorbed and are not removed by washing with distilled water.”

  Use the active voice when it is less wordy and more direct than the passive.

Poor:  The fact that such processes are under strict stereoelectronic control is demonstrated by our work in this area.
Better:  Our work in this area demonstrates that such processes are under strict stereoelectronic control.

  Use first person when it helps to keep your meaning clear and to express a purpose or a decision.

Jones reported xyz, but I (or we) found . . .
I (or we) present here a detailed study . . .
My (or our) recent work demonstrated . . .
To determine the effects of structure on photophysics, I (or we) . . .

However, avoid phrases such as “we believe”, “we feel”, “we concluded”, and “we can see”, as well as personal opinions.

  Use an affirmative sentence rather than a double negative.

Instead of Consider using
This reaction is not uncommon
This reaction is common
This reaction is rare
This reaction occurs about 40% of the time
This transition was not unexpected This transition was expected
We knew that such transitions were possible
This strategy is not infrequently used This strategy is frequently used
This strategy is occasionally used
This result is not unlikely to occur This result is likely to occur
This result is possible

  Watch the placement of the word “only”. It has different meanings in different places in the sentence.

Only the largest group was injected with the test compound. (Meaning: and no other group)

The largest group was only injected with the test compound. (Meaning: and not given the compound in any other way)

The largest group was injected with only the test compound. (Meaning: and no other compounds)

The largest group was injected with the only test compound. (Meaning: there were no other test compounds)

  Be sure that the antecedents of the pronouns “this” and “that” are clear. If there is a chance of ambiguity, use a noun to clarify your meaning.

Ambiguous:  The photochemistry of transition-metal carbonyl complexes has been the focus of many investigations. This is due to the central role that metal carbonyl complexes play in various reactions.

Unambiguous: The photochemistry of transition-metal carbonyl complexes has been the focus of many investigations. This interest is due to the central role that metal carbonyl complexes play in various reactions.

  Use the proper subordinating conjunctions. “While” and “since” have strong connotations of time. Do not use them where you mean “although”, “because”, or “whereas”.

Poor: Since solvent reorganization is a potential contributor, the selection of data is very important.
Better: Because solvent reorganization is a potential contributor, the selection of data is very important.

Poor: While the reactions of the anion were solvent-dependent, the corresponding reactions of the substituted derivatives were not.
Better: Although the reactions of the anion were solvent-dependent, the corresponding reactions of the substituted derivatives were not.

Also: The reactions of the anion were solvent-dependent, but (or whereas) the corresponding reactions of the substituted derivatives were not.

  Use “respectively” to relate two or more sequences in the same sentence.

The excitation and emission were measured at 360 and 440 nm, respectively. (That is, the excitation was measured at 360 nm and the emission was measured at 440 nm.)

  Use the more accurate terms “greater than” or “more than” rather than the imprecise “over” or “in excess of”.

greater than 50%, not in excess of 50%
more than 100 samples, not over 100 samples
more than 25 mg, not in excess of 25 mg, not over 25 mg

  Use “fewer” to refer to number; use “less” to refer to quantity.

fewer than 50 animals
fewer than 100 samples

less product
less time
less work

  However, use “less” with number and unit of measure combinations because they are regarded as singular.

less than 5 mg
less than 3 days

  Use “between” with two named objects; use “among” with three or more named or implied objects.

Communication between scientists and the public is essential.
Communication among scientists, educators, and the public is essential.
Communication among scientists is essential.

  Choose “assure”, “ensure”, and “insure” depending on your meaning. To assure is to affirm; to ensure is to make certain; to insure is to indemnify for money.

He assured me that the work had been completed.
The procedure ensures that clear guidelines have been established.
You cannot get a mortgage unless you insure your home.

  Choose “affect”, “effect”, and “impact” depending on your meaning. “Affect” is a verb meaning to influence, modify, or change. “Effect” as a verb means to bring about, but as a noun it means consequence, outcome, or result. “Impact” is a noun meaning a significant effect.

The increased use of pesticides affects agricultural productivity.
The use of polychlorinated benzenes has an effect on the cancer rate.
The effect of the added acid was negligible.
The new procedure effected a 50% increase in yield.
The impact of pesticide use on health is felt throughout the world.
The acid did not have a great impact on the reaction rate.

  It is acceptable to use split infinitives to avoid awkwardness or ambiguity.

Awkward: The program is designed to assist financially the student who is considering a career in chemistry.
Better: The program is designed to financially assist the student who is considering a career in chemistry.

Ambiguous: The bonded phases allowed us to investigate fully permanent gases.
Better: The bonded phases allowed us to fully investigate permanent gases.

  Use “whether” to introduce at least two alternatives, either stated or implied.

I am not sure whether I should repeat the experiment.
I am not sure whether I should repeat the experiment or use a different statistical treatment.
I am going to repeat the experiment whether the results are positive or negative.

  Use “whether or not” to mean “regardless of whether”.

Incorrect: I am not sure whether or not to repeat the experiment.
Correct: I am not sure whether to repeat the experiment.
Also correct: Whether or not the results are positive, I will repeat the experiment.
Also correct: Whether or not I repeat the experiment, I will probably leave the laboratory late tonight.

  Use “to comprise” to mean “to contain” or “to consist of”; it is not a synonym for “to compose”. The whole comprises the parts, or the whole is composed of the parts, but the whole is not comprised of the parts. Never use “is comprised of”.

Incorrect: A book is comprised of chapters.
Correct: A book comprises chapters.
Also correct: A book is composed of chapters.

Incorrect: Our research was comprised of three stages.
Correct: Our research comprised three stages.


  Choose the articles “a” and “an” according to the pronunciation of the words or abbreviations they precede.

a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer
an NMR spectrometer

  Use “a” before an aspirated “h”; use “an” before the vowel sounds of a, e, i, o, “soft” u, and y.

a house
a history
but an hour
an honor
a union
a U-14C
but an ultimate
an ylide
an yttrium compound

  Choose the proper article to precede B.A., B.S., M.A., M.S., and Ph.D., according to pronunciation of the first letter.

a B.S. degree
an M.S. degree
a Ph.D.


  Introductory phrases that imply comparisons should refer to the subject of the sentence and be followed by a comma.

Incorrect: Unlike alkali-metal or alkaline-earth-metal cations, hydrolysis of trivalent lanthanides proceeds significantly at this pH.
Correct: Unlike that of alkali-metal or alkaline-earth-metal cations, hydrolysis of trivalent lanthanides proceeds significantly at this pH.
Also correct: Unlike alkali-metal or alkaline-earth-metal cations, trivalent lanthanides hydrolyze significantly at this pH.

Incorrect: In contrast to bromide anion, there is strong distortion of the free fluoride anion on the vibrational spectroscopy time scale.
Correct: In contrast to bromide anion, the free fluoride anion is strongly distorted on the vibrational spectroscopy time scale.

  Use the verb “compare” followed by the preposition “to” when similarities are being noted. Use “compare” followed by the preposition “with” when differences are being noted. Only things of the same class should be compared.

Compared to compound 3, compound 4 shows an NMR spectrum with corresponding peaks.
Compared with compound 3, compound 4 shows a more complex NMR spectrum.

  Do not omit words needed to complete comparisons, and do not use confusing word order. The subordinating conjunction “than” is often used to introduce the second element in a comparison, following an adjective or adverb in the comparative degree.

Incorrect: The alkyne stretching bands for the complexes are all lower than the uncoordinated alkyne ligands.
Correct: The alkyne stretching bands for the complexes are all lower than those for the uncoordinated alkyne ligands.
Also correct: The alkyne stretching bands are all lower for the complexes than for the uncoordinated alkyne ligands.

Incorrect: The decrease in isomer shift for compound 1 is greater in a given pressure increment than for compound 2.
Correct: The decrease in isomer shift for compound 1 is greater in a given pressure increment than that for compound 2.
Also correct: The decrease in isomer shift in a given pressure increment is greater for compound 1 than for compound 2.

  Idioms often used in comparisons are “different from”, “similar to”, “identical to”, and “identical with”. Generally these idioms should not be split.

Incorrect: The complex shows a significantly different NMR resonance from that of compound 1.
Correct: The complex shows an NMR resonance significantly different from that of compound 1.

Incorrect: Compound 5 does not catalyze hydrogenation under similar conditions to compound 6.
Correct: Compound 5 does not catalyze hydrogenation under conditions similar to those for compound 6.

Exception: These idioms can be split if an intervening prepositional phrase modifies the first word in the idiom.

The single crystals are all similar in structure to the crystals of compound 7.
Solution A is identical in appearance with solution B.

  Phrases such as “relative to”, “as compared to”, and “as compared with” and words such as “versus” are also used to introduce the second element in a comparison. The things being compared must be in parallel structure (that is, grammatically equal).

The greater acidity of nitric acid relative to nitrous acid is due to the initial-state charge distribution in the molecules.
The lowering of the vibronic coupling constants for Ni as compared with Cu is due to configuration interaction.
This behavior is analogous to the reduced Wittig-like reactivity in thiolate versus phenoxide complexes.


  Use coordinating conjunctions (“and”, “but”, “or”, “nor”, “yet”, “for”, and sometimes “so”), correlative conjunctions (“either, or”; “neither, nor”; “both, and”; “not only, but also”; “not, but”), and correlative constructions (“as well as”; e.g., “as well as”) to connect words or groups of words of equal grammatical rank.

Incorrect: Compound 12 was prepared analogously and by Lee's method (5).
Correct: Compound 12 was prepared in an analogous manner and by Lee's method (5).

Incorrect: It is best to use alternative methods both because of the condensation reaction and because the amount of water in the solvent increases with time.
Correct: It is best to use alternative methods both because of the condensation reaction and because of the increase in the amount of water in the solvent with time.

Incorrect: The product was washed either with alcohol or acetone.
Correct: The product was washed with either alcohol or acetone.
Also correct: The product was washed either with alcohol or with acetone.

Incorrect: Not only was the NiH functionality active toward the C-donor derivatives but also toward the N donors.
Correct: The NiH functionality was active not only toward the C-donor derivatives but also toward the N donors.
Also correct: The NiH functionality was not only active toward the C-donor derivatives but also active toward the N donors.
Also correct: Not only was the NiH functionality active toward the C-donor derivatives, but it was also active toward the N donors.

  Use parallel constructions in series and lists, including section headings and subheadings in text and tables and listings in figure captions.

  Do not try to use parallel construction around the word “but” when it is not used as a coordinating conjunction.

Increasing the number of fluorine atoms on the adjacent boron atom decreases the chemical shift, but only by a small amount.
The reaction proceeded readily, but with some decomposition of the product.

Words and Phrases To Avoid

  Avoid slang and jargon.

  If you have already presented your results at a symposium or other meeting and are now writing the paper for publication in a book or journal, delete all references to the meeting or symposium such as “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen”, “This morning we heard”, “in this symposium”, “at this meeting”, and “I am pleased to be here”. Such phrases would be appropriate only if you were asked to provide an exact transcript of a speech.

  Be brief. Wordiness obscures your message, annoys the reader, and displeases the publisher because the resulting lengthy paper is more expensive to produce and to print.

  • Omit phrases such as

    As already stated
    It has been found that
    It has long been known that
    It is interesting to note that
    It is worth mentioning at this point
    It may be said that
    It was demonstrated that

  • Omit excess words.
    Instead of Use
    It is a procedure that is often used. This procedure is often used.
    There are seven steps that must be completed. Seven steps must be completed.
    This is a problem that is... This problem is...
    These results are preliminary in nature. These results are preliminary.
  • Use single words instead of phrases.
    Instead of Use
    a number of many, several
    a small number of a few
    are in agreement agree
    are found to be are
    are known to be are
    at present now
    at the present time now
    based on the fact that because
    by means of by
    despite the fact that although
    due to the fact that because
    during that time while
    fewer in number fewer
    for the reason that because
    has been shown to be is
    if it is assumed that if
    in color, e.g., red in color just state the color, e.g., red
    in consequence of this fact therefore, consequently
    in length long
    in order to to
    in shape, e.g., round in shape just state the shape, e.g., round
    in size, e.g., small in size just state the size, e.g., small
    in spite of the fact that although
    in the case of... in..., for...
    in the near future soon
    in view of the fact that because
    is known to be is
    it appears that apparently
    it is clear that clearly
    it is likely that likely
    it is possible that possibly
    it would appear that apparently
    of great importance important
    on the order of about
    owing to the fact that because
    prior to before
    reported in the literature reported
    subsequent to after

  Do not use contractions in scientific papers.

Incorrect: The identification wasn't confirmed by mass spectrometry.
Correct: The identification was not confirmed by mass spectrometry.

  Do not use the word “plus” or the plus sign as a synonym for “and”.

Incorrect: Two bacterial enzymes were used in a linked-enzyme assay for heroin plus metabolites.
Correct: Two bacterial enzymes were used in a linked-enzyme assay for heroin and its metabolites.

  Do not use “respectively” when you mean “separately” or “independently”.

Incorrect: The electrochemical oxidations of chromium and tungsten tricarbonyl complexes, respectively, were studied.
Correct: The electrochemical oxidations of chromium and tungsten tricarbonyl complexes were studied separately.

  Avoid misuse of prepositional phrases introduced by “with”.

Poor: Nine deaths from leukemia occurred, with six expected.
Better: Nine deaths from leukemia occurred, and six had been expected.

Poor: Of the 20 compounds tested, 12 gave positive reactions, with three being greater than 75%.
Better: Of the 20 compounds tested, 12 gave positive reactions; three of these were greater than 75%.

Poor: Two weeks later, six more animals died, with the total rising to 25.
Better: Two weeks later, six more animals died, and the total was then 25.

  Do not use a slash to mean “and” or “or”.

Incorrect: Hot/cold extremes will damage the samples.
Correct: Hot and cold extremes will damage the samples.

  Replace “and/or” with either “and” or “or”, depending on your meaning.

Incorrect: Our goal was to confirm the presence of the alkaloid in the leaves and/or roots.
Correct: Our goal was to confirm the presence of the alkaloid in the leaves and roots.
Also correct: Our goal was to confirm the presence of the alkaloid in either the leaves or the roots.
Also correct: Our goal was to confirm the presence of the alkaloid in the leaves, the roots, or both.

Gender-Neutral Language

The U.S. government and many publishers have gone to great effort to encourage the use of gender-neutral language in their publications. Gender-neutral language is also a goal of many chemists. Recent style guides and writing guides urge copy editors and writers to choose terms that do not reinforce outdated sex roles. Gender-neutral language can be accurate and unbiased and not necessarily awkward.

The most problematic words are the noun “man” and the pronouns “he” and “his”, but there are usually several satisfactory gender-neutral alternatives for these words. Choose an alternative carefully and keep it consistent with the context.

  Instead of “man”, use “people”, “humans”, “human beings”, or “human species”, depending on your meaning.

Outdated: The effects of compounds I-X were studied in rats and man.
Gender-neutral: The effects of compounds I-X were studied in rats and humans.

Outdated: Men working in hazardous environments are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities.
Gender-neutral: People working in hazardous environments are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities.

Outdated: Man's search for beauty and truth has resulted in some of his greatest accomplishments.
Gender-neutral: The search for beauty and truth has resulted in some of our greatest accomplishments.

  Instead of “manpower”, use “workers”, “staff”, “work force”, “labor”, “crew”, “employees”, or “personnel”, depending on your meaning.

  Instead of “manmade”, use “synthetic”, “artificial”, “built”, “constructed”, “manufactured”, or even “factory-made”.

 Instead of “he” and “his”, change the construction to a plural form (“they” and “theirs”) or first person (“we”, “us”, and “ours”). Alternatively, delete “his” and replace it with “a”, “the”, or nothing at all. “His or her”, if not overused, is not terribly unpleasant.

Outdated: The principal investigator should place an asterisk after his name.
Gender-neutral: Principal investigators should place asterisks after their names.
Gender-neutral: If you are the principal investigator, place an asterisk after your name.
Gender-neutral: The name of the principal investigator should be followed by an asterisk.

However, do not use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.

Incorrect: The principal investigator should place an asterisk after their name.

  Instead of “wife”, use “family” or “spouse” where appropriate.

Outdated: The work of professionals such as chemists and doctors is often so time-consuming that their wives are neglected.
Gender-neutral: The work of professionals such as chemists and doctors is often so time-consuming that their families are neglected.

Outdated: the society member and his wife
Gender-neutral: the society member and spouse



(This section was mainly based on: "Giving a Talk - Guidelines for Presentation and Presentation of Technical Seminars" by F.R. Kschischang, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto (On-line including the PDF version)

``Studies show that fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of dying. I guess this means that most people at a funeral would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy...''
..................Jerry Seinfeld


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Often in your career you will be faced with the prospect of ``giving a talk,'' that is, making an oral presentation before an audience. These notes are a collection of a few simple guidelines for preparing and delivering a ``talk.'' The basic principles are applicable in defense of your thesis, at conferences, in giving research progress reports and the like.


  • Course presentations
  • Thesis defence
  • conferences
  • seminars


The Basics

Define your message. If you have nothing to say, you cannot give an effective talk. Assuming that you do have something to say, it is important to identify at the outset just what it is that you are trying to communicate. Write down a short list of important points that you want to make (no more than 3 or 4). These points are often called the ``take-away message,'' that is, the message that the audience should be receiving if your presentation is to be effective. Your entire presentation should focus on presenting the take-away message in a clear and convincing way. Guard against making your take-away message overly complex, as this will only overwhelm the audience.

    know what you have to say:
  • write a list of (3-4) important points (take-away messages)
  • focus on these messages only
  • be clear, precise
  • avoid being overly complex


Know your Audience. To be effective, your talk must be delivered at a level that is appropriate for your audience. You must analyze the background and expectations of the audience to deliver the take-away message in the most effective manner. This may mean modifying the take-away message, if the concepts involved are beyond the level of your audience.

Knowing your audience, you can begin to decide how much background material is needed to deliver your take-away message effectively. Your audience will influence your choice of vocabulary (technical jargon) and may even influence how you dress!

  • deliver at a level that is appropriate for your audience (background, expectations)
  • language + dress


Prepare well. The best way to give the impression that you know what you are talking about, is really to know what you are talking about. This means that you should understand your subject well, and be able to answer related questions. On the other hand, it is impossible for any one speaker to be able to answer all questions that might be asked. There is no shame in answering ``I don't know'' to a question that is asked---in fact, this answer is preferable to an incorrect or misleading reply, or a ``stab in the dark.''

Of course you must know when and where your presentation is to be held, and, if necessary, what specialized audio-visual equipment (slide projectors, videocassette recorders, etc.) is available. You can usually count on the availability of the ubiquitous (overhead) viewgraph projector. Discover that your pens are dried out before your presentation! Technical presentations invariably rely on some sort of visual aid, usually slides or viewgraphs. (Whatever they are, they will be called slides in these notes.) More will be said about preparing these later.

You should find out how long you are required to speak, and aim to have your presentation fit within the allotted time. One good way to judge the presentation time is to rehearse your presentation ahead of time. Another method is to count slides; if you know your average rate of going through the slides, this can work quite well. The author uses the ``one simple slide per minute'' rule of thumb; most people use fewer. Experiment to determine your own rate. If, for some reason, you find yourself running out of time, don't be afraid to skip slides.

It is a good idea to keep your slides well organized in a folder, binder, or notebook during your presentation. This allows for easy retrieval during the question period, when, almost inevitably, somebody will ask you to put up a slide from your presentation.

You may want to prepare three or so back up slides for anticipated questions. Such slides could present interesting details that are peripheral to the main chain of reasoning, for example. It is also handy to have a couple of blank slides around, so that you have something to write on when have to explain something not covered in your other slides.

You might want to practice your presentation at least once before a friendly (or simulated unfriendly) audience a couple of days before your presentation. Talking to a mirror can also help, but even better is a tape recorder, since you can play it back and hear yourself as others will hear you.

    Best impression: you know what you are talking about
  • understand your subject
  • easy reply to questions (there is no shame "I don't know" though)
  • when and where is the presentation? What tools you nee for presentation? Are all OK?
  • purpose and length of presentation should match (rehersals + counting the slides and your rate per minute- usually 1 slide/min or less)
  •  organize slides for easy retrieval
  • prepare extra slides for anticipated questions
  • prepare blank slides or another tool for answering questions by writing
  • practice at least once with a friendly audience days before
  • Practice in front of a mirror, or using a tape recorder may help


Delivering Your Presentation

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Tell them what you're going say... An effective way to emphasize the take-away message is to repeat it several times during your talk---without seeming repetitious, of course. This can be accomplished by presenting an outline of your talk at the beginning. After presenting the arguments that support your take-away message, you can recap these points at the end of your talk.

A typical outline for a talk looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Conclusions

where points 1-3 represent the take-away message. Some speakers like to return to the outline slide after each point is covered, to show the logical progression through the talk.

The outline almost invariably contains some type of introduction as the first point. Whether the audience is a group of experts in the field or a group of novices, all audiences require some type of introduction to your topic. Such an introduction will attempt to place the subject of the talk into a wider context; it will also sometimes review some of the background material (e.g., history, terminology, and notation) needed to understand the talk. For an audience of non-specialists, the introduction may take up as much as half the time of the talk. Always start with what you know the audience knows, to make them comfortable at the beginning.

The points of the outline should be organized in logical fashion, so that point 2 follows logically from point 1, point 3 from point 2, and so forth. Try to plan the talk with an easy-to-follow storyline. To catch audience attention, you can feed them interesting tidbits to be explained later in the talk.

Avoid trying to dazzle your audience with impressive looking equations or complicated lines of reasoning. Your aim should be to educate, not to impress. Even the most seasoned expert in the field will not be impressed by an unintelligible, overly detailed presentation.

    For emphasis: repeat the take away messages (in different forms) several times. You can do it at different sections of the talk:
  • Introduction
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Conclusions

Outline - a type of introduction

Supply a background. For a nonspecialized audience, introduction may take up half of your talk

Start with what audience knows to make them comfortable

Follow a logical order in organizing the discussion of different topics

Avoid "impressive looking equations" or "complicated lines"

Your purpose: to educate the audience not to impress. (this is the best way of impressing others)




Say it... Once you have placed the subject of your talk into the proper context and have reviewed the necessary background material, it is time to convey the essence of each of the points in your take-away message in an effective manner. This is where you will spend most time, but it may not be the part that the audience will remember most.
     Follow your outline. Present, in the simplest way possible, the arguments that support each point in your outline. A useful rule of thumb is to use a new slide for the presentation of each new idea, or argument. More on this later.

    convey the essence of each take-away message in an effective manner

Follow the outline.

The rule of thumb: a new slide for the presentation of each new idea.


Tell them what you have said.. At the end of your presentation, it is a good idea to recap the take-away message. The usual way to do this is to provide a summary slide, with the take-away message shown in point form. This summary will usually conclude your presentation, except in the case of thesis presentations, where it is typical to provide some suggestions for further work. If appropriate, you can invite the audience to ask questions at this point.


    Recap the take-away messages at the end of the talk

Provide a summary slide for this purpose

Provide some further suggestions for future work

Invite the audience to ask questions if appropriate.


Preparing Slides
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One slide, one simple idea. As already stated, each slide shown in your presentation should have a simple message. It is important not to crowd too many ideas onto a slide as this inhibits understanding. Text is best presented in point form. Try for the maximum impact with the fewest words---like newspaper headlines. If you write complete sentences, you will invariably simply recite them to the audience word for word, tuning your audience out completely. Using point form on your slides, you can elaborate verbally without distracting your audience from your main message.

Avoid overcrowded ``eye exam'' slides. And show the whole slide at once! Covering up parts of your slide with opaque paper is no help---the audience will just get curious about what's hiding underneath, and lose track of your message.

Try summarizing each slide on a single line, e.g., in a box at the bottom of the slide, or by posing a simple question at the top of each slide. This will allow audience members with wandering attention spans to ``recalibrate'' themselves with your presentation.

    one slide = one simple message

maximum impact with fewest words (like newspaper headlines)

No need for complete sentences (you may lose your audience) but point text form.

Avoid overcrowded (eye-exam) slides

Show the whole slide at once, not by parts

Try summarizing each slide on a single line.

Use lots of pictures, few equations. Pictures are worth thousands of words---the more pictures you have, the better. My colleague Glenn Gulak suggests the following rule of thumb: never, without good reason, use more than two slides in a row with no pictures.

Don't make your diagrams too complicated. Use simple block diagrams; each simple block can be expanded upon in later slides if necessary.

Graphs are the most useful way to present relationships between variables. Briefly show an equation, if you must, but spend the most time presenting graphs obtained from the equation. Similarly, graph numerical data rather than presenting numbers in tables. Always label the axes of a graph, and always explain the physical meaning of the variables being plotted, at least the first time that a graph of this particular type is shown. Try to keep the same scale and size on graphs of a similar type; this will allow for easy comparison. Avoid graphs with many different curves. Include enough curves to make your general point---you can always claim that other curves are similar to the ones you show. Use contrasting colors to separate curves, even if it means coloring a computer-generated slide by hand.

    Pictures = thousands of words

Use simple diagrams. Details can be given in later slides.

Graphs are very effective for presentation of relationships

Use minimum time for equations, more time for graphs:

  • prefer graphs to tables
  • label the axes properly
  • explain the variables
  • use the same scale and size for all graphs of similar type
  • avoid graphs with many different curves (enough to explain your point)
  • use contrasting colors to separate curves (not dashed etc, as in journal articles)


The mechanics of Slide Preparation. Many effective presentations can be made with hand-printed slides. The advantages of hand-printed slides are that they can be prepared fairly quickly, and without specialized equipment (i.e., you can write them on an airplane, or in your hotel room the night before your presentation). You can also easily introduce color into your presentation. The main disadvantage is that you have to be extremely neat. If you cannot print neatly, then this method is not for you. Another disadvantage of the hand-printing method is that you might give your audience the impression that you did not have time to prepare adequately, i.e., that you wrote them on the airplane, or in your hotel room the night before the presentation.

Most computer-generated slides are prepared by photocopying printer output directly onto transparencies.  Slides can be prepared using your favorite word-processing package---just remember to use a large font (point-size 14 or more). Avoid too many font changes; use simple, easy to read fonts (Helvetica or another sans serif font) for headings and labels. If you use LaTeX, you may want to use the
slides document class, a version of LaTeX specialized for slide production. Watch for unwanted hyphenation; generally, text on slides should not be hyphenated.

Figures can be hand-printed, or computer generated, whichever looks best (or is most convenient). Many of the computer drawing packages can be used to create both the text and pictures for each slide. Finally, don't forget that you can always ``cut-and-paste'' the different elements of a slide, each of which can be generated in the most convenient way.


    Many ways of slide preparation:
  • Hand-printed slides (easy to prepare and add colour, difficult to be neat)
  • Photographic slides (effective but impossible to do last minute changes and difficult to print)
  • Computer projection slides (perfect impression, easy editting and last minute changes, easy organization, requires skills to use the software!)
Other Useful Tips
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Relax... Try not to be nervous or intimidated by your audience. Give the appearance of calm confidence, and focus all your energy and concentration on the message in your presentation. If you are focused on your talk and not your nervousness, so will your audience be.

Some inexperienced speakers will attempt to memorize their talk, or read it from a prepared text. One word of advice: don't! If you need to refer to a set of notes, put them in point form, not in complete sentences, or you will find yourself reading them out. The best method is to use your viewgraphs or slides as visual cues as to the points you would like to make. If you keep each slide simple---one idea to a slide---nothing will be forgotten.

At the start, determine the best place to stand so that you are not blocking the projection or somebody's view. When placing a slide on the projector, make sure that you look back at the screen to see that all is visible, and adjust the slide if necessary. It is best to point at the screen, if possible, rather than at the projector. The projector moves if you get too friendly with it. If you must point at the projector (if the screen is too far away, for example) be sure to keep the pointer steady. Also, don't fiddle with your pointer, as telescoping it in and out really detracts from what you are saying. Don't fumble with your slides. Throw away ``tissue paper'' separators before your presentation.

Remember to focus on your audience, not on the projector. Aim to speak slowly and with enough volume to reach the person in the audience who is farthest away. Look around, they won't bite, and you can see whether your points are sinking in. Interact with the audience. Ask them if they are following you, or ask them simple questions to see if they are. Liven them up a bit.

Take control of the questions, during or after the talk. Try to steer the topic back on track, otherwise audience participation can drive things far away from the main points of the talk. Take discussions off-line if they are consuming too much time or will not readily be resolved. Feel free to interrupt debates among audience members; after all, it's your talk!

Humor can make a big difference, especially in dry technical talks. Try to lighten it up a bit; especially after some particularly heavy going. Cartoons can be an effective way to draw parallels with points you are trying to make. Even short verbal asides, rhetorical questions, or anecdotes can go a long way to keeping up audience interest.

  • give the appearance of calm confidence
  • focus on your talk not on your nervousness
  • never memorize your talk or read from the text. Put your notes in point form not complete sentences.
  • "one iea to slide" rule prevents forgetting
  • stand in the best place in the room (do not block projection or others' view)
  • Control each slide (correct focus, correct vision)
  • Focus on your audience, not the projector)
  • speak slowly and with enough volume
  • interact with the audience
  • have eye-contact evenly with everybody
  • Take control of the questions.
  • Audience questions may divert the topic. Feel free to interrupt debates or stop talking or questioning irrelevant topics
  • Add some humor (carttons, short verbal asides, anecdotes etc.,)

Learn by observation. In university, you are in a particularly good position to observe others giving presentations. Take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that others make, and borrow (steal) techniques that you find effective. Watch carefully for methods used by your lecturers that improve your understanding. Be careful, though, that you don't pay so much attention to the medium that you lose the message.


    observes others' merits and mistakes in their presentations.

(Based on "Discussion Ethiquette" by Jannan Sherman, Department of History, University of Memphis (On-line)


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Learning to participate as an effective listener and contributor during discussions isn't easy.   At times, we all may have difficulty listening well to others and contributing our own ideas.  Finding meaningful things to say about what they've read, as well as participating as an active member of the discussion, requires skills that many students have not yet developed.

Discussions done well take a good deal of work--and working together-- in order to accomplish our goal of learning together.

The point of this class--of all learning-- is to employ the materials in an open-minded way, eager for new ideas and new ways of thinking, engaging with others' interpretations, both from the material and from other students who have absorbed this set of materials and processed them differently. We all bring ideas and opinions and accepted wisdom about many of these topics. That's fine. There is no truly "objective" observer of history. But learning also involves--indeed, primarily involves--interrupting accepted wisdom, pre-conceived notions and already-arrived-at conclusions. It involves considering other points of view carefully and examining the evidence used to arrive at those points of view before accepting or dismissing them--instead of simply debating our own positions against one another.

My point here is not to squelch discussion or disagreement. On the contrary, I want to encourage broader participation, more engagement--to explore together.

To that end, a few suggestions:



Being an active member of the discussion requires skills and time

discussion: working together for learning together

never convert discussions to debates

be open-minded, eager for new ideas and new ways of thinking, engaging with others' opinions

Being objective is not easy:

  • considering other points of view carefully
  • examining the evidence used to arrive those points of view before accepting or dismissing




Discussion leaders: Consider yourself as a guide leading us through the complexities of the readings. Design questions that solicit information about major themes and ideas, seeming contradictions, differing conclusions etc. to help us make connections. Ask questions that invite discussion, that cannot be answered yes or no. Ask a question, then stop and wait for a response. This is not the place to share what you have learned from this process, but to encourage the group to do those things. This is one discussion during which you will say little, if anything, about your own positions and conclusions. Your goal is to keep the discussion on task and encourage broad participation.

Try to avoid "how do you feel about..." and "what do you think about..." questions. What students think will come out as we discuss the material. Asking that kind of question directly solicits personal opinions and conclusions. Those can and will enter the discussion but not until we are all on the same wavelength and have explored what the material says about the topic. This should be pursued before we decide what we think it means.

Finally, learn to tolerate a bit of silence. Ask your question and then wait. Give people a chance to process what you have asked. If students need clarification about what you mean, let them ask you.


    - goal: keepng the discussion on task and encourage broad participation:
  • act as a guide
  • ask questions that invite discussion
  • do not dominate the discussion

Participants: Respond with references to the readings and what thoughts they stimulated for you, and perhaps add a question of your own. Try to avoid setting up a conversation with me that shuts out the rest of the group. Let me also encourage those of you who are more articulate--who love to debate the finer points, who are confident that you have the answer--to please hesitate, provide a bit of space and silence now and then for more reticent students to gather their thoughts and join in the conversation without having to shout their way into it. Please remember that class participation means not only the ability to talk, but also the ability to listen. To those who have difficulty participating: watch for those spaces, use them to discuss not only your conclusions but your uncertainties. Ask questions, ask for clarification, ask what if or how come.

My vision of this class is as a forum that helps us to learn about America since 1945 from primary sources, secondary sources, and each other. Let's all work together to open the deliberation to everyone.


The following table has been taken from Teaching Students How to Discuss, (primary school students!) and lists the elements of a good discussion manner as a participant:


Looks Like

Sounds Like

Active Listening

Eyes on speaker
Hands empty

Sit up

Mind is focused

Face speaker
Speaker's voice only
Paying attention

Appropriate responses

Voices low

One voice at a time

Active Participation
(respond to ideas and share feelings)

Eyes on speaker
Hands to yourself

Hands empty

Talking one at a time

Head nodding 
Appropriate responses
Follow off others' ideas

Nice comments

Positive attitudes

Asking Questions
for Clarification

Hands empty
Positive, nice questions
Polite answers

Off Others' Ideas

Paying attention
Positive, nice talking
Wait for people to finish

Disagreeing Constructively

Nice face
Nice looks
Polite responses
Quiet voices

No put downs

Focused on Discussion
(body posture and eye contact)

Eyes on speaker
Hands empty

Sit up

Face speaker

Mind is focused
Speaker's voice only
Appropriate responses

Voices low

Supporting Opinions
with Evidence

One person talking
Attention on the speaker
One voice

Encouraging Others

Prompt people to share
Ask probing questions
Positive responses