Manuscript Checklist (a.k.a. “a semi-exhaustive list of manuscript issues that annoy Julie”)

I hope that everyone who comes to my group will walk away a better writer. But along with that comes some nit-picky issues that you should remember.

  • ALWAYS put a space between a number and unit, except for percent.
    • Example: 5 mL NOT 5mL.
    • Example 2: 100 oC NOT 100oC and NOT 100o C.
    • Example 3: 100% NOT 100 %.
  • Use a non-breaking space between numbers and units.
  • Use a non-breaking space between genus and species.
  • Never put in a line break where using a non-breaking carriage return would accomplish the task. If you change the paper a non-break carriage return will look right, a page break will be wrong if you forget to move it.
  • Ensure that if you used an abbreviation that you defined it once, and only once, when it was first introduced. Then always use it throughout.
  • Proofread you references. Fix problems in Endnote, not the document. For instance, go to the Endnote reference and italicize genus/species for Pubmed downloaded citations.

Write for a higher level undergraduate, or 1st year graduate student, who doesn’t have access to Wikipedia or a dictionary. That is about the same as an exhausted assistant professor with a grant due next week who is reviewing your paper an hour before it is due.

  • Don’t use a fancy word when a simple word or phrase would suffice.
  • Never utilize utilize when you can use use.
  • Use use, don’t utilize utilize. (It is worth saying twice, isn’t it?).
  • Try to use quantify, not quantitate. Quantitate is jargon.
  • Get rid of jargon. If I have to use Wikipedia or google to read your paper, it isn’t well written.
  • If you need to use a non-standard word, make sure to casually define it.
    • Example: Dung beetles are copraphagous since they eat dung.

There are some general rules that will just make everything more clear, but aren’t necessary the rule for humanities and social science where most of us learn to write.

  • Always use the Oxford common, in my group it is NOT OPTIONAL:
    • Example: “A panda walks into a bar and eats, shoots and leaves” is different from “A panda walks into a bar and eats, shoots, and leaves.”
  • If you are connecting ideas or thoughts that are more than three words using a conjunction make sure to LETTER them; don’t number them. And put the letter between two parentheses, not just before a “closed” parenthesis. While in literature “1), 2), 3)” can be used, in science this is often very confusing, particularly when the journal uses numbered references.
  • Get rid of all cases where you have two spaces (even where I introduced them in edits).
  • Use the formatting in word! Don’t use a tab to start a paragraph make Word work for you! Never use spaces to line up text.
  • Never use possessive unless you must. Can a worm really possess something, in the way possessives are meant? I believe that this anthropomorphizes organisms, which is a slippery slope we all traverse to frequently.
    • Example: “The biology of B. malayi” NOT B. malayi’s biology.
  • Never use “’s”, unless it is possessive.
    • Example: “In the 1970s” NOT “In the 1970’s.”
  • If it is possessive the rule is that you just put an apostrophe if it is plural, NOT if it ends in an “s.”
    • Example: “Moses’s basket” NOT “Moses’ basket.”
  • Gram is a guy’s name, so it is Gram-positive or Gram-negative.
  • Only capitalize proper nouns. Computer programs are not necessarily proper nouns, nor are databases.
  • While you may have learned to avoid split infinitives, you can (and should) split verbs. Don’t make a sentence unwieldy by trying not to split your verb. Otherwise you may find yourself like Chief Justice Roberts, who was forced to issue the oath of office twice for our first black President because he tried to impromptu fix a split verb. Even split infinitives are controversial with no convention on what is right or wrong, despite so many high school and college instructors who religiously harp on this.

An annoyed reviewer is never a good thing.

  • Always add page numbers. (This is the one I have the most trouble following).
  • Single space drafts you give me because I print them out, but double space the one you submit and add line numbers. Even if the journal doesn’t require it, it makes it so much easier to handle the reviews later.
  • Make sure the methods are past tense throughout.

Science is international, but you are in the US. So…

  • Never use British spellings. Never use A4 paper. Always use the American dictionary in Word.

In general, it is a good practice to make sure:

  • There are >2 paragraphs on each page, if single spaced.
  • There are no more than 8 sentences in a paragraph.
  • Each paragraph has a main sentence and it is near the beginning of the paragraph.
  • Each paragraph flows into the next. If you read it backwards, it should actually still make sense.
  • You aren’t writing a mystery novel.
  • You aren’t writing a work of literature that has alternate endings that are left up to the reader.
  • The last paragraph of the introduction states, “Here we [Insert method/result/conclusion]”. The word “we” should not appear ahead of time.
  • You do NOT OVER-cite and do NOT UNDER-cite. Know your audience. You get six references for a science brevia. A typical paper has 30-60 references. It definitely should not have <20 or >100. Use GOOD reviews when you can. If there isn’t a good review you can use, consider writing one.

I know that when you signed up for this, no one told you that you had to be an artist too.

  • Make your figures the size they should appear in the journal, which the correct font sizes and such.
  • NEVER make a figure in Powerpoint! Always use Illustrator for lines and save as eps and Photoshop for pictures and save as tiff. This essentially means that you should use Illustrator unless you are doing microscopy.

Wolbachia-specific problems

  • Never use genus by itself. Yes I know this is really annoying since the field that studies bacteria in the Wolbachia genus does not assign species names. But until they do, it is Wolbachia endosymbiont or Wolbachia bacteria or Wolbachia something. Be conservative and always consider Wolbachia an adjective. And it is not enough to say in the paper that the genus of Wolbachia lacks species definitions, therefore I will use Wolbachia as a noun.