Many a PhD student was overjoyed to hear that his results will be published, only realising that despite all ‘mock paper’ style assays, (s)he doesn’t know how. It is usually done “show me the first draft and I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it”. This is especially daunting if English is not your first language. But there are books to help you with this.
One of them is ‘How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper’ (HWPSP – I love an abbreviation as the next biologist and the book recommends to use an abbreviation if the item is mentioned more than 3 times in an article). I have access to the 6th edition of and the 7th exists already, so it must be one of the better ones. And should be, written by two Professors – R. A.Day taught courses in scientific writing to under- and postgraduate students at the University of Delaware and B. Gastel teaches several subjects including Biotechnology at Texas A&M University.
Some titles oversell the book, ‘How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper’ undersells it. The book is not only a comprehensive guide written in very clear language to the usual sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion (according to the book authors it has a handy mnemonics IMRAD). HWPSP also gives an overview of almost all writing occasions a scientist could meet, starting with posters, conference communication, CV, cover letter, thesis writing and finishing with book chapters, grants, recommendation letters writing. There is also a valuable chapter on scientific style, including a sub-chapter on English as a foreign language. The wide coverage means that there is not many details and some of the content is just common sense, but rare person suffers from the surplus of the practicality.
The literature list at the back will help you to find more details about particular aspects of scientific writing. For example I read the relevant part of HWPSP and then found an article about how to write a book review. I don’t know if my review is better than the earlier ones, but I feel more confident in writing them now.
Get your PI to buy the book for the lab – it will save a lot of students small embarrassments of starting letters with Dear Sir (Madame), which ruined countless chances for an interview and increase chances of your poster winning an award. Or you may like it so much that you buy it yourself and it’ll accompany you in your future career – no section on writing Nobel Prize speeches, but I think this is amply compensated by the great humor and pictures: I wish I knew where to get something like this for my articles.