Bodil Holst
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
2015 | 180pp | £19
ISBN 9781516886265
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survival guide

I’d argue that few scientists found writing their first paper a pleasant experience. You might have asked yourself questions like: How do I tackle this seemingly impossible task? Why has my supervisor given me more corrections? And what is the deal with reviewer three?

But fear not, young PhD student, Bodil Holst’s Scientific paper writing: a survival guide comes to the rescue. And it is by no means pejorative when I say the book does exactly what it says on the tin. 

The book is packed with practical tips and examples, many taken from Holst’s own papers, with her dry humour and honesty making it highly readable. Scientific paper writing contains four sections, starting off with a guide to peer review, impact factors and how to choose the right journal. I particularly liked the breakdown of measuring impact beyond simply using impact factors.

The largest section is devoted to the writing process. Holst dissects a publication’s individual parts, from the title to the acknowledgements. There is a strong focus on what makes for an effective abstract and central message – perhaps a writer’s biggest challenge. Holst argues that everybody can learn how to write a great abstract by applying a sort of cooking recipe. She presents several examples, which, containing fictional science, are both entertaining and insightful. 

The book’s latter part discusses the submission process. Holst tackles issues such as how to write a letter to an editor and addressing referee comments without losing your head.

Scientific paper writing is also furnished with illustrations by Jorge Cham, the creator of PhD Comics. Both Cham’s full-page Tales from the road comics and shorter cartoons are hilarious, giving the reader a break from the book’s informative but very condensed content. 

Unfortunately, there are some problems with the page layout that make the text in the full-page comic strips quite small and hard to read. Holst does, however, call for feedback, made possible by the book’s print-on-demand model, so hopefully this will be remedied in future editions.

While the book won’t help more advanced authors develop their own style, it will give newcomers a practical toolkit and an honest insight into the world of scientific publishing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to find their way through the often impassable publishing jungle.

Listen to our book club podcast for an interview with author Bodil Holst and our thoughts on how to survive in the publishing jungle