FINSIGHTS- TRANSLATING SCIENCE OF FISHERIES SCIENCE #2
by Sascha Clark Danylchuk
The writing style of scientific manuscripts makes many people cringe. The use of the passive voice (scientists rarely use “I” or “we”) and the density of the writing can make scientific papers difficult to follow. Similarly, discerning the important aspect of the study can be tricky because scientists go to extremes to avoid adjectives and subjectivity and almost everything written is given equal credence. I’ve put together a brief description of the major parts of a scientific manuscript and what to look for in each section for improved comprehension.
Abstract: brief summary of the study and its findings. This is the place to start to see if a paper might be relevant and interesting.
Introduction: background of pertinent previous studies, and goals and hypothesis for the present study. From the introduction you should understand the motivation for the study. It’s also a great place to find references to other studies that might be of interest.
Methods: a description of the study process, with enough detail so that another person or research team could replicate it. This can be very dry, and it’s supposed to be that way.
Results: a description of the findings and the results of statistical analyses. This can be confusing unless you have a good grasp of statistics. Look for terms like “statistically significant” to recognize what is important. The figures and tables (graphs, maps, and diagrams) will also highlight notable trends and findings, however there is a definite skill to figuring out what is scientifically meaningful.
Discussion: an objective interpretation of the results and statistics, and how the findings add to our understanding of the subject matter. A good discussion should key in on the results that are the most meaningful. The discussion also often covers the limitations of the study, which are important for understanding how broadly the findings can be applied (e.g. does this apply to all trout, only brook trout, or only brook trout in New York?).
When I read a manuscript, I usually spend most of my time on the abstract, introduction and discussion. It’s these sections that get to the core of the subject matter and provide most of the type of information that an angler would find interesting.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that each study and corresponding manuscript is an incremental step in addressing a large subject matter. Rarely can any one study tackle all questions, but put together, over time, scientists strive to find complete answers to complex problems.
Sascha Clark Danylchuk