No paper should be a puzzle

28 September 2017

Did you ever feel that reading a paper was like trying to solve a puzzle? I did.

During my PhD I read a lot. My study species was the subject of tens of thousands of papers, and I was convinced that I'd find what I'd need somewhere in those musty old reprints and heavy volumes that came from the library shelves. It was easy to believe that the authors of those papers had set great puzzles for me to try to understand their content. The realisation that this is not the best form of communication came as a personal epiphany some years ago.

“The goal of good writing is straightforward: to make your reader's job as easy as possible” Kevin W. Plaxco (2010).

This great quote from a paper by Plaxco (2010) cuts to the heart of why it’s essential to write well. As an editor, I once experienced an author who thought the opposite, and for me this was an epiphany. The submitted manuscript was an impenetrable mess. I could tell that there was good work in there, but as an editor I felt that the information had been made so obscure by the authors that my readers were unlikely to get much out of it. The author was a colleague, and so I decided to phone him and chat about the need for much greater clarity in his manuscript. Experience with email has taught me that they can often be taken in the wrong way; usually in the worst possible way.

The response I got surprised me. The author recognised that his text was dense and was unapologetic. “Let the reader work to make sense of my data,” he said. My epiphany came not because this was a totally alien concept, but because during my PhD days this was exactly how I had thought scientific writing should be done. I had spent so many hours slogging through dense and dreary papers by well-respected figures. The reward when I finally understood what it was that they were trying to communicate felt so great that I believed the puzzle they had set me was what I should set my own readers. Happily, my advisor didn’t feel the same way, but for years I continued to believe that a paper should be a decent puzzle for my readers to crack.

There are still authors out there who attempt to set puzzles for their readers, but they aren’t in the mainstream any more. Instead, biological sciences has some inspiring writers, and many more are taught how to inspire future generations towards communicating great science. That’s not to say that there are no puzzles left. Much of what we do requires great puzzle solving abilities. However, let’s keep the puzzles away from communicating with our audience, make their job as reader easy or even pleasurable, and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Plaxco, K.W., 2010. The art of writing science. Protein Science19, 2261-2266.

  Lab  Writing

What's in a name?

23 September 2017

Species names (Latin or common), taxonomic authorities and acceptable conventions

There are quite a few conventions that it’s worth knowing about when it comes to using names. When talking about common names, it is a bit of a quagmire as there are few standards that are followed by all journals. Scientific names can also be in great flux, but at least there is definitive help. Here I will outline my interpretation of what’s what in using names.

Scientific names

There is only one valid scientific name for a species. This is expressed in a binomial: two names, first the genus (with an initial capital letter) and then the species name (lower case). This name is italicised by convention (or in some cases underlined). The single name is a hard rule as taxonomy can’t survive in any other way. The most recently published version is the one to use, but happily with both reptiles ( and amphibians ( there are well curated databases to which you can refer for the latest taxonomic treatments. My suggestion is that you defer to these (with acknowledgement) and you won’t go far wrong. If you do this early on in your thesis, you may need to update it later.

Consider Mac’s example:

When Mac started his PhD in 2013 he worked on three species, and over time these changed so that at various points in his thesis he had the following combinations:

Amietophrynus rangeri
Amietia angolensis
Xenopus laevis
Amietophrynus rangeri
Amietia quecketti
Xenopus laevis
Sclerophrys capensis
Amietia delalandii
Xenopus laevis

The taxonomy of two species changed such that he had to constantly revise the names in his thesis. Luckily, he could simply conduct a “replace all”, but it did become quite confusing. The lesson is that if you want to avoid this, work on Xenopus laevis or conduct your PhD in as short a time as possible!

In taxonomic papers, and certain journals with a taxonomic focus, there is an insistence that you cite the “taxonomic authority” after the species name when used for the first time. This is essentially a citation in which you acknowledge the original description that accompanies the name. Let’s take Mac’s examples again:

Sclerophrys capensis Tschudi, 1838

Amietia delalandii (Duméril and Bibron, 1841)

Xenopus laevis (Daudin, 1802)

It might seem that there’s a mistake above, because Tschudi, 1838 isn’t in brackets. This is actually deliberate. Tschudi, 1838 isn’t in brackets because the genus name hasn’t changed since the description by Tschudi placed S. capensis in Sclerophrys  in 1838. But it is clear in the table above that the genus name did change to Amietophrynus, and it was recognised under a different species name (A. rangeri). Unlikely as it may seem, the original description of the species was by Tschudi in 1838, but this was long forgotten (or ignored because the type specimen was so poorly preserved), and the species was regularly referred to as Bufo rangeri. When the genus Bufo was broken up into lots of newly named genera by Frost et al 2006, Tschudi’s description was once again disregarded. However, in 2016 new work on the type specimen revealed that it was the same as Amietophrynus rangeri, but because Tschudi’s description was older, the taxonomy deferred to the rule of precedence. If you want to read more about it, you can look at all the changes on the AMNH database.

To clarify, the use of brackets around the taxonomic authority only happens when the species is no longer in the genus in which it was originally placed by the person who described the species. Daudin (1802) originally described Bufo laevis, and Duméril and Bibron (1841) originally described Rana delalandii.

The generic name of a Latin binomial is often abbreviated to the first letter (e.g. X. laevis). This should only be done once it is well established in your writing what the full name is. Or, in other words, you should refer to the species in full on the first mention, and then switch to the abbreviation. Because sentences shouldn’t start with an abbreviation, you might need to relax this from time to time. You also need to treat the abstract as a stand-alone document in this respect. You might find that you have two species, which belong to different genera that share the same first letter. In this case, most authors use a different abbreviation: for example Ap. rangeri and At. angolensis. Keen readers would have noticed that Mac doesn’t have this problem any more!

I have seen some comments that suggest that once a generic name is abbreviated in a paper, it shouldn’t be written in full again. In my opinion, this is rather a silly idea. It is up to you (the writer) to avoid ambiguity. If there is no ambiguity, then you may write the species name in full to increase the readability of your piece.

Lastly, there is a convention that when referring to the generic name alone you should always mention that it is a genus. So you shouldn't write about those Bufo which hop around the house, but instead about those members of the genus Bufo that hop around the house.

Common names

Common names have a different set of problems to those that we’ve seen for scientific names. These are largely focussed on: what name to use, and whether or not to capitalise the common name.

  1. What name to use - This is tricky. My suggestion would be to take the most commonly used common name, as that’s likely to be the one that most people will recognise. However, it’s not always that simple and because there’s no “correct” common name, you have some leeway to choose the one you prefer.

Let’s take an example: The African Clawed Frog is a very widely used name for Xenopus laevis which is used all over the world as the model amphibian. However, African Clawed Frogs is also the commonly accepted name for the entire genus, Xenopus. Thus, shouldn’t we avoid using this for the species X. laevis? So, let’s look at the alternatives. Frost (2017) lists 13 common names for this species. Names such as Platanna and Common Platanna are difficult to use in scientific papers as they are only regularly used in South Africa. Clawed Toad is not appropriate, as it is not a toad, a confusion that dates right back to Daudin’s 1802 description. Clawed Frog has the same problem as African Clawed Frog, and other variants such as Upland Clawed Frog and Smooth Clawed Frog also seem inappropriate as this species is neither confined to uplands or the only member of the genus which is smooth (although ‘laevis’, the species name, does mean ‘smooth’).

There has been a recent movement to formulate common names into genera (or even families) such that the specific common name takes on a specific epiphet of the generic or familial common name. In a world of stable taxonomy (such as that enjoyed by ornithologists), I can understand that this is possible. But imagine the requirements in common name changes for Mac in his thesis over only a few years. Surely the useful thing about common names is that they are used commonly by normal people who don't worry about taxonomy? If we insist on common names constantly changing, don't we risk alienating the public?

I eventually decided to use ‘African Clawed Frog’ as this is the most widely recognised common name for this species. It does become an issue when writing about X. laevis and other Xenopus species (as we have), but we’ve managed to resolve this without too much difficulty.

  1. Should common names have capitals?

View 1. Common names are proper nouns and proper nouns start with capitals.  The Western Leopard Toad is not any toad, and the African Clawed Frog isn’t any frog.  The Cape platanna is any platanna living in the Cape, but the Cape Platanna is Xenopus gilli! In this last example, you can see how capitalisation reduces ambiguity and differentiates between adjectives and nouns.

View 2. Common names are not formal names (like scientific names) so why does it matter? Many journals do not capitalise common names and insist on lower case unless they are proper nouns, like African in African clawed frogs. This seems to have arisen from editors who dislike superfluous capitalisation.

On balance, I’d say that it’s likely that your usage will be dictated by the policies of the journal.

  Lab  Writing

Why do I need to cite?

20 September 2017

Why do I need to cite? Standing on the Shoulders of Giants...

Have you ever wondered what the blurb on the front of Google Scholar means? Who is standing on whose shoulders?

Essentially, it's a recognition that all research is built upon research that has gone before it, and this is the basis for citations in the text of scientific papers. Patrick Dunleavy  argues that citations are required to meet 7 criteria with respect to academic writing.

Interestingly, although the phrase is often attributed to Isaac Newton, it turns out that Newton got it elsewhere:

If we dwell a moment longer, we can look back at the World's first scientific journal: Philosophical Transactions 

You can download the first of those papers of 1665 and note that there are no citations (other than to books or letters) because there were no previously published articles from which to draw. However, even then authors noted that ideas came from previous authors and we can recognise that acknowledgement back to Aristotle.

Research is built on existing work and ideas

It would therefore be very unlikely that your idea/ideas has no basis in existing literature. If you can’t find it, the chances are that you haven’t looked in the right way. Try Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science and vary the search terms or try searching for articles citing something similar. There are lots of ways to search, but maybe that's another blog post for another day.

Citations demonstrate to readers where your ideas have come from. Citations can also be used to reduce what you need to write – especially with respect to methodology. If you (or others) have already provided the methodology in full then you can give a much simpler description and the citation.

Where to cite?

Automatically, I'd suggest that you cite whenever you write. Using citations becomes habit forming, and you’ll end up wanting to use citations everywhere. Popular scientific writings tend not to have citations, but they can still be there but subtly different. Have a look at this example from The Conversation.

Within a manuscript for a scientific journal or in your thesis, you can expect that your introduction and discussion sections are going to be full of citations. The methodology may also have citations, and these can often save you needing to write a lot of sections which would otherwise be very detailed (see above).

Where within a sentence should the citation come?

There are a number of different styles, and this is likely to depend on the journal that you are writing for. The standard way is to use the name and year in parentheses at the end of the statement to which the citation is relevant.

The impact of all invasive amphibians is similar to that of invasive birds and mammals (Measey et al. 2016).

You’ll see that sometimes the names are brought into the sentence and become the central agents of the text. The phrase et alii (often abbreviated to et al.), literally means "and others" referring to the other authors (typically used when there are more than two - but check the journal format!). 

Sometimes, instead of "et al." you can write "and colleagues" or "and others". This is something to do occasionally when you are looking to diversify some text. Don't over do it though.

Measey et al. (2016) found that the impact of invasive amphibians is comparable to that of birds and mammals.

This technique is very useful when you then want to add another sentence or two about this same study.

Measey et al. (2016) found that the impact of invasive amphibians is comparable to that of birds and mammals. They did this by constructing GISS scores for all individuals in all groups. 

Because the authors are the subjects of the first sentence, the citation becomes implicit in the second sentence.  Then you don’t need to use the same citation again within the paragraph.

What about page numbers?

Sometimes you'll see a citation with a colon and page number after. This really only needs to be used if you are quoting specific text on a particular page:

Measey et al. (2016: 976) proposed that using GISS scores could show that "some amphibians can have devastating impacts to the environment". 

What about citations as taxonomic authorities?

Taxonomists have special rules for this, and I'll do it in another blog post. These are not the same as regular citations (because they don't appear in the literature cited and you don't have to have read the descriptions), and only some journals ask for them. 

Is it possible to mis-cite?

Yes. One of the most common ways in which students mis-cite a paper is to use statements made in the introduction (or discussion) which were not the subject of the study. For example, in the introduction of their paper, Measey et al. (2016) make comments on amphibian decline.

Amphibian populations are currently declining across the globe (Wake & Vredenburg, 2008; Collins et al., 2009; Pimm et al., 2014) and alien amphibians are at least partially driving these declines through competition (Kupferberg, 1997), hybridization (Dufresnes et al., 2015) and introduction of novel pathogens (Berger et al., 1999; Daszak et al., 2003; La Marca et al., 2005; Martel et al., 2013).

However, it would be wrong to give a statement on amphibian decline and cite Measey et al. (2016). They did not study amphibian decline. Instead, you should read the papers that they cite (Wake & Vredenburg, 2008; Collins et al., 2009; Pimm et al., 2014), and read around those to find studies on amphibian decline that are appropriate for your context. This underlines one important aspect of choosing citations where the statement that you make relates directly to the study carried out in the citation.

Another common mistake is to forget which paper has which information. You can try to make sure that you don’t do this by taking better notes or a more accurate plan.

Should I cite without reading the paper?

No. When you are citing a study, you should be sufficiently familiar with the publication that you are endorsing the study in relation with the statement that you make (but see below). If you are not convinced by the nature of the study that you are tempted to cite, then rather don’t cite it and use another one. If you can't get hold of the paper, this is another reason why you might not cite it. This is a regular reason given for why Open Access journals attract more citations. 

What should I not cite?

This does depend on the journal you are writing for. Some journals don’t permit citations to unpublished data or web sites. My suggestion would be to avoid such sources anyway (with particular exceptions – see below), unless it is really important that you include it. Other examples of texts to avoid are: text books (use the original paper instead), newpapers or magazines, predatory journals (or any non-peer reviewed article).

One exception to the not citing websites relevant to our work is the IUCN Red List. Note that all entries on this site now have DOIs, and this might be a good guide for what is available to cite. The DOI is very useful as it means that there is a consistent record of that version. Otherwise, you could cite any website (even this one) and then the owner can go and change the site and it no longer says what you thought it did. The DOI removes this problem there will always be an archived version with that particular DOI.

Do I cite the review or the primary literature?

This depends on the space you have and whether the review contains all the information you need to cite. It’s preferable to use primary literature, but sometimes reviews (or meta-analyses) are actually more expedient to use, especially if they are not the focus of your study. You can even cite both when relevant.

How many citations is enough?

Some journals have a word limit, or even a limit to the number of references that they allow. Others do not, and you should probably use what is recently published as a guide to what is acceptable. For the chapter of a thesis, you should err on the upper end; from 50 to 100 references. Note that citations may well be more as you may cite a paper more than once.

Obviously, everything you cite needs to be in the Reference (or Literature Cited) section, and you may well need to spend time deleting extra stuff. You can get around this common issue by using a citation manager like Mendeley or EndNote. I’d always suggest that you use one of these tools as they can really help with your reading too. These days they are busy turning into a kind of scientific social network. They regularly make suggestions of what you could be reading based on what you read. This can be useful.

If you are looking for multiple examples of a statement that you’ve made and there are many possible, I’d suggest that you aim to produce three. Make sure that you use a suffix (like “e.g.”) to show that you are aware that these are examples of a widely reported phenomenon. You can choose these as you like, but may want to consider using what you consider to be ‘the best’ examples, and/or references that you are planning to use elsewhere in your paper/chapter. This can drive the total number down considerably, and helps to keep the citations more relevant to your work.

Should I cite myself?

If you are publishing relevant and appropriate papers, then there is no reason not to cite yourself. In many cases (such as with your thesis work), your own publications are likely to be more relevant to methodology and subject matter than much of the other work that is out there. However, if you’ve previously published on termite fungus and now you’re publishing on frog toes, it’s unlikely to be relevant.

I would avoid citing your thesis if possible, rather put it all into papers. There are times though when citing your thesis is unavoidable. Within your thesis, I would suggest that you do provide citations to different chapters as this will help the examiners see how the chapters relate to each other.

Take a look at this article on self-citation. They claim that self-citations in the Natural Sciences run at 33% (Centre for Science and Technology Studies, 2007). 

Should I cite my friends?

It may be easier to cite your friends if you already know their work well. You may have heard them talk and know that the subject is relevant. They may be encouraging you to cite them, but should you?

In these days of scientometrics, we do need to acknowledge that citations act as a kind of currency. They count towards your H-index and this can reflect on your prospects as a post-doc or employee. What’s also clear is that cited papers get cited more, so it could really help your friends if you cite them. Obviously, the inverse is also true, so beware of the politics of citing. However, the most important points have already been raised (above). The study must be relevant and appropriate before it gets included as a citation in your work.

Should I cite my advisor?


Does the impact factor of the cited article matter?

Papers in journals with high impact factors are more likely to be cited because their contents are already thought to be of interest to a wide range of people. That is something that the editors of that journal will have considered even before sending the manuscript to review. Sometimes (but not always) the impact factor of the journal can be an indication of the quality of the study. But you should judge this for yourself when you critically read the paper.

I find that the first paragraph of a paper is more likely to contain citations of higher impact journals. This is in part as these are likely to be more cross cutting (as is often the case for the first paragraph). In the end, if you need to make a choice, choose the paper that is most relevant, irrespective of impact factor.

  Lab  Writing

Julien defends his thesis

19 September 2017

Julien Courant defends his PhD thesis 

Congratulations Julien! Doctor Invaxen Courant defends his thesis infront of a jury of amphibian experts from around the world. 

Invasive biology of Xenopus laevis in Europe: ecological effects and physiological adaptations

Julien has already published a lof of papers from his thesis, but there are still some great ones to come...

Courant, J., Vogt, S., de Villiers, A., Marques, R., Measey, J., Secondi, J., Rebelo, R., De Busschere, C., Ihlow, F., Backeljau, T., Rödder, D. & Herrel, A. (2017) Are invasive populations characterized by a broader diet than native populations? PeerJ 5:e3250 DOI 10.7717/peerj.3250 pdf

Rödder D, Ihlow F, Courant J, Secondi J, Herrel A, Rebelo R, Measey GJ, Lillo F, de Villiers FA, De Busschere C, and Backeljau T (2017) Global realized niche divergence in the African-clawed frog Xenopus laevisEcology and Evolution 2017;00:115. pdf

Ihlow F, Courant J, Secondi J, Herrel A, Rebelo R, Measey GJ, Lillo F, de Villiers FA, Vogt S, De Busschere C, Backeljau T, and Rödder D. 2016. Impacts of climate change on the global invasion potential of the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis.  PLoS ONE 11(6): e0154869. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154869 pdf

De Busschere, C., Courant, J., Herrel, A., Rebelo, R., Rödder, D., Measey, G.J. & Backeljau, T. (2016) Unequal contribution of native South African phylogeographic lineages to the invasion of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, in Europe PeerJ 4:e1659 

Louppe, V., J. Courant and A. Herrel (2017) Differences in mobility at the range edge of an expanding invasive population of Xenopus laevis in the West of France? J. Exp. Biol. 220: 278-283.

Courant, J., J. Secondi, V. Bereiziat and A. Herrel (2017) Resources allocated to reproduction decrease at the range edge of an expanding population of an invasive amphibian, Xenopus laevis. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. DOI 10.1093/biolinnean/blx048

  Frogs  Xenopus

Writing a paragraph

17 September 2017

Writing a paragraph

Last month I wrote a blog about writing a scientific paper in a formulaic style, as well as the advantages that this has over starting from scratch each time. The suggestion was that once the data is collected, and the analyses are complete, you sketch out your paper in a 'bullet-point' outline. This outline will give you an idea of the subject in each paragraph, as well as how the paragraphs fit in with each other. The other suggestion was to assign citations to this outline to help you remember those main ideas.

Writing paragraphs has a skill all of its own, and the aim of this blog is to go over the basics of how to put a paragraph together.

In the paragraph above, the topic sentence is red, the supporting sentences are green and the clincher is blue.

Topic sentence

A topic sentence allows the reader to understand quickly the idea/topic you are putting forward in the paragraph. It must be in the context in which you are going to develop the same topic. There’s no point in just mentioning a topic in passing or using it in a different way than you will later.

Make your topic sentence relatively simple. Don’t be tempted to add multiple clauses. If the topic sentence is too complex, you’ll lose your reader right at the beginning of the paragraph.

Supporting sentences

Supporting sentences convey all the relevant information to the reader. They are going to be statements that are well cited, showing readers where the original ideas came from. Be sure to keep these sentences on topic, and regularly refer back to your outline to make sure that you keep to the original objective of the paragraph. These are the meat of the paragraph and it’s really important to get them right.

If you are writing about differences, then state which way the difference is. If bullfrogs are larger than leaf litter frogs, then say this. Telling your audience that something is different than something else only ends up leaving them guessing about the way in which the things are different. There’s no point in drip dripping this information through. Set it down in as little space as possible so that your reader doesn’t get bored.

Sentences within the meat of the paragraph interact, and there’s a great example to show how this is done here. These interactions usually dwell around pertinent variables (such as those that you are going to deal with in your paper). By using the same or similar words within the paragraph, you are able to demonstrate to the reader how those different points interact.

While repeating the names of the variables, or their abbreviations, can be helpful, repeating descriptive words becomes quite tedious to the reader. Repeatedly reading the same ideas repeated over and over quickly bores the reader (yes, I'm repeating myself - boring isn't it). It will also give the reader the impression that your vocabulary is very limited. These days you can do a quick right click on highlighted word to get a drop down list of synonyms. This can allow you to go back and replace your repeated word with: recurrent, frequent, recurring, repetitive, constant or continual. That’s more than enough to spice up the paragraph. However, if you’re not sure whether a word is correctly replacing another, ask a friend to read it.

Use an example

Examples are a very powerful way of conveying ideas in a short amount of space. Don’t replace your paragraph with an example, but do use an example if it shows the reader just what you want. You should be able to do this in a sentence (or two), but if you’re tempted to go on, it’s probably not a good example. Because the first paragraph sets out ideas, it's unlikely that an example there will be a good idea.

Avoid lists

I’m not a big fan of paragraphs which are simply a long list with little or no thought offered. The worst ones are where there are so many citations along the way that it’s really hard to pick out what is sentence and what is citation. I understand that it’s important to show precedent and that there is merit in showing how widespread an idea is over taxa or in different disciplines. You never find these lists in journals where words and/or citations are limited, which suggests that you can dispense with them.

Don’t bamboozle

It’s easy to use jargon. The whole point of jargon is to convey a (usually complex) idea in a short amount of space. Using a word (or two) instead of using several sentences clearly has some advantages. However, there is such a thing as too much jargon. Simply put, it’s unnecessary to use jargon when you can use plain English in the same amount of space. My old tutor at Liverpool University, the late, great Brian Moss, shared the following example of too much jargon, when plain English would have been much shorter. The fact that it gave Moss a chance to write about moose wasn’t lost on anyone!

Brian was so unhappy after reading the above that he felt compelled to write the following letter that was published in the BES Bulletin.


The last sentence of the paragraph: the clincher

Once you’ve conveyed all of the information that you planned to impart in your outline, it’s time for the last sentence. This should conclude the evidence that you’ve provided on your topic. Try not to make it lame. For example: “This shows that little work has been done.” Instead, make it a real clincher about why the topic is important, or how and why you will tackle it. Instead (or as well if you can), you may want this sentence to link on to another paragraph (topic), especially if flow is important at that part of your outline (see below). Either way, make sure that your last sentence is on topic, and one that sticks in the readers’ minds.

Above all - read it!

Your paragraph is not finished until you've read it. Reading is an essential part to writing that cannot be emphasised enough. If your paragraph and any other text doesn't make sense to you, it sure won't impress anyone else. If you can't bear to read it through immediately, then do it after you've written two or three paragraphs. I suggest that you don't wait until you've finished the manuscript. Rather get the text right as you go along.

How does the paragraph fit into the flow?

So now we’ve gone over the formula, it’s time to take a step back and look again at the paragraph in the context of your outline. Remember that the paragraph represents a single subject, but that it is still just part of the manuscript as a whole and you need that to flow from beginning to end. This means that it’s not enough to write each paragraph in isolation, but to think of the way in which they link together as a whole.

I am very fond of ending a paragraph on a linking sentence. Essentially, this shows how two ideas are connected in the last sentence. This really helps with getting the flow of an introduction or discussion, but linking sentences are not always the best way to end a paragraph. Sometimes there’s no option but to change the subject completely, and then you should go for the clincher idea (see above). For example, you may want to end the paragraph by seeding a new twist on the paragraph’s idea.

Seeding ideas

The introduction sets out the established literature in order to put your study in context, but your discussion provides you with an opportunity to present new ideas, or to turn and twist existing ideas in a new way. Once you’ve got a good idea what these are, I like to seed the introduction with hints as to what these might be. Sowing seeds early in a manuscript will provide the reader with hints as to where you are going. Writing these seeds as questions is a really good way of sowing them into an introduction. You can then go on to answer them (if only partly) in the discussion. Beware though, there’s no point in asking a major question in the introduction to which your data has no relevance!

Breaking the rules

Just as in the other blog post on formulaic paper writing, when writing a paragraph you shouldn’t feel totally constrained so that you can’t break the rules. Breaking the rules can set you free, and much of what you read that really stands out will do this. However, it’s much easier to break the rules and get it wrong, than break them and get it right. The idea of this blog was to help you get started, not to communicate with those who are already writing great stuff. So if you're already great, don't break it by doing any of this!

  Lab  Writing