Write to inform, not to impress the reader. Before beginning to write, organize your material carefully. Include all the data necessary to support your conclusions, but exclude redundant or unnecessary data.
Choose the active voice more often than the passive. The passive usually requires more words and sometimes obscures the meaning. Use the first person, not the third person, and do not use we when I is appropriate.
Prepare a first draft that includes all the data, arguments, and conclusions that you had planned to cover. Then edit your manuscript carefully. Ask yourself whether the reader will find the text clear and the figures thoroughly integrated with the text. Go through this process at least twice, preparing a new draft each time. When you are satisfied, ask a colleague — preferably someone not well acquainted with the subject matter — to read your draft. Be prepared for criticism. If one reader does not understand parts of your text, others will have the same problem. Remember, you are thoroughly acquainted with your subject, but your reader is not.
Robert A. Day's book, How To Write and Publish a Scientific Paper (1983, ISI Press), is a useful guide for preparing and organizing a technical paper.
For details on style and usage, such as capitalization, punctuation, etc., refer to the University of Chicago Press' The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition.
The dictionaries you should use are Webster's Third New International Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.
The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Geophysics, fourth edition, by R. E. Sheriff, is SEG's standard for terms particular to geophysical technology. It also contains the preferred (SI) units and abbreviations for units.
Organization of a Scientific Paper
A scientific paper can be divided into six parts: a title, an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, a results section, and a conclusion section. There is some flexibility in labeling these components, but they should be clearly identifiable and should follow in order. The abstract, introduction, and conclusion should be labeled as such.
The title is a label, not a sentence. Choose as few words as possible to describe the contents of the paper adequately. Use proper syntax. The first word should be significant and helpful both for classifying and indexing the paper. Company names should not be included in the title. If the title is longer than 38 characters, please provide a shortened form of 38 characters or fewer to appear as a running head above alternate pages of the published paper.
List the authors on the title page by full names whenever possible. Please be absolutely sure you have spelled your coauthors' names correctly. Be sure also to use the form of the names that your coauthors prefer. Include only those who take intellectual responsibility for the work being reported, and exclude those who have been involved only peripherally. The author list should not be used in lieu of an acknowledgments section.
On the title page, include the dates of submission of the original paper and of the revised paper.
Please pay particular attention to the preparation of your abstract; use the material in this reference as a guide. Every manuscript other than a discussion must be accompanied by an informative abstract of no more than 200 to 300 words. No references, figures, and equations are allowed in an abstract. SEG also discourages the use of commercial names or parenthetical statements.
The abstract must not simply list the topics covered in the paper, but should (1) state the scope and principal objectives of the research, (2) describe the methods used, (3) summarize the results, and (4) state the principal conclusions. Do not refer to the paper itself in the abstract. If uninformative phrases such as is discussed or is shown appear in the abstract, the above criteria have not been met, and the paper will not be published without substantial changes to the abstract.
Remember that the abstract will be the most widely read portion of the paper. Various groups throughout the world publish abstracts of Geophysics. The abstract must be able to stand alone as a very short version of the paper rather than as a description of the contents. Readers and occasionally even reviewers may be influenced by the abstract to the point of final judgment before the body of the paper is read.
The comments by Mahrer, included on the last pages of these guidelines, may provide further valuable insights into the writing of an abstract.
The purpose of the introduction is to tell readers why they should want to read what follows. This section should provide sufficient background information to allow readers to understand the problem without referring to previous publications and to evaluate the paper's purpose and objective. This does not mean, however, that authors should use the introduction to rederive established results or to indulge in other needless repetition. The introduction should (1) present the nature and scope of the problem; (2) review the pertinent literature, within reason; (3) state the objectives; (4) describe the method of investigation; and (5) describe the principal results of the investigation.
For additional guidelines, see J. F. Claerbout, 1991, A scrutiny of the introduction: The Leading Edge, 10, 39.
The methodology employed in the work should be described in sufficient detail so that a competent geophysicist could duplicate the results. More detailed items (e.g., heavy mathematics) are often best placed in appendices. For complex mathematical articles, authors are strongly encouraged to include a table of symbols.
The results section contains applications of the methodology described above. The results of experiments (either physical or computational) are data and can be presented as tables or figures and analyses. Whenever possible, include at least one example of recorded data to illustrate the technology or concept being proposed. Case-history results are usually geologic interpretations. Selective presentation of results is important. Redundancy should be avoided, and results of minor variations on the principal experiment should be summarized rather than included. Details appearing in figure captions and table heads should not be restated in the text. In a well-written paper, the results section is often the shortest.
The conclusion section should include (1) principles, relationships, and generalizations inferred from the results (but not a repetition of the results); (2) any exceptions to or problems with these principles, relationships, and generalizations, as indicated by the results; (3) agreements or disagreements with previously published work; (4) theoretical implications and possible practical applications of the work; and (5) conclusions drawn (especially regarding significance). In particular, with reference to item (1) above, a conclusion that only summarizes the results is not acceptable.
The conclusion should not include figures, equations, or reference citations.
Figures and tables
Each figure and table must be called out (mentioned) sequentially in the text of the paper. Each figure must have a caption, and each table must have a heading. Captions and headings should be explicit enough that the reader can understand the significance of the illustration or table without reference to the text.
Each illustration and table should be given an Arabic number and should be referred to by that number in the text. In the caption and text, spell out the word Figure and capitalize it when a number follows it. In table headings and text, spell out the word Table and capitalize it when a number follows it.
Footnotes should be avoided unless absolutely essential and then should be held to a minimum. All footnotes introduced in the text of a paper should be numbered consecutively from beginning to end of the manuscript. In the manuscript, each footnote must be inserted at the bottom of the page where the reference appears.
If the author includes an acknowledgments section, it is placed after the conclusion and before the appendices (if any) and reference list.
An appendix should not be cited in the text in such a way that the appendix is essential to a reader's understanding of the flow of the main text. See section 1.82 in The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, for further explanation of the content of an appendix.
Each appendix should be called out (mentioned) sequentially in the text of the paper by name, i.e., "Appendix A." Each appendix should have a substantive title such as "Appendix A — Mathematical Considerations." In each appendix, number equations and figures beginning with 1: A-1, B-1, etc.
Appendices are placed after acknowledgments and before the reference list.
The reference list is placed last in a manuscript, after the acknowledgments and appendices (if any). See the "References" section under "Manuscript Preparation" below for details on reference style.
Related Link: Manuscript Preparation