I was feeling optimistic on the last day of labs; I had results! Which meant that I had something I could write about in my manuscript and avoid writing the daunting ‘End-of-Grant Report’, the option for those that found they had achieved little in labs over the past few months.
With the results safely backed up on my laptop and a memory stick, I could think about how I would begin to write my manuscript. If you don’t know what a scientific manuscript is, then comparing the main sections to a sandwich may help…
This gives a summary of what the paper is about, the main results that you achieved and the conclusions that can be drawn from these results. I could refer to this as the garnish on top of your sandwich, but that will make my sandwich sound rather poncy and lead you to believe that the abstract isn’t particularly important. In fact, the abstract is very important. Let’s say that the abstract is the equivalent of the container or bag that the sandwich is in. It sums up exactly what is in the sandwich and holds it all together; kind of like the point of the abstract.
This section outlines the background behind the area of study, then focuses specifically on the area that you are researching. The aims and hypotheses of your investigation are the last thing you include in your introduction. Consider the introduction as once slice of bread for your sandwich, and the aims as your butter (or mayonnaise, if you are weird).
The meat/cheese/falafel (trying to include all dietary requirements here) of your sandwich. Without a filling, your sandwich would be rubbish. It would hardly be a sandwich that you’d look forward to eating at lunch time. The same standards should apply to your results. They should be interesting and informative of what you found in your research.
The other slice of bread. Your discussion reflects on what your results suggest, as well as the limitations of your research and the potential for further research. Many manuscripts and papers include a conclusion, or it is integrated into the discussion itself. Either way, your conclusion represents the butter on this side of the bread.
Let’s say that this is the napkin. It’s polite to acknowledge who has helped in your investigation, but most people are too lazy to fully invest their time in it; the same applies to those choosing to eat their sandwich with a napkin.
The plate that your sandwich. You can’t make claims or include information in your manuscript if it isn’t true; referencing is important so that the reader can access where the information originated. The plate is also the underrated foundation of the sandwich, which makes the process of eating your sandwich less messy. It’s just annoying to have to wash it up, as it is annoying to find the appropriate references.
Quite embarrassingly, I forgot to mention the methods of the manuscript (thank you Mum for the reminder)! Consider the methods section as the recipe for your sandwich. We all know how to make a sandwich. We don’t, however, know exactly how you made your sandwich. Imagine that we want to make the exact same sandwich; what type of bread? How big and how thick was each slice of bread? Did you cut your sandwich diagonally or in half? How much does the filling weigh, and with what measurements of ingredients was this filling made? The indication of a good methods section is the ability for another scientist to read your manuscript and be able to replicate everything you did with precision.
When the task of writing a manuscript is compared to that of ensuring you have a good sandwich, it doesn’t sound too difficult. Unfortunately, the 10,000 words that is my full manuscript today was not as easy to create.
My Easter holiday started off with promose. Within a week, I had written 5,000 words, which was pretty good progress with five weeks to spare. However, my willpower started to plateau. I found it so boring! Every day, I would sit in front of my laptop and find myself distracted by cat videos, because who doesn’t? Things definitely took a turn for the worse when my laptop crashed, and I had made the careless mistake of not backing up my work as I went along. Cue the meltdown. I was fortunate enough to have my very helpful Dad to help me through that rough patch and restore everything. From that moment on, everything was backed up. Twice!
I would be lying if I said I felt refreshed coming back to university. In fact, here is a meme that had summed up my situation perfectly;
Nevertheless, I ploughed through. Here were the main thoughts of the days running up to my manuscript hand-in;
Wednesday: Nothing but panic. For example…
IS THIS GOOD ENOUGH?
I DON’T EVEN KNOW AT THIS STAGE.
HAVE I MISSED SOMETHING IMPORTANT OUT?
HAVE I DONE THIS WRONG?
IS THERE ENOUGH TIME TO CHANGE IT?
THERE IS NO TIME LEFT!
THIS IS RUBBISH.
Thursday: It hurts my head to think. I’m just going to print it off now… (cue seven attempts to print off two copies of my manuscript single-sided at 10 o’clock at night).
And today, I had proof that there is a God… The binding machine in the Chemistry department was free! After all these years of slating your subject, I am forever in your debt.
This was me fifteen minutes before I handed in the manuscript of ‘Imputation as a method of copy number determination at the human alpha-defensin DEFA1A3 CNV‘; because if I didn’t take a photo, did it even happen?
After enduring A LOT of stress over the past few months, I can finally sigh with relief. Until the poster, presentation and Viva Voce, that is. For now, I am going to eat some biscuits and catch up on Ru Paul’s Drag Race… well deserved, I reckon. 😊