The Science of Scientific Writing

“If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs.

“Science is often hard to read. Most people assume that its difficulties are born out of necessity, out of the extreme complexity of scientific concepts, data and analysis. We argue here that complexity of thought need not lead to impenetrability of expression; we demonstrate a number of rhetorical principles that can produce clarity in communication without oversimplifying scientific issues. The results are substantive, not merely cosmetic: Improving the quality of writing actually improves the quality of thought.”


American Scientist: The Science of Scientific Writing by George GopenJudith Swan

Writing the Introduction to an Epidemiology Paper

This is some brief guidance from my advisor on how to write the introduction section of an epidemiology scientific paper. When addressing previous papers in the introduction, do so only briefly. Generally, save the thorough literature review for the discussion.

Paragraph 1

What is the public health or clinical importance of the topic? What is the primary problem that will be addressed? How many people will be affected? What level of impact does this problem have? Statistics from the World Health Organization are often cited here.

Paragraph 2

What is currently known about the problem?

For example, what has been published on health related quality of life (HRQOL) in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) patients?

Briefly describe a variety of primary literature papers on the topic. State the lacking knowledge that will be addressed by the rest of the paper.

There is much known about HRQOL in T2DM in populations of White Americans, but there have been no studies to date describing HRQOL in Pacific Islanders diagnosed with T2DM.

Address challenges unique to this study.

Are there variations in HRQOL perceptions among different cultures?

Paragraph 3

Clearly and concisely state the primary aim of this study.

For example, in the current analysis we will study the impact of T2DM on HRQOL in a population of Pacific Islanders living in Oahu, Hawaii.

Say something specific about the population being studied.

The Pacific Islander Cohort of Hawaiians is a longitudinal, population-based cohort that has been ongoing since 1999, with followup every 4 years.

Explain why this study is novel. Tell what you are going to show.

 Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is a validated clinical measure of T2DM severity (citation here), and the SF-36 is a validated health questionnaire measuring HRQOL (citation here). To the extent of our knowledge, this is the first study to study a potential quantitative association between HbA1c and the SF-36 in a population-based cohort of Pacific Islanders.

Mendeley Reference Management

Mendeley is a convenient, free research resource that allows you to manage primary literature references. Mendeley’s Citation Plugin allows easy citations in Microsoft Word while drafting scientific papers from your library.

Writing an Epidemiology Paper in a Few Easy Steps

I. Start with the Results

Make your tables and figures

A. Tables and Figures

i. Table 1 – Population Description

1. If dichotomous outcome list descriptors by case control status with p values (age, gender, height, weight, BP, fev1 etc)

2. If Quantitative outcome – describe sample size, age, gender etc in table

ii. Table 2 – Exposure variable and how it related to other variables

1. Still descriptive

2. Maybe a table of correlations

3. Describe what variables will be in the analysis

a. Chemistry results

b. Allele frequencies

c. Pack years

d. Co-morbidities

iii. Table 3 – Regression Models for each outcome

1. Logistic

a. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals

2. Linear or multivariate

a. Beta coefficient

3. Format – do not need all information. Can use just the interesting results in the table and footnote the expected results.

a. For example: Table with – Univariate OR/ OR controlling for basic demographics/ OR controlling for CV risks/ OR controlling for other risks.

iv. Figures

1. Do a compelling figure demonstrating the most important result in the study – Does not have to be including all analysis, may just demonstrate Univariate result that is confirmed with regression model

B. Writing

A paragraph for each figure referencing the figure and describing the important findings but not all the data in the table

II. Introduction

A. Paragraph 1

Discuss the outcome variable: COPD is the 4th leading cause of death

B. Paragraph 2

Discuss the exposure variable: MSK disease is common in aging but often overlooked in systemic illness. It is a strong predictor of QofL.

C. Paragraph 3

What is known about the outcome variable and exposure variable together (or not known)

D. Paragraph 4

“Therefore we did the following study to examine the relationship between MSK disease and COPD

III. Methods

A. Population description

B. How you measured each exposure and outcome

C. Events “were adjudicated by a panel of three physicians…..”

D. Details of biochemical measurements as needed by the situation

Common measure vs. new technique

E. Statistical methods

IV. Discussion

A. Paragraph 1

Primary result and how it ties to what was in the introduction

B. Paragraph 2

More details about the outcome or exposure in the literature and how your study was similar or different (point by point)

C. Paragraph 3

Limitations (maybe) or strengths

D. Unique methodologies

E. Clinical or public health significance of results

F. Generalizability issues

G. You probably want to conclude something

V. Titles

A. Very important to draw attention to your results

B. 90% of people who read the title will not read any further

C. Describe the important result in the title

i. “Increased use of IM rods for hip fracture surgery is associated with greater cost and higher complications” rather than “the association between IM rods, costs and complications”. One TELLS the reader what he or she will read the other is trying to tantalize the reader into reading the paper, one is efficient, one isn’t. Guess which!



Reddit: Writing an Epidemiology Paper in a Few Easy Steps by John Hokanson

Powered by

Up ↑