25 March 2020

Short guide to writing an abstract

An abstract must contain the essential elements of the report: it must tell the readers what problem was addressed and the most important results that are being reported. Usually it also indicates something about the importance of the work, such as what it contributes to a long-standing area of research. It may also tell which methods were used, but usually not in detail (unless a new method is part of the report).

A useful formula for constructing abstracts is 1) an opening sentence that indicates what the general area of research is, often as a general statement of an important process or problem; 2) a second sentence that shows where within that area the present report belongs; and 3) something like "Here we present..." or "We have measured/tested..." or "To test this hypothesis, we...". This is followed by an outline of the main results and then a concluding sentence saying why this is so important.

Here are two examples: 

Covariation between human pelvis shape, stature, and head size alleviates the obstetric dilemma
Fischer B and Mitteroecker P. 2015: PNAS 112:5655-5660. 

Compared with other primates, childbirth is remarkably difficult in humans because the head of a human neonate is large relative to the birth-relevant dimensions of the maternal pelvis. It seems puzzling that females have not evolved wider pelvises despite the high maternal mortality and morbidity risk connected to child- birth. Despite this seeming lack of change in average pelvic morphology, we show that humans have evolved a complex link between pelvis shape, stature, and head circumference that was not recognized before. The identified covariance patterns contribute to ameliorate the obstetric dilemma.Females with a large head, who are likely to give birth to neonates with a large head, possess birth canals that are shaped to better accommodate large-headed neonates. Short females with an increased risk of cephalopelvic mismatch possess a rounder inlet, which is beneficial for obstetrics. We suggest that these covariances have evolved by the strong correlational selection resulting from childbirth. Although males are not subject to obstetric selection, they also show part of these association patterns, indicating a geneticdevelopmental origin of integration.

On the Origin of Species by Natural and Sexual Selection 
van Doorn GS, Edelaar P and Weissing FJ. 2009: Science 326:1704-1707.

Ecological speciation is considered an adaptive response to selection for local adaptation. However, besides suitable ecological conditions, the process requires assortative mating to protect the nascent species from homogenization by gene flow. By means of a simple model, we demonstrate that disruptive ecological selection favors the evolution of sexual preferences for ornaments that signal local adaptation. Such preferences induce assortative mating with respect to ecological characters and enhance the strength of disruptive selection. Natural and sexual selection thus work in concert to achieve local adaptation and reproductive isolation, even in the presence of substantial gene flow. The resulting speciation process ensues without the divergence of mating preferences, avoiding problems that have plagued previous models of speciation by sexual selection.

17 March 2020

18 March: We're doing Moodle!

I hope you are all staying well. I am learning to use Moodle, and we will continue this course lessons, assignments, and other activities in the coming weeks.

I have now posted the first activities on Moodle:

At the usual class time this week, I will do do a lecture and some interactive activity, so plan to attend!

If you do not intend to be in this course, please un-enroll (abmelden) on u:space before 31 March.

06 March 2020

18 March: Literature searching and article summary

*** No class on 11 March! ***

For 18 March:

Searching the scientific literature:

Try using some literature searching tools to locate scientific papers in a field of interest to you.
Bring questions to class!

1) Choose a few keywords in your field of interest, and try searching for articles in at least two different databases - e.g. Pubmed, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar (links below). Try different combinations of keywords, and maybe author names, and see what you find.

2) Choose one article from the lists of results.
Is an abstract available?
Is the full text available online?
Can you find the journal's website easily from the information and links in the database you are using?
How many times has this article been cited by other articles in this database?

Some links:
These and others are at the UniVie library site - click on "Datenbanken"

Also check out some reference management programs, such as Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, JabRef, and any others you might know about.

Summarizing a research article:

3) Read this short article on how to read a scientific paper:

Note that this was written for non-scientists, but the ideas (mostly) apply to us as well. We will discuss this article in class. 
(Here is a pdf of the article: https://homepage.univie.ac.at/brian.metscher/Guide_to_Reading_and_Understanding_a_Scientific_Paper.pdf )

4) Read a primary research article in your field or a field of interest to you, and be prepared to give the class a very short oral summary of its main points.

Points to cover (1-2 sentences for each):

What question, problem, or hypothesis does the research address?
What was the approach or method used?
What did the authors find out: what is the most important result reported in this paper?
What is the overall importance or interest of this work?

Please write or print your summary in a form that you can hand in.

04 March 2020

Some resources for scientific writing

This list is available as a PDF at 

Some Resources for Scientific Literature and Writing in English

Where to find relevant literature:
1) The reference lists in recent papers on your topic, especially review articles
2) Colleagues with experience in your field
4) Web of Science  ( http://apps.webofknowledge.com )
4) Scopus ( http://www.scopus.com/home.url ), available if you are connecting through UniVie
5) Google Scholar ( https://scholar.google.at/ ) is very broad and general, and sometimes links to full-text articles
5) The UniVie Library online system ( http://bibliothek.univie.ac.at/eressourcen.html ) includes access to
BIOSIS Previews ( = Biological Abstracts); Zoological Record; 
Science Citation Index (also ISI, which includes social sciences and humanities)
ProQuest for doctoral dissertations; Elektronische Zeitschriftenbibliothek (EZB);
and about 1000 more
6) Get a reference manager program you like and start using it
e.g. Zotero (free), Mendeley (free), EndNote (avail. through ZID)

English language references:
A good paperback dictionary with usage notes, e.g. Webster's,  American Heritage, or one of the Oxford dictionaries,
The Mac OS X Dictionary app, plus free plugins 
Oxford English Dictionary online: http://www.oed.com
Oxford Reference Online, including OED http://www.oxfordreference.com
Webster's online: http://www.m-w.com/
The essential guide to writing in English is The Elements of Style by W. Strunk & E.B. White.
You can download the full (bootleg) text at
The original guide by Strunk, without White's additions, is free at http://www.bartleby.com/141/
All other English style manuals are just extended footnotes to Strunk & White.

How to learn scientific writing:
1) Read good science writing, and pay attention to how it is presented.
2) Co-author papers with someone who writes well.
3) Peer-review articles for journals.
4) A Short Guide To Writing About Biology, by J. Pechenik gives helpful advice and examples.
5) Writing Science, by Josh Schimel (ca. €25) and his blog at http://schimelwritingscience.wordpress.com/ are also very good.
Citing sources and avoiding plagiarism:
Always ask the advice of someone with more experience in scientific writing.

For writing grant proposals:
The Art of Grantsmanship, by Jacob Kraicer   http://www.hfsp.org/funding/art-grantsmanship

German-English (and other languages) translation:
A German-English (or English) dictionary with usage examples: I prefer the dictionaries from Langenscheidt and Harper-Collins. 
For the main European languages, DeepL is new and seems good: https://www.deepl.com/translator  
Google translate ( https://translate.google.com/ ) is more useful than older translators, but it's not C3PO.

15 January 2020

Welcome to Scientific Writing: Abstracts & Articles!

300443 SE+UE      Summer Semester 2020

Dr. Brian Metscher
Dept. of Evolutionary Biology, University of Vienna
Tel. 1 4277 56704

Class will meet weekly on Wednesdays 12:00-13:30 in the COSB Seminar Room (UZA I, Ebene 2, Spange 2.

First class meeting is 4 March 2020.

This course will guide students through reading and writing different kinds of scientific abstracts and summaries, introduce the structure and composition of scientific articles, and examine how these communications reflect the structure of scientific research and knowledge. Exercises will include practice writing abstracts for research articles, proposals, and conference submissions, and group work on improving individual writing skills.

Evaluation is based on attendance and participation (2/3) and completion of homework assignments (1/3).

Attendance is required: two absences (excused or unexcused) will be allowed before your grade is affected.

There will be weekly homework assignments, some of which will include a written assignment to be collected in class; others will include in-class discussion or presentation. These will account for 1/3 of the final mark.

If you are enrolled but cannot attend the first class, you must send me an email about this before the first class. Include your registered name and Matrikelnr.

If you are not officially enrolled in the course, I am not allowed to give you a mark. And if you do not wish to receive a mark for this course, you must cancel your registration (abmelden) before 31 March, otherwise I am required to give you a mark whether you attended the course or not.