Nature Physics Word Limit For Personal Statement

As the budgets of governments worldwide become ever tighter, it is more important than ever for scientists to be able to explain — and in some sense justify — their research to a wider audience. Yet few have received formal training in writing at all, let alone in popular writing. There are many forms such writing can take: press releases, perspective pieces for magazines, or even blogs. In Nature Physics, although we strive to ensure that everything we publish is as accessible as possible, this is of utmost importance in our News and Views section, for which we commission practising scientists to write about research that is published in Nature Physics or elsewhere in the scientific literature. On the whole, physicists do a pretty good job of explaining these advances to colleagues in other fields. Yet there are a number of aspects of popular writing that our writers find challenging. We'll describe the most common pitfalls.

For a writer, the most important person in the Universe is the reader. And the most important thing to know about the reader is that you are subject to his or her whim. Every sentence you write must maintain the reader's interest, grip them and keep them reading to the end. As veteran reporter Tim Radford points out in his widely circulated journalists' manifesto (, “This is because, although you — an employee, an apostle or an apologist — may feel compelled to write, nobody has ever felt obliged to read.” And given half a chance, they will stop reading what you have written and turn the page in an instant.

The most engaging writing tells a story. A good story is a journey, and most people won't follow you on this journey unless you give them some idea of where it's headed. So before you even start, you need to decide where you want it to end. Ask yourself, what is the most surprising or significant aspect of the work you're writing about? When you first heard (or read) about the research, what about it made you think, “Wow, I didn't expect that!” It needn't be what the scientists who conducted the work think is the most important aspect: indeed, for a Nature Physics News and Views, a blog entry or similar, it is your unique perspective that readers (and editors) are interested in.

“Remember, the piece needs a beginning, a middle and an end — and, unless you're Quentin Tarantino, it needs to be presented in this order.”

The structure of the piece should reflect the journey that you've set out to describe. Remember, it needs a beginning, a middle and an end — and, unless you're Quentin Tarantino, it needs to be presented in this order. The first paragraph is the most important of the piece. It sets the stage, addressing the cardinal questions: what, why, who and how. It introduces, briefly, the wider context and motivation for the research and identifies the key challenges it is to address. It doesn't need details — that's what the middle of the piece is for.

On any journey, it's tempting to stop at other attractions on the way. For long journeys this can break the monotony, but for short journeys it's usually a distraction. Pick one key idea, one destination, and stick to it. Sometimes in writing you can set out for one place and on the way discover yourself heading towards another — that's fine, and if you discover that the new destination is more exciting than the original, don't be afraid to change your plans. But don't try to include both destinations, unless they're closely neighbouring towns, like Buda and Pest. You only have the time to reach one.

Hype doesn't help, neither do hyperbolic adjectives such as 'very', 'extremely' and 'remarkably'. It's not enough to simply assert that something is exciting, notable, novel or useful — explain why. Don't begin any sentence with 'interestingly': it is for the reader to decide whether something is interesting, it's your job to persuade them that it is. And before you describe anything as ubiquitous, pause and consider: if everyone knows it's ubiquitous — as is usually the case for ubiquitous things — there's probably no point. Cement is ubiquitous; silicon is ubiquitous; organic molecules are ubiquitous; vector calculus is ubiquitous; so what? Analogies, on the other hand, are great. But anthropomorphisms are usually terrible. Silicon doesn't have a few tricks up its sleeve: semiconductors don't perform tricks, neither do they have sleeves.

At the opening of A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking notes that his editor warned him that for every equation in the book its readership would be halved, and so he included only a single equation — E = mc2. Writing for physicists is less constrained, but not by much. Few physicists are afraid of equations. But most equations — apart from those presented in any undergraduate physics course — represent a short-hand that only specialists appreciate. Consequently, formulae are usually a waste of space, unless the implications of every index and every coefficient is explained in long form. Equations in popular writing are not efficient, they're lazy. It's usually much better to describe in words the key relations that they embody.

And finally, when you've crafted some beautiful prose, be ready for the edit. Unless you're writing for your own personal blog, it's unlikely that every word in your initial draft will make the final cut. In the world of professional journalism, most submissions are edited substantially; even seasoned writers regularly see their copy transformed into something quite different from their original draft. The reason is that an editor is closer to the reader than a writer. Editors set the tone and the scope, and it's the editors' vision that ultimately determines the success of a journal. So if an editor has made a change that you're not happy with, don't just change it back — it's been edited for a reason. Explain why you're not happy with the change, and try to rephrase in way that still chimes with the editor's version.

Increasingly, scientists are expected to go beyond the traditional scientific paper to explain their research to a non-specialist readership. We offer some tips on writing popular science for a general audience.

Being an author 

The Nature Research journals do not require all authors of a research paper to sign the letter of submission, nor do they impose an order on the list of authors. Submission to a Nature Research journal is taken by the journal to mean that all the listed authors have agreed all of the contents, including the author list and author contributions statements. The corresponding author is responsible for having ensured that this agreement has been reached, that all authors have agreed to be so listed and approved the manuscript submission to the journal, and for managing all communication between the journal and all co-authors, before and after publication. Any changes to the author list after submission, such as a change in the order of the authors, or the deletion or addition of authors, needs to be approved by every author.

The author list should include all appropriate researchers and no others. Authorship provides credit for a researcher’s contributions to a study and carries accountability. The Nature Research journals do not prescribe the kinds of contributions that warrant authorship but encourage transparency by publishing author contributions statements. Nature Research journals editors are not in a position to investigate or adjudicate authorship disputes before or after publication. Such disagreements if they cannot be resolved amongst authors should be brought up to the relevant institutional authority. 

The editors at the Nature Research journals assume that the corresponding author and on multi-group collaboration, at least one member of each collaborating group, usually the most senior member of each submitting group or team, has accepted responsibility for the contributions to the manuscript from that team. This responsibility includes, but is not limited to: (1) ensuring that original data upon which the submission is based is preserved and retrievable for reanalysis; (2) approving data presentation as representative of the original data; and (3) foreseeing and minimizing obstacles to the sharing of data, materials, algorithms or reagents described in the work.

The primary affiliation for each author should be the institution where the majority of their work was done. If an author has subsequently moved, the current address may also be stated. Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Author contributions statements
Authors are required to include a statement of responsibility in the manuscript that specifies the contribution of every author, including for review-type articles. The level of detail varies; some disciplines produce manuscripts that comprise discrete efforts readily articulated in detail, whereas other fields operate as group efforts at all stages. A Nature Editorial describes this policy in more detail.

Nature Research journals also allow one set of up to six co-authors to be specified as having contributed equally to the work or having jointly supervised the work. Other equal contributions are best described in author contributions statements. Corresponding authors have specific responsibilities (described below) and are usually limited to three. 

Corresponding author - prepublication responsibilities
The corresponding author is solely responsible for communicating with the journal and with managing communication between coauthors. Before submission, the corresponding author ensures that all authors are included in the author list, its order has been agreed by all authors, and that all authors are aware that the paper was submitted.

At submission, the corresponding author must include written permission from the authors of the work concerned for mention of any unpublished material included in the manuscript, for example others' data, in press manuscripts, personal communications or work in preparation. The corresponding author also must clearly identify at submission any material within the manuscript that has previously been published elsewhere by other authors (for example, figures) and provide written permission from those authors and/or publishers, as appropriate, for the re-use of such material.

After acceptance, the proof is sent to the corresponding author, who circulates it to all coauthors and deals with the journal on their behalf; the journal will not necessarily correct errors after publication if they result from errors that were present on a proof that was not shown to coauthors before publication. The corresponding author is responsible for the accuracy of all content in the proof, in particular that names of coauthors are present and correctly spelled, and that addresses and affiliations are current.

Corresponding author - responsibilities after publication
The journal regards the corresponding author as the point of contact for queries about the published paper. It is this author's responsibility to inform all coauthors of matters arising and to ensure such matters are dealt with promptly. The name and e-mail address of this author is published in the paper.

Correcting the record
Authors of published material have a responsibility to inform the journal promptly if they become aware of any part that requires correcting. Any published correction requires the consent of all coauthors, so time is saved if requests for corrections are accompanied by signed agreement by all authors (in the form of a scanned attachment to an email, or as one combined email containing agreement messages from all the authors). In cases where one or some authors do not agree with the correction statement, the coordinating author must include correspondence to and from the dissenting author(s) as part of the scanned attachment or composite email.

A confidential process
Nature Research journal editors treat the submitted manuscript and all communication with authors and referees as confidential. Authors must also treat communication with the journal as confidential: correspondence with the journal, reviewers' reports and other confidential material must not be posted on any website or otherwise publicized without prior permission from the editors, whether or not the submission is eventually published. Our policies about posting preprints and postprints, and about previous communication of the work at conferences or as part of a personal blog or of an academic thesis, are described at the section of this guide about confidentiality policies.

Referee suggestions
Authors are welcome to suggest suitable independent reviewers when they submit their manuscripts, but these suggestions may not be followed by the journal. Authors may also request the journal to exclude a few (usually not more than two) individuals or laboratories. The journal sympathetically considers such exclusion requests and usually honours them, but the editor's decision on the choice of peer-reviewers is final.

Consortia authorship

If a consortium is listed as a collective of authors, all members of the consortium are considered authors and must be listed in the published article as such. If not all members of the consortium agree to the responsibilities of authorship, the members that are authors will be listed separately from those who are not. (To facilitate submission of manuscripts with large author lists, please consult the journal editor before submission.) 

Nature Research journal editorials on authorship:

Corresponding authors should not neglect their responsibility to a journal or their co-authors. Nature Nanotechnology. A matter of duty, December 2012.

Why do we need statements to define the contributions made by each author? Nature Photonics. Contributors, guests, and ghosts, June 2012.

Announcing "author contributions" statements, 2009:

Individual contributions should be carefully evaluated when compiling the author list of a scientific paper. Nature Materials. Authorship matters, February 2008.

How the responsibilities of co-authors for a scientific paper's integrity could be made more explicit. Nature. Who is accountable? 1 November 2007.

The problems of unjustified authorship. Nature Materials. Authorship without authorization, November 2004.

Nature is encouraging authors of papers to say who did what. Nature. Author contributions, 3 June 1999.

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