The second speaker at the seminar ‘Are you ready to publish?’, hosted by TU Delft Library, was a local hero: Pieter Jan Stappers, professor of design techniques at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. In his excellent presentation he explained how reviewers will look at your article. How do you catch their eye? Here are a few of his highlights.

By Aad van de Wijngaart

The first rule is: follow the rules! If you send in a paper, you have to follow the format that’s been specified. And that’s actually good news, because it allows you to focus on the content right from the start.

The second, and most fundamental rule is: promise, then deliver! Imagine yourself in the position of the reader, because that’s where the action happens.

This means that you should focus most effort on the first impression your article is going to make. Your title should call attention to your work, while the abstract gives a bit more away, including your main conclusions. Remember, a scientific paper is not a detective novel. And neither is it a holiday diary: don’t spend more text than necessary on everything you did.

Pieter Jan Stappers

You should realize that only beginners read articles from beginning to end. Professionals, and especially reviewers, face a constant deluge of articles, so they hover above it like hawks, looking for tasty prey. A scientist might spend three seconds on the title, to check for relevance, and then thirty seconds on the abstract, to check for novelty. If failed, it’s on to the next article.

And then there’s the category of readers who ask themselves different questions: do I know the author? Does he refer to me or to people that I trust? This attitude is just part of the social phenomena aspiring authors have to deal with.

Another aspect that’s often overlooked is the visuals. For many people, especially nowadays, pictures are the first thing they notice and look at. Use that! Pictures and graphs can serve as hooks to pull people into your article. So, obviously, they should be chosen very carefully to support the content, especially the main points you want to make. You can select the visuals even before you start writing.

And don’t overlook the captions: good captions tell you why you should look at the picture. Don’t expect people to realize what’s important. Tell them!

Stappers presented many more tips and insights. But he hastened to add that another main rule of writing is: write! Don’t be daunted, just start. But once you’re finished, go over it again and improve it, because you want your work to stand out from the crowd.