Tag Archive | Science Writing

Identifying Good Science Writing

     Physics Review Letter (PRL) is one of the most prestigious journals in physics field. It was established in 1958 by Editor Sam Goudsmit who was a Dutch-American physicist famous for jointly proposing the concept of electron spin with George Eugene Uhlenbeck in 1925, and implemented his vision of converting the letters section of Physical Review into a new standalone journal. Since then, it has been published by the American Physical Society as an outgrowth of Physical Review for 50 years.

     PRL features rapid publication of short reports of significant fundamental research in all fields of physics. The shortness of its articles (at most four pages long) and the fast communication of the most important development in physics are keys for PRL to have risen above the rest. Today’s PRL has became the world’s foremost physics letters journal with the impact factor hovering around 7 ( the impact factor is a measure indicating the average number of citations to articles published in science and social science journals, a little like Nielsen Ratings in TV). PRL is so successful with physicists throughout the world that it now publishes 3500 letters per year. Besides weekly coverage of major advances in physics, PRL also provides its diverse readership with cross disciplinary development. This can be found from its topical sections which do not only include all regular branches in physics, but also cover interdisciplinary areas, such as the section of “soft-matter, biological, and interdisciplinary physics”. The broad coverage of physics and physics-relating science should be another important reason for PRL’s outstanding status among other physics journals.

     Good science journals usually have good quality of science writing. The characteristics of the writing in PRL can be summarized as followings: First, the paper published in PRL does not exceed 4 pages, and the language is always concise, clear and objective. Second, most of the sentences are complex sentences. This does not mean they are wordy or complicated; it means sometimes they have one independent clause and one dependent clause, or one independent clause and more modifying parts. It is important to write complex sentences in those papers because they express a lot and can effectively describe a situation. Besides, the PRL paper is always using impersonal style. Although occasionally the authors use pronoun “we” to emphasize their work and make the writing approachable, still the passive voice is predominant in the whole paper and the third person or things rather than the first person or people are subjects of sentences. Furthermore, the organization of PRL paper follows logical transitions and usually includes abstract, introduction of background, and theoretical or experimental work, as well as summary and reference. Meanwhile, Tables, figures and diagrams are always used where they will save words or make the author’s argument clearer.

     In conclusion, PRL is one of the most outstanding Journals in physics area both because of its rapid and effective communication of significant physics development and good quality of writing and editing. That is also why physics people would feel very proud and excited if their paper could be accepted and published in PRL.