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Is your science manuscript missing interpretive sentences?

When you run an experiment, you — as the scientist — know what results you’re looking for. Even if your hypothesis doesn’t bear out exactly as you may have predicted (or hoped), you likely know what an opposite/negative result implicates for your science. To your reader, it may not be so clear.

After spending a paragraph explaining the results of Experiment X, you need to tell your reader what those results all mean. Some writing coaches refer to this sentence at the end of the paragraph as the interpretive sentence. Having now edited dozens of scientific manuscripts, written by extremely talented researchers, I realize that these interpretive sentences are all too commonly overlooked.

Explain your results to your reader.

Let’s turn this Journal of Neuroscience article as an example. After the authors explain their behavioral results (“TMS did not influence the overall task performance as measured by accuracy or reaction time”) they zoom back out and help the reader understand what the results mean: “These results suggest that the PFC is unlikely to be involved in low-level stimulus processing.”

Likewise, in the discussion section, after explaining the outcome of their simulation experiment, the authors provide yet another interpretive sentence: “These findings establish the existence of independent causal contributions of DLPFC and aPFC to confidence generation and suggest specific mechanistic roles for these prefrontal sites.”

As a scientist, you may think (hope) that the results speak for themselves.

They do not.

If you don’t take the time to add these sorts of sentences throughout your manuscript, then you are leaving your reader to fend for themselves. The omission of interpretive sentences from your text is not only frustrating for your reader (or worse yet for your reviewer) but it also puts you, as the scientist, in great danger of being misinterpreted or misunderstood. Even if a fellow scientist is able to understand your graph, they may not realize why these results are significant or meaningful.

It’s your job as the writer to tell the reader why they should care.

When in doubt, over-explain yourself. Be more explicit than you think is necessary. It’s always easier to edit down a text whose intended meaning is clear than it is for your reader or editor to desperately extract meaning from a result statement or paragraph.

Give your reader more than just the keys to your car. Give them a GPS, eh?

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Neurocrew is a team of neuroscientists committed to improving the way neuroscience is communicated.

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Anahita Vieira, PhD

Anahita Vieira, PhD

Neuroscientist. Senior Science Writer by day. Creative writer by night. Twin/NICU Mom 24/7. But first, coffee.

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