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Here and elsewhere: an open resource for authors and peer reviewers of microbiology

Climbing wall

When reviewing manuscripts prior to publication, many scientists become frustrated by identifying the same minor issues repeatedly. In my case, correcting common errors and inconsistencies became so repetitive that I gradually compiled recurring concerns into a single document, allowing rapid copy/paste/editing of these comments into reviews whenever needed. This reviewer “cheat sheet” has been a timesaver to me and there is a good chance that such a document might benefit other scientists as well.

In an effort to improve the quality of scientific writing, especially for our microbiology trainees, I am sharing my list of common minor corrections openly. I give full and unrestricted permission for any reviewer to pull from this list for future reviews. And, because this blog post accepts comments, please add your own "Here and elsewhere” scientific writing corrections for others to share as well.

Given that my first blog post advocated for anonymity in peer review, I recognize the potential irony/hypocrisy of publishing a list of common reviewer comments. That said, most of us use modified versions of these same statements, several were compiled from colleagues or reviews of my own papers, and all of these comments can be used anonymously and freely moving forward. In addition, my goal in publishing this list is to improve the quality of academic writing so that more time and attention can be devoted to evaluating the science itself, rather than reviewers being distracted or biased by the way a manuscript was (poorly) written.

Again, please feel welcome to add your own common corrections using the comment section below. I hope this list helps you as much as it has helped me:

Here and elsewhere, all recognized taxonomic levels should be italicized. Because phylum is not recognized by the Bacteriological Code, italics or not depends on preference.

Here and elsewhere, you do not need to capitalize or use italics for some taxonomic names when referring to the group of organisms themselves. For example, contrast “all detected bacteria and archaea were” with “all detected taxa affiliated with the <i>Bacteria</i> and <i>Archaea</i>"

Here and elsewhere, replace “next-generation sequencing” with "high-throughput sequencing”.

Here and elsewhere, please do not use “16s rDNA”, “rDNA”, "16S genes”, or “16S". The correct term is “16S rRNA genes” for DNA or "16S rRNA” for RNA.

Here and elsewhere, spell numbers less than 10 in full, unless in a series that includes at least one number >10.

Here and elsewhere, “while” and “since” imply time. Whenever time is not implied, replace with “whereas”, “although”, “even though”, or “because”, as appropriate.

Here and elsewhere, spp. refers to multiple species within a genus. Use sp. or spp. as appropriate throughout.

Here and elsewhere, do not use italics for sp. or spp.

Here and elsewhere, no dash after adverbs ending in -ly (e.g., "randomly collected soil samples").

Here and elsewhere, don’t use contractions in scientific writing.

Here and elsewhere, the R in R2 should be italicized and the p of p-value should be lowercase and in italics.

Here and elsewhere, please do not use “tag” or “pyrotag”. You sequenced 16S rRNA genes. We all sequence single-gene markers, and none of us sequence the full length genes in doing so; it goes without saying.

Here and elsewhere, please simply use “Shannon Index” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1466-822X.2003.00015.x/abstract).

Here and elsewhere, use “PCR amplification”, or some alternative, to avoid saying polymerase chain reaction reaction (“PCR reaction”). Redundant.

Here and elsewhere, what range of DNA quantities were added to the PCR (e.g., 1-10 ng of DNA template). The volume is irrelevant; the DNA quantity is important.

Here and elsewhere, be consistent with spacing between numbers and units.

Here and elsewhere, do not use "interesting" or "interestingly". Let the reader decide what is interesting.

Here and elsewhere, do a global find/replace of your document for double spaces “  “ and replace them with single spaces “ “.

Here and elsewhere, do not describe scientific results using the terms “dramatic” or “dramatically”.

Here and elsewhere, delete “etc.” from all scientific writing. “among others”, or “for example” can be used.

Here and elsewhere, use the Oxford comma, or not, but be consistent either way. Check journal format.

Here and elsewhere, “anaerobic” and “anoxic” used incorrectly. Anoxic is for the environment, anaerobic is for the metabolism. Same applies for “aerobic” and “oxic”.

Here and elsewhere, “population” refers to members of the same species. Use “community” when referring to assemblages of multiple species.

Here and elsewhere, (R), (C), and (Tm) symbols are not needed in scientific writing.

Here and elsewhere, don’t mention the data displays explicitly in the manuscript. Explain what your results showed, then cite data displays to support your claims (Fig. 1).

Here and elsewhere, please be consistent in following journal format convention for your references.