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Scientific Writing—Easy when you know how.
  1. L Penny
  1. Consultant Cardiologist, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, UK

    Statistics from

    By Jennifer Peat, Elizabeth Elliott, Louise Baur, and Victoria Keena. (Pp 312; £22.50.) BMJ Books, 2002. ISBN 0-7279-1625-4.****


    This book provides clear advice on how to write scientific articles and how to get published. The philosophy behind the book is that doctors are drowning in information with thousands of medical journals published annually and endless material from pharmaceutical companies, Royal Colleges, etc and it is therefore not that difficult to get one’s work published but the real challenge is to publish it well and make an impact.

    Each chapter begins with a quotation and the text is also interspersed with well chosen quotations that act as signposts easing our journey through the book. Chapter 1 kicks off with a quote from Samuel Johnson “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure”. The authors even have a quotation to enliven the chapter on statistics “Like dreams statistics are a form of wish fulfilment”.

    There is much to be learnt from dipping into this book—for example, did you know that to report the results of a randomised control trial you will be required to follow the CONSORT guidelines? Their “golden rules” for reporting numbers are very worthwhile—for example, numbers less than 10 are written as words and larger numbers are written as the number; do not use decimal places if the sample size is less than 100 etc. Their clear advice on how to title a scientific article is very well worth reading.

    The book contains a lot of advice on how to draw up a list of authors and coauthors. With the tendency to increasing numbers of coauthors in medical publications there is sound advice here on the responsibilities and entitlements of all authors and coauthors.

    The authors of this book are associate professors, a statistician and an information manager, and have provided a very comprehensive book written in a very clear style and packed full of sound information. The book is beautifully laid out and a model of clarity. They have obviously followed their own advice so that it can be read through from cover to cover, but it is also a useful book to have on the shelf to dip into. I strongly recommend it to all budding medical writers and even well published researchers will find much within its pages to interest.

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    • The reviewers have been asked to rate these books in terms of four items: readability, how up to date they are, accuracy and reliability, and value for money, using simple four point scales. From their opinions we have derived an overall “star” rating: * = poor, ** = reasonable, *** = good, **** = excellent.

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