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Writing and Publishing Scientific Papers

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Gábor L. Lövei

Part II. Writing the paper

13. Acknowledgements and Appendices

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No one is too big to be courteous, but some are too little.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

1Scientific research, like any other human activity, relies heavily on co-operation. An important part of this is the assistance we obtain from, or provide to, colleagues. This can take many forms: loan of equipment, help to learn a method, discussions of experimental plans, statistical advice, support in the field, and so on.

2Often there is no payment, nor any reward, to the people who provide such help. Co-operation is commonly and courteously acknowledged by thanking the people who helped. The same rules apply: if in everyday life, you would say “thank you”, do this in your paper, too. The appropriate place in a scientific paper for such gratitude is the acknowledgements section. The Acknowledgements appear after the main text (Discussion, or Conclusions) and before the Reference List.

3Who should appear on this list? People who helped you in significant ways to complete the work reported in the article. This includes technicians, field assistants, authorities who gave permission or provided access to resources, colleagues who commented on the manuscripts, or helped you in significant ways. However, this is not really the place to thank your partner, or the coffee lady in the department, even though you feel you could not have completed the work without their support/ coffee. Buy them a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine instead, and say thanks in person.

4Be aware that this is not a “surprise present”, so the person to be thanked should know about it, and agree to it in advance. Show the wording, too. There are good reasons for this. The person may feel your acknowledgement is too much — or too little. Scientists often co-operate “on the ground”, but their superiors are not always happy about this. Maybe the person concerned would have preferred to remain anonymous, or maybe she thinks she deserves to be a co-author.

5The Acknowledgements section is also the place to record sources of financial support. Most funding agencies require that you mention them in any publication that emerges from work done with their support. Here, you should also note that you complied, if necessary, with regulations, obtained necessary permissions, and so on. If the work forms part of your MSc or PhD thesis, this should also be indicated here.

6Many workplaces, field stations, and programs have a running, numbered list of publications. All publications obtain a number, and these forums request that you list this number on your paper. Normally, it appears in your acknowledgements (the other, less desirable, option is in a footnote on the first page of the paper).

7Authorship decision principles can be (and sometimes are) mentioned in this section (Tscharntke et al., 2007). If there is no section devoted to detailed author contributions, they should also be listed here.

8Before publication, several people will probably read and comment on the manuscript. It is also courteous to acknowledge them. It does not matter whether you accepted their suggestions (you are not obliged to accept any of them) — you should thank them for their time spent reading your work. There is no need to qualify your gratitude, nor the advice. It would be silly to “thank XX for her brilliant suggestions”. It goes without saying that whatever any reviewer’s opinion or advice, and irrespective of your acceptance or rejection of them, the responsibility for the content of the paper is solely that of the authors’.

9As for the style, be as brief as possible, to the point and direct. One should not “wish to thank” but simply “thank” someone.

Appendices and Extra Detail

10Whatever does not belong strictly to the flow of argument in the paper, but is still important to the paper as a whole, can be presented as an appendix, or a series of appendices. This can include the description of complicated procedures, listing of programs, more detailed descriptions of models used, and long lists of large bodies of data. Several journals have established a freely accessible data repository, or data archive. These are linked to the website of the journal. Journals encourage their use and this will probably become more widespread in the future. Researchers might also make their data openly available separately from the journal (for example, in an institutional repository). Printed appendices are destined for extinction.

11In any case, if you want to include appendices to your paper, be prepared to have to defend their inclusion. The desire to include an appendix is not certain to result in a fight with the editor, but have a good justification as to what purpose the appendix serves, and why you want it to be included. Editors are always on the lookout to shorten papers.

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