INFORMATION FOR AUTHORS
PURPOSE AND SCOPE
A “break” is a lay summary of a published scientific article. Its purpose is to make a (complicated) scientific finding accessible to a broader audience. Our readership ideally consists of scientists from very different areas and, above all, laypeople. It is, thus, important to address those who do not have any knowledge of the author’s background, and give them a fascinating story that inspires them to ask questions and get to know more.
To be able to submit a break, authors must be scientists actively pursuing their research within an academic or non-profit research institution. Even though manuscripts written by several authors may be accepted, we strongly discourage any “honorary” authorship. Writing a break is an effort and an exercise of science communication that must be actively undertaken by all the author(s) participating. Ideally, one or two authors draft the submitted manuscript.
DRAFTING A BREAK: STEP-BY-STEP
- LENGTH. The main body of the manuscript must be kept between 700 and 750 words - maximum.
- TITLE. Short, catchy, but NOT misleading. It could also be funny.
- GENERAL INTRODUCTION. Give a general context in which to discuss the study. The intention is that, with this information, the reader can place the results of the study in the broader context more or less on their own. Use also section to introduce some broad technical concepts that will be needed further down. In addition, connect the ideas (if possible) with some aspect of day-to-day life of the reader.
- INTRODUCTION TO STUDY. Usually, a study will focus on a special case of the “phenomenon” introduced in the section above. Give a general context of the particular case being studied, and finish off with stating more or less clearly what the main question/driving hypothesis/interest of this study was. Also, you can use this section to introduce other, more study-specific technical concepts that will be needed when explaining the methodology.
- METHODOLOGY. Explain the methodology in a clear and concise manner. Avoid technical jargon as much as possible (this is the section in which most of us scientists struggle to keep it simple). The most important thing is that the lay person has a good idea of how the study was conducted, so that they can be aware of its limitations, and the real breadth and cover of the conclusions. Also, as you explain it, connect methodological steps with the sections above, so that the reader can be more aware of how a certain methodological step addresses the questions of the study.
- RESULTS. This tends to be the most fun part to write, but not exactly to read. Be aware that many readers may not fully understand the impact of all the results of a study, so try to keep the main results connected to the methodology, AND to the introductory parts. For example, use the same terms as in the introductions, and connect results with the questions stated above. Finally, and linked to this, feel free to make it as a story, so that it is fluid, i.e. “we did x to answer p, but then we realized qrs. Based on this, we decided to go for y and z, and we finally were able to see that tuv!”, instead of just listing results. In general, be mindful of the reader’s interest.
- CONCLUSIONS. from the study Here you should summarize the meaning of the results from above, making clear links to the initial questions and to the specific case presented in the “Introduction to study” section.
- GENERAL CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES. Connect with the general context mentioned in the “General introduction” section. Feel free to state the limitations of the study (it could also be in a fun way, not super serious, but this is optional), and the new questions it allows us to explain. Also, if you deem it fit, connect back to that element of day-to-day life that you brought up in the “General introduction”. This is also the place to make questions to the reader, and spark their curiosity in more aspects of the same subject, and also discuss possible future findings.
TIPS & TRICKS
- First sentence let the audience know why this research is important
- Spell out its relevance and impact - not only the impact for the scientific community but why your non-scientist friend should care
- Structure it with short sentences and paragraphs
- Don't use any scientific jargon, try to use simple (every-day) words and phrases
- Focus on the results that are interesting for the reader. Detailed descriptions of methods and experimental setups only distract from the message
- Leave out details, numbers, and irrelevant facts
- Cap things off at the end so a non-expert comes away with a strong, simple take-home message