Science for the Public and more…

Archive for February, 2016

Often such sentences begin the article. In other cases, summary sentences
are preceded by one or a few sentences designed to stimulate additional
reader interest in the topic. The opening sentences are known
as the “lead.”
Leads tend to follow one of four major formats: the simple
statement, the bullet lead, the narrative lead, and the surprise
or paradox lead.
Some of these leads allow the writer considerable room
for creativity.

The Simple Statement and Bullet Leads
The first lead is a simple but dramatic statement of the major finding,
usually in a single sentence, such as a simple statement that “The Zika Virus Can be Sexually Transmitted”.
A more interesting lead, but one that is more challenging to write, is
called the Bullet Lead.
Actually, it consists of three bullets, which are always
followed by the general summary statement. For example:
• We all know people who have trained their dogs to fetch the daily
newspaper without tearing it.
• Similarly, we all know that horses can be
trained to respond to the slightest movement of their riders and
• We all know that goldfish can be trained to come to the front of the fish bowl at
the sound of a bell.
Now it turns out that even octopi (Octopus vulgarus) can be trained to perform certain simple tasks and that they actually learn those tasks more quickly from each other than from a human trainer.
If the bullets are fired successfully, by the end of the third “bullet”, the
reader is wondering how the individual bullets are related and where they
are “leading.”

Just at that moment, the skillful writer answers those
questions; if done properly, the reader wants to read more.

The Narrative Lead
The narrative lead tells a story of some sort, and then follows up with the
summary sentence:
Sitting at the bottom of a large glass tank is a 2-pound octopus. The
octopus has been trained for several weeks to avoid balls of one color
and to pick up balls of a different color. Every day for 6 hours he has
been rewarded with food for choosing the right balls, and punished
with mild electric shocks for choosing the wrong ones. Now, he sits
idly in the tank, his eyes apparently following every movement of
the researchers as they prepare to set up the next experiment,
his mantle cavity filling and emptying in a consistent respiratory
rhythm.
The researchers bring over a tank containing another octopus,
one that was freshly collected that morning from the warm and inviting
waters just outside the marine laboratory. The two octopi quickly crawl
toward each other in their respective tanks, peering through the glass
with apparent interest. “Now watch this,” one of the researchers says
to the newcomer, as she puts the trained octopus through his morning
paces. The newly collected octopus watches, and seems genuinely
interested in what the other octopus is doing. Now the researchers offer
the same choices to the new octopus. Remarkably, after watching only
four trials, the observing octopus chooses the correct ball over the other
one in every one of the trials.
The surprising finding that octopi can learn from watching
each other was recently published in the research journal Science
by two biologists working at laboratories on the Italian coast.

The Surprise or Paradox Lead
This lead tries to arouse the reader’s attention by making a surprising or
paradoxical statement then following up with the summary sentence.

For example:
Biologists, for years, have spent many tedious hours training animals
to perform simple tasks, by rewarding the desired behavior and
punishing the undesired behavior. Now, it seems at least some
animals may learn far more quickly by simply watching each other than
by being trained by humans.
Two Italian scientists, Professor Graziano Fiorito and Professor
Pietro Scotto, announced in a recent issue of the research journal
Science, that the common octopus can not only be trained to distinguish
between objects of different colors, but can in fact learn to make these
distinctions even more quickly by simply watching each other.

A Word about Figure (Photo) Captions

Photo captions are the most read body type in a publication. Of all the information content, only the titles of articles and abstracts have higher readership than captions. It follows that standards of accuracy, clarity, completeness and good writing are as high for captions as for other parts of the paper. As with headlines, captions must be crisp; as with articles, they must be readable and informative.
Figure Captions: Captions describe the photo or graph. Descriptions or discussion of the content of the Figure should be handled in the text of the article.

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