Curated by UCL

Writing an invited article

Audience

Essentially, you are having to address two different audiences at once. First is a general technical audience (we’ll call it G) consisting of people from very different disciplines: if you are an electrical engineer, it may be useful to think of a reader who is a microbiologist. If you are a chemist, think of a particle physicist. Second is the subset of readers within your general discipline (we’ll call this D): other electrical engineers or chemists.

Language/Tone

Although we probably approached you because of your academic writing, you can use a more conversational style here: maybe just a little more formal than a blog. Try to use the first person when writing about your opinions or your own work. Refer to people by their full names on first mention (Albert Einstein, not A. Einstein), and you can use their last names thereafter. Try to use the active voice (Einstein showed that) rather than the passive (it was shown) for most of the article. Switching back and forth is fine, but keep the balance on the active side. Also, don’t worry too much about your English: we’ll fix that. Just make sure that you’re as clear as you can be about what you’re saying.

Finally, try not to hype up your own work. You’re doing a public service here, and people will appreciate you for it. They’ll want to like your work as a result. They will trust you more, and be more likely to value your contribution, if you don’t oversell it.

Structure

Headline (<10 words, G)

Writing a headline is difficult, and we’ll help. A good headline describes the goal of the research and hints at the substance. If you have to overrun, do: we’ll help trim it down later.

Summary for idiots (100 words, G)

This describes (for the simple-minded) how the research is helping to reach the goal of the headline: the simplest explanation of the scientific/engineering problem being solved, a hint at the approaches to solving it, the likely application(s) and — if it’s not completely obvious — why this is important. You should also describe (simply) the progress that has been made that you’re describing in the review.

Introduction (300 words, G)

Start with a paragraph about why the general field you’re describing is important (it’s potential impact within science/engineering/society).

Now write a paragraph that sets up the problem that the researchers have been trying to solve. Why is it, in particular, important to the future of the field? How do things work now, and what kind of improvement would be useful?

What is the problem that needs to be solved here? Are there particular obstacles that have prevented progress in the past?

Main review (800 words, G/D)

Go through each of the pieces of research (from the last year or two) that you think have the potential to solve the problem you discuss. Spend about a paragraph (100 words) on each one, or two or three if you want to discuss variations on a theme. As you move from one piece of research to the next, try to say something (just half a sentence is enough) about any notable similarities/differences between one approach and the next.

Make sure you start out explaining each area to a general technical audience. Towards the end of the paragraph(s) on a particular approach, you can get more technical if you like. But your explanations should always be understandable within your wider discipline, not just your specific area.

Discussion (200 words, D)

Give us some analysis about why some of the approaches you mention are more or less likely to succeed. Are they practical? Compatible with the other technologies/approaches that are important in the field? Do some fit better with some application niches and some with others?

Note that you can combine the review and discussion sections if you like: pay more attention to the balance of description/discussion than to the sequence.

Prognosis (200 words, G)

As a result of the research you’ve looked at, what’s likely to change, and in what timescale? What work needs to be done in order to bring these approaches to fruition? What problems do you foresee? If you had to bet on the success of one approach or technology, which would it be and why?

Image/Figure caption(s) (100 words, G)

Your image/figure will probably be placed near the top of the article, so you should make sure to explain what’s going on in a way that someone who has not yet read the article can understand. Make sure to include any figure credits at the end and, if it’s already been published elsewhere, the details of where.

References (probably 8-15)

Include at least one reference, and no more than three, from each group you mention. Even if you don’t use LaTeX, your bibliography management software will be able to export your references in BibTeX format, and that’s what we’ll use. The full details concerning how to submit references can be found here. If you’re stuck on this, contact us and we’ll help you out!

Background (three books, but you don’t submit these with your article)

Suggest (ideally) three books that would give you good background to this story. If possible:

  • one would be more popular science (for those interested in the general ideas, but not likely to use them in their work)
  • one would be a general text book (for people who might be interested in getting into the field)
  • one would be a technical book useful to those working within the field.
Submit these via the Submit Book/Review function.

Images

We really would like at least one image to go with your article: probably either a really good explanatory diagram or an interesting picture: up to three is a possibility. We trust you to know what makes a good image/figure! However, the biggest obstacle we are likely to encounter is copyright.

Copyright

Most images are protected by copyright laws and so require permission for their use. One complication is that authors sometimes have to give away copyright for their images if they’re published in a journal, so it’s conceivable that even they don’t have permission to give permission. We use a copyright form where the author has to assert both that they give permission for us to use the image and that they have the authority to do that. This, in theory, means that if the author is wrong and someone comes after us then we can tell them to chase after the author.

If we want to use an image that was not supplied by the author, we have to think carefully about copyright. One good source of images is from press offices/press releases, which are there precisely to be used by the press and are free. Though they are pretty much always free to use, they are not necessarily copyright free. If there is a copyright line and/or a photocredit (crediting the photographer), we have to include that with the photo.

There is a legal exception to copyright under US law known as Fair Use which allows for limited and reasonable use of copyright material for the benefit of the public as long as the use does not interfere with the owners’ rights or impede their right to do with the material as they wish. A similar principle, Fair Dealing, exists in the common law jurisdictions of the Commonwealth of Nations. There are limits to Fair Use and there are four factors which need to be considered in order to determine whether use of material is fair:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Source: U.S. Copyright Office

Since the main articles on ENGins do not require a fee to access (and so are nonprofit), the use of copyright pictures could be deemed as fair use. Attributions are not required in this circumstance, but we would want to give some sort of attribution anyway.

Stock photo services (such as Dreamstime see below), creative commons licenses and public domain repositories of images carry rights and so are not subject to fair use. Stock photo services require you to pay for a license, creative commons licenses confer the right to use an image under certain circumstances and public domain images are not subject to copyright in the first place.

Whilst Fair Use is likely to be the case for most uses of images on ENGins, is it always a safe bet to to ask for permission (even if you don’t wait for an answer to use it), and always properly attribute the pictures in a caption.