Postdoc Writing Group

The group is committed to supporting the postdoc community in building the skills required to achieve concise and effective science communication. We meet monthly to focus on different pieces of scientific writing. We learn by discussing material that can guide us in our writing, and through constructive feedback. If you want to know more about the group or have a topic idea for a future session, please get in touch with,, and

Top Tips from the Writing Group
Here are some tips that we’ve discussed in past sessions that can help you when preparing different pieces of scientific writing. These are of course suggestions so please make sure to refer to the guidelines that are specific to your case.

For more information, links to useful material, as well as examples, please join us in a future session.

Specific Aims Page
  • One of the most important sections of any grant
  • It is your chance to convince the reviewers that your project is worth funding
  • Usually 1 page in length
  • Be clear and concise
  • Should be easily understood by non-specialists
  • Must include everything that is important without going into detail
  • Number of aims should be between 2 and 4
  • Avoid a later aim being reliant on the successful completion of an earlier aim
  • The aims should address a central hypothesis and should be related
  • Make sure the aims are not overambitious
  • Experiments should support the aims, and the aims the hypothesis, the hypothesis itself should be impactful and relevant to the funding body
  • Here is a guide to the different sections:
    • Introductory paragraph – Define the problem, which should be relevant to the mission of the funding body. Detail what is known and what is unknown so you can frame your research
    • Hypothesis – Can discuss long-term goals but then clearly define the central hypothesis of this project and what will be achieved
    • Specific Aim 1, 2, etc. – Should follow in a logical manner and be defined in separate paragraphs
    • Can follow this order – Hypothesis/Statement, Experimental Approach, Impact
Postdoctoral Fellowships
  • Check out the resources page where you will find links to databases that you can search for fellowship opportunities
  • Look very carefully at the guidelines, as each fellowship is different!
  • Where possible try to get hold of a sample or a previous application
  • Discuss your ideas with your PI and others and make sure you are up to date with the literature
  • Start with your specific aims as it will help you structure the rest of the fellowship
  • The background should emphasize the relevance to the funding body and the significance of the research
  • Support your hypothesis with preliminary data where applicable
  • Consider bringing in a collaborator if you or your lab do not have expertise in a specific area or technique
  • In general, the research plan will cover the background, hypothesis, experimental approach, expected outcomes, alternative strategies, and impact/significance
  • Consider using a timeline to show your aims are achievable, as a lot of early career scientists tend to be overambitious
  • Remember it is also about your development and potential to become an independent researcher
  • Think about bringing on a co-mentor if your sponsor is a junior faculty
  • Consider your training plan and be specific
  • Make it clear that you are in an environment that will support your research
  • Letters of reference are critical so ask a PI that you know well and that will give a personal letter
Cover Letter for Manuscript Submission
  • Should have the corresponding authors address
  • Use the name of the editor or say editor(s)
  • Refer to the journal you are submitting to
  • Discuss the type of article and what it is about in a small amount of detail
  • Focus on what you found and the significance
  • Detail why it is a good fit for the journal – you can use the scope and interest from the journal website or even refer to similar articles that have recently been published
  • State that all authors approve, that there are no ethical or competing interests and that it has not been submitted elsewhere
  • You can suggest reviewers, there may also be a section in the submission, and in this case you can mention this but don’t have to name them again
  • Thank them for their consideration and give the corresponding author details
  • Some useful phrases are as follows:
    • We would like to submit the manuscript . . . for consideration as a . . . article in . . .
    • We believe the study will have a significant impact on . . .
    • It is well established that . . . Despite this understanding, little is known about . . .
    • In this paper we present . . .
    • Our work builds upon / significantly develops this concept / to our knowledge this is the first example of . . .
    • We think that our work will be of interest to . . . / Our findings are extremely relevant for . . .
Rebuttal Letter
  • Look carefully at the decision letter from the Editor to see what they want you to focus on or what the sticking points are – can you address them?
  • Look at the reviewer comments are they looking for clarification, reanalysis, additional experiments or something that is not possible – this will help you decide how much work it will take
  • The last thing you want to do is to spend months working on something that is unlikely to be accepted, sometimes the best thing to do is to go elsewhere
  • Always take a professional and courteous tone in your correspondence
  • Thank the editor and reviewers for their time and considered comments
  • An effective way to construct the letter is to repeat the comments of the reviewer and then write your response directly below perhaps in a different font or color
  • Refer to the changes you made i.e. panel in the figure or specific lines of text added
  • If a reviewer has misinterpreted something, don’t just say they are wrong, perhaps you could have explained better in the text or you could rework the figure to show something more clearly
  • You will disagree with the reviewers in some (maybe many) cases, so try to appease them where you can, so that when a point comes up that you strongly disagree with, you can do so respectfully
  • If you disagree, make sure to state your rationale – this should never be that the other reviewer was fine with it
  • If you cannot address a point, describe why this is the case
  • Try to remember that the comments are an opportunity to improve the manuscript so your research will be more impactful in the end
Writing a Review Article
  • Ensure there is a benefit to writing the review
  • Make sure that it is going to be original
  • Think about gaps or where updates in the field are required
  • Be certain on your theme and what you want to cover and say
  • Discuss your ideas with others to get their take
  • Research the literature very well and look out for new papers as you write
  • Make notes as you go along
  • Write a plan with sub-headings of the topics to cover
  • Beware of falling into the trap of just listing examples
  • Be smart about the figures – they are more important than you think
  • Make sure the review has opinions
  • Don’t leave out any important references, decide on a criteria for what references to include or not
  • Get others to read it
  • If you are writing a review with somebody else, make sure everyone knows what they are doing and set a timeline
  • Keep in mind the journal requirements
  • Accept that it takes a lot of work and it will take time
Lay Abstract
  • Use shorter more common words e.g. define not delineate, use not utilize
  • Sentences should also be shorter
  • Avoid technical words and where unavoidable explain or define
  • In general, pitch it at a high school level of understanding and be careful not to oversimplify
  • Get feedback from a non-scientist or a scientist that is not in your field
  • Should focus on the importance of the work
  • Discuss the background, the need for research and its impact
  • Think big picture


  • The resume should be a strategic and targeted compilation of your most relevant skills and achievements that are directly applicable to the job you are applying for
  • Keep it clear and concise
  • Formatting should be consistent
  • Create a master document that you can tailor to each application
  • Take note of keywords in the job application and use them in your resume
  • Try to think about what skills would be valued in the industry
  • Give specific details and quantify where possible
  • Need to demonstrate the result rather than how you got there
  • Use third person and start bullet points with action words
  • Do not use opinions and instead demonstrate facts