The Science Of Scientific Writing    Set B      Paragraphs: Intro to Readers' Expectations    The Landmark  What makes a landmark?   Exercise 1 Quiz   Landmark should appear early    Exercise 2    A kick in the tail    A plan for writing landmark-final paras     Exercise 3   Exercise 4   Exercise 5    Exercise 6     Final Page.

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences

SET A: Paragraphs: The Maps Behind Them

SET B: Paragraphs: Using Maps to Meet Readers' Expectations

SET C: Paragraph Coherence and Cohesion

SET D: Sentences

SET E: Scientific Sections (including Methods)

SET F: Scientific Sections: The Discussion

SET G : Scientific Sections: The Introduction

SET H : The Paper as a Whole

Paragraphs with a kick in the tail: an atypical, but important pattern

m,When you were doing Exercise 2 you may have been puzzled by this paragraph:

"What can be done to foster a greater emphasis on biodiversity conservation among local planning departments? We found a significant relationship between the presence of a staff specialist in biodiversity conservation and higher levels of conservation activity in a department. The vast majority of respondents also indicated educational opportunities in biodiversity conservation were available to their personnel, and most suggested that more staff training would increase conservation planning efforts. Yet we did not find a significant relationship between departments employing personnel with training in ecology or conservation biology and any of our measures of conservation action. We conclude that jurisdictions that have made biodiversity a priority are also the ones with a specialist on board, and if it is not a priority, educating staff members seems unlikely to elevate conservation efforts in a meaningful way."


The landmark sentence is pretty clearly the final sentence, but it is the first sentence that provides a frame of reference for the paragraph as a whole. This pattern demonstrates two important further points about long paragraph structure:

  • The conclusion of a long paragraph is the only other location to put a landmark sentence, and while it is a much rarer pattern than locating the landmark near the start, it is a pattern that can be used (occasionally) to good effect in a scientific paper
  • If one does put the landmark sentence last, then one needs to add an early sentence (in first, second or third position) that provides the frame of reference normally given by an early landmark sentence.

Setting the scene for a concluding landmark sentence: the "pointer" sentence

In a landmark-final paragraph, we will refer to the sentence that "fills in" for the relocated landmark sentence as a "pointer" sentence. Its content prepares us for the concluding landmark sentence. The first and final sentences from the paragraph above illustrate one of the most common types of "preparation" that a pointer sentence carries out, i.e. it poses the Question for which a concluding landmark sentence provides the Answer:

  • What can be done to foster a greater emphasis on biodiversity conservation among local planning departments?
  • We conclude that jurisdictions that have made biodiversity a priority are also the ones with a specialist on board, and if it is not a priority, educating staff members seems unlikely to elevate conservation efforts in a meaningful way.

Another very important type of relationship between Pointer and Landmark Sentences is: Question and Further Question. Consider the following paragraph:

Eighteenth-century biologists were confounded by the platypus. Egg-laying, one of the platypus's most striking features, was a characteristic not normally associated with a mammal, but its hairy covering was. So they had to look more closely to answer the question: is the platypus a mammal? They found that the platypus's fur, when examined in detail, is structurally similar to that of accepted mammals. The hair scales of the shaft of platypus hair show the typical mammalian shift in shape between the base and the tip. Also, although it has no teats, the platypus nevertheless produces a milky secretion that is used to suckle its young. Suckling of the young and fur were two features universally acknowledged at the time as definitive characteristics of the class Mammalia. Therefore, the biologists now had to ask themselves: should egg-laying in itself exclude an animal from being classified as a mammal?

This pattern is very common in the Introduction of a paper where the most typical type of "Further Question" is a more specific question. Thus the exact type of relationship is: General Question (implied) and Specific Question. For example::

The reasons for the increasing prevalence of asthma are unclear. Ceeger and Neentendough (1988) have demonstrated that time spent indoors correlates strongly with the incidence of childhood asthma. Durstmeight (1990) later provided some evidence that prolonged exposure to household allergens could be important, but it has not yet been shown definitively that indoor allergens are responsible. Recently, Ghetarlyfe (2003) has suggested that it is decreased time spent outdoors that is possibly the causative factor. In this as yet untested scenario it would be outdoor, not indoor, allergens that are responsible: children might be getting fewer opportunities to develop an insensitivity to agents such as pollen and fungal spores that occasionally reach high densities, since they not being exposed to them at low levels. Thus whether indoor-time-associated asthma of children involves indoor or outdoor allergens remains an ongoing issue.

This pattern is also seen in the final paragraph of the Introduction from the Miller et al. (2008) paper we looked at earlier:

Aside from a handful of examples, it is unknown how pervasive recommended conservation practices are among local jurisdictions. To what extent do local planning departments address biodiversity conservation in their plans and policies? Do planners follow the guidelines offered by academics, natural resource agencies, and nongovernmental organizations? How widespread is the implementation of land-use planning tools to achieve conservation goals? To address these and other questions concerning the role of biodiversity conservation in local land-use planning, we surveyed planning personnel in 3 regions of the United States that have experienced high levels of population growth in recent years: the Research Triangle, North Carolina; greater metropolitan Des Moines, Iowa; and greater metropolitan Seattle, Washington. Our objectives were to gauge the extent to which local planning departments address biodiversity conservation and to identify factors that facilitate or hinder conservation actions in local land-use planning.

The landmark-final pattern can play different roles in a scientific paper:

  • In the Introduction especially, it allows you to familiarise your readers with difficult concepts and obscure terminology, so that when you do finally come to express the point, it can be done in a single, succinct sentence. This can help deliver a more memorable "take home message".
  • In an argument anywhere in the paper, putting the conclusion last can help to make you, as the writer, appear less arrogant. You are more likely to come across as the sort of person who gives readers the evidence first, and lets them make up their own minds, rather than telling them what to think.
  • In an argument in the Conclusion of the Discussion, the effect of a concluding point can provide a dramatic flourish.

Landmark-final paragraphs must be used carefully

The landmark-final pattern should be used sparingly. Remember that the reader expects most paragraphs to have an early landmark sentence, and if too many paragraphs assail the reader with an extra kick at the end, it becomes very tiresome and disorienting.

Also, many writers are naturally inclined towards the landmark-final format (probably because, verbally, we often argue in this way) but when employing it, they make the mistake of omitting a pointer sentence. In speech, the equivalent of a pointer sentence is often rendered unnecessary by context or verbal cues (e.g. intonation), but in a text, context can often be lacking (readers cannot be assumed to read linearly) and there is no recourse to verbal cues. It is therefore vitally important to provide a scene-setting sentence for all types of long paragraphs.