Writing the vertebral-orientation paper in the open

December 14, 2018

Now that Matt and I have blogged various thoughts about how to orient vertebra (part 1, part 2, relevant digression 1, relevant digression 2, part 3) and presented a talk on the subject at the 1st Palaeontological Virtual Congress, it’s time for us to strike while the iron is hot and write the paper.

Figure A. NHMUK PV R2095, the holotype dorsal vertebra of Xenoposiedon proneneukos in left lateral view. A. In the canonical orientation that has been used in illustrations in published papers (Taylor and Naish 2007, Taylor 2018b, in blog-posts and on posters and mugs. B. Rotated 15° “backwards” (i.e. clockwise, with the dorsal portion displaced caudally), yielding a sub-vertical anterior margin in accordance the recommendation of Mannion (2018b). In both parts, the blue line indicates the horizontal axis, the green line indicates the vertical axis, and the red line indicates the slope of the neural arch as in Taylor (2018b: figure 3B, part 2). In part A, the slope (i.e. the angle between the red and green lines) is 35°; in part B, it is 20°.

We’re doing it totally in the open, on GitHub. You can always see the most recent version of the manuscript at https://github.com/MikeTaylor/palaeo-vo/blob/master/vo-manuscript.md and you can also review the history of its composition if you like — from trivial changes like substituting a true em-dash for a double hyphen, to significant additions like writing the introduction.

More than that, you can contribute! If you think there’s a mistake, or something missing that should be included, or if you just have a suggestion, you can file an issue on the project’s bug-tracker. If you’re feeling confident, you can go further and directly edit the manuscript. The result will be a tracked change that we’ll be notified of, and which we can accept into, or reject from, the master copy.

We hope, by making all this visible online, to demythologise the process of writing a paper. In a sense, there is no magic to it: you just start writing, do a section at a time, revise as you go, and eventually you’re done. It’s much like writing anything else. (Doing the referencing can make it much slower than regular writing, though!)

By the way, you may wonder why the illustration above is “Figure A” rather than “Figure 1”. In all my in-progress manuscripts, I just assign letters to each illustration as I add it, not worrying about ordering. Only when the manuscript is ready to be submitted do I take the order that the illustrations occur in (A, D, G, H, B, I, E, F, for example, with C having been dropped along the way) and replace them with consecutive numbers. So I save myself a lot of tedious and error-prone renumbering every time that, in the process of composition, I insert an illustration anywhere before the last existing one. This is really helpful when there are a lot of illustrations — as there tend to be in our papers, since they’re all in online-only open-access venues with no arbitrary limits. For example, our four co-authored papers from 2013 had a total of 69 illustrations (11 in Taylor and Wedel 2013a, 25 in Wedel and Taylor 2013a, 23 in Taylor and Wedel 2013b and 10 in Wedel and Taylor 2013b).

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6 Responses to “Writing the vertebral-orientation paper in the open”

  1. Dale mcinnes Says:

    This is a great idea !!!!


  2. […] we’re working on the paper in the open. We’d love to get input from you all, and especially from anyone who’s run into this […]

  3. Sylvain Ribault Says:

    I have been trying to do something of that sort since 2014 with a review article (https://github.com/ribault/CFT-Review). The article is not supposed to ever be completed, but only updated on arXiv from time to time.

    So far, I got only a few minor contributions from others. (Nothing that would qualify for co-authorship.) It will be interesting to see how your experiment goes.


  4. […] year with posts on dissecting a pig head, our presentations at the 1st Palaeo Virtual Congress, the open birth of the vertebral orientation paper, a long overdue post on cleaning bird vertebrae, and this, […]


  5. […] is a page from the manuscript for the vertebral orientation project. I thought a couple of days ago that this was complete and ready to submit. But, just for […]


  6. […] our 1VPC talk about what it means for a vertebra to be horizontal by writing it up as a paper, and doing it in the open. That manuscripts is now complete, and published as a preprint (Taylor and Wedel […]


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