Writing Acknowledgements for Academic or Scientific Manuscripts
Most academics and scientists read (or perhaps skim) many acknowledgements as they consult sources for their research, and this general familiarity with standard formats and contents is extremely helpful when it comes time to sit down and acknowledge in formal prose the assistance that supported their own research. Writing the acknowledgements section for a scientific or academic paper intended for journal publication remains a challenging task, however, and it also varies in its demands and requirements from project to project and journal to journal. The six practical tips presented here will help scholarly authors offer professional thanks and assign due credit thoroughly and succinctly while conforming to journal guidelines and achieving the intellectual elegance characteristic of the finest acknowledgements.
1. The best place to begin is with the publishing guidelines or author instructions of the targeted journal. Many journals will provide specific information about exactly where the acknowledgements should appear (usually at the end of a scientific or academic paper) and who should be included. Watch especially for information about contributions that merit acknowledgement, any acknowledgements that should appear in their own separate sections (those for financial support, for instance), and particular ways in which gratitude should be offered (in order of importance, for example, so that a mentor guiding the research would precede an editor who finalised the text). As a general rule, the acknowledgements for a scientific or academic paper should be concise, focus on intellectual, technical and financial contributions and support directly related to the research, give full names of individuals and groups, and briefly describe the exact nature of each contribution.
2. Always acknowledge any and all funding agencies that support a research project or one or more members of the research team. Funding agencies often have specific requirements regarding how they should be acknowledged, so be sure to read the relevant regulations. In the absence of precise instructions, providing in the acknowledgements section the name of the funding agency, the particular grant and its number (if appropriate) and (in the case of co-authorship) the name of the author who received it will suffice. Journal guidelines may also indicate exactly how and where financial support should be acknowledged. A separate section on funding may be necessary, for instance, or the journal may prefer standardised wording for financial information. These requirements must be balanced with those of the funding agency.
3. Although acknowledgements in general should be as brief as possible, do not hesitate to repeat acknowledgements and credits when necessary. If, for example, the journal requires a formulaic statement about financial support in a separate funding section, but the funding agency insists on different wording in the formal acknowledgements section, you will need to provide both. Remember that neglecting to acknowledge financial support as the funding agency requires is unlikely to encourage future support, even if your reason is based on journal requirements. The same principles apply to permissions and credits, so if a museum providing images asks for specifically worded credits in the acknowledgements section as well as a credit in each image caption, those requirements must be accommodated, and so must any preferences indicated by the journal, such as a full list of images and credits, even if that means trebling acknowledgements at times. Concise wording will help whenever you are free to deviate from set phrasing.
4. Pay special attention to the style of your writing and the tone it establishes. Acknowledgements are often written in the first person (‘I would like to thank…’ or ‘We are grateful to…’) even when the rest of a paper may avoid that perspective, but shifts of voice within the acknowledgements are inappropriate, and a formal style using correct and complete sentences should be maintained at all times. You may feel personal gratitude, but the acknowledgements in a scholarly paper are important aspects of a professional document. Use that gratitude to construct elegant expressions of sincere collegial thanks that describe contributions with precision and avoid excessive flattery. The journal’s instructions may provide further advice on style, and reading the acknowledgements in articles recently published by the journal will give you a feel for the expected tone.
5. Review your research and your manuscript as you draft and polish your acknowledgements to be absolutely sure that you have not neglected to include anyone or any essential details. Even if your acknowledgements are allowed no more space than a single footnote, they are far more than a formulaic tip of the hat in the right directions. Acknowledgements establish your integrity as a researcher and outline your connections and collaborations. They can affect the intellectual impact of the researchers you thank, demonstrate the value of the agencies that fund your research and help your readers with their own research challenges. Whenever you receive constructive feedback and revise your paper, make sure you add acknowledgements for any new help.
6. Finally, spell ‘acknowledgements’ appropriately when you add the heading for your acknowledgements section. Most journals publishing in the English language state in their guidelines a preference for British or American English, and ‘acknowledgements’ is one of those words that vary in spelling between the two versions. The spelling I use here is British with an ‘e’ before the final syllable, but if American English is requested by the journal, make sure you remove that ‘e’ for the spelling ‘acknowledgments.’ As a heading, the word will be highly visible to journal proofreaders who scan the manuscript, so it is wise to send the message that you read, understood and complied with the guidelines.
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