How to State the Acknowledgments of a Scientific Paper


The main text of a scientific paper is usually followed by two additional sections, namely, the acknowledgments and the references.

As to the acknowledgments, two possible ingredients require consideration. First, you should acknowledge any significant technical help that you received from any individual, whether in your laboratory or elsewhere. You should also acknowledge the source of special equipment, cultures, or other materials. You might, for example, say something like, “Thanks are due to J. Jones for assistance with the experiments and to R. Smith for valuable dis­cussion.” (Of course, most of us who have been around for a while recognize that this is simply a thinly veiled way of admitting that Jones did the work and Smith explained what it meant.)

Second, it is usually the acknowledgments wherein you should acknowledge any outside financial assistance, such as grants, contracts, or fellowships. (In this time of scarce funding, we can be especially appreciative of such support.)


The important element in acknowledgments is simple courtesy. There isn’t anything really scientific about this section of a scientific paper. The same rules that would apply in any other area of civilized life should apply here. If you borrowed a neighbor’s lawn mower, you would (we hope) remember to say thanks for it. If your neighbor gave you a really good idea for landscaping your property and you then put that idea into effect, you would (we hope) remember to say thank you. It is the same in science; if your neighbor (your colleague) provided important ideas, important supplies, or important equipment, you should thank him or her. And you must say thanks in print, because that is the way that scientific landscaping is presented to its public.

A word of caution is in order. Before mentioning someone in an acknow­ledgment, you should obtain permission from him or her. Often, it is wise to show the proposed wording of the acknowledgment to the person whose help you are acknowledging. He or she might well believe that your acknowledg­ment is insufficient or (worse) that it is too effusive. If you have been working so closely with an individual that you have borrowed either equipment or ideas, that person is most likely a friend or valued colleague. It would be silly to risk either your friendship or the opportunities for future collaboration by placing in print a thoughtless word that might be offensive. An inappropriate thank- you can be worse than none at all, and if you value the advice and help of friends and colleagues, you should be careful to thank them in a way that pleases rather than displeases them.

Furthermore, if your acknowledgment relates to an idea, suggestion, or interpretation, be very specific about it. If your colleague’s input is too broadly stated, he or she could well be placed in the sensitive and embarrassing position of having to defend the entire paper. Certainly, if your colleague is not a coau­thor, you must not make him or her a responsible party to the basic consider­ations treated in your paper. Indeed, your colleague may not agree with some of your central points, and it is not good science and not good ethics for you to phrase the acknowledgments in a way that seemingly denotes endorsement.

We wish that the word “wish” would disappear from acknowledgments. Wish is a perfectly good word when you mean wish, as in “I wish you success.” However, if you say “I wish to thank John Jones,” you are wasting words. You may also be introducing the implication that “I wish that I could thank John Jones for his help but it wasn’t all that great.” “I thank John Jones” is sufficient.

Source: Gastel Barbara, Day Robert A. (2016), How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, Greenwood; 8th edition.

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