Writing in Science

Writing is a significant component of the work of a scientist. We must communicate what we learn about the world to others, including both our scientific colleagues and the general public. Several of the course projects include a writing component, and the writing tips listed here may help you with your writing.

Important concepts and ideas - Focus your attention on the important concepts and ideas related to your subject. Extraneous details should be left out.

Writing Style - Passive voice is often used in science writing (The star was observed to increase in brightness" rather than "I observed the star to increase in brightness") The writing should sound stilted and formal to your ears. If your writing does not sound overly formal, your writing is probably not formal enough. . Use simple language - Scientific writing should be clear, concise, unambiguous, and accurate. Use the most appropriate words (which may not be the biggest words!), and don't use three words if one will do the same job.

Organization - Make sure your ideas flow in a logical order. Use connecting words so that the ideas flow from one sentence to the next and one paragraph to the next. Make it easy for your reader (me!) to understand and follow what you are trying to say.

EDIT!! - Always allow time for editing. Leave a break between your first draft and coming back to edit your work. Edit at least twice - once for expression and once for structure. Look for different things each time you edit (spelling, punctuation, unnecessary words, incomplete sentences, ideas out of logical order, etc.).

Third Person - First person pronouns are generally not used in scientific writing. What is important is what was done, not who did it.

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling: Sloppy writing communicates sloppy science, so put your work in the best light by fixing mistakes before you hand it in.

Contractions - Contractions are not used in scientific writing. "Don't" use them!

Length - You may want to write a first draft without worrying about the length, and then shorten it by editing out extra details that aren't important.

Caty's personal writing tip: Never start a sentence with "It is." or "There are." Other alternatives can always be found.

 

Checklist:

_____Include enough information so that the reader can understand what you are presenting.

_____Organize material logically

_____Use specific, informative language

_____Omit unnecessary information

_____Check grammar, spelling, punctuation