The Royal Society established good practice for scientific writing. Founder member Thomas Sprat wrote on the importance of plain and accurate description rather than rhetorical flourishes in his History of the Royal Society of London. Robert Boyle emphasized the importance of not boring the reader with a dull, flat style.
Because most scientific journals accept manuscripts only in English, an entire industry has developed to help non-native English speaking authors improve their text before submission. It is just now becoming an accepted practice to utilize the benefits of these services. This is making it easier for scientists to focus on their research and still get published in top journals.
Besides the customary readability tests, software tools relying on Natural Language Processing to analyze text help writer scientists evaluate the quality of their manuscripts prior to submission to a journal. SWAN, a Java app written by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland is such a tool.
Writing style guides
Publication of research results is the global measure used by all disciplines to gauge a scientist's level of success.
Different fields have different conventions for writing style, and individual journals within a field usually have their own style guides. Some issues of scientific writing style include:
- Some style guides for scientific writing recommend against use of the passive voice, while some encourage it. In the mathematical sciences, it is customary to report in the present tense.
- Some journals prefer using "we" rather than "I" as personal pronoun or a first-person pronoun. The word "we" can sometimes include the reader, for example in mathematical deductions.The acceptability of passive voice in scientific writing is inconsistent. It is not always wanted, but is sometimes encouraged. One reason that passive voice is used in scientific writing is that it is beneficial in avoiding first-person pronouns, which are not formally accepted in science. It can be hard to make claims in active voice, that is, without the words, I” and “we”. The reason that passive voice is sometimes discouraged is that it can be confusing, unless used carefully.
These two simplistic "rules" are not sufficient for effective scientific writing. In practice, scientific writing is much more complex and shifts of tense and person reflect subtle changes in the section of the scientific journal article. Additionally, the use of passive voice allows the writer to focus on the subject being studied (the focus of the communication in science) rather than the author. Similarly, some use of first-person pronouns is acceptable (such as "we" or "I," which depends on the number of authors). The best thing to do is to look at recent examples of published articles in the field.
The stages of the scientific method are often incorporated into sections of scientific reports. The first section is typically the abstract, followed by the introduction, methods, results, conclusions, and acknowledgments. The introduction discusses the issue studied and discloses the hypothesis tested in the experiment. The step-by-step procedure, notable observations, and relevant data collected are all included in methods and results. The discussion section consists of the author's analysis and interpretations of the data. Additionally, the author may choose to discuss any discrepancies with the experiment that could have altered the results. The conclusion summarizes the experiment and will make inferences about the outcomes. The paper will typically end with an acknowledgments section, giving proper attribution to any other contributors besides the main author(s). In order to get published, papers must go through peer review by experts with significant knowledge in the field. During this process, papers may get rejected or edited with adequate justification.
- Academic publishing
- Academic writing
- Common English usage misconceptions
- EASE Guidelines for Authors and Translators of Scientific Articles
- Fast abstract
- Impact factor
- IMRAD structure (Introduction, Method, Result and Discussion)
- A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, authored by Kate L. Turabian (The Chicago Manual of Style)
- Parenthetical referencing
- Peer review
- Scientific article
- Scientific journal
- Scientific literature
- Scientific method
- Technical writing
- Science journalism
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