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Scientific Writing

This presentation explains some important aspects of writing scientific papers. It focuses on standard audience expectations for the style, organization (IMRaD), and goals of scientific writing. It also offers techniques to help students research their topics. Handouts related to the subject matter will be provided.

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Scientific Writing

  1. 1. Scientific Writing Style & Structure
  2. 2. Scientific Writing “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton … sort of.
  3. 3. General Considerations for Scientific Writing • Thoroughly understand your sources. • Support everything with evidence, and distinguish fact from possibility. • Know your audience. • Never make your readers work harder than they have to.
  4. 4. Using Your Sources • Scientific writing rarely uses direct quotation. • Extensive paraphrasing often indicates a lack of understanding. • Information from other sources, if used, will usually be summarized. • Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
  5. 5. Questioning Your Sources • What specific questions were asked? • How was the study designed, and how did the design of the study address the question posed? • What are the specific results of the study? How convincing are they? • What assumptions were made? Did they seem reasonable? • What contribution does the study make toward answering the original question? • What aspects of the original question remain unanswered? -from A Short Guide to Writing about Biology by Jan A. Pechenik
  6. 6. In this paper, preliminary investigation was conducted to evaluate the potential ecological risk of heavy metals contamination in cemetery soils. Necrosol samples were collected from within and around the vicinity of the largest mass grave in Rwanda and analyzed for heavy metal concentrations using total digestion- inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and instrumental neutron activation analysis. The preliminary results revealed that the associated cemetery soils are only contaminated to a low degree. On the other hand, assessment of the potential ecological risk index (RI) revealed that cumulative heavy metal content of the soil does not pose any significant ecological risks. These findings, therefore, suggest that, while cemetery soils may be toxic due to the accumulation of certain heavy metals, their overall ecological risks may be minimal and insignificant. -from “Potential Ecological Risk of Heavy Metal Distribution in Cemetery Soils” Amuno, SA. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution 224. 2 (Feb 2013): 1-12.
  7. 7. Support Everything with Evidence… • All statements, whether fact or opinion, require support. You may, for example, use…  Peer-reviewed Journals  Quantitative Results (including your own data!)  Government/Academic Reports • Be critical of the sources you use to support your assertions.
  8. 8. … and Distinguish Fact from Possibility. • Statements in a scientific paper need a significant consensus to meet the requirements of a “fact.” • You may form an opinion, but can you support it to scientific standards? • Use verbs like suggest, seem, appear, exhibit, indicate, point to, express, and assert. • “If [x] is true, then [y].”
  9. 9. Fact or possibility? 1. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cockroaches respond to electrical appliances or outlets. 2. Cockroach infestation was found in 45 (65.2%) institutions and 558 cockroaches were collected. 3. Disgust and fear are basic emotions that protect humans against pathogens and/or predators.
  10. 10. Never make your readers work harder than they have to. • Don’t make your readers guess the significance of your assertions. Tell them! • Move logically from one point to the next, and make sure your writing shows the progression of your ideas. • Be clear, be correct, and be concise! • Seriously. Be concise.
  11. 11. “Write to illuminate, not to impress. Use the simplest words and the simplest phrasing consistent with that goal.” – Jan A. Pechenik
  12. 12. Concise Writing In order to be able to examine and analyze our data, we utilized a number of computer software packages dedicated to conducting statistical evaluations. - sentence from a graduate science paper
  13. 13. We used statistical software to analyze our data. - suggested revision
  14. 14. Concise Writing It was found that the shell lengths of live snails tended to be larger for individuals collected closer to the low tide mark (Fig. 1).
  15. 15. Snails found closer to the low tide mark typically had larger shells (Fig. 1).
  16. 16. Transitions The energy needs of a resting otter are 3 times those of terrestrial animals of comparable size. The sea otter eats about 25% of its body weight daily. Sea otters feed at night as well as during the day.
  17. 17. The energy needs of a resting otter are 3 times those of terrestrial animals of comparable size. To support such a high metabolic rate, the sea otter must eat about 25% of its body weight daily. Moreover, sea otters feed continually, at night as well as during the day.
  18. 18. Know Your Audience • Who are you writing to? The answer to this question should help determine the choices you make while writing. • Make your paper self-sufficient: define terms, explain abbreviations, clarify details. Don’t assume pre-existing knowledge that your readers might not have. • Your audience for a scientific paper will have certain expectations for format, tone, and style.
  19. 19. Audience Expectations • Your audience will usually expect a specific organization for your paper: IMRaD Introduction, Methods/Materials, Results and Discussion • “The text of an article … will usually be some variation of the IMRaD form.” -from Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers by The Council of Science Editors
  20. 20. Introduction • Generally written in present tense • Establishes the framework for the entire paper.  Background information that leads to a clear statement of the specific issue(s) your paper will address (the topic)  An argument that justifies the study – why did you write this paper/conduct this research? How does it relate to other research?(the justification)  A (brief) explanation of your results and conclusions. • Stick to the point! Only include information that is directly relevant to the paper.
  21. 21. Methods/Materials • Generally written in past tense • A balanced level of detail–enough to replicate your results without overwhelming your reader • Remember–be precise! • How did you collect your information, and what did you do with it?  Include formulas, measurements, software, locations, test subjects, alien invasions … everything!  Consider any factor that may have influenced your results.
  22. 22. Results • Usually written in past tense • What did you find out? • Present your results without interpretation. • Don’t exclude information, even if it conflicts with your expectations or with your hypothesis.
  23. 23. Discussion • Typically written in present tense • What do the results mean?  What did you expect, and why?  Did the results match your expectations?  How do your results compare to the work of earlier researchers?  Based on your results, what questions would you ask next? • Remember to clearly distinguish facts from possibilities.
  24. 24. • Thoroughly understand your sources. • Support everything with evidence, and distinguish fact from possibility. • Know your audience. • Never make your readers work harder than they have to. Review
  25. 25. For More Help… Visit our website or call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you find answers to any of your scientific writing questions!