Ways To Improve Your Scientific Writing

Ways To Improve Your Scientific Writing

For the researchers as well as the scientists, communicating their experimental findings with others is the most important task. Well, one may make critical observations, develop ingenious hypotheses, design innovative experiments, and make important and novel discoveries. However, if one cannot communicate their ideas and achievements with the other colleagues of the research community, their career as a scientist will be at a standstill.

There is a particular manner in which scientific writings should be carried out otherwise understanding those vital information are going to be extremely difficult even for the most learned people. There are several instances where one cannot understand the scientific papers even when those papers are written down in the language, which is the first language of both the parties, i.e. the paper submitters and the paper readers. Therefore, it become even more necessary to present the scientific papers in a manner that will be easier for the others to understand, as the ability to write well is critical to a scientist’s success!

Science writing should be clear and concise, but rules of general writing also apply to science writing. The following list contains suggestions to improve and strengthen your scientific writing skills –

1) Organize your thoughts, ideas, and action in a logical manner: Begin with sufficient background information to take your reader along the pathway from your observations or understanding to your hypothesis. Describe the context of the background to appeal to a broad group of readers. Provide sufficient context to communicate the significance of your inquiry and experimental findings. Omit extraneous information so that the reader can obtain a clear picture. Group similar ideas together and state your ideas and thoughts concisely. Present ideas in a consistent manner throughout the manuscript. The most common structure of a scientific manuscript is the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) format.

2) Provide clear descriptions: Repeating the background or concepts may be necessary when the concept is complicated. You may need to explain the concept from different viewpoints. Start simple and then advance the complexity only as far as necessary to get the concept across. Consider your audience as you write. Are you are writing for a general audience or a specialized audience? Will your audience understand the terms of art (i.e. phrases or words common to your particular field of study) or concepts that underlie your field and your research, or is some prior explanation needed? Keep your explanations simple!

3) Simplify your word choices: Use simple straightforward language. Students will read your manuscript and researchers alike – make it easy for them to understand and care about your research even if they are not in your field or are not proficient in English.

4) Write concisely: Note that concise writing is mentioned several times in this article. Science writing must be concise. No one appreciates long and or unnecessary descriptions or paragraphs. Use simple and direct language!

5) Use passive and active voice appropriately: In science writing, it is important to know when to use passive and active voice. Active voice is more natural, direct, and engaging, and should be used when referring to widely accepted findings. The Introduction section should mainly be written in an active voice, because you are telling the story of “what is”. When referring to the findings of a specific study, however, passive voice should be used. In the Methods and Results sections, passive voice should be used to discuss what you did and what you found. In the Discussion section, a mixture of passive and active voice is acceptable, but take care not to mix the two together in a single sentence.

6) Select the appropriate words: Selecting the appropriate words can be challenging. The best words accurately capture what the author is trying to convey. If a word is not sufficiently precise, use a thesaurus to replace the word or phrase with a more appropriate word. Precise words allow for specific, clear, and accurate expression. While science writing differs from literature in that it does not need to be colourful, it should not be boring!

7) Broaden your vocabulary: Use clear, specific, and concrete words. Expand your vocabulary by reading in a broad range of fields and look up terms you do not know.

8) Avoid filler words: Filler words are unnecessary words that are vague and meaningless or do not add to the meaning or clarity of the sentence. Consider the following examples: it is, it was, there is, and there has been, it is important, it is hypothesized that, it was predicted that, there is evidence suggesting that, in order to, and there is a significant relationship. All of these phrases can be replaced with more direct and clear language! 

9) Read what you write: Make sure to vary sentence length to keep the reader from getting lulled to sleep by a monotonous rhythm. Do not, however, make overly long or complicated sentences that hinder the reader’s ability to follow your story. Reading the manuscript yourself after some time away or having someone else read the manuscript will help you to refine the readability.

10) Optimize paragraph and sentence structure: Each paragraph should present a single unifying idea or concept. Extremely long paragraphs tend to distract or confuse readers. If longer paragraphs are necessary, alternate them with shorter paragraphs to provide balance and rhythm to your writing. A good sentence allows readers to obtain critical information with the least effort. Poor sentence structure interferes with the flow! Keep modifiers close to the object they are modifying. Consider the following sentence: “Systemic diseases that may affect joint function such as infection should be closely monitored.” In this example, “such as infection” is misplaced, as it is not a joint function, but rather a systemic disease. The meaning is clear in the revised sentence: “Systemic diseases, such as infection, that may affect joint function should be closely monitored.”

11) Use transitions to control the flow: Sentences and paragraphs should flow seamlessly. Place transitional phrases and sentences at the beginning and end of the paragraphs to help the reader move smoothly through the paper!

12) Word repetition: Avoid using the same word or phrase over and over when another more descriptive word or phrase could be used. Ensure that you do not sacrifice precision for variability. 

13) Improve readability with consistent formatting: Although in many cases it is no longer necessary to format your manuscript for a specific journal before peer review, you should pay attention to formatting for consistency. Use the same font size throughout; headings should be bolded or not bolded, all uppercase or not, italicized or not; and references should be provided in an easy-to-follow, consistent format. Use appropriate subheadings in the Materials and Methods, and Results sections to help the reader quickly navigate your paper!

14) Use parallel construction to facilitate understanding: Your hypothesis, experimental measures, and results should be presented in the same order in the Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Tables. Words or phrases joined by coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet) should have the same form.

15) Maintain consistent use of labels, abbreviations, & acronyms: Measures and variable/group names and labels should be consistent in both form and content throughout the text to avoid confusing the reader!

16) Use abbreviations and acronyms to aid the reader: Only use abbreviations/acronyms to help the reader more easily understand the paper. A general rule of thumb is to use only standard, accepted abbreviations/acronyms that are used at least three times in the main text of the paper. Whenever using an abbreviation/acronym, ask yourself “Does this help me or the reader?” Exceptions may apply for those abbreviations/acronyms that are so commonly used that spelling them out might confuse the reader.

17) Minimize pronoun use for clarity: Make sure every pronoun is very clear, so the reader knows what it represents. In this case, being redundant may contribute to the clarity. Don’t refer to this or that, making the reader go back to the previous paragraph to see what this or that means. Also, limit or avoid the use of “former” and latter”.

18) Read your writing out loud: Read your final paper out loud to check the rhythm, find words and phrases that are repeated too many times within and between sentences and paragraphs. You will often find words that are unnecessary and can be completely eliminated or replaced with alternative word choices!

Written By NEEL PREET – Author of the Books, Voice From The East (2016); Journey With Time Place And Circumstances (2018) & Indian Defence Files (2021).

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