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Scientific Writing

Scientific Writing – The Art of the Critical Thinker

Scientific writing composition possesses a defined set of stylistic and strategic attributes which are determined by the context of the paper’s use, its disciplinary requirements or publishing convention. In principle, different scientific fields will have distinct rules for composition, including subject-specific referencing systems, rules of order and organisation, formal traits of style, tone and register, as well as overall formatting guidelines; and, so to be certain of proper form, you will have to research these in advance. Nevertheless, in practice, scientific papers exhibit points in common. A good example is the use of the past tense in the paper Abstract, Methodology and Results, and the present tense for the Introduction and Discussion. The Conclusion uses both tenses: the past tense is used in reviewing the Discussion, and the future tense in proffering suggestions for follow-up research. Another important consideration is the intended readership. Who are you writing for? This depends on the situation, but usually (in undergraduate work) the convention is to assume subject-knowledge on a par with one’s own. In postgraduate or professional-level scientific work, the case is more complex. Certain species of publication may demand additional explanatory context, as with an interdisciplinary journal which will reach inexpert readers. In the case of a layperson readership, perhaps a slightly simplified and even didactic register will serve, such as is required for popular science writing or scientific journalism, say. Contrarily, in writing for a highly specialised technical journal, one assumes an expert readership; thus a more precision, diagnostic mode of prose will be in order. Knowing one’s readership accordingly permits a clearer idea of one’s objectives, and clear objectives are a prerequisite for success in any kind of academic work.

Having covered the proper form of scientific writing, one wants to ensure the content is on point. Science is a technical discipline; it follows a highly specific discourse, which needs careful and consistent treatment. Fluency with scientific terminology is expected. One will need to read widely of science texts (lab reports, journal articles, journalism, and such) so as to master the appropriate usage and function of key terms. This is extremely important; scientific writing should be concise and unambiguous. The purpose of scientific jargon in scholarly literature is to ensure complete clarity. The misuse or conflation of technical terms could derail the meaning of an entire paper, mislead the readership and thus compromise follow-up studies; it is therefore impermissible. This is particularly important in evidentiary discovery, in scientific investigations exploring new ideas and concepts – where, in other words, it would be difficult for readers to pinpoint errors. Additionally, one should bear in mind that the primary intent of scientific writing is to transmit information; it is not an aesthetic undertaking. The prose not only needs to be transparent and accurate, therefore, it needs to be concise. In researching scientific literature, you will observe a tendency to very functional composition. The writing is not lyrical or lapidary. Passages are on the whole linearly and logically constructed, following set conventions of scientific discourse, which in effect is a specially codified mode of argumentation.

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