Writing good scientific papers



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Tenses 

  • Tenses 
  • When describing methods and results, you should use the past tense.  The present tense is appropriate for accepted facts, such as the background information presented in the Introduction.  In addition, you may use the present tense when you discuss your results and conclusions.  Looking over other scientific papers may help you answer questions you might have on this topic.
  • Units 
  • All units of measure must be metric or SI (international System).

Scientific writing

  • Scientific writing
  • Scientific English
  • Style of writing and use of English in essays and scientific papers
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_writing

I. Language

  • I. Language
  • Three aspects of style seem to cause problems:
  • Division of the text into sentences and paragraphs. Sentences should have only one idea or concept. In general, sentences in scientific prose should be short, but full stops should not be added so liberally that the writing does not flow. The use of paragraphs helps the reader to appreciate the sense of the writing.
  • Superfluous phrases and words should be avoided. Do not write phrases such as "It is also important to bear in mind the following considerations". Most woolly phrases can be omitted or replaced by a single word.
  • Try to use familiar, precise words rather than far-fetched vague words. "Cheaper" may replace "More economically viable", and ongoing situation" doesn’t mean very much.

Tense and mood

  • Tense and mood
  • Write in past tense unless you are describing present or future situations. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice.
  • For example, instead of writing "The food was eaten by the pig", write "The pig ate the food". The active voice is easier to read and reduces the sentence length
  • It can be acceptable to write in more than one tense in the literature review e.g. "Brown (1995) showed that the brain is more fully developed at birth than other organs". In this case the present tense can be used for the second half of the sentence because its gives knowledge that is universally accepted.
  • Materials and methods should be written in the past tense. "The experiment was designed in the form of a 6 x 6 Latin square." Remarks about Results should mainly be in the past tense. "When a high protein diet was fed to rabbits they grew rapidly."

Sentence construction

  • Sentence construction
  • The purpose of any paper is to convey information and ideas. This cannot be done with long involved sentences. Keep sentences short, not more than 30 words in length. A sentence should contain one idea or two related ideas. A paragraph should contain a series of related ideas.
  • Choice of words
  • Words have precise meanings and to use them correctly adds clarity and precision to prose. Look at the following pairs of words that are often used in scientific texts. Learn how to use them correctly: Fewer, less; infer, imply; as, because; disinterested, uninterested ; alibi, excuse ; data, datum; later, latter; causal, casual; loose, lose; mute, moot; discrete, discreet. See, for example: Less active blood cells vs.
  • Fewer active blood cells
  • Use a standard dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases to find the correct meaning of words.

Use of pronouns

  • Use of pronouns
  • When you write ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘which’ or ‘they’ are you sure that the meaning is plain? A pronoun usually deputizes for the nearest previous noun of the same number (singular or plural) - The cows ate the food; they were white. The cows ate the food; it was white.
  • Correct spelling, including the use of plurals
  • Some words have alternative spelling e.g. tyre, tire, grey, gray; draft, draught, often the difference is between the American and British spelling. In other cases an apparent misspelling is a misuse of a word e.g. practice, practise.
  • The plural of many words in English is achieved by adding an s (or es) to the single. However some words have the same form in both the singular and plural. Other words are already plural such as people and equipment, so don't use peoples (unless you are referring to different groups of people or different ethnic groups) and equipments. Adopted words sometimes take on the plural of the original language, for example datum becomes data and fungus become fungi.

Use of abstract words

  • Use of abstract words
  • Use the concrete and not the abstract to achieve clarity and precision: "Cessation of plant growth operated in some of the plots." Obviously a cessation cannot operate (Some plots of plants did not grow during the trial)
  • The abstract noun basis is commonly overworked. "Measurement of storm intensity involves recording staff to be available both day and night on a 24 hour basis." "To measure storm intensity recording staff have to be in duty throughout the day and night."
  • Be careful with the use of the present participle(Gerund):
  • After standing in boiling water for an hour, examine the flask.
  • The gerund always ends in 'ing.' If the sentence is left without a subject (a hanging participle) then the action of the verb is transferred to the person taking the action.

Misuse of emotional words (avoid)

  • Misuse of emotional words (avoid)
  • One cannot develop a logical argument using emotional words: e.g. progressive, reckless, crank, sound, good, correct, improved, superior.
  • Superlatives
  • Very, more, much, have a place when used economically. As superlatives they are out of place in scientific writing. Superlatives such as gigantic, earth shattering or fantastic should never be used.
  • Qualifying the absolute
  • Some adjectives are absolute and cannot be modified such as: sterile or unique. Other adjectives, such as pregnacy, have to be qualified with care. A petri dish is either sterile or not sterile. It cannot be very sterile, quite sterile or fairly sterile; An object is unique, and although a woman can be recently pregnant, she can't be slightly pregnant.


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