SCIENTIFIC WRITING

By: Dana Newman

Science has an immense effect on modern-day society. Scientific, or technical, writing covers a broad range of scientific areas, such as: astronomy, chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, life science, mathematics, medical science, organic chemistry, and physics. According to The Manual of Scientific Style, technical writing is regarded as a social, political, educational, and cultural enterprise (Rabonowitz and Vogel 6-7). Scientific writing is a social enterprise because it requires collaboration and cooperation amongst fellow researchers. Technical writing is a political enterprise since it affects numerous public policy issues including the management of resources. Science is also considered to be an educational enterprise through the implementation of scientific instruction and academic courses. Lastly, scientific writing is also a cultural enterprise because of humanity’s significant dependency upon modern technology. Thus, technical writing greatly influences society, and is therefore an exceptionally imperative form of writing.

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Astronomy (Carey)
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Chemistry (“Calls and Cheers for Green Chemistry”)
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Earth and Environmental Science (Borland)
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Life Science (“3D Science.com”)

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Mathematics (Jones)
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Medical Science (Sweet)
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Organic Chemistry (“Foundtion Physical and Inorganic Chemistry”)
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Physics (Foster)


Types of Scientific Writing


Due to the numerous fields of science, technical writing is composed of various forms. The majority of scientific research is found in the form of scientific journals. However scientific journals are composed of a myriad of styles. For instance, scientific journals can be written as original articles and research, review articles, theoretical papers, case studies, or editorials. Besides scientific journals, scientific knowledge can also be viewed in books, monographs, textbooks, and nontechnical media (e.g. newspapers, magazines, websites, and booklets). Hence, stylistically, scientific writing has a “ubiquitous and unavoidable presence” in society (Rabonowitz and Vogel 7).

Characteristics


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Table: Scientific Method vs. Scientific Writing (Schulte)
Each type of writing has its own set of characteristics and obligatory rules to follow. Scientific writing has specific characteristics and organization requirements. The composition of a scientific essay is quite similar to the format of scientific method. For instance, scientific method is composed of four steps: observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion. Technical papers follow the scientific method through a more complex and detailed arrangement: abstract, introduction, materials and methods, experiments and results, and discussion of results. Unlike other forms of writing, —business, law, and journalism—scientific writing must follow this particularly precise format in order to “effectively communicate complex ideas to a broad audience” (“Good Data Need Good Writing” 106). In addition, the use of appropriate language and jargon is a critical characteristic for scientific papers. Scientific writing is also required to be written in active voice. Conciseness and orderliness must also be clearly displayed and legible in the result section’s data. Thus, scientific papers must follow these essential characteristics in order to successfully express ideas and communicate with the readers.
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Outline of a Scientific Paper (Trelease 32)











Scientific Writing Instructions Video (Kcasto)


The above youtube video is a media example that reiterates the necessary requirements for writing an effective scientific paper.

In addition, the excerpt on the right-hand side exemplifies the required characteristics and structure for technical writing. This page from Trelease's book, How to Write Scientific and Technical Papers, also details the specifics for each organizational section needed to create a good scientific paper. To view this general outline used in a scientific paper please refer to this sample paper regarding the drug Propofol, or scroll down to the bottom of this wiki page to access the sample essay.

Strengths


The numerous characteristics and requirements for scientific writing definitely strengthen the technical papers. Scientific essays aim for “precision, clarity and veracity” in order to instill human thought and connect to the readers (Rabonowitz and Vogel vii). The rigid layout and strictures of jargon and grammar enables scientists to effectively and clearly convey their experiments to their intended audience. For many members of the scientific community, reviewers and editors are the readers for technical essays. The editors and reviewers critically assess the journals and determine if the papers are material worth publishing. This process is very demanding and difficult for scientists. Thus, the structure and ideas of each paper must be extremely clear and precise. For instance, according to Brian Stephen Budgell, researchers and clinicians have great difficulty publishing scientific journals in such a “highly competitive, publish-or-perish environment of contemporary academia.” Bugdell further stated that editors and reviewers “only accept 10% or 20% of the submissions” they receive annually (v). Because of this cutthroat environment, scientists strive to write persuasive and engaging papers in order to be published in scientific journals. Thus, scientific essays function as a strong style of writing through their concise language and clearly organized format. Like legal and business writing, scientific essays present facts to convey a precise, unbiased argument. Having concrete evidence and data strengthens papers as opposed to the slight bias found within journalistic works.

Absences


Since scientific writing is required to follow certain specific guidelines, creativity and other customary elements of writing are hindered. Some people may view technical essays as dull and impersonal pieces of writing. The formal, concise, and necessary structure of scientific papers quickly causes numerous unscientific readers to lose or have no interest in reading the essays. Thus, freedom of expression is highly restricted in scientific writing. Researchers cannot use certain words, such as helper verbs and descriptive words (“Good Data Need Good Writing” 106). In addition terminology for race, ethnicity, gender, age, and disabilities must be appropriately addressed in writing by only using bias-free diction (Rabonowitz and Vogel 84-88). Therefore, scientific papers—like business and legal writing—lack originality in personal style, descriptive language, and the expression of tone. Journalism, on the other hand, is less restricted and can be especially creative. Journalistic papers can easily capture readers through the use of imaginative figurative language and tone, unlike scientific writing. However, if scientific essays were less limited in expression and allowed to be artistically written, then the coherence and validity of such papers would be poor, ineffective, and unconvincing. Thus, technical writing may lack personality and expressive language, but because of this deficiency scientific writing can successfully and logically communicate experiments and ideas to society and the scientific community.

Creation of Reality


Every style of writing communicates its ideas and thus, creates a reality for its audience whether it is business, legal, journalistic, or scientific writing. Science especially influences society through its wide range of technical fields. Scientific essays create a reality for readers by conveying and discussing the results of a tested hypothesis. Depending on the data and the results of the experiments, scientific essays can support the theory, or reject the idea. If the hypothesis is concluded to be null, then the scientific papers foster realities by proposing "new ideas or new interpretations of older ones” (Schulte 591). In addition, case studies also create realities for others by displaying new discoveries and findings from observations. Likewise, textbooks and books influence readers to accept and learn scientific information and knowledge. Therefore, scientific writing can lead to innovative questions and thoughts, creating new realities for researchers and readers. Additionally, science holds a profound influence upon politics and society. For instance, scientific research creates reality for people because it can greatly affect the decisions in politics. Technological advances also significantly impact human lifestyle. In fact, The Manual of Scientific Style states that “the reliance of modern society on the technology that derives from the findings and constructs of modern science is so great that it is no exaggeration to say that the entire future of the human race depends on the wise and effective use of this body of knowledge and its technological capability” (Rabonowitz and Vogel 5). Conclusively, scientific writing, no matter what form or style, undoubtedly influences humanity’s perception of reality.

A sample scientific paper: (click image to magnify)
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Safety of Propofol Sedation for Pediatric Outpatient Procedures (Larsen)

Back to the Main Article

Works Cited


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Borland, Patrice. “(H) Environmental Science.” Photo. smrhs.org/page.cfm?p=472 2009. 28 November 2009. <http://www.smrhs.org/page.cfm?p=472>.

Budgell, Brian Stephen. Writing a Biomedical Research Paper: A Guide to Structure and Style. Tokyo; New York: Springer, 2009.

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Foster, Keegan. “Physics.” Photo. cnasstudent.ucr.edu/students/comcriteria.html 2009. 28 November 2009. <http://www.cnasstudent.ucr.edu/students/comcriteria.html>.

“Foundation Physical and Inorganic Chemistry.” Photo. deartutoring.co.uk/a_chemistry.php 2009. 28 November 2009. <http://www.deartutoring.co.uk/a_chemistry.php>.

"Good data need good writing." Nature Immunology 6.11 (2005): 1061. AcademicOneFile. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=AONE&userGroupName=udel_main>.

Jones, Kelvin. “Biology Too Can Be Captured In Equations.” Photo. uofaweb.ualberta.ca/compneurolab/newshome.cfm 2008. 28 November 2009. < http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/compneurolab/newshome.cfm>.


Larsen, Reagan, et al. "Safety of propofol sedation for pediatric outpatient procedures." Clinical Pediatrics 48.8 (2009): 819+. Academic OneFile. Web. 5 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=AONE&userGroupName=udel_main>.

Rabinowitz, Harold and Suzanne Vogel, eds.The Manual of Scientific Style: A Guide for Authors, Editors, and Researchers. Amsterdam; Boston: Academic Press/Elsevier, 2009.

Schulte, Bruce A. "Scientific writing & the scientific method: parallel 'Hourglass' structure in form & content." The American Biology Teacher 65.8 (2003): 591+. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.doprodId=AONE&userGroupName=udel_main>.

Sweet, Stephen. “Medical Symbol.” Photo. dreamstime.com/stock-photo-medical-symbol-image1514980 2009. 28 November 2009. <http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-medical-symbol-image1514980>.

Trelease, Sam Farlow. How to Write Scientific and Technical Papers. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1958.

Trelease, Sam Farlow. The Scientific Paper, How to Prepare It, How to Write It. Baltimore: Willams & Wilkins, 1947.

“Youtube-Writing Instruction.” Youtube Broadcast Yourself. Kcasto. 30 May 2008. Web. 30 November 2009. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XQlPc4N2z8>.