Writing in the Sciences

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Writing in the Sciences

This is a mirror of the Writing for the Sciences Coursera class wiki.

Welcome to the Writing in the Sciences’ wiki. Feel free to create pages as needed. To see how to edit and add pages you can look at the Help page on the left bar.

Good writers have: * Something to say. * Logical thinking. * A few simple, learnable rules of style

This course focuses on those rules. Writing is a competency that can be learned with practice.

The benchmark for our writing is what the reader understands, that is, the ability to communicate an idea clearly and effectively in an elegant way. The former requires clear thinking and the latter revision and a good editor.

Complex ideas don’t require complex language. Scientific writing should be easy and even enjoyable to read.

Principles of effective writing

In this course we will be focusing on three principles:

We also have some grammar tips relevant for scientific manuscript: * Grammar tips * Punctuation * Parallelism

How to write paragraph: * Paragraph

The Writing Process

  1. Prewriting
  2. Writing
  3. Revision

Recommended Writing Order

  1. Figures and Tables
  2. Results
  3. Methods
  4. Introduction
  5. Discussion
  6. Abstract

How to learn

Writing for the Sciences employs cognitive learning methodologies which enable students from all walks of life to learn through listening, watching, reading, and interacting with information.

Some advices on how to learn to write in the sciences include:

  • Read and listen.
  • Research your topic.
  • Define terminology.
  • Discuss your research.
  • Write and review.
  • Engage your readers.
  • Avoid the “muse.”
  • Accept the complexities of writing.
  • Revise. Elegance happens on revision, not the first draft.
  • Learn how to remove the clutter.
  • Utilize a good editor.
  • Take risks (find your voice).

Computer tools for better scientific writing

I have turned some of the advice from the first module into scripts you can “run” on your plain text files.


Examples of what not to do

Some examples in scientific literature represent common errors: * The first sentence is often long and unengaging * Spunky verbs become clunky nouns * Use of vague words * Use of unnecessary jargon and acronyms * Passive voice (more detail later) * Distance between subject and main verb (more detail later)

Books on writing

  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science, Scott L. Montgomery, The University of Chicago Press, 2003.