In scientific writing, substance over style is the goal and clarity trumps most other imperatives. The role of a skilled researcher or scientist imposes an equivalent requirement for effective writing skills . No matter how sound the science, its value is diminished when written communication in studies and reports falls short.
Here are five science writing tips to keep your documents at the level your research deserves:
- Remove superfluous phrases like "it is," "there are" and "there has been." These wordy phrases are weak elements in construction of a sound sentence. Instead of "There is evidence suggesting that measurements are flawed," try something more concise like, "Evidence suggests flawed measurements."
- Embrace the active voice . Though often used in scientific writing to create the impression of objectivity and depersonalize the writer’s voice, passive voice actually weakens the presentation of stated facts and infuses indirectness that detracts from the impact of research. Instead of "All test subjects were allowed to rest for an hour after the experiment," simply state "After the experiment, all test subjects rested for an hour."
- Maintain consistency in presentation of hypotheses, measures and analyses. No matter where they appear throughout the manuscript—from the abstract through tables—once it has been established, prevent later confusion by preserving the order of measures and variables.
- Use consistent terminology. If you use the term "vessel" first and then use a synonym, readers may become confused. Use consistent terminology to enhance readability. Knocking out common needless words that simply inflate the length of the paper without contributing meaning is another way to guard against overuse of particular words or phrases.
- Pay attention to the sound of your words. While you should avoid poetic embellishments in scientific writing, developing a feel for rhythm, pace, and consonance helps avoid a manuscript that stumbles instead of flows. A sense of cadence and flux in the written word aids clarity and impact. One way to enhance your feel for this is to read and read often.