Academic writing in science.

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It is the time of year when you begin to write your final year report. As promised, here are some helpful tips:

 

 

Writing papers, final year reports, essays and assignments can be enjoyable. But it is often tough for first-timers.

I love writing. But it is the help and advice of past colleagues that has enabled me to improve considerably. Here are some important lessons:

Considering your reader. Writing science has become easier for me because I abide by one cardinal rule that can never be broken: “always consider your reader”.  This sounds simple and obvious but it is not, as most novices find it difficult to write from their reader’s perspective.  Caring about the reader at each stage of your work means you will be a great writer. A bad writer will forget about their reader and only write from their own perspective – a critical mistake in writing. So, make every word, every sentence, every paragraph, subheading, comma and full stop, every figure and table – be carefully considered to help the reader get through it.

How do you consider the reader? The one thing that works well for me (and my colleagues), is that when writing and reading your work back, learn to ‘blank your mind’ and pretend you know nothing about the subject. In doing so, you will explain things better. Trust me, when writing science, making explanations overly simple, even too simple, will always please the reader! Therefore, assume your reader knows next to nothing except a basic scientific understanding. This is a great starting point and the reader will love you for it.

But……you are not writing for a newspaper or a blog

While we should keep things simple, we should never dumb-down specific scientific words and terms. They are there for a reason. It is true that scientists are notorious for using long unpronounceable words but unfortunately, as scientists, we must continue to use these unpronounceable words in our writing! These words provide clarity in science. So…..keep your explanations simple as described above, care for your reader as described above, but do not replace specific scientific terminology with toned-down versions. You are not writing for a newspaper, so a plasma membrane, a mitochondrion, and an adenosine transporter protein should always be called exactly that. If you feel you need to explain what they are in the text, then great (you are now considering your reader!), but don’t change their scientific names to an alternative dumb-downed version.

Try it……(i) consider the reader (ii) keep things simple (iii) always use correct scientific terminology. Such a formaula will help make a great report/paper/thesis. Good luck!