Tips and Techniques for Scientific Writing
By Shira Segal, Peer Writing Assistant
Completing an experiment or research project is usually a pretty exciting endeavor – whether it’s in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, or another scientific field. In order to convey your results to others and hopefully get them to feel as excited as you are about your research, the write-up must be done in a clear, precise, and specific format – and that can be quite the daunting task! Here are some tips/techniques to help:
1. Avoid Ambiguity – It is best to be as clear as possible when describing the details of an experiment. Make sure to clearly define terms the first time they are used, and be as descriptive as possible when explaining observed effects.
“X affects Y” = ambiguous x
X increases Y = Descriptive ✓
“There was a significant effect” = ambiguous x
There was a significant increase = Descriptive ✓
2. Aim for Simplicity – Simple language is best for conveying results in a way that makes them accessible to people who may not have the same level of expertise in the given field. Additionally, avoiding scientific jargon will help make your results stand out instead of being hidden behind unnecessary language barriers.
3. Write in the Active Voice – When writing a lab report, many profs recommend that writing should be in the active voice – meaning it always describes the actions the researcher is doing, not the actions being done to the subject.*
“A 5ml solution was poured into the beaker” = passive x
”We poured A 5ml solution into the beaker” = active ✓
4. Avoid Making Definitive Statements – When we obtain data that match our hypothesis, it can be tempting to write that our results prove this theory, or serve as evidence for that phenomenon – but we must keep in mind that our results are never definitive. Use phrases like “results suggest” or “may be indicative of” to avoid a conclusive tone.
Along with these tips, always be sure to refer to the lab manual/writing guide specific to your course, as some subjects have more rigid guidelines on formatting than others; however, these are some general pointers that should help in any field. Happy writing!
* Note that some profs will subscribe to the convention of writing in the passive voice; best practice is to check with your professor or T.A.