Scientific Style

In scientific and technical writing you are generally expected to write in a scientific style, with objectivity, clarity and precision. This can be achieved by using:

  • Objectivity
  • Clarity
  • Formality
  • Hedging



Objectivity

Scientific style is important.

Even though it's people who carryout research work and have to write about the results, they're expected to remove themselves from the written account and present what they found in a fair, objective and responsible way.

As a scientific writer it's your job to achieve this in your own writing. You need to keep your own personal feelings out of the write up.

You're expected to analyse your results in the discussion section, but you should do this in a fair and even manner. You may present your own interpretation of the results, but should also highlight any opposing explanations or views.

An impersonal style, as expected in scientific writing, can usually be achieved by the use of the passive voice, by removing the doer of the action from the sentence.

In addition to using the passive voice, avoid ambiguous language; especially metaphors that might not be widely understood.

Use technical terms where appropriate, as these should be well understood by your audience.



Clarity

Clarity is an important part of scientific style. It can be achieved by using simple language choices in your writing as these help improve the ease with which your readers will be able to understand you.

Try to write in plain, clear and straightforward sentences. Each sentence should not be too long and should not contain too many clauses. If a sentence is too long try to break it into several smaller ones. You can repeat words and use linking words to lead your reader through the smaller sentences and how they relate to each other.

Writing in a concise manner will also help your clarity. Every extra word gives your reader something extra to read and understand. The more words you use the greater the chance that there will be a mistake or that your reader will misunderstand something.

Help your reader to understand you by giving them simple clear text to read.



Formality

Academic writing, including scientific writing, is formal writing. This means that you should not use words and language constructs that you'd use when speaking to someone, writing an email, or even writing for a website.

You should't use contacted verbs which are a representation of spoken English verbs in a written from.

  • The experiments won’t be finished in this class. – incorrect
  • The experiments will not be finished in this class – correct

The verb ‘will not’ has been contacted to 'won’t' in the first sentence. This shouldn't be used in scientific writing.

The first person pronoun ‘I’ should not be used in scientific writing.

Generally when writing in a scientific style you should be using the passive voice, so should not need to regularly refer to yourself. When you do, use ‘we’, ‘the team’ or ‘the research group’, to show that you're speaking for the whole group which was involved in the experiments you're reporting. This is better than using ‘I’.



Hedging

Hedging is about not making blunt, absolute or categorical statements. Hedging leaves room for your readers to disagree with you. This can include avoiding over-generalisations and toning down the amount of positiveness in your writing.

The use of hedging is linked to the impersonal part of writing in a scientific style. It's one of the ways of removing your own views and feelings about the quality of the results you're presenting and leaving it to your reader to decide if your work is important and good.

If you're too direct it might show overconfidence in your own work.

There are several ways to include hedging in your writing.

The first, as for formality, is to avoid the use of ‘I’ and use ‘we’ instead. It shows that the author is a member of a group which have all come to the same conclusion. This adds weight to your results when presenting positive statements.

Secondly you can use tentative verb forms and/or modal verbs.

Tentative verbs which you could use are:

  • Seems to
  • Appears to
  • Tends to
    • This result supports our initial hypothesis. – Over positive statement
    • This result seems to support our initial hypothesis. – Hedged statement

While the modal verbs are:

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Would
    • The result proves our method works. – Direct statement
    • This result could prove our method works. – Hedged statement

Thirdly you could use adverbs to soften what you say or avoid claiming an absolute truth from your result.

Some of the adverbs you could use are:

  • A little
  • Rather
  • Somewhat
  • Almost
  • Nearly
  • Quite
  • Approximately
  • About
    • This is a disappointing result to report. – Direct statement
    • This is a somewhat disappointing result to report. – Softened statement



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