Tips to Improve your Scientific Writing and Language Skills
What are scientific writing skills?
The scientific community shares their discoveries and insights by publishing articles in journals or by submitting them to conferences. These publications are written in a rather precise language so that others can understand the work that was done. The text should also enable them to reproduce any experiments (in case of empiric work). As a young or aspiring scientist you need to acquire scientific writing skills to present your work in a proper way.
You cannot simply write down your thoughts and assume others will understand it. You have worked on your project or research questions for a long time and you need to think carefully how to transfer your knowledge to someone else who hasn't spend that much time on it. You may write something that seems clear and obvious but you may have left out some underlying idea that is essential to understand your work.
You need to read your work as if you don't know anything about it - which is quite hard - and then analyze if your work can be understood.
Tips to improve your scientific writing skills
- Think about the structure of your written work: In what order are you going to explain what you have done? Introduce the reader to your field and the specific problem that you are working on. You should also explain the relevancy of your work. After that you can proceed to explain your contributions and your experiments or proofs (if any). Most publications follow this order.
You can discuss related work (what have others already done?) either before or after discussing your contributions, that depends on what you think works best. Sometimes it is useful to see what others have done before reading about your contributions but in other cases you can discuss that afterwards.
You should conclude your publication with an analysis of limitations and future work. No matter how good your work is, there are always areas of improvement and future work!
- Make sure you connect paragraphs with sentences that guide the reader: In the beginning I used to write paragraphs that discussed what I wanted to say but I didn't really lead the reader towards the next paragraph. It is important that you add sentences such as "We now present our formal analysis of ..." so that the reader knows what is coming next. In long publications you will also find an outline of the whole publication which discusses the sections of the publication.
- Be very careful with what you claim: If you use the word "all", are you really sure that what you claim holds for all entities? Are you sure there are no exceptions? Can you make your claim more precise by using more specific terminology? Other people are not familiar with your work so you cannot generalize too easily.
- Read guides about your field: In my field, computer science, there are many guides that explain the writing style in computer science publications. See if you can find similar guides for your field of research because it may turn out to be very helpful. All scientific publications follow the same principles about how research should be presented - neutral, correct, accurate - but there may be specifics about your field.
For example, in computer science and mathematical publications it is recommended not to start a sentence with a variable (such as x) because that can make sentences harder to distinguish and read.
- Review your writings for correct grammar and spelling: Always check your publication for incorrect grammar or typos. You may be writing under time pressure but it is good to perform this quality check before you send it to others. Your work may be read often and it can detract from understanding the presented contributions. I hope I don't have any mistakes in this article! The English language is the language of the scientific community. In particular when English is not your native language you should make an effort to study grammar and commonly made mistakes.