Top 10 Good Habits in Scientific Writing
Release Date: September 5, 2012
Category: Scientific Writing
Writing manuscripts based on your research results can be challenging, but developing good habits will make the writing process go more smoothly.
We identified 10 habits used by successful scientific writers.
Practice these habits when writing your next manuscript and let us know how it goes!
- Reduce complex jobs to a series of smaller tasks: write each separate section of the manuscript, developing figures and tables, and compiling your reference list without becoming overwhelmed. Each piece will contribute to the final product: your completed manuscript. Individual tasks are easier to accomplish and less overwhelming than writing an entire manuscript at once, and a list of individual tasks can help you stay organized.
- Consider your audience: think about your work from the reader’s perspective. Communicate your research in a way that answers questions like “Why is this important? Why should I read this?” Your readers were not with you in the lab, field, or hospital, so your descriptions are vital to their ability to understand how and why you proceeded and what results you found.
- Read journal instructions: always read the author instructions for your target journal early in the writing process. Being aware of journal-specific limitations, restrictions, or requirements, particularly word limits, as you write can help you avoid wasting time and effort developing content that is not appropriate for the target journal. Journal editors also appreciate receiving submissions that show the author has taken time to become familiar with journal format and style instructions.
- Use topic sentences: using topic sentences effectively will keep your manuscript organized and eliminate irrelevant sentences that weaken your paragraphs. See our separate article for more information on using topic sentences: Using Topic Sentences to Write Stronger Better Organized Scientific Manuscripts.
- Take a break when writing is difficult or stalled: take a short walk or work on a different project for a while when you feel like you cannot make progress. Come back to your writing with a fresh mind – it is often easier to continue working after a brief time away from the manuscript.
- Write the abstract last: the abstract is a condensed version of the manuscript that entices readers to read further by emphasizing your most important findings. Well written abstracts are based on your manuscript, not the other way around, so it is most effective to write your abstract as the last step. We have a separate article to help you write strong abstracts: http://www.biosciencewriters.com/Writing-Abstracts-for-Research-Manuscripts.aspx).
- Use active voice: active voice reduces wordiness, improves clarity, and keeps your writing lively. Although writing in passive voice is acceptable, and in some instances even preferable, the majority of your manuscript should be written in active voice.
- Eliminate wordiness and unnecessary detail: avoid cluttering your manuscripts with extra words that do not contribute to the clarity or impact of your work. For example, use “We found that…” instead of “Based on our results, we found that…” and “…could…” instead of “…may have the potential to…”
- Proofread your work: read your finalized manuscript at least once to look for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Don’t rely solely on your word processing program to catch these errors.
- Allow plenty of time to write at a reasonable pace: if you do not leave enough time to work on your manuscript, you will not produce your best work. Your important research deserves a thorough and thoughtful treatment, and that requires time.
More Resources for Good Scientific Writing Habits
- Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). The Writing Process.
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/1/ (accessed 28 Aug 2012).
- Tischler, Mark E. Scientific Writing Booklet. University of Arizona Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.
http://cbc.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/marc/Sci-Writing.pdf (accessed 28 Aug 2012).
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Our articles are based on the material from our scientific writing workshops, which cover these and many other topics more thoroughly, with more examples and discussion.
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