How to write better in scientific writing?

The videos are some interviews with professors, featuring their views and advice on what makes good writing for science. The episodes of writing for science are some writing tips for writing specific parts in scientific writing.

  • Professor Kenneth Kam-Wing Lo (1): What makes good writing for Chemistry?

  • Professor Kenneth Kam-Wing Lo (2): Learning to write for Chemistry

  • Dr Lam Yun Wah (1): What makes good writing for Biochemistry?

  • Dr Jue Shi (1): What makes good writing for science?

  • Writing for Sciences | Episode 2: Writing an introduction

  • Writing for Sciences | Episode 3: Writing a methods section

  • Writing for Sciences | Episode 4: Writing a results section

  • Writing for Sciences | Episode 5: Writing a discussion section

  • Writing for Sciences | Episode 6: Citing sources transparently

What is the basic layout of scientific writing?

  • Basic layout: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion

    • Introduction

      • includes the hypothesis/research question(s)

        • Hypothesis (noun): an idea or explanation that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved.

    • Introduction

      • presents the experimental designs

      • provide enough detail to allow the reader to interpret your results and replicate your work

    • Results

      • clearly and concisely describe the results of the experiment

    • Discussion

      • interpret findings in light of the concepts from existing theory

      • acknowledge any findings that differs from the expected results

      • summarize possible sources of mistake and suggest improvements

    • Conclusion

      • Summarize key findings

      • Summarize practical and theoretical implications if appropriate​​

English and science.jpg
  • Key words/phrases for each section:

    • Introduction: little is known about, previous studies, aim to, explore, have shown that

    • Methods: was calculated, was conducted, test, interviewed, recorded, participants, analysed

    • Results: collected, indicate, show, illustrate, increased, fell, increased

    • Discussion: support, confirm, suggest

    • Conclusion: conclude, further research, recommend, limitations

How to report results by showing trends?

Sometimes we may need to report results by showing trends, how a situation changes over time. A common way to do is to use a line graph. 

The below questions would help you describe the graph in a more thorough way.

1. What does the horizontal axis show?

2. What does the vertical axis show?

3. What adjectives and adverbs can be used to describe the changes?

Here are some more verbs/adverbs/adjectives that can be used to describe changes.

first-line.png

increase, decrease, shrink, expand, drop, fall, rise, fluctate

 

The speed of change

steadily/steady, rapidly/rapid, suddenly/sudden, gradually/gradual

The amount of change

slightly/slight, hugely/huge, steeply/steep, sharply/sharp

How to proofread the paragraph I wrote?

Proofreading is important when you finished writing a paragraph. It avoids you from making careless mistakes, for example, spelling and punctuation, etc. It also enhances the consistency of your paragraph when you read your paragraph again

The below questions would help you proofread your paragraph

•    Is there anything missing?
•    Are there any parts that are not clear?
•    Are there any parts that need expanding (= making longer)?
•    Does every sentence have at least one finite clause?
•    Does every finite verb have a subject?
•    Are appropriate (= right for the job) tenses used?
•    Are appropriate reporting verbs used?

proofreading-checklist-concept-man-crossing-checkboxes-desk-181837944.jpeg

You may also invite your friends to give you some feedback on your paragraph.

How to write a hypothesis?

After identifying a problem, a hypothesis helps to guide the research and its potential outcomes. A hypothesis identifies different variables that may affect the outcomes of the study, such as independent or dependent variables. An independent variable is something the researcher can manipulate or change, while a dependent variable cannot be directly altered. Therefore, a hypothesis might suggest how the state of a dependent variable may react when the independent variable is intentionally modified.

 

For example, I hypothesize that if I do not do my homework, then my teacher will be angry. Which are the independent and dependent variables? First, ask yourself, which one do I have control to change? My homework—this is the independent variable. Second, which do I not have the ability to change? My teacher’s feelings, in this case, anger. I predict that not finishing my homework will affect the teacher’s emotional state. This gives me the opportunity to develop a hypothesis reflecting ways to affect my teacher’s emotional state.

Often times, a simple hypothesis is reflected in an “if/then” statement:

 

If I do not do my homework, then my teacher will be angry.

 

However, you can write the hypothesis in different ways to show or compare variables:

 

  1. My teacher’s anger depends on how much of my homework is finished.

  2. My teacher will be angrier when I don’t finish my homework, than when I do finish my homework.

download.jfif

The first hypothesis shows that there is a relationship between the teacher’s level of anger and the amount of homework finished, and the second hypothesis points out that the lack of homework is a more direct cause of the teacher’s bad mood. In each case the hypothesis will show how the research and data collection may be carried out. So, it is important to define your hypothesis clearly before starting on a research method.

 

Tip: Depending on the type of hypothesis you choose, be mindful of the grammar used in the sentence structure!

Data collection methods: Quantitative vs qualitative research

There are many ways to collect data. Quantitative research uses numerical (statistical) data to test a hypothesis, while qualitative research gathers textual information to gather in-depth personal knowledge about a topic or research question. Alternatively, a mixed methods study may examine both statistical and textual data to achieve different results.

 

Before beginning your research, you need to identify if it is a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods study and determine what data collection tools you will use. On the one hand, a quantitative study is necessitated when the researcher is looking for objective results or facts about a phenomenon which is analyzed through statistical comparisons. On the other hand, in an effort to understand human behavior, researchers do qualitative research gathered through the participant’s voice and perspective, and analyze texts for important themes.

 

How is quantitative or qualitative data collected?

 

Quantitative data is commonly collected using a questionnaire or conducting a measurable experiment. For example, if you want to find out the popularity of different fast food chains, you might use a questionnaire to investigate which fast food restaurant people prefer.

 

However, if you want to better understand people’s decision-making processes and perspectives, you may conduct a qualitative study using an open-ended survey or interview to gather in-depth interpretive data. For instance, perhaps you’ve noticed that friends fight with one another, yet remain close friends. In this case, you may find participants who have experienced the same situation as your query, and interview them to find out how they resolve conflicts with friends or how they remain friends even during conflict.     

 

How do I choose a research method?

 

Start by writing hypotheses or research questions. Typically, quantitative research will test a hypothesis, and qualitative research will answer a research question; however, both require that you identify a problem to research and try to predict possible outcomes based on current knowledge and research.

 

You may also start by asking yourself what type of data you will need to solve your scientific conundrum. For instance, will you need quantifiable (statistical) data to answer your hypothesis? Or do you need in-depth knowledge and personal explanations to elaborate on a concept or question? Both quantitative and qualitative research pursuits will yield good results if the researcher plans their goals or aims carefully.   

 

Tip: Closed-ended or open-ended? A closed-ended survey means that the participant cannot elaborate on their reasons for making a choice, while an open-ended survey implies that participants can describe their reasons in detail.

Introduction in a research report

The introduction section of a research report is the part in which you explain to other scientists what it was that you researched and what you hoped to find out. There are six elements which often occur in an introduction.

  1. The purpose(s) of the research

  2. The general area or general issue that the research was concerned with

  3. The more specific problem or issue focused on in the research

  4. What research has already been done on the same phenomena

  5. Supporting information relating to the general area or general issue that the research is concerned with.

  6. Supporting information about the more specific problem that the research is concerned with.

introduction-concept-word-cork-board-77226561.jpeg

The sequence of the above elements in an introduction would help you convey some meanings to the audience, for example, emphasizing the purpose or arousing the readers' interest. Therefore, when you are writing an introduction for your writing, you may also consider the logic of the sequence of the above elements.

How to refer to what other scholars say in their article?

When you come across an article which is related to your writing, you can use different ways to refer to what the scholar says in their article. You might find the below ways useful!

Way 1: Simply repeat what the scholar has written (in your own words if possible) and at the end refer to  Wong’s study (name and date in brackets)

A problem that many writers of scientific texts face is selecting appropriate reporting verbs when they want cite the work of others (Wong, 2020).

Way 2: Using a phrase such as “according to …”

According to Wong (2020), selecting appropriate reporting verbs when citing the work of others is a major problem for writers of scientific texts.

Way 3: Using reporting verb

Wong (2020) says/claims/found (or another reporting verb) that …

All of the reporting verbs listed below could be used, depending on what you want to signal about your attitude to what Wong says. 

Verb used 

State

Argue

Found

Suggest

Point out

Concluded

Claim

Hypothesize

What the writer could be trying to signal

The original author presents this as a fact, but at this stage I am not signalling whether I believe it or not.

The original author puts this idea forward and presents his reasons. At this stage I am not signaling whether I accept his view or not.

This is a result that comes from research that the original author did. I have no reason NOT to believe it.

The original author says that this could be true. At this stage I am not signalling what I think.

The author presents this as a relevant fact but does not say much more about it. It is probably something that should be obvious or is already well known.

This is what the original author thinks his research shows or means. I have no reason NOT to believe him.

The original author presents this as a fact. Other scholars do not agree and he may or may not be correct.

The original author presents this as an idea that may or not be true, and needs to be researched.