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While we recognize that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to scientific writing, and more experienced writers may choose to disregard our suggestions these guidelines will assist undergraduates in overcoming the initial challenges associated with writing scientific papers.
This guide was inspired by Joshua Schimel's Writing Science: How to Write Papers that Get Cited and Proposals that Get Funded—an excellent book about scientific writing for graduate students and professional scientists—but designed to address undergraduate students.
While the guide was written by a group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists, the strategies and suggestions presented here are applicable across the biological sciences and other scientific disciplines. Regardless of the specific course being taught, this guide can be used as a reference when writing scientific papers, independent research projects, and laboratory reports.
We hope that the guidelines that follow, as well as the concrete examples provided, will lead to scientific papers that are information rich, concise, and clear, while simultaneously alleviating frustration and streamlining the writing process.
However, scientific writing is not an afterthought and should begin well before drafting the first outline. Successful writing starts with researching how your work fits into existing literature, crafting a compelling story, and determining how to best tailor your message to an intended audience. Research how your work fits into existing literature It is important to decide how your research compares to other studies of its kind by familiarizing yourself with previous research on the topic.
For a research article, perform a thorough literature search on a credible search engine e. Ask the following questions: What do we know about the topic? What open questions and knowledge do we not yet know? Why is this information important? This will provide critical insight into the structure and style that others have used when writing about the field and communicating ideas on this specific topic. It will also set you up to successfully craft a compelling story, as you will begin writing with precise knowledge of how your work builds on previous research and what sets your research apart from the current published literature.
Understand your audience and write to them In order to write effectively, you must identify your audience and decide what story you want them to learn. While this may seem obvious, writing about science as a narrative is often not done, largely because you were probably taught to remain dispassionate and impartial while communicating scientific findings.
The purpose of science writing is not explaining what you did or what you learned, but rather what you want your audience to understand. Start by asking: Who is my audience? What are their goals in reading my writing?
What message do I want them to take away from my writing? There are great resources available to help science writers answer these questions Nisbet , Baron If you are interested in publishing a scientific paper, academic journal websites also provide clear journal mission statements and submission guidelines for prospective authors.
The most effective science writers are familiar with the background of their topic, have a clear story that they want to convey, and effectively craft their message to communicate that story to their audience.
Introduction The Introduction sets the tone of the paper by providing relevant background information and clearly identifying the problem you plan to address. Think of your Introduction as the beginning of a funnel: Start wide to put your research into a broad context that someone outside of the field would understand, and then narrow the scope until you reach the specific question that you are trying to answer Fig.
Clearly state the wider implications of your work for the field of study, or, if relevant, any societal impacts it may have, and provide enough background information that the reader can understand your topic.
Perform a thorough sweep of the literature; however, do not parrot everything you find. Background information should only include material that is directly relevant to your research and fits into your story; it does not need to contain an entire history of the field of interest. The structure of a paper mirrors that of an hourglass, opening broadly and narrowing to the specific question, hypothesis, methods, and results of the study.
Effective papers widen again in the discussion and conclusion, connecting the study back to the existing literature and explaining how the current study filled a knowledge gap. The problem is also known as the knowledge gap, or a specific area of the literature that contains an unknown question or problem e.
The knowledge gap tends to be a small piece of a much larger field of study. Explicitly state how your work will contribute to filling that knowledge gap. This is a crucial section of your manuscript; your discussion and conclusion should all be aimed at answering the knowledge gap that you are trying to fill. In addition, the knowledge gap will drive your hypotheses and questions that you design your experiment to answer. Define the hypotheses you wish to address, state the approach of your experiment, and provide a 1—2 sentence overview of your experimental design, leaving the specific details for the methods section.
If your methods are complicated, consider briefly explaining the reasoning behind your choice of experimental design. Here, you may also state your system, study organism, or study site, and provide justification for why you chose this particular system for your research. Is your system, study organism, or site a good representation of a more generalized pattern? Providing a brief outline of your project will allow your Introduction to segue smoothly into your 4 section.
Table 1. Constructing a hypothesis A hypothesis is a testable explanation of an observed occurrence in nature, or, more specifically, why something you observed is occurring.
Hypotheses relate directly to research questions, are written in the present tense, and can be tested through observation or experimentation. A hypothesis attempts to explain the mechanism underlying a pattern, while a prediction states an expectation regarding the results. While challenging to construct, hypotheses provide powerful tools for structuring research, generating specific predictions, and designing experiments.
Research question: Why do nestling cowbirds tolerate the presence of host offspring in the nest? Hypothesis: The presence of host offspring causes parents to bring more food to the nest. Prediction: Cowbird nestlings will grow at a faster rate in nests that contain host offspring. Materials and Methods The 4 section is arguably the most straightforward section to write; you can even begin writing it while performing your experiments to avoid forgetting any details of your experimental design.
In order to make your paper as clear as possible, organize this section into subsections with headers for each procedure you describe e. We recommend reusing these headers in your Results and Discussion to help orient your readers.
The aim of the 4 section is to demonstrate that you used scientifically valid methods and provide the reader with enough information to recreate your experiment. In chronological order, clearly state the procedural steps you took, remembering to include the model numbers and specific settings of all equipment used e.
In addition to your experimental procedure, describe any statistical analyses that you performed. If you followed a procedure developed from another paper, cite the source that it came from and provide a general description of the method.
Later, Ben writes the phrase himself. Ryan conducts a sticky note poll. Yes or no. This activity is followed by a discussion of spiders. Tips for teachers Explicitly model writing by showing the writing process to children and thinking aloud while writing. Instead of writing the question of the day or the morning message before the children arrive, write it in front of them.
Writing throughout the day Preschoolers enjoy experimenting with the writing process. Emergent writing experiences can include spontaneous writing during center time and teacherguided writing activities. Model writing stories, making lists, or labeling objects, and then encourage your preschoolers to write a response letter to a character in a story, create their own storybook, or write a wish list or a shopping list.
Such a variety of writing experiences will also build their generative knowledge of writing. Han has strategically placed a variety of writing materials throughout the classroom—a scientific journal in the discovery area so children can record their observations and ideas; a graph paper notebook in the block area for drafting blueprints with designs and words; and a receipt book, paper, and markers in the dramatic play area.
Savannah sits at the discovery center looking at a classroom experiment. Three boys are playing in the block area. Several children in the dramatic play center are drawing different types of flowers for a flower market. Would you like to create some signs? Tips for teachers Strategically place writing materials, such as sticky notes, small chalkboards, whiteboards, envelopes, clipboards, journals, stencils, golf pencils, markers, and various types, sizes, and colors of paper throughout the classroom.
While some children may be off and running with an open-ended question, others might be better supported if the teacher helps write their ideas—at least to get them started. Create writing opportunities connected to your current classroom themes or topics of interest. Involve the children in collaborative writing projects, such as creating a diorama after a farm visit and making labels for the different animals and the barn.
With teacher support, the class could also develop a narrative to describe their farm visit. Home—school connection Both preschool writing instruction and home writing experiences are essential components of helping children develop writing skills. A major advantage of the home— school connection is that children see the value of what they learn in school when parents actively participate in the same type of activities at home.
Noel wants to strengthen home—school connections with the families in her program. She decides to introduce the children to Chester a stuffed teddy bear. She tells the children that Chester wants to learn more about what the children do at home and to go on some weekend adventures. During the time Chester stays at your house, take pictures of the activities you do with Chester and write about them in the Chester Weekend Adventures journal.
At the beginning of the week, bring Chester and the journal back to school to share what you did. We will put Chester and the journal in the classroom library when he is not on a visit, so everyone can see where he has been. Tips for teachers Find writing opportunities that strengthen home—school connections. For example, encourage families to create books at home related to a particular theme or a specific topic. Invite children to share their books with the class and then add them to the library.
Invite families to share the types of writing activities their children engage in at home.
Perform a thorough sweep of the literature; however, do not parrot everything you find.
Several children in the dramatic play center are drawing different types of flowers for a flower market.
She decides to introduce the children to Chester a stuffed teddy bear. Vaughan, E.
The problem is also known as the knowledge gap, or a specific area of the literature that contains an unknown question or problem e. If they are inconsistent, discuss why this might be the case. Teachers who provide young children with a diverse array of early writing experiences lay the foundation for kindergarten readiness. The use of active voice with occasional sentences in passive voice will additionally strengthen your writing. Han has strategically placed a variety of writing materials throughout the classroom—a scientific journal in the discovery area so children can record their observations and ideas; a graph paper notebook in the block area for drafting blueprints with designs and words; and a receipt book, paper, and markers in the dramatic play area.
John-Steiner, S. Justice, T.
Vygotsky, L. How many students can you recall who worked on a laboratory assignment or class project for weeks, only to throw together the written report the day before it was due? The editing steps described above also apply when editing someone else's paper. A student's guide to writing in the life sciences. This can make the scientific writing process appear overwhelming, especially when presented with new, complex content. However, scientific writing is not an afterthought and should begin well before drafting the first outline.
Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Learning the alphabetic code including how to form letters and the sounds associated with each letter is an essential component of gaining procedural knowledge. Drouin, M. Cursive Writing Worksheets Learn handwriting and penmanship with our cursive writing worksheets Our free, printable handwriting worksheets provide instructions and practice on writing cursive letters, words and sentences.
Potential Conflicts of Interest None. Focusing on the strategies for success laid out in this guide will not only improve your writing skills, but also make the scientific writing process easier and more efficient.
The problem is also known as the knowledge gap, or a specific area of the literature that contains an unknown question or problem e. Children can dictate words, phrases, or sentences that an adult can record on paper, or they can share ideas for group writing.
Several children in the dramatic play center are drawing different types of flowers for a flower market. In some early childhood classrooms, however, emergent writing experiences are almost nonexistent.