Fairview High School IB Biology
Most scientific disciplines have a standard format for reporting research results. If you don't read
technical scientific journals you may never see this format in use, but being aware of its
existence is important because it is a good model of the way scientists organize their thoughts. At
several points during a science course you may be asked to report your findings in standard
scientific format. This guide explains the procedure to use.
Contrary to what many people believe, scientific writing is not fundamentally different from
other kinds of formal writing. A superbly written scientific paper is logical, clear, and makes a
cogent point. It is also readable, provocative, and even exciting. A person who is an outstanding
writer in other contexts does not lay those skills aside when writing a scientific paper.
The major goal of a scientific paper, however, is to report descriptive or experimental
observations that relate to a particular question. Because of this priority, some conventions have
evolved that most scientific writers follow. When you first try these you may feel confined and
awkward, in somewhat the same way as in writing a first haiku or sonnet. Challenge yourself to
stay within the confines of these conventions while still writing as well as you possibly can.
THE SCIENTIFIC STYLE OF WRITING
Be brief. Say as much as you need to say to be clear, but after you write, check over your text
to cut out needless or repetitious phrases.
Be precise. Use exactly the right term for what you mean, even if this means repeating the
term several times in a paragraph. (You may have been taught to vary your expressions and
use synonyms, but in scientific writing precision has a higher priority.)
Use scientific citation format in the text instead of footnotes. This is usually APA, but it
varies from one scientific journal to the next. This general format is described below under
Use scientific names correctly (see box).
Use metric measurements.
Some word usage is counter intuitive.
For example, "data" is a plural noun (singular is
datum). Write "These data are.
.." rather than "This data is.
.." In biology, the word "species" is
used both as singular and plural ("These species are.
.." and "This species is.
Formerly, scientific reporting was usually written in the passive voice, but editors and writers
now prefer active voice if it is clearer and more readable. For example, you should say, "We
predicted a shift in allele frequency." rather than "It was predicted that a shift in allele
frequency would occur."
Of course, follow all the standard rules of good English for grammar, subject verb
agreement, sentence structure, and use of pronouns.