Reading and writing for science
Before you begin writing a scientific paper, it is useful to know how to read one. Being familiar with the language and structure will not only improve your reading skills but it will help you to more effectively construct your own reports.
Reading a scientific paper
I think the important thing in reading a scientific paper is understanding the structure. Once you understand the structure, it’s easy to select information because you know where to look.
— Dennis Farrugia, Language and Learning Adviser.
Choose credible and reliable sources
Before your first reading of a scientific paper, use the CRAAP test to check that the information you are reading is credible, reliable and accurate.
Check with your tutor if you need further assistance with choosing appropriate sources. Also, explore the Deakin Library's Lib Guides in your discipline.
Reading and taking notes
Identifying the different parts of a scientific text can help you read more effectively and find relevant information for your assignments. In this video, a Language and Learning Adviser discusses the importance of understanding structure when reading a scientific paper.
Pay attention to the different sections commonly used in a journal article to better understand the research being presented. Use your knowledge of these sections to scan papers and to extract key information for your own notes.
- Abstract: overview of paper
- Introduction: background, context (resolving a problem or gap in the research), the aims of the research
- Methodology: how the research was conducted, how the data was collected and analysed, sample sizes
- Results or Findings: results only (no discussion)
- Discussion: discussion of results and how it relates to other research; implications
- Conclusion: explores implications for further research.
After you have gained some understanding of the research, start thinking critically about the information by:
- comparing this research to other studies on the same topic
- judging whether there was enough data to support claims being made
- suggesting what the limitations of the data might mean for the results.
For further information, download the Reading and analysing scientific texts (PDF) from this page.
Scientific writing is very precise, so it’s important to make sure you’re as concise and clear as possible. Being clear with your purpose helps you stay focused on what you’re writing about.
— Dennis Farrugia, Language and Learning Adviser
In this video, a Language and Learning Adviser provides some useful language tips for writing a scientific paper. In summary, these tips are:
- be clear about the purpose of the paper
- use precise language
- be aware of your use of verb tense (past tense is often used, as you are reporting on past events in the lab/field)
- use cautious/tentative and objective language
- order your ideas logically, using the appropriate structure.
An important feature of science writing is knowing how to define terms. As you read, take note of how scientific terms are explained and categorised. Once you have identified some of these models of writing, apply them in your own work.
|Type of definition||Example|
|Initial definition||The term X refers to...|
|Defining sub-classes||X may be divided into three main classes / sub-groups / categories.|
|Commenting on a system of classification||This system of classification...|
is useful because...
|Referring to other authors' definitions||For Smith (2001, p.13), X refers to... whereas Jones (2001, p. 26) uses the term X to refer to...|
|Defining specific terms that are used in your own report||In this report, X is defined in terms of...|
For more information on using tentative language, classifying, listing and reporting results, visit the Manchester Academic Phrasebank.
Download the Guide to writing lab and field reports (PDF) for further examples of the characteristics of scientific writing.
Writing a scientific report
When you are asked to write a report on investigations you carry out in labs or when you go on fieldwork, it is important to recognise that these reports are structured differently from other types of research reports and essays.
Lab or fieldwork reports are based on detailed observations of the aims, methods and procedures of your experiments or fieldwork investigations, so it is important to keep very precise and detailed notes when you are out in the field or working in the lab.
Download the Guide to writing lab and field reports (PDF) on this page for an overview of the structure of reports, as well as some language tips for each section of the report.
Note: Always follow the assessment instructions provided in your unit. This guide provides general advice only.