One common mistake that students make is turning in the rough draft of their scientific research paper rather than subjecting it to rigorous editing. The reason that this is such a mistake is that scientific disciplines not only require quality writing but also have fairly stringent conventions which authors are expected to follow. The first draft of a paper rarely follows these discipline-specific rules flawlessly, because they are somewhat different from casual or even other academic writing rules. Here are some of the common things students should look for when editing their rough draft:
This isn’t necessarily specific to scientific writing but science departments are generally more strict about it than other academic departments. Essentially, the subject of your sentence should be carrying out the action, instead of the subject passively experiencing that action. For example, “The research data show ….” is correct, while “With the data gathered it can be demonstrated…” While the distinction may seem petty, it accomplishes greater clarity and brevity and less vagueness, all important elements of great scientific writing.
When writing casually, it’s not uncommon to use inferential terms to link ideas. Words like “cause,” “prove,” “indicate,” and “is consistent with” hold a great deal more significance in scientific writing than they do in casual speech. Be certain to mean exactly what you say when you use these types of inferring terms.
Again, in casual speech and writing, using qualitative terminology like “bad,” “good,” “many,” “few,” “very,” and so on is a common habit. This habit, however, can quickly be picked up by scientifically minded readers as lazy writing. Instead of using vague adjectives and descriptions, understand that whenever possible, you should quantify rather than qualify. Instead of saying “many,” use a numerical figure. If you can’t precisely quantify what you are trying to express, consider the fact that it may not be necessary or desirable to express that idea in your paper.
In addition to following the above editorial guidelines, students should be diligent about proofreading their papers before turning them in. Word processing software can catch many mistakes, but not all of them. While a typo or incorrect homophone use may seem like trivial mistakes, they make an exceedingly negative impression on the instructor or committee grading your paper. There’s no reason to allow your grade to suffer over something so easily remedied.
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