6 Top Science Writing Tips from the Experts
Learning how to write great scientific papers is a skill that all researchers should master, yet commiting pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard!) can sometimes feel like a daunting task. If you’re aiming for publication, knowing how to structure a paper and make it compelling for the reader is essential to maximise its engagement and reach.
At the Hello Bio LabLife Conference earlier this year, we held a panel discussion on ‘Writing, Peer-Reviewing & Publishing Papers’ in which two experienced science writers, Dr Matthew Lloyd and Dr Bronwen Martin each shared 3 top tips for science writing success. Here are their essential tips for writing great scientific papers:
Dr Matthew Lloyd
Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath, UK
1 - Think about who you want your audience to be
Before you start writing a scientific paper, it’s important to consider who your intended audience will be. Will you be targeting experts in a particular field, or writing more generally for a wider scientific audience? If you have a specific journal in mind that you’re hoping to submit your paper to, this should be reflected in your writing style and format. Do your research to determine the type of papers they are more likely to publish and the style of writing they prefer. When you understand who it is you are writing for you will find it easier to shape the structure of your paper, and you’ll be able to direct the message of your writing to your desired audience.
2 - Think about how you want your audience to use your publication
As you are writing, think about the end goal. What do you want your audience to get from (and do with) your paper? For example, if you’re looking to publish a review piece then your writing needs to be balanced and unbiased. It needs to be factual and informative with references to the original text, and any criticisms should be considered fairly. If you’re writing an experimental paper about your own research, your goal will be to convey your results (and their importance) to as many relevant readers as possible. Think about the language you choose to do this and be honest with the reader. Let them know why you chose to do this research and why it really matters to you.
3 - Be sure to write a complete and compelling story
Science writing isn’t always a creative pursuit, but if you can ensure your writing tells a story that’s compelling to the reader you’re likely to get much more engagement. Walk the reader through your research, from the early beginnings of an idea to the culmination of your hard work, and create a story that is interesting and that flows as naturally as possible. Don’t leave any unanswered questions and don’t be vague in your language. Concise writing is always more desirable and will keep the reader engaged with your paper from start to finish.
Dr Bronwen Martin
Scientific Editor & Research Communicator, Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical & Veterinary Sciences, University of Antwerp, Belgium
4 - Ensure your paper has a coherent structure by packaging your data well
Having a good structure to your paper is very important as there’s nothing more frustrating for the reader than having to work their way through a muddled and confusing piece of writing. Presenting your data in a coherent way is absolutely vital when it comes to good science writing. Ensure you have the structure of your story in place first (see tip 3!) before deciding how best to package your data. Once you’ve decided what will work best for your particular research, be clear and bold with your data presentation. Don’t leave the reader with any uncertainty about the data you’re putting across. Pay attention to the legends of any Figures, Schemes or Tables and ensure the reader has all the necessary information needed to understand what is presented.
5 - Think carefully about your title and abstract in terms of keywords
Once your paper is published you’ll be relying on search engines and keywords to help readers find it. Most people will be searching on PubMed and Google to find papers that are relevant, and their search engine algorithms will often be looking for very specific words. There are currently approximately 34 million publications in PubMed, so if you don't have the right keywords in your title or abstract then your paper will have a much slimmer chance of being discovered by the right people. Think carefully about the types of words you would use if you were searching for a paper like yours, and be sure they are prominent in your writing. Give your paper the best chance of discovery by building in the right keywords.
6 - Always have a good summary and explanation of your data in your discussion
At the end of your paper, be sure to include a clear and concise summary of your data. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce the relevance of your results and offer explanations if you feel there is anything left unresolved in your writing. A great summary should leave the reader with a strong take-home message that sums up the paper and its importance to both you and the wider science community.
More science writing resources from Hello Bio
For more great advice on writing scientific papers, check out some of the other fantastic resources available on the Hello Bio blog:
- The Life Scientists' Guide to Writing Scientific Papers
- Five Essential Tips for Writing Scientific Papers - guest article by Jasmine Pickford
- Scientific Papers: Tips For More Productive Writing - guest article by Maria Montefinese
- Sailing Through Your PhD Thesis: Writing Tips - guest article by Dr Zeinab Leila Asgarian
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