Scientific writing

EGM302 Research Methods and Field School
Literature Reviews
Scientific Writing
• The dissertation module is a compulsory element of the Marine Science
degree programme.
• It is a very different module from previous ones that you have
completed, requiring you to work independently on a project of your
own choice with help from a supervisor.
• Although this may seem daunting at the outset, the dissertation allows
you to study something in which you are really interested and gives you
great opportunities to get deeply involved in one aspect of your
Dissertation preparation classes
Y2 S2
ID supervisor and title
Y2 S2
Projects agreed and disseminated
Y2 S2 W6
Submit research plan (mini lit-review,
ethics form and risk assessment)
25% of module EGM 302
Y2 S2 W12
Deadline: Mon 14.15 Rory Quinn
Submit literature review (2000 words)
10% of module EGM522
Y3 S1 W5
Oral presentation
10% of module EGM522
Y3 S2 W3
Submit dissertation
75% of module EGM522
Y3 S2 W12
Deadline: Tue 4pm ORC &
Submit PDP critical reflection
5% of module EGM522
Y3 S2 W12
Deadline: Tue 4pm ORC &
We recognize that dissertation projects may be either field-based or
• Field-based projects are based mainly on the collection and
analysis of primary data, such as field measurements/observations,
surveys (e.g. questionnaires) or the use of ethnographic techniques
to study everyday life (interviews, focus groups, participant
• Desk-based projects are based mainly on the collection and
analysis of secondary data (existing data collected by the
University or an outside agency).
The Research Plan (25% of EGM302)
• In consultation with your supervisor you will have to submit a
research plan in week 12. You must pass this component of the
module in order to pass the module.
• The plan should be 2000 words maximum, to include sections (a)
mini literature review (1000 words maximum), (b) motivation, (c)
aims / objectives / research question(s), (d) methodology, data
collection and analysis techniques, (e) risk analysis of the project,
and (f) a timetable of the work in the form of a Gannt chart.
Dissertation diary/notes
• It is essential that you are as organised as possible from the start of
your dissertation.
• I suggest you buy a hardback notebook and keep detailed research
notes as you progress – a kind of research diary.
• A research diary is a record of your involvement in a project. The
main reasons for keeping a research diary are:
[a] To generate a history of the project, your thinking and the
research process.
[b] To provide material for reflection.
[c] To provide data on the research process.
[d] To record the development of your research skills.
• It is important to write in the diary regularly. You should write
something every day you do any work on your research project,
and also at regular intervals (say weekly).
• The diary is a record of your developing thought and action, and of
the real process of action research and reflective practice. Record
everything ... references, thoughts, data, methodologies, questions,
queries, observations, suggestions for further research etc. etc.
• This record is invaluable when it comes to writing your dissertation.
Literature review
• A literature review is a critical evaluation of the scientific literature
published on a specific research topic.
• It describes and analyses existing knowledge and identifies gaps in
research related to the dissertation topic.
• The purpose of the review is therefore to summarise, synthesise and
analyse the arguments of others.
• The review should reveal similarities and differences, consistencies and
inconsistencies and controversies in published research.
• It should therefore be organised around ideas or themes, not around
• It is not a descriptive list of papers or summaries.
According to Caulley (1992) of La Trobe University, the literature review
• compare and contrast different authors' views on an issue
• group authors who draw similar conclusions
• criticise aspects of methodology
• note areas in which authors are in disagreement
• highlight exemplary studies
• highlight gaps in research
• show how your study relates to previous studies
• show how your study relates to the literature in general
• conclude by summarising what the literature says
• The research plan literature review has a word limit of 1000. A minimum
of 5 scientific papers should be cited.
• In addition to the training session organised in the library in week 10,
Gilbert et al. (2011) contains a good section on literature searches
(pages 3-5).
• Two links you might find helpful include an online guide from the
University of Canberra (link on weebly site) and a recent paper
published in PLOS Computational Biology by Pautasso (2013) 'Ten Simple
Rules for Writing a Literature Review'.
‘In science, the credit goes to the man who
convinces the world, not to whom the idea
first occurs’
Francis Darwin, Eugenics Review, April 1914
Scientific writing
• Scientists write, among other things, to inform the public, to
persuade government and industry to fund research, and to
communicate results, innovations and discoveries to fellow
academics, industry, and public audiences.
• Whatever the form of communication used – oral presentation,
report, academic paper, website or news item – the good
Science writer (Monash University):
thinks objectively and thoroughly
researches carefully
keeps good records and notes
writes clearly, concisely and accurately
considers the background of the audience
uses the appropriate format for the type of writing involved
presents the material neatly
takes care to acknowledge all sources of information.
In Year 3, the Marine Science dissertation is submitted following the
instruction to authors for a specific marine science journal.
Example: Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
• The scientific paper has developed over the past three centuries
into a tool to communicate the results of scientific inquiry.
• The main audience for scientific papers is extremely specialized.
• The purpose of these papers is twofold: to present information so
that it is easy to retrieve, and to present enough information that
the reader can duplicate the scientific study.
Colorado State University
A standard journal paper format with six main part helps readers to
find expected information and analysis:
• Title – the subject area and what aspect of the subject was
• Abstract – a summary of paper: the main reason for the study,
how it was done, the primary results, the main conclusions.
• Introduction - why the study was undertaken and what were the
• Materials and Methods - how the study was undertaken
• Results - what was found.
• Discussion - why these results could be significant (what the
reasons might be for the patterns found or not found).
ECSS Types of paper
Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science is an international multidisciplinary
journal devoted to the analysis of saline water phenomena ranging
from the outer edge of the continental shelf to the upper limits of the
tidal zone. The journal provides a unique forum, unifying the
multidisciplinary approaches to the study of the oceanography of
estuaries, coastal zones, and continental shelf seas. It features original
research papers, review papers and short communications treating
such disciplines as zoology, botany, geology, sedimentology, physical
oceanography. Data reports of mainly local interest are discouraged.
Research areas include: Numerical modelling of estuarine and coastal
marine ecosystems; Species distribution in relation to varying
environments; Effects of waste disposal; Groundwater runoff and
Chemical processes; Estuarine and fjord circulation patterns;
Meteorological and oceanic forcing of semi-enclosed and continental
shelf water masses; Sea-surface and sea-bed processes; Estuarine and
coastal sedimentary processes and geochemistry; Brackish water and
lagoon phenomena; Transitional waters.
ECSS Paper length
The paper should not contain more than 8000 words, and not more than 8
figures and 3 tables.
scientific writing
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci
Any fool can make things bigger, more
complex, and more violent. It takes a
touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to
move in the opposite direction.
Albert Einstein
The great enemy of clear language
is insincerity. When there is a gap
between one's real and one's
declared aims, one turns instinctively
to long words and exhausted idioms,
like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
George Orwell
Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to
express them without squandering a quire of
paper on an idea that ought to be reduced
to one glittering paragraph.
I never write "metropolis" for seven cents
when I can write "city" and get paid the
same. As to the adjective, when in doubt,
strike it out.
Mark Twain
The next few slides in this lecture are adapted from ‘Writing for Science’,
available online from the University of Leicester
Characteristics of good scientific writing
Good scientific writing is:
1. clear - it avoids unnecessary detail;
2. simple - it uses direct language, avoiding vague or complicated
sentences. Technical terms and jargon are used only when they are
necessary for accuracy;
3. impartial - it avoids making assumptions (Everyone knows that ...)
and unproven statements (It can never be proved that ...). It presents
how and where data were collected and supports its conclusions with
4. structured logically - ideas and processes are expressed in a
logical order. The text is divided into sections with clear headings;
5. accurate - it avoids vague and ambiguous language such as
about, approximately, almost;
6. objective - statements and ideas are supported by appropriate
evidence that demonstrates how conclusions have been drawn as
well as acknowledging the work of others.
Developing good scientific writing
To reflect the characteristics of good scientific writing in your own
work, you need to think about the way that you write and the
language that you use.
A good scientific author will have given consideration to the
following choices in writing, making decisions that improve the
effectiveness of the writing.
Choosing the words
To make your writing clear, accurate and concise you should consider
carefully the words that you use, and the ways in which you use them.
Technical terms
In most scientific writing you will need to use some scientific or technical
terms in order to be clear and unambiguous. However, use such terms only
when you need to do so and do not try to impress the reader by using
unnecessary technical jargon or lengthy words.
Abbreviations can be a very useful way of saving time and avoiding
repetition, but they can be confusing and might not be understood by
everyone. Use standard abbreviations where these exist, and reduce your
use of abbreviations to an absolute minimum; they are rarely essential.
Use objective rather than subjective language
Objective language is language that is impartial and states a fact
or process; subjective language is open to question or
interpretation as it implies personal thought or belief. For example:
objective The car travelled at 38 kilometres per hour
is a clear, objective statement of fact.
subjective The contents of the test tube turned a beautiful blue
uses beautiful in a way that is subjective because it cannot be
measured or accurately explained to the reader. Always use
language that is concrete and specific rather than vague and
Using tenses
Scientific writing frequently uses the past tense, particularly when the
main focus of the writing is to describe experiments or observations
that took place prior to the time of writing, for example:
The data were analysed.
The solution was decanted.
The temperature was recorded.
However, the past tense may not be appropriate for everything that
you write and sometimes you will need to combine different tenses in
the same piece of writing.
For example, the use of different tenses can help to clarify
what happened or what you did in the past (past tense),
what you conclude (present tense) and what will be an issue
for the future (future tense).
The following sentences show how different tenses can be
used to achieve clarity in your written work.
The experiment was carried out in a sterile environment (past
tense for a statement of what happened).
It is particularly important to avoid contamination (present
tense for a statement that is a general 'truth').
It will be necessary to ensure that the same conditions are
replicated in future experiments (future tense for a
recommendation for the future).
Sentence length
Sentences that are too short and poorly connected can be irritating
to read.
Conversely, sentences that are too long and rambling are difficult to
follow and are likely to be confusing.
Use a sentence length that allows your thoughts to flow clearly.
As a general rule there should be no more than 20-25 words in any
one sentence.
Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple, awesomely simple,
that's creativity.
Charles Mingus
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