When faced with a text written by a student for a science course how should you approach the text? What help should you offer the student for improving their text? What should you prioritize?
- Documenting sources. The most important concept for students to learn in writing in the sciences is the need to document sources. This is important to demonstrate that 1) students clearly separate what are their own ideas and what are ideas taken from elsewhere and 2) that they have situated their ideas in the larger context of research. Quotations in student’s work are acceptable but are rare in the sciences. It is ideal instead for students to work towards learning to paraphrase or summarize their sources. Generally published science papers do not have quotations. Make sure students have documented their sources both in the text and in the bibliography. In terms of documenting sources APA is generally accepted although an instructor may require something different.
- Often students do not document the source of figures, pictures, graphs, tables, and charts that are not their own so please pay attention to these. Worse, students often cut and paste copyrighted material from the internet. Please explain that they cannot use copyrighted materials without written permission from author/creator (for pictures, etc.). You may wish to guide them to copyright free or other license types that they can use. For more about fair use see Chapter II Copyright and Fair (Educational) Use in this textbook.
- Formatting. Students struggle with the scientific format (IMRaD) so having a basic understanding of this format is important to help them. Students also struggle with many of the basics of formatting such as where to put a figure number or how to caption a figure or a table. This information can be reviewed under Section 5 Writing the Results Section.
- Writing Style:
- Writing in the sciences is characterized by concision. Concision refers to eliminating unnecessary words without omitting important information.
- Although active voice in general is preferred, passive voice will occur when emphasizing the research process, experimentation, etc. such as is found in the materials and methods section of a report (CSE 2014, 116).
- Typically the writing is to be objective or bias-free. This does include avoiding the use of “I” although some instructors will allow it.
- Students often are not aware that they cannot use people’s first name or given name when referencing a person in a text. Generally use of surname is preferred for all situations in formal writing.
Finally Scientific Style and Format (CSE 2014, 8th edition) can be referenced, if needed, for other questions such as special scientific conventions. This manual is based on the Chicago Manual of Style.