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Basic Scientific Writing in English Lecture 2. Professor Ralph Kirby Faculty of Life Sciences Extension 7323 Room B322 Lectures 1 & 2 are and others will be available at The Process of Writing. Know what the questions are Have your literature search ready

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basic scientific writing in english lecture 2

Basic Scientific Writing in English Lecture 2

Professor Ralph Kirby

Faculty of Life Sciences

Extension 7323

Room B322

Lectures 1 & 2 are and others will be available at

the process of writing
The Process of Writing
  • Know what the questions are
  • Have your literature search ready
  • Write directly on a word processor
  • Print out drafts and correct these as you go along
  • Know the limitations of your word processor package
scientific writing begins with one or more questions
Scientific Writing begins with one or more questions
  • Before you begin writing a paper, you must have the following available. Usually, you will have done most of these for your Professor, but they will probably not be in English
    • The identification of one or more questions that you intend to try and answer
    • A outline of where your research is going
    • A record of your experimental results
    • Periodical assessments of your research in terms of its goals
    • A literature review that should be continuously updated
    • A choice of journals where you might want to publish
    • You need to use these to help structure your paper
literature search
Literature Search
  • This is very important as it tells you where your paper will fit in.
  • There are a number of things you need to keep in mind:
    • Do not limit yourself to database searches
    • Read the references in a paper to find new references
    • Identify the papers you feel are most relevant to your work and make an ENGLISH analysis of these. This will help you understand and remember them
    • Should you have a hard copy of a paper available
      • Yes. You can use the hardcopy to help you write your paper and you don’t need to keep complex records of the papers you have read. If you want to, you can keep the papers in .pdf format until you need them, but it is very difficult to write your paper on a computer by flipping between it and the paper you need in .pdf. Print it out.
using a word processor to write a scientific paper
Using a word processor to write a scientific paper
  • Maximize the use you make of your word processing package
    • Use automatic formatting to make sure your paper looks corrects throughout
    • Write hidden notes to yourself as you go along so you remember why you said something and what you need to add
    • Always keep page numbering on, so you can find places in the text easily
    • Save your work as often as possible, but mark each version differently, e.g. Draft-1, Draft-2, Final –1 etc.
    • When you want to revise your paper or do corrections, print the paper out and do any changes on the hard copy. I find it very difficult to read a paper properly on a screen
revising and correction a paper
Revising and correction a paper
  • Do any changes you want to a paper on the hard copy using a pencil and an eraser
    • This allows you to change your mind without making the hardcopy unreadable
  • Keep you word processor program running while you do the corrections
    • You will need the Spellchecker or the Thesaurus
  • Do have a good English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionary by your side
    • You need to be flexible as to the words you use
  • Try to have an English dictionary as well
    • You will need to be sure what some words, particularly synonyms mean
  • Keep the most important references by you
    • You can use these to help and guide you as you write your paper
making the corrections on the word processor
Making the corrections on the Word Processor
  • Finish all the corrections on the hard copy, don’t do the electronic corrections a bit at a time
  • Using tracking in different colours when you make the corrections e.g. red for deletions and blue for insertions
  • Do not use spell-check unless you need to know how to spell a particular word
    • Spellchecking can result in the acceptance of words that are wrong and it will remember you have accepted that word
  • Don’t use a grammar-check until you think the paper is complete
    • Grammar-checks need very careful use
  • Don’t worry about the final look, for example paging, until the end.
spell checker i
Spell-Checker I
  • Remember there are a number of different version of English
    • UK, US, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, India, Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, New Zealand, Philippines, Belize etc as well as others that are not as officially recognised
    • My native English is Geordie, a dialect of northern English, but I try to use US English spelling here, but I sometime forget. Notice any?
  • For our purposes, American English is the norm, although if you submit to a British journal, they might want British English.
    • Usage differences
      • Car trunk (US) v Car boot (UK) Eraser (US) v Rubber (UK)
    • Spelling differences
      • Analyzed (US) v Analysed (UK) Hybridization (US) v Hybridisation (UK)
    • New words, usually borrowed
      • Lekker (Afrikaans & SA) --- nice, pleasant, I agree to do this
      • Veranda (Indian & UK) --- Porch (US) --- Stoep (Afrikaans & SA)
      • Shebeen (Irish & SA) --- Illegal drinking establishment
spell checker ii
Spell-Checker II
  • Because many words in English differ by only one letter, the program will make errors when you have made typing mistakes
    • She went into a comma
    • She went into a coma
    • The doctor believed the operation would leave her with a scare
    • The doctor believed the operation would leave her with a scar
    • The doctor checked the wards and his spelling
    • The doctor checked the words and his spelling
    • Note that the 1st error does not make sense but that with the 2nd and 3rd errors, both versions make some degree of sense
spell checker iii
Spell-Checker III
  • Word processor dictionaries do not contain rare or scientific words. So when you run a spell-check on a scientific paper, you have many more hits than if this was a normal document
    • So when you go through them, be sure you know that what you accept is correct
  • Use can use sub-dictionaries to contain these words, but make sure you enter them correctly and use them consistently
    • E.g. hybridization and hybridisation
grammar checker i
Grammar-Checker I
  • Grammar-checks are important but even less reliable than spell-checking. However, they both tend to run together in many programs
    • Only use both spell-checking and grammar-checking when you have do all your other correction and reached a “final” version
    • Try and run spell-checking and grammar checking separately if possible and do any corrections separately too
    • Think carefully before changing something that seems correct but has been highlighted in the grammar-check
What are the problems with the following sentences that will not be picked up by a Spell-Checking Program
  • The imported trees are so profligate that they are crowding out the naïve species
  • The client has a congenial hip disease
  • He has been a prostrate patient for many years
  • The young of a certain South American bird have clawed fingers on their wings, allowing them to climb trees like quadruplets
grammar checker ii
Grammar-Checker II
  • Useful functions:
    • Identifies overlong and over-complex sentences
    • Picks out common usage mistakes
      • “affect” versus “effect”
    • Picks out many common punctuation mistakes
      • The experiment which was carried out at 4oC was ..
      • The experiment, which was carried out at 4oC, was ..
grammar checker iii
Grammar-Checker III
  • Problems
    • Will question the use of the passive tense even when it is correct. All scientific papers use the passive in places
    • Tend to question many sentence constructions that are common in scientific papers but not used generally
    • When we examine papers later, this will become much more obvious
What are the problems with the following sentences that will not be picked up by a Grammar-Checking Program
  • Migraines strike twice as many women as men
  • The patient was referred to a psychiatrist with a severe emotional problem
  • About two years ago, a wart appeared on his left hand, which he wanted removed
  • People who use birth control methods that smoke are in danger of having retarded children

JargonScientific writing has created its own jargon or specialized word use, which grows because scientists think they should sound scientific

  • Because As a consequence of

Based on the fact that

Because of the fact that

Due to the fact that

In light of the fact that

In view of the fact that

On account of

On the grounds that

Owing to the fact that

The reason is because

Our attention has been drawn to the fact that
    • We have only recently discovered that
  • This result would seem to indicate
    • This results shows
  • It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding
    • We don’t understand (and we want more grant funds)
  • It is worth pointing out that
    • Note that
  • It is not an unjustifiable assumption that
    • The authors think
  • An example of this is the fact that
    • For example or e.g.
  • Has been engaged in a study of
    • Has studied
some phrases can just be left out they add nothing
Some phrases can just be left out, they add nothing
  • As a matter of fact
  • In a very real sense
  • In a sense
  • It is interesting to note that
  • It should be noted that
  • Let us make it clear that
  • Needless to say
and sometimes people just mean something totally different
And sometimes people just mean something totally different
  • “Amniocentesis” written by a group of prenatal experts
    • Real meaning
      • “Amniocentesis”, a book written by people who were experts in the field before they were born
    • What they are trying to say
      • “Amniocentesis”, a book written by experts in the field of prenatal child care