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How to Write Like a Scientist… And Consequently Be One

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If you are looking forward to a scientific career, you should prepare yourself to years of writing in a weird, idiosyncratic manner that turns the contents of your writing, already nigh-incomprehensible for laymen, into a kind of a cipher, only readable to other scientists.

There are, of course, reasons, and very good reasons, to write scientific articles in this way, but it doesn’t mean that even scientists themselves sometimes don’t feel resentful about the way they have to impart supposedly crucial information to the world – as if making sure it reaches as few people as possible.

The language of scientific writing isn’t English per se – it is an extremely simplified, rigidly structured variation of the language in which there is only one way to say every particular thing. You don’t use synonyms to liven up the presentation – you may repeat one and the same word dozens of times and it won’t be considered tautological, because it is the way things are done around here.

Of course, the fact that it is so is by no means random. Science by its very nature strives to be as precise as possible – and as a result, it strives to eliminate everything that may be read in a variety of ways. When you read a scientific article, you know precisely what this or that word, expression or construction means.

However, this aspiration to achieve cleanliness and simplicity doesn’t explain why science essay writing is so fond of unnecessary complexities. For example, first person singular should be avoided like plague, as it adds too much personality to the text. At the very best, you may use first person plural.

While almost any other manual, textbook and guideline suggests that you don’t use passive voice as it makes texts cumbersome and awkward, academic writing lives on it – until it doesn’t. It is so, really – in some respects scientific style allows for interpretations, as some magazines completely prohibit their contributors from using passive voice, while others don’t accept anything but it.

References are another thing that characterizes scientific style. Sometimes they are legitimate and show that the work in question really was founded on previous writings of other people; but sometimes it turns into references for references’ sake – which is all too often seen in papers by new scientists who don’t have much to say yet but have to show some results.

All too often writing like a scientist turns into writing as boringly and awkwardly as possible. And the only people who can change it are scientists themselves.

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