Challenges with Scientific Writing

Written by: Eric Deutsch, Eric Doering, Nicholas LoRusso and Linghui Meng

Scientific writing is difficult, especially for students and early-career scientists. It is vital to develop your ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide variety of audiences, such as the general public, your boss, or to your academic peers. Clear and concise writing is of similar value to the research itself because ambiguous writing will not be accepted by journals, and scientific findings are only meaningful if others can understand and act upon them.

In a series of seminars, EMPOWER students learned techniques to improve their own scientific writing skills. The series began with a video lecture by Dr. Joshua Schimel, author of “Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded.” In the lecture, Dr. Schimel discussed the role of “active voice” in communicating compelling but still unbiased science. EMPOWER students identified key challenges with scientific writing in their own lives, then participated in a student-led discussion addressing these key issues such as: organization, writing style, distractions/procrastination, and English as a second language. Students found that sketching a “mind map,” utilizing a journal’s “Guide for Authors,” setting specific writing times, and creating peer accountability were effective in addressing some of these challenges.

The series concluded with an activity on writing abstracts, led by Dr. Charley Driscoll. Students brought in either their own abstracts or others from literature to be constructively criticized by the class.