- Be organized. Work from your outline.
- Be sure to include a coherent thesis statement. In most cases, the best place for the thesis statement is at the end of the introduction.
- Each paragraph should have one major point which is explained in the first "topic" sentence and elaborated upon in the next few sentences. Try to link the theme of each paragraph to the next.
- Strive to synthesize the ideas of multiple authors into each paragraph and sentence rather than sequentially citing references and using only one reference per paragraph.
- Support all of your statements, preferably with evidence from the scientific literature. If you are guessing, making an arbitrary judgment, or relying on an unsupported assumption, say so. Admit to uncertainty in your or others’ conclusions.
- Use subheadings to organize your paper and the intellectual ground it will cover. This is a standard approach in scientific writing, even in the secondary and tertiary literature.
- Make sure that your paper accomplishes the goals you set in the introduction.
- When finished, make sure to trace the logic of your arguments from introduction to conclusion. Many papers lack logically cohesive arguments or are contradictory. Don’t let this happen to you. It often helps to read work out loud or to have a classmate or friend read it.
- Rewriting is the key to good writing. Most writers need to revise their work multiple times. Begin writing your paper well before the deadline so that you have time for rewriting. It always helps to let the paper sit over night and then read it afresh the next day.
- Edit carefully. You will likely find yourself having to reorganize, cut unnecessary or redundant sections, and add sections to clarify key points. Do not be discouraged—extensive editing is part of the normal revision process.
- Your writing should be grammatically correct. A good resource for writing is The Elements of Style by W. Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.
- "Few" refers to numbers; "less" refers to amounts.
- The word "then" is used to indicate a time progression while the word "than" is used to compare two items; the two words are not interchangeable. For example, "Species one was allowed to feed first, then species two was allowed to feed" and "Species one ate more than species two." The following is incorrect: "Species one ate more then species two."
- "That" refers to a specific thing and is used without a comma (Writing a scientific paper that uses clear, concise writing is a good idea) as opposed to “which”, which usually follows a comma and refers to some quality or aspect of the subject parenthetically (Writing a scientific paper, which uses clear, concise writing, is a good idea). In the first case, the thing that is a good idea is a scientific paper written in clear, concise language. In the second case, it is writing a scientific paper that is a good idea—and oh, by the way, a scientific paper is a kind of paper that uses clear, concise writing.
Here are some tips and examples or re-writes taken from actual EEB 2245W papers with permission of the students:
1) Avoid “teleology” which means statements suggesting a purpose, as in, an adaptation evolved for the purpose of …. It is anti-Darwinian to think this way. Darwin took care to point out that natural selection resulted in certain traits predominating because individuals that happened to have those traits survived better. The traits did not evolve for the purpose of survival but the environment at the time favored individuals that carried that trait. The following sentence, for example, is teleological.
Original sentence: In Batesian mimicry, a palatable species resembles an unpalatable species to increase protection from predators.
Non-teleological re-write: “In Batesian mimicry, natural selection has favored palatable species that resemble unpalatable species and thus gain protection from predators.”
2) A verb is missing here. Note also that humans are animals. See rewrite.
Original sentence: The seedlings can mature easily if contained in a fruit but a disadvantage of being a fruit would be a food supply for animals and humans who consume the nutrition of the fruit, vegetable or nut.
Rewrite: The seedlings can mature easily if supplied with food by a large fruit, but a large nutritious fruit would also be a target for hungry animals.
3) Scientists avoid the word “proved” because rather than prove hypotheses, scientists gather data that lends various degrees of support to hypotheses. Scientists should remain skeptical until the data is overwhelming and the study replicated many times.
Original sentence: For example, Pfennig et al. (2006) proved that mimics that are relatively rare in a population tend to succeed at higher rates whereas Cheney and Cote (2005) showed …
Edited sentence: For example, Pfennig et al. (2006) demonstrated that mimics that are relatively rare in a population tend to succeed at higher rates whereas Cheney and Cote (2005) presented data to support the hypothesis that ….
4) Examples of editing for clarity and conciseness:
A) Original sentence: “The milkweed species that had the highest volume of latex produced…”
A) Edited sentence: “The milkweed species that produced the highest volume of latex…”
B) Original Sentence: “Researchers found that larvae that fed on leaves in the control group were 15 times more likely to die by getting glued to the leaf than if the researchers staunched the latex flow (Zalucki, 2001).”
B) Edited Sentence: “Researchers found that the leaf-feeding control group larvae were 15 times more likely than experimental larvae to become fatally stuck in latex while feeding (Zalucki, 2001).”
C) Original sentence: Mimicry depends on the organism being deceived and the reason for the deception, which eventually leads to an advantage in fitness and survival (Eagle and Jones 2004).
C) Edited sentence: The evolution of mimicry is influenced by the biology of the deceived organism and the selective value of the deception (Eagle and Jones 2004).
D) Original sentences: "In this experiment, the birds were presented with only butterfly abdomens for food. By doing this, Ritland removed all factors that wing coloration/pattern could play on a birds decision. Therefore, taste had the only impact on whether or not the birds ate the abdomen (Ritland, 1991b)."
D) Edited Sentences: In this experiment, the birds were presented with detached butterfly abdomens. By doing this, Ritland removed all cueing factors related to wing coloration/pattern. Therefore, taste was the only factor influencing consumption of the the abdomens (Ritland, 1991b).’
5) Be sure the form of the verb matches in both halves of the sentence:
Original version: The initial catalyst for evolution in bacteria was overprescription of antibiotics as well as those to whom it was prescribed not taking the antibiotics for the full course.
Re-write: The initial catalyst for evolution in bacteria was overprescription of antibiotics, and failure of patients to take the antibiotics for the full course.
6) Avoid redundancy. In the example below two sentences in a row refer to the advantages of rapid bacterial replication. They can be combined.
Original version: The evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance is observable on a human time scale (Martinez et al., 2007; Courvalin, 2008), giving new insight about the mechanisms by which selection and evolution occur. Furthermore, bacteria's rapid generation allows observation of evolution at the genetic and population levels.
Re-write: The evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance is observable on a human time scale (Martinez et al., 2007; Courvalin, 2008), giving new insight into the mechanisms by which selection and evolution occur at the DNA and population levels.
7) Two sentences can often be condensed into one to reduce wordiness:
A) Original sentences: For humans visual mimicry is the most obvious type, however organisms employ smell, taste or hearing as an additional warning signal. Other organisms might use morphology or behavior to deceive predators. [Note: morphology and behavior are visual]
A) Edited Sentence: For human observers visual mimicry involving color, morphology, and behavior is most obvious; however, organisms employ odors, chemical tastes, and/or auditory signals as additional warning devices.
8) Phrases that begin with "that" or "which" can often be made more concise by using the adjectival form:
Original version: When evolving in tropical Africa, Homo sapiens lost the body fur that shielded their skin from UV rays.
Rewrite: When evolving in tropical Africa, Homo sapiens lost their UV-shielding body fur.
9) Write more naturally. This phrase sounds awkward: "As to how resistance is acquired there are a few views..." This would be better written as, "There are multiple views on the mechanism of evolution of resistance,..."
10) Stick to the past tense when talking about past experiments.
11) Make sure that the form of two adjacent sentences parallel each other if the thoughts from the first continue into the second. Condense sentences where possible.
Original sentences: Ninety percent of genetically modified plants (GM plants) are currently engineered to be primarily resistant against disease and herbicides (Collinge et al. 2007). GM plants are also called transgenic plants. Plants are infused with novel genes for improved quality of ornamentation, increased productivity in crops, and can even be enhanced with Vitamin A (Hooykaas 2001).
Rewrite (first sentence stays the same): Ninety percent of genetically modified plants (GM plants) are currently engineered to be primarily resistant against disease and herbicides (Collinge et al. 2007). GM, or transgenic plants, are also engineered to improve ornamental qualities, increase yield, and/or increase nutritional value (Hooykaas 2001).
12) Here is an example of multiple sentences synthesized into one.
Original sentences: Those antibiotics we consume on a regular basis have been used in bovine to stimulate growth (Levy, 1998). Furthermore, in an attempt to prevent the spread of communal diseases between animals, the feed of bovines and poultry have been infused with antibiotics. This ever present dosage of antibiotics to these animals has actually perpetuated the spread of illnesses that are resistant to antibiotics.
Re-write: Those antibiotics we consume on a regular basis have been used in cattle and other farmed animals to stimulate growth and reduce communicable diseases (Levy, 1998). These persistent dosages of antibiotics has instead perpetuated the spread of illnesses that are resistant to antibiotics.