Arts & Sciences 1138.03: Freshman Seminar
The Wave Nature of the Universe
Practical Tips for Scientific Writing
Below you will find a list of some common mistakes found in undergraduate
Much more extensive help on writing, grammar guides, on-line tutorials,
and other resources are available at the
Writing Center. Please take advantage of both their electronic and in-person writing
PROOFREAD!!! You should check your paper to catch and correct
these and other common errors.
You should avoid abbreviations by writing out the full word
(minimum, October, Virginia, first, temperature, with...).
Exceptions include common biological terms like ATP and DNA, units
of measure (m, g, cm), and mathematical or chemical formulas.
Sentences should never begin with an abbreviation or an acronym.
You may wish to introduce an acronym for a term that is repeated
often: if your paper deals with soybeans, Glycine max,
you may use the full scientific name once and substitute G. max
thereafter. If you are writing a paper about tidal freshwater
marshes, the first time the terms appear, you can introduce an acronym:
"Tidal freshwater marshes (TFM) are important transitional zones
in the landscape." Throughout the rest of your paper, you would
refer to TFM.
are not proper nouns, so do not capitalize them. Only the first letter
of the symbol is a capital letter: nitrogen (N), carbon (C), calcium (Ca).
In formal writing, you should never use contractions (didn't, can't,
The word "data" is plural, as in "the data were collected
on January 21, 2001."
should be avoided, unless you are presenting another author's
specific definition or original label. You can usually paraphrase the
writing effectively and more concisely, taking care to properly attribute
the sources of your statements.
It is obvious when students do not understand what they are writing about,
and their grades suffer as a result. Read and re-read your references. Consult
a textbook or another reference to help you resolve any aspects of the paper
you do not understand before you start writing.
should not be used. See the
section of the scientific paper for instructions on in-text citations.
You should review your writing to make sure that each sentence presents one
or two clear ideas. This will also help you organize sentences within
paragraphs in a logical order.
consisting of genus and species, should be underlined
or italicized, with only the genus capitalized: Homo sapiens or
In science, the word "significant" implies the result of a
statistical test. It cannot be used to say, "the number of root
nodules on red clover plants increased significantly when nitrogen was
added," if you did not perform a statistical test to determine
significant differences. You should analyze your results to determine
whether they are statistically significant and report the test you used, the
significance level (p=0.05), calculated statistic (tcalc),
and degrees of freedom.
Do not use slang. Try to use precise, scientific terms where possible
(without unnecessary jargon) and avoid colloquialisms and figures of speech: "somewhat"
rather than "sort of," "many" or "a great deal" instead of "a lot."
Your word processor's spell-check and/or grammar-check function is not
error-free. It cannot tell you when to use "it's" and
"its," and it cannot tell you that a particular sentence does not
make sense. Give yourself enough time to proofread and correct your
When describing methods and results, you should use the past tense. The
present tense is appropriate for accepted facts, such as the background
information presented in the Introduction. In addition, you may use
the present tense when you discuss your results and conclusions.
Looking over other scientific papers may help you answer questions you might
have on this topic.
All units of measure must be metric or SI (international System).