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Scientific Writing: About scientific writing

Resources and guidance for writing, citing and publishing in the sciences

About scientific writing

There are several kinds of writing that fall under the umbrella of scientific writing:

  • Peer-reviewed or refereed journal articles (present the results of primary research);
  • Grant proposals (request funding for a speicifc project);
  • Literature review articles (summarize research already done in a certain area);
  • Theses and dissertations (present an original topic of research required for an advanced degree);
  • Popular science articles (communicate scientific discoveries to general audience).

Regardless of the kind, all scientific writing aims at presenting data and/or ideas with precision, clarity, and objectivity that allow a reader to evaluate the validity of the results and conclusions based only on the facts presented.

"If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs". Good advice by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan (1990).

Writing with style

Peer-reviewed or refereed?

Both peer-reviewed and refereed journals ARE scholarly journals. The difference lies mainly in the way article review is conducted and the intended audience of a journal.

Peer-reviewed journals

  • Articles in a peer-reviewed journal must pass the strict review of three or more "peers" who are experts in the field or on the research topic of the article.
  • Audience of the article is always the scholarly reader.

Refereed journals

  • Articles in a refereed journal have to be reviewed by "referees" who are experts in the field who are not members of the editorial staff or board.
  • Refereed articles are not as rigorously evaluated as peer-reviewed articles.
  • In many cases the article has been subjected to a blind review process by one or more external readers who are not associated with the editorial board of the journal.
  • Audience of the article may be the scholarly reader OR the general public.

What is a scholarly periodical?

Most scientific research is initially published in scholarly periodicals.  What does ‘scholarly’ mean?  Webster's Dictionary defines "scholarly" as

  • concerned with academic study, especially research;
  • exhibiting the methods and attitudes of a scholar;
  • having the manner and appearance of a scholar.

What is a scholarly periodical?
A scholarly periodical is a journal, the main purpose of which is to report on original research or experimentation to make it available to academic audience. The titles of the scholarly journals sometimes contain the words: Journal of..., Quarterly, Review, Research. In citations, the titles are usually abbreviated. Examples of scholarly journals: Brain Research, Cell, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Virology, Science, Nature, New England Journal of Medicine. Some scholarly journals are published by scientific associations, for example, American Geophysical Union or American Society for Microbiology; others are published by scientific publishers such as Elsevier or Marcel Dekker.

Characteristics of a scholarly periodical

  • Articles in scholarly journals are written by scholars (experts in the field) or by someone who has done research in the field;
  • Names and credentials are always provided;
  • The articles are usually long, providing in-depth analysis of topics. They often contain graphs, tables, and charts and few, if any, pictures;
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes, bibliographies, or references;
  • The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered (the jargon of a field) and assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader;
  • Articles are usually structured and contain the following sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, study result, conclusion, bibliography.