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Ten tips for scientific writing

Make sure that what you write is closely related to the question and requirements for your essay. 

Read the question carefully so that you understand what is expected from you. Pay attention to any words that tell you how to answer the question, anything that identifies the topic and anything that limits the scope of your answer.  

  • Example words that tell you how to answer the question might include: describe, explain, compare, assess, evaluate.  Words at the start of the list suggest a more descriptive answer while those at the end of the list suggest a more critical approach in your writing.  
  • Limits on the scope of your answer might relate to a context or population that you must consider in your essay.  For example, if you are asked to evaluate a medical treatment a limit might be to evaluate the treatment for a particular age group.

The science may be complicated but you don't always have to write in a complicated way to describe it.  Try and write plainly and clearly for someone with a similar level of knowledge to yourself.  Think about what you have learned while studying on your module and how this relates to the essay question: this is what you will need to write about in sufficient detail to show your understanding.  Your lecturer will know more about the subject than you but is looking for you to demonstrate your understanding and progress through your studies.  You may also be using research for your essay that your lecturer has not seen so you must make sure that your explanations will stand on their own.  Reading out loud can help you appreciate if what you have written will be clear to your reader.

Example question

'Evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of self-regulation and self-treatment for young adolescents with diabetes.'

To answer this question you would need to pay attention to  assessment criteria and any available guidance from your tutors but this is one possible approach:

  • Review literature about the management of diabetes primarily for young adolescents.  You may also find it useful to look at literature on self-regulation and self-treatment for other age groups to further your understanding about what is distinctive about this age group.
  • Introduce the essay by explaining why this is a topic worth discussing.
  • Explain what is generally understood by self-regulation and by self-treatment as a way of managing diabetes.
  • Say what you mean by young adolescents.
  • 'Evaluate' is the word which tells you how to approach the assignment. 
  • You would first describe the benefits and problems that this approach can pose for the particular age group.
  • Then discuss these benefits and problems in comparison with other approaches to managing diabetes.
  • For a strong essay conclusion, draw on what you have written to comment on appropriateness of self-regulation and self-treatment approaches in different contexts.  You may also be able to suggest possible future research.