Writing Center

How to Slay the Dragon Named Scientific Writing

By MacKenzie O., Writing Tutor

Imagine you are a valiant knight and your impending quest is to slay the dragon that has been terrorizing your fellow knights since anyone can remember. The dragon we are talking about is feared by all. It makes freshmen cower in fear and even the senior Biology major shudder. This dragon is scientific writing. This fearsome creature may take the form of a literature review about a scientific topic or a paper in which you discuss the results of your own scientific experiment. While not every citizen in the Kingdom of Xavier is required to depart on this intimidating quest, there are still science majors and science minors scattered throughout the land that need some tips and tricks to slay this mighty beast. It is understandable that even the most experienced warrior would be threatened by such a daunting task; however, I will not let any of you venture out to battle without properly arming you.

First, in order to defeat the dragon, you must learn what makes it strong.

Strong scientific writing includes:

  • A title that abides by the Three S's: Short, Simple, and Specific. If it can be said in fewer words, then do so. Also, try to get across as much about the content of the paper as possible.

  • A short abstract that provides the reader with only the necessary information to get them hooked. Remember: Your abstract is the part of the paper people would skim to see if they want to spend the time reading the rest of it. Make it interesting, but not too long that they wouldn't want to take the time to read all of it.

  • An informational introduction that provides a sufficient foundation of information regarding the current state of affairs of the discipline in which you are writing. Remember: With this paper, you are adding yourself to the already existing conversation between experts in this field; therefore, you should honor them and show them respect by making it known that you used their findings as a jumping off point for your own research.

  • • Almost no direct quotations whatsoever. You must write in your own words, which means you will need to paraphrase and cite the ideas of other scientists that you found useful in explaining yourself. Think: if you are attempting to contribute to an ongoing conversation, you wouldn't want to just regurgitate what's already been said in the exact same words.

  • • LOTS of citations. A scientific research paper with few citations looks like a giant red flag for plagiarism. Be sure to keep excellent records of your sources and maybe even color code the information to keep better tabs on it.

Next, all knights should be armed with a few fighting tips, too.

  • Make sure to start slaying the paper well before its due date. Allow yourself enough time for research, planning, and multiple drafts. If you try to rush a scientific paper, it will be extremely obvious to your audience.

  • Gather ample sustenance to help you survive your epic quest. More simply, grab some snacks and hunker down because you are most likely in for the long haul. No one can do battle on an empty stomach.

  • Reward yourself throughout the process with breaks. Trying to write a scientific paper for long periods of time can be draining, so be sure to schedule short breaks so you can go outside, stretch, take a power nap, catch up with friends, or do anything else that gives your brain a break.

You've taken a step in the right direction by seeking out writing tips, but now is the time to depart on your epic quest and seek out the dragon you've been tasked to overcome. You now know that one does not simply sit down and write a scientific paper; that being said, as long as you heed the advice offered above and you give yourself enough time, there's nothing that can stop you from slaying your own personal scientific writing dragon. Additionally, if you need some help in slaying your dragon, reach out to one of the brave knights at the Xavier Writing Center-when it comes to dragons, we slay on a daily basis.

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