Principles for good scientific writing
It may seem obvious that a scientific document is incomplete without
the interpretation of the writer; it may not be so obvious that the
document cannot function without proper interpretation by each reader. Based on Gopen and Swan (American Scientist 78, p. 550-558, 1990).
- Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its
verb. Avoid long intermediate or secondary phrases between
subject and verb.
- Place in the stress position the "new information" you want
the reader to emphasize (= object of sentence).
- Place the person or thing whose "story" a sentence is telling
at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.
- Place appropriate "old information" (material already stated
in the discourse) in the topic position.
- Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its
verb. Use active or descriptive verbs whenever possible.
- In general, provide context (background) for your reader
before asking the reader to consider anything new.
- In general, try to ensure that the relative emphasis of the
substance (science) coincides with the relative expectations
for emphasis raised by the structure (of the sentence).
Additional guidelines for technical scientific writing
- All text should be written substantially in your own words, and all quotations should be clearly indicated and referenced—see reference style. All figures and illustrations need captions with source references or links to the source webpages. Please note academic dishonesty.
- Use quotations sparingly in order to emphasize key or controversial points. Excessive quotation, however, distracts from your writing. Always identify quotations with "marks" or italics plus a source reference.
- All numerical values should be in metric units. Abbreviate numbers and metric units of measurement, for example: 0.8 cm, 5.7 mm, 110 km², 1050 m³, etc. English units of measurement are generally spelled out (3.5 inches, 1560 feet, 630 miles, etc.). Large or small numbers can be given in scientific notation: 3.7 x 109, 0.7 x 10-6. Such numbers may also be spelled out, for example: 126 million, 4.6 billion, etc.
||Scientific measurements normally are given in metric units.|
U.S-metric unit conversions from the U.S. Geological Survey.
- Never use contractions (don't, isn't, etc.).
- Capitalize only proper names of people, places, and institutions.
For example, the Earth as a planet is a proper name, the earth as soil or
ground is a common name. Biological names are usually given in italics:
- Phrases to avoid: there is (are), like this (that), sort of, etc. Words to avoid: very, pretty, big, little, too, etc.
- Never use "you" sentence constructions in scientific writing.
- Verbs are the key to good writing. Verbs to avoid: get, go, be. These verbs are so general in meaning that they have almost no meaning. Use more specific or descriptive verbs to express the intended meaning.
- Grammar counts. Every sentence must have a subject and verb,
and most usually have an object. Pay attention to subject-verb
agreement and to verb tense usage. Long, complicated
sentences are suitable, as long as they read smoothly. If in
doubt, break the long sentence into a couple of shorter
ones. Proofread carefully for spelling and punctuation.
- Avoid excessive use of parenthetical (...) statements.
Material that is worth including should be written into
- Footnotes and endnotes are rarely, if ever, used in scientific writing.
- Acronyms are increasingly common. They are acceptable, as
long as the whole title is spelled out the first time the
acronym is used, for example: GLORIA (Geological LOng Range
Inclined Asdic). Acronyms are usually written in all capitals.
- Accent marks and special letters from other languages should be
preserved in English text for people's names (Åmark, Hsü) and
geographic place names (Ærø, Denmark; Ostrzeszów, Poland). This
is also true for some Greek letters and mathematical symbols: Δ, Σ, µ, ±
°, ¼, ½, ¾, . Most special symbols are available in extended
ASCII character sets of word processors and in html script.
- For another take on geologic and scientific writing style, go to metamorphic petrology at UCSB (page down toward bottom to section on General notes on your report).
Examples of reference style
- Aber, J.S., Aber, S.W., Buster, L., Jensen, W.E. and Sleezer, R.L. 2009. Challenge of infrared kite aerial photography: A digital update. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 112, p. 31-39.
- Dippie, B.W., Heyman, T.T., Mulvey, C. and Troccoli, J.C. 2002. George Catlin and his Indian gallery. Edited by Gurney, G. and Heyman, T.T., Smithsonian American Museum of Art, W.W. Norton & Co. 294 p.
- Eriksen, P. and Olesen, L.H. 2002. Fortiden set fra himlen: Luftfotoarkæologi i Vestjylland. Holstebro Museum, Denmark, 160 p.
- Hall, R.C. 1997. Post war strategic reconnaissance and the genesis of project Corona. In R.A. McDonald (ed.), Corona: Between the Sun & the Earth, The first NRO reconnaissance eye in space, p. 25-58. American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
- Lidmar-Bergström, K., Elvhage, C. and Ringberg, B. 1991. Landforms in Skåne, South Sweden. Geografiska Annaler 73, p. 61-91.
- Miyamoto, M., Yoshino, K., Nagano, T., Ishida, T. and Sata, Y. 2004. Use of balloon aerial photography for classification of Kushiro wetland vegetation, northeastern Japan. Wetlands 24, p. 701-710.
- Richards, K. 1982. Rivers form and process in alluvial channels. Methuen, London, 361 p.
- Romer, G.B. 2007. Introduction to the biographies of selected innovators of photographic technology. In Peres, M.R. (ed.), Focal encyclopedia of photography, 4th edition, p. 123-134. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
- Tielkes, E. 2003. L’oeil du cerf-volant: Evaluation et suivi des états de surface par photographie aérienne sous cerf-volant. Margraf Publ., Weikersheim, Germany, 113 p.
- USGS topoView 2020. U.S. Geological Survey, online map viewer [https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/topoview/]. Give date of online access.
- Watson, J.P. 1991. A visual interpretation of a Landsat mosaic of the Okavango Delta and surrounding area. Remote Sensing of Environment 35, p. 1-9.
Copyright considerations ©
A copyright is similar to a patent or trademark. It grants the owner exclusive rights to distribution, use, sale, and reproduction. Most published materials are copyrighted by the owners or authors. This includes books, magazines, journals, newspapers, maps, posters, photographs, audio-video works (tapes, records, and CDs), digital datasets, and webpages. This is particularly true for any type of online materials from *.com, *.org, *.net and *.mus webpages, and may also pertain to certain *.edu, *.gov, *.mil, and other types of webpages.
Students should assume that all webpages are copyrighted, as denoted by the © symbol. Students may not borrow, download or reproduce materials from copyrighted sources without written permission from the copyright owner. Most copyright owners will grant permission to use materials for educational purposes, but students must ask first.
Many geoscience reference materials fall into so-called gray literature, consisting of such items as well logs, seismic sections, maps, field notes, rock and mineral specimens, fossil specimens, photographs, satellite imagery, geophysical datasets, and so on. In order to deal with referencing such items, the Geoscience Information Society set up a Task Force on Citation of Geoscience Data. This task force has designed citation styles and provided examples—see USGS.
Warning: Wikipedia has become quite popular in recent years. Students should beware of using this source. Wikipedia lacks quality control, and many of its articles do not cite references or sources. One of its editors was exposed as a fraud (2007). Some articles on geology and tectonics are misleading, factually questionable, and represent little more than personal opinion. Wikipedia should not be utilized as a primary source for earth science student reports or projects.
Webpage Technical Aspects
Many tutorials and self-help sources of information exist for creating webpages--see HTML. The following instructions and recommendations are general guidelines for creating effective webpages. These suggestions are given to help students write project reports that follow standard scientific style.
- As much as possible, utilize simple html code to create your documents. Do not clutter your html files with unnecessary or redundant code entries. When adapting code from other sources, make sure you delete inappropriate metadata information.
- Do NOT write your report using a word processor (such as Word) and then translate the document into html code. Such translation often leads to unexpected and undesirable results, which are difficult to fix.
- Most webservers are case sensitive. File names must be all lowercase characters. Each name should be limited to eight and three characters, for example: webpage1.htm, figure03.jpg, icon_099.gif, etc. File names should have no blank spaces. Make sure your hypertext links have correct file names with matching lowercase.
- Avoid large images. In general, images should not exceed ~900 columns width (~250 KB) in size. Larger images may not display properly and could take a long time to download. Several oversized images in a webpage may cause serious user problems.