11 Nov 2019
by Mark
Share

Scientific Writing: A Self-Study Guide

Summary: I summarize some useful readings in Scientific Writing and Communication that helped me when I was learning to write and that will likely help my students and others.

Creating high-impact research requires effective writing. Most researchers, however, will never take a formal course in Scientific Writing. Even if we did, a formal course would hide the fact that researchers must continually practice and refine their writing craft over their careers. Since “good writers read about writing,” this page lists a self-study course in scientific writing for the researcher who wants to become a better writer. It lists good books at the bottom of the page (all of which we have available in our lab’s reading library), and then breaks out sections of those books for you to read and progress through: from understanding what scientific writing is to how to structure your writing to writing a first draft to editing and submitting the final copy and beyond. I hope that the below progression will guide you on your path to becoming a better writer and that you will add to and revise this list as you uncover what readings helped or hindered your progression as a writer.

How to use this guide: I organized this guide as a week-by-week progression of readings for the aspiring scientific writer. You will find some weeks more time-consuming than others. To help alleviate this burden, I have bolded specific titles that provide the best coverage in the least time each week. Allotting about 30 minutes, two to three times a week, should provide you ample time to finish the bolded ones. You can read the non-bolded chapters if you have extra time or are particularly interested in the topic. I suggest having some your own writing handy so that you can practice what you learn each week; working through your own concrete example improves both your learning and your research. While I arranged the topics in a week-by-week progression, that should not stop you from jumping around if your needs require it; skipping ahead to the “Editing” sections might be more useful when a deadline approaches.

Part 1: Understanding Content

Week 1: Understanding Your Role and Purpose

  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 1: Communicating Science
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 2: Scientific Communication
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 1: Deciding Where to Begin
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 1: Thinking in Print
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 2: Connecting with Your Reader
  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Ch. 1: Writing as Conversation

Week 2: Setting Yourself Up to Be a Productive Writer

  • How to Write a Lot: Ch. 1: Introduction
  • How to Write a Lot: Ch. 2: Specious Barriers to Writing a Lot
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 17: Actually Sitting Down to Write

Part 2: Understanding Organization and Flow

Week 3: Structuring Scientific Documents

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 2: Organizing Your Documents
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 7: The Scientific Paper
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 12: Planning
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 10: Technical Reports
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 16: Introductions and Conclusions
  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Ch. 8: Introduction and Conclusion
  • Writing for Science: Ch. 9: Scientific Journal Articles

Week 6: Abstracts and Titles

  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Ch. 6: Title and Abstract
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 2: Beginnings of Documents
  • Writing for Science: Ch. 3: Research Abstracts
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Ch. 10: Titles and Abstracts
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Appendix 8: Evolution of a Title
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Appendix 9: Evolution of an Abstract

Week 7: Effective Literature Reviews

  • They Say, I Say: Ch. 1: They Say
  • They Say, I Say: Ch. 2: Her Point Is
  • They Say, I Say: Ch. 3: As He Himself Puts It
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 5: From Problems to Sources
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Ch. 4: Searching and Reviewing Scientific Literature

Week 8: Constructing Cogent Arguments

  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 7: Making Good Arguments
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 8: Making Claims
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 9: Assembling Reasons and Evidence
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 10: Acknowledgements and Reponses

Week 9: Revising a First Draft

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 17: Revising, Revising, Revising
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations Ch. 9: Reviewing and Revising

Week 10: Revising for Organization and Flow

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 3: Providing Transition, Depth, Emphasis
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Lesson 7: Motivation
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 14: Revising Your Organization and Argument
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Lesson 5: Cohesion and Coherence

Part 3: Understanding Style

Week 11: Revising for Clarity and Straighforwardness

  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Ch. 3: Actions
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Ch. 4: Characters
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 5: Being Clear
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 6: Being Forthright
  • Revising Prose: Ch. 1: Action
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 17: Revising Style: Telling Your Story Clearly

Week 12: Revising to Reduce Length and Complexity

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 4: Being Precise
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 7: Being Familiar
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 8: Being Concise
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Ch. 9: Concision

Week 13: Revising the Layout of Sentences:

  • The Elements of Style: Part II: Elementary Principles of Composition
  • The Elements of Style: Part V: An Approach to Style
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Lesson 1: Understanding Style
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 9: Being Fluid
  • Line by Line: Ch. 3: Ill-Matched Partners
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Lesson 10: Shape

Part 4: Understanding Illustrations

Week 14: Why Illustrations

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 10: Illustration: Making the Right Choices
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 9: Graphics and Their Place
  • Writing for Science: Ch. 6: Scientific Visuals

Week 15: Effective Illustrations

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 11: Illustration: Creating the Best Designs
  • The Craft of Research: Ch. 15: Communication Evidence Visually

Part 5: Understanding Editing

Week 16: Basics of Copy-Editing

  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: Ch. 1: What Copyeditors Do
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: Ch. 2: Basic Procedures

Week 17: Correcting Basic Errors

  • The Elements of Style: Part I: Elementary Rules of Usage
  • The Elements of Style: Part IV: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: Lesson 2: Correctness
  • Line by Line: Ch. 1: Loose, Baggy Sentences
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Appendix B: A Usage Guide for Scientists and Engineers

Week 18: Improving Sentence Structure

  • Line by Line: Ch. 2: Faulty Connections
  • Revising Prose: Ch. 2: Attention
  • Line by Line: Ch. 3: Ill-Matched Partners
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: Ch. 14: Grammar: Principles and Pitfalls

Week 19: Adding Punch to Sentences

  • Revising Prose: Ch. 3: Voice

Week 20: Editing Structure

  • The Copyeditors Handbook: Ch. 15: Beyond Grammar

Week 21: Final Edit Checklist

  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Appendix C: Review Checklist
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: Appendix A: Checklist of Editorial Preferences

Part 6: Life-Long Learning About Writing

Week 22: Reading and Reviewing

  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 3: Reading Well
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 6: The Review Process

Week 23: Creating a Culture and Support Structure for Writing

  • How to Write a Lot: Ch. 3: Motivational Tools
  • How to Write a Lot: Ch. 8: Good Things Still to be Written
  • Revising Prose: Ch. 8: Why Bother?
  • How to Write a Lot: Ch. 4: Starting Your Own Agraphia Group
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 5: Writing Very Well
  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Ch. 5: Using Exemplars

Week 24: Proposals

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing: Ch. 13: Writing Proposals
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Ch. 5: The Proposal
  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science:: Ch. 11 Proposals
  • Writing for Science: Ch. 10: Scientific Grant Proposals

Week 25: Writing for Non-Native Speakers:

  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science: Ch. 12: For Researchers with English as a Foreign Language
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations: Ch. 20: To the International Student
  • Writing for Scholarly Publication: Appendix B

List of Writing Books

The Content of Scientific Writing: What and Why to Write

  • The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2003 by Montgomery, Scott L.
  • The Craft of Scientific Writing, 3rd Edition 3rd Edition by Michael Alley
  • The Craft of Research by Booth, Coloumb, and Williams
  • How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silvia

Organization and Flow: Structuring Ideas

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing, 3rd Edition 3rd Edition by Michael Alley
  • Writing for Science by Robert Goldbort
  • Writing for Scholarly Publication by Anne Sigismund Huff
  • Scientific Papers and Presentations by Martha Davis
  • The Craft of Research by Booth, Coloumb, and Williams
  • On Writing Well. 6th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2001 by William Zinsser
  • Trees, Maps, and Theorems Effective Communication for Rational Minds, 2009 by Jean-Luc Doumont

Style: Creating Effective Paragraphs and Sentences

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E.B. White
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams
  • On Writing Well. 6th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2001 by William Zinsser
  • They say I say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

Editing: The Mechanics of Copy-Editing and Review

  • The Copyeditors Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn
  • Line by Line: How to Improve your Own Writing by Claire Cook
  • Revising Prose. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000 by Richard Lanham