Professional writing skills are essential for a scientist.

To style-check your document, please go step by step through the following points and make sure your document complies with them. It is best to read through the page once completely before starting to write. 

To begin with, view my presentation on scientific writing on YouTube.


The paragraphs of this page are numbered (G.2.1.1.) to allow me to refer to them when I correct documents. 

Table of contents with links: 

A. Construction of the sections of your document

B. Use of material from elsewhere

C. Construction of sentences

D. Word choice, word use, word forms

E. Individual symbols

F. Formatting

G. Special notes for people from particular corners of the world

H. Before giving your document to anyone else

J. Further reading

K. Software


 

A. Construction of the sections 

Which sections should be in your document depends, of course, on what kind of document you have.

A.1. Introduction and discussion sections

A.2. Results section

    1. Objective (what did we want to show next?)
    2. Approach (what did we do?)
    3. Results (what did we see?)
    4. Interpretation (what does that mean?)

B. Use of material from elsewhere

C. Construction of sentences

C.1. General construction issues

 Write:and not:Remarks
C.1.9.1.The surface of polyelectrolyte microcapsules can be further modified with proteins.Additionally, the surface of polyelectrolyte microcapsules can be further modified with proteins.The 'additionally' (anyway a bad way of starting a sentence) duplicates the 'further'.
C.1.9.2.Other substrates are DNA or proteins.Other substrates are DNA, proteins, etc.The 'etc.' duplicates the 'other'.

 

C.2. Cases, tenses, and word forms in sentence construction

C.2.1. Use of conditionals

C.2.2. Nominal style

Write:

and not:

When the protein was added, the color of the solution became stronger.

The addition of the protein caused a deepening of the color of the solution. 

There are no crystal structures of empty class I molecules.There is a lack of crystal structures of empty class I molecules.

C.2.3. -ing

C.2.4. Tenses (times)

 

C.3. Signs and symbols in sentence construction

C.3.1. Brackets 

C.3.2. Dashes/hyphens and minus signs

C.3.3. Spaces

C.3.4. Commas

 

Write:and not:
All other allotypes have this motif, and RAE-1δ becomes susceptible to gp40 upon introduction of this motif.All other allotypes have this motif and RAE-1δ becomes susceptible to gp40 upon introduction of this motif.
Applying this method addresses the sampling problem and leads to a better understanding of the conformational changes.Applying this method addresses the sampling problem, and leads to a better understanding of the conformational changes.

 

C.3.5. Apostrophes

C.3.6. Cross-references

C.3.7. Lists

C.3.8. Footnotes and endnotes

D. Word choice, word use, word forms

D.1. Word choice - general issues

D.1.1. Be as specific as possible, unless you actually mean to make a general statement. For every single word, think whether one exists that is more specific. Some examples:

Write

and not:

H-2Db

class I

our observation

the observation

these proteins

these molecules

 

D.1.2. Use correct and precise words.

D.1.3. Write what is, and not what is not. 

Write:and not:
The pellet is loose.The pellet is not compact.

 

D.1.4. Avoid lab jargon.

 

Write

and not:

D.1.4.1.

assess, investigate, analyze, study

check, look at

D.1.4.2.

separate on gel

run on gel

D.1.4.3.

laboratory

lab

D.1.4.4.

microcentrifuge tube

Eppi, eppendorf tube

D.1.4.5.

immunoprecipitated

IPed, pulled

 

D.1.5. Do not capitalize words, expressions, or names of molecules. Use underlines if you would like to show how an abbreviation was generated. But: when referring to figures and tables, capitalize the words "Figure" and "Table".

Write:

and not:

peptide loading complex

Peptide Loading Complex

T cell receptor

T Cell Receptor, T cell Receptor

MHC class I molecule

MHC Class I Molecule, MHC class I Molecule

We next performed an immunoprecipitation (Figure 5).

We next performed an immunoprecipitation (figure 5).

 

D.1.6. Consistency of terms

D.1.7. Abbreviations

D.1.8. Numerical increases and decreases

D.1.9. Avoid 'marketing words' and superlatives.
 

Write:and not:
This method is used frequently.This method has become immensely popular.
Polyelectrolyte microcapsules are versatile and multi-functional tools.Polyelectrolyte microcapsules provide an unmatched degree of versatility and multi-functionality.

 

D.2. Specific words

D.2.4. 'That' and 'which'

D.2.5. 'Like' and 'such as'

D.2.6. Correct use of the definite and indefinite articles in English

D.2.7. Correct use of hyphens in nouns and adjectives

D.2.8. Other interesting common mistakes:

 Write:and not:Remark:
D.2.8.1.First, …; second, …; third, …Firstly, …; secondly, …; thirdly, …(in an enumeration)


D.3. Word forms

D.3.1. Apostrophe

D.3.3. Headings 

D.3.4. Italics

D.3.5. Nonbreaking (hard) spaces:

D.3.6. Subject-verb agreement

D.4. Scientific issues in word choice and word use

 

D.4.1. Correct scientific names

D.4.2. Numbers and units: format

D.4.3. Numbers and units: Spaces

D.4.4. 'et al.' vs. 'and collaborators'

D.4.5. DNA and protein sequences

D.4.6. Fusion proteins, receptor-ligand complexes, mutants: our conventions

E. Individual symbols

 

Symbol

Comment

E.1.

" "

Quotation marks should be used as rarely as possible. Do not use them to define something (as in: the protein is called "tapasin"), and do not use them as emphasis (as done in some other languages).

E.2.

α

This is an alpha. Do not use it to describe the specificity of an antibody (write 'anti-tapasin', not 'α-tapasin), and do not use it to abbreviate 'alpha helix'.

E.3.

~

This sign (called a tilde) means "proportional to". If you would like to say "approximately", use ≈  .

E.4.

&

The ampersand should never be used, except in the name of a company.

E.5.

©, ®, ™

The copyright and trademark signs should never be used in scientific documents, not even after the name of a reagent.

E.7.

x

If you mean to say "times", such as in '2 x' for 'two times', the x must be in a sans-serif font, for example Arial, since it is actually not a letter but a multiplication sign.

E.8.

ß

Found on a German keyboard: this is the German letter "es-zett" and not a Greek beta. A Greek beta looks like this: β . To find it on your computer, use the Symbol font.

E.9.

*

is an asterisk. Asterix, on the contrary, is a Gallic warrior from a comic book. Make sure you don't mix up the two.

E.10.µThis is the Greek letter µ (mu) that is used as a prefix in 'µl' (for 'microliters). Make sure you use the µ and not a small u. On the Mac: alt-m, on the PC: hold down the ALT key and type 0181 on the keypad.


F. Formatting

F.1. Use of styles

F.2. Placement of text on the page

F.3. Figures and tables

F4. References


G. Special notes for people from particular corners of the world

G.1. Germany

G.2. India


H. Before giving your document to anyone else


J. Further reading

K. Software

L. Online Courses