Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

What are the most essential tips for scientific writing?

A few days ago, I received an email for Wiley Publishers pointing to a document containing 10 Essential writing tips for engineers. Some of those tips concern other aspects of a researcher’s presentation of his work – conferences, keynotes, tips for the slides, etc. -, which does not involve writing. However, there are three writing tips which I underline.

tips scientific writing

“Don’t neglect your abstract and title.”

Wiley states

“ Did you know that most readers decide what to read based on an article’s title and abstract? Construct both using keywords from all sections of the main text.

This topic is something bloggers have been struggling with for quite some time. And you find several posts with tips to help write better headline for their posts. As in a previous post, I also argued that abstracts should learn something from the techniques for writing short and concise posts. It’s no different.

However, the motivation to work on abstracts and titles in deeper. While in the past, the value of your work depended on how much it was cited, today it depends on how much people read your work. And to lead people into reading your work, suggestive titles and engaging abstract work better.

 

“It’s okay to be passive.”

For me, this tip was important:

“Your English teacher told you to never use passive voice (any form of to-be), but engineers use it in their writing all the time. Use passive voice when the focus of the sentence is on a procedure or mechanism. Use active voice when the focus is a human actor.”

This statement is liberating. I’m Portuguese, which means English is not my mother language, and I strive to keep learning it the best I can because I need it for writing articles with my research. Thus, every time I use tools like ProWritingAid, Hemingway, or lately Grammarly, I always get the warning about using the passive voice. And I try to change it to active the best I can. Reading this tip was liberating. But…

I’ve learned while struggling to change from passive to active voice that you can improve substantially where your writing is focused. I found the active voice useful to focus on ideas, instead of focusing on unimportant details while reaching them. Therefore, in the end, there’s always a balance between active and passive voice.

 

Be Visual

Being visual is how I would summarize several of their tips. We are visual beings. It is true to human experience that an image is worth a thousand words. And being good at visually expressing your research brings quality to your content. An excellent image can clarify the reviewer in numerous ways and increase the likelihood of having your paper accepted for publication.

However, I also think we should recover some Doodling skills applied to scientific writing. Infographics are gaining momentum and investing in them will be useful in the near future.

 

Question: what other tips help you most in your scientific writing?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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