'Good' Writing Practice in Science


You will have to write practical assignments and answers to examination questions during your Science studies.

Good English language is important (correct grammar and spelling do matter!) but here are a few more tips:

Look at the number of marks that have been allocated for the question. This will guide you as to how many points you will need to incorporate in your answer. In pencil jot down the same number of 'keywords' (words that examiners will want you to show that you know!) and then incorporate them into a coherent answer.
Answer the question you have been asked. Sometimes it's tempting to answer the question that you wish you'd been asked, rather than the one in front of you. But responses that go off the point don't get you marks. What you say has to be relevant... and on the mark scheme!
Be concise and precise. Writing is not like speaking, you need to avoid padding out the sentences and 'waffling' about related (but not relevant) topics. Remember that no question is an invitation to 'write all you know about' unless that is what you have been asked to do (a very unlikely occurrence!).
Plan your work. Make notes of key words that you need to incorporate in your work. In an examination, imagine the words that will appear on the teacher's mark scheme. Note them down in pencil, order them carefully and then expand them into your answer.
Be your own proof-reader. I know the feeling of finishing some writing with a sigh of relief and 'switching off' without further thought but this is not good practice. Always read back through your work and revise it as necessary.
Support your arguments. A clear 'point of view' has to be presented. Your arguments need to be reasoned, with coherent statements supported logically by relevant facts. Always relate your ideas to scientific laws and principles if you can.
Avoid plagiarism. Wholesale copying of material is not allowed. It is classed as cheating, and the penalties are severe. You can use the words of others, but you must attribute them. Whenever you do quote, cite the reference in full
Use paragraphs. Paragraphs bring together related sentences that cover a coherent set of thoughts. Their use helps the reader enormously.

Keep within the word limit. A word limit is set because it helps you decide what level of detail is needed. Sometimes only the words up to the limit are marked and you lose a lot of marks because some of your points are made in the section that it not read by the assessor!

Develop a sense of audience. Assume an intelligent audience, but one who has not been taught the new concepts you have met in the course at this level.
Keep sentences short. Don't fall into the trap of believing that long sentences reflect profound thoughts. In general, short sentences are more conducive to clear, logical argument and help keep pretentiousness to a minimum.

Examiners have a vocabulary all of their own! Click here to jump to a list of words that are commonly found in examination questions and their meanings.