Scientific Writing Tips

I’ve noticed that students often make similar mistakes in their scientific writing . Here, I will slowly be populating a list of tips to help students improve their scientific writing:

Grammar / Spelling / Writing

  • Avoid using “it, this, that”. It is usually better to specify the subject exactly.
  • Reference precisely. E.g., do not write “from the previous Figure”, or “in the last Section”. Instead, use LaTeX’s referencing tools and write e.g. “from Figure 1”, or “in Section 5”.
  • Do not write that something is “trivial” or “easy to see”. You yourself have probably enjoyed much education by now: so is what you are talking about really easy?
  • Avoid starting a sentence with a mathematical symbol.
  • Avoid adding adverbs to superlatives. Subjects are almost never the “very best”, “really large”, or “extremely interesting”.

Data / Graphs / Tables

  • All figures, graphs, and tables should always be labelled and captioned.
  • A table should have three lines to separate the data: there should be a top line and bottom line that are relatively thick, and a middle line that follows the headers directly and is relatively thin.
  • Data is often better presented in a graph than in a table.
  • Axes within graphs should always be labelled.
  • For physical quantities, always follow the SI notation rules.
  • Restrict the number of reported significant digits. For example, instead of reporting that you measured \(13512 \pm 322\) objects, you should be report that you measured \((13.5 \pm 0.3 ) \cdot 10^3\) objects.