Scientific Language: Assessment criteria

When your lecturers are reading your report, they are looking for language that is concise, accurate and clear :

Concise

saying what you want to say with as few words as possible

Accurate

being careful about saying precisely what you mean

Clear

making sure your reader will understand your writing and avoiding sentences that convey no information (in other words, avoid waffle).

Click on the characteristics of good scientific writing above to see examples of texts with problems in these areas and suggestions for improvement

Concise problem text

Recent media reports have reported anecdotal evidence that the consumption of the artificial sweetener, aspartame, can precipitate Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which is a defect in the ability of the body to respond to insulin.

This extract provides appropriate background information to justify the aim of the experiment i.e.: 'To investigate the relationship between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and insulin secretion.' However, in a short report it needs to be more concise. One way to shorten it is to remove repeated phrases or phrases with the same meaning and make one sentence with a cause - effect meaning instead of two.

Rewritten text

Anecdotal evidence suggests that aspartame (an artificial sweetener) causes insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

Accurate problem text

0.1 Tris, 1mM 4-aminoantipyrine, 60mM phenol, 1mM sodium cholate, 280U peroxidase, 7mM Triton X-100, 65U cholesterol esterase, 45U cholesterol oxidase, pH 7.7

It is especially important to be accurate when you are writing the legend. In the above example, the final concentration of the chemicals is not correct, so it obviously would not be possible to repeat or reconstruct the assay using this legend. Also, the enzyme activities should have been given as concentrations (e.g.: 280 U/ml, not as amounts such as 280 U). There should be a gap between the numbers and units (e.g.: 1 mM, not 1mM). The M was missed out from the Tris concentration. The correct version is shown below.

Accurate problem text

100 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.7 containing 1 mM aminoantipyrine (AAP), 6 mM phenol, 1 mM sodium cholate, 2.8 U/ml peroxidase, 7.4 mM Triton X-100, 0.65 U/ml cholesterol esterase and 0.45 U/ml cholesterol oxidase

Clear problem text

By looking at the observed results that we obtained in our experiments that we carried out, it is possible to make the approximate conclusion that the inhibitor was, in fact an inhibitor of the enzyme which was catalysing the original reaction that we were measuring.

This statement is not only verbose but also does not provide us with the reasons or logic underlying the deduction. Which results does the student mean? Why do they lead us to those conclusions? The statement is worse than useless. Compare it to

Rewritten text

Figure 1 shows that sodium phosphate increased the Km of the enzyme without altering the Vmax. Therefore sodium phosphate is a competitive inhibitor of alkaline phosphatase.

A reference to the data is made (in this case, Figure 1), the inhibitor and enzyme are given by name, and the reasons behind the conclusions are provided. While we're at it, always avoid the use of the first person ('I' or 'we') and never refer to others informally (eg, "we got our solutions from Baz and Shaz").

Read the following extracts from the Discussion sections of student reports on the effect of high- and low-cholesterol diets on blood cholesterol concentration. Examine the list of suggested improvements or ways to rewrite the extract and click either Accept or Reject. When you have made your choices, click the Submit button.


Extract 1

In this study the results are confounded by the fact that the compliance of the participants was not monitored. Subjects were only given an indication of which foods were high in cholesterol, but the foods that they selected and the portion sizes that they ate were not controlled. Clearly, this study should be repeated to address these issues.

1. Explain why compliance was not monitored.
Accept | Reject

 

2. State how a repeat study will control subjects selection of foods and portion sizes.
Accept | Reject

 

3. State how subjects' compliance will be monitored in a future study.
Accept | Reject

 

4. Explain how foods high in cholesterol were indicated to subjects.
Accept | Reject

 

5. Make clear what 'these issues' are.
Accept | Reject

Extract 2:

Although specifically asked to keep a diet diary and abstain from breakfast the morning a sample was being taken, four of the eight (2,3,5 and 8) all ate breakfast on the morning of week 12, meaning that these results could be a bit suspect, because there was only a short time between eating and sampling, so the amount of free cholesterol in the plasma would not be a true indication of the usual amount.

1. The week 12 results from half of the subjects were suspect as they had eaten breakfast before the sample was taken so their blood plasma cholesterol levels would have been higher than usual..
Accept | Reject

 

2. Non-compliance with the dietary regime was a major problem in this study which means that the results could be suspect.
Accept | Reject

 

3. Four of the eight (2,3,5 and 8) ate breakfast on the morning of week 12, meaning that these results could be suspect, since the time lapse between eating and sampling was not long enough, the amount of free cholesterol in the plasma would not be a true indication of the usual amount.
Accept | Reject

 

4. Consumption of food before sampling was a common occurence and throws into doubt the validity of the results.
Accept | Reject
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