3.1 Clarity - 3 Academic scientific style

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

3.1 Clarity
3 Academic scientific style


This chapter will help you to become familiar with the features of good academic scientific style, focussing firstly on the importance of clarity, and secondly on the language and conventions associated with this style of writing.

3.1 Clarity

[N]o one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.

(Peter Medawar, 1974, in Dawkins, 2008: 183)

Although the scientific content of a text may be complex and difficult to understand, the text itself should be as clear and readable as possible. Many factors contribute to clarity, some of which are covered in other parts of the book. (See links Image to other chapters.) In this chapter, you will focus on sentence length, text organisation, and being concise and precise.

3.1.1 Sentence length and text organisation

Sentence length and text organisation can greatly affect clarity.

Image Explorative Task

Read the two texts. Which one is easier to read? Match the texts to one of the descriptions in the table which follows to help you think about why this might be. Image

Text A

Telecommunications engineering is a discipline that brings together electrical engineering and computer science in order to enhance telecommunications systems. The work involved ranges from basic circuit design to strategic mass developments. The work of a telecommunications engineer includes designing and overseeing the installation of telecommunications equipment such as complex electronic switching systems, copper wire telephone facilities and fibre optics.

Text B

The discipline of telecommunications engineering, including the designing and installation overseeing of telecommunications equipment and facilities, such as complex electronic switching systems, copper wire telephone facilities and fibre optics, is the enhancement of telecommunication systems through the bringing together of electrical engineering and computer science, from basic circuit design to strategic mass developments.

1) Text _____

2) Text _____

is one very long sentence.

is broken up into shorter sentences.

has only one main verb. (Underline this.)

has three sentences, each with a main verb. (Underline these.)

gives a general definition near the end of the text, after specific details and examples have been given.

begins with a general definition, followed by specific details and examples.

Study Box: Long or short sentences?

It is sometimes thought that using very long sentences automatically makes a text ’sound more academic’, but this is not necessarily the case. Short sentences can be used to good effect in scientific writing as they can convey information very clearly. Long sentences can also be useful as they allow you to combine information efficiently. But remember that any long sentences used must be carefully controlled (Image Chapters 4 and 5), and not become a string of loosely connected words and phrases.

Most scientific writing is usually a combination of long and short sentences.

Many other factors contribute to clarity:

Image Chapter 2 to find out about the importance of engaging with the writing process to clarify thinking and expression

Image Chapters 4 and 5, which focus on the importance of using good sentence structure to achieve clear expression; note the focus on precise punctuation

Image Chapters 6 and 8, which explain how to develop clear paragraphs and texts; note the focus on punctuation

Image Chapter 9 to look at how following the conventions of academic and scientific writing can help to make a text easier to follow

Image Practice

Rewrite this text so that it is clearer.

Paediatrics is a branch of medicine that deals with the care of infants, children and adolescents, the main differences between paediatric and adult medicine being the differences in physiology and legal status, with children unable to make decisions for themselves. Paediatricians usually deal with children from birth to eighteen years of age.

Image Model Text 2, Appendix 4

3.1.2 Being concise

Clear scientific language is concise; wordiness and redundancy can be distracting and confusing for the reader, and are often a sign that the writer is not in full control of the development of ideas in a text.

Image Practice (i)

Rewrite these sentences to make them more concise.Image

1) All of the studies had limitations.

2) Scientists need to find solutions to solve these problems.

3) He makes a comparison of both the two systems.

4) In the conclusion part of the chapter, she reiterates the importance and significance of the results.

5) Pollution is a global problem throughout the world.

Image Practice (ii)

1) Look at the student’s first draft and the lecturer’s comments which follow.

A number of technological methods of extraction of copper are available, which include hydrometallurgy, solvent extraction, liquid-liquid electrochemistry and electrowinning. Liquid—liquid electrochemistry is the focus of this project. Each of these processes is described below and liquid—liquid electrochemistry is given greater consideration as it is the focus of this project.

Accurate and well expressed — could be more concise, however.

2) Rewrite the text so that it is clear and concise.

3) Compare your text with the student’s second draft. Model Text 3, Appendix 4

3.1.3 Being precise

Writing should be concise, but, at the same time, it should be precise and explicit in meaning, avoiding vague expression or ambiguity.

Study Box: Precision in writing

1) Avoid using etc. or and so on. Use such as instead, when you want to give just two or three examples, e.g.

cancer, diabetes, etc. → diseases such as cancer and diabetes

2) Avoid vague use of words, particularly prepositions; instead, use common collocations (words which often go together) and fixed phrases with precise meaning, e.g.

For applications, nanotechnology has huge potential.

In terms of applications, nanotechnology has huge potential.

There are a number of factors of climate.

→ There are a number of factors affecting climate.

There are many problems of excessive alcohol consumption.

→ There are many problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

(= problems that arise when someone consumes too much alcohol)

Compare with:

the problem of excessive alcohol consumption

(= excessive alcohol consumption is a problem)


Identify any vague expressions in these sentences and try to make them more precise and explicit.

1) The regulations cover the use of oil, gas, etc.

2) Buildings in the city are constructed of concrete, timber and so on.

3) For applications, this polymer is very versatile.

4) There are a number of factors of blood pressure.

5) There are many problems of obesity.