Scientific Style

Scientific writing requires grammatical and stylistic approaches that differ from those preferred in other academic disciplines. Lab reports, literature reviews, and theses will be most successful when they are consistent with these conventions of the field.


Scientific writing is straightforward, specific, and concise. Balance jargon and discipline-specific vocabulary with simple, precise word choices. Readers will draw conclusions based on the strength of the data, not the beauty of the writing.

Clarity is more important than poetry. Observations should be reported using concrete adjectives rather than figures of speech: for example, the colour of a mixture should be described “bright green,” not “the shade of new spring leaves.” A writing style that is direct and uncluttered willreduce the chance that readers will misunderstand or become confused.

Passive Voice

In active voice, the subject of the sentence is active: the subject performs the action expressed by the verb.


My lab partner and I diluted each sample with 100 mL of water.

We diluted the samples, causing them to change from bright green to pale green.

Active voice emphasizes the people who are doing the experiment, rather than the procedures or results themselves. Science, however, is universal—anyone should be able to do a particular experiment and get the same results. In scientific writing, therefore, the emphasis should be on facts and data, not the researcher. This requires use of passive voice.

In passive voice, the subject is inactive, receiving the action expressed by the verb. In other words, the subject is acted upon by an unseen party.


Samples were diluted with 100 mL of water.

Diluting samples caused them to change from bright green to pale green.

In addition to changing the emphasis of the sentence, passive voice removes unnecessary detail, making the sentence more concise.

Using the Literature

It is extremely rare to include a direct quotation in a scientific paper; in most cases, the facts are more important than the specific wording previous authors used to state them. In general, quotes are only appropriate if the original wording is so powerful and precise that it is impossible to improve.

Information paraphrased from research sources must be cited.


A new method for developing fingerprints on spent cartridge casings was discovered in 2009 (Bond and Heidel).

Bond and Heidel (2009) discovered a new method for developing fingerprints on spent cartridges.

A new method for developing fingerprints on cartridge casings takes advantage of corrosion reactions between skin oils and brass (Bond and Heidel 2009).

All sources that appear in the text of the paper must also appear in the reference list.

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