Submitted by Barbara Reisner / James Madison University on Thu, 07/02/2009 - 02:12

Yesterday, I went to an outstanding talk by Simon Peyton Jones on how to write a scientific paper. It was directed towards people in CS writing a manuscript for a conference proceedings, but it was still broadly applicable. That got me thinking about other resources on writing research papers and how can we best help students learn to write about their research.

Much of what I do is look at small bits of writing and after a bit of reflection with a red pen (me) discuss the writing with the student.  This process gets repeated many times. I've also found it useful to discuss the role that writing plays in research (and that good writing is important in science). For this, I've found the Whitesides paper invaluable. Students seem to put more stock in what's in print than what I say.

 Here are now my two favorite resources for students.  What are yours?

Joanne Stewart / Hope College

I still really like the chapter in the ACS Style Guide about writing a scientific paper. And here it is on the web!

A third edition of the ACS Style Guide was released in 2006 and I'm embarassed to say that I haven't seen it yet.

And for general writing, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (now out in a 50th anniversary hard cover edition, or it can be found on the web) is still a great resource!

Sun, 07/05/2009 - 09:09 Permalink
Maggie Geselbracht / Reed College


One of my favorite articles to give students is by George Gopen.  We give a copy to all of our seniors at our library resources/searching the literature/writing your thesis meetings at the beginning of the year.

Gopen focuses on learning to write to match a reader's expectations.  The suggestions are straightforward and easy to learn and apply.  Great tips for all writers!

Gopen, GD and Swan, JA. 1990. "The Science of Scientific Writing," American Scientist 78: 550-558.

Mon, 07/06/2009 - 14:25 Permalink
Michael Lufaso / University of North Florida

­The list of resources already provided are a fe­w of my favorites: the ACS Style Guide and Whiteside's Group: Writing a Paper Advanced Materials, 2004, 16, 1375-1377.   The Scribner Handbook for Writers and Chicago Manual of Style are two other general writing resources worth mentioning.  I also provide a link to a simple guide for students that addresses plagiarism and tips on when to cite sources.

In additional to providing resources on writing research papers, I provide students with a list of questions that were taken from journals in which I have reviewed manuscripts. I have not shared the list here, since I am unsure if that would be proper since the journals do not freely share that information. In my view, the list of questions helps the student as he or she writes the paper and evaluate the drafts.  The types of questions vary significantly depending on the journal, but are typically good points to consider during the process of writing of the paper.

Thu, 07/09/2009 - 11:21 Permalink
Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College

In reply to by Maggie Geselbracht / Reed College

I give out the Gopen and Swan article to my classes when I teach a lot of writing.  This fall I am teaching a writing course and this is one of the handouts we will be discussing in class.


Thu, 08/20/2009 - 21:13 Permalink
Laurel Morton / Eastern Kentucky University
Next fall (2011), I will be teaching our new literature and scientific writing course to sophmores.  These references will help!  I've used a few of them in the past (Whiteside's paper and the ACS Style Guide).  I also have used "A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry", by H. Beall and J Trimbur, published by Addison Wesley Longman.; "Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students" by Gordon Harvey, Hackett Publishing Co.; and "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, Longman Publishers.
Wed, 11/10/2010 - 15:19 Permalink
Anne Bentley / Lewis & Clark College
Another favorite of mine is Write Like a Chemist by Marin Robinson, Fredricka Stoller and others from Northern Arizona U.  It was published in 2008 by Oxford University Press.  I like that it analyzes scientific writing and explains why chemists write the way they do.
Fri, 04/08/2011 - 15:03 Permalink
Barbara Reisner / James Madison University
Here's something that I rediscovered this summer. My students recently had to prepare abstracts for their research projects. The first drafts that I got were data light and didn't say much. Instead of going through with the red pen, I gave my students a copy of the initial draft and final version (after much revision) of another student's abstract. After a discussion about the differences between the different version of the abstract, I had my students go back and rewrite their own. The next draft was beautiful and no red pen was needed. I wonder if this will work well with other parts of student papers...
Thu, 07/28/2011 - 22:58 Permalink
Joanne Stewart / Hope College
In our P Chem lab course, students are given a "good" report and a "bad" report to analyze at the beginning of the semester. The students are really good at picking out most of the problems in the "bad" report. I don't have any assessment evidence of the effectiveness of this approach, but it certainly seems like a great idea to me.
Mon, 08/01/2011 - 07:50 Permalink
Sarah K. St. Angelo / Dickinson College

I've used Write Like a Chemist as classes and to inform my own writing.  It has very useful exercises for students, and my students seemed to really like the book.  

I also send them to the ACS videos on publishing writing: (etc). There are several, and some are not as relevant to student learning about the process.  I think even those are useful to show students that "even professors" still must work on their writing!  :)

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 11:08 Permalink
Clifford Rossiter / SUNY Potsdam


SUNY Potsdam has a chemistry course on how to write a scientific paper, which I co-taught for the first time last semester. A booklet was prepared for the class utilizing the following articles:

The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors, Second Edition Chapter 1 Writing a Scientific Paper

The Science of Scientific Writing

English Communication for Scientists Unit 2: Writing Scientific Papers

Copyright permissions were obtained to place the articles into a packet for the students. Some students commented on the benefit of such articles in writing a research paper, while others believed more examples would be beneficial. 

I will be teaching this course again in the Fall and would appreciate comments on the subject, including the following issues:

1. Type of outline

2. Number of references

3. Inclusion of an experimental section

4. Number of drafts

5. Peer review of papers

6. Use of library

Thanks in advance.





Tue, 07/31/2012 - 11:32 Permalink
Sabrina Sobel / Hofstra University

Practically speaking, for writing my own research papers, it's EndNote! The program makes it easy for me to create a database of references with abstracts and keywords. Some journal sites have the option to export refs in EndNote format. The only drawback is if I am collaborating with a colleague who does not have EndNote, then I have to manage the references myself. I have used it in class just to easily show different reference formats.

Also, thanks to all for the links for good scientific writing. The class that I teach on journal searching/writing/speaking is described in J Chem Ed: "Elements of and in the Chemical Literature: An Undergraduate Course", 1995, vol. 72, p. 297, DOI: 10.1021/ed072p297


Tue, 07/02/2013 - 21:49 Permalink