The writing style in scientific papers in the natural sciences, e.g. chemistry and biology, seems very different from many other kinds of writing. There are usually severe restrictions on the length of the papers which calls for a compact and efficient writing style.

How can I learn to condense my writing without making it inaccessible? Are there specific rules for writing scientific content? Any good resources for learning about scientifc writing?

  • Can you be more specific? Are you referring to writing scientific papers to be published in peer-reviewed journals, or are you referring to science journalism or something else? Everything else derives from who your audience is.
    – rianjs
    Mar 26, 2011 at 21:32

4 Answers 4


One exercise that I’ve found helpful is rewriting (sections of) papers I’ve read.

A paper is badly written? Rewrite a few paragraphs! It’s easier at first than improving on your own prose, since you’re not emotionally attached to the bad version; but then whatever experience you gain from it, you’re primed to apply to your own writing later.

A paper is beautifully written? Rewrite a few paragraphs! Your version probably won’t come out as good as the original; and analysing why it falls short can help you pick out what good qualities are lacking in your current style.


Some people think, that scientific writing is uninspiring and boring, so be careful, which rules you follow.

But I assume that the suggestions for making text more terse, do also apply for scientific writing. Eliminate filler words, be more precise, etc.

As example I deleted some words of your first sentence:

The writing style in papers in the natural sciences, e.g. chemistry and biology, seems different from other kinds of writing.

Did the meaning change? Did you lose anything essential? Two or three words in each sentence can sum-up to pages over the whole manuscript. But don't remove too much.

The writing style in natural sciences seems different from others.

Too terse could puzzle people.

Also read scientific papers and learn from other authors. If they get published, they did something right. Yes, maybe they got published despite their writing style, but the more you read, the more you learn.

  • 1
    I think that a lot of scientific writing is uninspiring and boring. Why? Because most scientists are bad writers. It is very low on the list of hiring criteria at most universities. Feb 6, 2011 at 13:55
  • 1
    @Paul de Vrieze: Many university researchers are poor teachers, too, and both writing and teaching are communicating arts. But I'd also say that many researchers are simply following the boring conventions of their subculture: if it's written in the passive voice and with qualifications wherever possible, it must be rigorous.
    – Wayne
    Apr 3, 2011 at 17:26

One of the classic books for scientific writing is Dey's "How to write and publish a scientific paper". It gives almost step by step instructions for writing and publishing a research paper, as well as advice on other scientific writing formats, including proposals.


Being concise in your writing isn't limited to scientific writing: It's always good, as Einstein said, to be as simple as possible, but not simpler.

I read a book by literary agent Noah Lukeman titled "The First Five Pages" that presented common shortfalls of manuscripts that he reviewed. There was one chapter called "Adjectives and Adverbs" that had in interesting exercise that helped me a lot. The exercise involved removing every adjective and adverb from the first page of my manuscript and listing them on a separate page and just see if it seemed like there were too many. The next step was to examine the words themselves and see if any of them were commonplace or cliché. Also see if any are repetitive. When I did this, I found quite a few improvements on the first page of my book that really tightened up my writing.

I wrote a blog post titled "5 Lessons from 'The First Five Pages'" if you're interested.

I would also highly recommend "The Elements of Story" by Francis Flaherty. He presents 50 recommendations on writing non-fiction. It's the most valuable book I've ever read about writing.

  • The link to your blog post is gone. Please update it! Thanks. Mar 13, 2012 at 18:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.