5

I occasionally use parentheses in scientific writing when a piece of information is related to a previous statement but not to the central story.

Is it bad style in scientific writing to use parentheses that contain more than a handful of words or even full sentences?

For example, would the following paragraph be better without the first pair of parentheses (but with the parenthesized sentence in the same position)?

We use a fleeblesheemed plumbus to analyze floob concentrations in groat dairy. (Despite the similar name, this idea is not related to the plumb-o-fleeb machine of Kimble et al., which is used as a krimkram lubricator for the production of shleem films in anorganic blamf synthesis.) The fleeblesheeme coating, which we apply at 142° Celsius, sensitizes our plumbus to groat dairy when submerged in the floob of their yeanlings for three to four minutes. After a short cooling period, the floob coefficients can then be read off the plumbus' dingle bop. To accelerate the subsequent re-hydration, we follow the warming scheme of Grumbles. The necessary optimization steps are discussed in Section 2. Finally, in Section 3, we apply our fleeblesheemed plumbus to 2016 floogro (714.A314). Contrary to previous belief, we find that floob concentrations stay below hazardous levels, when consumption occurs around midnight without direct exposure to noom radiation.

As an alternative, I could move the content of the parentheses to the end of the paragraph. At this point, however, they would lose their function to prevent readers from possible confusion.

  • 4
    It depends on style, context, and even style guide (of a given publisher/institution, etc). Personally, I prefer footnotes for such parenthetical commentary. – user16555 Aug 28 '18 at 19:21
  • 2
    I won't answer, but will agree, as a PhD and author of several peer-reviewed and published papers; the first parenthesized sentence should be in a footnote, not in parentheses and not present without parentheses. A scientific paper is not a friendly chat that wanders off topic. You don't even have to provide this note at all; you write for an audience that should know the difference. But if it is a common error to confuse the two, the footnote will be consulted by anybody unsure of what you mean. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Aug 30 '18 at 21:26
3

While I do agree with Digital Dracula's comment about using footnotes instead of parentheses for anecdotic phrases, I feel your particular example is important enough to be left in the paragraph, without parentheses. It is important to avoid confusion from name similarities, specifically in scientific writing. And it reads nicely as it is.

Depending on the formatting of the paper, I might separate into smaller paragraphs. And since you enumerate the sections goal, which is correct scientific writing imo, I would keep the explaination of the process short, or even not talk about it now at all, keeping it for section 1 (I guess your section 1 is explaining the process in that case):

We use a fleeblesheemed plumbus to analyze floob concentrations in groat dairy. Despite the similar name, this idea is not related to the plumb-o-fleeb machine of Kimble et al. [1], which is used as a krimkram lubricator for the production of shleem films in anorganic blamf synthesis.

In Section 1, we explain in detail the steps of our method. The necessary optimization steps are later discussed in Section 2. Finally, in Section 3, we apply our fleeblesheemed plumbus to 2016 floogro (714.A314).

Finally, contrary to previous belief [2], we find that floob concentrations stay below hazardous levels, when consumption occurs around midnight without direct exposure to noom radiation.


[1] Kimble et al. Lorem Ipsum edition, volume 42th, 16th january 1980.

[2] You can't talk about previous belief without citing those beliefs

It nicely separates:

  • First the intention of your paper, discarding any missleading names or related process,
  • Then the steps of the process and how they are separated in sections, although I feel section 3's goal isn't quite understandable as is
  • And finally the conclusion you get to.
2

@Digital Dracula mentioned it above. I'd use footnotes as asides in scientific writing. When you read research paper or science textbooks, you'll see an asterisk or two every other page, sometimes more. If you want, you can also add footnotes that relate to other chapters, extra sources cited for a bibliography, or things mentioned in the appendix. In short, footnotes can contain anything that might break up the flow of the main point of the text.

Different groups of symbols can represent different kinds of footnotes. The Bible, for example, annotates many different things using (let's just say) letters for references to other verses, asterisks and other symbols for alternative translations of a word/phrase, numbers for commentary, etc.

One cool thing about footnotes is that they can be as long as you want. I've read annotated versions of classic novels that have footnotes take up to two-thirds of a page and several paragraphs long, even with smaller font!

Hope this helps!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.