Tips on scientific writing from European Science Editors
21st May 2012
The European Association of Science Editors guidelines for scientific writing are a great resource.
I have recently joined the European Association of Science Editors (EASE). They have a valuable document on their website: EASE Guidelines for Authors and Translators of Scientific Articles to be Published in English (pdf; published June 2011). These guidelines are full of useful tips for those who write or edit scientific articles in English or translate them into English. They will be especially useful for non-native speakers of English.
- A description of what is needed in each of the main sections of a research paper
- Various things to watch out for where English differs from other languages; for example, full stops should be used for decimal points (not commas), and Roman numerals should not be used for months
- A recommendation to avoid phrasal verbs, such as ‘find out’ or ‘pay off’, where possible, as they are often difficult for non-native speakers to understand
- An appendix on how to write an abstract
- An appendix on ’empty’ words and sentences that should be avoided, both for conciseness but also to avoid ambiguity (such as ‘good’ or ‘big’ when a more specific term could be used)
- An appendix on how to use linking words and phrases to give cohesion to an article
- Examples of expressions that can be simplified or deleted (for example, ‘conducted inoculation experiments on’ can be changed to ‘inoculated’)
- Examples of differences between British and American spelling.
I was particularly intrigued by a note in the guidelines (page 4) that parallel constructions are allowed in English, though not in some other languages. An example of a parallel construction is ‘It was high in A, medium in B, and low in C’. Native speakers of some other languages might (incorrectly) want to change to something like ‘It was high in A, medium for B, and low in the case of C’.
I hadn’t realised that avoiding parallel constructions was recommended in any other languages. I’d be curious to know which languages these are, and how strict this rule is. If it is Japanese or Chinese, this might explain why I frequently see ‘respectively’ being overused by native speakers of these languages, as it would be one way to avoid a parallel construction (‘it was high, medium, and low in A, B, and C, respectively’). If you are tempted to use ‘respectively’ in this way, consider changing it to the parallel construction, which is more standard English usage.
The guidelines have been translated into many languages by volunteers, including into Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and most Western European and Eastern European languages. They are free for all to read, and non-commercial printing is allowed.
Do go and read them!