The student is referred to the C.B.E. Style Manual, sixth edition, published by The Council of Biology Editors, Bethesda, MD; it is usually on reserve for Biology 101/102 at the Reserve Desk in Skillman Library and is also available in the Biology Department office. This book makes excellent reading. Presented below are several quotations from “Chapter Four: Prose style for scientific writing.”
“Sentence length and structure. An excessively long sentence makes it difficult for the reader to connect the opening words with the closing words and to grasp the point of the sentence at first reading.” (p. 35).
“Verbiage. Review the text of the manuscript to eliminate phrases and words that are not needed. Although writing can be too compact and terse, wordiness is the more common fault.”(p. 35).
“Abstract nouns. The frequent use of nouns formed from verbs and ending in ‘-tion’ produces unnecessarily long sentences and dull prose… “If we interpret the deposition of chemical signals as initiation of courtship, then initiation of courtship by females is probably the usual case in mammals. (25 words)’ ‘If courtship is initiated by depositing chemical signals, then it is likely that courtship in mammals is usually initiated by females. (21 words).’ ” (p. 37).
“Active voice or passive voice. The active is the natural voice, the one in which people usually speak or write, and its use is less likely to lead to wordiness and ambiguity. The passive of modesty, a device of writers who shun the first-person singular, should be avoided. ‘I discovered’ is shorter and less likely to be ambiguous than ‘it was discovered’ ” (p. 38).
“Tense. Properly used verb tenses not only indicate the time relation of past events to each other and to the present but indicate the completion or continuation of events. Completed observations and procedures are described in the past tense (was, were ); directions, conclusions, generalizations, and references to stable conditions are stated in the present tense (is, are ).” (p. 38-39).
“Dangling participles. In scientific writing, dangling participles are distressingly frequent. They are most likely to occur in sentences written in the passive voice… ‘Judging by present standards, these trees are…’ The present participle should be changed to the past participle, judging to judged, and the subject brought forward in the sentence. ‘These trees, judged by present standards, are…’ ” (p. 39).
“Jargon. The technical vocabulary or typical idiom of specialists or workers in a particular discipline is considered jargon. Jargon that meets standards of good etymological practice has a place in formal reports. To be avoided, however, is a vocabulary or jargon so peculiar to a discipline that it inhibits rather than promotes the interchange of ideas beyond that discipline.” (p. 39).
A bibliography of other useful publications on scientific writing is given below; those with asterisks are held in Skillman Library:
Ambrose, Harrison W., III & Ambrose, Katherine Peckham (1981). A Handbook of Biological Investigation, Hunter Publishing Company, Winston-Salem, NC.
Biddle, Arthur W. & Bean, Daniel J. (1987). Writer’s Guide- Life Sciences, D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MA.
Day, Robert A. (1983). How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper (2nd edition), ISI Press, Philadelphia, PA.
Editorial Staff of the University of Chicago Press (1982). The Chicago Manual of Style. (13th edition), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Jordan, Lewis (editor) (1982). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Times Books, New York, NY.
McMillan, Victoria E. (1988). Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY.
Pechenik, Jan (1993). A Short Guide to Writing About Biology, second edition, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA.
Scientific Illustration Committee of the Council of Biology Editors (1988). Illustrating Science: Standards for Publication, Council of Biology Editors, Inc., Bethesda, MD.
Woodford, F. Peter (editor) (1986). Scientific Writing for Graduate Students. A Manual on the Teaching of Scientific Writing, Council of Biology Editors, Inc., Bethesda, MD.
Zinsser, William (1988). Writing to Learn, Harper and Row, New York, NY.