The Science Of Scientific Writing .Course Introduction.     Overview : Content and Packaging : Enriched Blueprints : Compartmentalisation : Course Mechanics

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences

SET A: Paragraphs: The Maps Behind Them

SET B: Paragraphs: Using Maps to Meet Readers' Expectations

SET C: Paragraphs with Something Extra: Points and Tails

SET D: The Generic Section: Expectations and Maps as Blueprints

SET E: Scientific Sections: The Methods and Results

SET F: Scientific Sections: The Discussion

SET G : Scientific Sections: The Introduction

SET H : Sentences

SET I : The Paper as a Whole



PART II: The Paper and its Sections


SET 1: Argument Parts

SET 2: Indicator Words

SET 3: Refining Claims

SET 4: Locating Arguments in Prose

SET 5: Rationale's Essay Planner

SET 6: Evidence in Arguments: Basis Boxes

SET 7: Assessing

SET 8: More on Assessing

SET 9: Analysis Maps

SET 10: Assessing Again

Synthesis 1: Position-Early Paragraphs

Synthesis 2: Position-Final Paragraphs

Synthesis 3: Writing a Discussion I

Synthesis 4: Writing a Discussion II


(Note Part II currently focusses mainly on argumentation, using the original Rationale training exercises. It will soon be revised (Q1 2009) to follow the schema set out in the course Introduction. Many of the examples are general, non-scientific examples, and these will gradually be replaced.)




Part II: Arguments in scientific writing

Most scientific papers have, at their heart, an argument. They put forward some specific case of this generic argument:

The results provide new information that significantly modifies (or confirms) our existing understanding of one or more scientifically important topics.

Within this overall framework will also find many sub-arguments, such as (generically expressed):

  • The methods used to obtain the results are reliable
  • This study is the first of its kind
  • The results have implications that are significant

Young scientists are often shocked to hear that argumentation plays such a prominent role in scientific writing. They often feel that are involved in uncovering "reality" and that the data should basically "speak for themselves". If they are advanced enough to realise that science is more concerned with "models" than reality, then they probably feel that the focus should be on how to best present their "new model". But while this may play some part in a paper, a more important goal is persuading the reader that the old model is in need of some fixin' in the first place.

I got my own wake-up call about this aspect of science when, after a conference presentation early in my career, a colleague took me to task about the reliability of my data. So instead of basking in the glow of a well-prepared talk, I found myself adrift in unfamiliar territory where what was called for was not the logical mind of a scientist but the poise and wiles of a debater.

Writing a persuasive argument of any type is a highly sophisticated skill. Scientific arguments are often particularly difficult because of the intellectual challenge and wide-ranging nature of their content. To reduce these problems, and to increase the efficiency of writing, it is has become increasingly obvious in recent years that it is wise to approach argument writing in two stages:

  • first, generate the argument in diagrammatic form without concern for style (and fine-tune in this format until all your collaborators are happy)
  • second, package the argument in English prose, using the argument diagram, along with other considerations, as a guide.

Argument diagramming or mapping is a rapidly developing art and in this course we will use the pre-eminent software in this field, Rationale. Argument mapping works rather like a structured form of brainstorming, and is unique amongst such "pre-writing" approaches in that it offers very useful insights into how to proceed with prose composition.

In this part of course we will first learn how to "map" an argument and then learn how to use it as a guide to our prose.

By becoming familiar with the inter-relationship of map and argumentative prose you will:.

  • learn how to use the architecture of a argument map to give your prose a "logical backbone"
  • become skilled, in reverse, at extracting arguments from text - e.g. to dissect a paper for a journal club
  • develop skills in text composition that will carry over to non-argumentative technical writing

These will be the main outcomes of the course. But we will also look at some "higher skills" whereby good writers:

  • make the logical structure of the text less explicit
  • employ more sophisticated strategies that are used in story telling

Proceed to the exercises of Set 1.