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The Nuts and Bolts of Good Scientific and Technical Writing

DeeDee Whitaker
Product Content Specialist

Updated February 2018

AP® Exams are quickly approaching. Now is the time to review with students the tenets of good scientific and technical writing. These tips are synthesized from several sources and delineate the skills necessary to communicate scientific information effectively.

  1. Plan. Take a minute to plan what you need to communicate to answer a question fully.
    1. Use the margins of your test book for planning.
  2. Clarity. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations.
    1. Don’t leave your answer open to multiple interpretations.
  3. Brevity. Use words efficiently. 
    1. Don’t use 2 words when 1 will do.
    2. Get down to the essential message you want the grader to score.
    3. Place the most important information first. 
    4. Combine overlapping sentences.
  4. Simplicity. Balance detail with clarity. 
    1. Put facts and data in context.
    2. Keep the language simple. 
    3. Avoid abstract nouns and choose words with clear meanings. 
    4. Order the words in your sentences carefully. 
  5. Accuracy. Check your facts and data. 
    1. Be sure your numbers and decimal points are legible. 
    2. Every number requires a unit.
  6.  Language. Avoid using it and this.
    1. Use strong language.             
    2. The active voice is straightforward and stronger than the passive voice.
    3. Avoid excess words.
  7. Review. Take a minute to read your answer to yourself—make sure the answer is complete and logical.
    1.  Exam readers score only your written words, not your intentions or an interpretation.

“The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought but rather its actual communication. It does not matter how pleased an author might be to have converted all the right data into sentences and paragraphs; it matters only whether a large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind.”
—George Gopen and Judith Swan, “The Science of Scientific Writing”

Writing resources

Technical writing practice

  1. Use the tips above to edit the health report excerpt below. Use full sentences and proper punctuation. Make sure the report stays accurate.

Forty-Second Annual Report of the Commissioner of Health, City of Milwaukee 1918

  1. Get down to essentials! Use your edited report to create a tweet that correctly disseminates all of the pertinent facts, is easily read, and will not be misinterpreted.
  1. It’s time for you to look at your writing.
    1. Review the resources and guides provided.
    2. Select a full page of a formal paper, essay, or lab report that has already been graded. 
    3. Using the writing resources listed, rewrite the page.
    4. Select a peer review partner and exchange the original page and edited page for a second review. 
    5. Review your partner’s work and make additional edits based on the writing guidelines.
    6. Share the results with your partner.

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