The KTH Guide to scientific writing
In this Introduction we explain why we think the KTH Guide is needed, and describe the principles we have used when creating its content.
There are many questions when it comes to writing in English at KTH. Is it OK to use American English? Can you use a comma before and? Your degree project supervisor has told you not to use contractions in your written work. Is she right?
This is a guide to scientific writing in English. By 'scientific writing', we mean the highly technical writing produced "by scientists for other scientists" (Hofmann, 2020:10), with the word 'technical' meaning specific to a particular discipline. Examples of scientific writing include research reports and conference proposals. The term 'scientific writing' contrasts with 'science writing', which is commonly used to refer to writing which is less technical and aimed at a general audience. One example of science writing would be an article in a popular science magazine or on a popular science blog. There will be aspects of the guide that apply to both types of writing, but some points will be specifically aimed at the more technical scientific writing.
The KTH Guide is intended to help raise awareness of what constitutes effective scientific writing, and aims to help you to make more informed choices regarding language and conventions. The guide also aims to help you develop strategies that can enhance your scientific writing and help you to find and use your academic voice.
The KTH Guide is also aligned with the KTH Language Policy , which promotes clear communication, in both English and Swedish, across the university.
We hope to keep developing the guide and to expand it to cover other elements in the future. Importantly, this guide will evolve out of consultation with students and faculty at KTH.
A writing toolbox
The KTH Guide is a kind of ‘toolbox’, a place where you can check conventions of language use in English, and improve your understanding of how to develop a text clearly.
The guide has evolved out of the work we do with students at the the Centre for Academic Writing and Rhetoric and in our courses at KTH Language and Communication . The idea of a 'toolbox' is something that sometimes comes up in the course evaluation we receive from students, for example:
“Before this course, I felt the lack of guidelines and often felt that I wasn't able to assess the quality of my writing because I didn't know what to look for in the text. This course filled this gap and has given me a toolbox that works as a guideline for improving my English.”
We hope that the KTH Guide can function as a scientific writing toolbox for many writers at KTH, whether you are looking for guidance on, for instance, how to make your writing more concise, how to use a comma in an effective way, or how to organise your ideas in a paragraph. It may even help to settle an argument when you are working with co-writers or participating in supervision meetings! We don’t pretend that there are always easy, straightforward answers to questions of language or conventions, or that everyone agrees on these things. What we try to do in this guide is to suggest why a particular choice may be most suitable and effective in a particular context.
Why do we need this guide at KTH?
There are many guides to writing academic English, and a number of them deal specifically with science, technology and engineering. The KTH Guide covers some of the same things, but it is also tailored to meet the specific needs of KTH students and faculty, and to provide a shared reference for questions on English language and writing. Three principles underpin the guide.
First of all, the KTH Guide is deeply rooted in the everyday academic life of KTH students and faculty.
- It has emerged from our practical experience working directly with KTH students and faculty.
- It is rooted in genres of writing that writers at KTH are familiar with, e.g technical reports, degree projects and research reports.
- It uses and discusses examples from KTH work.
- The guide will continue to develop over time as we discuss it with students and faculty at KTH and receive feedback from users. Our intention is that this guide will belong to all students and faculty at KTH and that they will contribute ideas to help shape it and make it truly relevant for everyone in the KTH writing community.
Secondly, the KTH Guide aims to reflect the diverse and dynamic nature of language and writing conventions.
- We try to reflect accepted variety in scientific language and writing conventions.
- We aim to acknowledge the ways in which language and conventions evolve over time.
- Where possible, we refer to ‘English’ in its widest sense, as a global language, sometimes drawing attention to particular usage in different varieties of English. In terms of discussing ‘Standard English’, this article (Hollmann, 2021) is a good summary of some of the issues involved when using this term, and we have tried to bear these in mind when writing this guide.
Thirdly, we aim to build the KTH Guide around the idea that writing is a social practice, and ‘not simply a technical and neutral skill’ (Street, 1984, 7–8). This reflects the fact that writers make conscious and unconscious choices as they write, related to the writing context.
- We approach writing through the lens of audience and purpose. We focus on how to make a text and its message clear and readable, how to put the reader at the centre of your approach to writing.
- We focus on purposeful writing, i.e. what writers do in texts, and what language and discourse features they use to do it.
- We try to make clear where there is a clear language rule or established writing convention, but we also point out where there is variation and choice. We discuss where some usage might be contested, or in flux (as languages are always changing).
We hope that you enjoy using the KTH Guide, and we look forward to hearing your feedback.
Hofmann, A. H. (2020) Scientific Writing and Communication. Papers, Proposals, and Presentations, 4th ed. Oxford University Press.
Hollmann, W. (2021) Five things people get wrong about standard English. The Conversation.
Street, B. (1984) Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.