The KTH Guide to scientific writing
In this Introduction we explain why we think this guide is needed, and describe the principles we have used when creating its content.
There are often 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 this Guide that apply to both types of writing, but some points will be specifically aimed at the more technical scientific writing
This Guide is intended to help raise awareness of what constitutes good 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 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 staff and students at KTH.
A writing toolbox
The guide is a kind of ‘toolbox’, a place where you can check conventions of grammar and usage 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 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 this 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. This guide covers some of the same things, but it is also tailored to meet the specific needs of KTH students and staff, and to provide a shared reference for questions on English language and writing.
First of all, it is deeply rooted in the everyday academic life of KTH students and staff.
- It has emerged from our practical experience working directly with KTH students and staff.
- 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 staff at KTH and receive feedback from users. Our intention is that this guide will belong to all students and staff 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, it employs a number of concepts that we have found to be useful here at KTH in helping students to develop their scientific writing skills.
- Effective communication: 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.
- Purposeful writing: We discuss what writers do in texts, and what language and discourse features they use to do it.
- Writing choices: We discuss writing as a series of choices that the writer makes, and the impact of those choices on the reader. We also discuss possible constraints on those choices, for example, in terms of style or disciplinary conventions.
- Realistic approach to grammar rules: We indicate where there are clear rules in English, but we also discuss where these might be contested, in flux (languages are always changing) or subject to exceptions. We often explore the different grammar choices a writer may have.
- ‘Englishes’ not ‘English’: 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 are committed to providing guidance and explanations that are written in plain English so that these are accessible and easy to read and understand. In other words, we follow the advice that we provide in this guide!
Hofmann, A. H. (2020) Scientific Writing and Communication. Papers, Proposals, and Presentations, 4th ed. Oxford University Press.