In some ways, writing in the life science disciplines is no different from writing in other fields. The requirements are for a clear argument or thesis, the use of evidence and original sources, content organisation, and attention to grammar, formatting, and word choice. Good writing is a reflection of a clear understanding of the subject.
However, particularly in life sciences, in the process of writing it is often helpful to formulate and solidify ideas or arguments. Like all forms of writing, written material is reworked, reorganised, edited, and rewritten before it can begin to make sense. Writing for the life sciences usually follows certain formats, conventions and styles that are recognised for each type of work. The variety of these written forms include:
- Research proposals or grant proposals.
- Research reports or clinical study reports for meetings or journal publications.
- ‘Ghost writing’ or editing manuscripts or chapters for publication.
- Scientific, technical or health reviews, often as a chapter or monograph.
- ‘Marketing reports’ that may give promotional or explanatory information on a new treatment, clinical study, scientific finding or methodology.
- Undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, CME and CPD materials.
There are five basic elements of writing for life sciences:
1) The Thesis: There must be a main argument. The argument must be clearly stated, and the thesis presented in an interesting way and well argued.
2) The Structure: The paper should be clearly organised so that it is easy to understand the main point/s of the paper, each section, and each paragraph. The order of the overall argument should make sense and be easy to follow. If there are multiple ideas, there must be appropriate transitions that link them.
3) Evidence and Sources: Supporting evidence must be given for each point that is made. The writing should demonstrate that the author has knowledge of the field and the subject matter. All important pieces of evidence should be included, properly attributed and the correct reference information should be properly cited.
4) Analysis: There should be an analysis of the evidence with appropriate conclusions.
5) The Writing Style: The style should be appropriate for the audience and the assignment. The paper should be concise, focused and to the point. The sentences should be clear, grammatically correct and free of spelling errors.
I have chosen three of the resources I use most often when writing for the life sciences. They are:
1) Medline (U.S. National Library of Medicine). Follow links to PubMed from the homepage of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) home page at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
2) Strunk, W. Jr., & White, E.B. (2000). The Elements of Style. (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
3) Trus, L. (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books.