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27.1: The process of science and the need for scientific writing

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  • Conducting experiments that test a scientific theory is integral to the advancement of science and to the refining of scientific theories. In practice, scientists do not have a lab full of equipment ready to go and to be used for testing whichever theory suits their fancy. Instead, they need to write a “proposal” for conducting a particular experiment to a funding source (e.g. a funding agency). That funding source will then select a panel of experts in the field to review whether the proposal is feasible and useful in advancing science, to decide whether it should be funded. If the scientist is awarded with funds, they are then expected to carry out their experiment and report on the results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Again, before the results are published, the scientific journal will ask a panel of experts to review the results to ensure that they are scientifically valid and interesting.

    In order for a proposal to be funded, it must thus propose an experiment that is well-thought out and feasible. For example, the reviewers will want to make sure that the proposed experiment is designed in the best possible way to test a theory. Often, this means that thought has been put into designing an experiment that minimizes the uncertainty on the result, so that the test of the theory is as stringent as possible.

    A proposal needs to be well-written and precise. We generally call this type of writing “scientific writing”, and it is a style of writing that takes some practice. Similarly, when reporting on the results of an experiment, the report will need to be clear and precise as well. For example, in scientific writing, one avoids giving opinions or using sentences that do not add necessary information or that are not factual.

    This chapter provides some guidelines for scientific writing, writing proposals, and writing reports. In addition to this, guidelines for reviewing others’ proposals and reports are also presented. Not only is it important to develop the ability to critically evaluate others’ work, but it is also helpful in learning to reflect and improve on one’s own work.

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