IN THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
Before submitting any written
work, whether it is to an instructor, a publisher, or a granting agency,
the writing must be critically reviewed multiple times. This type of review
obviously includes scans for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
However, and possibly more importantly, the content of the work and the
logic of the science presented must also be critiqued. Below is an outline
of what to look for when you are critiquing your own work or reviewing
If you are having someone else review your
work, it is to your own benefit (i.e., your grade will be higher, your
paper will be published, your grant will be funded) that the draft you
give them be YOUR BEST WORK and not a rough draft.
Read the paper out loud to yourself and listen for problems
Begin revising well in advance of the deadline
(which means the first draft must be written even sooner!). You will do
a better job if you break for at least a few hours (or even a day or two)
in between drafts.
Make revisions on a paper copy. It is nearly impossible
to revise effectively without seeing the entire manuscript.
Do not throw away early drafts. Sometimes sections
of an earlier draft can be used in a later version.
When working on the computer, save often to prevent
the heartache and misery of completely losing an hour or more of hard work.
Keep more than one copy of the file(s) and update both.
For example, have a copy on the hard drive and a disk or have a copy on
each of two disks.
Proofreading for spelling, grammar, and punctuation
is important to support your credibility as an author. It is very difficult
to proofread your own work because you tend to automatically read what
you expect to read. You must force yourself to look at every
word, number, space, and line in the text as well as in the figures and
tables. Ideally, do this at least three times for your final draft,
taking a break in between each session. Take advantage of your word processor
to find some things, but realize that it won't find every mistake; that
is your job.
for General Content
Be sure that all of the information in your paper
supports the main idea or hypothesis and that this is obvious to the reader.
Remove material that is not relevant to the main objective
even if it took you a long time to develop that material.
Be sure that the organization of the points that are
made in the paper is logical and leads the readers to your main conclusions
clearly and smoothly.
There should be clear transitions made between
paragraphs, ideas, and topics.
Check that the style is consistent throughout
the paper since you probably wrote different sections of the paper at different
Be sure that what your introduction states as the purpose
of the work is consistent with what you actually conclude.
Realize that revising will involve more than just reorganizing
paragraphs but will require a large amount of re-writing and editing to
improve the clarity and value of the final product.
Each paragraph needs to begin with a topic
sentence. Each additional sentence must be relevant to that topic sentence.
Paragraphs are usually four to six sentences.
Avoid paragraphs that are only one sentence; these are not useful in science
writing because they simply represent undeveloped ideas.
Break up extremely long paragraphs into a
few smaller ones if they contain more than one main idea.
Use transition words ("Thus...", "Therefore...",
"Because of this...") that link sentences together into a coherent package.
There should be clear transitions between
paragraphs that link the end of one paragraph with the beginning of
Vary the structure and length of your sentences
to keep the reader's interest and prevent the work from sounding choppy
Check a dictionary and/or thesaurus to be
sure that you're using words appropriately (see also "The
Do not quote directly from a source even if
you cite it. Although other disciplines use this type of writing quite
frequently, it is done very rarely in science. Always paraphrase ideas
and cite them, being careful not to plagiarize.
Remove any slang or jargon by using
appropriate terminology (e.g., instead of "ran a gel", write "performed
Omit unnecessary words and extraneous phrases.
Use past tense to report results of your own
research and present tense to report the results of others.
Copyright © 2001,
the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the Board of Regents of the University