An Outline of Scientific Writing: For Researchers With English As a Foreign Lang

An Outline of Scientific Writing: For Researchers With English As a Foreign Language 

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: World Scientific Publishing Company; 1 edition (September 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9810224664
ISBN-13: 978-9810224660
Today English is the official language of international conferences, and
most of the important publications in science and technology now appear in
English. Researchers must read English-language journals and books to keep
up with advances in their fields. Over twenty percent of the world’s
population speaks Chinese, but China is still a developing country and few
researchers outside of China will understand a scientific publication written
in Chinese. While this may not be the case in the twenty-first century, for
now, the researcher who wishes to reach a wide readership must publish in
English. Therefore, learning how to write a manuscript in English has
become part of the researcher’s task.
Writing in English can be difficult even for someone who grew up
speaking the language, and even more so for anyone who learns it as a
foreign language. English derives from many cultures and is constantly
evolving. As a result, its grammatical rules are many and complex. We
Asians face an additional challenge not shared by our European
counterparts: Most Asian dialects, Chinese and Japanese included, do not
belong to the same language family as English. There are grammatical constructs
that have no corresponding forms in Chinese or Japanese. The task
is not merely to translate words, but to understand and use foreign concepts
of syntax as well.
Consider the article the, which has no grammatical equivalent in
Chinese. Knowing when to use it before a noun is intuitive for an Englishspeaking
writer, but quite tricky for the Chinese. Other examples are
prepositions such as at, in, and with. These afso have no equivalents in
Chinese, which can make usage especially difficult to master. Then there is
the plural form of nouns. The European writer is used to seeing both
singular and plural nouns in his or her own language, and can easily deal
with these forms in English. In Chinese, however, a noun has the sameform for both the singular and plural cases. It requires extra vigilance on the
part of the writer to be certain of using the correct form in an Enalish
Such difficulties are by no means insurmountable. With practice, plus
attention to the particular challenges faced by the Asian scholar, any of you
should be able to write a scientific paper in English that is concise and lucid
as well as grammatically correct, even if your vocabulary and understanding
of English usage are limited.
There are already many excellent texts on scientific writing in English.
Why, then, would an author whose first language is Chinese write another
book on the subject? As an author in English for over forty years, I
understand the unique writing challenge that we Asians face. This book
discusses the styie and convention used in scientific publications and is
written on a level that can be understood by researchers who learned English
as a second language. Rarely will a dictionary be needed. It assumes,
however, that the reader can already write grammatically correct Engfish
and avoid such mistakes as the following:This book is divided into five parts. Part I deals with the most typical
syntax errors. It discusses choice of words, sentence structure and, briefly,
the linkage between sentences in paragraphs. Part 11, the major part of this
book, discusses how to plan a manuscript. It covers the choice of an
informative and attractive title and the composition of an abstract (a minipaper
by itself), followed by the standard format of a scientific manuscript:
introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion. Part 111
explains how to submit a manuscript to a journal and the process of
acceptance/rejection and revision of the paper. Part IV discusses the
preparation of a poster and some suggestions on oral presentations. In the
appendices are the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
recommendations on symbols and terminology for quantities and units, and
also some common physical and chemical quantities and standard
biochemical abbreviations. I find these to be useful reference materials whenwriting a biochemistry manuscript. Authors in other fields can compile
appendices relevant to their own subjects.
The reader who wishes to study scientific writing in more detail is
encouraged to read two recent publications: Essentials of Writing Biomedical
Research Papers by Mini Zeiger (McGraw-Hill, 1991)’ and A Reseurcher’s
Guide to Scientific and Medical ~llustrations by Mary Helen Briscoe
(Springer-Verlag, 1990). Both books are well regarded and have been
translated into Japanese. Incidentally, both authors were associated with the
Cardiovascular Research Institute, as I was. Ms. Zeiger and I took Dr.
Comroe’s course together and Ms. Briscoe helped me prepare numerous
illustrations during my tenure at the Institute.
For general writing, I recommend The Elements of Sfyte by William
Strunk. This is an easy-to-use, classic text that many English teachers
consider indispensable. It is, however, somewhat dated in that it
recommends using he to represent men and women alike. I prefer using he
or she, his or her, etc. unless it makes the text too unwieldy.
One final recommendation: Do try to think in English when you write
a manuscript in English. Text that is translated from one language into
another often sounds awkward. It may be difficult to put your thoughts into
English, but you will gain facility with practice. You are also advised not
to become overly reliant on this or any other writing guide. In the words of
Confucius, “Better to have no books than to trust them completely.” There
is no substitute for practicing a language and developing an ear for its
nuances. Only in this way can you master your own scientific writing in

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