By Caleigh Propes
Chemistry majors have alkynes of trouble with it. Physics buffs can be “Bohr”ed to death by it. Engineers can’t always make the transformation without resistance. Let’s face it—writing can be difficult for STEM majors.
As a molecular biology major, I feel your pain. But effective communication is one of the most important skills we can learn in college, as it’ll help us stand out when we enter the job market.
Even if you only need to pass one writing class for your major, it’s important to use the opportunity to hone your skills and remember that scientists can write well, too. With online tools like Citation Machine Plus’s own grammar check tool, there’s no reason that you can’t write with confidence
While you’re working on your writing, keep a few key things in mind: focus on your argument, cut out the fluff, and check your flow.
Focus on Your Argument
The single most important component of your writing is your argument. Even the most complex syntax and elevated vocabulary can’t make up for a weak thesis or threadbare claims. When thinking through your thesis, take the time to look through multiple, peer-reviewed sources. Looking through academic journals can be a bit intimidating at first, but they have tons of thorough research.
Once you’re more informed on your topic, write a thesis that specifically addresses your assignment’s specifications. One trick is to rephrase the assignment as a question and then make sure your thesis answers that question.
As you write your body paragraphs, ensure you’re making claims that support your thesis, and always remember to pose a counterargument. If you’re not sure which style guide to use when writing your paper, ask your professor or look at your sources and see what style they are written in—MLA format, APA format, etc.—and that will point you in the right direction. (See an APA format examples here.)
Writing becomes so much more interesting when you love your topic, so try to find something within the assignment that speaks to you personally. You might even be able to find a subject that relates to STEM issues in some way.
Cut Out the Fluff
After forming our arguments, we STEM majors have a bad habit of making our sentences too complicated and fancy in attempt to woo our professors. Sound familiar?
It’s understandable that you want to show off your best writing skills, but the biggest giveaway of a novice writer is incorrectly used vocabulary. Even worse, some students stretch their sentences for miles without any extra benefit except reaching the dreaded word count requirement.
Even if your paper is a doozy of more than 15 pages, you still have to cut out the fluff. This means actively checking for lengthy or wordy sentences and avoiding passive voice at all costs. For example, instead of:
The revolution was caused by dissatisfied young people.
Dissatisfied young people sparked the revolution.
College professors in the humanities prefer active writing, which can be a hard shift for science students who are used to writing in the passive voice for lab reports. After you’ve written your draft, read it aloud. Listen for any instances of passive voice, and circle any words that you’re not quite sure you’re using properly. Then, cut out any unnecessary words and see just how concise you can make your writing. Your reader will almost certainly understand your argument better, even if you don’t feel like a budding Shakespeare.
Check Your Flow
The last consideration for a smooth academic papers is its flow, or how it transitions from claim to claim.
Ideally, your transitions will be smooth and the topics will be related in a logical way, but this can be hard to nail on the first try without prior planning. This is where outlining becomes very important. Make a flowchart using a phrase-long descriptor of each paragraph, and rearrange them until the order makes sense. This is a great practice for identifying the most appropriate order for your paper, whether that be chronological or something more unique.
The flow will guide your reader throughout your argument, and your topic sentences will serve as their roadmap. Make sure these beginnings of your paragraphs are straightforward and direct your reader with the flow, instead of making them stop to piece together your ideas.
Even if you plan to spend the rest of your life working with derivatives and antiderivatives, writing will still be integral to your career in some way. After all, you’ll probably want to let the world (or at least your coworkers) know about your knowledge or discoveries.The good thing is that there’s likely no need to drastically change or enhance your writing. Focusing on a solid argument, keeping things simple, and checking your flow is a great three-step plan to get you on track to success. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from your TA, a tutor, or your campus writing center.
So, fear not, and don’t short-circuit your assignment. It’ll all be worth it in the end.