Writing research papers in English: A guide for non-native speakers

Science Research Writing is a book from the trenches: the author has been instructing English for academic purposes to science students for over 30 years, the past 15 years as part of the English Language Support Programme at Imperial College, London, where the author works closely with individual research students and staff who are writing a paper or a thesis.

What distinguishes this guide from others is its reassuring stance: “You may feel that you don’t have the time to improve your English, but you already know most of what you need from the reading you have done over the years. In order to write up your research for publication you don’t need to learn much more English than you already know. The author writes: ‘Science writing is much lighter than it looks. Because science writing is so conventional, the amount of grammar and vocabulary you need to learn is fairly puny.”

The strategy the author suggests is practical and straightforward: “cautiously examine good examples of the kind of writing you would like to produce, identify and master the structure, grammar and vocabulary you see in these examples and then apply them in your own writing.”

Accordingly, the book is divided into five parts, which correspond to the IMRaD structure, with one part faithful to the title and the abstract, the other parts being Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion or Conclusion. Each unit starts with a description of how each section or part is structured, followed by a sample of the part being discussed. The relevant points of grammar are discussed in detail, and readers are given a chance to practise what they have learnt by means of some exercises. Full-length sections (introduction, methodology, etc.) from real research articles come next.

Ultimately, readers are invited to attempt their palm at writing the relevant sections of a fictitious paper based on the background information provided. For example, readers are asked to write an introduction based on the following briefing: “Imagine that you have just finished a research project to design a bicycle cover which can protect the cyclist from injury, pollution, or just from rain. Perhaps you provided a computer simulation of its use, or modelled the ventilation system. Perhaps you were involved in the aerodynamics, or the polymer construction of the material for the cover — or any other aspect of the project.” A model response is then provided, so that students can compare their version with the one suggested by the author.

All in all, Science Research Writing is a scrupulously practical book as readers are taken by forearm as it were and guided cautiously all along the way.

[1] Glasman-Deal H. 2010. Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English. London: Imperial College Press. 257 pp.

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