How do you write a Science Research paper

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FA v Introduction: How to Use Th is Book Th ings should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler. — Albert Einstein Who is this book for? Th is book is designed to help non-native speakers of English write science research papers for publication in English. However, it can also be used as a guide for native English speakers who would like support with their science writing, and by science students who need to write a Master’s dissertation or PhD thesis. It is a practical, rather than a theoretical book, and is intended as a fast do-it-yourself manual for researchers and scientists. Th e book is aimed at those whose English language ability is at intermediate level or above. If you have taken an IELTS test, this is equivalent to a score of above 6.0; if you have taken a TOEFL test then this is approximately equivalent to a score above 550 (paper-based test) or 91 (iBT). However, if you have managed to read this far without using a dictionary, you will be able to use this book, even if you don’t understand every word. Why do I need it? Th e goal of scientifi c research is publication, but good scientists are not always good writers and even native speakers of English sometimes have diffi culty when they write up their research. Th e aim of this book is to give you the information, vocabulary and skills you need quickly and easily so that you can write confi dently using the style and structure you see in the journals you read. B875_FM.indd v B875_FM.indd v 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AM 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AMFA vi Science Research Writing As a science researcher, you are able to read and understand complex, high-level material in your fi eld. However, you may fi nd it diffi cult to produce written English which is at the same level as your reading. You may feel that your English writing does not represent the content of your work eff ectively or accurately. Th e aim of this book is to enable you to use your reading ability and the material you read to develop the writing skills your work requires. Developing the skills to write up your own research is the only way to join the international science community. If you depend on English speakers to translate your writing, their translation may not represent exactly what you intended. If you depend on proofreaders to correct your English they may not notice some errors, because a sentence which is grammatically correct is still ‘wrong’ if it does not mean what you intended. Also, a proofreader may not check whether your writing fi ts the conventional ‘science research’ patterns. For example, you may have forgotten to justify your choice of method or explain how your results relate to your original question, and this could mean that an editor of a science journal rejects your paper as unprofessional. Writing and publishing a research paper is the best way to get your career off the ground. If you can turn your thesis or research project into a useful paper, your CV (Curriculum Vitae) will immediately look more professional and will be more competitive internationally. 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. Science writing is much easier than it looks. Most science research is written according to a fairly conventional structure: fi rst the title, then the abstract, followed by an introduction, aft er which there is a central section which describes what was done and what was found and then a discussion and/or conclusion. At the end of the paper or research article, acknowledgements and references are added. Th is means that the structure of a research article will be quite similar for all writers. Because science writing is so conventional, the amount of grammar and vocabulary you need to learn is quite small. For example, the non- technical vocabulary used in scientifi c writing consists of a limited set of B875_FM.indd vi B875_FM.indd vi 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AM 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AMFA Introduction: How to Use This Book vii words such as attempt, conduct, interpret, evaluate, determine, implement, formulate, classify, correlate, enhance, which are used as a kind of ‘code’. All the vocabulary you need to get started (apart from the specialised vocabulary of your fi eld) is in this book. What will this book teach me? Th e book will show you how to discover the conventions of structure, organisation, grammar and vocabulary in science writing in your fi eld and will provide you with the tools to write in a similar way and at a similar level. It will teach you how to turn your research into a paper that can be submitted to a professional journal. You will also be able to use most of the information in the book and all of the language and vocabulary if you are writing a thesis in English. I have been teaching English for Academic Purposes to science students for over 30 years. For the past 15 years I have been teaching research writing in the English Language Support Programme at Imperial College, London, where I also work closely with individual research students and staff who are writing a paper or thesis. Th is book is based on the most useful thing I have learned: when your language skills are not perfect, organising your information in a conventional way and using conventional language are very important. If you write according to a conventional model, the reader knows what you are trying to do because the model you are following is familiar, and language errors are therefore less signifi cant. A researcher who begins by writing according to a simple and conventional model will soon develop higher level skills for writing independently and professionally. Th e opposite is also true: researchers who do not begin by writing according to a conventional model are less likely to develop these skills. How does the book work? Th e strategy in this book can be summed up as follows: carefully 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. Th e book is divided into fi ve units, each dealing with one section of a research article. Unit 1 deals with the Introduction, Unit 2 the Methodology, Unit 3 the Results, Unit 4 the Discussion or Conclusion and Unit 5 the B875_FM.indd vii B875_FM.indd vii 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AM 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AMFA viii Science Research Writing Abstract and Title. Since the aim of this book is to enable you to write in a conventional way, each unit is designed to help you discover what the conventional model of that section of a research article looks like. In each unit you will also be given support on the grammar and writing skills needed to write that section of the research article and you will be guided towards the appropriate vocabulary. Each unit is similar . The unit on Introductions, for example, begins by looking at a sample research article Introduction similar to those in science journals, then there is a Grammar and Writing Skills section designed to respond to frequently asked questions. Because you are probably working hard on your research and don’t have time to do much grammar work, there are very few grammar exercises in the Grammar and Writing Skills sections. In any case, getting the answer right in a grammar exercise doesn’t automatically mean you will produce the correct grammar when you write about complex topics. Answering correctly can give you a false sense of confi dence and security. Aft er the Grammar and Writing Skills section you will create a model or template for writing Introductions using the sample Introduction, and this is followed by a detailed Key providing model descriptors, discussion and answers to questions. Th e unit includes extracts from real Introductions so that you can test the model and see how it works in the ‘real world’. Th ese extracts are then used to fi nd the vocabulary which will help you operate the model successfully. Th is is followed by a complete list of useful vocabulary together with examples of how the words and phrases are used. At this stage, you will have a robust model of an Introduction, a grammar guide to deal with possible problems and a list of useful vocabulary to make the model work. Towards the end of the unit, you will be ready to test what you have learned by writing an Introduction. If you have done the tasks, you should be able to put the model, the grammar/writing skills and the vocabulary together, and a perfect Introduction will write itself almost automatically So at the end of the unit on Introductions, you will try out what you have learned: you will write an Introduction using the model and the vocabulary list and then compare it with a sample answer in the Key. Th is pattern is repeated in the rest of the units. Ideally, you should work through the book and do each task. If you read the book without completing the tasks you will have an intellectual understanding of what to do but you may fi nd it harder to put it into practice. B875_FM.indd viii B875_FM.indd viii 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AM 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AMFA Introduction: How to Use This Book ix Do I need any other material or books? No, but before you begin, you should collect three or four recent research papers in your fi eld from the journals you usually read and photocopy them. You will use these as target articles to help you adapt what you learn here to your own work, and you will refer to them while reading this book to see how the things you are learning are done in your research fi eld. Don’t use chapters from books as target articles; they are not written according to the same conventional structure as research papers and so will not help you discover how a research paper or thesis in your fi eld is written. Your target research articles should: • be written by a researcher/research team based at an English-speaking institution, ideally a native speaker of English. • be reasonably short (less than 15 A4 sides including graphs and tables). • deal with subject matter which is as close as possible to your own topic and the kind of research you are doing. • have clearly defi ned Introduction, Methodology, Results and Discussion/ Conclusion sections. It will help you if these are subtitled so that you can locate them easily. Note that the subtitles may vary in diff erent fi elds and even in diff erent journals in each fi eld; for example the Methodology can be called ‘Procedure’, ‘Materials and Methods’, ‘Experimental’ or some other variation. B875_FM.indd ix B875_FM.indd ix 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AM 12/11/2009 8:47:52 AMFA 1 Unit 1 ✏ How to Write an Introduction 1.1 Structure Until now, much of your science writing has focused on writing reports in which you simply described what you did and what you found. Although this will help you write the central ‘report’ sections (Methodology and Results) of a research paper or thesis, it doesn’t prepare you for writing an Introduction to a full-length research article; this is a new task that faces you once you move on to research writing. In practice, you will fi nd that you need to be certain about what you have done and what you have found in order to write the Introduction, and so the best time to write it will be aft er you have written, or at least draft ed, the report sections. However, in this book, the structure of a research article is presented in the order in which it appears in a paper/thesis so that you can trace the connections between each part and see the sequence in which information is presented to the reader. You may want to start your Introduction by describing the problem you are trying to solve, or the aim of your work, but as you will see when you examine published work, this is not how most research papers begin — and therefore it is not the best way for you to begin. In order to help you write the Introduction to your own research, the model you build must answer the following three questions: • How do writers normally start the Introduction? • What type of information should be in my Introduction, and in what order? • How do writers normally end the Introduction? B875_Chapter-01.indd 1 B875_Chapter-01.indd 1 12/9/2009 8:48:01 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:01 AMFA 2 Science Research Writing ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION METHODOLOGY (what you did/used) central report section RESULTS (what you found/saw) DISCUSSION/ CONCLUSION Fig. 1. Th e shape of a research article or thesis. Th e fi rst thing you may notice about Fig. 1 is that it is symmetrical. Th is is because many of the things you need to do in the Introduction are done — in reverse order — in the Discussion/Conclusion. For example, you need to write an opening sentence which enables you and your reader to ‘get in’ or start your paper/thesis and you also need to ‘get out’ at the end of the Discussion/Conclusion by fi nding an acceptable way to end the paper/thesis. In addition, you must look for a way to interface with the central report section at the end of the Introduction, and again — in reverse — when you move out of the central section to start the Discussion/ Conclusion. Something else you should notice about the shape of the diagram is that it narrows towards the central report section, and widens aft er it. Th is represents the way information is ordered in the Introduction and the Discussion/Conclusion: in the Introduction you start out by being fairly general and gradually narrow your focus, whereas the opposite is true in the Discussion/Conclusion. B875_Chapter-01.indd 2 B875_Chapter-01.indd 2 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AMFA Introduction — Structure 3 Read the Introduction below. Don’t worry if the subject matter is not familiar or if you have diffi culty understanding individual words, especially technical terms like polylactide. Just try to get a general understanding at this stage and familiarise yourself with the type of language used. Th e synthesis of fl exible polymer blends from polylactide and rubber Introduction 1 Polylactide (PLA) has received much attention in recent years due to its biodegradable properties, which off er important economic benefi ts. 2 PLA is a polymer obtained from corn and is produced by the polymerisation of lactide. 3 It has many possible uses in 1 the biomedical fi eld and has also been investigated as a potential 2,3 engineering material. 4 However, it has been found to be too weak 4 under impact to be used commercially. 5 One way to toughen polymers is to incorporate a layer of rubber 5 particles and there has been extensive research regarding the rubber modifi cation of PLA. 6 For example, Penney et al. showed that 6 PLA composites could be prepared using blending techniques and 7 more recently, Hillier established the toughness of such composites. 7 However, although the eff ect of the rubber particles on the mechanical properties of copolymer systems was demonstrated over 8 two years ago, little attention has been paid to the selection of an appropriate rubber component. 8 Th e present paper presents a set of criteria for selecting such a component. 9 On the basis of these criteria it then describes the preparation of a set of polymer blends using PLA and a hydrocarbon rubber (PI). 10 Th is combination of two mechanistically distinct polymerisations formed a novel copolymer in which the incorporation of PI signifi cantly increased fl exibility. B875_Chapter-01.indd 3 B875_Chapter-01.indd 3 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AMFA 4 Science Research Writing 1.2 Grammar and Writing Skills Th is section deals with four language areas which are important in the Introduction: TENSE PAIRS SIGNALLING LANGUAGE PASSIVE/ACTIVE USE PARAGRAPHING 1.2.1 Tense pairs Present Simple/Present Continuous In order to use tenses correctly in the Introduction, you fi rst need to look at the diff erence between the way the Present Simple tense and the Present Continuous tense are used. Look at these two sentences: (a) I live in Beijing. Present Simple (b) I’m living in Beijing. Present Continuous (a) describes a permanent situation and (b) describes a temporary situation. Because of this, the Present Simple tense is used in science writing to state accepted facts and truths — but what qualifi es as an accepted fact or truth is oft en, surprisingly, your decision. Sometimes the writer considers that research fi ndings have the status of a fact; in that case, s/he can decide to state them in the Present Simple, usually followed by the appropriate research reference. Here is an example from the Introduction in Section 1.1: 5 One way to toughen polymers is to incorporate a layer of rubber 5 particles and there has been extensive research regarding the rubber modifi cation of PLA. B875_Chapter-01.indd 4 B875_Chapter-01.indd 4 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:06 AMFA Introduction — Grammar and Writing Skills 5 Later on, in the Results section, you can even decide to state your own fi ndings this way. Look at these two sentences which describe results: (a) We found that the pressure increased as the temperature rose, which indicated that temperature played a signifi cant role in the process. (b) We found that the pressure increases as the temperature rises, which indicates that temperature plays a signifi cant role in the process. Which sentence is ‘stronger’? In (a), using the Past Simple tense means that your fi ndings are linked only to your own research, and you do not claim your deductions should be considered as accepted or established facts, or even that another researcher will necessarily get the same results. In (b), using the Present Simple tense means that you believe your fi ndings and deductions are strong enough to be considered as facts or truths. Th e Present Simple communicates this reliability and your readers will respond to your work accordingly. Th ere will be more about this later, in the unit on Results. Past Simple/Present Perfect Another tense pair you need in the Introduction is the Past Simple tense and the Present Perfect tense. You will need both, and you need to know when and why to switch from one to the other. Look at these sentences: (a) Past Simple: I lived in Tokyo for fi ve years… but I don’t live there anymore. (b) Present Perfect: I have lived in Tokyo for fi ve years… and I still live there NOW. (c) Past Simple: I broke my glasses… but it doesn’t matter/I repaired them. (d) Present Perfect: I have broken my glasses… and so I can’t see properly NOW. B875_Chapter-01.indd 5 B875_Chapter-01.indd 5 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA 6 Science Research Writing You probably learned the diff erence between (a) and (b) years ago: that one of the diff erences between Past Simple and Present Perfect is the ‘time’ of the verb, i.e. when it happened. Th e diff erence between (c) and (d) is harder to understand and more important for you as a writer of science research. In (c) and (d), ‘time’, i.e. when the verb happened, isn’t really what separates the two sentences; it’s possible that both (c) and (d) happened last month, this morning, or one nanosecond ago. What is important is that the event in (d) is considered more relevant to the situation now than the event in (c), which is why it is given in the Present Perfect. Why is this idea of relevance useful when you write an Introduction? Look at these sentences from the Introduction in Section 1.1: For example, Penney et al. showed that PLA composites could be 6 prepared using blending techniques and more recently, Hillier 7 established the toughness of such composites. However, although the eff ect of the rubber particles on the mechanical properties of 8 copolymer systems was demonstrated over two years ago, little attention has been paid to the selection of an appropriate rubber component. Note: a little means ‘a small amount’, but little means ‘virtually none’. Where does the tense change? Why do you think the writer changes from the Past Simple to the Present Perfect? Could it be because this research article is NOW paying attention to the selection of an appropriate rubber component? Now look at what happens if the writer forgets to change tense and continues in the Past Simple: However, although the eff ect of the rubber particles on the mechanical properties of copolymer systems was demonstrated over two years 8 ago, little attention was paid to the selection of an appropriate rubber component. B875_Chapter-01.indd 6 B875_Chapter-01.indd 6 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA Introduction — Grammar and Writing Skills 7 Suddenly, the sentence means that little attention was paid THEN, i.e. two years ago. Perhaps attention has been paid to this problem since then; perhaps the problem has even been solved Tense changes are always meaningful, and they always signal a change in the function of the information — so don’t change tense randomly and make sure you remember to change tense when you should. Now check what you have learned about tenses by looking carefully at the way the Past Simple and Present Perfect are used in the Introductions of your target articles. Look in particular at the way the Past Simple tense and the Present Perfect tense are used to refer to previous research. 1.2.2 Signalling language Sentence connection One of the most common errors in writing is failing to connect one sentence or idea to the next. Every time you end a sentence, your reader has no idea what the next sentence is going to do or say. As a result, the space between a full stop and the next capital letter is a dangerous space for you and your reader. Perhaps you stopped for ten minutes aft er a sentence, and during that time you thought about your work and your ideas developed. Perhaps you turned off your computer and went home. When you start typing again, if you don’t share the link between those sentences with your reader, you create a gap in the text which will cause problems. One of your tasks as a writer is to make sure that gap is closed, so that your reader is carried carefully from one piece of information to the next. Connecting sentences and concepts is good for you too, as it forces you to develop your ideas logically. One way to connect sentences is to overlap, meaning to repeat something from the previous sentence: Th e pattern of infl ammation during an asthma attack is diff erent from that seen in stable asthma. In stable asthma the total number of infl ammatory cells does not increase. One way to toughen polymers is to incorporate a layer of rubber particles. As a result, there has been extensive research regarding the rubber modifi cation of PLA. B875_Chapter-01.indd 7 B875_Chapter-01.indd 7 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA 8 Science Research Writing Another way is to use a pronoun (it, they) or pro-form (this method, these systems) to glue the sentences together: Many researchers have suggested ways of reducing cost without aff ecting the quality of the image. Th ese methods rely on data structures built during a preprocessing step. On the basis of these criteria it then describes the preparation of a set of polymer blends using PLA and a hydrocarbon rubber (PI). Th is combination of two mechanistically distinct polymerisations formed a novel copolymer in which the incorporation of PI signifi cantly increased fl exibility. Th e third way is not to fi nish the sentence at all, but to join it to the next sentence with a semicolon or a relative clause (a ‘which’ clause). Joining sentences with a semicolon works well when two sentences are very closely related and one of them is quite short: Th e procedure for testing whether components are operationally safe usually takes many hours; this means that tests are rarely repeated. It has received much attention over the past few decades due to its biodegradable properties, which off er important economic benefi ts. Th e fourth way is to use a signalling sentence connector to indicate the relationship between one sentence and the next, or one part of a sentence and the next. You know how useful sentence connectors are from your reading; when you see a word like therefore or however, you are able to process the next piece of information in the sentence correctly even if you don’t understand every word. Th is is because the sentence connector signals the function of the information in the sentence. Th e opposite is also true: when the writer does not signal the function of the information with a connector, it is harder for the reader to process the information. Even if the grammar is perfect and every word is correct, the reader still may not be sure what the information is doing (Is it a result of the previous B875_Chapter-01.indd 8 B875_Chapter-01.indd 8 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA Introduction — Grammar and Writing Skills 9 sentence? An example? A cause?), and may interpret it diff erently from the way the writer intended. You already use words like therefore and however and one aim of this subsection is to make sure that you are using them correctly. Another aim is to expand your vocabulary of signalling words, because you can’t spend the rest of your writing life using only therefore and however Here are some examples of signalling language arranged according to their function. It is not a long list because only those which are commonly used in science writing have been included. CAUSE Th e experiment was unsuccessful ________ the measuring instruments were inaccurate. Th e experiment was unsuccessful ________ the inaccuracy of the measuring instruments. due to (the fact that) as on account of (the fact that) because in view of (the fact that) since • Be careful when you use since; it is also oft en used to mean ‘from that time’, so if there’s any possibility of confusion, choose a diff erent connector. • All these connectors can be used at the start of a sentence, even because (Because the measuring instruments were inaccurate, the experiment was unsuccessful). RESULT Th e measuring instruments were calibrated accurately, ________ the experiment was successful. therefore as a result (of which) consequently which is why hence so • Don’t start sentences with so to communicate a result; it’s too informal. B875_Chapter-01.indd 9 B875_Chapter-01.indd 9 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA 10 Science Research Writing • You can sometimes use then, for example in sentences like ‘If x then y’, but it won’t work in every sentence, which is why it has not been included in this list. CONTRAST/DIFFERENCE British students are all vegetarians, __________ Norwegian students eat meat every day. however on the other hand whereas while but by contrast • on the contrary and conversely don’t fi t into this category because they don’t only communicate diff erence; they communicate the fact that ‘exactly the opposite is true’, so you can’t use them in the sentence above (because vegetarians and meat eaters aren’t opposites, they’re just diff erent). However, you could use them in the following sentence: Some experiments used uncalibrated instruments and succeeded; conversely, other experiments used carefully calibrated instruments and failed. • Be careful when you use while; it is also oft en used to mean ‘at that/the same time’, so if there’s any possibility of confusion, choose a diff erent connector. UNEXPECTEDNESS (a) _______ it was diffi cult, a solution was eventually found. (b) _______ the diffi culty, a solution was eventually found. (c) It was diffi cult; ________ a solution was eventually found. (a) Although (b) Despite (c) nevertheless (a) Even though (b) In spite of (c) however (a) Th ough (b) Regardless of (c) yet (b) Notwithstanding (c) nonetheless (c) even so B875_Chapter-01.indd 10 B875_Chapter-01.indd 10 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA Introduction — Grammar and Writing Skills 11 • Th ere are other connectors with the same meaning, such as still and anyway, but they are more informal. ADDITION We used a batch processing system because it was more eff ective; ___________ it was faster. in addition also moreover secondly (etc.) furthermore in the second place (etc.) apart from that/which what is more • besides has more or less the same meaning as the items in the list above, but it’s more powerful and is therefore better used in more persuasive contexts. Now check what you have learned by looking at the way sentences are connected in the Introductions of your target articles. 1.2.3 Passive/Active Students oft en ask whether they can use we in their research articles. In the Introduction you usually say what you will be doing or presenting in the research article. You can use we to refer to your research group or team, but do not use it to refer to people or humanity in general. If you are referring to people in general, it’s better to use a construction with It (It is known/ thought that…) rather than We know/think that… It is also common to use the passive instead of we, especially in the central ‘report’ section (was measured, was added, etc.). In a thesis, you are writing as an individual and you don’t have a research group or team. Since you cannot write your thesis using I, you will probably write in the passive. Use words like here and in this study to B875_Chapter-01.indd 11 B875_Chapter-01.indd 11 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA 12 Science Research Writing let your reader know when you are referring to your own work. You can also use a ‘dummy’ subject to take the place of I or we: Th is article describes an algorithm for clustering sequences into index classes. Th e present paper presents a set of criteria for selecting such a component. Th e problem with using the passive in formal writing is that the agent (the person who performed the action of the verb) is oft en not mentioned in the sentence. In other words, we say that something was done or was identifi ed but we don’t say ‘by me’ or ‘by other researchers’, so the reader may not know who did it or who identifi ed it. Th is can cause confusion and for that reason it is sometimes clearer to use a dummy subject (Th is article/ the present paper) in the Introduction rather than the ‘agentless’ passive (x is presented). Now look at the way the passive and dummy subject are used in the Introductions of your target articles. PARAGRAPHING Why is paragraphing important? Paragraphs are an important visual aid to eff ective reading and writing. Two common errors in paragraphing are clusters of short or single- sentence paragraphs, and paragraphs that are too long. Both errors will confuse readers and are signs of poorly-organised writing. To understand how paragraphing works, imagine that you have won a 24-hour trip to Paris. You have two options. Th e fi rst option is to fl y to Paris, get off the plane and walk around the city. If you take that option, a friend may ask you later if you saw the famous Louvre art gallery; you say: ‘Well, no, I got lost and spent hours walking around the industrial area by mistake.’ You show your mother the clothes you bought in Paris and she asks if you bought them in the famous Rue de la Paix shopping street, and you say, ‘No, I bought them near my hotel. I didn’t know where the big shopping area was.’ You begin to realise that you wasted a lot of time and missed many important things. B875_Chapter-01.indd 12 B875_Chapter-01.indd 12 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA Introduction — Grammar and Writing Skills 13 Th e second option is to take a short helicopter ride over Paris before you leave the airport. It’s a diffi cult decision because you are impatient; you only have 24 hours and you don’t want to waste time, but you do it anyway. Th e helicopter fl ies over Paris for half an hour in a grid pattern, aft er which you begin your tour of Paris. You fi nd a well-situated hotel, which you saw from the helicopter. You buy your clothes in the Rue de la Paix — which you saw from the helicopter. You visit the Louvre and you have lunch in one of the big parks near the centre … which you saw from the helicopter. What is the connection between this and good paragraphing? Let’s bring that idea to the skills of reading and writing. If you read the last page of a murder mystery before you fi nish the book, the rest of the story is less exciting — but you may fi nish the book faster. Th is is because you don’t waste time wondering who the murderer is; you know it’s the husband, so whenever his name is mentioned you concentrate and read carefully, but you don’t bother to read the details about the other suspects. Th is enables you to read faster by giving you the confi dence to ignore things which you know are not relevant. Th e more you know about what you are reading, the faster and more eff ectively you read. So how can you fi nd out about a long article or chapter before reading it? Th e answer is to skim it quickly before you begin to read. Like the helicopter ride over Paris, skimming is done before reading, not instead of reading. Your aim when you skim through a text is to fi nd out quickly what it is about and where the various pieces of information are located so that you can read it faster and more confi dently. How do I skim effi ciently and quickly? Most of the instructions in the box on the next page tell you just to ‘look at’ or ‘check’ something. Skimming is a pre-reading technique and should be done very fast; if it takes more than a few minutes you’re not skimming, you’re reading. Skimming may help me read, but how does it help me to write? Look at number 6 in the box: LOOK QUICKLY AT THE FIRST SENTENCE OF EACH PARAGRAPH. A paragraph in academic writing oft en starts with a topic sentence, which gives the main idea of the paragraph, and tells the reader what the paragraph is about. Th e other sentences are related to B875_Chapter-01.indd 13 B875_Chapter-01.indd 13 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AMFA 14 Science Research Writing 1. READ THE TITLE and try to predict the type of information you expect to see 2. LOOK AT THE NAME OF THE AUTHOR What you know about the writer will help you predict and evaluate the content. 3. CHECK THE DATE and use it to help you assess the content. 4. READ THE ABSTRACT to fi nd out what the researchers did and/or what they found 5. LOOK QUICKLY AT THE FIRST PARAGRAPH without trying to understand all the words. 6. LOOK QUICKLY AT THE FIRST SENTENCE OF EACH PARAGRAPH without trying to understand all the words 7. LOOK QUICKLY AT EACH FIGURE/TABLE AND READ ITS TITLE to try and fi nd out what type of visual data is included 8. READ THE LAST PARAGRAPH especially if it has a subtitle like ‘Summary’ or ‘Conclusion’ this idea; they discuss it, describe it, defi ne it in more detail, argue about it, give examples of it, rephrase it, etc. When the ‘topic’ or idea moves too far away from the fi rst sentence, the writer usually begins a new paragraph. You can therefore get a good idea of the various topics covered in an article — or in a chapter of a book — by reading the fi rst sentence of each paragraph. And because it is a conventional way of writing paragraphs, it is a safe way for you to write paragraphs too. Th e more aware you are of the way other writers structure paragraphs, the easier it will be for you to do it yourself. As you know, paragraphs are marked either by indentation (starting fi ve spaces in) or by a double space between lines. Over the years, you have developed a very strong response to these visual signals. Th is means that each time you begin a new paragraph, this conditioned response in your brain prepares for a change or shift of some kind. B875_Chapter-01.indd 14 B875_Chapter-01.indd 14 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM 12/9/2009 8:48:07 AM