As an undergraduate student, I am relatively new to the scientific writing field. Sure, I have studied psychology since I was 16 years old, but I was never asked to write an actual paper until I was 18 (i’m 19 now by the way.) As a result, I am quite set in my English literature ways – essays on Shakespeare, analysis of poetic prose: you get the idea.
When I arrived at university I was already aware of my tendency to over-complicate my language when putting an argument down on paper. Heavily conscious of it, I began reading as many journal articles as I could in order to get a feel of the scientific style that would now be expected of me. Doing this, I was quite surprised to find predominantly basic, passive language. It’s almost as though scientists write only for their academic peers when, in fact, I think that these articles should be accessible to all – they should be a way to communicate very specialised and complicated findings to anyone who is interested.
“The main advantage of the passive voice, in my opinion, is that it allows the writer to put the important concepts, ideas, findings, principles, and conclusions first.”
Part of my course credit hails from writing lab reports. So I write it, submit it and then get my feedback. My most common criticism would have to be that I deviate from the accepted scientific style. I get too wordy, perhaps, and whilst I completely understand (and respect) that science has developed it’s own unique crib sheet for communication, I do sometimes find it slightly limiting.
Speaking from an outsider’s perspective, scientific writing would be far more engaging, and inclusive, if a more active tone was adopted. Anecdotal bites of past experimentation, rhetorical questions etc. would all remind the public that science can be exciting and inspiring, rather than just dull and figure-focused.
“So long as scientists insist on writing in the passive voice, they may have a harder time telling those stories well.”
I am not suggesting that science should completely reformulate their prose style overnight, rather I am saying that the changes should be subtle and should begin by allowing fledgling scientists, for example psychology undergraduates, to develop their own unique voice without facing heavy criticisms from markers who are determined to eradicate any idiosyncrasies.
The quotes I used above can be found in this interesting article.