Writing in the sciences uses all the same principles as writing in all other disciplines. Scholars advance knowledge by making key arguments but should always pay attention to how they organize their arguments and ensure they can back up their claims with evidence. Read more about the logic of scientific arguments.

Referencing your sources is an important part of academic writing:

  1. it lets you acknowledge the ideas or words of others if you use them in your work
  2. it demonstrates that you are using the scholarly record and that you can provide authority for statements you make in your term paper
  3. it enables readers to find the source information
  4. it helps you to avoid plagiarism

The use of direct quotes is rare in technical articles and is only used for highly memorable words or when confirmation of a certain conclusion is in doubt. In these cases, the quotation should be very brief.

Engineers and scientists use paraphrasing since their attention tends to be directed towards facts and data that do not need to be expressed precisely in the words selected by the original author.

The two most popular systems of in-text citation used in technical writing are:

  • Citation-sequence: the use of numbers within the text to refer to the end references (in order of appearance).
  • Name-year: the use of an author's surname and year of publication, enclosed in parentheses.

Consult with your instructor as to which referencing system is preferred. If you are writing a journal article, the journal's web site will state the specific referencing system required.

Placement of in-text references

  1. to avoid ambiguity about what is being referenced, an in-text reference should immediately follow the title, word or phrase to which it is directly relevant
  2. do not put all references at the end of the sentence
  3. when there are 3 or more authors, use the 'et al.' convention (Solomon et al. 2007)

Writing Tips

  1. the purpose of your paper should be clearly stated in the introduction
  2. begin paragraphs with a conclusion statement and then support it - each paragraph should have:
    • purpose - core statement
    • context of the statement
    • evidence
    • examples
    • references
  3. organize tables and figures to facilitate comparisons; group related data together
  4. make tables and figures clear without reference to your text

When to cite references

  1. facts that are not easily found
  2. statement of opinion
  3. statistical sources
  4. research findings and examples
  5. graphs, tables, charts, illustrations, figures


  1. Scientific style and format : the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers
  2. The art of scientific writing : from student reports to professional publications in chemistry and related fields
  3. The brief Penguin handbook
  4. Writing for science and engineering papers, presentations and reports

Other Useful Web Guides

  1. Writing in the Sciences University of Toronto
  2. Understanding Science and how science really works UC Berkeley
  3. Resources for Scientific Writing Dalhousie University
  4. Writing Resources for Engineering Concordia University

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