Scientific Writing in English

Helsinki University, Lomonosov MSU
Victoria Moiseeva
Alisdair Mclean, Yury Shtyrov
Minimal requirements: 
intermediate English level

Workshop in Scientific Writing  will be held in 389 Aud of Biological Faculty of MSU on 14-15.06.2011 from 10.00 till 18.00

Video-lectures of the course

Course materials:  Alisdair Mclean and Yury Shtyrov

Problems in writing up research: How to overcome them?


Every year a new batch of science researchers submit their first attempts at writing research papers to their supervisors. Every year supervisors reject these texts because they contain: irrelevancies, are rambling, poorly structured, often omit important information and are generally badly written. It is common that it takes the author an excessive amount of time to produce such a text. This has a financial impact, which few researchers realise.

Workshop objectives (Minimising the rate-limiting-step) 

1) Minimise the novice authors’ confusion, minimise procrastination and maximise the speed at which writing up research studies can be achieved.

2) Fully acquaint workshop participants about the generic structure and functional components of a complete scientific paper with special emphasis on the internal structure of the discussion and abstract sections. The other sections will also be briefly covered.

3) Based on the feedback on this workshop,* participants will have a clearer idea of what type of information to write and where in the discussion, abstract and introduction sections these should be written.

This workshop is given to post-Doc researchers in the life-sciences medicine, dentistry and nursing in the UK and Finland. 

Workshop trainers

Alisdair Mclean PhD is trained as a natural scientist, who has extensive experience at editing research manuscripts for publication in science journals and for the regulatory authorities for newly discovered drugs. He teaches these skills the UK and Finland.

Yury Shtyrov, D.Phil. MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK  

Workshop approach 

The approach will be based on the fact that the writing and publishing scientific research is as much a part of the science research process as MALDI-TOF or 2DPGE. Thus this topic will not be approached as a humanities subject.

The participants will be taught the sequence structuring writing technique. PowerPoint presentations, group discussions and exercises in writing ‘Abstracts’ and ‘Discussion’ will be given. Participants will be made aware of not only their point of view, but also the co-authors/supervisors’, managing editors’, peer reviewers and journal editors’ points-of-view. It is assumed that general grammar and punctuation will have been covered in previous courses. However, some passing references will be made to specialized grammar, punctuation constructs and also sentence length (as instructed by certain journals in their ‘Author Guidelines’). Supplementary notes will be given and workshop participants are expected to bring along five or six papers in their own field of study (they should NOT have been involved in writing these texts). At least two of these reprints should contain discussions that in the participant’s opinion are badly written and two should contain discussions that are well written. A laptop computer is also required.

 Course programme

Day one 14 June 10:00-18:00

Yury Shtyrov: Brevity, clarity and a few little tricks: writing in English as a foreign language 

This is an introduction into the basics of scientific writing in English, the topic which will be covered in great detail in the 2-day course. The main cornerstones of good writing are accuracy, brevity, clarity and style, which will be in the focus of this lecture. The presentation will start by highlighting the importance of publishing in English and will then cover different stages of writing a paper from planning your manuscript to selecting a journal to preparing illustrations. We will look at some practical examples and will also try to highlight some common mistakes along with the ways to avoid them. Time permitting, other areas of academic writing may also be discussed with the audience. The presentation is aimed at researchers, particularly with little or no hands-on experience of publishing in English, as well as post- and under-graduate students. The talk will be given in English with clarifications and questions in Russian if necessary. 

12:00-12:15 Break

Alisdair Mclean: Outline of the rest of the course

An outline of the common problems in writing up research. What are your problems?

Section (1) Abstracts: What are their functions?

What to omit what to include? p-values or no p-values? Some tips. An introduction to the principles of structure and to the concept of editorial structure.

Exercise & Demonstration

Write an abstract describing the demonstration given and the results obtained.

Section (2) Methodology: (Materials, Methods and Conditions)

What is written and what is omitted. The importance of methodology.

Quick reference to the use of verbs in Methods.

Section (3) Results

Basic mistakes in approaches to writing results.

Author guidelines; being aware of captions and mode of presentations of results.

Quick reference to the use of prepositions in describing results.

The importance of author guidelines.

Lunch break 13:45 to 15:00

Section (4) Discussions

Why are discussions so difficult to write? What is a discussion anyway? Getting the information to flow. Identification of the most common problems encountered in writing a discussion. The importance of structure in a discussion. What to write and where to write it. Achieving narrative and modularity in a discussion.

Sequence structuring. A technique for speeding up the preparation and writing of a discussion.

Making a Generic Heading template to guide the writing.

16:15-16:30 Break

Exercise: Being able to read a discussion from the point-of-view of understanding how it was written. Create summary headings of the discussions of well-written and poorly written discussions.

Exercise (preferably continued as homework): Construct your own SPECIFIC HEADING TEMPLATE either based on the generic heading template given to you or by using the same principles.

What did you learn?

Approximately 18:00 - End of day one

Day two 15 June 10:00-18:00

Section (4) Discussions Continued

Short recap of techniques and information given the previous day.

The importance of using very short sentences for speed and control of information flow control in a content draft.

Write a content draft of a discussion based on your SPECIFIC HEADING TEMPLATE, which you will have prepared using your own research data (current research or data that has not previously been written up). The rate-limiting-step exercise. This will take 60 minutes.

A brief reference to the grammar of complex sentences.

The importance of syntax in English sentences.

12:00-12:15 Break


Exercise: Long sentences and punctuation exercise

Why full-stops are your best friend.

Pretentious sentences.

Section (5) Introductions: Are they important?

Lunch break 13:45 to 15:00

Exercise: Write the aims and a short text identifying the reason for the study

Section (6) Reviews: Basic Structure.

Section (7) Dissertations: Basic structure and comments about variations in the structure.

Open discussion about research texts in general.

Common confusing scientific words.

16:30 to 16:45 Break

The use of determiners such as indefinite and definite articles.

Sentence connectors and pronouns to make texts flow grammatically.

Short exercise on sentence connectors.

Any outstanding questions.

Final summary: What to do what not to do.

Any outstanding questions


Approximately 18:00 END of Course

The times given above are approximations the programme may be subject to amendment.

Programme in PDF

Learning outcomes: 
The participants will learn the sequence structuring writing technique.
Lomonosov' Moscow State University

Signups closed for this Modular course