In writing, there are many things one can do to make the text better. Some basic rules of thumb include avoiding repetitions, avoiding passive voice, breaking down long and complicated sentences, or letting the reader think for themselves.

Do such rules also apply to scientific texts, and if not, why?

I can think of a few reasons why they may not. For example, avoiding repetition may create confusion — it might not be immediately clear if the alternative term is just a synonym, or if it is different and in what way. Moreover, using more advanced devices (or, for that matter, sophisticated vocabulary) could be problematic even for native speakers.

Surely we need to make the text as accessible and clear as possible, but it would be great if it were also enjoyable to read. Where lies the right balance?

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    It's not really clear what your specific question is; it's very broad as written; it seems to be soliciting opinions, and it's probably a duplicate. – 410 gone Sep 21 '15 at 12:22
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    @EnergyNumbers Perhaps you are referring to this question (which I suppose also seems opinion-based to you), but it asks about humor, while I ask about writing style. Let me rephrase my question: novel-like writing style often sacrifices clarity and accessibility, is it ok to use it in scientific texts? – dtldarek Sep 21 '15 at 12:42
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    A scientific text has to be clear and unambiguous to anyone fluent in English. Do whatever you must to achieve that goal. – Davidmh Sep 21 '15 at 13:19
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    Briefly speaking, the "right balance" (aka optimal writing style) heavily depends on a mixture of factors, including, but not limited to, scientific discipline, area(s) of research, type of publication, target audience, topic as well as the author's goals for the publication (the latter is, obviously, tied to the type of publication). – Aleksandr Blekh Sep 22 '15 at 4:57

Keep in mind that the goals of a nice fictional book are not at all the same as of an academic paper or a thesis. The former is primarily about entertaining or stimulating the reader. The latter is about providing a certain information (the research result) in the clearest way possible.

The "many things one can do to make the text better" that you mention are geared towards making the text easier to read and less of a chore. While this is certainly also valuable for an academic text, being "easy to read" is ultimately a nice-to-have, while clarity and non-ambiguity are absolutely essential. If you keep in mind that clarity absolutely should not be compromised, you will get an impression why academic texts are written the way they are:

avoiding repetitions

As you say yourself - if you strive for clearness, having multiple names for the same thing is not good at all.

avoiding passive voice

Academic texts tend to prefer passive voice mostly because the "story" of an academic paper isn't about the writer, it is about the effect that is observed / described. Writing the paper like you are telling your mother what you did the lest 5 years would put the emphasis on you and your experiments, rather than the data and the observed effects.

breaking down long and complicated sentences

Yes, do that. Even in academic texts. It's just not easy for those of us that don't have English as first language. In German, for instance, you are taught from very early age on that short sentences "sound stupid". This is hard to unlearn.

letting the reader to think for themselves

You will never want to "let the reader think for himself" in a paper. It's not a piece of art. You want to present the facts and what derives from them as clearly as possible, not write your paper in a fluffy way so that every reader can come to the conclusions that are most suitable to her/him.

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    You will never want to "let the reader think for himself" in a paper. Well, not about objective stuff. On the other hand, you will want to let the reader make subjective judgements for himself. – ff524 Sep 21 '15 at 13:31
  • @ff524 I am not sure if I understand / agree. Anyway, what I think the OP meant is letting the reader "connect the dots" her/himself, like in a book which may only hint at a resolution without actually describing it explicitly. Doing the equivalent of this in a research paper sounds like a horrible idea to me. – xLeitix Sep 21 '15 at 13:43
  • @xLeitix Research papers usually contain also some auxiliary text: intuitions, parallels to other results, and so on. However, for example, sometimes it is best when the reader creates intuitions that are most subtitle to her/him. – dtldarek Sep 21 '15 at 13:53
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    I think what @ff524 is referring to are things like "this is a very clever experiment", or "our result is important". It is your job to make sure they understand what you have done, so they can judge appropriately. – Davidmh Sep 21 '15 at 13:57
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    Academic texts in some disciplines tend to prefer passive voice, but not all. – JeffE Sep 22 '15 at 11:39

I think many writing rules will be different for every field. What is acceptable for one isn't necessarily acceptable for another. Where the text is being published will also be a factor, even within a field, as different journals or publishers will expect a certain style or tone of writing. I've read publications across a wide variety of fields and the only thing I can say for certain is that there is no such thing as one size fits all.

If you know what field you expect to publish in then you should be able to find style guides written specifically for that field, which will discuss the sort of rules you're asking about. I would recommend your local academic library for some suitable texts. Perhaps talk to colleagues or supervisors - chances are they can recommend something.

Also, journals usually provide resources for their prospective authors, which will more specifically discuss what they expect of papers. From this you should be able to get an idea of what tone and style is appropriate, as well as many other requirements. These resources are usually found on their websites. It may also help to read through some publications from your field/journal/etc to see how those authors write.


When you as a scientist have 60 papers to read in only a few days, clarity is enjoyable. One should be vary that different scientific disciplines have different standards, however. The natural sciences favor concise writing, while the social sciences favor elaboration. There are several books on scientific writing that address general concerns about language and style.

Rhetoric is also part of scientific writing. Write for the intended audience. If you are not a scientist yet, imagine what it is like to be a specialist in a certain field—what would a scientist expect: from your title, your abstract, and your report? Why should an expert in your field read your text? If your text successfully answer this implicit question with clarity, structure, and flow, the scientist will find your text an enjoyable read.

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