Scientific Literature and Writing - Biology
Tenses | Commas
| Hyphens | Numerals | Bumblerules
Tenses in Scientific Writing
- Use present tense to state previously published information that is
accepted as fact.
Theoretical analyses indicate that the spatial resolution of MR microscopy
can reach a few microns (Farrar 1996).
- Use past tense to report your methods and results
- Use past tense to attribute actions or findings
In three of four surveys, areas with low breeding densities were present.
Cupp (1976) reported that populations of green salamanders were declining
- Use past perfect to indicate action that happened before other past
- Use present perfect to indicate an action recently completed or continuing
to the present.
Since 1991, researchers at Eastern Kentucky University have collaborated
with more than thirty investigators at other institutions.
- Use present tense to refer to other parts of your document.
- Use a comma to separate the clauses of a compound sentence joined by
the conjunctions "and", "or", "nor", "yet".
You can omit the comma if both clauses are very short and no misreading
could result. A comma is always required with "but", "for",
Some nests were located in May and others in June.
Some nests were located in May, but none were located in June.
- Use commas to separate a series of words or phrases containing three
or more elements, including the last two elements.
Raccoons were captured, anesthetized with isoflurane, and fitted with
- Use a comma to set off introductory words, phases, and dependent clauses.
Since first proposed, this course has undergone substantial revision.
As shown in Figure 1, the effects of temperature are limited.
- Use commas between adjectives that independently modify the same noun.
(Rule of thumb: use a comma if you could change the order of the adjectives
or insert "and" between them.)
a cold, dry climate
a large, well-developed brood patch
- Use commas both before and after nonrestrictive phases or clauses.
Many sparrows, which are not endangered species, breed throughout Kentucky.
- Hyphenate a unit modifier formed by a number and its units (exception:
Units of concentration)
a 3-m-long mist net
a two-month study
- Hyphenate a unit modifier used with another unit modifier.
- Hyphenate unit modifiers that contain numerals.
- Do not hyphenate if the first word of the unit is an adverb ending
- Do not hyphenate most prefixes added to common nouns, even if a double
letter will result. Exceptions are when the prefix will change the meaning
of the word, for example, un-ionize (unionize)
- Do not hyphenate foreign phrases used as adjectives.
- Hyphenate unit modifiers containing three words or a number, unit,
of measure, and a word.
a 20-mm-diameter tube
- Use numerals with units of time or measure, and use a space between
the number and the unit (except %)
- Use numerals with units of measurement, for percentages, for numbers
with fractions,and for numbers implying mathematical equations. For most
purposes, write out numbers below ten and use numerals for 10 and numbers
- With numerals, use symbols for units. If a number is written out, write
out the unit. Use the same symbol for singular and plural forms of a unit.
We used 5 mg of ...
Five milligrams were used...
Fifteen minutes elapsed before...
Rats were infused for 15 min...
- When the number is a decimal, always use a zero to the left of the
- When a sentence begins with a number, always spell it out (but try
not to start a sentence with a numbers). Follow the rules for other numbers
in the sentence.
Thirty samples were collected, but only 25 were tested.
Bumblerules of Grammar
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
- Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not
- Don't use contractions in scientific writing.
- Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate;
and never where it is not (FYI: semicolons are most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are somehow related, e.g.,
The two species built nests on different substrates; Rock Pigeons built nests on ledges in buildings and Mourning Doves on branches in trees.).
- If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal
of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
- It is not resultful to transform one part of speech into another by
prefixing, suffixing, or other alterings.
- Avoid colloquial stuff.
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