Scientific Writing

Scientific Writing


Primary literature (peer-reviewed) vs. Secondary literature (non-peer-reviewed)

  1. What are the differences between the two?
    1. Give examples of primary and secondary literature
    1. Which is most appropriate for using as a source when writing a scientific paper?
    1. Explain the process of peer review (Using a flow diagram may be helpful in articulating this)

Scientific Writing


This lab provides information on how to write a scientific lab report and information on how to develop hypotheses, use databases to find reference articles, and properly cite scientific sources.  

A tremendous amount of scientific information is published every week.  As a scientist, you will face the continuing challenge of keeping pace with the scientific literature.  Sources of information differ greatly in quality.  The most fundamental distinction we make is between information published in peer-reviewed journals vs. information published in non-peer-reviewed sources.  A peer-reviewed publication is one that has been critically reviewed and approved by several experts in the field. Articles are sent to the editor of a journal, who then distributes them to reviewers (usually anonymous) who have an expertise in the related subject. Almost all scientific journals publish papers only after several reviewers have agreed that the information contained in the paper is both credible and important.  Each reviewer usually recommends one of the following courses of action:

  • Accept as is (RARE)
  • Accept with revisions
  • Reject and resubmit with major revisions
  • Rejection

This process ensures that there is a strong quality control on information published in peer-reviewed journals.

A second major source of published scientific information is books.  Books contain a large amount of related information, however they have two major weaknesses.  First, the information published in books does not usually experience the degree of peer review described for journals above (an exception includes widely used introductory textbooks, which generally receive considerable scrutiny prior to publication, followed by revisions based on feedback from peers).  Second, the most recent edition of a book is often several years old, so recent information may not be included.  Be aware that the bibliography of the course text is an excellent source of citations!

An additional source of readily available information is non-peer-reviewed publications.  These usually include magazine and newspaper articles, which generally are written by non-scientists and reviewed only by editors who are not scientists.  These are relatively poor sources of information that may promote unjustified viewpoints or conclusions and should be considered less reliable. As a rule, magazines and newspapers, and other non-peer-reviewed literature should not be used as sources of scientific information.

There are many ways to track down research articles published in the primary literature. A variety of databases have recently been developed to make articles more available and easier for us to access. Web of Science, Google Scholar, Biological & Agricultural Index, Scopus and ScienceDirect are all excellent sources of citations. In today’s lab, you will be guided through the use of these databases available on the Kresge Library Website (


This lab will be an online lab. Students will work in groups and create a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation on one of the five topics listed below.  Bullet points underneath each heading are major points that should be covered in each presentation. Adding additional information that will benefit your classmates is welcomed as long as it fits within the allotted time frame.  Students will use google slides to create the presentation together. Information will be presented virtually, with one group presenting only to the instructor.

Scientific Writing Presentation (40 points)

  • Correct grammar and spelling (5 points)
  • Presenters articulate the main points in an eloquent and concise manner. (4 points)
  • All facets of the topic are covered (as listed above). (6 points)
  • Professional and organized slides with graphics that relate to the topic (Slides should NOT be full of text). (5 points)
  • Minimum of 15 slides including a title and reference slide (with appropriate citations). (5 points)
  • Homework (web search). (5 points)

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