By Leah Colvin
Dry. Proscriptive. Wordy. Jargony. Boring. Many words have been used to describe scientific writing, very few of which would excite a reader to take a closer look into the contents of a paper. With the rate of scientific advancement increasing exponentially, an increasing focus on multidisciplinary research, and a critical need to share discovery with diverse audiences, effectively communicating scientific results has never been more important.
Scientists can greatly benefit from harnessing writing techniques from novelists, journalism, and even Hollywood. Employing such storytelling techniques can make your science more accessible not only to the public, but also to peers and, notably, reviewers (thus helping to avoid the dreaded, “the results do not support the conclusion” comment).
The argumentative or five-paragraph essay is one such technique that can be applied to scientific writing aimed at an audience of peers and reviewers. The power of this technique is that it builds an evidentiary argument to convince the reader of the author’s thesis – or, in science, the main hypothesis – much like a roadmap guides a traveler to their destination.
While the argumentative technique can be applied to some grant applications with a little creativity, its structure most closely resembles that of a scientific paper, less the methods, in that each paragraph in an argumentative essay corresponds to a section or subsection of a research paper (see Figure). This writing method breaks an argument down into five pieces:
This section is synonymous between the argumentative essay and a paper. In a research paper, the introduction should start with a broad topical paragraph that relates to the overarching scientific field, narrow into three subfield-specific ideas that directly support the main hypothesis of the paper, which closes the section.
2-4. SUPPORTIVE RESULTS
The results section of a paper corresponds to the body of an argumentative essay, with each subsection corresponding to a body paragraph. Thus, each subheading of the results section should provide a statement in evidence of the central hypothesis in order from strongest to weakest evidence. A topic paragraph explaining the purpose of this particular line of experimentation leads the section, followed by three experiments that provide evidence for the supportive result, followed by a short concluding paragraph that explains how the data support the conclusion.
You may have noticed that the structure of each supportive result outlined in the Figure looks a lot like the overall structure of the argumentative technique. This is no accident: using this technique, each section of a paper is, in essence, a mini argument that combine to comprise the overall argument in support of your main hypothesis.
I would also like to note here that not every paper needs to have three main supportive results. Depending on the journal and the nature of the work, it may be more appropriate to have more or fewer sections detailing your results. Nonetheless, the structure of the argumentative essay can still be applied to your results section.
Finally, the discussion section of a paper is analogous to the conclusion of an argumentative essay. It is structured as a direct mirror of the introduction to relate your experimental results to your overall topic and emphasize why your work is important in the context of the overarching field of study. Here, you restate your hypothesis and objective in the first paragraph, summarize each of your supportive results in the context of the body of knowledge in the following paragraphs, and finish with a concluding paragraph (its own section in some journals) detailing how your results support your main hypothesis and what this means for the field as a whole.
Persuasive language is used for many reasons, for example, to help to sell products or services, or to convince people to accept a view or idea. Politicians often use persuasive techniques to get their audience to agree with their views on a particular topic. Persuasive language is a very powerful tool for getting what you want.
Here are some types of persuasive techniques and examples of how they can be used:
|Flattery - complimenting your audience.||A person of your intelligence deserves much better than this.|
|Opinion - a personal viewpoint often presented as if fact.||In my view, this is the best thing to have ever happened.|
|Hyperbole - exaggerated language used for effect.||It is simply out of this world – stunning!|
|Personal pronouns - ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’.||You are the key to this entire idea succeeding - we will be with you all the way. I can’t thank you enough!|
|Imperative command - instructional language.||Get on board and join us!|
|Triples - three points to support an argument.||Safer streets means comfort, reassurance and peace of mind for you, your family and your friends.|
|Emotive language - vocabulary to make the audience/reader feel a particular emotion.||There are thousands of animals at the mercy of our selfishness and disregard for kindness.|
|Statistics and figures - factual data used in a persuasive way.||80% of people agreed that this would change their community for the better.|
|Rhetorical question - a question which implies its own answer.||Who doesn’t want success?|
Thinking about what an opposing writer may say and providing a counter argument can be very powerful and will make your own point appear stronger.
William Wallace led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I in the fourteenth century. His exploits were made into the film Braveheart. In this extract from his speech for freedom, think about his overall purpose and how is he trying to convince his audience in a certain way.
I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny! You have come to fight as free men. And free men you are! What will you do without freedom? Will you fight? Yes! Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!
William uses plenty of personal pronouns (‘I, you, our’) to make the audience feel as though he is speaking to them on an individual level. The repeated use of ‘free’ emphasises the overall topic of his speech, and the benefit to the people listening. He repeatedly uses rhetorical questions, one after the other to impact on the audience - they feel that they must fight to protect their freedom. The closing sentence is highly emotive; he uses the word ‘freedom’ to leave the overall message with his audience to consider for themselves.