Presenting the Scientific Process Orally or in Writing

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  • 0:01 Communicating Science
  • 1:27 Written Reports
  • 3:09 Oral Presentations
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Part of being a good scientist involves sharing your work with others. Two of the most common ways this is done is through written works and oral presentations, both of which require a certain amount of care and skill.

Communicating Science

One of the most challenging tasks of performing good science is sharing your scientific work with others. It's not so much that we don't want to share our information; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Scientists like sharing their research because it can inspire others to ask new questions and perform new experiments, or it may give us the chance to get feedback about our work from others so that we can improve our own future experiments. No, it's not that we don't like communicating our work; it's more that sharing our work takes a certain, well, panache, you could say.

Written Reports

One way that scientists share their work is through writing. Some may write journal articles, others may write books, and others still may prepare government reports. No matter what you're writing, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure that your work is credible, understandable, and reflects well on you.

Transparency is a key factor in good scientific writing. What I mean by this is that your writing is honest and clear; you have communicated all of the information that someone would need to fully understand your experiment. This may sound like a no-brainer, but, believe it or not, sometimes people will omit critical information about their study in their written report. Perhaps they made an error that they didn't want to tell anyone about, or maybe they just thought that the information wasn't necessary. But by not sharing this information you're not being totally honest. And, fortunately, one of the best parts about science is that it is imperfect. Everyone makes mistakes or sometimes gets results they didn't expect. And by sharing this information you can help others learn from those mistakes and avoid them in the future.

It's also important to find a balance in your writing between all the technical jargon and just good old plain English. Science has its own language, and even each field has terms that will sound foreign to others. How do you decide when you can be more technical and when you should use simpler language? It all depends on your audience. If you're writing an article for a journal that only astrophysicists will read, you can probably be more technical and not have to explain each term in detail. But if you're talking to the general public, you'll want to use language that they'll be more familiar with, or at least take some time to explain what the heck it is you're talking about.

Organization is another critical factor in good written communication. There's a general order to written works that mimics the scientific process itself. You start with an introduction, which briefs the reader on what you're doing and why. You then move onto the methods, which outlines the steps you took during the experiment. This is followed by the results, which is where you communicate to others what you actually found, and finally the discussion or conclusion section, which is where you wrap everything up and try to explain why you got the results that you did. This is also a good place to state any problems that may have occurred during the experiment and how that may have affected your results, future studies that should continue this type of work, and what you plan to do with all this cool new information!

A picture really is worth a thousand words, especially in scientific writing. The visuals you present alongside your written words will sometimes be the most memorable parts of your report. But keep in mind that it's easy to manipulate graphs and charts to emphasize a certain result or conclusion, so make sure that you're showing what's true and not just what you want to be true.

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