Have you ever received a diminished grade on a paper or project because of an issue you believed was not central to the assignment? Of course, we all have. And most of the time, those errors are grammatical in nature. They are so common, in fact, that some teachers actually overlook them. This often happens at the higher grade levels, when students really should know better. But if these teachers and professors were to take the red pen to every comma splice, fragment, and run-on sentence, their kids would be up in arms.
Thankfully, there are some instructors that refuse to compromise on this issue. Considered hard graders by their students, they deduct points for spelling and grammatical errors
. These teachers may never be the most popular on campus or at school, but they are doing their students a great service by insisting on professionalism. This goes double in the scientific community, where many students still believe the old canard about grammar not being important.
When asked to write about a laboratory experiment that explores a scientific concept, grammar is usually the last things on students' minds. They seldom think about proper punctuation, split infinitives, or even about misspellings, since the spell-check is supposed to handle that...right? Well, no...not really.
You see, scientific words and terms are rarely included in standard dictionaries, which makes spell-check more or less useless when used on a lab report
. You really must peruse every term yourself to make certain that it is spelled correctly before you hand in your report. A teacher you regard as a hard grader or a stickler will almost certainly tear your paper to shreds if it is rife with spelling errors. But are they right to do so?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Science is a branch of knowledge that depends upon facts, which require accuracy and professionalism at all times. No, you don't have to be James Joyce to pen a proper lab report, but you must respect the rules of grammar. Your reports should look and read like professionally published report, no matter what level you are at. With that in mind, let us take a moment to discuss a few simple tips that can help you improve your lab report writing
Tip 1: Use the scientific style
Save the purple prose for your creative writing class! Flowery, poetic language is strongly discouraged when composing lab reports. Instead, use clear, succinct sentences that both the layperson and the expert can understand. Yes, this type of writing can be a bid dry and tends to read like stereo instructions, since it often describes certain processes and procedures. But as long as it is simple and to the point, it'll get the job done.
When it comes to word choice, science writing relies on lingo or jargon that scientists readily understand. To the layperson, this specialized vocabulary can be confusing, but of course they are not the target audience. In other words, you should always use proper scientific terminology when applicable, but should opt for simple, everyday words whenever possible. However, that does not mean that the tone of your paper should be conversational. As it is a scholarly form of writing, the tone of scientific writing should always be formal.
Sentences should be short and easy to read. You should avoid using overly long, heavily punctuated sentences, since they can be confusing. However, you should also abstain from using too many short, abrupt sentences, since the writing will invariably lack rhythm, which will also make it harder to read. Instead, you should vary your sentence length up a bit to include short and medium-length sentences, and possibly even a few longer ones. Once again, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare, but it should flow.
Tip 2: Quotations are rarely necessary
Unlike English and history students, science students rarely include quotes from their source materials, since their experiments are designed to break new ground, not pay homage to the past. Therefore, it is rarely a good idea to use direct quotes in lab reports, unless otherwise instructed.
Tip 3: Grammar matters
As we mentioned, spell-checker will not catch all of the mistakes you make in your lab report. In fact, it may not identify most of them, especially if employ a lot of scientific terminology. We should also mention that even words that are spelling correctly can be used incorrectly, resulting in a grammatical error. For example, if you use the word "to" when you meant "too," spell-checker may not catch it. These solecisms can often only be identified through carefully reading and rereading of your report.
Other grammatical errors include poor sentence structure, punctuation, and paragraph breaks. Once again, these problems can rarely be identified by the spell-check, unless they are incredibly egregious. You will have to actually read over your work to make certain that everything looks right. The good news is that lab reports are often completed in groups or pairs, which means that you can get more than one opinion on possible errors in your paper.
A good rule of thumb is to ask others to read over your report for you. As in any type of writing, the author tends to get too close to his work, which can be a problem during the editing and proofreading stage. But a person who has some distance from the work may be able to spot errors the writer could not or did not want to see.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember about checking for grammar issues in your lab report is that spell-checker will not catch them all. The software is simply not designed to scan scientific papers that use recherche terminology. It also will not be able to identify some issues with sentence structure and all issues with paragraphs breaks. Therefore, it is imperative that you read over your report at least twice, but preferably three times, before you turn it in.