Exercises on Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage
in Scientific Writing
The reasons to learn grammar, punctuation, and usage extend beyond wanting to avoid errors that could sink a job application email or hurt one’s chances at a promotion. As Figure 1 shows, grammar, punctuation, and usage are integral parts of a foundation supporting the style of scientific writing. For instance, this knowledge base is needed to emphasize the most important details in sentences and to connect your ideas in paragraphs. Another reason to acquire this knowledge base is that doing so puts you in position to provide valuable advice on the papers, reports, and proposals of your colleagues. When reviewing the technical aspects of a document, most engineers and scientists provide comments that are specific and concrete. However, when commenting on the writing of these documents, many engineers and scientists provide only superficial comments such as "the writing does not flow." You can do much better, and the web pages here will help you do so.
If you were never formally taught grammar, you are not alone. Around 1970, a flawed educational movement persuaded many schools in English-speaking countries to stop teaching grammar [1-3]. The reasoning behind the movement was that the subject of grammar caused some students, especially weaker students, to develop an aversion to writing. To keep those students interested in writing, the movement recommended that schools stop teaching grammar to all students. A result has been that engineers and scientists were cheated out of knowledge that is a foundation for important strategies in scientific writing.
If you learned grammar at one time, but have forgotten it, you are also not alone. Many students were taught grammar at an early age, but never revisited the subject until they began writing as professionals years later. By that time, these professionals had forgotten the vocabulary--terms such as dependent clause and infinitive phrase--and were at a loss to understand writing strategies based on those terms.
This website addresses these two groups of engineers and scientists with tutorials to teach, or reteach, the essence of grammar, punctuation, and usage in scientific writing . What distinguishes these tutorials is that they interweave the teaching of grammar, punctuation, and usage with teaching valuable strategies for scientific writing.
Figure 1. Visual model showing how grammar, punctuation, and usage serve as core knowedge for a scientific writer.
Essential Grammar Terms to Know [5-6]
Subject (of Sentence)
Valuable Terms to Know
Serious Grammar Errors to Avoid
Other Grammar Errors to Avoid
Unclear Pronoun Reference
Punctuation Especially Important in Scientific Writing
Comma after an introductory phrase or clause
Parenthetical commas between a subject and verb
Colon to introduce a complex list
Punctuation to incorporate an equation
Em-dash to serve as substitute for parentheses
Essential Word Pairs in Scientific Writing
Important Word Pairs in Scientific Writing
Common Usage Errors in Scientific Writing
Verb tense errors
Misused words such as simplistic
Incorrect expressions such as center around
Writing as when you mean "because"
- Peg Tyre, "The Writing Revolution," The Atlantic Monthly (October 2012), pp. 99-100.
- Catherine Walker, "Time to Stop Avoiding Grammar Rules," The Guardian (September 2012).
- Tessa Schlesinger, "Why Grammar Matters," Owlcation (7 September 2017).
- Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Writing, 4th ed. (New York: Springer, 2018).
- Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray, The Writer's Harbrace Handbook, 5th ed. (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2012).
- William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting, 11th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010).