Scientific writing: An exercise in the aid of creative writing

As a student of science for five years, I had to write a lot of scientific reports. Most people who have to write them believe them to be the bane of their existence, thirty pages that drown your soul in a suffering hell of jargon and statistics. I took another approach. I used these reports to better my writing, playing with different styles and thinking outside the box to reach conclusions. Here follows several ways scientific writing can aid and hinder your creative writing.

The ways scientific writing can aid creative writing:

Cut unnecessary words
It wasn’t long ago that there was a general consensus among the scientific community that the more words the better in scientific journals. That has changed and now an emphasis is placed on making the article as short as possible. These people have other things to do besides read rambling papers after all. I was taught this same approach in university and it has changed my writing forever. Adverbs? Delete! Sentences that drag on and on until you forget what the point of existence was once you finish? Delete! It creates sharp writing that is easy to read and gets to the point. You want to pack as much story as possible into your creative writing. This means cutting all those words that drag it down, that stagnate the writing. Speaking of which…

Write for the everyman
This was drilled into us from day one. You are not writing for a professor. Your report should be able to be easily understood by anyone interested in the topic. Jargon cannot always be replaced, but it can be written in a way that the meaning is still easily distinguishable. I have read journal articles that are so complicated it is like they are written in a different language. I always give up in disgust and it ends up in the fireplace. That’s not what you want. You want your scientific writing to be accessible to most readers. The same too with your creative writing. If your reader constantly has to go over a single sentence to understand it, or pick up a dictionary, they’re being pulled out of your story. You want them to get lost within the pages, not ponder over the meaning of a single word.

Structure
Scientific writing isn’t anything if it’s not structured. The framework is so tight, that sometimes your writing struggles to breathe under all that weight. However, it does teach you the importance of following certain rules to create a result. In creative writing, there are countless ways to structure your writing. Do a google search on writing structure and a billion results will pop up. The benefit of structuring your work? It creates a concise piece that doesn’t have room to wander and allows themes to shine through.

The ways scientific writing can hinder creative writing:

Tell, don’t show
Ever read a method section of a scientific report? It is the most boring thing in the world. Written in third person, it basically lists what you did to achieve the results in the study. Here follows a fascinating passage from one of my reports:

In the blood samples a mixture of proteinase K, 4µl of RNase A, 166µl of PBS (Phosphate Buffered Saline) and a quartered hole punch of the blood sample was used to lyse the DNA. The sample was then incubated for 30 minutes at room temperature. 200µl of Buffer AL was added and then was vortexed for 15 seconds and incubated for 45 minutes at 56˚C. 200µl of 95% ethanol was added to the sample and vortexed for 15 seconds to precipitate the DNA and enable it to be ready to be bound in a membrane. The flow-through liquid was then discarded. Using the DNeasy Mini spin column, the sample was centrifuged at 6000x8000rpm for one minute after 500µl of Buffer AW1 was added. 500µl of Buffer AW2 was then added to the sample and centrifuged at 20,000×14,000rpm for three minutes to dry the DNeasy membrane. The collection tube was then emptied and the sample centrifuged for another minute at 20,000×14,000rpm to remove any residual ethanol. 100µl of Buffer AE was pipetted directly onto the DNeasy membrane and then incubated at room temperature for one minute. It was then centrifuged for one minute at 6000x8000rpm to elute the DNA. The sample was labelled with the tissue type and group initials.

Did you actually read that? If you did, I’m impressed. I didn’t even proofread the method section after finishing writing that particular piece. It was just too boring. You do this in your creative writing and people will be reaching for the Bunsen burner to set your book on fire. Use your senses. Use people’s movements to convey emotion in your story. You can tell me that they’re upset, but hiding their face in their hands after hearing a piece of upsetting news portrays that emotion without having to tell anything. The reader will be able to guess what they’re feeling from actions and words. Never underestimate the reader.

Start your paragraph with a statement, then provide evidence to support said statement
Similar to the above point, this is a way of telling and then showing. In scientific writing this is useful as evidence is needed to back up a point in order to reach conclusions. Creative writing does not need to reach conclusions. You allow your readers to reach their own conclusions.
For example:
Jenny was upset. Her face tightened and she hid it from the others as tears started to slide down her cheeks.
First there is the statement, and then the evidence to back it up. This isn’t needed. You don’t need to tell the reader that Jenny is upset when the evidence shows clearly her emotions. Cut out the first sentence and allow your readers to figure out for themselves what the paragraph is trying to say. Don’t draw conclusions for your readers. Make them do a little work themselves.

Do not write anything that cannot be backed up by reputable sources
The cardinal sin of scientific writing. A statement cannot be made unless it is backed up by other scientific journals, government organisations or experts. Everything you write must be researched thoroughly and if you can’t find a reputable source, then you don’t use the knowledge. I had one lecturer who named and shamed anyone who used Wikipedia as a source. It is the complete opposite for creative writing. Granted, research can be beneficial depending on what you’re writing about, however it’s not the be all and end all if you can’t find what you need to complete the image. Have a military base in your story but for some reason you’re not allowed in to map the area? Make it up. Can’t find what year the wheel was created? I don’t think anyone can dispute you if you make it up. Creative writing is exactly that: creative. Your world isn’t this world and you can do whatever you want with it.
Note: This is dependent on how realistic your work is. If you’ve written a crazy fantasy, it’s okay to say a team of super intelligent emperor penguins invented the car. Historical drama? Not so much. Do a quick google search.

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4 thoughts on “Scientific writing: An exercise in the aid of creative writing

  1. I actually made it up to 6000-8000 rpms. I had to stop. I almost wanted to smack my head against my desk it was so boring. lol Other than that, this post was really insightful. I know my big pet peeve with my clients is don’t tell me what’s happening, use dialogue to show that person’s emotion. It took me a while to learn that, but it is key to creating a novel. I was wondering where you disappeared to? Were you doing the same live life hiatus for a few days like me? lol Have a good day!

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    • I did my best to make it as boring as possible. Thanks, I just got to thinking about the similarities between the two types of writing and it came to me. It’s true, a book gets very boring after a while if it’s all tell, but I don’t think it’s too bad if it’s used sparingly. Yeah, I got dragged into real life for a few days, which was nice. Had my cousin’s single launch, various parties and hangings out with family and friends. I actually got triple booked Saturday night. That’s never happened before! So I was too busy to get any writing done unfortunately. But I’m back! Will do, you too 🙂

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  2. Scientific writing uses the passive voice a lot, which was one of my irks with writing journal articles. I’ve had the active voice drilled into me from my creative writing. Now I think writing passively in my science classes screwed up my creative side a bit!

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    • That’s very true. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail with my passive voice because of scientific writing. Forgot all about it! I still have to look at examples of active voice to follow because passive was drilled into me.
      Thanks for the addition 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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