Scientific Essays for Tutorials

Medical and Life Sciences students will, more likely than not, write essays for their tutorials. For incoming students, there may be some nervousness about writing scientific essays but, with practice and patience, you will learn how to express your ideas with clarity and write with precision. This guide is a starting point for those wanting to learn more about how to write essays for science subjects. If you want to learn more about what a tutorial is, click here.

Courses:

Learn more about which courses are available at Christ Church here.

Libraries:

Alongside the Christ Church library, there are several places you can visit to find resources:

Biology LibGuide: https://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/biology

Finding books for Biology: https://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/c.php?g=422953&p=2888432

Radcliffe Science Library: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/libraries/rsl

Medical Sciences resources: https://www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/divisional-services/support-services-1/bodleian-libraries

 

According to Dr Peter Judge, here are some tips on how to write scientific essays:

Planning and Reading:

  • First, make sure you understand the title of the essay. Define key terms in the title and unpack what you are being asked to do.
  • Start with your readings as soon as possible. Readings will be given to you by your tutor, although there is flexibility to explore outside the reading list. It is usually a good idea to start with textbooks that will give you an overview of the topic and then reading specialised books, articles and research papers.
  • When making notes for reading, remember that the purpose of this reading isn’t to have a list of facts that you will copy into an essay! It is to grasp key principles and then to illustrate them with evidence. To learn more about writing concise notes, click here. You can also learn more about planning and structuring an essay.
  • Generally speaking, here are some questions to ask yourself when you are planning an essay:
    • Which key words do I need to define in my introduction?
    • What is my paragraph structure?
    • What level of detail am I going to need in each section?
    • Which diagrams am I going to draw and how will I link them with my argument?
    • What experimental evidence am I going to include?
    • What am I going to say in my conclusion?

Writing about experimental evidence:

  • It is important to make yourself familiar with how experimental methods work, the limitation of certain techniques and how the data that are generated from these experimental methods are processed and analysed.
  • You will learn more details about experimental methods as you progress through your degree. However, as first year students, you should aim to include 2-3 major experiments in each essay.
  • It is crucial to focus on the data that has been produced and the interpretation of the data, rather than giving a detailed description of the method.
  • There is certainly room in an essay to give context about how a particular field has changed over time, but it is important to be balanced, so that you don’t write a history essay instead! A good rule of thumb is to ask whether the information you are including is directly related to the essay title.

Writing style:

  • The best scientific writing is clear and concise. Try your best to avoid complicated sentence structures or words that are difficult to understand. You want your writing to be logical, simple and direct.
  • Never use a metaphor, simile or figure of speech, such as ‘Chlorophyll is the molecule of life’. You may be used to hearing this type of language in documentaries or reading it in popular science books. For your essays, however, it is best to avoid it.
  • Always opt for a shorter word instead of a longer word, such as ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’ or ‘before’ instead of ‘prior to’.
  • Remember that you should always opt for a word with a narrow scientific definition, rather than a word used more commonly, such as ‘aqueous’ instead of ‘watery’ or ‘hydrolysis’ instead of ‘breakdown’.
  • If you can cut out a word, cut it out! You want your sentences to be as direct as possible and, although you should clearly present complex concepts, you shouldn’t try to simplify them.
  • Draw annotated diagrams to make your point.

Presenting your essay:

  • Use subheadings to organise your essay into sections- this will make it easier for the reader to follow your argument.
  • Tutorial essays need to include diagrams. They are time-saving ways to illustrate the point you are trying to make and are particularly helpful when presenting experimental data. When drawing your diagrams, remember:
    • Make sure your diagrams are large
    • Draw them in pencil
    • Title your diagram
    • Label it correctly
    • Make reference to the diagram in your essay e.g. ‘Figure 1 shows…’

Acknowledgements: