Writing in Science: Practical Tips Academic Writing Science Communication
Practical Tips: Punctuation



article use

British vs American


compare to/with


dates & numbers

dangling participle

eponymic terms


-ic vs –ical



like vs such as



faulty parallelism

passive voice


sentence structure


spell check
split infinitives


that vs which

unusual plurals


word confusion


link to ppt


It’s a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.

Eats, shoots and leaves.

*Use commas when not using one makes it difficult to understand the meaning of the sentence.


In the first case, the data showed …

She is a tall, red-haired girl.

Serial comma / Oxford / Harvard comma:
The flag is red, white, and blue.
My favourite sandwiches are chicken, bacon, and ham and cheese.

*can be omitted in short sentences
Underestimate the Oxford Comma at Your Peril

Splice comma
A comma splice occurs when only a comma separates clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence. To correct a comma splice, you can insert a semicolon or period, or connect the clauses clearly with a word such as ‘and’ or ‘because’, or restructure the sentence.
For more detailed information see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma_splice

Semicolons, and not commas, join sentences instead of conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘but’. Using a semicolon implies a close relationship between the information in the two sentences. If the second clause is related but not explanatory, use a semicolon.

The uppermost formation, first identified by Smith, is sandstone; the next lower, identified by Jones, is shale.

A colon joins two independent clauses if the second clause interprets or amplifies the first. It indicates a stronger pause than wither a semicolon or a comma. It clearly directs the reader to the material following it.

Smith could not speak: he was drunk.


  • Use a colon to introduce the list items only if list is preceeded by a complete sentence.
  • Use a semicolon between list items when the material is complex.

His ethnographic studies concentrated on three groups: Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese; French, Germans, and Austrians; and Inuit, Mexicans, and Peruvians.

There is a difference between American and British style.

  1. American: commas and periods are almost always placed inside closing quotation marks AND in nested quotations, “” is for the main quote, while ‘’ is for the nested quotation
  2. British style is often called logical punctuation!

“Carefree,” in general, means “free from care or anxiety.” (American)
“Carefree”, in general, means “free from care or anxiety”. (British)

For more detailed information see:


Academic Writing. A guide to punctuation in academic writing. [Internet accessed 16.05.2011] Australian National University. Available from: https://academicskills.anu.edu.au/resources/handouts/guide-punctuation-academic-writing      

Alley M. Writing Exercises for Engineers and Scientists. [Internet accessed 13.05.2011] The Craft of Scientific Writing. College of Engineering, Penn State, USA. © 1996. Available from: http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/exercises/

Boyle T., Sullivan K.D. The Gremlins of Grammar. MeGraw-Hill, USA © 2006

Brennie B.  Common Errors in Student Writing.  [Internet accessed 01.08.2010] Westminster College, Pennsylvania. Available from: http://www.westminster.edu/staff/brennie/writerro.htm

Clark B. Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb. [Internet accessed 01.08.2010] Copyblogger.  Available from:  http://www.copyblogger.com/5-common-mistakes-that-make-you-look-dumb/

Clements W. Underestimate the Oxford comma at your peril.  [Internet accessed 16.07.2011]The Globe and Mail. Available from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/warren-clements/underestimate-the-oxford-comma-at-your-peril/article2098680/

Cook C.K. Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. Houghton-Mifflin USA © 1985

Council of Science Editors. Scientific Style and Format the CSE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers. 7th Edition. Rockefeller University Press, USA. © 2006.

Day R. How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper. 5th Ed. Cambridge University Press. © 1998

Franks K.L. and Boyce Hill V. Grammar and Punctuation in Scientific Writing [Internet accessed 13.05.2011] Radiological Society of North America, Illinois USA. © 2011. Available from: http://radiology.rsna.org/content/218/1/8.full

Hopkins W.G.  Guidelines on Style for Scientific Writing. [Internet accessed 13.05.2011] University of Otago, New Zealand © 1999. Available from: http://www.sportsci.org/jour/9901/wghstyle.html#punctuation

Joan the English Chick. Punctuation. [Internet accessed 13.05.2011] Technical Writer. USA. © 1998. Available from: http://www.englishchick.com/grammar/grpunc.htm

Kahn J. Common Mistakes of English Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation. [Internet accessed 13.10.2011] Illinois State University. Available from: http://my.ilstu.edu/~jhkahn/writing.html    

Lunsford A.A.  20 Most Common Errors.  [Internet accessed 01.08.2010] Easy Writer. 3rd Ed. Stanford University. Available from: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/easywriter3e/20errors/

McMurrey D. Power Tools for Technical Communication . [Internet accessed 16.05.2011] Thomson Learning/Heinle Publishers. Austin Community College. Brooklyn College.

Olson R. Don’t Be Such a Scientist. Island Press, USA © 2000

Oxford Dictionaries. Better Writing. [Internet accessed 16.05.2011] Oxford University Press. UK © 2011. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/page/234

Strunk W., White E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th Ed. Allyn & Bacon, USA © 2000

Suematsu D. List Punctuation. [Internet accessed 16.05.2011] Blog: Pain in the English.com Available from: http://painintheenglish.com/case/122

Tischler, Marc E. (compiler). SCIENTIFIC WRITING BOOKLET. [Internet accessed 05.05.2011] Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, University of Arizona. Available from: http://www.biochem.arizona.edu/marc/Sci-Writing.pdf

Truss L. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Gotham Books. New York, USA © 2003

Wikipedia. Comma splice. Quotations. [Internet accessed 19.05.2011] Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma_splice    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_mark

Writer’s Block. The Web Resource for Communication Professionals. [Internet accessed 16.05.2011] NIVA Ottawa, Canada. Available from: http://www.writersblock.ca/tips/monthtip/tipjan97.htm

Writing in the Sciences. [Internet accessed 05.05.2011] The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ©1998-2010. Available from: http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/sciences.html

Questions? Suggestions? contact: elinor.bartle<at>uib.no