Some suggestions for writing clear scientific essays.

"How am I to not know who I think I might not be? Anyway?"


Even short essays need good organization--in fact, your essay's structure and organization is probably its most important part. Decide your major points in advance and list them in a logical order (according to age, magnitude, composition, whatever works...). If possible, use one paragraph for each of these points.

One technique that you may find useful: Before writing, decide on your illustrations--good illustrations will show your major points--then frame much of your text around them.


The point for each paragraph should be clear in the first sentence. The following sentences should fill in details and provide the evidence or background for the main point. If your paragraph happens to have more than one point, you should first re-evaluate it to decide if it needs to make more than one point--and if it does, your first sentence should give the reader a clue as to what's up. Be careful not to let your paragraph's point drift into something else. Also, go back through each paragraph and try to find bits of information that you may have repeated--make sure you only say things once.

Besides the basic grammatical stuff (make sure each sentence has a subject and a verb etc.) try to use a combination of medium length and short sentences. When sentences get too long, they become extremely hard to follow; if they're consistently very short, then the writing becomes very choppy.

When you are reviewing your first draft, find your passive verbs. Then try to rephrase the sentence so the verb is an active one.
For example: "Much seismicity in Oregon is driven by subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath North America" --Passive
----> rephrase to: "Subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath North America drives much of the seismicity in Oregon." --active


It is important to cite the references you use, within the text. Generally, when you present someone else's conclusions, you should cite them. If you are citing general knowledge (eg. Mt. St. Helens is a volcano), then don't use a citation.

Don't quote your written sources. They aren't your words. Don't use them--I won't read them.

Back to Environmental Geology and Landscape Evolution.

Back to Geology of the National Parks.

Back to Geology of Oregon and the Pacific NW.