Scientific Language

Reasoning is an activity that requires putting together thoughts that combine evidence-based knowledge and logical arguments. Any thought is dependent on language; in other words, you need words and grammar to conceive and communicate what you are thinking and/or doing. Whatever language is used in the classroom conveys a view of the natures of science. The following examples of scientific language (for teachers and students) convey an accepted modern view of the nature of scientific knowledge and of the scientific reasoning. Check out the links at the top of the left frame on this web page.

The language used by scientists to communicate their work reflects the nature of science. Scientific language used by scientists includes:

  • appeals to evidence. E.g., "Based upon the evidence gathered in this investigation, ...."
  • expressions about the validity and reliability of the evidence. E.g., "The design called for the control of ....", "A new technology allowed for ....", "This procedure ....", "The skill of the technician was such that we were able to ....",
  • appeals to prominent scientists. E.g., "Ian Stirling found in his research that ...."
  • appeals to accepted literature. E.g., "A research study reported in Science indicated that ....", "Peer reviewed research in Nature suggests that ...."
  • expressions of (un)certainty. E.g., "This was an initial study ....", "The sample size was small but ....",
  • appeals to the nature of science. E.g.,"Although science requires us to be open-minded about this counter-claim, ....", "This is only a correlational study and not a cause and effect study so ....".
  • appeals to logical reasoning. E.g., "If ..., then ....", "If ... and ...., then ....", "Logical consistency requires that ...."

These characteristics are typically found in scientific research papers and ideally in science educational materials such as science textbooks. Popular science magazines and newspaper articles about science often take liberties with scientific language by translating it into more common everyday language. This translation often removes important aspects about the nature of science, or worse, misrepresents the nature of science. Two common problems with popular science articles are a lack of expression of appropriate uncertainty (tending to more absolute statements) and a confusion between  evidence and interpretation.

Evidence is the ultimate authority in science even though all evidence is uncertain to some degree. Expressions such as “facts”, “exactly”, “absolutely” or “we proved …” are not appropriate in the context of a scientific investigation. Evidence can support or fail to support a prediction and/or hypothesis, but cannot “prove” either. “Proof” is considered too absolute and does not connote the uncertainty accompanying all scientific evidence and knowledge.

Some Examples of the Use of Scientific Language

 

Expressing the Authority

Expressing the Degree of Certainty

Based on the concept of …

The certainty is three significant digits.

According to the law of …

Based upon the limited evidence gathered, …

Using the theory of …

Without full control of all variables …

Based on the evidence obtained in this investigation …

The experiment needs to be replicated by another group but …

In our judgment, …

Careful control of all known variables suggest …

Out interpretation of the evidence is that …

Accepting that all knowledge is uncertain, …

If this concept is valid, then …

The accuracy as a percent difference is …

This accepted concept leads us to believe that …

Having a high degree of confidence in the evidence, it is appropriate to …

Logical and consistent reasoning suggest that …

In this correlational (not cause and effect) study …

 

The document above can be downloaded as a Word file below. An alternative presentation with several more examples is available in the PowerPoint file below. Also see Scientific Language Exercises (top left) to practice the identification of scientific language in research reports. Then try to use this language in your writing and identify it when you are reading or listening to research reports.