Scientific writing and academic writing skills

The instruction belongs to the following themes

By selecting a degree programme you are able to see the general content as well as the possible degree programme-specific content. You do not have to select a degree programme to see the Open University's instructions.

Scientific writing is part of academic writing skills and communication skills. These skills develop gradually during your studies through writing, reading, listening, having discussions, giving and receiving feedback as well as through reflecting on your own skills. Currently scientific information may be interpreted and produced in a variety of ways, for example, in written, spoken, printed, audiovisual or digital form.

Academic writing

Academic writing is communal and conventional by nature: the forms and norms of expression vary between environments. Consequently, studying academic writing is part of learning the rules of the scientific community. These rules are learned little by little by participating in the activities of the community: by writing texts and discussing them with diverse readers and by giving and receiving feedback.

Co-authoring is also useful, since it strengthens feedback and collaboration skills.  In many academic work communities, texts are drawn up in collaboration by several specialists and scientific publications will go through a peer review process in which experts in the field read and comment on manuscripts.

Writing is also about process management. Many genres of academic writing, such as theses, are extensive works the production of which requires self-regulation and life management skills. Therefore, reflecting on your own skills is crucial for the development of writing skills. Writing is about choices and problem-solving, but you do not have to solve problems on your own: students are provided with a large variety of tools to support the development of academic writing and communication skills.

Tips for developing your writing skills

Students’ genres

What is a learning journal? What is the difference between a review and a research report or an essay?
The Kielijelppi website provides descriptions of the most common genres relevant to students (in Finnish only).

Feedback and assessment

Are you confused by feedback or frustrated about the lack of feedback? The Plotti website features an entry providing tips for better feedback experiences (in Finnish only). 

The Kielijelppi website provides information on how to finalise your text for assessment (in Finnish only).

Discipline-specific practices

Writing guidelines provided by your degree programme provide help in the practices of your discipline. You can also ask for assistance from teachers and supervisors in your degree programme. Select your degree programme and review the more detailed guidelines on academic writing by your faculty or degree programme, if available. You can also learn about practices by reading and analysing publications in your discipline. Many peer-reviewed publications also provide guidelines intended for contributors, which shed light on the writing conventions of the publication.

Seeking scientific information

Academic writing requires reviewing prior research. When seeking existing research-based knowledge, you must be versed in the techniques of scientific information retrieval and know how to critically evaluate information sources. Your research subject and discipline largely determine which sources you should utilise in your work.  

You can start your information seeking by  

  • Browsing new literature in your discipline in HELKA (limit the search to new items) or visiting the library at the shelf of the category in which you are interested 
  • Performing information searches related to your subject in library databases 
  • Picking up interesting information sources from the references in the research literature you have found 

The Instructions for Students website has collated more tips for information retrieval and management.

You can find out more about information sources in various fields in research guides compiled by specialists at Helsinki University Library.

If you wish to study scientific information retrieval independently, you may take part in the Information Seeking and Management for Thesis Writers MOOC.

Citation practices

Citing sources

Citing sources is a key part of the academic writing process. Source references are meant to express unambiguously and transparently what sources the author has used in their text. References must be made utilising the established citation practices of the field in question. Different disciplines may have their own citation practices on which you will receive guidance from your degree programme.  It is recommended that you acquaint yourself with source citation practices in the early stages of your writing process.  

You can study the use of source citations and drawing up a bibliography, for example, with material provided by the Student’s Digital Skills course or the Kielijelppi referencing guidelines (in Finnish only).

More information on the use of images in academic writing and referring to images is available in the Tips for information retrieval and management.

Reference management software

Once you have studied the citation practices in your discipline, you may start using reference management software. The software helps you to keep your references in order and draw up a bibliography in accordance with a certain style. There are many different reference management programs available, such as EndNote, Zotero and Mendeley.  

Acquaint yourself with reference management programs on the Library website

Copyright and plagiarism

Familiarise yourself with the self-study materials on the Kopiraittila website, which will provide you with information on the appropriate consideration of copyright in scientific texts (for example, the use of images and graphs and appropriate citing from the perspective of copyright).

Responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland (PDF)

The University of Helsinki also uses the plagiarism detection system Urkund to support teaching and the supervision of academic writing.

Tips for sources: Aid for scientific writing

Websites maintained by Language Center support you with scientific writing and interaction. 

Language Center provides a variety of general language links:

Kielijelppi (in Finnish)
Kielijelppi is a digital guide for writing and verbal communication, which offers help with different kinds of texts and oral presentations as well as support for communicative situations. (In Finnish) 

Plotti – kaikkea viestinnästä (In Finnish)
Plotti is a blog where you can find articles about writing and interaction especially from the point of view of an university student. Plotti is a good tool for writers and editors. (In Finnish)

Other sources

Kielitoimiston sanakirja ja Kielitoimiston ohjepankki 
Institute for the Languages of Finland is usually the most reliable online source concerning matters with language. (Mostly available in Finnish)

Responsible Research 
Website of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity TENK contains information about the ethics of science and science communication. 

Avoimen yliopiston tieteellisen kirjoittamisen ohjeita (In Finnish)