Scientific Writing Style Guides Explained

by Elizabeth Oommen George
Scientific writing style guides explained

Researchers spend a great amount of time conducting research, carrying out lab work or field study, engaging in discussions with experts in their field and figuring out scientific writing styles. While it is important for researchers to continually gather new insights, gain diverse perspectives, and add to their knowledge, it is also crucial for them to understand how to showcase their thesis or research into well-structured articles based on scientific writing style guides. This is a key aspect of academic writing that most PhD students and early career researchers tend to struggle with when preparing and writing a paper for submission. This article intends to provide an overview of some of the common scientific writing style guides and manuals used in the academic and research field.

Different types of writing formats

There are different types of writing formats used in academia and each journal, periodical and publication has their own requirements and scientific writing styles, which are updated periodically. This allows editors to ensure the content accepted for publication is aligned and consistent with the language and exposition distinctive to their specific journal or publication. Non-compliance with instructions to authors, in terms of technical, formatting and other requirements, is one of the most common reasons for rejection.1 This makes it essential for authors to know, understand and follow the specific scientific writing style and format laid down by the target journal or risk rejection.

Journals usually mention specific writing styles, formats, and other important guidelines on their website under the ‘guidelines to authors’ or ‘instructions to authors’ sections. Students, research scholars, or authors are then responsible for understanding and following the different types of writing formats prescribed.

5 Common scientific writing style guides

While there are some different types of writing formats or scientific writing styles that are generic in nature there are suggested standards that relate to certain precise subject areas. Features and characteristics that denote specific language, way of presentation, notations or citations make up some of the commonly used writing formats or style guides. Here are some of the most common academic style guides.

  1. Chicago Manual of Style (CMS): One of the most common scientific writing style guides in the fields of humanities and social sciences, including studies in literature, art, and history. Published by University of Chicago Press, it includes best practices in the usage of American English and grammar, citations and references among other guidelines for authors producing both fiction and non-fiction.
  2. American Medical Association (AMA): This style guide is printed by the Oxford University Press and includes different forms of scientific writing for authors in the fields of medicine, health, and other life sciences.
  3. American Psychological Association (APA): This stylebook offers guidelines on abbreviations, citations, formatting and more and is mainly used by those in the social sciences, such as politics, education, sociology and psychology.
  4. Modern Language Association (MLA): This handbook provides guidelines for authors in arts, literature and humanities, and is updated every three to five years. Artists, theatre students, English majors and those in cultural studies must be familiar with this style.
  5. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Written by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), this scientific writing style presents detailed instructions for authors involved in medicine.

Typical differences between scientific writing style guides

Each style guide has its specific rules and instructions; here are some ways these scientific writing style guides typically differ from each other.

  • Formatting: Different style guides have specific rules (italicizing or underlining titles or putting them within quotation marks) on how to describe titles of items like articles, academic journals, books, and movies.
  • Citations: Some scientific writing style guides have stringent rules for formatting citations and references (including in-text citations and bibliography); it is critical for authors to follow these rules when mentioning sources in academic papers.
  • Numbers: Most style guides vary in how they treat numbers in writing. For example, authors need to be aware of whether they should spell out numbers or use numerals.
  • Acronyms: Authors need to know and follow set guidelines on how to abbreviate things like organization or state names or even technical terms. When unsure, refer to your target journal’s guidelines to understand how to abbreviate words accurately.
  • Capitalization: Remember to check your recommended style guideline for their rules on capitalization (sentence case or title case), especially for titles and headings.
  • Punctuation: Different publications have different rules for punctuation (including hyphens, commas, em dashes, percentage, etc.), so be sure to check the recommended style guides when writing your paper.

It is highly recommended that PhD students and researchers adhere to the correct scientific writing style or format when writing a manuscript for submission. Thorough editing and proofreading can further improve the quality and fluency of the language used as well as ensure consistency in style and formatting. We hope this article on the different types of writing formats and scientific writing style guides helps simplify and streamline your manuscript writing process.


  1. Khadilkar SS. Rejection Blues: Why Do Research Papers Get Rejected? Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of India, August 2018. doi: 10.1007/s13224-018-1153-1

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