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Advanced Writing

Making Connections: Logical Flow in Scientific Writing


Dr. Avriel Licciardi, Associate Editor

October 2020

Achieving logical flow in scientific writing—and expressing your science clearly—is analogous to showing the reader a clear path through your ideas, experiments, and observations related to your study, as well as guiding the reader toward the destination: your final conclusions. This clearly defined path should communicate how you went from one point to the next, so that your final conclusions are justified.

What is logical flow?

Logical flow in academic writing involves the use of transitions or connections between concepts, topic and link sentences, and paragraphs, to increase readability and make a document easy for a reader to navigate and understand. Content must have a natural connection from one part of a sentence to the next part, from sentence to sentence, and from paragraph to paragraph.

Why is logical flow important in scientific writing?

Logical flow is essential for developing and sustaining a compelling argument (or story) in your manuscript. Readers expect a logical progression of concepts as they read a manuscript; thus, the readability of a scientific paper increases considerably if the progression of ideas is presented in an organized manner.

See below for an example from a background paragraph of a scientific abstract:

Breast cancer is highly invasive. The YYY gene is a tumor suppressor gene. Our previous study found that the expression of E-cadherin in a human ovarian cancer cell line with high expression of YYY gene was up-regulated, and the migration and invasion ability of the cells were reduced. In a study on epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), Snail family members were found to be involved, and the expression of the transcription factor Snail family members was regulated by the transcription factor ZZZ.

On the one hand, if you are a cancer cell biology researcher, it is likely easy for you to identify the connections between the elements mentioned in this paragraph (i.e., invasion, tumor suppressor YYY, E-cadherin, and EMT). On the other hand, if you do not have prior knowledge of the connections between EMT, E-cadherin, and tumor invasion, this paragraph offers no insight into why these elements are discussed together, and thus the importance and clarity of the science remains unclear.

Below is a rewrite of this paragraph:

Breast cancer can be highly invasive. A previous study demonstrated that human ovarian cancer cells with high expression of YYY, a tumor suppressor, have reduced migration and invasion ability. These cells also show up-regulated E-cadherin expression, suggesting reduced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Snail family members are known to be involved in the EMT of cancer cells, and the expression of Snail proteins is regulated by the transcription factor ZZZ.

In this revised paragraph, the first sentence is about invasiveness, the second sentence connects invasiveness with the tumor suppressor YYY, the next sentence ties YYY to E-cadherin and EMT, and then the next sentence connects EMT to Snails proteins and ZZZ. With this revision, all elements of this paragraph are tightly bound together, and the logical connection between the elements is clearly presented to the reader.

Logical flow of a paper is not just about writing; it is about how you, as the author, understand the internal logic of your study. By presenting this logic step by step, as we have shown in our example, your reader will never get lost.

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