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Rhetoric of Science Writing

Scientific writing is a rhetorical act. This means that when writing about our research, we never merely report the outcome of our investigation, but we write about our research always with the intent to persuade the reader in some way. Thus, scientific writing is never merely presentation of the results, facts or even our interpretation of them, but our task as writers is to convince the reader that our approach/theory/model/etc. is worth reading, believing, and quoting. Thus, when writing about our science, we are not only “telling” our story, but also “selling” our story.

“Selling”, in this context, is not to be taken as a pejorative term, i.e. it does not signal that the product to be sold is low in quality. Quite the contrary – in the context of scientific writing, the “product” we are “selling” should always be a result of rigorous and ethical investigation and worthy of publication for the scientific contribution it makes. By making use of the apparatus of rhetoric when writing about it, we make sure that this valuable contribution to the field will be published (eventually, because there will be rejections!), and that it will be understood the way it was meant by the author(s).

Even though there may be vast differences in the in the way this sort of telling is done in different fields (because of differences in topics, methods, disciplinary conventions, etc.), there are fewer differences in the very manner that the story is “sold”. As such, we can talk about a common rhetoric of science, meaning that at some level – putting the disciplinary and topic related differences aside – the scientific article as a genre has a common underlying rhetorical structure. This underlying structure is captured by rhetorical analysis.