Skip to Main Content

Scientific Writing

A guide to writing papers in a scientific manner, and how to present scientific material.

Commonly confused words

Affect vs. Effect

Effect is a noun meaning “result.” 

Many drugs have side effects.

All ready vs. already

All ready means “completely prepared.” 
I was all ready to begin running the
experiment. .

Already means “previously” or “before.” 
I already cleaned the beakers.

A lot

Often we see the incorrect version, “alot.” The correct usage is “a lot.” 

We received a lot of feedback about the proposal.

Between vs. Among

Use among when three or more parties are involved. 

Make the decision among yourselves.

Between is usually used with two parties. 

Between Jenny and I. we can cover the shifts.  

However, between may be correctly used to describe more than two entities. 

Bring vs. Take

Use Bring (verb) used when something is being moved toward you. 

Please bring your famous cheese dip.

Use Take [verb] when something is being moved away from you. 

Please take home your famous cheese dip.

Conscience vs. Conscious

Conscience is a noun referring to “moral principles.” 

His conscience nagged him to admit he falsified information on the application. 

Conscious is an adjective meaning “aware” or “awake.” 

Did you lose consciousness? 

Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Emigrate means to “leave one country or region to live in another.” 

My ancestors emigrated from Sweden.

Immigrate means “to enter another country and live there.” 

Many people immigrate to the United States.

Everyday vs. Every Day

Everyday is an indefinite pronoun. 

Wear your everyday shoes.

Use every day when referring to individual days. 

Every day, we mop the lab floor. 

Farther vs. Further

Farther usually describes distance. 

The Smith's farm is farther from town than our farm. 

Further usually suggests a quantity or degree. 

Our team went further on the project development than other teams. 

Fewer vs. Less

Fewer refers to items that can be counted.

Fewer people want to work in agriculture. 

Less refers to general amounts. 

People should eat less if they want to lose weight. 

Good vs. Well

Good is an adjective. 

No one felt good about the exam results. 

Well is an adverb.

She did well on the assignment. 

Imply vs. Infer

Imply means “to suggest or state indirectly.” 

She implied she had inside information about the winners. 

Infer means “to draw a conclusion.” 

He inferred that she wasn't doing her job correctly. 

Its vs. It’s

Its shows possession. This is a detraction from all the other possessives with apostrophes. 

The group changes its mind. 

It’s is a contraction of it is. 

Tommy thinks it's likely the article will be accepted to JAMA. 

Lead vs. Led

Lead is a noun referring to a metal. 

Paint used to have lead in it. 

Led is the past tense of the verb lead. 

Jean led the way to the decontamination area. 

Leave vs. Let

Leave means “to exit.” 

My in-laws will leave ne

Let means "to allow". 

Please let me help with the dissection. 

Lay vs. Lie

Lay is a verb meaning “to put or place.” Forms of the word include lays, laid, or laying. 

She laid the plate on the table. 

Lie is a verb meaning “to recline or rest on a surface. Forms include lies, lay, lain, or lying. 

He laid down to take a nap. 

Loose vs. Lose

Loose is an adjective meaning “not securely fastened.” 

The seal on the centrifuge is loose. 

Lose is a verb. It means to misplace something, or to not win. 

The team will lose their grant when the PI retires. 

OK, O.K., Okay

All three spellings are acceptable. Avoid the use of this word in formal writing. 

Passed vs. Past

Passed is the past tense of the verb pass. 

He passed the truck on the right. 

Past means “belonging to a former time” or “beyond a time or place.” 

In the past, adults used bicycles for regular transportation. 

Principal vs. Principle

Principal is a noun meaning “the head of a school or organization” or “a sum of money.” It is also an adjective meaning “most important.” 

Dr. Larson is our principal investigator. 

Principle is a noun meaning “a basic truth or law.”

He refused to enact the decision on principle. 

Raise vs. Rise

Raise is a verb meaning “to move or cause to move upward.” It takes a direct object. 

She raises a good point. 

Rise is a verb meaning, "to go up". 

The sun will rise in the east. 

Set vs. Sit

Set is a verb meaning “to put” or “to place.” 

They set down the specimen. 

Sit is a verb meaning “to be seated.” Students like to sit in comfortable chairs. 

Shall vs. Will

The word shall is usually used in polite questions and in legalistic sentences suggesting duty or obligation. 

Shall I bring anything to the potluck? 

For other situations, use will.

Than vs. Then

Than is a conjunction used in comparisons. 

He has more grants than I do. 

Then is an adverb denoting time. 

He finished studying, then he ate dinner. 

That vs. Which

The word which is typically used to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. 

Non-restrictive clauses mean the sentence has the same meaning without the "which" part. 

The table, which we bought last year, needs painted

Since the "which" clause is set off with commas, the sentence makes sense without it. 

Use that to introduce only restrictive clauses.

Restrictive clauses limit the meaning we can derive from the sentence. 

The table that we bought last year needs painted

This limits us to thinking about the table we bought last year. 

There, They’re, Their

There implies direction. 

We are going there tomorrow. 

They’re is the contraction of they are. 

They're driving there tomorrow.

Their is possessive. 

They’re going to drive their car there tomorrow.

Toward vs. Towards

Toward and towards are usually interchangeable.

However, toward is the preferred usage in American English.

Wait For vs. Wait On

Wait for means “to be in readiness for” or “await.” 

We are waiting for the experiment to end. 

Wait on means “to serve.”

My assistant won't wait on me anymore after the grilled cheese and pickle sandwich incident. 

Were, We’re, Where

Were is the second-person past-tense of the verb be. 

We were planning to apply for the grant, but the deadline passed. 

We’re is the contraction of we are. 

We’re leaving on a jet plane. 

Where refers to location

Where are you eating lunch? 

Weather vs. Whether

The noun weather refers to the state of the atmosphere. 

The weather is changing; it looks like snow. 

Whether is a conjunction referring to a choice between alternatives. 

We wondered whether Joe or Nora would receive the assistantship. 

Who, Which, That

Use who, not which, to refer to persons. 

We wondered how long the president, who had been in office for many years, would serve in his role. 

That, which typically refers to things, may also refer to a group or class of people. 

The group that finishes first won't have to be on call this weekend. 

Who vs. Whom

Who is used when speaking of subjects and subject complements. 

Sharon, who already won the award, will chair the committee. 

Whom is used for objects. 

There are 8 people on the committee, whom you will manage. 

Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s is a contraction of who is. 

Who's ready for the semester to start? 

Whose is a possessive pronoun. 

Whose tablet was left in the library? 

Would of vs. Would Have

Would of is considered nonstandard. Instead, use would have.

 Jenny would have made the exam, if she hadn't had a patient. 

Your vs. You’re

Your is a possessive pronoun. Is that your new car?

You're is a contraction meaning "you are". You're buying a new car.