Expressing personal opinion in a scientific way
You may well be wondering how you are able to express your own views and reactions if you have to write in a more complex but objective fashion. There are several factors to bear in mind.
1. Is your opinion required?
Lecturers are happy to hear your individual opinions in an assignment, but only in some circumstances. Analyse the question very carefully. Then decide whether or not your own opinion is being requested. If so, are you being asked for an individual viewpoint or a more general and balanced set of opinions?
Secondly all opinions, including your own, have to be based on evidence, and preferably from several sources. The evidence has to be put forward within a context. You will need to make it clear how exactly you arrived at your conclusion, and what line of reasoning you followed. For instance, what calculations or methodologies did you employ and why? You will be expected to give examples and if possible, counter examples.
3. Caution when expressing opinions
(This section is heavily based on the work of Mewburn, 2013)
In most circumstances, your opinion needs to be presented in a way that is academic, cautious and preferably, humble. You should not express your views as though they were a certainty. That is where cautiously-worded expressions like the following can be useful:
'It could be argued that....'
'As the previous evidence suggests....'
'The bulk of the evidence gives weight to the view that...'
You can bolster your views by reinforcing the views of previous writers.
'Experts, such as Linklater (2011) make it seem likely that...'
'Cooper (2012) makes a convincing case that...'
Or, if you are not completely convinved:
'Cooper (2012) asserts that understanding learning outcomes is a key factor in improving grades'
The following example is rather more questioning.
'Cooper (2012) claims that there have been latitudinal range changes for some plant species, but provides little evidence to support her assertion.'
4. Develop your own range of phrases that you can use to express opinions
'The research suggests that...'
'This evidence make sit more probable that...'
'A number of respected researchers (Taylor, 2001; Sumpter, 2008; Cooper, 2012) have concluded that ..... It is difficult to disagree with them.'
'The evidence seems to suggest that... However, there are powerful views on the side of the argument , for instance El Safti (2002)'
5. How to improve your ability to express the viewpoints in a formal scientific style
Read scientific papers and note the way that authors express themselves. Even international experts tend to voice their opinions in a measured, careful way, backing up each major statement or step in the chain with appropriate evidence. You can learn so much by reading the words of experts and analysing how they express themselves.
6. And lastly...
Please do reflect on the feedback you get from your tutors. They really want to help you improve! Note any comments they make about style. Think about creating a table of: 'Style areas where I can do better'.
So, learn from tutor's comments and incorporate that learning into your next assignment.
Mewburn, I. (2013) How to create 'authoritative voice' in your writing [online]. Available from: http://thesiswhisperer.com/2013/07/03/how-to-create-authoritative-voice-in-your-writing/ [Accessed 15 February 2015]. [Blog by Dr. Inger Mewburn, Director of Research Studies at The Australian National University].
Open University. (2013) Writing in your own words [online]. Available from: http://www2.open.ac.uk/students/skillsforstudy/writing-in-your-own-words.php [Accessed 15 February 2015]. [The document contains some helpful tips on how to use your own words and specific quotes from authors without risking plagarism].
This Guide was compiled by Helen Cooper and Michael Shoolbread, Academic Skills Centre, Library Services, University of Birmingham