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How to communicate like a scientist

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

Disciplinary literacy in Science

Disciplinary literacy in Science means how to communicate like a scientist. I think of disciplinary literacy in Science like a burette, a measuring container for liquids.

Literacy in Science is:

· precise

· quantifiable

· measurable

· technical.

Literacy in Science helps someone do the work of a scientist, which is to find ‘empirical ways of answering interesting and important questions about the biological, physical and technological world’ (ACARA).

We can explore the disciplinary literacies of Science, and it’s plural – literacies – for a reason.

Literacies of Science

Science has multimodal literacies, which means that scientists communicate using:

· written language

· spoken language

· numbers and formulae

· data displays

· diagrams

· models, and more.

All of these are part of disciplinary literacies of Science. They all make scientific meaning in different ways, contributing to the important work of scientists.

Today, we will cover one of disciplinary literacies of Science which is:

What kind of genres do scientists need?

As we covered in a previous post, genres are purposes for writing in subject area. Genres have patterns of meaning that can be explicitly taught to our students, so that they can communicate like a subject expert. Not all the subjects use all of the genres, so the choice of genres in a subject area form part of the disciplinary literacies of that subject.

What are the Top 3 Genres of Science?

The main genres of science are:

1. scientific reports (an inquiry genre)

2. explanations

3. descriptions

There are many other kinds of genres that Science students in school are asked to do, but the three above are the main ones.

1. Scientific report

A scientific report is an inquiry genre (Derewianka and Jones 2016). An inquiry genre comprises several smaller genres, such as a method (procedure) and description of results.

2. Explanations

Explanations are very important in Science. There are many types of explanations, looking at causes, consequences, sequences and systems. Some examples are:

· Explain the effects of global warming

· Explain the water cycle

· Explain body systems

3. Descriptions

Descriptions are also essential in Science, as scientists need to describe, classify and report on the biological, physical and technological world. Some examples are:

· Describe the properties of metals

· Classify types of mammals

· Describe models and theories.

Each of these genres has different stages, different phases and uses different patterns of language features. These are what teachers need to teach explicitly to students, to help them all write like scientists.

There are many fantastic resources exploring genres of writing like a scientist – see the list below for recommended ones. I will post more articles about literacy in Science soon, so subscribe to be updated for all new information.

Follow up

· In a Science faculty meeting, look at your assessment program for a year level and identify the genres that you are asking students to do. Discuss where students tend to struggle the most. Focus on this area for next term. Collaborate with your peers to write some model texts (examples) related to the topic and assessment tasks that are coming up. See the post on scaffolding writing for more info.

· Within the faculty, divide teachers up between the three most important genres (scientific report, explanations, descriptions). Colleagues can investigate the resources below and report back to the group at the next faculty meeting, sharing some relevant literacy teaching strategies they have found.

References and readings

ACARA (2021). Science curriculum. Rationale. Available at:

Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching Language in Context. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford.

Humphrey, S., & Rutherford Vale, E. (2020). Investigating model texts for learning. Newtown: PETAA.

Weekes, T. (2007-2021). Literacy Works for Science.

To cite this post, please reference:

Weekes, T. (2021, October 10). How to communicate like a scientist. Available from:


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