Essay writing in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

All academic writing requires the author to make a central argument or claim about something and support that with a combination of evidence and reasoning.

As a Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical Sciences student, you will engage in a form of academic writing known as scientific writing. You will make claims about some aspect of scientific knowledge and support those claims with evidence found in the literature on your topic, often in the form of data and findings from experiments, and other forms of scientific research.

Scientific writing differs from academic writing in other disciplines in two ways:

  • First, scientific writing tends to follow a unique structure. After the introduction, the body is divided into a standard set of sub-sections – methods; results and discussion – followed by a conclusion.
  • Second, the conclusion tends to be shorter – roughly 5% of total word count.

image illustrating parts of an essay: introduction about 10%, body about 85%, conclusion about 5%

As you read the extracts below, notice the use of cautious language. Academics are generally careful not to make claims that could easily be proved wrong, and use qualifiers, modal verbs and "hedging" expressions ("some", "may", "possibly") to do this.

Organising your ideas

Before you start writing your essay, you need to plan how you are going to present and support your claim(s). Your ideas need to be presented in a logical sequence that is easy for your reader to follow. You may be able to use headings and subheadings to identify this sequence for your reader.

Activity

Signposting

Signposting is a writing technique used to indicate the direction and flow of your argument to your reader. When used correctly, signposts create cohesion within your writing. There are a number of ways that you can link your ideas.

Transition markers such as 'on the other hand' are used to organise your argument and to emphasise particular points - e.g. cause (because, since, etc.), effect ( as a result, therefore, etc.) contrast ( however, on the other hand, etc.), concession ( although, etc.) and example ( for instance, etc.) Use them strategically and carefully.

Repeat key words from sentence to sentence, and from paragraph to paragraph, e.g.: "Consideration has had to be given to new and different means of assisting staff to acclimatise to foreign conditions. The means typically used have been..."

Use demonstrative pronouns to refer to a keyword or expression already mentioned, e.g.: "this report", " these experiments".

Writing an introduction

Your introduction should give an overview of your central claim and how you plan to support it. It should:

Click the icons next to each paragraph to show the lecturer’s comments. Click again to hide the comment.

Legend:

Good Problem Suggestion Question

Show/hide lecturer's comment 1 Show/hide lecturer's comment 2 Cancer is still seen by many as an incurable disease that slowly takes over healthy human tissue, and ultimately causes death. Lecturer's comment 1:
The first thing to do in a typical introduction is to introduce the topic, and provide a little relevant background information to orient the reader. The first statement here identifies the broad topic as "cancer", with a brief description of what it is.
Through advances in medical science, different physical procedures have been developed to treat cancer – for example, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Lecturer's comment 2:
The second stage of a typical introduction limits the scope of the discussion. The next 4 sentences focus on the history of the treatment of cancer, and specifically the role of the mind in controlling the disease.
In recent years however, there has been a growing perception by cancer specialists and patients that the onset and treatment of cancer may be affected by psychological factors. A new field of research called psycho-oncology has emerged to investigate how the mind can slow down, or even reverse, the progress of cancer. The results from such studies however, have not always been conclusive, and in the case of retrospective studies, have often proved contradictory. Show/hide lecturer's comment 3 While it is important that medical science properly investigate the merit of mind-cancer theories, the benefits of alternative therapies and viewpoints should not be overlooked in the debate over cancer research. Lecturer's comment 3:
This next stage points out the importance or relevance of the topic. This often involves identifying the problem. We don't yet know, however, exactly how the writer is going to tackle the subject.
Show/hide lecturer's comment 4 The essay briefly surveys the origins of mind-cancer research and the emergence of the field of psycho-oncology, before addressing contemporary research in the area, in particular, the problem of validating results. It concludes by examining the merits of alternative therapies with regard to patient psychology. Lecturer's comment 4:
In the final stage of the introduction, the writer gives a brief outline of the structure of the essay, and what the writer intends to achieve. Note, however, that this plan avoids using 'I' statements ("In this essay I will ..."); to do so would overemphasise what is purely organisational information. Instead it does the same thing in a less personal way: "This essay ... surveys .... It concludes by examining ...". In general, "I" is rarely used in scientific writing, where the "facts of research" are required to speak for themselves.

Activity

Structuring your paragraphs

Just like your essay and your introduction, each paragraph in the body has its own internal structure.

image presenting the structure of a paragraph that has a topic sentence at the top and a concluding sentence at the bottom. Supporting sentences are enclosed in the middle.

Click the icons next to each paragraph to show the lecturer’s comments. Click again to hide the comment.

Legend:

Good Problem Suggestion Question

Show/hide lecturer's comment 1 Show/hide lecturer's comment 2 Show/hide lecturer's comment 3 Before examining the origins of mind-cancer research, the physiology of cancer will briefly be discussed. Lecturer's comment 1:
Notice how the topic sentence in this paragraph maintains the overall theme, the physiology of cancer, while at the same time moving the overall discussion forward.

“Cancer” is a general term used to describe a physiological disorder in which cells in the body begin to reproduce as abnormal cells, forming a mass called a tumour. Lecturer's comment 2:
Here the writer is further explaining their point, by providing a definition for cancer.
There are different types of cancers and tumours, and the body utilises the immune system to destroy the cancerous cells. If the tumour is malignant, the immune system stops the cancer cells from moving to other areas of the body. The immune system halts the spread of the cancer cells by the use of cytotoxic T-cells, also known as "natural killer" (NK) cells (Clark, 2008). Lecturer's comment 3:
The middle of your paragraph is made up of supporting sentences which explain and provide evidence to support your point.
Show/hide lecturer's comment 4 Show/hide lecturer's comment 5 These cells attack the cancerous cells and destroy them. Lecturer's comment 4:
Notice how the writer has used an information-prominent citation as their evidence. This means that the information is more important than the researcher. This is a typical practice in the early stages of an essay. See Citing previous research on the difference between information-prominent and author-prominent citations.

This is why much cancer research over the years has concentrated on the immune system because in effect, this system provides the body's own natural cancer treatment. Lecturer's comment 5:
Here the writer is concluding their paragraph and linking the information about the immune system to the next paragraph, where they discuss recent research on their problem.

Tip

Vary your reporting verbs (i.e. statesclaimssuggests, maintainsdemonstrates), but make sure the appropriate verb is used. 'Say' and 'tell' are not used when reporting written sources.

Activity

The following paragraph is out of order. Rearrange the sentences so that it is appropriately structured.
Tip: look for signposting to help identify the order of the supporting sentences.
Note: This activity is easier to complete in full screen mode.

Writing a conclusion

Your conclusion should remind your reader of your overall contention and demonstrate how the points you have raised in the body of your essay support your claim. This is done by summarising your claim with reference to the key points you raised in the body paragraphs. You can then identify the implications of your research or future directions this research could explore.

Click the icons next to each paragraph to show the lecturer’s comments. Click again to hide the comment.

Legend:

Good Problem Suggestion Question

Show/hide lecturer's comment 1 The extent to which the mind can affect cancer still remains unresolved. Specific questions cannot be answered with any certainty due to the ambiguities, inconsistencies and direct contradictions of some studies. Lecturer's comment 1:
This conclusion does what is recommended for concluding an essay: it firstly sums up the argument with appropriate reference to the main points discussed, and then attempts to indicate further implications or future directions.
Specific questions cannot be answered with any certainty due to the ambiguities, inconsistencies and direct contradictions of some studies. Nevertheless, an examination of the literature that discusses these issues reveals broad findings that are worth emphasising. Show/hide lecturer's comment 2 Show/hide lecturer's comment 3 First, stress can negatively affect the immune system. Second, although the evidence is ambiguous, stress can also affect the onset and progression of cancer. Lecturer's comment 2:
You can use signposting within your conclusion to guide your reader to the key points made by your essay. This will also help you keep your summary brief.
Finally, an individual's psychological profile can affect the progression of cancer in the body. Such findings should not be ignored, but rather used to the patient's advantage. With the advent of newer medical technology, more research and greater knowledge about how the mind works, the answers to questions in the field of psycho-oncology will hopefully be revealed. Lecturer's comment 3:
The final statement is rather glib – that is, it looks good, but doesn't say very much. This weakens the overall impact. It might be better to offer a more cautious, reasoned statement at the end: With the advent of better medical technology and continuing research, answers to some of the questions in the field of mind-cancer research may become clarified. In the meantime, the professional desire for verifiable results should always be balanced against the patient's well-being.

Remember

The conclusion should never introduce new information.

Academic language for pharmacy

While sharing some characteristics with other forms of academic language, the language used in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science has its own conventions. Click on each point below for more detail.



Activity

References

Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., Smith, E. E., Bem, D. J., & Nolen-Hoeksema S. (1996). Hilgard's introduction to psychology. (12th ed.). USA: Harcourt Brace and Company.

Barraclough, J., Pinder, P., Cruddas, M., Osmond, C., Taylor I., & Perry M. (1992). Life events and breast cancer prognosis. British Medical Journal, 304, 1078-1081.

Bartrop, R. W., Luckhurst, E., Lazarus. L., Kiloh, L. G., & Penny, R. (1977). Depressed lymphocyte function after bereavement. The Lancet, 309(8016), 834-836.

Clark, W. R. (2008). In defense of self: How the immune system really works. Oxford Scholarship Online. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336634.001.0001

Edelman, S. & Kidman, A. D. (1997). Mind and cancer: Is there a relationship? - A review of evidence. Australian Psychologist, 32, 79-851.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Book.

Goodkin, K., Antoni, M. H., & Blaney, P. H. (1986). Stress and hopelessness in the promotion of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia to invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 30, 67-76.

Greer, S., Morris, T., & Pettingale, K. W. (1979). Psychological response to breast cancer: Effect on outcome. The Lancet, 314(8146), 785-787.

Home, R. (1996). Cancer proof your body. Adelaide: Griffin Paperbacks.

Kune, G. A., & Bannerman, S. (1992). The psyche and cancer: The first Slezak Cancer Symposium. Parkville, Victoria: University of Melbourne.

Ljungman, C., Kahan, T., Schiöler, L., Hjerpe, P., Hasselström, J., Wettermark, B., Boström, K. B., & Manhem, K. (2014). Gender differences in antihypertensive drug treatment: Results from a Swedish Primary Care Cardiovascular Database (SPCCD). Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, 8(12), 882-890.

Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Implications for educators. New York: Basic Book, 3-31.

McGee, R. (1999). Does stress cause cancer? There's no good evidence of a relation between stressful events and cancer. British Medical Journal, 319, 1015-1019.

Ramirez, A.J., Craig, T.K.J., Watson, J.P., Fentiman, I.S., North, W.R.S., & Reubens, R.D. (1989). Stress and relapse of breast cancer. British Medical Journal, 298, 291-293.

Sarafino, E.P. (1990). Health psychology: Biosocial interactions (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Sdorow, L.M. (1995). Psychology (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark.

Sklar, L.S., & H. Anisman. (1979). Stress and coping factors influence tumour growth. Science, 205 (4405), 513-515.

Ward, D. (1996). One in 10 - Women living with breast cancer. Sydney: Allen and Unwin Pty Ltd.