Writing Tips

Grammar

  • The passive voice should be avoided except when necessary.
  • If you want to be respected, accomplished and influential, use the Oxford comma.
  • Be sure to hyphenate compound adjective constructions when they precede the noun they modify.

Style

  • Students in the lab on Tuesdays on the first floor should avoid serial prepositional phrases. Their sentences should read something like “First-floor lab students should avoid serial prepositional phrases on Tuesdays.”
  • Although complex sentences are loquacious and can perhaps give the illusion of sophistication, assuming, of course, that the patient hearer has the time, in reality they impede communication, and those who use them, while intelligent, are often misunderstood.
  • Some happily utter sentences that are very full of adverbs, but they could certainly say the same thing without constantly using that unfortunately fluffy part of speech.
  • We must be careful not to silo our scientific findings by using buzzwords and jargon that are not accessible to a broader audience. If we fail to do so, we stand too loose the social currency our research might otherwise have on the broader information society.
  • The Hemingway App improves drafts. Brevity!
  • Read your text out loud after you write it. If it doesn’t sound good when spoken, it doesn’t read well either.

Organization

  • Start every paper with an outline, whether text or image based. There isn’t a writer on Earth who’s so good that his or her writing can’t be improved by an outline.
  • The content of a scientific paper should be organized hierarchically, almost like a computer program.
  • Be familiar with the appropriate content for each section of a scientific paper.
  • Don’t make the reader wonder where you’re going. Don’t try to surprise the reader. Surprise endings are best in fiction writing. Most people who read the scientific literature read only the abstract, the introduction, and the conclusion. Your findings should be immediately obvious in each of these sections.
  • Start your Introduction by stating the challenge you intend to address. The starting paragraph of the Introduction should briefly describe your results.
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