George Gopen and Judith Swan. The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist. 1990, 78: 550-558.
Our examples of scientific writing have ranged from the merely cloudy to the virtually opaque; yet all of them could be made significantly more comprehensible by observing the following structural principles:
- Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its verb.
- Place in the stress position the “new information” you want the reader to emphasize.
- Place the person or thing whose “story” a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.
- Place appropriate “old information” (material already stated in the discourse) in the topic position for linkage backward and contextualization forward.
- Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb.
- In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new.
- In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with the relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure.