Recommend: The Science of Scientific Writing

By | January 7, 2014

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:

  1. Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its verb.
  2. Place in the stress position the “new information” you want the reader to emphasize.
  3. Place the person or thing whose “story” a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.
  4. Place appropriate “old information” (material already stated in the discourse) in the topic position for linkage backward and contextualization forward.
  5. Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb.
  6. In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new.
  7. In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with the relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure.

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