George D. Gopen and Judith A. The Science of Scientific Writing. Appeared in 78 6 Nov-Dec Reading these quotes is no substitute for reading the article.

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If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs. Successful jugglers need not only keep the balls from hitting the ground but simultaneously amalgamate new and old tricks, mixing the standard material with the fancy pick-ups. When it comes to academic writing, this juggling is difficult. Depending on your writing experience or lack thereof , it might feel like tossing two balls back and forth is a laborious challenge, and a complicated routine with more sophisticated tricks may seem entirely out of the question.

In one hand, you might find the need to write for the journal editors and reviewers, and in the other hand, the need to cater to an audience with less understanding of the subject. Fortunately, with self-exploration, attention to detail, and practice practice, practice , students at any skill level can begin learning how to give an inspiring performance in academic writing. Finkel gave insight into his writing process: Every time I write anything, I first think about the target audience.

In particular, I think about what background the target audience is likely to have, and I calibrate my efforts at clarity with the background in mind. I also attend to the likely level of interest and attention span of the target audience, and I try to calibrate the technicality and length of the piece accordingly. Learn the Basics Early Writing centers are an invaluable resource for writers of all levels.

Many academic institutions have an affiliated writing center staffed with graduate and faculty writers trained to provide one-on-one tutoring and assistance in the planning, drafting, revising, and editing stages.

Sometimes, exercises in revision are extremely helpful for budding scholars. Revised: This mechanism will help us understand how cytomegaloviruses infect the brain. This is just one example from a full list of helpful tricks for making your writing more palatable to readers.

Before finishing a first draft, some writers might find these tips hard to follow. If you find yourself struggling to begin writing, try starting with an outline and add comments in areas of uncertainty. It is entirely okay to write your first draft badly if it puts words on paper. Mark it up and keep going. Only then can you start to be confident that you know how the logic and the narrative should cohere. Then start revising. Then again. Then one more time. Then get feedback from people you admire.

Then revise again and again. Then consider getting additional feedback. Then submit your piece. However, consider the circulation of the five APS journals alone. APS members from many subdisciplines of psychological science receive these journals, and the knowledge base of this population varies considerably. Academic journals with broad circulation necessitate thoughtful writing. Can you describe your empirical findings simply without overselling or underselling their importance?

Pay close attention to similar work. See if you can integrate the style of these papers into your own writing.

Look for things that you as a reader do not understand or would do differently — especially in the discussion section. Rein yourself in for journal articles and stick to the point. Indeed, little modifications can go a long way. Vary short and long sentences. When possible, choose the active voice in your results and discussion sections and omit unnecessary words. Little changes can make your writing much clearer. If readers can see that a writer cares about consistency and accuracy in her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily … Style, not least, adds beauty to the world.

Reading the advice of writer—scholars such as Pinker can enrich your professional work. For example, you may choose to borrow the useful tool of metaphor from creative academic writers.

Metaphors, though seldom used in academic work, capitalize on well-understood common experiences to facilitate understanding of complex or abstract concepts. Finding the right figurative language can enhance your ability to effectively communicate ideas to your audience. A writer must attend to both form and content.

I often try to write as if I am explaining my work to my younger brother. Writing as if you are explaining your work to audiences outside your field can give you practical experience both in communicating your work and in giving people an understanding of the importance of your findings. Finkel offers similar advice for novice writers. Efforts to be funny, clever, or engaging are secondary. Clarity is king. The science of scientific writing.

American Scientist, 78, — The Journal of Neuroscience. Techniques for clear scientific writing and editing. A sense of the mysterious: Science and the human spirit. Pinker, S. New York, NY: Penguin. Plotnik, A.

Roediger, H. Twelve tips for reviewers. Observer, 20, 41— Strunk, W. The elements of style 4th ed. New York, NY: Longman. Swales, J. Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills 2nd ed. Zinsser, W. On writing well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction.


George Gopen

When is a sentence too long? The Science of Scientific Writing American Scientist Although this information may provide some sense of comfort, it does little to answer the interpretive questions that need answering. Other readers are left in the dark. On the other hand, the amfrican material might be a mere aside that diverts attention from more important ideas; gkpen that case the writer should have deleted it, allowing the prose to drive more directly toward its significant point:. We hear a good deal about the recurrence time between earthquakes: Their structure presented information to readers in the order the readers needed and amerian it. These problems are now familiar: All readers make exactly that kind of choice in the reading of every sentence.


The Science of Scientific Writing

We prefer the new, important information on the right, since its job is to intrigue the reader. Information is interpreted more easily and more uniformly if it is placed where most readers expect to find it. These needs and expectations of readers affect the interpretation not only of tables and illustrations but also of prose itself. Readers have relatively fixed expectations about where in the structure of prose they will encounter particular items of its substance. If writers can become consciously aware of these locations, they can better control the degrees of recognition and emphasis a reader will give to the various pieces of information being presented.


American Scientist




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