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Accuracy: Get the facts straight and convey them without distortion.

Clarity: Your style should facilitate understanding of your meaning, not interfere.

Brevity: Don't waste your reader's time and patience with wasted words. However, if brevity interferes with clarity, give preference to a clear statement of meaning.

Elegance: Make your prose easy to read, interesting, and pleasant to the ear. Avoid lifeless verbs, clichéd expressions, and monotonous rhythms in paragraphs.

These four hallmarks of good scientific writing may provide a useful target for your work as you complete this authoring module.

What makes ordinary writing good writing?

  1. Good writing comes from good thinking.
  2. Improving your thinking on a subject will improve your writing about it
  3. Conversely, the process of writing usually helps writers to improve their thinking (at least about the subject of their prose)
  1. Good writing is the product of good re-writing.
  2. What matters most about the first draft is that it gets written.
  3. Your writing will be judged by the quality of the final draft.

What happens in between (i.e., self-editing) is what we will be discussing in this module.

  1. Good writing comes from understanding your work from the reader's perspective. A good writer chooses words that are apt and places them in a structure (using word order, grammar and punctuation) that conveys meaning clearly to reader.

What does this tell us about the scientific reader?

Challenge of reading complex prose:

  • Reading a complicated sentence requires mental energy to first, discern the structure, and second, decipher the meaning.

Challenges of reading poorly written prose:

  • If readers waste too much energy interpreting the structure of a sentence, they may fail to capture the meaning.
  • If readers are misled by faulty sentence structure, the meaning may be impenetrable.

--Adapted from comments of Judith Swan, who teaches scientific writing at Princeton University.