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Six Writing Tips

The following tips offer a simple and practical approach to scientific writing which reflects my years of experience editing the writing of academic physicians and basic scientists. These tips are built around the most frequent "offenders" in scientific writing as I know it. I avoid grammatical rules as much as possible and instead present grammatical concepts in terms which are more universally accessible to scientific writers.

Six Tips for Writing Good Sentences

  1. Create sentences that use carefully chosen subjects and vigorous verbs to express your central meaning. (Usually, the subject is the primary agent, and the verb expresses the action of this agent.)
  2. Omit needless words and empty phrases.
  3. Use definite, specific, and concrete language, avoiding overuse of abstractions and technical jargon (including abbreviations).
  4. Use the active voice and active constructions as much as possible.
  5. Keep related words together. Subjects should be close to their verbs, and modifiers close to the words they modify.
  6. Express coordinated ideas in a similar form. Parallels in substance are reinforced by parallels in structure.

About examples used throughout this module: I provide for your learning pleasure some authentic examples of sentences written by previous participants in my writing courses and workshops. They are not "bad," but rather "unperfected" sentences. They are typical of a first draft, and clamor for revision as we take them to the second draft phase. In so doing, we will simulate the revision process we all use to improve our writing as it evolves. I thank my previous students for their willingness to donate their work for our edification!

To get the most benefit from this module, attempt your own revision of the "unperfected" examples before you study my revision. By clicking on the link below, you can access an MSWord file that contains the original version of all examples of sentences and paragraphs used in this module. If you keep this file open as you work through the module, and attempt you own revisions of each example before you look at my revision, your learning will be greatly enhanced. (You could copy and paste a selected sentence or paragraph into your own MS Word file.)

Writing examples for module

About my revisions: Although I suggest revisions, I never claim to have discovered the one single right way to revise any sentence. In some cases, my revisions go beyond what the author literally says, in an effort to make the sentence work better. As an editor, I always mark these "creative edits" so the author may verify the true meaning. Please don't get too bogged down in "literal meaning" as we rework the sample sentences--our purpose here is practice, not the pursuit of truth. Of course in your own writing, accuracy should be the highest priority.