Duke University Scientific Writing Resource
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Disclaimer

1. My revisions are just one possiblity.

I've included many examples, along with possible revisions. These examples are real text I found in published manuscripts. I include them as examples because they illustrate a teaching point. Because I deliberately select sentences for illustration, the original meaning is sometimes unclear. My revisions, therefore, can only represent one possible interpretation of what the authors intended. If my interpretations are incorrect, this emphasizes the ineffectivity of the writing. Without consulting the authors, it is impossible to know what they intended to communicate. My revisions, therefore, serve only to clarify one potential meaning.

2. I intend no disrespect to the authors of the examples.

All of the examples are from real published papers. Including real examples carries some danger of offending an author of an example. I know it is easy to become attached to your writing. I intend no insult to the authors nor their writing; indeed, some examples come from my own manuscripts. I think it's safe to say that all scientists have, at some point, written something that could be used as an instructive example. The examples I've chosen contain style so common in scientific writing, I hope nobody feels targeted if I critique their writing here. If you are offended that I've used a piece of your writing, please let me know and I will remove it immediately.

3. If you want additional context, you can find it.

After some debate about citation, I decided not to cite the sources for the examples. This is for two reasons: first, the examples are typically referenced in a negative light, since I use them to show what not to do; and second, I use the words not for the science, but to illustrate common writing style, and so I do not feel the need to attribute the authors. For the sake of illustration, I've tried to do my best to choose examples for their instructive value, even if it means discarding context. In so doing, I've possibly taken text out of context, or provided solutions that fail in the original context. If you want context for the example, it is easy enough to find the original context by simply searching for the text on Google.

4. These principles are just a summary.

These principles come from several books and articles on science writing. You should consider this a summary. I've presented the things I think are most relevant in science writing, and these principles will go a long way toward improving your writing, but there's clearly more to learn. If you want to learn more, please consult the additional resources. The best resources are the books by Williams and Gopen.


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