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Help with Technical Writing
Nancy Heckman

Good writing is a joy to read. No one likes to read something that isn't clear. Thesis supervisors don't like it, grant reviewers don't like it, referees of journal articles don't like it.

Writing something well is hard work, involving many revisions and a lot of thought. But the more you edit your writing, the better you will be at writing it well with fewer revisions.

English technical writing has a very specific style. It is direct. Sentences are often short, to allow the reader time to process information before moving on the the next sentence. The resources below may help you improve your writing. You should also solicit advice from faculty and colleagues. Someone else's comments on your written work are very helpful.

An article on scientific writing
by Gopen and Swan, originally published in American Scientist, in pdf file

A writing checklist
I made this checklist, based on my experience with my own students. Additions, comments welcome. It's in draft form.

Scientific journal styles
Scientific journals have guidelines for style for papers submitted for publication. While some of the guidelines are particular to the journal, many are common to all good technical writing. For instance, type-setting guidelines do not vary too much from journal to journal. As an example, fractions in the text should appear as, e.g., 1/4, not as \frac{1}{4}.

Some journal guidelines are structural. For instance, guidelines state how long the abstract should be, how section numbering should be done.

To find the guidelines for a particular journal, look at the front or back page of an issue of the journal, usually under Instructions to Authors. Some journals have guidelines posted on the web. See the links below.

  • list of stat and probability journals that are on line
  • ASA Style Guide - a good general set of guidelines
  • Useful links

  • UBC Library resource page on technical writing in math.
  • UBC Library resource page on technical writing in science.
  • Nice info from Waterloo
  • Information on passive voice: Typically, scientific writers avoid passive voice, since it's indirect and wordy.
  • Here is a site with many nice links, not just for writing: Carnegie Mellon advice

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