Good Writing: Methods, Do's and Don'ts

There is a clear indication that badly written articles correlate with a high rejection rate.
On equal scientific merit, a badly written article will have less chance of being accepted.
R. Coates, B. Sturgeon, J. Bohannan, and E. Pasini, Cardiovascular Research, February 2002

A number of studies have indicated that a badly written manuscript with poor use of English, even with good science, has less chance of being accepted and published.

Developing Effective Tables and Figures

Good pedagogy and style

  • Use strong verbs (replace “we made use of categorization” by “we categorized”). Always give the example first, and the result next.
  • Use as few parenthesis, footnotes and bold characters as you can.
  • Use a spell checker. Just do it.
  • Learn about significant digits. Attach:LemireRant.pdf Δ
  • Use a tool such as style-check.rb to spot verbose phrases and other common mistakes. See
  • Learn about and use unbreakable spaces.
  • Do not use negations…
  • Avoid UA (useless acronyms).
  • DUAT: Do not use acronyms in titles.
  • Your writing will be in an active voice…
  • Employ uncomplicated terms.
  • Learn to use the em-dash—it is a good friend.
  • Short sentences—no more than 15 words—are better.
  • Make your research papers easy to skim by using meaningful section headers, bullet points and simple figures. Attach:LemireMeaningful.pdf Δ

Words you can do without

  • Temporal words such as “now”, “next” are either useless or a sign of a bad structure. Avoid the future tense (the word “will” in English) to refer to something coming up in the document. Most adverbs such as “very” are useless in a research paper.
  • Keep your emotions in check: the reader may not care for your surprise, pleasure and sadness. Prefer unfortunately to alas.
  • Avoid the expression “so called”. It might not mean what you think it means.

Example 1

Attach:Mistakes1.png Δ

  • The sentence in the center is way too long. Parsing it is a pain. Recommendation: Split it up into several sentences.
  • The word calculate sounds awful.
  • Never use $min$ as this reads as (:latex:)$m\cdot i \cdot n$(:latexend:) but use $\min$ instead which becomes (:latex:)$\min$(:latexend:).
  • Do not use bullet points in any paper!
  • Use aligned equations such that the equal signs are all aligned.
  • Make sure that the last line (:latex:)$D(n-1,m)\ldots$(:latexend:) is aligned with the (:latex:)$D(n-1,m)\ldots$(:latexend:) above.

Example 2

Attach:Mistakes2.png Δ

  • You do not "apply Gaussian conditioning" (makes no sense) but you condition on variable X.
  • This way of writing a Gaussian is meaningless. The Vectors and Matrices should be written as a such.
  • The comma should be removed.