The Elements of Style
An engineering program prepares you to solve real-world problems. By the time you finish your major you will have strong analytical and programming skills which will lead you to a bright future. However, things are a little different if you pursue in an academia. You need to improve your writing skills to get your work published. No matter how many projects you have worked on, the number of your publication will be the quantity that your future boss will care. This quantity will later be the number of citations you had but let’s worry about this later.
Obviously, publishing does not require only a good quality of work but also good writing skills. Reporting your work in a scientific style writing is hard for someone who is trained as an engineer unless you have a special interest in writing. It is even more frustrating for foreigners like me since the issues you need worry about multiplies! You need to be scientifically, grammatically and um… well… politically correct. No doubt that writing practices and reading journal papers in your field will tremendously improve your writing. But it is good to know some common logics and mistakes.
Recently, I came up with a very useful book: “The Element of Style” by William Shrunk and E.B. White. It does not teach you how to write scientific papers but good style writing. Here I list some of the things that I find very useful.
The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive.
- Put statements in positive form!
Use the word not
as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as means of evasion. Save the auxiliaries would
for situations involving uncertainty.
- Compare: To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances between objects regarded as essentially of a different order; to compare with is mainly to point out differences between objects regarded as essentially of the same order.
- Consider: Not followed by as when it means “believe to be”: I consider him competent. When considered means “examined” or “discussed”, it is followed by as: The lecturer considered Eisenhower first as soldier and second as administrator.
- Currently: In the sense of now with a verb in the present tense, currently is usually redundant; emphasis is better achieved through a more precise reference to time.
We are currently reviewing your application.
We are at this moment reviewing your application.
- Secondly, thirdly, etc. : Unless you are prepared to begin with firstly and defend it, do not prettify numbers with -ly. Modern usage prefers second, third and so on.
- Thank you in advance: This sounds as if the writer meant, “It will not be worth my while to write to you again.” In making you request, write “Will you please”, or “I shall be obliged.”
- That. Which. : That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.
The lawn mover that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one.)
The lawn mover, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)
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