I am a PhD student works in the theoretical computer science. I am facing a difficulty while I have to write my work in a good manner. I try to write but when other students, collegues read my drafts they are not able to understand the idea I want to convey. I have written one or two research paper in my previous years. I try to look at the research papers which I am referring for help, it gives me some help but not that much. The problem I am facing is not able to write the things in a simple way, some time mix the things. To me it appears that writing is much more challenging than solving a research problem.

Question : How to write your research in a simple way? Simple just means other people can understand my work and the idea behind it at least.

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    It sounds like "I know Java, but how do I build a large systems in Java so it easy to understand and maintain"? There are whole BOOKS dedicated to academic writing, some address clarity of writing in considerable length. You can't just follow some quick advice; building up your writing style is a serious work. Feb 2, 2019 at 7:48
  • Start by looking for books on writing - one that is useful is “writing technical reports” not sure of exact title or author... but there are many, get one, read it and work on improving.
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 2, 2019 at 8:28
  • Check out books on academic writing, book a course or workshop on academic writing at your uni, share drafts early and often, practice. Feb 2, 2019 at 8:39
  • Take a look at my answer in MathOverflow about how to make a paper concise, but not condensed and dry. It's quite opposite to your question, since you only want to make your writing understandable, while that question pushes the idea of conciseness too far. Anyhow, maybe you will find it interesting.
    – Ooker
    Feb 2, 2019 at 9:54
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    To me it appears that writing is much more challenging than solving a research problem. — Yup.
    – JeffE
    Feb 2, 2019 at 10:41

2 Answers 2

  1. Use a hierarchical structure that is clearly shown to the reader. https://www.amazon.com/Pyramid-Principle-Logic-Writing-Thinking/dp/0273710516 Make a bulleted outline of each section of work before writing.

  2. Be honest and direct. https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/media-arts-and-sciences/mas-111-introduction-to-doing-research-in-media-arts-and-sciences-spring-2011/readings/MITMAS_111S11_read_ses5.pdf

  3. Look at the "directions to authors" for each journal you submit to and follow them rigorously, like a checklist.

  4. Write frequently and get frequent feedback and incorporate it. Look for those who are good writers to review your work.

P.s. I disagree with the advice to write in your native tongue and then have a translation made. You will not learn well that way. Stick to your flawed English but get better as you use it. If anything being weaker in English will force you to a simpler sentence structure (fine). Issues with clarity are very likely not the language problem but poor structure or poor logic. "Clear writing is clear thinking."

  • +1 for the reference to Barbara Minto's book. It developed out of a course for English-as-second-language consultants at McKinsey when she realised that native speakers of English could not write clearly either.
    – JeremyC
    Feb 2, 2019 at 22:49

Since you are writing in a second language you may need a different work-flow. But first an anecdote. It is an oddity of history that one of the main languages from which English evolved is German (French is the other). But scientific German has a very unique structure that didn't get obviously retained as English arose. So, even though the languages are similar in many respects it is still difficult for an English speaker to understand scientific German while having a grasp of conversational German.

It may be the case that something similar is going on with you. It may be that your first language is influencing how you write your second (probably English) and that difference in expressive mode and thought process makes it difficult for native speakers of the second language to get your meaning. It just seems awkward to them, though it is natural to you.

I recognize that this may not be the case at all, but if it is, I suggest that you write, first, in your native language directly and then have it auto-translated into the desired, second, language. You are now half done. Since auto translation is imperfect, you will need to tweak the output to refine it. But hopefully, the translator will modify the structure enough into what a native speaker would expect, making it more comprehensible. The vocabulary might be a bit weird, of course, but you can correct that.

You could also pay a human translator to translate your native writings into the second language. But if this is necessary, I'd suggest two things. It is unlikely that the human translator is also an expert in your field, so you will need to guide the person. This shouldn't be too hard if you can work directly together, since you speak a common language. But working together is also important for you in the long run as you will learn from the translator how to "think different" about the second language so that you won't need the same services for future work. Thus, the translator will also be guiding you.

Maybe auto translation would be the place to start, as it would likely be less expensive. If that is enough then you are done. If not, think about the other. It would depend, of course, on the relative quality of the translation, either by machine or human.

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