I have very little formal training, but I believe I have some ideas to share. I have surveyed the terrain of ideas I need and have the complete picture in some haphazard form in my head. It is seeming quite impossible for me to write anything that looks good, complete and coherent. In attempting to do this I have read my previous draft and it seems hopeless... I am not sure what I can do, at this point. I'm not in a hurry, I can spend a month on the text to get the technique right. More specifically:

  • Is there a text that trains you on how to write a mathematical physics paper?
  • Is it possible to acquire such skills informally?
  • 6
    A month is not a long time. Some papers must evolve over one or more years. To learn to write, you must read. Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 19:26
  • It's true, I have been reading a few works for a little over 4 months now and I have found some relevant material I think I can put together. I have some idea of how I want things to fit, its just . . . .
    – user11187
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 19:30
  • 5
    @DavidKetcheson "To learn to write, you must read" and write drafts. send them to your supervisor. put them aside for a week or two. read them again. update them.
    – seteropere
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 19:32
  • One of the ways I have found to try and refine my writing style is to find papers in my field that were written in a particularly clear manner then try to incorporate particularly unambiguous and unobfusticated phrases/word orders/vocabulary choices into my own writing.
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 20:12
  • craft of research may be of interest Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 4:55

5 Answers 5


Some resources on writing mathematics, which I assume will be useful in mathematical physics, are:

Donald E. Knuth, Tracy L. Larrabee, and Paul M. Roberts, Mathematical Writing, (Washington, D.C.: Mathematical Association of America, 1989), ii+115pp. ISBN 0-88385-063-X. [You can download this (minus illustrations) from Knuth's website: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/klr.html ]

P.R. Halmos, "How to write mathematics". Enseignement Math. (2) 16 1970 123–152. [There are copies of this floating around online; I'm not linking because I'm not sure of their copyright status.]

However, in my own experience, guides like these are useful because they point out (1) a lot of things to avoid, and (2) a relatively small number of useful tips and tricks. Developing a good writing style is best accomplished by reading as much good writing as you can (including both scientific and other scholarly writing), writing as best you can, and seeking as much good feedback on your work as you can.

See also Jean-Pierre Serre's lecture "How to write mathematics badly", which is informative, funny, and (since his examples are taken from experience) tragic. Look out for the instance he highlights of "without" being abbreviated to "with."


My personal favourite is this paper by George Whitesides, one of the most significant contributors from the organic chemistry field. Some of his main points:

  • The importance of outlining, i.e. having a good plan for the structure of the paper
  • Start writing early! Your thoughts on how to prepare the final paper could provide useful direction on how to efficiently gather key bits of data
  • Tables, equations and figures are key - someone skim-reading your paper later on may just end up reading the intro, conclusion and the captions on your data, so make sure you can get your point across without blocks of texts
  • The word "this" requires an explicit reference
  • Stick to past tense when describing your experimental work
  • Pay attention to the formatting requirements of your chosen journal to avoid delays upon submission

None of the points made in the guide are field-specific. Good luck!


Yep, it may take a while until you are producing texts that you're happy with. Writing is hard! I'll let others advise on mathematical physics, but will recommend two general texts on scientific writing which might be helpful:

A useful book for writing articles in scientific fields is Hilary Glasman-Deal's "Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English". Although it focuses on scientific writing for non-native speakers, there is also a wealth of information on how to structure an article and make the argument clear. I found it to be full of useful gems, such as, starting on page 1, tackling the introduction after having drafted the report sections.

Another fantastic general book on writing is Howard S. Becker's "Writing for Social Scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book or article". Although it's targeted at the social science community, much of the book is relevant for any scholar wishing to write well. Becker emphasizes how perfect prose does not flow from the pen of the genius scientist; rather, prose that looks effortless is (always?) the result of lengthy and repeated redrafting. He also explains how effective the act of writing can be for helping to clarify thinking.

Have a look at some related questions here on Academia StackExchange too: How to write a strong introduction to a research paper? Any place for people with fear of writing? How to improve technical writing?


Most journals have the "instructions to contributors" section somewhere near the end, and it may be the link on their website. Such sections often contain many useful hints that are more general than just formatting the paper for the particular journal, and you can read instructions of several journals even if you do not plan to submit a paper to them now.


In my own personal quest of writing the first article, I found this freely available article. While it's of most use for writing a medical technical note, it outlines the structure of the article very clearly.

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