207

I highly value humor and love to entertain whenever I can. In formal writing, I would encourage you to go ahead and write something that you think would be funny. Then reread it. Then reread it again. Read it aloud. Read it silently. Read it again tomorrow while you edit it. And read it again. And again. And again. Imagine reading it out loud to the people ...


121

This is an entirely reasonable request and you should honour it. It is very easy to write English in a manner that avoids the unfortunate use of 'he' as a placeholder for either gender, and doing so avoids needless sexism in your writing.


112

Thou shalt not dumb down thy writing, but don't make it a vain exercise of style I'm a non-native English speaker, and let me put it straight: I may write in simple English, because limited are my English writing skills, but I don't want to read simple English because I want to enrich my vocabulary and grammatical constructions. But whether you write for ...


105

Many writers make very effective use of humor in their writing, and this extends to technical and scientific writing as well. Donald Knuth is one author I can think of who does this extremely well, which is one of the many things that makes his books memorable and enjoyable to read. So I think there is definitely room for some small self-deprecating remarks ...


103

I believe it's only appropriate in the type of writing where you are in a position to give the reader excercises. That is, in course books or other learning material. There, I think it's fine, assuming you've already given enough information for them to be able to perform such an excercise. In papers or theses, you're actually trying to convince the reader ...


102

Very rarely is 'I' used in scholarly writing (at least in math and the sciences). A much more common choice is 'we', as in "the author and the reader". For example: "We examine the case when..." One exception to this rule is if you're writing a memoir or some other sort of "personal piece" for which the identity of the author ...


98

Certainly there are many people in the world who prefer to avoid using gendered pronouns for persons of unspecified gender, so your co-authors' view is not particularly unusual. But there are others who see no problem with this. There are plausible arguments on both sides, and this site is not the place to rehash them. You can see some of the debate on ...


94

I've run into variations of this a lot in economics, and have a few observations. Being good at research in your field is an entirely separate skill from being able to communicate ideas clearly. Two Nobel laureates really embody the extremes here for me, both with brilliant research. One the one side is Paul Krugman, who, regardless of what you think of ...


91

If you're quoting someone, quote them as they said it. We're all adults. In the literature world, we quote swear words and other potentially offensive things all the time and no one bats an eye. I've no doubt other fields are the same. Personally, if I saw an asterisk or similar, I would presume you interviewed them via chat or email, and they actually self-...


86

It's not worth it. Few waste time trying to unblind their reviewers to take retribution for bad reviews. It's just not worth it. The average journal submitter doesn't have enough power to do damage to a random reviewer. If you need a strategy, trying passing your text through Google Translate to Spanish and back to English. It'll probably be garbage ...


82

Mathematical papers, especially, and many others, are not written for the complete novice with no understanding of the field. One tries to tailor the explanation of a new concept to the general level of understanding of the audience and tries to avoid being overly pedantic giving every detail and argument back to Euclid. College lecturers often use such ...


74

This is, unfortunately, a case where English grammar can be tricky and exactly how you phrase things is going to matter. It is often seen a presumptuous to name something after yourself: "Newton's Laws" and "Hawking radiation" and "Rayleigh scattering" are retrospective judgements of significance by the community. Claiming a similar name is an assertion in ...


72

No, this is absolutely not just your problem! I am also an ESL and this very comment has been given to me numerous times: Your writing is weird, but I can't really tell how. After many years of working on it (including reading many books about writing, joining a writing group, publishing some papers, and writing pretty much everyday), my writing is still, ...


70

The rules of thumb are: Established facts are reported in the present tense (“The path of light follows Fermat's principle of least time”). However, you should use the past tense when you refer to previous work in the field (“Maxwell et al. demonstrated clearly in a laser cavity experiment that no mirror is perfect”). The experiments, simulations or ...


70

Assuming that you really want to do this, here are some strategies that should not strongly diminish the readability of your review: If you are from an English-speaking country: Use the spelling conventions of another English-speaking country (e.g., British instead of American English). Switch to a strongly different punctuation convention, e.g., the French ...


69

When I wrote a biography of myself, it was because someone in administration asked me to so they could put it into a prospectus, where there would be lots of biographies in a row all in the same editorial voice. It was specifically required to be in the third person for that reason: all the profiles are presented as though they have been written by the ...


68

If I understand correctly, you are supposed to be evaluating the work and/or ideas of some other academic or writer. You are wondering whether it will be funny and/or more efficient to, in lieu of a more careful explanation of the limitations of that person's work, dismiss them by calling them a (standard, even cliched) name. This is not a good use of ...


66

My experience has typically been that the more formal mode, with no contractions, is preferred for most scientific publications. It is not a terribly strong or important custom, however, and in one of my more high-profile multi-disciplinary publications, I actually found the copyeditor introducing contractions into my writing! In short: worth mentioning, ...


64

Several times during seminars I heard the following exchange, which sounds like a joke but actually isn't: Audience member: Why is X true? Speaker: Oh, it's obvious. Audience member: OK, thanks! [sits down satisfied] Especially in mathematics, it is often helpful to let the Reader know what level of difficulty and/or complexity each step is. The approach ...


62

As an author, you can choose different styles for abstracts. As far as I know, the most interesting and shortest abstract ever was written in this paper, Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement? by M V Berry, N Brunner, S Popescu and P Shukla. Abstract Probably not.


61

hey. i was wondering of your students write like this Alas, yes, they do (however, I'm a non-native English speaker who teaches international students whose level of English is extremely varied, and there's not much I can do about grammar). Anyway, during the first lesson I give the following pieces of advice (which are frequently ignored, though): Sender ...


59

The purpose of an overview paragraph and a table of contents are different: The table of contents serves to quickly find a specific section of a document so you can start reading there or extract a specific information. This is something that rarely makes sense with most papers, except if you start at the conclusion/discussion, which is however easy to find ...


57

I generally avoid "I" in scientific texts altogether, though some authors are in fact using it if they are the sole author. I can't remember seeing it in a thesis though. In texts with a sole author, I usually understand "we" as meaning the author and the reader, and I'd suggest that it's fine to use it in places where it can have that meaning. For example ...


57

This is a common issue when inexperienced people write their first papers. It's tempting to write down everything that went into your personal understanding of a subject, rather than just starting from what's known and focusing on the new things you did. Imagine if you looked up a recipe for a pie and the first 80% of it detailed the history of wheat ...


56

There is an annoying truth here: What's OK in a PhD thesis and what not largely depends on the reviewers. Some people in academia have a huge inflated ego and prefer things to be done as they suggest, and the reviewer in your case is possibly among those people. You don't want to fight with them on this kind of issue. If the reviewer has other comments that ...


55

In research, you should quote them verbatim. Editing, or censoring, swearing is wrongly representing your research subjects and is thus a form of scientific misconduct. If you need to edit the quote for specific audience you must make it clear that you have done so: It's just so [obscenity] slow, it really [obscenities] me off. With a note saying that ...


55

Yes, it's normal. Homeworks and exams are written to prove that the writer has certain skills; papers are written to prove something new. The reader's skills are not under question, so a different style of writing is appropriate. Also, journals used to have stricter page limits than they do now, so there was quite some pressure to be terse. Conversely, ...


55

This isn't something that is decided based on objective measures - it's a statement of the author's opinion that history has shown the paper to be very important. If you, in your professional opinion, believe that the paper has had a major influence on an area of research, for a considerable period of time, then you could call it "classic". If you don't ...


53

I'd like to chime in as a student here. I tend to write my (initial) e-mails formally, however, many professors tend to reply in the most informal way possible. I often get replies like [sic] Sure, can you b ethere 29/8 at 10am? James to my well-crafted "Dear Dr. Jamesson" e-mails. For students, this can be confusing: if I reply, should I go for "...


52

In general terms, the reference should be made where the cited information occurs. If you cite in the second it is not clear from where the information in the first originates. A similar problem occurs if you cite an entire paragraph by adding a reference at the end of a paragraph ass "(Xxxx, 2013)" (I am fully aware that this is the norm in some fields). ...


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