Communication is vital in science. We hope our grant application will make clear the importance of our proposed research to the grant panel. We hope the reviewers and editor will appreciate the contribution of the papers we submit and accept them for publication. We hope others will read our published articles and understand them.
Unclear writing will obstruct our hopes; clear writing will help attain them. Five principles of clear writing are discussed in the first part of this chapter.
Main Point Principle. Focus at once on the Main Point. Tell the reader where each paragraph is going by beginning with the Main Point. Use headers to flag the Main Point of each section and subsection. Don't let secondary and tangential material confuse the reader about your Main Point.
Revise Principle. Clear writing requires work. Initial drafts are generally frizzy and ill-organized because our ideas are not yet clear. One benefit of writing is to make our ideas clear. Even after our ideas have become clear to ourselves, much revision is usually needed to make them clear to others.
Less Is More Principle. You will be successful if most readers dig out and appreciate your Main Point. Don't water down the Main Point with secondary and tangential points. Use headers to segregate secondary material from the Main Point.
Paragraph Principle. Ideally, each paragraph begins with its Main Point. This provides a schema for the reader to organize the subsequent arguments. And ideally, each paragraph ends with a restatement of its Main Point.
Reader Communication Principle. Write for the reader. What counts is how much gets communicated. This principle is self-evident, but it is hard to apply. Effective writing requires practice.
Tactics of Writing. The second part of this chapter gives various tactics of writing. These are organized around standard format for experimental articles. Two tactics deserve special mention.
First, the Less Is More Principle applies especially to statistics. As an antidote to statisticitis, try writing the first draft using only visual inspection. Second, use two-level organization to separate detail needed by the specialist from the Main Points needed by the general reader.
These principles and tactics are generally agreed on by those who write books on how to write. A number of these books, all of which offer excellent advice, are reviewed in a chapter note.