Models for writing science today cannot be found in grammar textbooks, most of which were published too long ago. Nor are they taught by English teachers who were educated some years ago by teachers educated before them and using texts written even earlier. None of these formerly good sources are helpful for writing scientific articles in today's rapidly changing, dynamic English. Actually, few, if any, of us received English instruction specifically designed for writing science.
Those of us who know how to write for science journals taught ourselves, slowly, and usually after several failures. In school we were taught how to use correct grammar and to write traditional, formal, English narratives. Our teachers taught us how to use allusions, metaphors, creative adjectives, and graceful expressions. We labored to produce lengthy, flowing language to delight our English teacher's heart. Unfortunately this is not the type of language that delights the hearts of science editors.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them?
- Shakespeare Henry V Prologue
Editors of science journals today want all ideas in language that is directly to-the-point, straightforward, and in as few words as possible. They want everything expressed with such clarity the science will be clear to all their readers. When your work is published, people all over the world will be reading your article. You not only want the meaning to be clear to them, but you want to represent your country well.
Today's science journals receive many articles reporting good scientific research but written in poor English. If the English is poor enough, the article is rejected; if the English is good enough, editors will decide whether or not the research is worth publishing. If the research seems worth publishing despite the poor English, the journal will sometimes have the article edited to make it acceptable, but this is becoming less common. The most common response of editors is to reject the paper.
Good prose is like a window pane.
- George Orwell, 1903-50
Science editors grieve over their lack of time and people to edit the English in their journals, because it is vital to them that their language standards are high. However, even with their continuous effort to publish only good English, the pressure to publish new research developments as rapidly as possible permits some poor language to appear in even the best science journals. This is tragic for two reasons: First, everyone wants the articles in widely-read journals to be understood clearly by readers all over the world, and second, no one wants new research to remain unpublished because editors simply did not understand the English in which it was written. Currently it is possible for good scientists in some countries or institutions to acquire an unwanted reputation for writing poor English. Don't let this happen to your country or institution. You are going to teach yourself to write so well that future editors will respond in joy when they see an article written by someone from your country.
Now, you ask, where can you find a model to help you write? Fortunately this is easy to answer.
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