Read in order to write

Learning to write well takes effort and practice, and writing well in a second language takes even more. Although consulting books such as this one can help your effort, ultimately no book can actually teach you how to write, any more than a rule book could teach you how to play soccer or a music theory book teach you to play a symphony. Just as with sport or music skills, writing skills can be developed only by actual practice over time.

In many ways, scientific English in your chosen field of study could be considered to be a "dialect" of the English language (Montgomery, 2003), and learning to write this dialect proceeds much like learning to speak a foreign language. Although one can attempt to memorize words and rules, the fastest learning occurs by imitation and observation. Success comes from studying examples of proper use and trying to emulate them.

A major way that scientists learn their dialect is through constant reading of literature until they develop a sense of what "sounds right" and what doesn't. For many people, this can be a haphazard process, but it doesn't need to be. A more effective approach is to seek out especially well-written recent articles in your field, reread them at frequent intervals, and imitate their writing style as part of your overall language training. If this idea appeals to you, consult Montgomery (2003) for detailed guidance.

At the same time, recognize that cultures differ in their attitudes toward material taken directly from other people's writing. As Day and Gastel (2006) bluntly put it, "In English-language scientific papers for international journals, authors are required to use their own wording for the vast majority of what they say and to clearly designate any wording taken from elsewhere."

Usage and grammar pitfalls for nonnative writers

Most of the usage and grammar questions faced by nonnative English writers are the same ones that native writers face. If this were not true, there would be no place for books like this one!

A few areas seem to cause special problems for nonnative writers, however. In this section, we'll briefly offer some suggestions for dealing with some of them. A highly regarded older book is Grammar Troublespots: An Editing Guide for ESL Students (Raimes, 1988); widely available in the online used book market, it is an excellent investment.

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