RPG’s Writing Broadside
Advice for Scientists
- Your profession includes writing, so learn how to write. No one is naturally talented enough to get by on instinct alone.
- Study writing by reading books on writing. I suggest "Style: Toward Clarity and Grace," by Joseph M. Williams.
- Study writing by reading good writers, and not just science writers. Read Knuth but also John McPhee and Rick Bass. Try to understand how they do it. Think about the good writing you read.
- Learn proper grammar; there are zillions of books on grammar.
- Get a couple of good dictionaries and use them. I have about a half dozen I use routinely. Some poets look up every single word in their poems to make sure they are using language accurately.
- Learn to revise and edit; there are books on this, but I suggest workshops.
- Read poetry. Nothing teaches you better the power of good writing and the skills to write compressed sentences. Poetry workshops are full of fiction and essay writers who are there to learn language skills.
- Practice writing. Write every day. If you are a top-notch computer scientist, you probably read technical papers nearly every day. You are a writer too, so practice.
- Workshop your writing. Writers learn by workshopping. Every night across the country writers sit in groups of 3 to 20, reading and critiquing each other’s work. Not only are these professional writers but amateurs who simply want to improve their diaries.