How to Write a Paper

Mike Ashby Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, Cambridge 6rd Edition, April 2005

Mike Ashby

How to Write a Paper
6th Edition, February 2005 Introduction
This brief manual gives guidance in writing a paper about your research. Most of the advice applies equally to your thesis or to writing a research proposal. The content of the paper reflects the kind of work you have done: experimental, theoretical, computational. I have used, as a model, a typical Materials project: one combining experiment with modeling and computation to explain some aspect of material behaviour.

Sections 1 to 8 give guidelines for clear writing with brief examples. The Appendix contains longer examples of effective and ineffective writing. The manual is prescriptive—it has to be, if it is to be short. It is designed to help those struggling with their first paper, or those who have written several but find it difficult. Certain sections may seem to you to be elementary; they are there because, to others, they are not. Section 8, on Style, is openended, the starting point for more exciting things.

How to write a paper, 6th edition


MFA, 20/02/05

1 The Design p 3

2 The Market—Who are your readers? p 4

3 The Concept—Making a Concept-sheet p 5

4 Embodiment—The first draft p 9

5 Detail I—Grammar p 16

6 Detail II—Spelling p 20

7 Detail III—Punctuation p 21

8 Detail IV—Style p 26

9 Further Reading p 34

Appendix p 37

How to write a paper, 6th edition


MFA, 20/02/05

Well-written papers are read, remembered, cited. Poorly written papers are not. To write well, you need a design. Like any design activity, there are a number of steps (Figure 1). I’ve used the language of engineering design here—it fits well. The Market Need. What is the purpose of the document? Who will read it? How will the reader use it? The answers help you decide the length, the level of detail, the style. The Concept. Good writing starts with a plan. Writers have different ways of developing plans. I find the concept-sheet (Section 3, below) is a good way to do it.

Figure 1. The Design Process. Designing a paper is like designing anything else: there are five essential steps. The Embodiment. The embodiment is the first draft. Get the facts down on paper without worrying about style; make drafts of each section; develop the calculations; sketch the figures; assemble How to write a paper, 6th edition 3 MFA, 20/02/05

This manual focuses on writing papers. they are charged with judging quality. Now comes the crafting: clarity. They don’t want the irrelevant parts—details of how standard equipment works. The Sections that follow expand on each of these in turn. The pages that follow explain how this market should be addressed. The End-Product. clear headings. its background. another Government Agencies. A research proposal usually addresses two markets. Find out as much as you can about content and format from your supervisor and other students. and. They expect details of all relevant parts of your research: why you did it. or a Charity. Put yourself in their shoes: what. readability. in a word —style. Detail. if you were they. your thinking.references. your conclusions and your views on where it is going. 6th edition 4 MFA. 20/02/05 . if accepted. would you wish to find? The readers of your thesis are your examiners. the EU. well-designed figures. what you did. promise How to write a paper. The other is the referees that the funding agency will use. balance. A paper is read by one or more skilled referees. and look at some recent (successful) theses to get a feel for the product this market expects. Appearance is important: good layout. by a scientifically-informed audience. They will look for a match between their priorities and yours. 2 THE MARKET—Who are your readers? Your market is your readers. One is the funding agency: the EPSRC. for instance.

Figure 2. More on style in Section 8. addressing an audience who is intelligent—one should always assume that—but who may know nothing of your subject. Here style. Settle down comfortably with a cup of coffee (or better. Write well. Make no mistake. 20/02/05 . exasperate and ultimately lose your readers. must be fine-tuned to meet their needs.and relevance. beer) and an A3 sheet How to write a paper. it is because you don’t know what you want to say. Hardest to write is a popular article. Markets for technical writing. Write poorly and you’ll bore. 3 CONCEPT—Making a Concept-Sheet When you can’t write. always important. The first job is to structure your thinking. 6th edition 5 MFA. and they’ll respond in the way you plan.

Sketch in anything that occurs to you that belongs in a section— paragraph headings. an idea that requires further development. forget the detail and think both longitudinally and laterally. Put each in a bubble near the box to which it applies. 6th edition 6 MFA. A3 or A4 sheet. How to write a paper. 20/02/05 . This is the time to de-focus. each in its own box.of paper in Landscape orientation as in Figure 3. Then—in as orderly way as you can. Devise a tentative title for the paper and write it at the top. Think of things that might be relevant to the section—a reference. ideas. but disorder is OK too—jot down what seem like sensible section headings. a graph you might need. landscape mode Good ideas for the text Boxes with main headings Things that are still needed Links between sections of text Figure 3. with an arrow showing where it fits in. A model for a concept sheet. figures.

This can be the most satisfying step of writing a paper. after some sections had been drafted. Your first real act of composition (this one) is to allow your thinking to range over the entire paper. It is possible that this starting point may not work for you. Some bits were already planned. recording the resources you will need and capturing ideas. It is the best way I know to break writers-block and launch the real writing of the paper. at the appropriate place on the sheet. but it is not. sometimes like squeezing water out of stone. but it guides the subsequent. It is a mess. most developed in the hour I spent making the sheet. you have an idea of the whole. But not this—it is the moment to be creative in whatever way your ideas may lead.What should be in the paper? What else might be relevant? What else might you need to do the job—a copy of X. How to write a paper. no matter which part you start drafting. You can add to the sheet at any time It becomes a road-map of where you are going. You realise that you need an extra section—squeeze it in. Figure 4 shows. You see that the order of sections is not good—add arrows indicating the new order. 6th edition 7 MFA. notes to oneself. unexpurgated. That way. but try it more than once before you abandon it. the concept sheet I made while thinking about this manual. part of the journey. Don’t yet think of style. the reference Z? Put it all down. exploring ways in which the pieces might fit together. neatness or anything else. more tedious. be hard work. Later steps can take time. Its value lies in the freedom of thought it permits. a few were added later. your thoughts. 20/02/05 . All this sounds like a child’s game. Just add. a figure of Y.

Figure 4. How to write a paper. 6th edition 8 MFA. The concept sheet I made when writing this text. 20/02/05 .

Chen. The Cambridge Centre for Micromechanics. the ideas formulated. use them.2 ATTRIBUTION • The names of the authors. with full address. Cambridge University Engineering Department. Get the scientific facts and technical details down.1 TITLE • Meaningful and brief. in 14 pt bold. 6th edition 9 MFA. Papers are not drafted sequentially.4 EMBODIMENT—The First Draft Now the hard work.M. the graphs and figures planned. UK January 1999.” How to write a paper. the date.Harte and C. with all initials. 4. “A. Cambridge CB2 1PZ. 4. 20/02/05 . The usual stages in writing a paper are set out in the boxes below. If good ways of expressing the ideas occur to you now. the Institute or organisation. do it in any order you wish. Here they are. Break the job down into stages. Fatigue of Metal Foams is better than The Mechanical Response of Cymat and Alporas Metallic Foams to Uni-axial Cyclic Loading even though it is less specific. but do not deflect effort from the key job of assembling the pieces. in whatever form them come.

State what you will do that has not been done before (new experimental approach? new data? new model? new interpretation?) Keep it as brief as you can whilst still doing all this. conclusions. recording briefly the main contributors and summarising the status of the field when you started the research. The reader of an Abstract has been lured by the title. Review the literature. How to write a paper. what they will find.4. No waffle. Imagine that you are paying a 10p a word. in as few sentences as possible. He or she now want to know whether to read on. Start with a good first sentence—see Section 8 for examples. 4. Try not to exceed 100 words.4 INTRODUCTION • • • • What is the problem and why is it interesting? Who are the main contributors? What did they do? What novel thing will you reveal? Outline the problem and why it was worth tackling. Tell them. no spurious details. Provide any specialised information that the reader might need if he is to understand what follows. key results. 6th edition 10 MFA.3 THE ABSTRACT • Try for one sentence each on motive. method. See the Appendix for an example. • Don’t exceed 3 sentences on any one. 20/02/05 .

method • • Explain what is especially different about your method. model or computation. • Don’t mix Results with Discussion.10 for the way to deal with references. mathematical tools.4. then we did that. This should be an easy section to write: just say what you did.5 METHOD • Experimental paper: equipment. 6th edition 11 MFA. How to write a paper.7. Give sufficient detail that the reader can reproduce what you did. It belongs—all of it—in 4. 4.” Build up a reference list as you go. See Section 4. Keep the results for the next section. Use “we” but do so sparingly: too many “we’s” sounds like a child’s day out: “first we did this. 20/02/05 .6 RESULTS • Present the output of the experiments. method Computational paper: inputs. succinctly. • Don’t mix Method with Results or Discussion—they come next. method Modelling paper: assumptions. materials. computational tools. It is one of the principles of science that a paper should contain sufficient detail to allow the work to be repeated by someone else. Provide this but no more.

the third sample was unfortunately misplaced.This. Give error-bars or confidence-limits for numerical or graphical data. Better: Shear loading fractures cell-walls (Figure 3). Poor: It is clearly shown in Figure 3 that the shear loading had caused the cell-walls to suffer ductile fracture or possibly brittle failure. generalisations.” Aim for a concise. model or theory. Present data in a form other people can use. Define all symbols and units. 6th edition 12 MFA.3% of the samples failed: 33. relationships.3% survived. Report your results simply. 20/02/05 . Give emphasis in the text the most important aspects of the tables. relationships. 4. without opinion or interpretation at this stage. Present analysis. Here you are seeking to extract principles. should be an easy section to write.7 DISCUSSION • • • Extract principles. model or theory. avoid confidence-eroding statements such as “33. Statistics should be meaningful. too. The novel heat-treatment described in Section 2 gives steels which How to write a paper. or generalisations from the results. Show relationship between the results and analysis. Sometimes the results speak for themselves. economical style. graphs or figures.

a Discussion is not a license to waffle. could be all you need.are 10% stronger and 20% tougher than those heat-treated in the normal way. How to write a paper. • List any reservations or limitations. develop subsidiary conclusions after that. technical assistance. Do not duplicate the Abstract as the Conclusions or vice versa. 4. and this requires ideas about mechanisms.8 CONCLUSION • Draw together the most important results and their consequences. The function of the Discussion is to describe the ideas. The Conclusions are a summing up of the advances in knowledge that have emerged from it. glance at the Figures and move on. See Appendix for examples of waffle and what to do about it. 20/02/05 . models and theories and lead the reader through a comparison of these with the experimental or computational data. It is acceptable to present conclusions as a bullet-pointed list. The reader scanning your paper will read the Abstract and the Conclusions. 4. Most of the research we do aims at why materials behave as they do.9 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS • Thank people who have helped you with ideas. models and associated theory. 6th edition 13 MFA. Be clear and concise. Bring out the most significant conclusions first. materials or finance. The Abstract is an overview of the entire paper.

and to acknowledge my debt to the books listed below. Heaver for his technical assistence throughout the project and Mrs Jo Ladbrooke for proof-reading the manuscript. give full names and affiliation. G. Evans of Harvard University for suggesting the approach developed in section 4. start-page and finish-page. A formula such as this works well: I wish to thank Prof. Brown of the Cavendish Laboratory. Cite sources of theories. • References must be complete: name. volume. and don’t get sentimental. L. year. data. by the DARPA-ONR MURI program under contract number N00014-1-961028. It is important that you reference all such How to write a paper. 6th edition 14 MFA. Mr A.3. The research was supported by the EPSRC under grant number EJA S67. 20/02/05 .10 REFERENCES • • Cite significant previous work. journal.M. prior results and data have come from. or: The authors wish to thank Professor A.Keep it simple. and by a Research Fellowship from the National Research Council of Canada. initials. 4. Cambridge. or anything else you have taken from elsewhere. References tell the reader where an idea. for suggesting this review. title.

then “Lu et al (1998)”. or illustrate a mechanism or model. year. T.sources. ordered alphabetically: “Lu. title. chapter number. initials. start page-end page (if relevant). There are almost as many different formats for references as there are journals. (1998) An Analysis of Defects in Metal Foams. It takes far longer to track down the missing information later than to do it right in the first place. Acta Mater. If there are more than two. title.J and Chen. journal. Graphs plot data. 6th edition 15 MFA. Schematics show how equipment works. 222-226”. 15. initials. microstructures etc. For books: Name. year. city and country of publisher. 4. C. In reference list. start pageend page. volume. If you have ENDNOTE on your PC it can solve the problem. even if you modify them. If there are two names then “Lu & Chen (1998)”. publisher. procedures. 20/02/05 . For papers: Name.11 FIGURES • • • Flow charts show methods. • Drawings and photographs illustrate equipment. Best for drafts is the Name/year system (also called the Harvard system): In text : “Lu (1998)”. How to write a paper. Do not be tempted to make a reference list without all of these. All are important. It is a conventional courtesy to reference the originators of key ideas or theories or models.

Give it a title: “Appendix A1: The Equation for Toughness” The journal may set it in smaller type than the main text. Good figures are reproduced or imitated by others. often without asking—the sincerest of compliments. micrographs printed and references assembled. it helps you see where you are. It is the place for tedious but essential derivations. It is a good idea to have a check-list like the one on the last page of this manual. Do not tinker with the text yet. ………… When you get this far you have got a long way. 4. 20/02/05 .Anyone scanning your paper will look at the figures and their captions. It should be well structured and stand by itself. it is not a bottom drawer for the stuff that you cannot bear to throw away. even if they do not read the text. An appendix must have purpose. Make sure that the axes are properly labelled. the figures drawn up. Make each figure as self-contained as possible. that units are defined and that the figure will tolerate reduction is size without becoming illegible. How to write a paper. that would disrupt the flow of ideas in the main text. Label each curve of graphs. and give it both a title (on the figure itself) and an informative caption (below it). Put the draft on one side for at least 48 hours. Get the graphs plotted.12 APPENDICES • Essential material that would interrupt the flow of the main text. or for data tables or descriptions of procedures. 6th edition 16 MFA.

• Adjectives qualify nouns: a small Instron. • Verbs signify being or action: is. 5. understand. Mess up the grammar and you confuse the reader. computer-power. it. they. seems. metalfoam. What follows is a brief summary of the simplest essentials of grammar. 6th edition 17 MFA. computer. Nouns can be used as adjectives. There are eight. foam. 5 DETAIL I: Grammar Grammar tells the reader the function of words and their relationship. • Nouns are the names of peoples or thing: Instron. they are generally hyphenated to the noun they qualify: table-tennis. Now we must address the details.…………Time has passed. The draft has matured for 48 hours or more. metal.1 The parts of speech Parts of speech are descriptors for the functions of words. she. • Pronouns stand for nouns: he. a red metal. When so used. interpret. How to write a paper. 20/02/05 . go. a digital computer. an intricate foam.

(“Completed” and “correct” are complements) Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive form: Time / passed. • Interjections are exclamations.Transitive verbs have a subject and an object: The load / deforms / the material. The theory / seemed / correct. because.. the polite ones include: Alas! Great! Cheers! Many are impolite. from the appendix. And: Pass the biscuits. causes microstructural damage. on the graph. Intransitive verbs have no object: Flowers / bloom. 20/02/05 . “Being” verbs have a complement: The test / was / completed. Subject The sample The measurements Fatigue-loading Predicate failed. How to write a paper. The research / evolved. • Adverbs qualify verbs: today we interpret this differently..2 Sentence structure A simple sentence has a subject and a predicate. They are inappropriate in technical writing. 6th edition 18 MFA. but. usually having to do with place or time: on the table. fell into two classes. 5. • Conjunctions link words and sentences: and. after this procedure. • Prepositions precede nouns.

20/02/05 . A phrase is a group of words that does not contain a verb. A sentence made with two equal clauses (each a separate sentence but linked together) is called a compound sentence. is called a complex sentence. Avoid the last of these. which cannot stand by themselves as separate sentences. adverb clauses do the work of adverbs. A clause contains a verb and its subject or object. 6th edition 19 MFA.The subject identifies what or whom the sentence is about. We examined the results with considerable care. Type of phrase Noun phrase Adjective phrase Adverbial phrase Example The interpretation of the experiment presents a problem. Conjunctive phrase The test ended owing to the fact that the specimen failed.1. How to write a paper. says something about the subject. 5. Adjective clauses do the work of adjectives.3 Phrases and clauses Phrases and clauses are groups of words that do the jobs of the parts of speech listed on Section 5. The red and white striped cable is live. there is always a simpler. containing a verb. one-word conjunction (here: “because”). Sentences are made by linking clauses. The predicate. A sentence made with a main clause linked to one or more subordinate clauses.

Type of Clause Adjective clause Adverb clause Example A computation that uses FE methods is appropriate. It is possible / that the conclusions were mistaken.4 Compound sentences A compound sentence has two co-ordinate (“equal”) clauses linked by a conjunction: We measured the temperature and (we) adjusted the thermostat. Maine (1998) demonstrates / that technical cost modelling is feasible. The modem will operate wherever a phone-line is available. 5. How to write a paper. 6th edition 20 MFA. The tooling cost is high but the material cost is low. “We analysed the microstructures using SEM and left for lunch at midday” is unbalanced. 20/02/05 . The parts of a compound sentence must be of comparable weight.5 Complex sentences A complex sentence has a main clause and a subordinate clause: What these results signify / is the subject of a paper by Wegst (1998). 5.

6th edition MFA. 20/02/05 21 . The italicised part of the first sentence is an adjective clause. they are not separated from the noun they qualify by commas. and many more. but remember that it will fail to distinguish “their” from “there”. merely qualifying the noun. Watch out particularly for “effect” and “affect”. as distinct (say) from those done on a Silicon Graphics work station. adds a new factor of equal importance to that contained in the main sentence. “form” from “from”. qualifying the word “computations”. How to write a paper.5. “its” from “it’s”. The two statements are: the computations were performed on a Cray. 6 DETAIL II: Spelling Use the spell-checker on your computer. The italicised clause in the first sentence is subordinate. “dependent” and “dependant”.6 “that” and “which” “The computations that were performed on a Cray were the more accurate.” These two sentences appear at first sight to say the same thing. The italicised clause in the second sentence is co-ordinate. The emphases of the two sentences differ. “compliment” and “complement”. were the more accurate. it has the effect of limiting the computations the sentence is talking about to the ones done on the a Cray. but they do not. and they were more accurate.” “The computations. “principle” and “principal”. The italicised part of the second sentence. Adjective clauses are just like adjectives. meaning that it introduces a new fact. which were performed on a Cray. separated by commas from the rest.

by punctuation. and to signify abbreviation: Dr. use “-ise”. Esawi. M. The full stop is used to mark the end of a declarative sentence. Meaning is changed. spelling is one of your lesser talents. the sentence becomes ambiguous. like me. or period . sometimes dramatically. Thus: The measurements employed a photo-diode and a laser was used to How to write a paper. keep it if. Good sentence structure and punctuation makes reading flow. it helps the reader read without having to re-read. Forget any rules you have heard about the comma and simply used it when it improves the sense of the sentence. Try the sentence with and without the comma. Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. 7. use a dictionary. It is one of the toolboxes of good writing. K. 20/02/05 . but if you really want the low-down on punctuation. The next three pages give a resume. 7 DETAIL III: Punctuation Punctuation orders prose and sends signals to the reader about how to interpret it. but not all. it warns of what is to come. listed under “Further Reading” at the end of this manual. 7. without it. and to be entertained at the same time read “Eats. If.1 The full stop. Ph. A.2 The comma . And when in doubt. The comma keeps apart two words or larger parts of a sentence which would confuse if they touched. 6th edition 22 MFA.Most word ending in “-ise” can also be spelt “-ize”.D.

who…. restates or explains the preceding parts.3 The semi-colon . The semi-colon is used to separate when the comma is not enough and the full stop is a more complete break than the sense demands. they are proceeded by a semi-colon. the second. This raises the question: is the model right or wrong? There are two reasons for repeating this experiment: the first. Olurin (1998). Deshpande (1999). to improve the precision. 7. slowing the reader down. too. It is expectant: it sets the reader up to anticipate elaboration. 6th edition 23 MFA. 20/02/05 . it is the scanning electron microscope. Most commonly. who studied the effect of holes and notches. When conjunctive adverbs accordingly. How to write a paper. it is used between closely related independent clauses: At one time the optical microscope was the principal tool of metallography. likewise. also.check adjustment requires a comma after photo-diode to avoid a momentary misinterpretation. hence. It is used. 7. to separate members of a list when the comma is not enough: The literature includes Gibson (1997). today. similarly… link clauses. to establish reproducibility.4 The colon : The colon introduces part of a sentence that exemplifies. who studied simple compression.

7. 7. 450? —374 BC. It is optional after a rhetorical question: Who would trust that model. Harte reports that metal foams sink in water! implies that this is startling. It is generally required when a noun is used as an adjective: a box- How to write a paper. Scientific writing does not need this sort of emphasis or innuendo. Delete it. perhaps even mistaken. imperative. it turns up the volume. Harte reports that metal foams sink in water. excitement.6 The question mark ? The question mark is used after a direct question: Why was this work undertaken? The reason……. and say what you want to say in a direct way. 7. is a simple statement. 20/02/05 . even contradiction. 6th edition 24 MFA.5 The exclamation mark ! The exclamation mark signals surprise. It is used to indicate uncertainty: Euclid.7 The hyphen - The hyphen connects part of a compound word: Well-known. a ball-and-stick model. So what. curiosity-provoking. half-expected.

” This conclusion—and it is a significant one—appears to violate the first law of thermodynamics.girder. cell-wall buckling and cell-wall fracture—are all equally probable. a shark-skin-textured surface. The remaining specimens—those which had not fractured—were sent for analysis. 7. But treat this with caution.8 The dash — The dash sets off parenthetic material that results in a break in continuity in a sentence. 6th edition 25 MFA. a final summary word or statement. How to write a paper. it can easily descend into stomachlurching purple-prosed absurdity. Its most engaging property is its capacity to create new words and meanings by combinations both established and original: A Fleck-inspired interpretation. a bar-chart. and give emphasis: Cell-wall bending. A dash can lead to an upshot. Magnetic materials—carbon steels for instance—contain atoms with unpaired electron spins. 20/02/05 .

as here.”—Neil Armstrong. 7. isn’t. There is no apostrophe in the possessive his. ironic or unusual turn-of-phrase: This research took a “try-it-and-see approach. 27BC. 20/02/05 Underline. the possessive forms: Sutcliffe’s theory. Quotation marks are sometimes used to enclose an original.”—Horace.7. the apostrophe indicates missing letters: Don’t. it’s (meaning “it is”). embolden or italicise? All three attach emphasis and importance to a word or phrase. its. but can be acceptable in informal or popular writing. everyone’s idea. let the wine-cups flow. In contemporary scientific writing How to write a paper. her or particularly. one giant leap for mankind.9 The quotation mark “” Quotation marks enclose direct “word-for-word” quotations and dialogue. US astronaut (1969). 7.” This colloquial phraseology is uncomfortable in scientific writing. 6th edition .11 Italics italics 26 MFA. “One small step for a man. In contractions. Contractions of this sort are inappropriate in scientific writing. thus.10 The apostrophe ’ The apostrophe shows either possession or contraction. avoid it. Odes. “Uncork the flagon.

Italics allow smooth definitions of terms: “The critical value of the fatigue limit. 7. and help structure scientific writing.italics are preferred. It is plausible (although not everyone agrees) that this theory is correct.R. bold can seem authoritarian. clouding the meaning of the sentence with too many asides.12 Parentheses ( ) Parentheses—literally: putting-asides—embrace material of all sorts. But do not let them take over. or fatigue threshold.Calladine. within a text. Underlining can appear over-emphatic and. Shercliff (1998) surveys the status of modeling in Material Sciences . Bold tends to be reserved for headings.13 Brackets [ ] Brackets are used to indicate editorial comments or words inserted as explanation: [continued on p. 62]. as are words in foreign languages. 6th edition 27 MFA. 20/02/05 . silver. for instance) have nine independent elastic constants. 7. Book titles are often italicised “The Theory of Shell Structures” by C. and gold. How to write a paper. To write more on this would be de trop. is listed…” allows the italicised words to be used thereafter in place of the longer definition. [see footnote]. Face-centred cubic metals (copper.

Chef throws heart in to help feed the hungry. When you’ve said something. vet takes over. More often. These are funny because the intended meaning can be guessed. from a well-known Materials text: “The selection of the proper material is a key step in the design How to write a paper. Style is approached through plainness. good structure and desire to convey information to the reader in the most accessible way. 20/02/05 . Consider this. then the loss of clarity misleads and confuses. is clarity. The writers of these headlines (all from newspapers in 1998) hadn’t: Red tape holds up new bridge. The first quality. familiar words. make sure that you’ve really said it. not obscure. it can’t. memorable. AND DON’T WAFFLE. There is no formula for instant style—it is partly a personal thing—but there are useful guidelines. Something went wrong in jet crash. 6th edition 28 MFA.1 Be clear The essence of technical writing is communication. expert says. Prostitutes appeal to Pope. Panda mating fails. 8. Use simple language and simple.8 DETAIL IV: Style A good style lifts writing from that which is dull and ordinary to that which is distinguished. individual. simplicity. concise construction. short words rather than long. with precedence over all others.

3 Define everything Define all symbols and abbreviations. Remember who you are writing for. How to write a paper. and we knew that already. decide where the bits will go. … allows you to use the abbreviation SEM thereafter. made with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The conceptsheet gives structure: there is a place on it for each part of your story.2 Write from an appropriate design Poor writing lacks order. the way they will fit together. 8. In making it.process because it is the crucial decision that links computer calculations and the lines on an engineering drawing with a real or working design”. 20/02/05 . Tell them what they want to know. What does it say? “Materials selection is important”. fails to progress in a logical sequence. It is wasting the reader’s time. 6th edition 29 MFA. 8. the logical order. The mass m scales as E/ ρ where E is Youngs’s modulus and ρ is the density… leaving a double space on either side of a symbol when it appears in the text. mixes ideas that should develop separately. The measurements. not what they know already or do not want to know.

quite… This very important point … makes less impact than: This important point … or. revise.4 Avoid empty words Avoid clichés (standard formalised phrases): they are corpses devoid of the vitality which makes meaning spring from the page: The long and the short of it is that digital methods are the flavour of the month. How to write a paper. and can extract. somewhat. 6th edition 30 MFA. as needed. the bottom line is that analog computation is old hat— avoid it like the plague. over emphasise or apologise All of these undermine the reader’s confidence in your judgment.6 Do not overstate. and distil a paper. more simply: This point …. some go through 8 or 10 drafts. Avoid weak qualifiers: very. You can then see what you’ve got. a conference report or a research proposal from it. The most spontaneous-seeming prose is. rather. These ideas could rather easily be extended to the non-linear case … makes the reader wonder why you didn’t do it. 8. 8. the most rewritten. Do not be afraid to write the first draft with the simple aim of getting all the facts down on paper.8. Nobody gets it right first time. 20/02/05 .5 Revise and rewrite Revising is part of writing. The agreement with theory is quite good suggests that it is not. often.

ever. condescending or eccentric Write in a way that draws attention to the sense and substance or the writing. 6th edition 31 MFA. This significant finding…. are better replaced by the simpler This result… and This finding…. It’s been a helluva term for good stuff—we got more going on here than ever before…The author says nothing and is showing off. 20/02/05 .. the character of the author will emerge. incompetence. Do not affect a breezy manner. And never. or Q’Ed as we call it. Hi! me again with some hot news about engineering at CUED. laziness. Leave the reader to decide on importance and significance. Don’t be condescending: Readers familiar with my work will know …. what you might call Web-speak.This paper questions the basic assumptions of fracture mechanics …(this from a real manuscript) fills the reader with mistrust. after all. fracture mechanics works. How to write a paper. 8. If the writing is solid and good. Don’t patronise: The amazingly perceptive comment by Fleck …. start by trying for none.. there was insufficient time to complete the last set of tests suggests bad planning. not to the mood or whimsical humour of the author.. drawing attention to himself.7 Avoid being patronising. To achieve style. This very important result…. Unfortunately. apologise.

new idea or a revealing comparison into the first line. 20/02/05 . and speaks only to the initiated. remember who you are writing for. Openings such as: It is widely accepted that X (your topic) is important … has the reader yawning before you’ve started. Calling Young’s modulus G will confuse. It excludes the intelligent. But don’t be tempted to use it to show that you are an insider. The Appendix has examples. 6th edition 32 MFA. Tell the reader something he does not already know.8 Use appropriate language Use standard symbols and terms. reader. And above all. Y. Poor Opening: Metal foams are a new class of material attracting interest world-wide and with great potential… X. was photographed by SEM and chemically characterised by SAM. otherwise well-informed. Minimise the use of acronyms and abbreviations. Try to get a new fact.9 Good first sentence Don’t start introductions (or anything else) with platitudes. even if it takes more words. analysed by FE methods. Some jargon is unavoidable—new concepts sometimes need new words.8. The MEM. 8. is bad writing. even after you’ve defined it. Find other ways of saying it. Z have How to write a paper. Avoid jargon. Jargon is the secret language of the field.

8. Better: Metal foams are not as strong as they should be. overestimate the strength of metal foams by factor of 2 to 5. 20/02/05 . P.10 Seek helpful examples and analogies Ferro-magnetic material—steels.measured their strength properties …P. The third says what the paper is going to do. “God created solids. Q. the second and third involve the reader in details. only in the fourth does the point start to emerge. make sure you get it right —see Quotations. inappropriate quotations give the impression that the writer is trying too hard. Z. R here). The first two sentences now highlight the problem. for example—can be shock-loaded How to write a paper. Q. in Further Reading. To be more specific… (details of literature X. the relevance of which is not yet clear. could be a good first line for a review-article on friction and wear. which describe polymer foams well. and R have developed theoretical models … Comparison of the experiments with the models suggests that the measured strength are less than those predicted … The first sentences is a platitude. If you do use a quotation. Y. Use a quotation only if it is spot-on. but it is pretentious as an opening to a paper on (say) the wear of bronze journal bearings. Models. but the Devil created surfaces”—anon. 6th edition 33 MFA. This research explores the reasons. The details that follow then have relevance.

20/02/05 . 6th edition 34 MFA. When you read a paragraph. It helps the reader if one paragraph ends with a device that links it to the next: a word or phrase picked up in the first sentence of the following paragraph. There are more examples of analogies in the Appendix. The example of steels makes the generalisation concrete. The bicycle analogy is appropriate. a frictional force opposes motion. we need a way to rank the materials—a material index. How to write a paper. 8.11 Linking sentences Each sentence in a paragraph should lead logically to the next. If the work done in this deformation is lost through damping. it can get tedious). or a statement of what is coming next (though be sparing with this. it relates the scientific problem to one which is familiar. ………To progress further. where does it jar? Why did you have to pause or re-read? What word-change will fix it? Edit for readability. It is like riding a bicycle through sand: the rubbing sand particles dissipate energy much as atom or molecular rearrangements pulsed magnetic fields. One cause of rolling friction is material damping. A rolling ball deforms the surface on which it rolls.

not from principles of composition.. Bit by bit you can absorb the techniques.13 Finally… Style takes its final shape from an attitude of mind. Focus on clarity. ………. And remember who your readers are. re-read it. 20/02/05 . seek to express your results and ideas in ways they will most easily grasp. Don’t try to imitate it directly.This behaviour suggests that the process is diffusioncontrolled. The stresses at grain boundaries can be relaxed by diffusion. 8. an illuminating example. A model based on this idea is developed next. Make sure you’ve said what you think you’ve said. 6th edition 35 MFA. … The reader knows what the second paragraph is about before reading it. but observe how the author did it. or an idea well expressed. How to write a paper. an apt analogy.12 Observe good writing When you read a good opening.A material index is a …… The repeated words link the two paragraphs. 8.

Hodge. Penguin Books. Cambridge University Press. and Dr. Macmillan Co. by E. “Communication in Science”. Graves & A. inspirational almost. Cambridge UK (1993). & E. USA (1962)  “The Reader Over Your Shoulder” By R. Downing Street. and Whitcut. Prendice-Hall Inc. Englewood Cliffs. London. Ann Silver of the Physiology Department. by Vernon Booth. 6th edition 36 MFA. New York. “The Elements Of Style” By W.. How to write a paper. and Prof. Cambridge. Cambridge. Stone.B White.Strunck Jr.Acknowledgements I wish to thank Prof. USA (1943). spell. But there are some good ones. and to acknowledge my debt to the books listed below. Yves Brechet of ENSEEG. Texts on how to write technical prose “The Complete Plain Words” 3rd edition. J. Gower. revised by Greenboum. for their advice. 9 FURTHER READING There are lots of books on how to write. Trumpington Street. I’ve starred them () in the list below. 2nd edition. John Carroll of the Engineering Department. Collier Books. Rathbone & J. punctuate. some really good ones—not just instructive. the University of Grenoble. NJ. 20/02/05 . USA (1959).B. and entertaining too. Many are deadly dull. R. UK (1986) “A Writers Guide for Engineers and Scientists” By R. New York. S.

Grammar “Clear English’ by Vivian Summers”. Oxford UK (1990). 3rd edition.E Gordon. Taylor. or How to write a paper.but the ultimate authorities remain The Concise Oxford Dictionary. USA (1993) Spelling—the friendliest dictionary is The Chambers Dictionary. Penguin Books. Profile Books.Fowler and J. New York. 20/02/05 . The Royal Society. 6th edition. UK (2003) “The Well-Tempered Sentence” By K. Horton Mifflin Co Boston. UK (1991) “Chambers English Grammar” by A. Aaron. by H.“The Little Brown Handbook”. Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. Harper Collins. Clarendon Press. W & R Chambers Ltd (1990) Punctuation  “Eats. (1995) Instructions on preparing scientific papers “General notes on the Preparation of Scientific Papers”. 6th edition 37 MFA. London. (1998) ……. London.K. Chambers Harrop Publishers. 8th edition. London U.E. (1974). J. London.R.

London. Penguin Books. Panati. NJ. 6th edition 38 MFA.  “Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody” by C.The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. USA (1987). USA (1977). Clarendon Press. UK (1987).  “The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Words’” By G. Adams & Co. Harper and Row. London. USA (1974). Oxford UK (1990) Quotations The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.K. New York.  “Word Histories and Mysteries” Edited By K.T. Shipley. Harper and Row. Horton Mifflin Co Boston. the following are delightful:  “Troublesome Words” 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. Penguin Books. New York. How to write a paper. 20/02/05 . by Bill Bryson. Littlefield. UK (1992).Ellis. USA (1989)  “Dictionary of Word Origins” By J. Sausy III. Penguin Books. If words fascinate you. Panati. 4th edition. UK And Viking Books USA (1984). 4th edition.  “Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things” by C. (1996) Synonyms and Antonyms (words that say the same or the opposite) The Penguin Dictionary English Synonyms and Antonyms.S. Oxford U.

so it resists. The results indicate that processing to minimise the density fluctuations could increase the initial compressive yield strength of the foams.APPENDIX: Some examples of effective and ineffective writing Good Abstract Temography of Shear Bands in Metal Foams Metal foams. the bands broaden as deformation progresses.5. This. We have studied the nucleation and broadening of shear bands by laser-speckle strain-mapping. in four sentences and 94 words. 20/02/05 . when shear bands first form. As it is stretched. and broaden into the high-density regions as strain progresses. With these words How to write a paper. with spatial variations of density of a factor of 2. concise portrait of the paper. sic vis”. devoid of unnecessary detail and secondary information. by a factor of 1. when compressed. The foams were non-homogeneous. 6th edition 39 MFA. gives a clear. the shear bands nucleate in the low-density zones. Good opening sentence From a review article on the elastic properties of materials “Ut tensio. deform by shear banding.

which form themes. Cambridge. Design Council. Notes form musical phrases. and programming. Teukolsky. which group into sentences. are found to be naturally structured into hierarchies which have many different nested levels. poetry. if not so universally recognised…. and Vetterling W. words group into phrases.A.Robert Hooke enunciated in 1674 the law of elasticity that bears his name Enzio Manzini. which form concertos symphonies and so on. in “The Materials of Invention”. S. 6th edition 40 MFA.T. H W. counterpoints. which in turn form words. Flannery. Good analogy (1) Structured Programming ‘Music. Cambridge University Press. UK (1986).’ ‘Numerical Recipes’ by Press. which form movements. Structure in programs is equally hierarchical. 20/02/05 . London 1989. harmonies etc. How to write a paper. B. sentences make paragraphs and these are organised into higher levels of meaning. Sounds form meaningful units. The quotation nicely suggests the history and introduces the subject.P. all three as symbolic constructs of the human brain.

The analogy is a little long-winded. safe. 6th edition 41 MFA. long-lasting. complex. to portray programming as an art-form and to elevate its stature as an intellectual activity. and . with built-in Scandinavian qualities of good design — it’s what we call the “Product DNA” ….’ Ford Company spokesman explaining that Ford. Purchasers see them as solid. reliably masculine. this ASM Handbook How to write a paper. will retain and develop the Volvo character. but it achieves the writers’ aims: to convey the importance of structure in programming. 20/02/05 . Avoid Waffle The Role of the Materials Engineer in Design ‘The role of the Materials Engineer in the design and manufacture of today’s highly sophisticated products is varied. who have just bought Volvo. by association. Good analogy (2) The Character of a Volvo ‘Volvos have a certain character.. The DNA analogy captures in a word the subtle combination of real and perceived values which lie at the heart of customer loyalty. exciting and always changing. Because it is not always the metallurgical or materials engineer who specifies the materials.

not grand enough. 20/02/05 . to sound sophisticated. physics. hydrodynamics. resolution. together with practical knowledge and experience in specialist fields. electro-engineering. and the effect is to dilute the message until its true flavour is lost. materials technology and design theory. The Act of Design ‘Designing is a creative activity that calls for a sound grounding in mathematics. Say what you mean to say and say it clearly and simply. 20. ASM International (1998) Metals Park. The fear of sounding trivial. sociability and teamwork are How to write a paper. USA There is a warning here for us all. 6th edition 42 MFA. economic insight. Don’t do it. This ASM Handbook is designed to help them. to get fancy. production engineering. Ohio. What they wanted to say is: “Engineers need to choose materials and to find processes to shape and join them. The temptation is to use long words. too plain. thermodynamics. of not being sufficiently heavyweight. Initiative.on Materials Selection and Design is prepared to benefit all engineers who are involved with selecting materials with their related processes that lead to a ready to assemble manufactured component. optimism. I have been just as guilty of it as anyone else.” But that sounds too short. mechanics.’ Extract from the Introduction to ASM Metals Handbook vol. haunts all writers when they are asked to write for audiences with whom they are unfamiliar. Remember who your readers are. tenacity. chemistry.

leadership. An alternative with the same message might be: Designers cannot be expected to know everything.’ From a distinguished book on Engineering Design How many people do you know who could meet that job description? The authors wish to convey the idea that design is an inter-disciplinary activity. and one that has technical. Try not to alienate your readers. managerial. but they have done so in a way that intimidates. Phrase your message with them in mind. 6th edition 43 MFA.qualities that will stand designers in good stead and are indispensable to those in responsible positions. 20/02/05 . Design involves an exceptionally broad base of technical competence and practical experience. They have lost touch with their readers.’ At a US Conference of Sociologists (1977). cited by Bryson (1987)—see Further Reading How to write a paper. yet there are times when it might seem that they must. teamwork and management skills. and social facets. Jargon (1) A Definition of love ‘… the cognitive-affective state characterised by intrusive and obsessive fantasising concerning reciprocity of amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.

On the one hand. How to write a paper. From a students application for a travel grant (1999) There’s nothing wrong with the grammar.This sort of stuff is rife in critiques of music and art. I have succeeded in attacking the Isomonodromical Deformation problem for higher order singularities by symplectic means. less frequently. and in writing on Psychiatry. in particular on a geometrical interpretation of the Painlevé equations. 20/02/05 . But how much does the statement convey to the panel awarding the travel grant. in scientific and technical writing. Psychology and Sociology. all of them scientists or engineers. too. It is not always easy to do so—the subject of Symplectic Geometry may be a difficult one to illustrate with simple examples or analogies—but it is always worth trying. Don’t let the jargon-bug infect your own style. this involves a symplectic structure obtained from infinite-dimensional considerations and on the other an analysis of the geometry of the Stokes matrices in the language of Poisson Lie groups. 6th edition 44 MFA. the writer has made no attempt to translate his ideas into a language the rest of the world can understand. and. Jargon (2) The justification for a travel grant My mathematical work is in the area of Symplectic Geometry and Differential Equations. in books on Industrial Design. The meaning is hidden in the jargon. It surfaces. punctuation or spelling here —all are fine. but none specialists in this sort of mathematics? Practically nothing.

6th edition 45 MFA.How to write a paper. 20/02/05 .

CHECKLIST FOR MONITORING PROGRESS Make concept sheet 1st draft Title and attribution Abstract Introduction Method Discussion Conclusions Acknowledgements References Figures and captions Appendices edited draft Visual presentation .

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