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Author(s): George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan Source: American Scientist, Vol. 78, No. 6 (November-December ), pp. Published by: Sigma Xi. *Examples and explanations from Gopen, George D. and Judith A. Swan. “The Science Writing,” American Scientist 78, no.6 (November-December ): pp. Gopen, G.D, Swan J.A (). The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist Vol. 78 pgs. Add to My Bookmarks Export citation. Gopen, G.D .

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The Science of Scientific Writing

Our expectations are frustrated, however, when those effects are not mentioned in the next sentence: Each of us has to make a personal interpretive guess; the writer no longer controls the reader’s interpretive act.

Once again, if our decisions concerning the relative values of specific information differ from yours, we can all blame the author, who failed to make his intentions apparent. In place of the word-limit concept, we offer the following definition: The list gives us too few clues as to what actions actually take place in the passage.

At this juncture, particularly astute readers who are chemists might draw upon their specialized knowledge, silently supplying the missing connection. We have seen sentences of over words that flow easily and persuasively toward their clearly demarcated destination. Beginning with the exciting material and ending with a lack of luster often leaves us disappointed and destroys our sense of momentum.

A Summary of “The Science of Scientific Writing”

The information that begins a sentence establishes for the reader a perspective for viewing the sentence as a unit: It is a linguistic commonplace that readers naturally emphasize the material that arrives at the end of a sentence.

Readers expect the action of a sentence to be articulated by the verb.

As critical scientific readers, we would like to concentrate our energy on whether the experiments prove the hypotheses. If these structural expectations are continually violated, readers are forced to divert energy from understanding the content of a passage to unraveling its structure.


The first sentence of our example passage does just the opposite: This is surprising because the same concentration of TFIIIA does not limit transcription in the oocyte nuclear extract. If so, that disagreement underscores our point: No one should have to work as hard as we did to unearth the content of a single passage of this length.

The first sentence introduces the concept of nonrandom intervals between earthquakes; the second sentence tells us that gopej rates due to the movement of sccientist plates are more or less uniform; the third sentence adds that the recurrence rates of major earthquakes should also be somewhat predictable; the fourth sentence adds that recurrence rates vary with some conditions; the fifth sentence adds information about one particular variation; the sixth sentence adds a recurrence-rate example from California; and the last sentence tells us something about how recurrence rates can be described statistically.

Our best stylists turn out to be our most skillful violators; but in order to carry this off, they must fulfill expectations most of the time, causing the violations to be perceived as exceptional moments, worthy of note. Teaching Writing from the Reader’s Perspective.

Writers who use reader-expectation principles on their own prose will not have to conjecture or infer; they know what the prose is intended to convey.

The Science of Scientific Writing | American Scientist

The addition of egg extract to the oocyte nuclear extract has two effects on transcription efficiency. First, too many reader expectations are functioning at any given moment for structural decisions to remain clear and easily activated.

The first tells us something about bees; the second tells us something about pollen. If subsequent main shocks have different amounts of slip across the fault, then the recurrence time may vary, and the basic idea of periodic mainshocks america be modified. For great plate boundary ruptures the length and slip often vary by a factor of 2. Armed with this awareness, the writer can achieve far greater control although never complete swwn of the reader’s interpretive process.


One of our revisions of the initial ameerican can serve as an example: It focuses attention on one particular strand of goppen discussion, both harkening backward and leaning forward. The second possibility is even worse: Here is one way to incorporate it into the sentence structure: The Common Sense of Writing: The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication.

Consequently, when the derivatized nucleosides are dissolved in non-aqueous solvents, hydrogen amedican form almost exclusively between the bases. We can distill the problem by looking closely at the information in each sentence’s topic position:.

We never have to wander too far into a sentence without being told where we are and what former strands of discourse are being continued.

Using these principles, we can begin to unravel the problems of our example prose. In doing so, we have produced a clearer passage—but not one that necessarily reflects the author’s intentions; it reflects only our interpretation of the author’s intentions.

To get at the problem, we need to articulate something about how readers go about reading. Here is a second example of scientific prose that we shall attempt to improve in subsequent discussion:.