Writing in the Sciences - Cut the Clutter

Updated

This is an overview over the first chapter of Writing in the Sciences offered by Stanford.

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what. These are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to the education and rank.

– William Zinssler in On Writing Well, 1976

Cutting Extra words

Here are some common clutters:

I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter

– Lettres provinciales, 16, Dec. 14, 1656

Little Tricks

Here are a few other small tricks:

Example

Here is an example sentence: ‘‘Clinical seizures have been estimated to occur in 0.5% to 2.3% of the neonatal populations’’. We can perform the first elimination: ‘‘Clinical seizures have been estimated to occur in 0.5% to 2.3% of the neonatal populations’’. The range of percentages presents possibilities of variance, making ‘‘estimated’’ unnecessary.

Upon first glance, ‘‘neonatal’’ seems like a essential word. However, upon inspection, ‘‘neonatal population’’ is merely fancy way of saying ‘‘newborns’’. So the sentence can be stripped down to ‘‘Clinical seizures occur in 0.5% to 2.3% of newborns’’.

Other notes including Verbs, Structure, and Writing Process are also available.