Patterson's Writing Advice
first advice is to read aloud what you have written. Generally your ear
is better than your eyes, and if you read it aloud you are much more likely
to find awkward sentences, bad tenses, and other errors.
find many people are good at sentences, but less good at forming paragraphs.
Ousterhout has a solid rule, which led me to write shorter paragraphs.
A paragraph is about a single idea, with a single key topic sentence. This
sentence is almost always the first, but sometimes the last sentence of
the paragraph, and the rest of the sentences somehow support that topic
sentence. If it works, you can get a quick summary of a section just by
reading the topic sentences.
I get most of my specific
advice from Strunk and White, "Elements of Style", which I call "S&W,"
I try to read it every few years to learn things. I'll quote from it here
on common errors I find in grad student writing. (The proper citation
is "The elements of style," by William Strunk, Jr. ; with revisions, an
introduction, and a chapter on writing by E.B. White ; [foreword by Roger
Angell]. 4th ed. Boston : Allyn and Bacon, c1999. xviii, 105 p. ) My most
recent incite is to use the Grammar Checking in M/S Word 98. I did this
in my chapters for the 3/e of CA:AQA, which consisted of copying and pasting
the text from Framemaker into Word. To turn on the tool, check the "Check
grammar" box and then click on options. I selected "Technical" for Writing
style (which was at the bottom of the menu, with the default being casual);
I think this was important, as it was much more helpful after I selected
this option. (I turned off the spelling checking since it was spell checked
in Frame.) I then selected "Settings" to see what I wanted it to check.
It found passive voice problems, too long setences, and verb-noun tense
problems among other problems. Many of the issues listed below are checked
in Word. It really helped.
(S&W rule 14) For example, use "Figure X shows ..." rather than "...
as shown in Figure X."
it is much better to mention a Figure that summarizes a lot of information
early in a paragraph rather than go into details and mention the figure
at the end, as early mention gives the reader a framework to refer to while
reading the text.
use of pronoun "This" to summarize sense of previous sentence. (S&W
writing is virtually always clearer if you sane for every occurrence of
"This" (case sensitive) or "This is" and put a noun after "This" to make
it clear what you are referring to. I'll find sentences where I'm not really
sure what I meant, which must make it harder for the reader! So search
for "This " in your text to see if a noun follows.
of "and", "but", "although". (S&W pages 63-64)
general while should be used only in the strict sense of "during the time
time"; S&W give several better ways to convey the same message. So
search for "While " in your text to see if the sentence is about time,
or could be replaced with "Although".
strange to have a single subsection (e.g., 5.2.1 in section 5.2). Why do
you need to number it if there is only one? Either eliminate the single
subsection, or change the part that precedes the subsection into a second
to Chapters, Figures, Tables.
not a easy to understand rule, but normally these names are capitalized
when used to refer to a specifuc number. So its Chapter 1, Table 3.1, Figure
1.2. I have seen some people not capitalize section 1, but I don't understand
the logic behind it, so I'd capitalize it also.
label percentages in tables with %, dollars in tables with $
much easier to look at a list of numbers that are percetages and immediately
realize that its a column of percetages if every number has a % after it,
vs. just labeling the column as Percent. No one will be confused that this
is percent of a percent of if you do both. Similar arguments for prices
out vs. numerical.
general rule of thumb is to spell out one to ten and use numbers for numbers
for 11 and up. However, I find its much better to consistently use numbers
when the reader might naturally compare or do arithmetic with the numbers
with a sentence or a paragraph. For example, " The 8-processor case (model
370) needs only 4 computers to hold 32 processors. " Blindly following
the rule of thumb would change the sentence to " The eight-processor case
(model 370) needs only four computers to hold 32 processors. " Its easier
to read and understand we use numbers (8*4=32) instead of words (eight*four=32).
In case you
are not familiar, learn about INSPEC from MELVYL so as to make it MUCH
easier to get proper citations. I would adopt its citation style to reduce
the amount of typing.
you would like more writing advice, other books are:
Frederick Crews and Sandra Schor, "The
Borzoi Handbook for Writers (2nd edition)", Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1989.
Linda Flower, "Problem Solving Strategies
for Writing (3rd edition)", Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.
are probably newer editions of these books.