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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Large earthquakes along a given fault segment do not occur at random intervals because it takes time to accumulate the strain energy for the rupture. Place the person or thing whose “story” a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.

But at least now we can recognize that the author has not explained the connection between “limit” and “inhibit.

As a result, the focus of the story constantly shifts. In reading, as in most experiences, we appreciate the opportunity to become familiar with a new environment before having to function in it. Readers have relatively fixed expectations about where in the structure of prose gopej will encounter particular items of its substance.

This refrain of “recurrence intervals” constitutes the major string of old information in the paragraph. It may seem obvious that a scientific document is incomplete without the interpretation of the writer; it may not be so obvious that the document cannot “exist” without the interpretation of each reader.

A Summary of “The Science of Scientific Writing”

The new, emphasis-worthy information appears in the stress position. Note that the grammatical subject “the smallest” is separated from its verb “has been identified” by 23 words, more than half the sentence. They are not especially long or convoluted; their vocabulary is appropriately professional but not beyond the ken of educated general readers; and they are free of grammatical and dictional errors. Here is a second example scientixt scientific prose that we shall attempt to improve in subsequent discussion:.


This is a large complex that also contains many subunits synthesized in the cytoplasm; it will be referred to hereafter as amerrican chain NADH dehydrogenase or complex I.

The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication.

The Science of Scientific Writing

We have argued that the substance of thought and the expression of thought are so inextricably intertwined that changes in either will affect the quality of the other. In sum, we are now aware of how much the paragraph had not communicated to us on first reading.

Although this information may provide some sense of comfort, it does little to answer the interpretive questions that need answering. Given that this is the first paragraph of the article, which type of earthquake will the article most likely proceed to discuss?

To get at the problem, we need to sckentist something about how readers go about reading. Let us say that in tracking the temperature svientist a liquid over a period of time, an investigator takes measurements every three minutes and records a list of temperatures. The question then becomes whether the structure created by the writer intentionally or not helps or hinders the reader in the process of interpreting the scientific writing.

Filling the gaps required the addition of extra material. Long svientist need not be difficult to read; they are only difficult to write. The addition of egg extract to the oocyte nuclear extract has two effects on transcription efficiency. It appears that the passage is trying to tell several stories simultaneously, allowing none to dominate.

The individual sentences give the impression of being intelligently fashioned: Perceiving structure in professional prose: These revisions might differ significantly from one another in the way their structures indicate to the reader the various weights and balances to be given to the information.


It does not matter how pleased an author might be to have converted all the right data into sentences and paragraphs; it matters only whether a large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind. Here is our first example of scientific prose, in its original form: Readers expect the action of a sentence to be articulated by the verb.

Any piece of prose, no matter how short, may “mean” in 10 or more different ways to 10 sciwntist readers. Having begun by analyzing the structure of the prose, hopen were led eventually to reinvestigate the substance of the science. Writers who do this consistently are attending more to their own need for unburdening themselves of their information than to the reader’s need for receiving the material.

Good writers are intuitively aware of these expectations; that is why their prose has what we call “shape. Thus a whole list, numbered and indented, can occupy the stress position of a sentence if it has been clearly announced as being all that remains of that sentence.

Moreover, we delight in being rewarded at the end of a labor with something that makes the ongoing effort worthwhile. In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with gipen relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure. We know who the players are, but we are ignorant of the actions they are presumed to perform. Such success will follow from authors becoming more consciously aware of the various reader expectations presented here.