WRITE IN ENGLISH.pdf
Advice for Modern Academic Writing
In some fields, young scholars may imitate the often out-dated style of their professors or of journal
articles published many years ago. Nowadays, style is evolving, because of widening democracy
and internationalization, and also increased printing costs.
The KISS Rule is “Keep it Short and Simple,” and less politely: “Keep it Simple, Stupid!”
At a conference of the Association of European Science Editors (EASE), the editor of the British
Medical Journal demanded:
He also wanted articles to be as short as possible. Rather than “Count every word,” we should
“make every word count.” Remove every useless or extra word.
Teacher-editor-author Ed Hull wants “reader-friendly” scientific writing. To achieve this, he says,
authors must realize that they are no longer in school; teachers demand performances greatly
different from texts meant to inform busy readers wanting “nuggets” of precious information.
Similarly, in the EASE Bulletin European Science Editing (1998, 24, 1; 7-9), Frances Luttikhuizen
had criticized “exaggerated use of the passive voice and Latin-based words … [that] belongs to the
formal style of the 17th century. It weakens scientific writing. The active voice is much more
forceful than the passive . . . . For linguistic as well as cultural reasons, scientists who have English
as a second language . . . tend to feel more comfortable writing in a more formal style.” Her ageless
advice continues, “Readers of scientific papers do not read them to assess them, they read
them to learn from them . . . . What is needed is more simplicity, not more sophistication!”
Aim “to inform, not to impress.” (Emphasis added.)
General Advice for Non-Native Writers
Never translate. Of course you can use your own language to take notes and write outlines. But
word-for-word translation into English means that anyone’s mother tongue causes interference.
This will damage the grammar of your English and your vocabulary, punctuation, and everything
else. Some Finns can rapidly write letters and stories in correct, charming English, but when they
write a text first in Finnish and then translate it, the result will be awkward, unclear, and full of
Accept total responsibility for being clear. If an intelligent reader has to re-read any sentence to
understand it, the Anglo-American attitude is not to blame the reader, but to blame the writer. This
may contrast with the direction of blame in your own culture, but think: Who has the time to reread sentences? Bad idea!
The worst sin is ambiguity. Being ambiguous means accidentally expressing more than one
meaning at one time, as in: “Women like chocolate more than men.” Does this mean that, given
the choice between a nice Fazer chocolate bar and a man, a woman will prefer the chocolate? Or do
you mean that “Women like chocolate more than men do”? Let’s hope, for the survival of
humanity, that it’s the latter!