Many scientific authors think that effective writing is based on a set of rules, such as proper grammar or word usage. But writing well is not simply about following rules. Writing well is about using a collection of skills and principles to write in a way that engages and informs readers.

Although many principles influence scientific writing, they are all led by one guiding principle: make the reader’s job easy.

This principle might sound simple. But making the reader’s job easy is hard. You need to craft a compelling story that engages readers. You need to select relevant content and structure it in a way that supports the story. You need to use clear language that your audience can easily understand. And you need to do all these things while ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the science. This is hard work.

What can you do to make your job easier?

Consider your audience

One important thing you can do is consider your audience. And not only who you think will read your work but also who you want to read your work. In a world with growing interdisciplinary research and declining scientific literacy, we need to write in a way that reaches a broader audience.

Keep it simple

Aim for simplicity in your writing. Write like you are talking to a stranger in an elevator. Break down complex ideas and apply plain language principles. Simplifying concepts and text is not about dumbing down ideas or language. It’s about communicating clearly and effectively.

Seek feedback

Enlist help with your writing. We all face the curse of knowledge—unknowingly assuming that our readers know what we know. In this way, we might unintentionally leave out information that is important for readers to understand. By working with a professional editor, asking colleagues to review your writing, or even asking friends and family to read your work, you can ensure that your writing is easy to understand.

Get training

Most scientific authors have had little—or even no—formal training in writing. But to write well, you need skills to help you get control of your writing. Read books on writing, everything from classic books that cover the fundamentals to books written specifically for scientific authors. Work with a writing coach. Participate in classes and workshops. Attend seminars. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to learn.

Commit to practicing

As you learn new skills, commit to practicing them. If you learn several things at once, pick one skill to focus on for a few weeks, and then pick another skill to practice for a few weeks. Only through diligent practice can you change your habits to improve your writing.

During the process, remember to be patient with yourself. Writing well takes time and effort. But small changes over time lead to big results.

The author offers editing, training, and coaching in scientific writing.

More Resources

A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Avoiding Barriers Between Your Work and Your Reviewer

Friendly Advice from Your NIH Grant Reviewer

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