Good writing is a skill. You don't have to be born with it. You can learn it. And as with any skill, you'll learn it through practice. And we're going to practice a lot in this course.
First and foremost, what makes good writing is that good writing needs to communicate an idea clearly and effectively. This is even more important in scientific writing, because the whole point of scientific writing is to get your results across to other scientists, to policy makers and sometimes even to the lay public. It's all about getting your idea across clearly and effectively.
Then there is this other element of good writing and this is really what everybody associates with good writing. Good writing is beautiful, it's elegant and stylish. And I think what happens when a lot of people sit down to write, is that they're worried about this second element. They worried about sounding a certain way, about sounding smarter or sounding elegant. And they spend so much time focusing on this part that they forget about just trying to get their ideas across clearly and effectively, and this leads to all sorts of problems in the writing. So what I want you to do in this class is to keep your focus on one, communicating your idea clearly and effectively. I want you to worry less about that elegant and stylish part.
Clear writing just takes having something to say and clear thinking.
A lot of people, for example, think that in order to be a good writer you've got to have some sort of inborn talent. And a lot of scientists feel that they weren't born with the writing gene, they were born with a math gene, or the science gene, so they don't feel like they have that inborn talent. Or you might think that it takes years of English and humanities classes to become a good writer, and again, a lot of scientists don't have that.
Or maybe you think it takes some kind of artistic nature. Or many people think it takes the influence of alcohol and drugs, or maybe some kind of divine inspiration, some kind of muse. All of these things get associated with good writers, a lot of people think you need these to be a good writer, but in fact, I don't think you need any of these. What I think it takes to be a good writer is that one, as I said before, you need to have something to say. You need to have something that you're passionate about that you want to communicate. And that sounds a little bit trivial but I can't tell you how many times I've had a student sitting in my office, I'm doing editing with them. And I'll say I was confused by what you meant in this paragraph. What is it you were trying to say? And they kind of look at me and go, well, I'm not really sure what I was trying to say in that paragraph. They don't know, and that's why it's a confusing paragraph because they weren't actually sure what they were trying to say. So figure out first what it is that you're trying to say.
Then, of course, you need logical and clear thinking. You have to be able to present your arguments in a logical way particularly, in scientific writing. But again, I think most scientists feel very comfortable that they have both of these, they have something to say and they have logical thinking. What you might not have yet is that you may not know a few simple learnable rules of style. And these are the tools that I can teach you in this class. Surprisingly, you may not have ever been taught these before. In fact, in some cases you may have been taught the opposite. These are fairly simple rules that I can teach you, they're easy to learn and once you've learned them it'll be a lot easier for you to write in a clear, effective, and efficient way.Course Tags