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Last modified on 2018-10-05



All the issues discussed here are random stuff I made up. "William":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style is authoritative, and so is "Lynn":http://www.amazon.com/BUGS-Writing-Revised-Guide-Debugging/dp/020137921X ; hell, even "Google":http://www.google.com/search?q=technical+writing is right. Me? I just entertain a layman's obsessive-compulsive disorder for grammar and orthography here.





Personified statements like *In this paper, we show* should only be used where they explicitely indicate one's own work in contrast to previous work. Ideally, they should appear only in your introduction but no other chapters. The plural *we* is to be preferred over the singular *I*.




- Anything but present tense is almost never applicable in technical writing:


- "As X showed in [x]..." -> "As X shows in [x]..."


- Even worse, present perfect is effectively never applicable in technical writing:


* "We have implemented a prototype" -> "We implemented a prototype"


* "As the previous chapter has shown" -> shows




Hyphens (-) only serve to resolve ambiguities in compound nouns


* wrong: Internet-technology


* right: lower-level configuration (or lower level-configuration, depending on what you mean)




Contractions are informal and are to be avoided in technical writing: can't -> cannot (or can not)




Use injections - as they can be quite annoying - sparingly.


Posessive 's


You might remember from your English classes that the 's genitiv is primarily used with persons; otherwise use 'of'.





- Decide on one scheme for using capitalized words in headings. Either 'First word only' or 'Close to All Words'


- Only very few terms are commonly capitalized, e.g., Internet



Choice of Words


- As a non-native speaker, it is often difficult to distinguish between informal and scientific writing style:


* hard -> difficult


* has to -> must (although 'must' is probably the most abused English word by Germans)


- minimal/maximal and other absolute terms: are you sure you are talking about an absolute minimum/maximum here or would a more relative term be more appropriate?





These are a never ending source of mistakes, probably because the German rules are so confusing, not the English ones. Generally, commas in English indicate a pause in speech so saying a sentence out loud gives you a pretty good feeling for where commas should be (or not be). Highlights and exceptions:


- "I admit, that" -> "I admit that": if not used to introduce a relative clause, that is never preceeded by a comma.


- "You snooze, because you lose" -> "You lose because you snooze": As above, a subclause is not necessarily introduced by a comma.




You want your scientific text to convey the large amount of precision and exactitude you put into your research (right?). Because if it does not, the reader is left with a strong lingering feeling of you neither having understood your subject nor having delivered useful results. First of all, many words can alert a reader that the text is turning into muddy waters of unkown depths:


* rather, quite, somewhat, maybe, sometimes


* various, diverse, a few, most


* can, should, would, must


Put simply, none of the above words appears in a good scientific paper. Identifying them as pitfalls is valuable because they point you to aspects that you are not sure about yourself. If that is the case (and usually it is), it is important to acknowledge this fact and eliminate the source of uncertainty - is there more research or thinking that needs to be done on this point?


Of course, reality is not always nice enough to be black or white so in certain cases, Words of Uncertainty are indeed needed to convey a certain grayness. However, those words do a poor job because they are so general and fuzzy (not in the nice way). Ideally, it is possible to identify the nature of impreciseness more precisely and write it that way. However, there are days when you just have to bite the bullet of inexactitude while sounding scientific and well-founded, and on such days, your friends are words like *typically*, *relatively*, or *commonly*.


- Impressum -