We're talking about the principles of scientific writing introduced by Gopen and Swan (1990). In contrast to rules of grammar, these principles are meant to be guidelines that the author uses in accordance with the writing situation and goals. As we will see later, a choice sometimes must be made between two principles.
The previous post introduced the idea of subject-verb separation and gave an example (an abstract) that contained sentences in which the subject and verb were separated by a long string of words. Here is the original example:
The discrete-dipole approximation (DDA) for scattering calculations, including the relationship between the DDA and other methods, is reviewed. Computational considerations, i.e., the use of complex-conjugate gradient algorithms and fast-Fourier-transform methods, are discussed. We test the accuracy of the DDA by using the DDA to compute scattering and absorption by isolated, homogeneous spheres as well as by targets consisting of two contiguous spheres. It is shown that, for dielectric materials (¦m¦ ≲ 2), the DDA permits calculations of scattering and absorption that are accurate to within a few percent.
I asked readers to think about how they would revise the writing to improve comprehension based on this first writing principle: minimize the distance between subject and verb. I was hoping someone would take a stab at rewriting this abstract using the first principle. So far, only Comrade PhysioProf has submitted a revision, which I reproduce here:
We review several aspects of the discrete-dipole approximation (DDA) for scattering calculations, including the relationship between the DDA and other methods. We discuss the computational considerations relating to DDA of complex-conjugate gradient algorithms and fast-Fourier-transform methods. We test the accuracy of the DDA by using the DDA to compute scattering and absorption by isolated, homogeneous spheres as well as by targets consisting of two contiguous spheres. Using these approaches, we demonstrate that for dielectric materials (¦m¦ ≲ 2), the DDA permits calculations of scattering and absorption that are accurate to within a few percent.
For comparison, here is my revision:
We review the discrete-dipole approximation (DDA) used in scattering calculations and its relationship to other methods. Other computational considerations include the complex-conjugate gradient algorithms and fast-Fourier-transform methods. The accuracy of the DDA is tested in computations of scattering and absorption by different targets: isolated, homogeneous spheres and two contiguous spheres. For dielectric materials ((¦m¦ ≲ 2), the DDA permits calculations that are accurate to within a few percent.
Both CPP and I changed the first two sentences to place subject and verb closer together. We also maintained the present tense throughout (which seems to be the style of this particular journal). So now the reader knows by the second word in the first sentence that this paper is (in part) a review. So even if we don’t know anything about light-scattering calculations, we understand that the authors reviewed and compared several methods, the primary focus being DDA. Also, by putting “we review” at the beginning of the sentence we’ve changed the voice from passive to active, a move that makes writing come alive (more about this later).
CPP maintained the same sentence style throughout ("We review...we discuss...we test....we demonstrate"), which makes for a consistent, balanced description of what was done in the study. I chose to take a different approach and reduced the use of first person while still keeping active voice (considerations include.... DDA permits). Either way works and is an improvement over the original. My version is shorter (68 words) than CPP's (94 words); if there is a word limit, then the shorter version might be preferable. In addition, there are several other principles to consider that will be covered in the coming posts, some of which may lead us to further revisions.
So to summarize, we can state the first principle of scientific writing thus:
Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its verb.
The next expectation is that the point being made is expected to appear in what is known as the “stress position”, i.e., the place of emphasis in the sentence. The next post takes a closer look at this concept.