Little did I know that a Ph.D. in computer science would teach me more about how to write than any other previous experience I’d had. Indeed, research isn’t only about making new discoveries, but also about expressing those discoveries so that other people can appreciate them and their significance.
Below, I’ll present some thoughts on writing that I’ve picked up over the years and continually aim (and encourage students) to put into practice. I’ll focus on story-telling, presentation, and efficiency: how to write your paper so that it clearly, cleanly, and efficiently tells a good story.
What this post is not about. At least in this post, I won’t write about grammar—there is too much English grammar to cover in a single post, and there are plenty of good courses one can take to learn grammar. I also won’t talk about style (common phrases) or usage (e.g., commonly misused words). For now, my only advice on the topic of learning English grammar and style—both for native speakers and foreigners—is to read daily. Reading the New York Times, or The Economist are great places to start: the writing is generally of high quality, and you’ll also have something interesting to talk about outside of the lab. I have the impression that foreign students can tend towards reading their local news from home; that’s understandable, but I would encourage those students to also read periodicals and publications that are written in the style of English that people are used to reading in the Western world (indeed, English in different parts of the world has different tones, styles, idioms, and turns of phrase).