tools of the tradeHaving spent the last week reviewing two manuscripts for a journal editor, it became clear to me that writing is an evaluative activity.

How so?

The criteria for good writing is meeting the 5 Cs: Clarity, Coherence, Conciseness, Correctness, and Consistency.

Evaluators write–they write survey questions, summaries of findings, reports, journal manuscripts. If they do not employ the 5 Cs to communicate to a naive audience  what is important, then the value (remember the root for evaluation is value) of their writing is lost, often never to be reclaimed.

In a former life, I taught scientific/professional writing to medical students, residents, junior professors, and other graduate students. I found many sources that were useful and valuable to me. The conclusion to which I came is that taking a scientific/professional (or non-fiction) writing course is an essential tool to have as an evaluator. So I set about collecting useful (and, yes, valuable) resources. I offer them here.strunk and white 4th edstrunk and white 3rd ed

Probably the single resource that every evaluator needs to have on hand is Strunk and White’s slim volume called “The Elements of Style”. It is in the 4th edition–I still use the 3rd. Recently, a 50th anniversary edition was published that is a fancy version of the 4th edition.  Amazon has the 50th anniversary edition as well as the 4th edition–the 3rd ed is out of print.

APA style guideYou also need the style guide (APA, MLA, Biomedical Editors, Chicago) that is used by the journal to which you are submitting your manuscript. Choose one. Stick with it. I have the 6th edition of the APA guide on my desk. It is on line as well.

Access to a dictionary and a thesaurus (now conveniently available on line and through computer software) is essential. I prefer the hard copy Webster’s (I love the feel of books), yet would recommend the on-line version of the Oxford English Dictionary.

There are a number of helpful writing books (in no particular order or preference):

  • Turabian, K. L. (2007).    A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Thyer, B. A. (1994). Successful publishing in scholarly journals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Berger, A. A. (1993). Improving writing skills. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to write a lot. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Zeiger, M. (1999). Essentials of writing biomedical research papers. NY: McGraw-Hill.

I will share Will Safire’s 17 lighthearted looks at grammar and good usage another day.

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2 thoughts on “How to write good (with apologies to Will Safire)

  1. Thanks for including these amazing books. Been trying to find some online and good thing I stumbled upon your site. I just hope they’re still available in my favorite bookstore. But anyways, thanks again for sharing. Big help!

  2. Check Amazon for titles if you local book store doesn’t carry them. My guess is that they will need to be a special order.

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