Writing as Metaphor for Life in the Sciences

Carol Nacy, a scientist with over 160 published papers, shares her best tips for strong writing.

Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash
  1. Avoid compound verbs and gerunds (-ing words) and write in the active tense. Instead of writing “we have been developing new antibiotics,” say “we develop new antibiotics.” It is very difficult to use gerunds correctly, so it’s better to just avoid them whenever possible.
  2. Eliminate articles, most are unnecessary. And edit extraneous words to simplify a sentence. For example, one might change “Thanks to everyone for getting all of the information together that we needed to assemble this proposal and tell the story in a compelling way for the reviewers to consider for funding” (this is an actual sentence in a recent email) to “Thanks to everyone who assembled the information that created such a compelling story for the reviewers of this proposal.” Thirty-two words cut to nineteen, with no loss of meaning. Crisp.
  3. The proper way to structure a sentence that begins with “To” is not “To remove the fluids, the tube was centrifuged at 4C for 5 minutes,” but is “To remove the fluids, we centrifuged the tube at 4C for 5 minutes.” A “To” introductory clause is always followed by the actor of the process, not the subject of the action.



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