In editing the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems and the book "Micromechanics and MEMS," I have examined almost a thousand articles, some well written, some poorly written. Below are some thoughts on how to effectively write an article.
Communication is the prime consideration. Grammar, good sentence structure, vocabulary, and organization have evolved to aid effective communication.
Who is your audience? I visualize three people: a novice, someone knowledgeable in science who knows little about the field, and an expert. Then as I write, I talk to these three individuals. Each paragraph and each section ideally has something of interest for each reader. When an extended section is needed, for perhaps the expert, the novice can be warned, "The rest of this section contains a detailed examination of the boundary conditions at infinity."
Many of your most important readers will spend only a minute or two reading your article. You want them to understand the salient points, so they will remember and look up your article when it becomes important. The first page of your article is critical. (Having a good figure on the first page of your article that clearly conveys the major thrust of your work is most helpful.)
Before writing, try explaining your article to an intelligent friend that knows little about the field. This will sharpen your sensitivity to the assumptions and jargon you and your colleagues use. If you can not explain your work to this friend, spend some time thinking about what you are really doing.
Now before engaging the word processor, take the Journal chosen for publication. Glance through several issues, and choose the articles you think are especially well written. Then use these articles to help plan a strategy to most effectively present your ideas. Finally, sit down with the Information for Authors, and read it carefully.
The abstract, introduction, and conclusion seem to be three places requiring identical information. This is not true.
The abstract will be read by people deciding if they want to read your article. What information about your work will help the correct people select your work from the many abstracts they are scanning? What are the key aspects, how does your work differ from the literature?
The introduction is a road map. After reading the introduction, the reader should be able to scan the article, and pick out the important facts.
After reading your whole article, readers may still not grasp the significance. The conclusion is your chance to put the article in perspective. At this point, you can assume the reader knows the details; she or he needs the broad view.
Following the article's introduction is usually a section on the previous work in the field. Many authors use this section to show their work is clever, and the rest of the literature is stupid. There are several things these authors have forgotten. First, who do they think is going to review their paper? Second, their portrayal of the literature makes them, not the literature, seem simple and sophomoric. Third, the author is missing a chance to communicate important information. People learning the field appreciate a well written review of previous work. Help them. If your references allow them to discover the literature, they will forever consider you one of the experts in the field.
While writing the body of the article, I stop every few paragraphs and visualize the three people I have chosen for the audience. If someone's head is nodding, I speak to them, tell them what they want to know, and then rewrite to include material of interest to all readers. If you are not writing for your audience ... .
Changing the length and complexity of your sentences and paragraphs keeps your writing lively and interesting. Long sentences add a richness and complexity.
Short paragraphs emphasize.
The scientific literature is immutable. You can
not go back; you can not change. Researchers a hundred years hence
will still be reading the great works. Make yours one.
The reader is strongly urged to buy the book "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, Macmillan Press, 1972. This pithy book of 78 pages challenges authors, for example, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell." [page 17] and "make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language" [page 14]. This small book takes a lifetime to read.
I believe a web address is most clearly read and easily copied with a space before any punctuation, as http://www.trimmer.net .