Nontechnical professionals who frequently read scientists' reports offer the following suggestions for researchers needing to get their messages across clearly:
- Know Your Audience
The purpose of a paper should determine its style and organization. Nancy Thornton, who teaches writing effectiveness to word-weary scientists at some 20 institutions in upstate New York, suggests that researchers ponder their report's destination before sitting down to write.
"Is it a progress report for a manager? If so, what will the manager do with it? Will he or she send it on to someone and how will that affect the language to be used?" asks Thornton, whose clients include scientists at Sterling Winthrop, General Electric, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and numerous small technical firms. Well-written in-house reports often start with journalism's "five Ws" - who, what, where, when, why - "so that the reader can focus on where [the paper] is...