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It wasn't an easy job. As a senior editor at JAMA-the Journal of the American Medical Association-in the 1960s, Lester King found himself constantly rewriting submitted manuscripts. He cut vague words. He snipped long sentences. He organized whole sections.

TOO MANY WORDS: Scientific journals are plagued by needlessly verbose writing, contends English professor Robert Day.
Finally, King had had enough. He decided to vent his frustrations-and share advice for improving scientific writing style-in a book: Why Not Say It Clearly: A Guide to Expository Writing (Boston, Little, Brown and Co., 1978). "The [journal] writing was so bad," says King, now retired, with a groan. "I couldn't believe the amount of correction I had to do."

He's not alone. The first scientific journals emerged in the 17th century. Ever since, editors and authors-not to mention English professors-have complained...

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