In an article by Kathryn S. Brown (The Scientist, Jan. 20, 1997, page 16), the symptoms of poor scientific prose and their treatment were explained, but the cause of the problem was ignored. Most scientists (and engineers) today are seriously handicapped in their efforts to write well.

Researchers deal with sophisticated, specialized, complex concepts and do so with technical knowledge developed in years of undergraduate and graduate education and work in their field. Yet they are trying to write about this work with writing skills that, in most cases, ceased development at the level of freshman English. The disparity between their level of technical knowledge and their level of language skills is the primary source of most of their problems in writing.

Few researchers I've edited for were deficient in basic grammar, but most had difficulty dealing with the problems inherent in preparing a manuscript on a...

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