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Essays and books on writing well

Zhigang Suo's picture
  • G. M. Whitesides, Writing a paper. Advanced Materials 15, 1375-1377, 2004.  This three-page essay by a prolific professor at Harvard advocates a process:  start writing a paper at the same time you start a research project.  Every thinking person should read this essay, and give the process a try.
  • David Weitz, Weitzlab Guide to Good Paper Writing.  David Weitz, of Harvard University, leads a large and prolific experimental soft condensed matter group.
  • P.R. Halmos, How to write mathematics, L'Enseignement Mathemmatique 16, 123-152 (1970)
  • Elements of style, Nature Physics 3, 581 (2007).  This is a one-page editorial on writing, more relevant to writing short papers such as those in Nature, Science, PNAS, PRL, APL.  You may also want to read an iMechanica entry on writing for PRL by Zhenyu Zhang. 
  • M.F. Ashby, How to write a paper. Professor Ashby, of the University of Cambridge, is known to many of us for his textbooks, and materials selection maps.  He is a fascinating speaker and writer.  This essay explains how he approaches writing.
  • W. Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style.  This little book is perhaps the best known book on writing well. 
  • W.K. Zinsser, On Writing Well.  A delightful and helpful book.
  • J.M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace.  Written by a Professor of English, this book takes a more systematic approach to the craft.  My favorite.

If you find any helpful essays and books on writing well, please add a link below.


Mogadalai Gururajan's picture

Dear Prof. Suo: 

Here are a few resources on writing that I have found:

  1. Terrence Tao on writing papers (though meant mostly for mathematicians, some rules are general enough for writing any paper);
  2. This one on writing consistently boring literature tells the usual pitfalls that one should avoid; and,
  3. The Purdue University writing lab is a good resource too, and links to MLA and APA style guides among other things. 

We often get confused as to how to write the SI units properly. (As recently as a couple of days back, I certainly did!) For example, how should we express force? Select one:
(a) 10 Newtons
(b) 10 newtons
(c) 10 newton

If you didn't answer (c), you certainly need to check out the following check-list. (Even otherwise, it would prove useful.) Maintained by the Physics Lab of NIST, it's authoritative: The homepage of the concerned URL gives free access to other related information too.

Ying Li's picture

This link is a quit good place I have seen in the website to teach you how to publish a paper in the top journal. Please enjoy it!

Zhigang Suo's picture

This one-page editorial is available by open access.

Mike Ciavarella's picture

Start writing a research paper when ?  At the
same time you start a research project.  Every thinking person should
read this essay, and give the process a try.?   This is crazy!!!    Why not then BEFORE you start a research project?

The decline and the final corruption will be definitive when we never start ANY research project, and we just engage ourselves to write papers!

When then a ROBOT to write papers?  WhAutomatic paper generator?  

You should write a paper WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!!

M. Whitesides,  sorry, but I am in TOTAL DISAGREEMENT!  Maybe you are a prolific professor, but how cited?

Of course you can make a good career still for some few years with this method, but not for long:   

Read instead 

 And read why Google Scholar will silently stop this crazyness


Vol: 74, Issue: 2, February 2008


pp. 273 - 294



Sources of Google Scholar citations outside the Science Citation Index: A comparison between four science disciplines

Kousha, Kayvanb, a; Thelwall, Mikeb, a

b. University of Tehran, Department of Library and Information Science, Jalal-Al-e-Ahmed Ave.
P.O. Box 11455/6456

a. University of Wolverhampton, School of Computing and Information Technology, Wolverhampton

Abstract (English):

practical reasons, bibliographic databases can only contain a subset of
the scientific literature. The ISI citation databases are designed to
cover the highest impact scientific research journals as well as a few
other sources chosen by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).
Google Scholar also contains citation information, but includes a less
quality controlled collection of publications from different types of
web documents. We define Google Scholar unique citations as those
retrieved by Google Scholar which are not in the ISI database. We took
a sample of 882 articles from 39 open access ISI-indexed journals in
2001 from biology, chemistry, physics and computing and classified the
type, language, publication year and accessibility of the Google
Scholar unique citing sources. The majority of Google Scholar unique
citations (70%) were from full-text sources and there were large
disciplinary differences between types of citing documents, suggesting
that a wide range of non-ISI citing sources, especially from
non-journal documents, are accessible by Google Scholar. This might be
considered to be an advantage of Google Scholar, since it could be
useful for citation tracking in a wider range of open access scholarly
documents and to give a broader type of citation impact. An important
corollary from our study is that Google Scholar’s wider coverage of
Open Access (OA) web documents is likely to give a boost to the impact
of OA research and the OA movement.


Mike Ciavarella's picture

Automatic Paper Generator

A group of MIT students wrote a computer program capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations."
They then used this program to create a paper that they submitted to an
academic conference: the World Multi-Conference on Systemics,
Cybernetics and Informatics, which sounds like a thrill a minute. The paper was accepted, which isn't really surprising since as the students point out conferences such as this are really 'fake' conferences "with no quality standards, which exist only to make money." The students hope to travel down to the conference (if they're still allowed to attend) and deliver a "completely randomly-generated talk."

Posted By: Alex | Date: Thu Apr 14, 2005 | Permalink |
Total Comments: 5



If you've been to any
academic conferences, or tried to read many academic journals, you'll
swear that most of the content is ramdomly generated.

I remember once my graduate school convened a panel discussion on how
to get published in journals. Suffering, as usual, from a terminal lack
of tact, I stood up and said, "Isn't it true that many of these
journals have few or no readers, and that if professors didn't need to
publish in order to get tenure, they wouldn't exist at all?"
To my amazement, none of panelists denied this claim (all the panelists
were editors of, and major contributors to, academic journals). One of
them offered the justification that, "At least my articles will be
there in the university libraries if anyone in the future should ever
want to read them."

Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri Apr 15, 2005  at  01:17 PM

The document introduces the basic
concepts of residual stress in thin films and its impact on wafer
curvature.(Custom Term Paper ) Wafer curvature technique is still one of the most common
and important methods for daily process qualifications in any IC
fabrication plant.(Dissertation Writing)

Zhigang Suo's picture

Quan-shui Zheng told me about this short guide on writing papers at the IUTAM Congress last week.  On my way back from Sydney to Boston, I happened to be on the same flight with David Weitz.  We had a nice, long conversation at the San Francisco Airport.  David is known for his clear, concise, and energetic presentations.  He is the Director of Harvard MRSEC, which has just been renewed under his leadership. 

David promised to improve this guide when he finds time.  But when will that happen?  Meanwhile you might as well read his guide as is, and try to make a single point, and tell a story in your paper.

Donald X. Chen's picture

Henk A. van der Vorst
The Australian Mathematical Society Gazette, 31 (2), pp. 94-100, 2004
susanta's picture

I think the following is a very good guide on writing "mathematical paper"
"How to write a paper?" -- by Prof. Arieh Iserles.

Prof. Iserles. is Prof. in Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics centre for Mathematical Sciences University of Cambridge
Best regards, Susanta Ghosh

I definitely need this Writing paper because i need to improve my writing skills. I do admit that i am poor when it come to this subject, so it will be a nice guide for me. Thanks, Alwin,

WaiChing Sun's picture

Thank you so much for the useful posts. Actually, the links and articles posted above are very helpful for writing journal paper. However, I also wonder if anyone knows whether there is any good article/posts that talks about how to write good conference paper, especially those papers with word/page limit? How can one express complicated idea with limited space without over-simplifying the ideas ? Many thanks in advanced.

WaiChing Sun 


WME7's picture

Truly useful information.

 -- Manuel D¡az 

Zhigang Suo's picture

Several good practices are listed in this post by Matt Welsh, a colleague in computer science.

Your blog is related with natural thing which is really implemented. My most liked can be positively the idea is normally all of the most excellent procedure to be able to visit front.Thank you for providing such resources.

Really a great resource!



Ronald Peters's picture

Great information. Peter.


When people are asked to prepare an overview of any kind, most of them apply for the help. They can only wish to have that brain of pros. The thing is their thinking is quite unstable and frustrated. They  can hardly intend to think about student research papers tomorrow. As a result the life of such men and women becomes complicated, as it is a standard procedure there.

Hi All,

I have done postgraduation in mech engg from IIT (India). 

I was working for company which I left 2 months before.

Currently I am not employed nor joint with any organisation/college. I am (myself) working on some project on which I strongly believe, very less literature is available till date.

I  am carrying out (simulation) trials (on computer) myself.

Now I have queries for all of you.

If I want to publish/write journal article on same, how should I move ahead? I want to persue career in domain I am currently working on.

Sincere request for professors, senior colleague out there to guide/help/provide some useful tips.






Zhigang Suo's picture

I have just read this essay by Halmos.  Many suggestions are good for writing mechanics as well.

rabindra's picture

Very useful information. Thanks all of you.

I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people. Looking forward to read more of your post and updates in the future.
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