- Avoid using "we".
Philosophy: The word "we" is often used by lazy writers
because it provides an easy way to give a sentence a subject. The
problem is that doing so usually dilutes the impact of the sentence
or obscures the true subject.
Here is a real-world example (taken from a published paper): "In
this paper we focus on statically checking behavioral properties
of ..." The authors of the paper have little to do with the
main point of the paper. The sentence above would be better as:
"This paper focuses on statically checking behavioral properties
of ..." This version emphasizes the true subject of the sentence,
"this paper". It's also shorter.
Unless the true subject of the sentence is the authors, avoid
using "we". An acceptable use is: "We would like
to thank the anonymous referees for providing helpful feedback on
the earlier draft of this work."
- Parallelism is good.
When a paragraph, bullet list, or sentence contains similar components,
those components should use parallel construction. Opportunities
for parallelism include: similar sentence structure, repeated verbs,
repeated subjects. Required parallism: verb tense and noun plurality.
- Citation references are not nouns.
Philosophy: The point of writing is communication to the reader.
Because citation references are often numbers or alpha-numeric strings,
it is difficult for the reader to ascribe them meaning. The reader
should not need to refer to the bibliography to understand a sentence.
Example: "As shown in , static type systems ..." should
be "As shown by Harper et al. , static type sytems..."
or "As shown previously, static type systems ... ."
With citation styles that use the author's name as the index it
is sometimes permissible to use the reference as a noun. For example,
"As shown in (Harper et al. 1999), static type systems ...". But
in this style even better would be "As shown by Harper et al. (1999),
static type systems...".
- Good writing is readable. (Read your writing
Reading a sentence or paragraph aloud can reveal defects in its
structure. Paragraphs that use the same sentence structure too frequently
often sound choppy or awkward when read aloud. Complex phrases that
trip up the tongue indicate that the sentence may need to be edited.
- When in doubt, look it up.
There are many excellent resources to improve writing skills.
Some of my favorite online resources are:
One writing book intended especially for Computer Scientists is
"Bugs in Writing: A guide to debugging your prose" by
Lyn Dupre. Also see "An
Evaluation of the Ninth SOSP Submissions, or, How (and How Not)
to Write a Good Systems Paper" by Roy Levin and David D.
Redell and "How
To Have Your Abstract Rejected" by Mary-Claire van Leunen
and Richard Lipton.