Notes on writing course

Some notes from the writing course I’m taking.

Lecture 1, 14 November


  • Searching phrases/alternatives in quotes in Google Scholar can tell which one is more frequently used.

  • contains collocations: words frequently occuring together with the searched word.

  • another resource for looking collocations; more scientifically rigorous than Ozdic.

  • counts ngram usage over time, and compares usage over time. Also allows e.g. * difference* to find the most common word before difference.

  • Allows search quoted terms for frequency count in papers.

  • Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries are good enough. They not only give definitions but also typical usage and e.g. common proposition.

Reader friendlyness

  • Keep subject and verb close to each other.
  • Avoid unneeded words; keep things brief.
  • Avoid multiple reasons (in order to, owing to, due to). Even avoid In order to completely; just To suffices.
  • Avoid complicated words; no unneeded repetitions.

Typical problems

  • Object far from verb
  • Front-loading
  • Dangling modifiers
  • Lack of parallelism
  • Redundancy: A, which B, that C, so that D.
  • Stacking
  • Turgid sentences: overstuffed.

Lecture 2, 21 November

Paragraph level expectations

  • Topic sentence: 1st sentence of paragraph creates expectations about the content of the rest of the paragraph.
    • don’t have to, but recommended
    • makes implicit expectations explicit
    • should not be too specific. Following sentence make things more precise.
    • simple, wide, not specific, not too vague
  • Preview sentence / Framing sentence
    • establish expectations about the structure of the paragraph
    • Can give the number of items following: We distinguish two cases.
  • Topic and preview sentence may be merged.
  • Possible paragraph structure
    1. Topic sentence
    2. Preview sentence
    3. Aspect 1
    4. Detail 1
    5. Aspect 2
    6. Detail 2
    7. Conclusion (optional)
  • Other paragaph structures:
    • general -> specific
    • specific -> general
    • situaion - problem - solution - evaluation
    • compare - contrast
    • advantages - disadvantages
    • cause - effect
    • chronological


Beginning of sentence follows up on very end of previous sentence.

Default flow: old to new.

  • Begin with old information (possibly repetition)
  • Move on to new information.
  • Repetition because of this is OK, and can help reader understanding.

Sometimes this is not possible, or we have a focus shift, use a linker / transition marker, e.g. however.

Starting with new information can be used for special effect, but should be used sparingly.

Flow strategies:

  1. Exact/partial repetition: variation of a word; synonyms; pronouns (it, they, these, …).
  2. This/These + summary noun, e.g. these ideas.
  3. Fronting: place a phrase/clause at the start of the sentence, e.g. In England, it rains a lot.
  4. Passive voice to move new information to the end.

But: sometimes beginning of sentence refers to beginning of previous sentence.

  • e.g. multiple comments about the same thing.

Conclusion: multiple possible information progressions.

  • argumentation: linear progression

  • description: constant progression

  • For technical terms, exact repetition (or possibly partial repetition) is preferred over synonyms that may end up being confusing.

Assignment for next week

2 paragraphs of texts for a paper/thesis/…., by monday.

Lecture 3, 28 November

  • Repeating things is a good thing. Helps reader.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat e.g. procedure a few times. Synonyms are not

Bad organization

  • chronological

  • Bundling all proofs/results in one section and discussion elsewhere

  • rambling introduction on tangentially related research

  • Unfounded claims of relevance

  • Disproportionate attention to minor details

  • Not sufficient context

  • No motivation

  • No signposting


  1. Introduce fig: Figure X shows …
  2. Describe: As can be seen, …
  3. Highlight key points: The most common …
  4. Commenting on the results:

Commenting from strong to weak:

  • shows
  • suggests
  • indicates
  • implies (in an informal sense, rather than mathematical sense)

Modal verbs and adverbs:

  • can stronger than could
  • may stronger than might
  • *would* seems
  • probably

Don’t be too weak! You do want to explain the properties of the data.

  • Figure 5 shows X: indicative, what is shown

  • Figure 5 shows *that* X: informative, conclusion drawn from what is shown.

  • is shown in table 1: 1.8M

  • Table 1 shows: 3.3M

  • (see table 1): 4M

  • As shown in Table 1: 1.6M

References to figures

  • We report .. in table 1
  • Table 2 shows …
  • In Table 3a we report …
  • Table 3a is presented to highlight …
  • Figure 1 shows an example of …
  • Figure 2 shows the average number of …
  • This is graphically evident from Figure 2, looking at …
  • Figure 3 shows an example.
  • At the other end of .. visible in Figure 4,
  • In Figure 4 we show
  • As already noted in Figure 4
  • as shown in step 3 of the pseudocode


  • All indicative, none informative
  • No imperative
  • No parens
  • All present tense
  • Verbs: shows
  • Examples: in ... we report

Indicative vs Informative (ex. 7)

  • indicative: Table 1 shows X
  • informative: Table 1 shows that X

Lecture 4, December 5


Functions in introduction

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Research context
  • Results
  • Benefits
  • (Limitations)


  1. Establish research territory

    • Show that the area is important/problematic/relevant in some way (almost always)
    • Review related work.

    ‘claiming centrality’; emphasize importance

    • present perfect: has been studied, started in the past and still now
    • present simple: remains

    both talk about the importance of the work in the present

  2. Establish a niche

    • something is missing
    • something needs to be added
    • something isn’t good enough
    • ‘mini-critique’
    • indicate contrast


    • Little work has been done
    • Few studies have …
    • less attention
    • studies have emphasized A as opposed to B
  3. Occupy the niche

    • outline the structure of text
    • outline purpose
    • listing research questions
    • principal findings
    • indicating value

Introduction phrases:

  • Move 3 takes most of the space. Move 2 takes very little space.


  • looking back
  • looking forward

Example structure, specific to general:

  • restatement of aims
  • summary of methods/results
  • comparison to other research
  • limitations
  • implications/impact
  • recommendations/future research


  • we solved, we presented (past simple), is in the past but somewhat detached from the now.
  • we have solved (present perfect) makes it more relevant for now. (Either works.)
  • Don’t use use present tense (we conduct).
  • More research will be needed ...

Lecture 5, December 12


Possible structures:

  • AMRC
    1. (Background)
    2. activity/purpose
    3. methods
    4. results
    5. conclusion
  • B/SPSE
    1. Background/situation
    2. problem
    3. solution
    4. evaluation


  • Most often a long noun phrase.
  • Sometimes two parts.
  • Rarely a question.



Do use comma:

  • Before and, or, but, yet, for, and so when connecting two main complete clauses.
    • Not: A does not rely on X but on Y.
  • Around non-defining relative clauses (i.e. when it can be removed without losing meaning):
    • The teacher, who is called Mark, is cool.
    • My girlfriend, who lives in spain, … (My only one, who happens to live there.)
  • Oxford comma
  • When subordinate clause with (although, because, when, if, unless, until, since, before) precedes main clause:
    • When you do X, you may do Y.
  • After introductory phrase:
    • Additionally, …
    • Before submission, …
  • Around inserted phrase/interruption:
    • A, or sometimes B, is special.

Do not use comma:

  • Between incomplete clauses:
    • I wrote a book and read it.
  • Between defining relative clause:
    • Clauses that are not connected …
    • My girlfriend who lives in Spain, … (The one in spain, not the other one.)
  • When the main clause precedes the subordinate clause:
    • We eat until we are all finished.
  • Not before that … if the subclause is the object/subject.
    • We believe that …


  • hyphen: to join inseperable words.
  • n-dash: for ranged and periods of time. calais-dover, 1999-2019.
  • m-dash: to separate and insert whole phrases. No spaces around it in British English.