• Alex Holcombe
Good sentences and paragraphs will:
1. Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its verb.
2. Place in the stress position the "new information" you want the reader to emphasize.
3. Place the person or thing whose "story" a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.
4. Place appropriate "old information" (material already stated in the discourse) in the topic position for linkage backward and contextualization forward.
5. Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb.
6. In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new.
7. In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with the relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure.
From "The Science of Scientific Writing". George Gopen, Judith Swan. November-December 1990 issue of American Scientist. The Science of Scientific Writing
Guides for writing
- Style, Joseph Williams
- On writing well, Zinsser (via Arman Abrahamyan)
- How to Write and Illustrate a Scientific Paper, Björn Gustavii (via Dani Linares and Martin Fenner)
- Denis Pelli has an excellent guide
- Beware Strunk & White, who are generally excellent but were too prescriptive on some points, especially grammar
Don't be overly prescriptive
NORMAL PERSON: "Where are you from?"
HARVARD GRAD: "I come from a place where we never end a sentence with a preposition."
NORMAL PERSON: "Oh, my apologies. Please allow me to correct myself and ask again— where are you from, jackass?"
see The University Of Manchester's phrasebook. It contains a number of phrases commonly used in scientific writing, which is helpful I think for non-native speakers. However if you use these phrases in your writing much, your writing will be both boring and difficult for the reader to get through, because these reflect common sins of wordiness, passive voice, etc. Maybe it helps to be aware of these common constructions in order to go beyond them.