In my lab meeting this month, we discussed writing operations research publications. We read How to Write About Operations Research by Gerald G. Brown at the Naval Postgraduate School, a fabulous guide for writing technical publications in the field of operations research written in 2004. The entire paper is worth reading and discussing. The paper starts by introducing a “grand, unified design for any OR publication.”
There are five simple, essential questions you must answer in your publication, preferably in this order:
1) What is the problem?
2) Why is this problem important?
3) How will this problem be solved without your help?
4) What are you doing to solve this problem?
5) How will we know when you have succeeded?
The paper introduces a series of writing recommendations, which we discussed by listing our favorite and least favorite recommendations. My two favorites are ones that I often tell students:
- Start each paragraph with a topic sentence.
- Make sure that just reading your paragraph-by-paragraph topic sentences conveys all of your publication.
I also like these three recommendations:
- Use active voice
- Use present tense
- Work at it
Afterward, as a group we brainstormed recommendations that we felt were missing from the list. Here is what we came up with:
- Read your writing out loud as you edit.
- Use inclusive and gender neutral language.
- Describe all tables and figures in the text, i.e., do not just refer to the tables and figures.
- Be consistent with terminology.
What are your favorite writing tips?