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 Summary
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In this article “The science of scientific
writing” by George Gopen & Judith Swan, the authors argue that despite
the complexity of scientific thoughts or concepts, their presentation does not
necessarily have to be hard for comprehension by a layman. The authors
acknowledge that science is undeniably challenging to read (Gopen and Swan 55).
However, it can be made easy to interpret the moment the writer understands
what the reader needs. The authors discuss some rhetorical principles that can
be used to present scientific concepts with clarity to the audience.

Expectations and Context

 It is first
emphasized that the expectations of the readers in mind should be paramount
when it comes to achieving the author’s intended meaning to the audience. In
other words, expectations and context complement each other. It is prudent to note
that readers do not necessarily read the prose, but rather interpret the
context. Therefore, the way substance is structured in the prose can affect the
ease of interpretation. A scientific research article, for example, should be
presented with recognizable sections such as the introduction and the results
for easy understanding of the context. Gopen and Swan insist that information
is easily interpreted when the writer places it where the reader expects to
find it.

 When there are
anomalies or disorganizations in structure, the reader gets distracted and
diverts attention in understanding the context to understanding the structure.
For example, a grammatical sentence makes sense to the reader when a verb
succeeds the subject. Any information that intervenes between the two is
perceived as interruptive and serves no meaning to the reader even if the
writer included pertinent issues in between. The subject-verb separation is key
to successful interpretation by the readers. It, therefore, presents that the
structural location of information in the context or prose is essential for the
readers’ understanding. If the structure arrangement is violated, valuable
information may merely be overlooked and perceived as an interruption. The
writer of information may have the right intentions, but if he or she does not
understand the readers’ expectations, then the goal may be lost in the process.
It is also vital to note that readers expect the action of a sentence to be
located in its verb, and any change to that leads to confusion and boredom (Gopen
and Swan 73).

The other aspect of expectation has to do with
function. It is emphasized that the readers expect each unit of discourse such
as the sentence or paragraph to serve a specific purpose (Gopen and Swan 61). It
must have a beginning and an ending that is logical to the reader. The ideas
should not be jangled up in a manner that it is confusing for the reader to
examine what the discourse is all about. The point of interest should be
emphasized by putting it in a specific place.

Stress position

 It is observed
by the article that most readers emphasize the material that arrives last in a
sentence. With that perspective in mind, it is prudent that the author also
ensures that the primary emphasis is corresponded to be the last item.
Psychologically, human beings derive more pleasure at the end of the process
rather than at the beginning. A reader may find it difficult to read a
paragraph or a sentence at the beginning but finds delight or pleasure towards
its ending. There has to be an exciting ending rather than a boring ending with
an exciting start. The popular phrase, saving the best for last is much
applicable here. The emphatic item should be therefore placed in the stress
position (Gopen and Swan 61). The failure to do that by the writer may lead to
wrong information being emphasized by the reader hence misinterpretation. That
means the information placed at the stress position is not worthy to be
emphasized. The bottom-line is that any item worthy of emphasis should have its
syntactic closure in place. A relevant example is the use of a colon or a
semi-colon in a sentence that has a second stress position.

Topic position

 The topic
position is very vital like the stress position discussed above but in a different
manner. In this case, the topic position is fundamental to the reader as it
provides both perspective and context of the information being presented by the
writer. Unlike in the stress position where closure is vital, the topic
position, on the other hand, has perspective being key to offering guidance to
the reader. What appears at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph will shed
light on the reader about what he or she expects in the remaining information.
The topic position serves this purpose well and leaves for the stress position
to emphasize the information hinted at the beginning of the discourse. The
reader should be prepared for the upcoming material, and that can only be
achieved by the topic position. The authors argue that information is well
captured when there is flow from the old to the new information. The topic
position should precede the stress position for linkage of information in
scientific prose. The violation of these principles in flow arrangement may
lead to logical gaps in the written presentation to the audience. The reader is
confused when there is an interchange of information in both the topic position
and the stress position. The reader finds it burdensome to connect information
in the scientific discussion prose. The authors observe that the number one
challenge in modern professional writing in America has got to do with the
misplacement of the old and the new information (Gopen and Swan 70). The
challenge seems to gratify the needs of the writers rather than the needs of
the readers who end up being burdened to interpret the scientific prose. These
structural problems ought to be urgently solved by the writers.

 Dealing with
Logical Gaps

It is also prudent to emphasize that the old
information can easily be connected to the new information in the topic
position. That enables the writer to achieve a logical flow for the reader in
reading the information presented as well as providing linkage (Gopen and Swan
66). A logical gap may occur if new information is not subsequently used and
yet it occurs in the stress position. To deal with that, the authors advise
that the new information and the old information should be placed appropriately
for connections to be established by the reader. The failure to place old
information anywhere leads to the readers being burdened to make a logical
linkage.

In conclusion, it is argued that the science of
scientific writing should embrace these structural principles to make those
perceived complex science concepts easily understood in the prose by the
reading audience. In summary, the readers’ expectations should be put in mind
by the writers. These ideas do not only help the reader to interpret correctly
but also aid the writer to write clearly and his intentions well captured.
According to Gopen and Swan, more responsibility rests on the shoulders of the
writer to consider the interpretive clues the readers depend upon to make
meaning of the structure and content.

 

Works Cited

 Gopen, George, and Judith Swan.”The
Science of Scientific Writing.” American
Scientist,vol. 78, no. 6,1990, pp. 55-77

 

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