# Audit Consultant

Topics: The Reader, Subject, Sentence Pages: 22 (8382 words) Published: May 12, 2013
[This Article appeared in the American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1990), Volume 78, 550-558. Retyped and posted with permission.]

The Science of Scientific Writing
If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan*
*George D. Gopen is associate professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Duke University. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Judith A. Swan teaches scientific writing at Princeton University. Her Ph.D., which is in biochemistry, was earned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Address for Gopen: 307 Allen Building, Duke University, Durham, NC 27706

table. Let us say that in tracking the temperature of a liquid over a period of time, an investigator takes measurements every three minutes and records a list of temperatures. Those data could be presented by a number of written structures. Here are two possibilities: t(time)=15’, T(temperature)=32º, t=0’, T=25º; t=6’, T=29º; t=3’, T=27º; t=12’, T=32º; t=9’; T=31º time (min) 0 3 6 9 12 15 temperature(ºC) 25 27 29 31 32 32

Precisely the same information appears in both formats, yet most readers find the second easier to interpret. It may be that the very familiarity of the tabular structure makes it easier to use. But, more significantly, the structure of the second table provides the reader with an easily perceived context (time) in which the significant piece of information (temperature) can be interpreted. The contextual material appears on the left in a pattern that produces an expectation of regularity; the interesting results appear on the right in a less obvious pattern, the discovery of which is the point of the table. If the two sides of this simple table are reversed, it becomes much harder to read. temperature(ºC) 25 27 29 31 32 32 time(min) 0 3 6 9 12 15

Since we read from left to right, we prefer the context on the left, where it can more effectively familiarize the reader. We prefer the new, important information on the right, since its job is to intrigue the reader. Information is interpreted more easily and more uniformly if it is placed where most...