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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Student tip: English composition

This post carries a very important message. Your success in R&D is strongly correlated to how well you write in English.When you write an email to a professor/researcher, when you write a research report,  when you write a paper, or when you submit a grant proposal, what carries your impression is the text that the recipient reads. What sort of impression do you want to make?

Herein lies a problem. Most science/technology/medicine undergraduates do not practice English composition after high-school. Then suddenly, they are faced with the prospect of writing professional sounding prose. Harder than you think, and more important than almost any other skill or transcript grade. The challenge is to improve English composition to a level where it can impress rather than put off people. Here are some ideas to get you started.
  1.  Start early. You need time to improve English composition. And patience.
  2.  Read standard English text on a regular basis - Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine. They are all available online.
  3. Start writing. Put in genuine effort in writing email, start writing a blog, volunteer for your college newspaper, etc.
  4. Take a class. Try to find out if English composition is offered in some faculty of your university. Some faculties offer specific classes in technical/business writing.
  5. Converse with people who have a better command over the language than you do: it rubs on.
  6. A book that I highly recommend (from personal experience): The Technical Writer's Handbook by Matt Young.
Superior English composition will impress potential employers throughout your life (this applies equally to non-R&D fields). With discipline, patience, and hard-work, you can make it your secret weapon.

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