"Why do I have to write mathematics?"
- In order to share your ideas with people who are not
physically present, you have to write them down. Mathematical ideas have to be
written using mathematics. Just as English prose is needed for writing in
subjects other than English, mathematical writing is needed for writing in any
subject where mathematical ideas or models are used. Scientists, engineers,
and some social scientists have to write mathematics.
Every year, we buy ten cases of paper
at $35 each; and every year we sell them for about $1 million each. Writing well
is very important to us.
- Bill Browning, President of Applied Mathematics,
Some General Guidelines
- Your mathematical work should be embedded in a
narrative. Good mathematical writing must be self-contained. A
knowledgeable reader must be able to read your paper without referring to the
textbook or question sheet.
- Know your audience. Most of your
mathematical writing has been for an audience of people more knowledgeable
than you. Outside of academics, most of your mathematical writing will be for
an audience of people less knowledgeable than you. A good general rule is to
omit details that should be obvious to the reader. For
example, you needn't demonstrate the solution of a quadratic equation to
readers who are calculus students. Generally it is best to focus on the
problem statement, description of methods, and explanation of results rather
than on the details of the calculations.
- Organize your writing carefully. Any paper
longer than one page should be divided into sections with descriptive
headings. Sections will often correspond to steps in an investigation or parts
of a problem. For example, you might need separate sections to describe the
problem, state the assumptions in the mathematical model or theorem, briefly
state the major result, describe the plan of the study, present relevant
details, summarize the results, and/or discuss the results.
- Use active language and the present tense.
You are writing about the problem and its analysis, not the history of your
work on it. Instead of "The computer showed me that the solution is...," try
"The solution is..." or "We find the solution to be..." Note that in academic
writing, the pronoun "we" is used rather than "I" even in papers written by a
A Brief Checklist for Self-Evaluation