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I'm in the process of writing my Master's Thesis on automata theory. The writing must be in English which isn't my mother tongue. So the question is, given that this is my first time long (hundred pages) writing and since English is a second language for me, what is the book you recommend for academic writing style? Ideally the book:

  • must address things like how to structure the writing and/or align it with the research
  • address the technical nature of the writing
  • recommend general styling and language rules
  • and as a plus, some hints to those of us for whom English is a second language

Best regards.

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Nicholas Higham's book Handbook of writing for the mathematical sciences is detailed, clear, and overall very useful. He covers all the four bullet points that you have raised. Moreover, he gives an annotated reference to useful style guides, technical writing guides, dictionaries, and so on. I am sure you won't be disappointed!

Edit: I guess you might already be familiar with the classic: The Elements of Style by Strunk & White --- this book is a gem on writing, and is worth reading again and again every few months.

Finally, here is a paper with very practical advice. This paper really underscores the importance of structure, and offers concrete advice on how to attain good structure: The Science of Scientific Writing, by G. D. Gopen and J. A. Swan. The fundamental thesis of the paper is: Writing to meet the reader’s expectation.

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  • $\begingroup$ I second the recommendation of Strunk and White. It is very concise (small), that's one of the main themes. It is not about technical writing, but it applies to almost any writing. $\endgroup$ – yasmar Oct 17 '10 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ I am glad I finally know why this badge is called Strunk & White. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 11 '11 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ Some useful tips are also in the comments here: Advice for writing good mathematics?. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 28 '12 at 14:46
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A set of lecture notes from a course on mathematical writing run by Don Knuth http://tex.loria.fr/typographie/mathwriting.pdf

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I found Krantz's A Primer of Mathematical Writing helpful, though not deep.

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How to write mathematics is a free essay by Paul Halmos which fulfills your first three criteria. It is short, but has several good points.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does the site provide a way to download a pdf of the full document? I find the viewer awkward. It would be nice to have a hard copy, but it only seems to want to let me print a page at a time. $\endgroup$ – yasmar Oct 17 '10 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ reddit.com/r/math/comments/9wdzo/… If you google the title of the book you will find one version, but the typesetting is so ugly you wouldn't want to read it! $\endgroup$ – Roar Stovner Oct 17 '10 at 21:22
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The book Trzeciak J. Writing mathematical papers in English, is kind of a cookbook for English language usage in mathematical papers. It provides examples of sentences that are typically used in definitions, theorems, introduction etc.

Here's google books link, and link to the book at the publisher's website.

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The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the standard style guides for English and has lot of useful advice for academic writing.

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Writing for Computer Science by Zobel is also very nice and it is not restriced to CS despite the title.

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Scientific Writing 2.0: A Reader and Writer's Guide by Jean-Luc Lebrun is comprehensive. It talks about

  1. Issues of grammar, word-choice, sentence fluidity and progression, and organization that reduce clarity
  2. Background knowledge of reader: how much to assume and judicious choices of where to include background to get readers up to speed
  3. Engaging the reader separately with title, then abstract, then intro, and how to keep them engaged
  4. Paper structure: includes style, purpose, and essential attributes of title, abstract, introduction, middle, conclusions (if present), and visuals.
  5. A lengthy chapter with references to further reading, broken-down by topic, i.e., persuasion, writing process and referees, style, etc. He references, for instance, the book by Zobel and the article by Gopen and Swan mentioned in other answers.

There is no specific section with advice for non-native English writers, but there is some advice aimed specifically at such people scattered through the book.

The main caveat: his audience is practicing scientists. Some things he says seem a little weird to a pure mathematician, for instance when he talks about having a section on methods or on data, but scientific writing is close enough to mathematical writing that it didn't get in the way very much.

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