Writing a report
-Andy Ruina, email@example.com
(Created 8/2/2000, revised 34 times, most recently on 5/11/2013)
Trite yet true: good writing tells something to someone;
it is organized, concise, accurate, clear, and unaffected; and
to make it good you have to revise and revise.
|I.||Why am I, a bad writer, writing about writing?|
|II.||What is writing?|
Some things that lots of students don't get
|IV.||Organizing your work and time|
|VI.||A sample abstract|
I. Why am I, a bad writer, writing about writing?
I am not good at writing. Anyone who is good at writing can take anything I have written and make it more smooth, more grammatical, shorter, and more clear. I have dyslexia, bad hand-writing, bad spelling and never learned the basic rules of grammar. I got bad grades for writing from first grade through college. So why should I give advice about writing?
Well, in the era after people stopped trying to teach me how to write, I have spent lots of time doing it. And by doing it, I have learned a little about it, so I'd like to think. Surprisingly, with a million books, chapters, papers and web pages about writing, by real writers, you would think I would have found something that gets at the things that I now think matter the most about writing. But I haven't.
What's my main goal? Most directly, instead of having to say the same things to students again and again, I will point them to this essay. So, even though writing this has been work, I hope it saves me work and helps my students write better. I will be less annoyed and more happily engaged when I read what they write. I will learn more from them. We can show off our research better. And I will be more proud of them.
II. What is writing?
A. Writing is not abstract art
This essay is about practical writing, especially the writing-up of research results, not about Haiku or song lyrics. One key idea idea here is the difference between practical writing and creative art.
I used to think that good hand-writing was ornate and flowery and beautiful to an artist's eye. Now I think that the most important thing about hand-writing is that it be legible. That people can read it. I've gone through the same transition with my thoughts about writing. I used to think of writing as an alien thing unto itself, a kind of art to be judged by its own arty value system. So I thought that good writing used fancy words in fancy ways with metaphors and so on. But now I think that the most important aspect of writing is that people can understand it and learn from it. Now I think of both hand writing and text writing as a means to an end. In short:
The goal of writing is not an abstract notion notion of `good writing', but communication.
Just knowing this is almost enough to make good writing, or at least good-enough writing, so I think. For example, now that I have communication as a goal, rather than trying to appear fancy, I can write tolerably. At least if I work at it long enough.
I think that lots of students have the same main misconception I had. They think that writing is some crazy thing with its own crazy value system. So they have the same trouble writing I had, of trying to please some abstract writing god in the sky instead of just trying to say something clearly. If you are one of those people, if you think that writing is creating beautiful art, then here is the key. Instead of thinking that good writing is beautiful, think that good writing gets something across.
B. Writing is communicating
Your goal is to change (that is, to alter), your readers' minds, and maybe their actions. After they have read your stuff, people should know more and maybe they should think, feel or act differently.
Some writing guides say, "Writing is communicating to an audience for a purpose." They are saying that, when you write, you should keep your audience and intent in mind. Most students do this when they plead to get a boyfriend or girlfriend back, ask their parents for money, question their registrar bill, or complain about a grade. In those contexts they know who they are writing to and what they want to get across. Of course it is not so easy to focus on audience and message when the situation is less desperate. So just getting in the frame of mind to write well, where you figure out what effect you want your writing to have on who, is a challenge.
As a student writing about your research you want to alter the minds of your advisor, future students and possibly readers of a technical journal. You want these people to know more about your subject and to be more successful when they try to pick up where you left off. And you want them to think better of you, your co-workers, and your supervisors. By reading what you write, your readers should learn what question you were trying to answer and should then they should understand and believe your answer.
C. How? Trial and error
The basic method is trial and error. You repeatedly create, test and reject. This is the essence of learning, of the scientific method, of design, of computer programming, and of most creative development. It is Darwin's theory of evolution. Unless you have mastered the (nonexistent) Handbook of Intelligent Design by God, the method of trial and error is the only way you can succeed at creating most things, including good writing. If you are energetic enough to try out new things, patient enough to see if they work, disciplined enough to throw them out if they don't, then you have the tools to learn, discover, design ... and write. You type new words to make up phrases, sentences and paragraphs. You then test the new groups of words with, and against, ones you wrote before. Then keep the good ones and throw out the bad. You keep doing this until you are done.
In summary, so far, first think about what you trying to say and to whom. Next, try to say it. And then revise using the only real way to do anything well, trial and error.
III. Some things that lots of students don't get
Here is a list of reactions I have to many student papers.
A) Content not style. Often students, instead of trying to say something, they try to write in some style. Why? Because they have almost no practice at communicating for a purpose. As a student it is hard to sincerely engage in an artificial task like "Write an essay to convince so and so of such and such". You will likely write to your guess about the teacher's concept of "so and so" and try to convince that fictional character what you think the teacher thinks about "such and such". And you will try to write in a style you think the teacher will like, as if this is an end in itself. Or you might try to "communicate to an audience for a purpose" in this indirect way: you will try to let your teacher know that you have a poetic and creative nature so deserve a good grade. This approach works too well in school. Or you might not like the school writing game in which you pretend to have a goal that you don't really have. So you never even try. For some mixture of these reasons many students have almost no practice writing for a reasonable purpose in school. And they have little experience writing away from school. So, when forced to write, they try to make their writing have, what they think is, the right style.
It's not that awkward boring sentences with misspelled words and bad grammar are good. It's just that communication, not style, should be your main goal. Fancy wording that you think might please a high school writing teacher has a high chance of not communicating well. When you are really writing for a purpose, you should be fussing over the clarity of your message, not its style. In the end, maybe, as the architects say,'form follows function'. What they mean is that if you make something function well, here that means making writing communicate well, that good form will follow. And if it doesn't, it's the function (communication) which is the important part anyway.
B) An affected tone is bad. Don't pretend to be another person, and write things that you think that person knows. Instead, write what you know. Don't force humor, personality, poetic wording or grand ideas that you don't understand. Pretentious writing wastes words and turns people off.
C) A bad first draft is O.K. After you have some sense of what you want to say, you need to ge it onto paper (or your screen). Your amorphous idea is like a lump of unformed clay you need to put on the table before you form it into pottery. Or, your collection of small ideas is like a pile of jigsaw pieces you need to first scatter on the table before you start assembly. So, you need to get something on paper, hopefully something that hints at your real ideas, so you can start refining and revising.
C) Writing is work, mostly revising. When I was in 8th grade my next door neighbor was the novelist Bernard Malamud. His wise words to me, the kid getting Cs and Ds in English, were "They say writing is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration, but really its more like 1% and 99%." I thought he was overstating to make a point. Like I have thought at times about "the university is more interested in research money than teaching" or "if there's a will there's a way" or "it's not what you know but who you know", etc. But it turns out that `writing is mostly sweat' is one of those exaggerated sounding sayings which, despite our wanting to dismiss it as over-statement, is basically true.
That is, once you have a lump of clay on a table you then have to shape, reshape and finally glaze. And that takes most of the time. Same with writing. Once you have your ideas on paper in a crude form, you have to refine them, and the revising takes most of time.
Or, if you think of ideas as puzzle pieces, you have to find the pieces that belong next to each other, you have to discover that you are putting together a different picture than you planned, you have to make new pieces that are needed for that new picture, you have to get rid of the pieces that you realize belong to some other puzzle, and you have to get rid of duplicate pieces. Throwing away extra pieces, pieces that you had carefully made (that is, text you carefully crafted), is really hard. Marc Raibert suggests titling a section of your paper "My Writing Gems", and put your formerly-wonderful but now deleted text there. Then save that but don't show it to others. All of this creating, revising and deleting is hard.
If you are talented and your paper is not for journal publication maybe you can do with 5 revisions or so. But good papers often go through many more revisions than that. And, again, revision takes time. I can type 50 words per minute. But, on average I can write and edit about one word per minute, that's all. For me writing is 50 times slower than typing. Really that means that thinking something through clearly is about 50 times slower than typing it out. Oddly, this is completely backwards from what I used to think about writing. I used to think that writing was hard because my pen and keyboard were too slow to keep up with my thoughts. And now my typing doesn't slow me at all. OK, I am older now and maybe I think slower. But I don't think that's it. I think that what I used to think of as thoughts that I couldn't write fast enough were, most likely, chaotic thought fragments, topics but not ideas.
To finish a good paper, even people who got A grades for writing all through school need to do lots of revising. For Malamud, for me, and probably for you, good writing comes from editing and revising. Fixing spelling, fixing grammar, fixing things that sound awkward, rearranging words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and sections. And then, as the writing gets better in superficial ways, you will better see that you need to change deeper things, and add new ideas. And these changes will cause a new need for fixes for spelling and so on. And this way, 50 words per minute of typing leads to 1 word per minute of acceptable writing. This may seem depressing. But it isn't. Why? Because, even if you, like me, have little talent, it means that if you put in the time you will eventually revise your initial mess into something that is good enough.
And one good word per minute is pretty fast. If you write a word a minute for 40 hour working weeks, for years that have 50 work weeks, and for a 50 year career, you can write a good 6 million words in your life time. That's about 20,000 typical book pages and about 7 times what Shakespeare wrote. So, a word per minute isn't so slow!
D) Writing is a game. The time might pass better if you think of writing as a game. The goal is to get your reader to understand and believe you. Each sentence is like a move in the game. It's probably best to think of it as a friendly game, though. Or, think of a reader as a customer and you are trying to sell useful knowledge. Or, your readers are sheep, wandering off unaware of where you want them to go. You must herd them in, reasoning from basic common broad ideas (a big field) to the central line of your argument (the gate you want them to go through). Whether you think of it as a game, a sale, or herding, the sport is trying to funnel your reader from the infinite world of alternatives into your line of thought.
E) Good writing is usually friendly. Tough or stern language often pokes people into fighting back. Even if you think your logic is water tight, or if your message is really a command, pedantic, condescending or demanding writing will tend make your reader rebel, to stop paying attention and to miss your great explanation. For example, if you read between the lines, this essay is really a threat to my students: "You'd better pay attention to A-J listed here, or else." But I have tried to write it in a more suggestive way!
F) Good writing is organized. There is a conflict between structure and flow. Your organization has to deal with that.
1) Text is one dimensional, ideas are not. There is an unresolvable conflict between the linear arrangement of words on a page and the multidimensional interconnected nature human thought. Writing is one dimensional, ideas are not. Linked hypertext is not yet an accepted replacement for conventional linear text. This means you cannot allude to every connection between ideas at every mention of one of the ideas. To avoid tangling your linear text you often have to postpone mention of key connections. You may write one sentence about one idea, the next about a second idea, and a third about the connection between the two. Even though, in your mind, the first two ideas are useless without noting their connection.
2) Put similar ideas near each other. This applies within a sentence, from one sentence to the next, from one paragraph to the next, and from one section to the next. Although you will have written your first draft with an organization in mind, you will inevitably discover a new organization during revision. As you put similar ideas near each other sentences and paragraphs will condense and congeal into larger and larger sensible units (and detectable redundancies will be revealed). To put your text into order you need to work both on the small scale and the large. You have to put related words, phrases and sentences near each other. And you have to move paragraphs and maybe whole sections.
3) Hierarchical structure. When you are done, a paper will have an implicit organized outline with a depth of about 4 levels from sections to subsections to paragraphs to sentences. Each should have a purpose. For example, each paragraph should have a scope that you could express as a paragraph title. This title could end up being the first sentence, might end up being a low-level heading, or might be clear enough so as not to need explicit expression.
4) Logical flow. A given sentence either starts a new idea or explains more about the idea in the previous sentence. A sentence's role should be clear by the place of the sentence in the document (i.e., the lead sentence in a section), or by meaning (the sentence's content makes its role clear), or by wording (e.g., use of "furthermore", "however", "additionally" ). Although structured, the paper should also flow as a logical linear stream.
5) Writing helps your thinking. It is hard to force your multidimensional ideas into a linear stream of words. But forcing ideas into an ordered sequence of words usually shows mistakes in your thinking. So you have to edit your ideas too. Although you write to share ideas you already have, writing your ideas helps you to develop them. Extruding your wide-ranging thoughts into one thin line of ordered text forces a scrutiny of them that is hard to achieve any other way. It's not just that writing is hard work, thinking is hard work. Because systematic refinement of your writing forces you to think. You can even think of trying to write well as a tool to make you do that thing we all hate to do: to think hard about something.
G) Get someone to read what you wrote. You need sincere readers, not necessarily good editors, to see what gets across. When you try an engineering design you inevitably discover pieces that jamb, circuits that overheat, and user abuse that you hadn't thought of. Most computer programs fail when first run. Similarly when someone reads your work, no matter what care you took in writing it, something won't come across. They will see ambiguities and paradoxes you hadn't imagined, and they will have questions that you obviously have to answer, but unfortunately didn't (yet).
Good readers of your early drafts will point out, or reveal by their misunderstandings, big problems. So it is easy to feel defeated. But that is backwards; the bigger the flaws discovered, the more your paper will be improved. The next reader will help you find more flaws, and even flaws in your first edits. And so on. Your readers help you with one of the key parts of the evolutionary process: finding errors.Then you fix them.
Even though you know multiple drafts are coming, don't give your test-readers something with too many known flaws. That would be like trying to run a computer program that you know has missing lines of code. The compiler error messages are then not useful. The same with test-readers and writing. Known flaws will hide the flaws you don't know about yet. The better the document, the better can be found, and repaired, its real problems.
H) Hiding the truth is lying. As a rule, you shouldn't lie. Or omit things. Omission can also be deception. That means you have to be careful about what you leave out. Omissions will unfairly mislead some readers and anger others. On the other hand, being open about flaws, or about the limited scope of your work, can help build readers' confidence in you, and therefore in the results you do want to present.
I) Credit assignment must be clear. People whose main product is information, people like professors and graduate students, are sensitive about intellectual property. To them, your presenting their ideas or diagrams, or those of other students and researchers, without proper citation, is stealing (so says my friend Peter Woodbury -- private communication). A reader has to know which parts of the paper are original to you and who should get credit for the rest. Even if your intent is not to plagiarize but just to explain, you will irritate people by not giving credit where it is due. But it's not just a matter of credit. Appropriate citations also give useful information about the history of the ideas.
I) A picture is worth a thousand words. The figures in your paper should tell your story. Even if there are just two figures, a reader should get the gist of your message by looking at those two. Just like your writing, a figure should should answer the questions which would naturally come to a curious reader. And, like good writing, a figure shouldn't be a puzzle to solve, but an illustration to clarify. Figures, like text, inevitably need lots of revision. It is true that "A picture is worth a thousand words'. But, not usually stated is the dual aspect of this. A picture can communicate as mush as can a thousand words, but it is also just as much work to make. Sometimes it takes me a few days to finalize a figure that I scratched out first in 5 minutes.
J) Good writing uses good language. Good language can't make a bad idea good. But it can make a good idea go over better. Bad language gets in the way of a reader's attention, especially for picky readers who know and care about the rules of writing. Those people would rather notice that you spelled 'they're' wrong than that you know the solution to their biggest problem. And, for better or worse, some of them are your readers. Here are some of the hundreds of things to attempt: match a sentence's length with the complexity of the idea it expresses; use variety in vocabulary, but not by using inexact synonyms which interfere with clarity and precision; don't over-use SJOA (specialized jargon or acronyms); don't mixing tenses or voices; and use grammar and punctuation that stay in the bounds of accepted usage. But, again, don't let concern about literary style interfere with your central goal of being complete, accurate, concise, organized, logical, and clear. An editor (or literate friend) can quickly fix your spelling and grammar, but can't fix ideas they don't understand. If you don't have a skilled editor, here is a trick that catches a lot of the big errors: read your paper out loud and make sure it sounds good to you.
IV. Organizing your work and time
A. The structure of a paper
There are various ways of titling and organizing the parts of a paper. Use this one unless you like something else better.
1. Title page. This page should have the title, the full author list, all details about how to reach all the authors in the near and distant future, the date of the paper and of any revisions, and the context of the paper (e.g., final report for a certain class, for submission to a certain journal, etc).
2. Abstract. This is a complete and concise summary of the whole paper. It describes the context, the results and the applications. For some journals abstracts have to be as short as 600 characters, including spaces and punctuation. The abstract should never exceed a double-spaced page. Because an abstract optimizes completeness and accuracy in a limited space, it may be dense reading. Even a good abstract may be fully intelligible only to an expert or to someone who has already read the full paper. There's a sample abstract in item VI, below.
3. Introduction. Here you need to entice your readers. You need to bring them from what is commonly understood to the point of appreciating the questions your research answers. You introduce the ideas that led to the present work. You explain the possible applications. Keep in mind those who should be interested, but aren't yet, and what might rouse them. Most importantly, you pose the questions that the rest of the paper answers. If you start with "Since the dawn of civilization mankind has always been fascinated with X." or anything that smells like that, you have missed something that I wrote above (e.g. IIA, IIIA, IIIB).
4. Methods and results. Here you describe what you did and what you found. This is the core of the paper. You may divide it into various sections as appropriate (e.g., Model Description, Experimental Method, Governing Equations, Solution Method, Results, etc.). This part of the paper should not spend too much time being philosophical, introspective or self critical.
5. Discussion. Here you discuss, critically, what you found. What are the implications? What approximations were central? What is surprising? What are possible generalizations? What natural questions does your work leave unanswered? What future work seems needed? etc. This part of the paper can be self critical.
6. Conclusion. The conclusion is a summary of the results. As opposed to the abstract, it does not need to summarize the methods and does not need to be as concise.
7. Acknowledgments. A relatively complete acknowledgment section shows courtesy to those who helped and funded you, and informs readers of your working environment. Usually one or two short sentences are enough.
8. Citations. A full list of the papers and texts mentioned in the paper with full reference information. It is best for each listing to include title of the book or article, unless the target journal explicitly forbids this.
9. Figures and captions. It is easiest for the reader if the figures and captions appear in the text near where the text refers to them. Only put them all at the end if a journal demands that.
10. Appendices. Here you put details that are needed for completeness but whose complete expression would interfere with the flow of your main text. These things have a place, perhaps small, in your central argument, yet are long or complex. Also at the end you can put things you might like to keep for your records, but take too much space for a published paper. Things like computer programs, mathematical proofs, detailed graphs, work chronologies (`first I tried ...'), purchase lists, and shop drawings.
B. How should you spend your time?
1. Before you write. The initial steps.
a. Think about your messages until you can say them out loud. Then do, and see if they make sense to a friend or two.
b. Then organize the text, somehow jotting down the essential flow within and between sections. Use a short conventional outline, a few short lists, or a diagram with ideas connected by arrows. An outline that catches the essence of the structure can free you to think about the details as you write. But an outline with too high a ratio of detail to thought can feel restrictive. I find detailed outlines more intimidating than helpful. I find it easier to let the structure evolve during editing. But others think the opposite. If making a detailed outline helps you, write one. If the idea of it paralyzes you, keep the outline broad and vague.
c. Next, write. Write in the order that feels most natural at the moment you are writing. You need not write in order. Start with the conclusions if that is what comes to you first. The first draft should be as complete and accurate as possible, but not concise, polished or optimally structured. As you write, allow yourself to modify the structure, by putting similar ideas together. But don't let revision slow your transfer of information from mind to paper too much. Attempting to get ideas onto paper while also trying to finely hone the text can be crippling.
2. Then comes revision. Even if you are a writing genius, a scientific genius, or both, you probably have to revise. A lot. You must now go through many cycles of testing, changing, adding, deleting, and reworking. Again and again for hours and hours. Experienced writers may disagree about whether revision is typically 90% of the effort, or 95%, or 99% or more, but not about whether it is 80% or less. In a way the revision is mostly all downhill, a long glide, but it is most of the trip. When you have a decent first draft you can be satisfied that you are almost done, in a way. You only have 90% (or maybe 95% or 99%) of the work to finish up.
V. Final comments
As Pascal said in 1657, "I'm sorry this letter is so long. I didn't have time to write a shorter one." I thought for a long time before I started to write. Still, after at least 70 hours of writing, testing, and revising, I could make it better by following more of my own advice. But advice is cheap. I'm a fat sloppy guy explaining how to be trim (Eat good food and not too much of it.). That I'm a fat slob doesn't mean my advice is bad, but that it is hard to follow.
After a few drafts of this essay I was pointed to this 1985 writing essay by Marc Raibert, the guy who got me into robots. I like his tone and what he says, for example "Good writing is bad writing that was rewritten." If you scan the web, you can find a hundred other writing essays some of which are probably useful. Here is an interesting advanced one with subtle thoughts about scientific writing, only read it if you are a native English speaker who is really into this writing thing.
Thanks to Steve Collins for provoking this essay and to Saskya van Nouhuys, Dave Nutter, Hermann and Barbara Riedel, Peter Woodbury, Steven Youra, Dirk van Nouhuys, Sidney Orlov, Rudra Pratap, Marcia Poulsen, Tomomi Ueda, Seppo Korpela and Manoj Srinivasan for criticisms and for suggested additions, deletions, and reorganization that helped make this essay little resemble its first draft.
VI. Sample abstract
Here is an abstract that Manoj Srinivasan and I wrote. We got fan mail about this from ever-critical Art Kuo, "This is perhaps the most concise, clear, and beautifully written abstract I've ever read. It's a poem. ...The success of your soda can abstract is that each sentence moved you forward, it told essentially a complete story from motivation to main finding, and it did it all in remarkably few words." I don't know what drugs he was taking, but I'd like to try them.
Title: Rocking and rolling: a can that appears to rock might actually roll.
`A beer bottle or soda can on a table, when slightly tipped and released, falls to an upright position and then rocks up to a somewhat opposite tilt. Superficially this rocking motion involves a collision when the flat circular base of the container slaps the table before rocking up to the opposite tilt. A keen eye notices that the after-slap rising tilt is not generally just diametrically opposite the initial tilt but is veered to one side or the other. Cushman and Duistermaat [Regular Chaotic Dyn. 11, 31 (2006)] recently noticed such veering when a flat disk with rolling boundary conditions is dropped nearly flat. Here, we generalize these rolling disk results to arbitrary axi-symmetric bodies and to frictionless sliding. More specifically, we study motions that almost but do not quite involve a face-down collision of the round container's bottom with the tabletop. These motions involve a sudden rapid motion of the contact point around the circular base. Surprisingly, similar to the rolling disk, the net angle of motion of this contact point is nearly independent of initial conditions. This angle of turn depends simply on the geometry and mass distribution but not on the moment of inertia about the symmetry axis. We derive simple asymptotic formulas for this "angle of turn" of the contact point and check the result with numerics and with simple experiments. For tall containers (height much bigger than radius) the angle of turn is just over pi and the sudden rolling motion superficially appears as a nearly symmetric collision leading to leaning on an almost diametrically opposite point on the bottom rim.'
Of course when Manoj and I read it now, we see how to make it more clear. The key idea, that what looks like a collision is really an extremely fast rolling motion, isn't prominent enough.
VII. Rejects: my writing gems
Here are some things that I spent hours polishing. These are fragments I worked on and, at least at some point, liked. But now they seem redundant, or otherwise bad. So I edited them out. Marc Raibert's essay, mentioned above, suggests you make a whole special text file for your brilliant writing fragments that you haven't yet found a place for, your very special prize-worthy writing trash. Then keep it to yourself. This is mine. So, properly, I shouldn't show you these great things which I threw away. But I want you to see what kinds of gems weren't good enough so you will feel my pain, and feel ok throwing things out yourself.
My writing gets good only after I have worked on it a lot.
The main reason to write is to move a collection of facts and ideas into someone else's head.
Communication, in writing or otherwise, is transmission of information. Because your readers probably don't have extrasensory perception, writing can only convey content by having it. And the quality of writing cannot transcend the quality of the information being transmitted.
This evolutionary process is sufficient, if not efficient,...
Many teachers are also off track this way, having been trained in the same system. Us teachers too-often grade by an abstract image we hold of "good writing" as defined by adherence to various guidelines (spelling, grammar, topic sentences, fancy words etc.), not by success at transmitting information.
Your readers will likely pick up on whether you are writing to sound good or to get something across.
Much as we hope or pretend that they would, the exceptions to these truths don't negate their core validity. Writing just is more grinding than freeform conceptualization, both for an experienced story teller and for you and I.
The image of the talented skilled writer dashing off something lucent and concise, like puzzle pieces falling out of a box pre-assembled, is probably a fantasy twice over. First, it probably rarely happens. Second, when it does happen it probably doesn't happen. Einstein's paper on the theory of relativity is said to be great, and maybe he did not write 20 drafts of it. But I guess he worked and worked to organize the ideas in his head, not just the basic science, but how he was going to communicate his ideas. He probably had to do his 95% to 99% of perspiration, just like the rest of us. If ever there was a writer who had the talent and practice to do less editing it was the author of The Elements of Style, E. B. White. But his classic story Charlotte's Web has eight known drafts, and maybe there were more.
You should respect your reader's free will.
Your paper is a treasure map. It should tell your reader what valuable thing they can find, and it should show them how to find it.
Your opponents are all the possible other ideas out there in the universe that are not what you are trying to get across.
The repeated testing and selecting of written ideas is editing.
As William Zinsser said "The essence of writing is rewriting."