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J.S. Milne’s “Tips for Authors”

J.S. Milne (pictured here) wrote a list of “Tips for Authors.” Though intended for mathematicians, it may be equally useful to others. Milne’s list begins with this:

If you write clearly, then your readers may understand your mathematics and conclude that it isn’t profound. Worse, a referee may find your errors. Here are some tips for avoiding these awful possibilities.

1) Never explain why you need all those weird conditions, or what they mean. For example, simply begin your paper with two pages of notations and conditions without explaining that they mean that the varieties you are considering have zero-dimensional boundary. In fact, never explain what you are doing, or why you are doing it. The best-written paper is one in which the reader will not discover what you have proved until he has read the whole paper, if then

and ends with this:

11) If all else fails, write in German.

Milne’s web site has also a multitude of quotations from other persons casting sense and scorn on deplorable common practices of their peers. Here is one of those:

Near the end of the lecture, the speaker said that he would conclude the proof with some hand-waving. Cartan obviously did not approve. He turned to me and said: “Now I understand why Indian Gods have so many hands; they want to give proofs in n-dimensions.”
—Narasimhan (NAMS 2010, Sept, p.955).

(Thanks to Nicholas Christakis for bringing this to our attention.)

NOTE: Milne’s “Tips for Writers” is in some (but only some) ways the opposite of Tim Radford’s “A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists.”

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